We spent a few days at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario recently. I was armed with a novel, but also with a stack of personal finances advice books. I found some interesting insights and tips that I want to share with everyone in this column.
Before that, however, I want to revisit two issues that we frequently discuss, because of some of the comments that I heard while I was on vacation. First, I was personally offended when Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen’s current attorney, said on CNN that “The only people who use cash are drug dealers and mobsters.” As you know, I use cash as much as possible, and it is one of my principal lessons, because people who use cash are connected to their hard-earned money, often make better and different spending decisions, and they usually spend less.
Second, when I returned from vacation and opened up my Visa bill, I actually looked at my interest rate for the first time in forever. In my CARE presentations I ask students if they know what my one credit card interest rate is. When they obviously say no, I tell them that I don’t know either, because, since I will never pay any interest, I don’t check. However, because of our recent discussions on the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, and its impact on credit card interest rates, and President Trump’s comments about the Federal Reserve raising rates, I actually checked. With the average interest rate approaching 17 percent, it turns out that my rate is 15.99 percent. Interestingly, it was 15.25 percent at the same time in 2017, and 14.49 percent in 2016, so it has increased 1.5 percent in two years. Have you checked your interest rate? If you are carrying credit card balances, have you calculated how much more the rate increase is costing you?
Now let’s look at those insights and tips.
The first set of tips comes from the 2016 Reader’s Digest Quintessential Guide to Saving Money. By the way, I have no opinion as to the political correctness of any of the tips — but financially, they make sense. Also, I have never heard of some of them, and I couldn’t have even imagined some of them, like the first one.
1. Store your container of cottage cheese upside down in the refrigerator — it will last twice as long. I eat a lot of no-fat cottage cheese, so even though the book does not explain why this is so, I have started to do it.
2. Cut your dryer softener sheets in half — a half works just as well as a whole one. Then put your used sheets to further use. Clean your television and computer screens with them, or put them in wastebaskets or laundry hampers for a fresh smell.
3. Consignment shopping is a well-known way to cut back on clothing costs, but the tip is to find one close to a wealthy neighborhood where you can sometimes find stacks of hardly ever, or never-worn, clothes, many from top designers, and some with the tags still on them.
4. We have discussed this in this column, but I love the reinforcement. If you are planning on waiting for someone in your idling car for more than one minute, (picking the kids or grandkids up from school), turn the car off to save gas. You will use less fuel starting up the car.
5. Avoid shopping carts. One of the lessons that we have discussed frequently in this column is to find ways to avoid impulse purchases of things that you really don’t need, and often regret later. This tip is to avoid shopping carts and only buy what you can carry. Obviously this does not apply when you go in with a well thought out list that may require a cart.
6. Farmers market: If you regularly shop at farmers markets you no doubt know this one, but the tip is to shop late in the day, especially the last day of the market, because the sellers will discount their produce so they don’t have to bring it back home with them. Sometimes the discount can be significant, on top of already good prices.
7. The last one for this column is, whenever you buy produce by the bag, instead of by the pound, like that bag of 5 avocados I always buy, weigh a few different bags, and, obviously, buy the heaviest one for a better value.
Before we end our discussions this week, I want to include just a few tips from the 2017 book by Emily Guy Birken, “End Financial Stress Now.” It is with the promise that there will be more insights and tips in the future.
First, don’t pick up anything in a store that you don’t intend to buy, like that cute purse or new gadget. That way you won’t run the danger of already thinking that it is “yours.”
Second, don’t accept any free trials, unless you are already willing to pay for the service, for the long term, and at the regular price, not the introductory three-month trial price. It is hard to discontinue the service once it is “yours.”
We are headed out again. It is part of being retired, especially when your wife is a retired teacher who still thinks that the summer, other than the nicer weather, is different than the rest of the year. My books are packed, so stay tuned for more tips and insights.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.