48 The DIY Checklist Generator

Based upon 2011 CES data, SLN!’s checklists cover about 95 percent of the average household’s expenses (not counting payments to social security and pensions). Yet no one is typical. You may have line items that SLN! doesn’t address, but which still involve biggish dollars. What to do with such pricey orphans? You could languish in abject despair, but a far better approach is to seize upon SLN!’s recurring themes, tailor them to fit your line item, and prepare your own checklist. Do this, and you’ll test your uncommon expense against frugality’s bedrock principles.

PRELUDE: DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL

Whatever line item you now confront, others have dealt with it already. Don’t duplicate someone else’s work; instead, head over to FrugalFringe.com, where your fellow fringers are invited to post their own checklists for less common line items. The one you need might already be there waiting for you. At the home page, click the tab for “Supplemental Checklists.”

BUILD A CHECKLIST IN THREE EASY STEPS

  1. Pick a Structure

If you’ve worked with the checklists awhile, you already know their basic frameworks. Begin with the structure that best fits your line item. You have several choices.

   Products. If you’re about to buy a new furnace, Appendix 1 provides a great guide. But furnaces are expensive, so you might decide that such a big purchase warrants more specialized guidance. If so, use Appendix 1 as your starting framework and build it up from there.

   Services. If you need a lawyer to defend you in a dog bite case and your insurance doesn’t cover it, the best starting points are the checklists for services. Build upon the frameworks in Chapters 8, 41, and 46.

   PAYG vs. Flat Fee. A number of checklists address this frequent choice: general recreation (Strategy No. 9.5), health clubs (Chapter 10), trash collection (Chapter 24), cell phones, (Chapter 27), and internet (Chapter 28).

   Everything Else. If your expense doesn’t easily fit into the above structures, locate the most comparable line item from Part II. For chiropractors, look at the checklists for doctors, optometrists, and dentists (Chapters 3436). For ocean cruises, draw from the checklists for airfare and lodging (Chapters 1516). For renter’s insurance, start out with the checklist for homeowners insurance (Chapter 29).

  1. Insert Strategies and Tactics

Once you’ve picked your basic structure, the next step is to populate it with strategies and tactics. To begin with, add any relevant content from the structure you chose. Next, pick from among the strategies and tactics listed in the appendixes. Finally, extend your search to include the line item checklists that most resemble your current expense (see Part II). The tactics that you collect from these several sources might need modifications, so be prepared to draw creative analogies. A case study that illustrates this process appears later in this chapter.

  1. Cross-Check Against Outside Sources

SLN! isn’t the only place to find helpful savings tactics. Drink deep from these founts of wisdom.

   Ask Frugal Friends. Find like-minded souls with answers to your quandaries about expenses. Visit FrugalFringe.com.

   Ask the Internet. Find blogs and articles about your line item with these searches:

  • “How to save money on [enter line item here].”
  • “[Enter line item here] buying guide.”
  • “How to buy a [enter line item here].”
  • “[Enter line item here] chat room, discussion board, or forum.”

   Ask Online Experts. Post questions at JustAnswer.com or any specialty sites that address your particular expense.

   Ask the Government. Some of your tax dollars fund the publication of consumer guides, one of which might address your concern. For the latest titles, visit Publications.USA.gov, and click the link for the “Consumer Information Catalog.”

   Ask a Periodical. A magazine article might discuss your line item. Search recent issues of Consumer Reports, Kiplinger’s, Bottom Line Confidential, and Money.

A CHECKLIST BUILDING CASE STUDY: MONTHLY PARKING

The increasingly frugal Jane Dough works in a downtown office located 12 miles from her home. She pays $200 a month to rent a parking space in a covered garage (her winters are cold). She’s already tackled several line items and now wants to work on her $2,400 per year parking habit. Let’s watch her build a checklist.

  1. Jane Picks a Checklist Structure

Parking at work presents a classic choice between PAYG and flat rates. So as suggested above, Jane looks over the checklists for recreation, health clubs, cell phones, internet, and trash collection. She sees three basic strategies that might apply to a “monthly parking” checklist: (1) choose PAYG; (2) reduce the need for monthly parking and choose PAYG; and (3) pay a flat rate for monthly parking, but find ways to spend less. Right away, Jane rejects the first option, because she knows that a month’s worth of daily rates at her garage costs much more than $200. So she limits herself to the last two options. Now she needs to find some detailed tactics to list under these broad strategies.

