Frugal Ideas To Help Your Home Sell

Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 1909

We recently put our home on the market to sell. Man, do we have a lot to do to get the place in ship shape!  We have been busy for the past couple of weeks doing what we could to make the place look more appealing to a potential buyer.  Living there for so long we didn’t realize how much stuff we had and how many little things could be fixed.  I’d be lying to say we weren’t concerned about getting a good price in today’s market!

Our goal is to make our home look as clean, big, and attractive as possible without breaking the bank!  Fortunately there are many things we can do to help achieve this.

These are inexpensive ideas to help sell your home:

  • Paint (@MoneyMatters) – We hired someone to paint most of the place for us.  It wasn’t that expensive and it’s made the place look so much bigger and brighter!  We used light, neutral colors that would be appealing to most (our prior colors were great but too dark for most people’s tastes).  This could be done yourself to save more.  We just didn’t have the time to do it ourselves (and we got a great deal on a local painter).
  • Replace Light Fixtures – We replaced our dining room, bathroom, and the bedroom’s light fixtures.  We bought them at Home Depot and they weren’t that expensive.  Combined with the new paint job, the apartment looks much bigger than before.  Add to that we used fluorescent lights so we can tell prospective buyers that the light costs will be lower.
  • Remove Clutter (@nomorespending)- We’ve already removed all of our CD’s and their shelves as well as our books and bookshelf.  It’s really opened up the place (I have a LOT of CD’s).  Remove, give away, put in storage whatever you can.  Get down to the bare minimums to make the place look as big as possible and let a buyer step in and imagine it as theirs.  This will also help you when you move as you will have less to box and bring with you.
  • Clean Carpets/Wax Floors (@thepassivedad) – Renting a machine for the day to clean your carpets can be inexpensive.  Same is true for a floor buffer.  There’s also less expensive cleaners you can use that may require more elbow grease but can be as effective.  If you’re able add no base board molding.  Basically give a buyer the thought that they don’t have to do any work on the floors if they don’t want to!
  • Landscaping (@misformoney)- If you have a garden or lawn space do what you can to spruce it up and make it lively!  New plants don’t have to be expensive and can make the front of your home look much more inviting!
  • Take Great Pictures (@pffirewall) – Your home will most likely be online somewhere for sale and you will need photos of it.  Make sure the photos are good quality taken at the time of the day the light is the best.  Wait until you have everything ready and use a good camera.  If you have a friend who’s a photography buff ask him to come over and take a few shots for you.  You want big and clean!  I’ve seen people post photos of cluttered rooms that make me instantly go to the next listing on the site.
  • Re-Grout Wall and Floor Tiles - This sounds like more work than it really is.  I’ve discovered it takes some elbow grease but doesn’t cost too much.  And new grout will make your tiles look almost new again.  Go ahead and take a close look at how dingy they may be…  I’ve been slowly re-working the tiles in our bathroom!
  • Replace Old Sinks, Cabinets, Faucets – You can go crazy replacing these items and spend thousands for sure.  But sometimes if yours are beat up and old an inexpensive replacement will look much better than what you have.  New usually equals clean and that helps a buyer!
  • Replace Outlet Covers and Light Switch Covers – Over the years these can get beat up and dirty.  But they cost little to replace.  Put these in after you have painted to keep them clean.
  • De-Personalize Your Home – Put away all of your photos and pictures.  You can leave a few up to display but you want a buyer to walk in and imagine the place as theirs.  Seeing your face all over doesn’t help that.  It also helps remove the clutter too!
  • Read Magazines/Watch TV (@nodebtplan)- No, I’m not saying you should sit around and be lazy.  What you can do is look at what homes look like in advertisements and shows.  There are also plenty of home shows on TV these days to give you ideas as well.  You can get a good idea of what a model home should look like.
  • We Need More Light! – When you are showing the home turn on the lights to make the place look bigger even if it’s during the day!
  • Bake Before a Showing – This one is a bit cliche but you would be amazed how well it works!  We had friends over and one was helping me install a new dining room light.  At the same time my wife happened to be baking a cake.  It smelled amazing and really made the place feel “home”-ey. (And really how much do those instant bake cookies cost?)
  • Build a Website – A friend mentioned that when he was selling his Manahttan apartment he put up a quick website with some pictures and contact forms. Six months hosting isn’t very expensive and a lot of hosting companies will give you a free domain name and web site kit.  He ended up selling the place himself!  You can also list your home on Craiglist.
  • Clean, Scrub, Sweep, Repeat – Clean like a madman.  Then go do it again.  Then ask a neighbor or friend to point out what still seems dingy and hit the cleaners again.  Make the place sparkle!  The cleaner the better.  A clean place tells a buyer that you take care of the home (and it makes it look great).
  • Empty Those Closets - As best you can clean out the closets.  Again, live with the bare minimum that you need and get those closets looking as big as possible.  Buyers will want to see how much of their stuff they can put in them not how much of yours!
  • Visit Other Homes In Your Area – Take an afernoon and go visit the open houses in your area.  See what their homes look like and what they offer and the price they ask.  If you see a similar place as yours take note; this is your competition and you want your place to look better!  Is it cleaner? Newer?  You may be surprised to find out it won’t take much to make your place look nicer.
  • Replace the Toilet Seat – Seriously!  People will notice that it’s sparkling clean which will get you big points.  Either they don’t need to get a new one themselves or they believe you keep things super-clean, you win.

