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December 2008 - Posts - Main Street Meltdown
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Main Street Meltdown

December 2008 - Posts

  • 10 Ways To Save Money in 2009

     The New Year is quickly approaching and many of us are taking a close look at our financial resolutions.  With the recession in the U.S. deepening, Americans are looking for ways to cut back on spending and save more of their money.  One of the biggest household expenditures often overlooked by people when they are creating their spending plans (I hate the word "budget".  That's like using the word "diet".  Everyone means to stick to theirs, but they don't.) are their monthly household bills, which I call the "monthlies".  These are the recurring bills that we pay month after month and just assume that the amount we pay is what we have to pay, but there are areas where you can cut back and save plenty of cash.

    1.  Make your payments automatic.  Most utility, cable and phone companies have "automatic monthly billing".  Take advantage of these plans rather than mailing your monthly bills.  The money will come directly from your bank account on the date that the bill is due.  You'll avoid late payments and potential additional fees.

    2.  Review your montly bills.  Everybody makes mistakes, and creditors aren't any different.  Most people just pay their monthly bills without really reading them, but all monthly statements should be reviewed for mistakes.  I recently caught an error on a bill from my exterminator.  One phone call got the extra charge deleted from my bill, and saved me $165.

    3.  Pay all bills on time.  This is related to Number 1 on this list.  Don't be late paying any of your monthly bills, not even a little.  Not only will you incur unneccessary extra fees, but you could potentially damage your credit rating as well.  If you have an unexpectedly high bill one month, such as a utility bill, call and work out a payment arrangement, but don't ignore the bill.

    4.  Use average monthly billing.  Many utility companies have "average monthly billing plans".  They take the total amount you would normally pay over the course of a year for electricity, or natural gas for instance, and then average the payments out over the course of a year.  Instead of paying $30 a month for natural gas during the summer and then getting socked with a $200 bill during the winter months, you might wind up paying $60 per month every month of the year instead.  You're still paying the same amount over the course of a year, but you're paying a manageable amount each month.

    5.  Make them fight for your business.  Your cell phone or internet service provider isn't the only game in town.  The same goes for car insurance.  Shop around and see if you can find a better rate.  I did this with my car insurance, and when my insurance agent thought I was going to jump ship to another insurance carrier, he slashed my monthly premium and got me on a better plan.

    6.  Use a game plan for groceries.  There are many ways of cutting your monthly food bill...double coupons, sales circulars, store loyalty cards...but don't overlook other options for buying food such as buying dry goods from the dollar store, taking advantage of Angel Food Ministries if they are in your area or joining forces with a neighbor who has a Sam's Club membership, pooling your money and then buying items in bulk.  You could cut your food bill by 25 percent or more.

    7.  Keep on eye on bank fees.  These days, banks are doing everything they can to make extra money, too.  Keep a sharp eye on your bank fees.  When I first opened my checking account I signed up for a "club account" which offered overdraft protection and free checks. After awhile, I realized I never used my overdraft protection and I rarely wrote checks.  The "club account" cost me $11 per month, so I switched to a "free checking" plan (which also had overdraft protection) and eliminated the $11 per month charge.  I saved myself $132 per year.  

    8.  Monitor car insurance premiums.  I used to be with a car insurer that raised my rates when I moved to a new zip code and when I was up for renewal, even though I had no accidents.  I switched to a different insurer and saved nearly 50 percent on my car insurance.  If your insurer raises your premiums for no apparent reason, it's time to shop around.

    9.  Determine if your "monthlies" are even necessary.  Do you really need both a cell phone and a land-line phone?  Perhaps you could get rid of the land line.  If you pay for premium cable service but really only watch 10 channels, switch down to the "basic" plan...most cable companies have them, but you have to ask.  Do you have magazine subscriptions for magazines you don't read?  Drop them and read the magazine online, usually for free.  Do you subscribe to the Sunday paper just for the coupons?  Most sales circulars can be found online for free.

