Ewoldt makes dollars and sense out of living on less

by Britt Aamodt

Writer Britt Aamodt was among those in the audience for John Ewoldt's talk on saving money and spending less.

The audience member seated at the front of the room was not an isolated case. John Ewoldt, Dollars & Sense columnist for the Star Tribune, had come to Rockwoods Bar & Grill in Otsego to present a talk, “Living on Less:

Twenty Ways to Save More and Spend Less.” The audience member was there, like everyone else, because she wanted to shave dollars off her monthly budget.

The talk, organized by ISD 728 Community Education in conjunction with their free Out Of Work series, targeted anyone who has ever clipped a coupon, comparison shopped or got the sweats over pending bills. More than 50 people packed in to hear the maestro of money-saving tips.

“I have a job,” admitted the audience member, who didn’t want to give her name. “I actually have two jobs, but my hours have been reduced.”

Not only that, she and some her colleagues just learned they won’t be getting a pay raise for three years. And they’re being asked to give up a week of vacation.

For her, it was time to belt tighten. She might also be in the market for a different job, but that was a topic for another discussion.

In the meantime, Ewoldt commanded the floor and the rapt attention of everybody in the room.

“Don’t go to the Gold Guys,” he said to laughter.

The Gold Guys are familiar. They run TV ads asking viewers to sell them their gold. They’ll pay top dollar, they say.

If ad frequency is anything to judge by, the Gold Guys have made a killing in the Great Recession.

“If you want to sell gold, the best place in the Twin Cities metro is in your own backyard, Enviro-Chem in Rogers,” Ewoldt said. “The Gold Guys guarantee to pay the highest price, but only if you bring a quote from another store. Then they’ll pay you 10 percent more.”

But gold talk was just an aside. Ewoldt, if nothing else, is a practical money man. Some of the most practical advice of the Feb. 1 event centered on food.

“Aldi by far is the lowest rung on the food chain of grocery stores. Their prices are cheaper than anywhere else,” he said.

He’d know. He had spent that very afternoon buzzing between stores, checking prices and talking to shoppers. From a cost perspective, low to high, he ranked the stores: Aldi, Super Walmart, Super Target, Cub Foods and Rainbow Foods. For affordable organic food, he recommended Trader Joe’s.

Other grocery tidbits: Cub accepts manufacturer’s coupons that are up to three months out of date, though not every cashier will be aware of the policy. Target and Walmart match competitor’s coupons, but Ewoldt advised going to the service desk for these purchases.

Looking to save money on gas? Holiday gas stores accept competitor gas coupons.

For 13 years, Ewoldt has taught readers at the Star Tribune how to mind their financial Ps and Qs. But he has spent considerably longer applying those principles to his own philosophy of living not just cheaply but wisely.

For example, if you can help it, don’t walk into a cable or satellite contract that locks you in for two years. For his own information, Ewoldt called around. He discovered both Comcast and Dish Network offer basic service packages ($15/month), which they don’t advertise. Too, Dish Network allows subscribers to opt out within 30 days and without a financial penalty.

Of course, Ewoldt’s calling around has an added bonus. It provides him with a theme for next week’s Dollars & Sense column. You can find Ewoldt’s columns online at www.startribune.com/deals.

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