* * * * * * * * F R U G A L W A T C H * * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of how to be frugal in the world's most
expensive country to live (unless you read this!), written
and compiled by Wendy J. Imura.

Regular edition, October 17th, 2004 Issue No. 29


- What's new
- Weekly Bargain Roundup
- Frugal tips
- Credits

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Dear Frugal Readers,

Ever open up an envelope from your mail, only to discover a nasty surprise?
A higher-than-expected bill, be it phone, gas, water, or electricity, is
never a happy event. However, it can be an opportunity to do what I call
an "internal household audit" of your monthly expenditures.

Companies audit their accounts every six months to a year to determine if
accounting procedures are being carried out properly, and to see if costs
could be controlled more effectively. I recommend doing the same thing with
your household accounts.

How do you audit yourself? Well, you'll need to do a little research first.
First, you need to find a record of all the expenses paid during the period.
Dig up all of your bills for the last six months to a year, if you have them.
Also get detailed copies of your last six credit card statements for all your
cards. If you have a Japanese bank account, go to the ATM and do "tsucho
kinyu," or an update of your passbook. Japanese banks use passbooks in leiu
of bank statements in most cases. All of your transactions will be denoted
by date, amount, and type. Do this for all of your acounts. Be sure to
organize your records by month, too.

Once you're organized, start by looking at your credit card statements. Are
there any magazine subscriptions, online service subscriptions, old ISP
service fees, or monthly fees for services no longer used recorded in the
transcript? Are there any purchases you don't remember making on the cards?
Are the balances higher than you thought? This is a good time to check. If
you find any unused or underused services being billed, now would be a good
time to cancel them. While 10 dollars a month for a magazine you don't read that
much doesn't seem that expensive, 120 dollars per year does.

Next, look at your Japanese bank passbooks, or bank account statements.
Are there any gym memberships, phone services, or other automatic withdrawals
that you'd forgotten about, or don't use that much? Again, are their any
withdrawals being made you don't remember making? This is a good time to check,
and cancel or reduce those amounts.

Finally, the monthly bills. For this, I use Excel or a similar spreadsheet
program to track my monthly expenditures, but a simple piece of paper or
graph will do. Simply write down the amount of money spent per month on
each service, for electricity, gas/propane, water, domestic phone bills (NTT),
international calls, Internet, mobile phone bills, and any other utilities.
Look for both trends in the figures (obviously, you spend more in the winter
and summer to heat and cool a home than in the fall and spring), and for
totals. Frequently, you'll be surprsied at how much your monthly "utilities"
and "communciations" costs are. If you think the figure for both of these
is too high, look for ways to reduce it, such as changing long distance
providers, taking showers instead of baths, or other tips.

An audit of your monthly accounts can help you both find and eliminate under-
used or unneeded services, and also gives you a good overview on how much you
spend in total. When I did this the first time, I was able to cut 60 dollars
in unused magazine subscriptions and online service fees per month. I also
realized that I was paying close to 200,000 yen per year in overseas calls.
(Read about how I reduced this in Frugal Tips below.) Altogether, I estimate
I saved about 2,500 dollars with my first audit. Not bad!! I hope you are able
to get similar positive results!

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura


This week's Bargain Roundup features Halloween sale items from the Foreign
Buyers Club. Always a favorite because of their great service and selection,
the FBC's deadline for orders to be delivered in time for Halloween .
is October 21st by 3pm within Japan. FBC's sales prices are 10%-50% off the
listed price, warranting selection for the bargain roundup.
Some highlights include:

Butterfly Princess Costume (Ages 2-4, 90-100cm)
Have a small child longing to dress up for Halloween? Have no time to
make a princess costume? Well, FBC comes to the rescue! This vision in
purple includes a long flouncy skirt and delicate wings. Gorgeous!
And 13% off. It was originally 3,680 yen, and is now only 3,200 yen!!

Jack-o'-Lantern Drawstring Bags - 144/pckg.
Planning a large-scale Halloween party for a kindergarten? Filling treat
bags for your child's school? Like collecting lots of small bags? These
treat bags are just 9 yen per bag, and are perfect for trick-or-treating
or giving to students. Were 1,360 yen. Now 1,200 yen. 11% off!!

Rainbow Clown Wig
Okay, this is really cool! Perfect for Halloween, clubbing, or even
livening up lunchtime at your office. This rainbow-colored clown wig
was originally 990 yen, but is now only 500 yen. That's 49% off!

For these, and more bargains, visit FBC's Halloween Item sale here:
(Or click on the Halloween Sale link on the right hand side of the
homepage www.fbcusa.com).

PS: Need a pumpkin? FBC is still shipping pumpkins for 1,660 yen for a large
pumpkin, shipping not included. See the website for details. Costco also
carries pumpkins, but be sure and check for rot: they tend to get damp
packed so tightly in cargo containers.

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My Frugal Audit, or ... How I saved 200,000 yen a year in phone

Our household was originally using a KDDI discount service that
discounted calls to one registered number in the US by 45%. When I
was only calling my family once a week, we actually got a substantial
savings from this service. However, as our business calls to the US
increased, we started seeing phone bills from 20,000 to even 36,000 yen
per month!!! I found our total phone bills from June 2003-June 2004
were close to 200,000 yen! Something had to stop.

We decided to stop using a metered service, and start using a "pay as you
go" service - phone cards. Specifically, MCI phone cards, bought at Costco.
The card pack features four cards holding roughly 4000 yen in value, available
for around 3,000 yen. After two months of using these cards (which average about
6-8 hours per pack in talking time to the continental US), we have been
able to cut our international calling bills to 3,000 yen a month. If anything,
we talk more on the phone overseas than we did before. The final thrill
was receving my KDDI bill yesterday, for a grand 115 yen!! The joy of
seeing the bill that used to send shivers up my spine so low was incredible.

While the MCI cards are surely not for everyone, they are an example of
how doing a frugal audit can help lower your bills! Best of Luck!


Subscribers: 448


Written by: Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)
Edited by: JI

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