10 Smart Ways To Spend Your Hard-Earned Money

by April Borbon
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Sometimes, spending money can actually save you money. With that in mind, here are several things you should seriously consider spending your money on.

If you read the Dollar Stretcher religiously, wash out your used sandwich bags and never throw anything away because there may be some future use for it, it’s a good bet you are, to put it politely, thrifty.

While many people equate thrift with spending the bare minimum on necessities and spending next to nothing on everything else, the following ten items are things you don’t want to scrimp on.

In fact, spending your money now on these items will actually save you money (and health and happiness) in the long run.

1. Home Safety

Safety is an item that shouldn’t be compromised to save money. After all, what good is saving money if you are risking the safety of yourself and your family? Locks and deadbolts, a peephole in the door and working fire extinguishers are necessary. It is absolutely worth spending a little extra money to fix wobbly steps or child-proof your poison’s cabinet.

To save money, check with your local fire department; they often provide free or low-cost smoke detectors. Discount chains sell locks and deadbolts, which can be purchased for under $20 and are simple to install yourself. Organizations like Christmas in April provide assistance to fix homes that require repair. Online videos and tutorials can teach you simple, cost-effective ways to increase the safety of your home.

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2. Education

Whether for yourself or your children, continuing education is a must. We all should continue learning new skills throughout our careers to ensure we stay as employable as possible. This may or may not mean traditional college. Today, there are so many ways to further your education without paying for a degree.

And you don’t have to go deep into debt to get further education, whether for yourself or your kids. Go online to search education grants and scholarships, work-study programs and apprenticeships.

If you are laid off or otherwise unemployed, look into job training projects through your local college or unemployment office.

Be creative! I heard of one man who paid his daughter minimum wage to find college scholarships. She wanted to work in a fast food restaurant after school, but he made a deal that if she applied for two scholarships a week, he would pay her for her time. Although there was some financial outlay at the beginning, the girl was able to find enough scholarships to pay her way through college, thus saving her parents and herself tens of thousands of dollars.

3. Preventive Medical and Dental Care

It is easy to put off minor medical or dental problems until “later” to save money. Unfortunately, when “later” comes, the problem often has gotten so big that the expense in money, time, and quality of life is much more significant than if the problem had been taken care of when it was small.

For low or no-cost medical and dental services, check with teaching hospitals or dental schools at colleges and universities in your area. There are also community health centers in many communities that offer care based on a sliding fee schedule, depending on your income. Local hospitals offer preventive health programs, and drug companies often give big discounts on critical drugs if you contact their assistance programs directly.

4. Insurance

Insurance is like a seatbelt. You never know when you are going to need it, but in the split second when you do need it, it is invaluable. Health, automobile and life insurance can take a pretty big chunk out of your budget, but running the risk of canceling your insurance then having a major medical catastrophe, a serious automobile accident, or having the family wage earner die can spell financial ruin.

To save money, consider driving a car that is cheaper to insure. Consider raising your deductible and then keep that amount in savings in case you need it. Look into COBRA laws, which will allow you to keep your insurance in effect if you are laid off. State welfare programs offer basic health plans; see if you and your family qualify. Consider term life insurance, which is cheaper than whole life. Also, see if you can get group insurance rates through any organization you are affiliated with, such as AAA, AARP, small business associations, etc.

5. Preventive Home/Car/Appliance Maintenance

Like preventive health care, money spent on preventive maintenance for your home, car, appliances and even clothes can save you big time in the future.

It’s just common sense to fix the rattle under your hood as soon as you hear it instead of putting it off until your transmission drops off at 70 miles per hour on the freeway. Is the paint chipping off on your home? Repainting as soon as possible will save you the cost of repairing water and bug damage in the future.

Check out car repair training programs at the local college; you will save money on repairs and help a student gain valuable work skills. Trade services with your local mechanic, handyman or tinkerer; bartering is the low-cost way to get things done. Do-it-yourself books and videos are available online. Or attend home maintenance seminars offered at your local hardware store. It can save you money while giving you life-long skills.

6. Quality, Healthy Food

Simple, organic foods such as whole grains, legumes, and fresh vegetables are a great way to “invest” in yourself. Studies show that even though these foods may cost a bit more, they pay you back many times over by keeping you healthier, slimmer, and less prone to disease.

Grow a garden (even in a window box if that is all you have), buy from local farmer’s markets, make your own healthy food with basic ingredients (recipes for just about anything are all over the Internet), and cook with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

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7. Savings and Investments

It is easy to put off depositing money into your IRA or purchasing your own mutual funds. Unfortunately, time has a way of just flying by. About the time you realize you better start investing for your retirement years, they are already here. It’s critically important, for your own piece of mind as well as your financial security, to regularly put money into your emergency fund and some type of retirement plan such as an IRA.

To save money, the basics will work here. Save all your pocket change (if you still pay with cash) and deposit it monthly into your emergency fund savings account. Have your employer withhold a percentage of your income and deposit it into your IRA for you (the “out of sight, out of mind” method or the “pay yourself first” method ). Do a special fundraising activity each month, such as a garage sale or a recycling spree, and put the money generated into your savings or retirement account.

8. Tools Of Your Trade

Don’t skimp on the tools you need to do your job well. If you are a roofer, don’t use an old-fashioned hammer when an air-powered nail gun will get the job done twice as quickly and with a minimum of effort. It’s worth the investment to buy quality tools that will increase the quantity and quality of your work.

A note of caution: Avoid overkill. If you are a writer, a basic computer with enough memory is sufficient; you don’t need one that could run a NASA program.

Ask your experienced co-workers what kinds of tools they recommend. When you know what item you want to buy, go online and comparison shop. Buy in bulk if you find a great sale on an often-used item.

9. Activities With (and For) Your Children or Grandchildren

Kids grow up fast. It makes sense not to skimp on their activities. Piano lessons at an early age not only give a child a lifelong skill but music lessons have been shown to increase success in school. Should you buy your child the junior chemist science lab? Within reason, yes. Who knows what activity will spark a child’s imagination and lead them to become the next Einstein?

Barter lessons for a service you can provide. Go for creative instead of extravagant when it comes to vacations and other activities with your children. Provide your child with discount store basics if they are just starting to show an interest in an activity; if they stick with the activity for a time, you can provide quality items for them to use.

10. Occasional Treats for Yourself

Life is meant to be enjoyed. It isn’t meant to be an exercise in deprivation. Being thrifty is a valuable and often enjoyable skill, but sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and enjoy a splurge. It’s a great experience to be able to enjoy something out of the ordinary that makes you say, “Wow.” Remember, no guilt afterward. You deserve this!

There are many ways to treat yourself without going bankrupt. A manicure at the beauty school or a massage at the massage school are just as enjoyable as paying full price. A luxurious weekend at a hotel is just as enjoyable if you comb through the Internet to get a bargain-basement price.

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Spending money on the things that matter will not only improve your health and safety, but there are a myriad of ways in which to leave your finances more or less intact. It is quite possible to get the things you need without blowing your bankroll.

The bottom line is to spend your money where it will make the most impact. Create for yourself and your family a life that is safe, secure, creative and enjoyable while, of course, getting the best bargains you can find.

Reviewed November 2023

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