  1. Jane Picks Several Tactics

Jane scans the PAYG checklists. The health club checklist (Chapter 10) suggests various alternatives to monthly gym memberships—home gyms, rec centers, parks, and trails. She decides to make a similar list of less expensive alternatives to monthly parking—street parking, surface lots, and more. The trash removal checklist (Chapter 24) suggests group negotiations with trash haulers—and Jane reasons that she might join with coworkers to seek bids from nearby garages. Lastly, the internet checklist (Chapter 28) mentions discounts in exchange for annual payments in advance—some garages might agree to the same deal.

Next, Jane searches for additional tactics in Appendixes 1-2. Their condensed format makes this quick work. As she skims Appendix 1, she sees the tactic about credit card rewards—to her chagrin, she realizes that she’s paid for parking with checks. She also sees the pitfall about buying too cheap—and makes a note to consider only those garages that provide good security. She comes up empty when she skims Appendix 2, but her checklist is growing fast so she’s not worried.

Lastly, Jane looks in Part II for checklists that might generate more ideas about parking. She turns to the automotive checklists. She sees Chapter 44, which states the obvious: if she ditched the car, she’d ditch her parking expense as well (but she decides to keep the car anyway). More helpfully, she sees the “alternatives to car travel” in 39.4. That strategy presents a goldmine of substitutes for her commute, including  public transit, car pools, and telecommutes. Another option doesn’t appear on any SLN! checklist. Jane’s company has a suburban satellite office with FREE onsite parking. She figures her boss might let her spend one day per week there.

  1. Jane Cross-Checks Against Other Sources

Jane runs several internet searches and comes up with nothing new—a good sign that her list is comprehensive. When she talks with her officemates, several say they’re interested in joining forces to seek bids from nearby garages. This increases her confidence that group negotiations might be her ticket to lower rates.

Jane’s finished checklist appears below. She starts each strategy with a clearly stated goal, which is one of the motivational tools she saw in Chapter 47 (Jane has become quite a goal-setter). I’ve referenced in brackets the sources that inspired each of Jane’s listed tactics.

MONTHLY PARKING CHECKLIST

Strategy No. 1: Cut My Need for Monthly Parking and Switch to PAYG

My goal: cut commutes downtown at least in half (from 20 per month to 10 per month), so that daily parking becomes cheaper than my $200 monthly rate.

□   Consider Alternatives to the Downtown Commute.

□  Ditch the car  [Chapter 44]. No can do since I live in the suburbs. I’m not moving downtown.

□  Use public transit [39.4]. Bus passes cost less than parking.

□  Telecommute [39.4]. Unlikely my boss agrees, but I’ll ask.

□  Bike/motorcycle/scooter [39.4]. For me, no way.

□  Join a carpool [39.4]. Find five people, and I drive only once per week. I’ll visit websites that connect commuters. I’ll also talk to some cotenants who work downtown like me.

□  Work some days at suburban office. My boss might prefer this to telecommuting.

□   Consider Cheaper Alternatives to a Parking Garage [10.1].

□  Use metered parking. But I’d have to move my car every four hours!

□  Pay daily fees at surface lots.

□  Park early. I get early bird rates if I park before 8:00 a.m.

□  Use outer lots. Only if the weather’s nice.

□   Borrow Garage Passes From Travelling Coworkers (if passes are transferable).

□   Avoid Pitfalls—Don’t Buy too Cheap [Chapter 6]. As in parking somewhere with lax security.

Strategy No. 2: Keep My Monthly Space, but Pay Less for it

My goal: cut this line item by 20 percent or more and save at least $480 per year.

□   Haggle as a Group [24.2.3]. Combine forces with others and seek bids from several garages.

□   Ask for Price Matches [10.2.9]. My current garage is across the street. Get bids from other nearby garages and ask my garage to match the lowest one. This approach also works in group negotiations.

□   Haggle as a Group with Employer.

□  As first position, ask it to pick up our monthly parking [10.2.5].

□  As second position, ask for payroll changes so that we use our pre-tax dollars to pay for parking [20.2.8].

□  As last position, ask it to arrange employee discounts with nearby garages [10.2.6].

□   Sublet my Space When I Travel [24.2.3]. If coworkers pay, this offsets my costs. (Issue: is my pass transferable?)

□   Mix and Match [Chapter 47]. Pay monthly rates for the covered garage in winter, then switch to surface parking when it’s warmer.

□   Payment Methods—

□  Pay a full year in advance [28.3.7].

□  Pay with plastic and reap rewards [Chapter 4].

With this checklist, Jane gives herself many ways to slash parking costs—”lots” of them, in fact. She likes her work, so she posts it on FrugalFringe.com. Now others can benefit from her ideas. If you want to download a copy for yourself, it waits for you now.

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