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A Few Bucks Here

Over the past two years, we've all seen the headlines that emphasize the economic conditions in the nation: Recruits Fired at Graduation; 100 Cops Laid Off; Village Disbands Police Department. Municipalities around the USA face extreme budget pressures, and public safety budgets are feeling part of the pain. Many agencies are facing "furloughs," which is a benign-sounding term for forced unpaid days of leave. Those of us with collective bargaining are being asked to return contractual raises or forgo future raises. In short, police officers around the country are trying to live on reduced incomes.

There is the old adage, "a penny saved is a penny earned." It means saving money is the same as making money. This month, we'll examine some simple ways you can try to reduce your expenses at home. These tips may help you stretch your already stretched paycheck, and make the ends meet through these challenging times.

Coupons

Ever notice how 60% of the Sunday newspaper is just colorful inserts? Believe it or not, these colorful inserts, which I used to routinely toss into the recycling bin, contain hundreds of ways to save money. There are flyers with coupons that offer a small amount off to entice you to buy a specific product. You will find coupons for everything from toilet paper to beer to frozen vegetables. Admittedly, these coupon amounts normally are not large (most seem to be in the 25 to 50 cent range), but they add up.

Some stores, especially grocery stores, offer "double coupon" days. If you shop on the designated day, the store will double the value of the coupons up to a total of $1 off. Shopping for a family of four, my wife normally saves about $5 a week with coupons; not exactly a fortune, but it works out to $250 a year or so. Keep in mind as you select coupons, name brand green beans with a 50-cents off coupon may still be 50 cents more expensive than the store's brand of green beans, so be sure you still compare prices.

Store Specials

Those Sunday inserts also have advertisements for the weekly specials at nearly every major store in your area. By choosing to buy specific items at those stores during the week, you can save even more money. For example, your grocery store may have pork chops on sale for $1.29 a pound. If the normal price is $1.99 a pound, including pork chops in your weekly dinner menu can save you money. For these ads to be helpful, your family grocery shopper has to know what is a "normal" price and what is a "good" deal.

Some stores also have dedicated shoppers' cards. These cards, or customer recognition programs, are often free. They also give you special pricing on selected products; when I go through the aisles (which is admittedly a rare occurrence), it appears that 25% to 30% of the items are cheaper with the customer card than without. The program may also allow you to earn points towards other savings. Our grocery store has a program where we can redeem the points for 10 cents off per gallon at the gas station outside the store; a 20-gallon fill-up means another $2 in savings.

On Line Savings

There are a number of ways to save online without shopping online. Many stores offer special coupons on their websites; they can also email you coupons and special deals if you register with the site. There are special coupon sites that give you free coupons for a number of products, and these can generally be redeemed at any store. It certainly takes a little time to weed through all the offers and see what actually meets your needs, but it is a free way to add a few dollars of savings to your shopping trips.

Also, consider looking at your bank's website. Major banks offer electronic bill paying via their websites, giving you the ability to type in the information and have the bank electronically transfer your payments. This saves you the cost of the check as well as the cost of a stamp. My bank also has a points program on our debit card, where we earn points for paying bills through the website as well as using our debit card for other purchases. We recently traded in points for $100 in gift cards to Lowe's to buy lawn and garden supplies. So, on top of not paying for new checks or postage, the bank also bought all of our fertilizer and flowers for the summer.

You can also sign up for automatic bill paying with your utilities and other regular bills. Again, this is normally a free service and it saves you the hassle of tracking what bill is due when, as well as the cost of a check and a stamp. That maybe only be 45 or 50 cents in savings per bill, but it's free money if you want to take advantage of it.

Cut Back

Another way to save a few dollars is to consider cutting back on what are, in the end, optional services. It is easy for us to add unlimited texting and internet to our phones, or premium sports packages to our television service. But these cost $20 or $30 a month; do this for several services, and you are looking at nearly $100 a month in optional services.

I know some of you don't consider it optional to have all 14 channels of ESPN; and if you can afford it, that's fine. But if you are one of the many police officers who is facing pay cuts or furloughs, you may want to consider missing a few games for the next year or two until the economy stabilizes.

Conclusion

By most estimates, it is going to be a few more years before local budgets recover from this downturn. That means that government employees across the nation are going to be looking at reduced incomes for some time. By shopping smart, taking advantage of coupons and special deals, and looking to the internet, you can make your money go a little farther. Eliminating nice, but optional, services can also add up to big savings. If you are one of the tens of thousands of officers facing budgetary pressure, take some of these steps to help protect your family's finances and make it through these tough times.

A penny saved may only be a penny, but if you save enough pennies, you can buy anything you want.

Be safe.



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