Sometimes all you need to do to save money is just ask. I’ll give you a few recent examples:

1) I purchased some Christmas gifts at Amazon.com in late November and a few days later two of them dropped in price. I started a chat with Amazon customer service and pointed this out and they promptly refunded me the difference.

2) A friend alerted to me to a deal a particular site was having where if you purchased a certain value of e-gift cards you’d get bonus e-gift cards for free. After I placed my order and didn’t get my free cards I contacted customer service who told me the promotion had ended (even though the website indicated otherwise). I pointed this out, had to talk to a different clueless rep, and then email someone from another company who was handling the promotion for for this company, but I did end up getting my bonus e-gift cards!

3) I ordered something from a website and a day later they sent me an email about how the item I had just ordered was now 20% off for a limited time. I started a chat with customer service expressing my disappointment and explaining how Amazon will refund the difference if the price drops within a week. While they wouldn’t do that, they did place the difference on my account as a credit for the next time I place an order.

Had I not inquired I would have been out more money in all these examples. So it does in fact pay to ask.

It’s that time of the year again – time to receive your annual performance review. It’s a perfect time to take advantage of what will hopefully be an increase in your annual pay.

Why not take a % of the increase and move that to your 401k? After years throughout a career it could make the difference between retiring and not.

Let’s use an example of an employee who will receive a 3% increase on their annual merit. Why not take 1 or even 1.5% of that merit review and increase your 401k by that amount? It’s like a double bonus! You’ll receive more in your paychecks and at the same time you’ll be contributing more % to your 401k. That’s called a win-win!

Some employers have adopted an option where your 401k will automatically increase by x% each year based on your selection. It’s like the old adage, money burning a hole in your pocket. If you tuck it away before you have it, you won’t be tempted to use it.

You know how they say that planning a trip is sometimes just as good, if not better, than actually taking said trip? I feel that way about purchases for things I want too. I like to contemplate the purchase for awhile, particularly if the item is $25 or more. I go online and do my research by reading reviews and checking prices. Sometimes I just add the item to my wish list, or flag it via CamelCamelCamel.com to notify me when it hits a price point I’d be happy with. For me, window-showing can be just as fun as owning the item.

There are things I see every day, whether online or in person, that I like, but when I start to contemplate actually owning them I tend to ask myself, “Do I really want this? Am I going to use it, or will I regret the purchase later?” And more often than not, I decide against purchasing the item.

When I do make the decision to buy something, though, I still don’t necessarily make the purchase right away. I sit on it for a bit looking for deals so I feel good that I got a fair price.

Recently I decided to start shopping for an oil diffuser so I could use the jasmine essential oil my husband had given to me for Christmas. I went through my normal research process and had finally come to the conclusion that I was willing to spend up to $50 to get a highly rated diffuser. As as I was on a website perusing their selection, something about one of the diffusers triggered a memory and I quickly ran upstairs to check our master bedroom closet. In it I found a long-forgotten mini humidifier I had used years ago at a former job.

Humidifier

I wasn’t sure if there was necessarily anything special about oil diffusers compared to a humidifier in terms of results, but figured I had nothing to lose since I hadn’t used the humidifier in years. I added water and a couple of drops of the oil and turned it on. Sweet scents of jasmine quickly filled the air and I got pretty excited! Not just because I finally got to use my essential oil, but because I had just saved myself $25-$50.

Had I rushed to make my purchase I would have wasted money and kicked myself later when it dawned on me that I could have used my old humidifier.

Is there anything in your home you ended up re-purposing to save money?

I know some people have this thing against leftovers but it doesn’t bother me in the least. I get a kick out of seeing how far we can stretch one meal. And since there’s only two of us, most dishes I make feed us for two dinners, if not more. One of my favorite recipes, Mexican Cornbread Casserole, will feed us for three days (dinner only) and costs about $12 total, which is only $2 per person, per meal. It does get a little more expensive when you factor in fresh avocados, which we like to add on top of the casserole (after it’s been cooked or reheated), but that’s usually only an additional $1.50-$3.00 total depending on whether they are on sale. And it’s so good that we don’t get sick of eating it. The same goes for the Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti I like to make. That tends to feed us for four dinners, so it comes out to about $1.50 per person, per meal (and that’s over-estimating beef at $5 per pound and using two jars of spaghetti sauce (it’s too dry with just one jar in my opinion)).

I will usually make these multi-meal dishes on a Monday so we can eat them for dinner Monday through Wednesday or Thursday since we’re a little more relaxed regarding eating out on the weekends. Unlike some people who feel one should never eat out (and I get where they are coming from since it’s almost always more expensive to eat out than make the same dish at home), I see nothing wrong with it as long as it’s not excessive and you’re not sacrificing saving for your future just so you can eat out all the time. For me, going out to eat is an adventure. I like trying out new places and just relaxing with with my husband in a new environment. After a week of working and eating at home, it’s nice to get out on the weekends and do something different.

If you’re going out to eat on a daily basis, though, that’s just foolish. Not only is it wasting money, it’s not healthy. Portion sizes are always bigger and you can’t control the fat or salt content of your dishes. Plus home-cooked meals can often be even yummier than restaurant food. Sure, there are some things I prefer not to make myself (like steak tacos and Thai food), but pasta? Why pay for that at a restaurant when I can make tastier and way cheaper spaghetti at home? It’s a no-brainer if you ask me.

What are your favorite dishes that yield leftovers?

A new year brings a new opportunity to contribute to your Roth IRA. Not only for your 2015 contribution, either. You can still contribute to your 2014 Roth IRA until April 15th!

The annual contribution limit for 2014 and 2015 is $5,500 (and $6,500 if you’re over 50). Don’t fret if you don’t feel you don’t have enough to contribute to your Roth IRA – $5,500 is just the limit. Not everyone has the means to contribute that amount and that’s ok. Many brokerage firms will take monthly contributions of even $50 a month. No matter what amount you choose, it all adds up. And something is better than nothing.

My recommended strategy for contributing to your retirement accounts

In order to take full advantage of your retirement accounts, you should only put money into your Roth IRA after you have contributed to your 401k up to the company match. In other words, if your employer matches 3% of your 401k contribution, your best move would be to put 3% into your 401k, and the rest into your Roth IRA in order to make the most of the tax advantages. And if you have the means to do so, contribute the match into your 401k, contribute fully into your Roth IRA, and then go back and increase your 401k contributions even more.

It’s never too late to take advantage of the options out there. Many brokerage firms have a great selection of no-load or low-load funds to chose from. A couple of my favorites are Vanguard and Fidelity. Check them out – sooner is better than later!