Yes, it takes some work on your part to do these things. But if it will help you sell then it will more than pay off!!  A couple of years ago you might have had a bidding war for a home that wasn’t all done up.  But in today’s economy you have to put your best foot forward just to get the sale!  Don’t let something small keep a buyer from wanting your place.

Any other ideas?


Creative Commons License photo credit: mach3

Ask And Save On Your Cable Bill

Cable

My wife was getting sick of the cable bill.

It’s gone up recently to the point where we had to question whether it was worth keeping or not.

I mean, remember when TV was free? 

Now to get reception you have to pay (at least until the digital boxes take effect in February).

So my wife said it was time to get rid of cable!

Whoa!  I gotta admit, I’m an addict.  I’ve been glued to the TV since I was a wee little pea.  I know that’s not the best thing but I wasn’t ready to go cold turkey just yet.  But I also understand that we’re spending way too much money for the privilege of watching a ton of commercials on shows we mostly don’t care too much about.

I told my wife to let me take a shot at calling the cable company to see what they can do for us.

So I grabbed our latest bill, a pen, and some paper and gave them a call.

I got a friendly woman who asked how she can help me.  I asked her what can be done to lower the bill as the rates have gotten real high and we were ready to drop cable if the rates continued as they were.

Immediately she said they had a 12 month promotion that would save us $25!

Oh yeah!

I checked with the Mrs to see if this was acceptable (we’re cool like that in that we clear money issues with each other).  I got the yes nod and told the woman we’d take it.

Just like that we saved roughly $25 a month on our cable!

I took the person’s name and company number in case any issues arise on the next bill.  I also wrote the details down so I can refer to then when the next bill comes in.

Lesson – If you want something to change you have to ask!  It won’t happen on it’s own.

Some things to keep in mind if you’re calling to change your cable bill:

  • Calmly but firmly state that you want to find out how your bill can be lowered.
  • Always remain friendly when speaking to the customer representative.  If the person you get can’t help you ask to speak to their superior or someone that can.
  • Be nice!  Customer service probably gets hundreds of calls in a day, many of which are not too friendly.  Being nice can go a long way in getting what you need.
  • If needed, state that you are prepared to drop their service or go to another service provider.  Have an example of a competitors lower prices if possible.  Many companies have a customer retention department who are equipped for these kind of calls.  Remember, only go the drop route if you are really prepared to drop their service.
  • You might not get the answer you want the first time through.  Nicely hang up and call back in a few minutes to see if you get another rep.
  • Ask about combination packages.  You might get a lower cable rate if you combine cable service with internet and/or telephone service.
  • Get the rep’s name and customer number or ID.  They should have some sort of ID to trace the call back to them.  Write down the details and repeat them back to make sure you understand correctly.  Watch for deals that require a contracted time.  That might not be an ideal situation for you.

