Got Cash?

Jul 30, 2009
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to. –Parker

The world is so full of a number of things, I am sure we should all be happy as kings; and you know how happy kings are. –Thurber

I am not sure of why, but many recruiters I know are not very good with money, myself included. Perhaps it’s the stress of the business or our belief that we can always make more that allows us to use money as a balm to soothe our aching souls. This is unfortunate because there is nothing less valuable then money you have just spent. (Honestly, which first-year agency person does not have his Porsche picked out?)

The following ideas can preserve precious resources and give you a sense of control and dominion in these difficult times. This list is by no means comprehensive but it is good starting point in terms of employing the belief that a penny saved really is a penny earned. If you try to do this and it is not painful, you are not trying hard enough.

  1. Coffee. The days of hanging in expensive coffee houses connected to ear buds looking the part of an out-of-work writer in deep thought is over. Furthermore, the days of bizarre coffee concoctions sold at silly prices are disappearing rapidly as value is the new ideal. Find good coffee at a good price and save hundreds a year in the process. Forget that they claim to support rain forests, wild jackals, and icecap stabilization. If you are that concerned, send them your own money.
  2. Buy Nothing. I mean it just as it reads. Absolutely, positively nothing. Do without, make it last, or get it fixed. You have enough clothes, gadgets, and everything else one needs in your overstuffed closets. No one will be impressed with your new watch. You will not look European, cool, or like a connoisseur or all things fine. You will simply look like a person who spent too much on a watch. Want to go one step further? Toss or donate everything you do not need, and get a tax write-off like the big criminals (Sorry; I meant to use the word “company” — honest mistake) and enjoy the Zen of having less junk.
  3. Consolidate. Consolidate all your credit cards into one and then look for another card that has a low rate for one-year and transfer the funds over to that card. Many cards will now give you one year at 2.9%. That’s a good deal. (It should be a good deal; it’s your tax money that bailed them out.) This will involve some phone work and the great negotiating skills that recruiters use every day, but it is worth it. Honestly, do you want them to have even one more dime of your money?
  4. Cable. Many of us have a threesome of Internet, cable, and phone. Call your cable company and see exactly what you are paying for and determine if you really need it. Make it your goal to get that bill down by a third, and make them your partner in doing so. If you can get a better deal from another vendor, do so, because if they could trade you for a more profitable customer, they would do it in a New York minute.
  5. Dine In. I love going out to eat as much as the next person. Corinne once cooked so little that field mice ate the lining of the stove and we had to buy another one. (I kid you not.) If you really want to have great food and cut your bill by 50%, order food to go, pick it up, and just do your drinking at home. Paying $7.50 for each glass of wine and $8.50 for each martini is bizarre, adds up fast, and makes for a dangerous driver.
  6. Cook. This is a close relative of number five. Can you even imagine how much you might save if you not only drink at home but also cook your own food? As a society, I wonder why we seem to have lost the ability to cook our own food and seem to be OK with others doing that for us on an almost daily basis. Make something you love and make enough for two days.
  7. Insurance. Few things are as boring as meeting by phone with those who broker/sell/manage your insurance. I personally am insured for everything; home, auto, accident, dismemberment, workers’ comp, and Martians abducting my kids. This is crazy. Shop around for competitive rates and see about putting all of your insurance with one agent. Look for wasteful overlap of multiple coverages. Be sure to shop around to get competitive rates in writing. Do not let anyone sell you anything!
  8. Maintain and Repair. All of us would love to buy a new car, but that might not be a good idea. Beware of the low interest rates, rebates, and showrooms with big balloons. If your car needs maintenance, bring it in and get the work done as soon a possible. If you do this, you will not have increases in excise tax or insurance, and best of all, you will not be making car payments until you die.
  9. Your Car is Dead. Can’t repair? Buy a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry. These cars in the four-cylinder model are a great value, comfortable, fast, and good on gas. Truth be told, I suspect that 80% of the drivers out there would have their needs met with either of these two cars. American cars are getting better, but the shaky financials of the big three frightens me. When GM folds, do you really want to own an Impala?
  10. Banker. Do you know your banker? You should be on first-name basis with first-line management at your bank, and should at least know the branch manager. Banks are getting very innovative in terms of new products and services, so I strongly suggest that you get a bit chummy and make the bank your partner in supporting your efforts to survive this economic downturn. If you adopt a “what can we do” as opposed to a “what can I do” approach to finances, you will discover more options.
  11. Pay to join. Barnes & Noble has a deal that allows you to get lower prices on purchases by giving it $25 for a membership. Perhaps I do not get it, but paying for the privilege of getting a lower price is insane. (See Retail Anarchy by Sam Pocker.) Like a book at B&N? Get it on the Internet at its lowest price and get it used in its poorest condition. I know it works because I do it every single day. Alibris is wonderful.
  12. Look Closely. Examine every charge and every line of each bill for 60 days. Do not pay for anything you do not understand without a clear and definitive phone conversation. Ask how you can reduce the bill by one third. Look for programs, deals, or special incentives. Make the person you are dealing with feel your pain. If you do not get what you want, it is time to crawl up through the organization to higher levels. Be pleasant. Be relentless.

To the untrained eye, this might look like a plan for those in poverty. It is not. From a numbers standpoint, it is a plan for those who appreciate the maxim that it is not how much you earn: it is how much you keep. From a philosophical standpoint, it is a plan for those who need to feel empowered, as there is something noble, something extraordinary, about hanging tough from day to day and refusing to give into fear and frustration.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.