Friday, October 29, 2010

Buying Business Stuff

Do you have a little side business?  You’re going to have to keep costs down.  Otherwise, it’s just a money-eating hobby.  I had a store for years, have worked as a Controller for years, and can stretch a buck.

First, do you really need the item at all?  Maybe life would be simpler without it.

For instance, for my little knitting biz selling booklets and DVDs, and I finally decided I needed a printer.  We were going out for printing after a long day at the office, both expensive and inconvenient, and since I already had a machine that makes my DVDs robot-style, I wanted a heavy-duty color printer to make my color booklets while I sleep.  I didn’t want to invest in huge runs of books, because I don’t sell that many and have to store them in my house.  Besides, what if I find a pattern mistake?  I want to fix the book, not staple in errata sheets.  I didn’t want to sell .pdfs because machine knitters like to work from printouts as they sit at the machine.  What’s more, if I got an order and was out of books, I wanted to be able to print a few right at home and not make the order late. 

There are lots of items I think I might need that I haven’t purchased.  I’m waiting it out.  Maybe I don’t need a Silver Reed machine for testing the patterns.  I won’t buy it unless I can get a very good deal.  If I buy it, I’ll have to fit it in somewhere. 

The next thing you’ve got to do is figure out exactly the right item to buy.

I’ve bought lots of items that weren’t the right one.  So have you – whether it’s a shirt that doesn’t match any slacks, a kitchen gadget that’s more work to clean than the work it saves, or a toy that didn’t hold the kids interest, those purchases were total zeroes. 

For my printer problem, I considered that at my day job, we had purchased used Ricoh color printers, heavy duty beasts, and they are great.  They feed cardstock like a champ, and our folks mail a lot of postcards.  I use cardstock covers for my books.  They’re fast, too.  And, best of all, at home, we can refill the toner with kits from eBay.  I need to save money on the toner - color toner will eat your lunch, dinner, and sneak in at night for a midnight snack.

Third, find a very good deal.

It took time, but I found a Ricoh CL4000DN, new old stock, for sale with a crushed box.  These printers went for about $1500 when they were new, and I got this one for $400.  It was never used, just sat on a shelf in some warehouse.  The Ricoh CL stands for color, the D for duplexing (printing on both sides), and the N for network.  This printer is a couple of models before the ones at my office, and very, very similar.  Of course, it looks enormous in our little home office, but that’s okay because it works hard for me. 

For this big bargain, I took a risk, and sure enough, John discovered it had a broken sensor.  He spent $100 for parts and a service manual and fixed it.  We are off and running, and have even refilled the toner once successfully.  For another $10 we’ll put in more memory at go to 1200 dpi. 

I have followed a similar process for all my business purchases.  I appropriated the family computer and camcorder, and when I upgraded the camcorder to HD, I bought a very simple one on sale.  I swiped my husband’s tripod, mike and headset – luckily, he thinks my business helps people and is supportive.  I purchased the DVD-duplicating machine refurbished from eBay.  I purchased the binding machine for less than half of retail on Craigslist, and went with a heavy-duty one.  I found the DVDs I use (we only use one brand of excellent ones) are cheaper at Fry’s than anywhere online, so buy some every time I’m there for something else.  

Virtually all the equipment I bought for my sideline business was USED.  I could turn around and sell it again for about what I paid for it.

Stockpile some items.

When you’re running a household, a business, or any other operation with limited resources – not just money, but TIME, which I am achingly short on, stockpiling is a wonderful strategy.  Guess what else:  it keeps you out of the stores, both brick and online!  The less often you shop, the less you will spend.

For my little business, I keep enough supplies made up so filling an order is a snap.  Once I find the best prices on the packing materials, paper, or whatever, I never let anything run out. For our household, we have stashes of non-perishable items that we bought at the best per-unit prices. We have food in the freezer ready to go – to keep us out of the restaurants, of course!  

Do not stockpile something because it was a bargain purchase!  Only stockpile items that are recurring, tried and true supplies..

Finally, treat people right.

This is a principle of good business and good living.  You could save money, I suppose, by cheaping out on product, in the short-term, but my customers aren’t coming back for the next book or DVD if they didn’t like the last one.  There aren’t many machine knitters around.  My audience is very small, and I value every customer I find.  That’s why the DVDs are the best ones we can buy; that’s why we ship the next business day; that’s why I study and answer so many customer knitting questions; and finally, that’s why I maintain a free, content-rich blog for knitters.  I hope people who buy from me think I’m providing a fantastic value, not being another sizzle-and-no-steak marketer.