    10.  You need a plan.  You can't figure out if you have areas that can be cut if you don't know what you are spending.  Online budgeting services such as Mint.com, Mvelopes or Wesabe are free, but you can also use an Excel spreadsheet to track your spending.  Once you have everything written down, it's easier to track unnecessary expenses.  

    Main Street Meltdown Recommended Reading:  I'm So Broke!

  • Finding a Job in a Bad Economy

     With consumer confidence sinking and the U.S. plunging into the worst recession since World War II, unemployment has become a big concern for a lot of people. Many major companies are trimming their payrolls, and nationwide unemployment now tops out at more than six percent.  Even worse:  once economists realize and officially declare that the U.S. is in a recession (which they have recently done), unemployment tends to climb as consumer confidence wanes, businesses start to feel the effects and try to minimize costs by reducing their staffs.  

    Service industries and manufacturers, especially the auto industry, will be especially hard-hit.  That means hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people lining up at the unemployment office and seeking new jobs.  Recent college graduates will also find a very competitive job market once they have their degree in hand.  Still, jobs can be had, if you know where to look.  

    1.  Network, network, network.  Expand your circle of friends by joining civic and professional organzations, charities, chuch groups...anyplace you might find people who work in your industry that may be in a position to help you should the worst happen and you need to find a job.  The more people you know in your profession (or a related profession), the better your prospects when looking for a new job.  Your friends and acquaintences could not only tell you about any unadvertised openings, but also put in a good word for you, depending upon how well they know you.

    2.  Be prepared.  Even if you think your job is safe, now is a good time to dust off and update that resume.  Make sure you have good references on your resume.  Keep an eye out for any possible job opportunities you could take advantage of if something happens to your company.  Shore up your emergency fund, and try to have 3-6 months of living expenses socked away in case you lose your job and need the safety net.  

    3.  Be the "model" employee.  Make yourself indispensible at your current job.  Learn how to do things that may be a bit outside your job description, volunteer for extra projects and don't be a complainer about your current work load.  When employers trim staff, they will target unhappy employers and those doing the minimum as the first to go.  You might still get the axe, but at least you'll get a good reference out of the deal. 

    4.  Don't overlook freelance work.  If you don't find another full-time job right away, look at doing something on a part-time basis.  Consider consulting for another company (or the one you just left, if it's available).  Jobs aren't just outsourced to overseas locations.  Many companies look to farm out some of their work to freelancers and consultants right here in the U.S. on an "as-needed" basis.  During the recession of 1991, I was "unemployed" for six months.  The truth is, while I didn't have a full-time job during that time, I never really did stop working.  I worked part-time for several different companies and did numerous one or two-time only projects for others.  It didn't replace my full-time income, but it was better than not earning anything at all.  Besides, one of those part-time jobs led to me receiving a full-time job when the opening became available.  

    5.  Brush up on your skill set.  Make yourself more employable by expanding your skill set.  If you work in an office environment you should know how to use all of the programs in the Microsoft Office suite of products including Powerpoint, Excel and Word.  There are free tutorials available online.  If you have fallen behind on continuing your education in your profession, now is the time to take some continuing education courses and obtain the skills you need in this competitive job environment.  

    6.  Have an "exit strategy".  What would you do if you lost your job today?  A lot of people don't like to think about it, but they should have a "Plan B" in case the worst happens.  Would you know where to look for another job?  Do you know people in your industry that can give you good leads on other work?  Do you have an idea for a business you would like to start up on your own?  The time to come up with other options available to you is when you have a job, not when you are desperately seeking a new job.  

    If you do find yourself out of work, having a plan of action will put you ahead of the game.  Make finding a job your new "full time job" and be very good at interviewing (practice makes perfect), have a stellar resume and identify other jobs you can do other than the one you currently have.  You might also consider moving to another are that does have jobs available and taking a little less pay to get your foot in the door at a new company.  When it comes to replacing a job and surviving in a rough economy, no option should be off the table.

     Main Street Meltdown Recommended Reading: It's a Recession, Not a Depression

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