Do you have any other tips?  Let me know what’s worked for you!

Creative Commons License photo credit: jessicafm

6 Ways Eating Out Less Has Made Our Family Better

As you know we are living off of one income now. It’s been a bit different but I think we’re doing well so far.  One thing we’ve done to help stretch my paycheck is to cut back eating out so often.  I didn’t think we ate out too much before the income switch but now I can see that we had a budget leak that could have been more savings for us.  And we’ve discovered there are more benefits than saving money!

We were already in the habit of making dinner at home and having family time together. It was the weekends when we usually ate out.  Saturdays were probably the worst culprits.  We would get up and go to our favorite diner for breakfast.  Then as we’d go and take care of things during the day we’d find lunch somewhere.  This would also tend to be pretty unhealthy.  I’m talking mall food here.  Afterward we’d be too beat to make dinner so we go out for dinner or order in.  Three meals may not seem like a lot but it would drain my wallet pretty quick!  I would usually go to the bank on Friday to take money out for the weekend and often I’d find that I was broke by Sunday!

And that was just eating out on Saturday! I didn’t even get to eating out on Sunday or during the week.  Sundays would usually be breakfast and lunch out again.  During the week we usually ate in but if we were tired we would easily get food out!

Overall we’re really happy with the fact that we have been eating at home more.

Here are six ways eating out less has made our family better:

  • We have more more family time together. When we eat we eat together at the dinner table.  We have more time for conversation to talk about our days.  Our daughter knows that dinner time is “family dinner.”  “A family that eats together stays together.
  • We are eating healthier. Sometimes we would eat out at a nice restaurant with great food but most of the time it would be at a chain type restaurant.  Yeah, we filled up but the food wasn’t really great for us.  Now the food we eat is prepared by us and we know better what the ingredients are.
  • We’re setting a better example for our children. By eating together at home our kids see that we don’t have to eat out for every meal and they can learn how food is prepared.  This will set them up to take care of themselves later on in life.
  • We’re saving money. This is a big one for us.  This is Free From Broke after all!  It’s tough to put a dollar figure on what we’re saving but I can tell you that I don’t have to go to the ATM twice in one weekend anymore!!  We’re finding that although our food shopping expenses have gone up some we still have extra money at the end of the month that we didn’t have when we ate out more often.
  • We’re being more efficient. Now when we go food shopping we know that everything we buy  on our grocery shopping list will be used.  It used to be we would go out to eat and the food we had would spoil.  Even when we ate out our meals were so big most of it would go uneaten.
  • Our home is a home! It’s hard to explain but our home is more complete now that we eat out less.  We’re using our home to it’s fullest extent.  All those things we got for our wedding like salad spinners and cooking sets are being used rather than sitting up on shelves.  It just feels like this is what it’s supposed to be.

It’s a shame it took our going to one income to take advantage of all of these benefits! Imagine what we could have been saving when we had two incomes?!?  Or how much healthier we would have been eating?

We haven’t completely given up eating out.  We still have the occasional pizza night.  And we’ll get together with friends every now and then at a nice restaurant.  But eating out less has definitely benefited our family in more ways than we would have thought!

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I’m Saving By Bringing Lunch To Work

the finished product

So as you know, we’re living off of one income now as my wife took off from her education job to stay home to raise the kids.  We’ve been looking for all sorts of ways to cut expenses to make my salary stretch a little farther.

