Surprise! You Have More Money Than You Thought You Had!
Some of my most exciting moments are when I find unexpected “surprise” money. You know the kind. While cleaning out the pockets before you throw your jeans in the washing machine, you pull out a five dollar bill you forgot you had. Or when you’re walking down the street and you discover a dollar bill just lying there. It’s the best feeling, isn’t it?
Well, what if I were to tell you that you have surprise money all around you. In every room of your house or apartment. Money just sitting there, waiting for you to notice it. Yes, you read that right! You just have to know where and how to look. Extra cash. Even if you’ve lost your job. Even if you are so far in debt that you see everything in red. Even if your family is eating you out of house and home.
How do I know you can find money right under your nose? Because when my husband, Bob, and I were first married, we were $40,000 in consumer debt—and yet everywhere I looked, I realized that I could find money. I felt so empowered! And within two and a half years, living on just my husband’s military salary, we used all that surprise money to pay off our debts.
Fifteen years and seven children later, we were able to pay cash for our cars (we even gave away three cars!), buy and nicely furnish two five-bedroom houses (moving from one to the other), take wonderful vacations, dress our family in style, build a nest egg for retirement, become debt free, and send three children (so far) to college without college loans. And the best part? My family and I have been able to share our money (more than $100,000) with people and causes that desperately need help. If a military husband, a stay-at-home mom, and seven kids can do it, believe me, so can you!
I’m passionate about saving money, and I’m really good at it (if I do say so!). I can find the smartest and least expensive way to do or have just about anything. And I’m excited about being able to share all my tips with you so that you can save money too.
I can hear you thinking. I get it. My surprise money is me reusing aluminum foil over and over.
Um, no. One time I had a woman approach me, shaking her head. She said, “Ellie, are you going to tell me I have to wash out and reuse plastic baggies?” I’ll tell you what I told her. “No! No! No! Unless…you really want to.” Hello? You don’t have to live like an obsessive Scrooge in order to save money! Why do we put all these downers on saving money? Sometimes pinching pennies can get old.
Real old. Way old. Big-time old. Stinkin’ old. Big, fat, double-dog-ugly old.
Which brings me to an important point: too many people think that to save money, you have to live like a monk, taking a vow of poverty, or you have to do extreme, crazy things. Seriously. I have better ways to spend my time! And I assume you do too. Let me put your mind at ease.
Here is a list of things I am not
going to suggest you do in order to save money:
• Ask your grandmother to start saving foil in little balls for you.
• To save water, keep your fish in the toilet bowl and train it to cling to the sides at the first sound of rushing water.
• When at a pizza shop, and the couple next to you leaves half a pizza untouched and uneaten, ask the waitress for a carry-out box.
• When you are driving down the road, pull over your Mercedes wannabe to pick up a piece of fruit you see lying by the side of the road.
• Search the Internet for creative ways to use those bits of soap that are too little to use but too big to throw away.
• Recycle the cotton balls that you take from the top of your vitamin bottles.
• When your friend asks you to meet her for lunch, try to talk her into a restaurant she doesn’t like because it offers “buy one/get one free” and you can get the free lunch.
• Wear the same clothes three days in a row in order to “get your money’s worth” out of the wash.
• Wash and reuse plastic Ziploc bags.
I’m proud of the ways my family and I—and you can!—save money. In fact, in my book Living Rich for Less
(the companion to this book), I tell you not only how to save more than $30,000 a year by using my Cha-Ching Factor™ tips, I give you great, practical, and easy-to implement financial principles to live a rich lifestyle. Now, does that sound like living a life filled with trained fish and aluminum foil balls?
WHAT YOU MAKE AND WHAT YOU (DON’T) SAVE
Did you know that the average American family makes $48,000 per year, and an amazing 85 percent of the population makes $100,000 or less? Most of the average folks are living paycheck to paycheck. And in many families, ATM withdrawals account for as much as 20 percent of the month’s spending, but they cannot account for a majority of those dollars! They save -0.5 percent. That means most Americans are spending more than they are making. If you’re like the average person, you don’t pay attention
to how much you’re spending. Your spending plan is actually, well, not a plan at all. Take a look at the typical family, whom I’ll call the Bensons. They are married with children—two, to be exact.
• They live in a modest three-bedroom, two bath home with a yard and a lazy dog.