You’ve got to treat people right as a buyer, too.  Some people do things to save money that are ugly, cheapskate things, like taking buffet food home, swiping the sugar packets, lying to make a sale, and returning worn clothing.  Don’t lower yourself to any of those strategies.  The whole concept of fiscal discipline is about changing your mind and heart so that you value important things in life (your loved ones, the way you spend your time, your peace of mind, your ability to give) more than spending for instant gratification.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Killer Cooking Shortcut

A Killer Cooking Shortcut – And Frugal, Too!
Every financial blog you read recommends that you cook at home as much as possible.  Eating out can be an enormous financial drain, and then there is the additional problem of oversized, high calorie restaurant portions.  If you don’t believe restaurant food will make you FAT, Google the name of your favorite restaurant and nutrition and see how much chicken Alfredo or the steak feast will add to your intake!  It’s not unusual to see 1,500 calorie entrees on the menu, without even adding soup, salad, appetizers, beverages or desserts
It’s not that hard to get into the habit of cooking at home.  I used to cook far less, rationalizing that I was walking in tired and hungry after my afternoon commute.  Now, I’ve gotten myself into the firm habit of cooking our evening meal in 30 minutes or less, and it’s far better than anything cheap that I could buy.  I will even set up the meal, for instance, get the salmon poaching at a good bubble and the fresh corn up to a boil, turn the stove off, and go walk my little dog, letting the residual heat in the heavy, covered pans cook the fish and veggies on through.  Or, I’ll set it up my main dish in the microwave and go walk Sammy.   I have then accomplished several things:  made a healthy dinner, walked my little dog so he doesn’t get any fatter, enjoyed being outdoors for a few minutes, and gotten a little exercise.  (Note that this is safe.  I am not leaving the stove or regular oven unattended.)
Of course, I’m on the lookout for short-cut and frugal cooking ideas.
Here’s a terrific shortcut that I haven’t read about as a tip in all the financial books and blogs – really, don’t you get sick of reading the same old tips over and over?  I buy a giant 5- or even a 10-pound package of lean ground beef when there’s a good price and I brown the whole thing, stirring and breaking it up into crumbly pieces.  I use my big Dutch oven for this, far less messy than using a big frying pan.  Then, I drain the beef very, very thoroughly, removing absolutely as much grease as I can, and bag it in sandwich bags. 
The store where I shops sells the same thing at a premium price, bagged, in the freezer section.  You can shake out what you need and put the rest back.  You could easily make that (and use less sandwich bags) by spreading it in a thin layer on a cookie sheet, freezing it, breaking it up and then bagging it, but my freezer does not accommodate a very big sheet and I like to cook this staple ingredient in serious quantities.  I always use it up before it gets old, and I can always knock out a quick meal with it. 
Then, when I’m cooking and need browned ground beef, I just grab a sandwich bag.  I pack them with enough for the two of us.  There are a bunch of things I can make with this, for instance, relleno casserole, tacos, stuffed bell peppers, a macaroni and beef dish, soups, and so forth.  I get to skip the greasy brown-the-ground-beef job, and also skip the defrosting hassle, since these little bags will thaw out in the microwave in less than two minutes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Something worked well for me, and I challenge you to do it. I can go long periods of time without spending any walking-around cash at all. I can actually have a couple of $20s in my purse for a month or more. I just don't spend much money on incidentals. Not Starbucks, not McDonalds, not a snack machine...

I do buy gas and groceries, weekly. I'm not counting those items, which are paid for by a debit card or a check. Sometimes John pushes me to buy some clothes, imagine that! I hardly ever feel like shopping, and when I was a young adult, I loved to shop.

I didn't even do most of this on purpose. What happened to me happens to a lot of mothers - I just got sick of shopping. After years of shopping for exciting items like Macaroni and Cheese and super-sturdy boys' blue jeans, I completely lost interest in shopping.

I lost interest in eating lunch in restaurants. I struggle with my weight, and anyone who watches calorie intake can tell you how horrendous the choices at a lot of restaurants are. And then, I have a long workday and didn't appreciate losing half of the lunch hour to driving to a restaurant and waiting for a table. I had a place at work where I could eat undisturbed. So that went away...

My brown bag lunches are terrific. Lately, with Weight Watchers, I've taken up eating whole wheat English muffins with low-fat cream cheese, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, yogurt, or even good leftovers.

Then I lost interest in buying takeout food on the way home from work. At some point, I wanted to cook for my husband, who really appreciates my cooking a homemade meal. I have a very nice husband, and he's even nicer well-fed. I cook virtually every breakfast and dinner. It's cheaper, more nutritious, and after you get the hang of it, you can cook very quickly from scratch ingredients. I don't make extra grocery runs much, either, unless a kid pops in from college and we don't have the foods he likes. I do have a well-stocked freezer and pantry.

It gets very easy if you do it every day. I can walk in, assemble ingredients, put them in the microwave or oven, walk my dog who has been outside all day, and then when I walk back in the house fifteen or 20 minutes later, it's almost a meal. Or, I poach salmon, blacken fish, or do a stir-fry on the stove, which only takes a few minutes. Trust me, I cook in 15-30 minutes flat. If it took me an hour to cook, I wouldn't, after my commute.

My husband helps with dishes quite a lot of the time, so cleanup isn't much of an issue, either.

Play a little game with yourself. See how many days you can go without shelling out the bucks! Just imagine the money you will save.