One thing I’ve started to do is bring lunch to work a few days a week.

I work in NYC.  I don’t tend to go too crazy on lunches in general.  I tend to stay away from the expensive restaurants.  This was a habit before we were on one income.  But the costs of eating in Manhattan do add up anyway.  A sandwich is easily $5 at least if I go to a small deli.  More if I go to a bigger establishment.  Salads cost at least $7.  One thing to note is that I don’t eat at fast food places such as McDonald’s, Subway, or Wendy’s.  I could get cheaper lunched there but I gave up that food long ago.  I try to keep my eating healthy.  It could cost more at times but I think the payoff to my health is much greater in the long run!

So now my wife has been making lunch for me around three times a week. If I would have spent $5 on lunch then that saves me $15/week.  That’s around $60/month or $720/year!  And that’s if I only spent $5.  I’m saving more if my lunches were more expensive on those days.

I also don’t buy any beverages for lunch.  We have a coffee machine and water cooler at work which I use instead.  This also goes back to eating healthy since I wouldn’t buy soda or sugar drinks anyway.

So there’s one way we’re making our money stretch.  I’ll be telling you about others ways in future articles.

How do you stretch your money?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: the prodigal untitled13

Booking A Hotel Through An Online Travel Site May Not Be Worth It

In planning our recent trip to Virginia Beach I discovered that using an online travel site isn’t always worth it.  In fact they could be ripping you off!

every time we say goodbye

We finally decided on going to Virginia Beach and we wanted to stay as close to the beach as possible.  At the same time we really didn’t know much about the area.

My wife and I scoured the various travel sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com, etc…  Whenever we saw something interesting we checked it in Trip Advisor to see what kind of feedback people who stayed there had.  We tried to find out what we could about the area and what was available.  Because we waited so long to plan our trip many hotels were either booked on certain days or too expensive.  Finally, through one of the sites (I won’t mention which), we found a decent hotel with a rate we were OK with paying.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

So we found a good rate for a room.  We discovered that for $10 more a night we could also get a Continental breakfast included.  Ten dollars more a night to get the four of us going in the morning sounded like a good deal!

Before I was able to reserve the room, my wife, in her mighty wisdom, told me to check out the hotel’s site and maybe give them a call to see what they charge.  Good thing she told me that.  I checked the hotel site and I found that their rooms were the same price as the online travel site.

Ok, no biggie.

Then I discovered that the Continental breakfast was included in all the reservations!!  The travel site was going to charge me $10 a night for something the hotel gave out for free!  It gets better.  We found that the hotel gives discounts to AAA members.  I plugged in our membership card and was pleased to see that the room would be discounted another $18!

In all we saved $28 a night by going directly to the hotel’s site rather than booking through an outside travel site!  Over five nights that’s a savings of $140.

I’m sure there are real great deals out there on these travel sites but this proves that you have to do your homework.

Sometimes the best deals may be from the hotel itself!

What travel tips do you have?

Creative Commons License photo credit: [charlie cravero]

Our Vacation To Virginia Beach And Such

We got back a few days ago from our trip to Virginia Beach. According to Google Maps this was around 380 miles and should take about 7 and 1/2 hours to get there (more on that later).  We drove down on Sunday morning and came back Friday evening.

I was originally going to call this our “staycation” but it seems that staycation really means that you stay home and go to local attractions.  Still, this was our first driving vacation.  In previous years we would fly to our destinations.  Since we just bought a new mini-van we figured it would be a great time to drive and save money on plane fare too!  Virginia Beach seemed close enough to drive to from NYC and we heard a lot of great things about it.

So we packed up our stuff and put the kids in the car and left Sunday morning.  Many, many hours and rest stops later we finally made it to Virginia Beach (we had a major delay at one point but more on that later).  It was basically an all day drive for us, what with stops and all.  One exciting about the drive was going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel which spans 20 miles (on the way back we saw what might have been a a Navy Destroyer passing through the channel section).  It was also interesting to see all of the different towns and landscapes in the different states (four total: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia).