• They don’t have a household budget.
• They have an annual income of $48,000.
• They owe about $8,500 in credit card debt.
• They have two car payments.
• They have a thirty-year mortgage.
• Their savings account has less than $500 in it.
• They have no long-term retirement account.
• They love their kids and want them to go to college.
• They are wondering, Where did all the dough go?
But the really amazing thing about the Bensons is where they think
they will be one day. The Bensons believe that one day they are going to earn more money through raises or a better job. They hope they will receive an inheritance or a financial windfall. They figure that someday they will no longer have student loan payments and that childcare costs will go away when the kids are in school— thus cutting down on their monthly expenses. Then they’ll finally have some breathing room. They also believe:
• One day they’ll have their credit cards paid off.
• One day they’ll have a nice savings account.
• One day they’ll get a couple of IRAs.
• One day they will be able to send their kids to college and still have a retirement fund for their golden years.
But they have no plan! They think it will “just work out.” One day, that is. One fine day. Hello? The hard fact about the Bensons is that if they continue the way they are now, with no real plan, they will:
• Pay five times as much on their house as it is worth (possibly more with the drop in real
estate prices and the economy).
• Increase their credit card debt.
• Never get out of consumer debt.
• Get a second mortgage on their home to pay for their kids’ college expenses.
• Never acquire enough savings to retire comfortably.
• Always have car payments.
• Never realize their financial goals.
So much for living the American dream, right? You may identify with the Bensons—a little too much! Or maybe you don’t quite fit their profile—maybe you’re not married, or married without children, or don’t own a house—but you still feel their pain a little too closely. Now may be a good time to take a good, hard, honest look at your spending habits. Ask yourself these questions— and be honest!
• Do my family and I currently live by a clear cut, focused spending plan?
• Do I consistently stick to that plan?
• Do I buy something only because I really
need it (not just because I want it)?
• Do I give a portion of my income to my church or a charitable cause?
• Do I have a total consumer debt load of less than 10 percent of my annual income? (For example, if you earn $50,000 per year, you have a non-mortgage debt load of $5,000 or less.)
• Do I save at least 10 percent of my income?
• Do I have a savings account with at least two months’ worth of income in it?
• Do I own a retirement account or mutual fund of any kind?
• Do I buy something because a commercial convinces me to buy it?
As you answer those questions, you may feel, well, ill. It can be a rude awakening when someone (me!) reminds you of your situation and where you should be. That’s okay. The good news is that whatever your marital, housing, or debt situation, you can do something positive. You can change your financial future. The key is to really pay attention to how you spend your money each month. Every month you spend your hard-earned cash on the following things: mortgage/rent and utilities, transportation, food (including dining out), clothing/dry cleaning/other shopping, recreation/entertainment, vacation, gifts, medical/dental/insurance, big ticket items (furniture/appliances), education, pets, credit cards, savings (hopefully!), charitable giving, and other incidentals I didn’t include in this list. And every month, if you’re like the Bensons, you make the payments without much thought or planning.
By picking up this book (along with my other book, Living Rich for Less
), you’ve taken the first real steps to changing your future, to taking back control of where your
money goes every month. You’re going to be amazed by how much surprise money you’re about to find. In Living Rich for Less
I go into detail about what I call a life-changing financial principle, the 10/10/80 Rule™. With this principle you give away 10 percent of your income, save 10 percent, and spend the remaining 80 percent wisely. I know people are skeptical when I tell them they need to give and save first, but when you spend the 80 percent wisely, you will more than make up for it. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that. I know it’s possible—and I can show you how to find enough money to live rich and share your wealth. In this book I’m going to show you exactly how to save money and spend that 80 percent wisely, so that every month you don’t dread those checkbook-balancing-bill-paying-moments. Can you imagine? Being thrilled and excited to balance your checkbook and see how much extra money is there? In each of the following chapters I offer a big tip that will take about twelve minutes a week, but those minutes can pay big dividends of $1,200 a month—or more! Then I provide other great, practical tips (more than two hundred total!) that you can put into practice right away to start watching your savings grow. You’ll be amazed by how much extra money you can have at the end of each month. Ready to figure out your spending plan and put it into action? Then turn the page and let’s go!
Excerpted from The Little Book of Big Savings by Ellie Kay. Copyright © 2009 by Ellie Kay. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.