Friday, January 7, 2011

Kristen Hagopian's 'Top Five Frugal Investments' for 2011

Kristen Hagopian, self-proclaimed "frugalista" and author of "Brilliant Frugal Living," has passed along her latest column, apropos for those looking to save 2011.

Below are some words of wisdom from the Chester County mom and writer, pictured at right in the photo from her bookjacket. Learn more about Kristen by visiting her website or her Facebook page.

Kristen Hagopian's Top Five Frugal Investments you can make in 2011

Just about every January publication out there is hammering home their fabulous investment ideas for 2011. I have to admit, I’m addicted to those types of articles.
Whether they’re recommending I buy the stock of retail giants, car companies, aeronautical corporations or oil conglomerates, they all have their reasons for thinking their picks are the magic buttons to put money in your pocket this year. When the investment writer is a reputable one with a great history of good info, I love tracking their recommendations and seeing if they’re on the mark at year’s end. When they’re even close to hitting their predictions, producing returns of 5% or even higher, I find it incredibly impressive.

However, those types of investment endeavors are best enjoyed by those with somewhat large amounts of money to begin with. Many investment clubs can require at least $1,000 to start, which brings the demographic available to invest down tremendously. People can then fall under the mistaken impression that there’s nothing they can invest in that will make them money.

Well, I’m here to blow a gargantuan hole into that theory, with five outstanding frugal investments you can make for 2011. These investment ideas have been proven tried and true time and again, and I’m here to add my personal guarantee: Put your money into these investments and you will be rewarded with hundreds, if not thousands in savings.

1) A Warehouse Club Card - We’ve got three big warehouse clubs in this area: Sam’s Club, BJ’s and Costco. They’re all fabulous, with tremendous discounts that are nearly impossible to find retail. Depending on your family’s needs, you’re going to find yourself leaning towards one of the three. For us, BJ’s is hands down the best store for batteries (amongst other things), which we use with alarming speed in our house filled with gadgets and toys. Sam’s Club has tremendous prices on top of the line tires (amongst other things), so we head there for those. With Costco located in King of Prussia, this terrific warehouse store is slightly out of my driving range for errands, however, when I worked in the corporate sector a few years back in KOP, it was one-stop shopping for everything our company needed. Membership cards for these clubs usually run about $50/year, easily recouped over the course of a couple of visits.

Important Note: Do yourself a favor and resist the urge to impulse buy. You’re all grownups, you can do it. Just say no. Many times I’ve heard the tale of those who ran into Sam’s Club to buy bread, only to emerge dazed and confused an hour later with said bread, 10 DVD’s, and a leather sofa. Buddy up with a trusted friend for those first trips if necessary. With a $50 investment to purchase a membership card, our purchases of sharply-discounted batteries, car tires, vitamins, paper products and more has netted us thousands of dollars in returns on our investment.

2) A Crock Pot – what am I nuts? Nope. Whatever your rating as a cook, whether you’re (a) a gourmet chef, (b) terrified to go near your kitchen, (c) somewhere in between, you need one of these. Get yourself to a local consignment or thrift shop and buy one of these babies for $10 or so, and let it put monster amounts of money in your pocket. I’m a pot roast junkie, even more so when it’s surrounded by potatoes, carrots, slow simmered gravy. Oh yeah, baby. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but walking thru your door at the end of a hard day’s work and enjoy the smell of that fabulous dinner awaiting you is Heaven on Earth. Purchase that in a restaurant for your family and you’re easily shelling out $50. Do it at home for $10 (and perhaps 15 minutes of effort), and keep that extra $40 in your pocket (a.k.a. $2,000 by year’s end). This marvelous little invention alone will save you huge over the course of the year, and require very little effort on your part.

3) Continuing Education – we are incredibly lucky around here in that there are resources galore to take classes in any subject matter you love. Invest in yourself and learn something new this year! Head online to see what your local schools have to offer, or give them a call and have them put you on the mailing list for their catalog. You’ll be delighted at the diversity of courses, from elegant French for Beginners, Argentine Tango, Geneaology courses, Wine & Cheese Tastings or loads of Zumba for people far more energetic than myself. On a more frugal note, you’ll also find courses on how to easily change the oil on your car, do your own haircolor like a professional, clean & organize your house in a fraction of the time, fix and maintain your home appliances, how to interview in ways that make you stand out from the competition, painting and redecorating your home for a fraction of the price, and how to update your professional look for less.

Depending on the course you enjoy, this investment can not only save you thousands of dollars, but will also lead to higher levels of fitness and relaxation, a fabulous new look, and possibly landing that important job over dozens of other applicants. Put a dollar amount on that!

4) A Library Card – for every 100 people reading this article, 97 of you don’t own a library card. No worries, that’s easily fixed! This fabulous little gizmo is not only free and available in minutes with next to no effort, but will undoubtedly save you hundreds over the course of the year. Magazines, books, movies, DVDs, computer access and more. Cookbooks, instructional videos, workout tapes, they’ve got it all. Many even host fabulous events where you can meet famous authors – for FREE! If it’s something involving the printed and/or electronic word that you need, chances are excellent your local library has it, and did I mention … for FREE!

Love your local Borders/Barnes & Noble for the sofas & coffee? Trust me, every library I’ve been in has ultra-comfy furniture that fits my ultra-lazy self perfectly. Bring your own cup o’ joe and hang out. It’s fabulous. If you’re in any doubt as to how much it can save you, take a look at the bookshelves near you filled with books, magazines and movies that you bought, but haven’t looked at in years. Cha-ching!

5) Make one extra mortgage payment this year - Okay, this one sounds a bit unrealistic, especially to those hard working Americans who are having serious trouble just making their regular payments, much less tacking on one more. But hear me out. The average mortgage payment can run about $1,800/month. If you want to save that amount over the course of the year, that’s $5/day, or $35/week. Take 10 minutes on the phone with your bank, and create an account in which they automatically deposit $35 of your pay into it every week. By the end of the year, you’ve got the $1,800 you need to pound down one extra mortgage payment. Sure, you could withdraw it and blow it on overpriced holiday gifts or a fun weekend in Atlantic City, but then I’d have to hunt you down and completely flip out. Don’t create that kind of work for me, I beg of you.

The way interest and principal are calculated on a home loan, paying down one extra mortgage payment every year will save you TENS of thousands over the course of the loan (easily double that extra amount you put in) and shorten that loan time from 30 years down to easily 24 instead. By any account, that’s an investment that will pay off huge. Above all else, invest your hard-earned money in ways that will benefit not just your bottom line, but your heart, mind and soul as well. Frugal On!

2 comments:

EricaK said...

I have done 3 out of 5 of these suggestions. For continuing education, I guess I kind of do that when I attend workshops while I'm working and things like that. I never thought of it as an investment that could save $$...and about the mortgage payment, that sounds actually reasonable, but how do we go about doing that when we're happy to be able to pay each month? - The crock pot suggestion is great- I always forget about our in our storage cabinet!

Michelle Karas said...

Hi Erica,

Thanks for reading!

I can attest that having a small amount of money automatically set aside out of every paycheck into a separate account is a good way to save to pay down debt. I did so for a monthly car payment - it worked beautifully (until the bank started charging me fees for that formerly free savings account and I had to close it). Of course, if there's no "extra" money in your paycheck, that doesn't help so much.