Virginia Beach is beautiful! Our hotel really was just two quick blocks to the beach!  There was a beautiful boardwalk on the beach to walk along with a separate trail for bikes (we wanted to rent a bike for all of us but we didn’t get a chance).  Within two from the beach are places to eat (the four main  food sources seem to be seafood, ice cream, waffle/pancakes, and pizza), shops, a fun house, a haunted house, lots of ice cream shops, outdoor performance areas, miniature golf, and more!  It was really fun to walk around at night and take in the scenery.  In fact one of the performances we saw was the Edgar Winter Group at a bandstand right off the beach (we caught Frankenstein and Free Ride)!

An interesting thing we discovered was that Virginia Beach is close to a Naval base.  As a result there are military jets flying routes overhead all day.  Living near two airports in Queens, NY I’m used to hearing planes overhead but seeing military jets is different.  The last time I saw a military jet flying was on September 11th over the Empire State Building so it brought back some somber memories.  Once I got used to that though it was pretty awesome seeing the jets flying.  At times we would see three together flying in close formation.  If we ever go back we’ll have to tour the Naval base!

Funny story…One day my daughter wanted to go to the pool rather than go to the beach.  She couldn’t quite grasp that we didn’t drive 400 miles to go to a small hotel pool!  Well the beach won out.  As I was playing with her, jumping waves I saw a fin a little ways off.  I noticed it was a curved fin.  I told I thought I saw a dolphon but wasn’t sure.  She got worried thinking it could be a shark!  A few minutes later I saw for sure two dolphins swim to the surface.  Other people noticed it too.  In all there were about four dolphins swimming around and playing a little ways off from us.  We saw a couple jump out of the water and twist.  We must have watched them swim around on and off for the next hour!  At one point, holding my daughter up to see the dolphins, I asked her if she would have rather stayed at the pool.  Begrudgingly she said no, that it was much more fun at the beach.  Ha!  On a similar note, I had seen dolphin watching boat rides advertised for about $20 a person.  We saved a bundle by just going to the beach instead!

As well as the beach and the local scenery we also went to the Virginia Beach Aquarium and spent a day in Colonial Williamsburg.  The little princess loved seeing all of the old time building and costumes.

Remember how I said Google Maps said the trip should be 7-8 hours?  I’ve discovered that with two kids we have to add at least 30% to the time listed!  Coming home took much longer with stops and traffic entering NYC.

The trip was a lot of fun and I would definitely consider going back to Virginia Beach but it seems for us every silver cloud has a lead lining.  While driving down there we got into a car accident.  We got rear ended on the highway.  Our brand new car now has a dent in the front and a smashed in rear door.  No one was hurt and the car runs but it really hurts to have a new car get beat up like that.  The accident was the other person’s fault and insurance should cover the repairs but it did put an ill feeling over the trip.  We even considered going back home after the accident but we’re glad we went through with the trip.

In all I think we saved money by not flying off someplace.  We certainly spent money but it was less than we would have flying to a Caribbean locale.

Accident aside, we had fun and I think we have more driving trips in our future. As you can see from the Frugal Things To Do series there’s so much to see and do in this country!  Even a couple of days before the big trip we went out to Sesame Place and a couple of weeks earlier we went to the Bronx Zoo.

Do You Have Frugal Tips For Your City?

If you’ve been keeping up on things then you know the Money Life Network has just finished our series “Frugal Things To Do In…” where we listed out great things to do in each of the cities we live in.  Check out the great map showing all of our locations!

Things is though, there’s only seven of us in the Money Life Network and that barely puts a dent in the map.  We need your help to fill the map up!  If you have a blog then write about frugal things to do in your city , link back to us and contact us and we’ll add you to our map.

Check out the Money Life Network cities:

Now let’s fill up that map!