While the media can't decide if the recession is nearing its end or not, we do know that there hasn't been a tremendous surge in wages, job creation or the stock market. Consequently, most of us are staying pretty conservative on our spending. Here are a few relatively simple ways to keep an eye on your spending while you're waiting for that brighter economic future to arrive.
1. Schedule Automatic Payments
Have (at least) your fixed monthly bills paid automatically to avoid missing a payment and having to fork over extra money for late fees and/or interest. You can set up auto-pay features through your bank's online bill paying service or by arranging it directly with the company or service provider you owe.
2. Eat Your Groceries
Did you know that Americans regularly throw away nearly 15% of the food they buy at the grocery store each year? That can add up to hundreds or, depending on your supermarket budget, thousands of dollars each year. Save money by actually eating what you buy. Not sure how? Bypass the bookstore and borrow a cookbook from the library!
3. Bundle Services.
If you're paying different vendors for similar services you may be overpaying. Call your communications providers to see what price you'll be quoted if you switch and bundle your internet, phone and cable TV services.
4. Pay Off Your Credit Card
If you're not paying off your credit card balance each month you're paying interest and, for most Americans, it's at a pretty steep rate. Pay this debt off and you could save a tidy sum by eliminating your interest charges.
5. Mark Your Calendar
Whenever you rent something - library books, videos, etc. - mark it on your calendar and save money by avoiding those quickly mounting late fees. Many stores and libraries also now offer email reminders to help the constantly harried, so sign up for the extra help!
6. File Your Taxes On Time
You should do everything you can to ensure that your taxes are paid in full and on time. However, if you need to file an extension, at least pay what you owe on the due date. You'll avoid annoying notices from the IRS and, more importantly, save on penalties, fees and interest.
7. Roll It Over
If you're switching jobs and you can't leave your 401(k) invested with your current company, instead of withdrawing the money, roll it into either your new employer's 401(k) or an IRA within the 60-day window. By doing so you'll keep the money invested - and earning interest - and avoid those nasty taxes as well as the additional 10% penalty.
8. Switch Credit Cards
If you're carrying a balance on a high-interest-rate credit card, check out other card issuers to see if you could transfer your balance to one with a lower interest rate and fewer fees. Use sites like Creditcard.com or Bankrate.com to compare card rates, and pay careful attention to how long those terms last, so you don't wind up paying a higher rate and erasing any potential savings.
9. Use Your Privileges
Are you an AAA member? Do you belong to the AARP? What about your local credit union? Check organizations you have memberships with to see if they offer buying privileges or discounts - you could save a ton!
10. Rent Instead Of Buy
You might be excited to expand your driveway, but don't let your enthusiasm overtake good sense. Hold off on buying that jackhammer and think before you spend on big-ticket items or items that you'll use once or infrequently (like movies and books). For things you'll only use once, renting or borrowing is the way to go.
11. Buy Instead Of Rent
Renting can be a good option in many cases, but don't pay the exorbitantly high prices charged by rent-a-center type stores for items you'll use regularly and keep long-term like computers, furniture and appliances.
12. Speak Up
If you'd like to save money, just ask. Why not ask if you can get the interest rate lowered on your credit cards or loans? You could also ask for a discount on services like your wireless phone, trash removal or pet care instead of switching to another vendor. And do try to to haggle with salespeople on any big ticket purchases like cars, appliances and furniture. In a tight economy it might be worth the seller's while to cut the price instead of losing the sale, and you'll both benefit in the end!
13. Just Say No
To the extended warranty, that is. These hardly ever make financial sense. Weigh the repair or replacement cost (and if you would even need or want to repair or replace the item down the road) against the cost of the warranty and graciously pass when offered.
14. Have The Awkward Conversation
Americans average more than $750 yearly on holiday gifts and that's probably much more than most would like to spend. If your gift-giving is costing you more than you can realistically afford, there's a good chance it's more than your relatives can afford (or would like to spend) as well. Take the plunge and broach the subject. Offer a more reasonable alternative (say, limit giving to children or put a dollar amount on gifts per person). More than likely, your relatives will be grateful SOMEONE finally raised the subject and you'll save money in the process.
15. Balance Your Checkbook
It might take a few minutes, but it's something you should be doing anyway and it can pay huge dividends by helping you avoid bouncing a check and incurring steep overdraft fees (not to mention a little embarrassment)!
16. Stick With Your Bank
When withdrawing cash, drive or walk the extra minute it takes to use your bank's ATM and avoid the fee that could come with another bank's machine. Better yet - switch to a bank that doesn't charge fees at all!
17. Use Your TV
If you're paying for cable why not use all of it - and save some money in the process? Cancel the video membership and watch movies through cable movie packages you're already paying for or check out your free "on demand" shows. Drop the gym membership and work out at home to channels like FitTV, and bag the magazine subscriptions and watch the same shows (like Martha Stewart) on TV instead.
18. Snuff Out Expensive Habits
Smoking, overeating and drinking are costly habits to maintain. OK, this is the "lazy" way to save, not necessarily the easy way. But you can save boatloads of money by saying sayonara to your favorite vices. You'll save money by cutting out on the regular spending it's costing you, and you'll probably save on insurance premiums and long-term health costs. It's the ultimate win-win.
19. Forget The Doggie In Window
Sure it sounds heartless, but do you realize that welcoming home a little Fido can cost you an average of more than $1,500 a year - or $15,000 over 10 years? Feline fluffies are pricey too - just under $1,000 a year or approximately $9,000 for 10 years of care. Looking at the long-term picture, that's a new car or the down payment on a home! Keep walking right past that pet store and put the money in your pocket instead.
20. Dine In
If the idea of cooking for yourself seems like too much work at least opt for take-out - you'll save on the tip, the alcohol and most likely the cost for appetizers or dessert.
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