Strapped for cash? With the economy scaling back, we predict that you will too. Here are 100 tips to help you save money in all areas of your life.
Around the Home
1. Get a home energy audit every couple of years with your power company to find ways to cut costs.
2. Save on electricity by trading your standard incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs. Prices on CFBs have dropped dramatically, and they are more energy-efficient, last for years instead of months, consume little power and generate little heat.
3. Buy major appliances that sport the Energy Star sticker. That shows the appliance meets or exceeds standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
4. When building a home or replacing a roof, select a roof based more on energy efficiency than on how it looks. Light-colored roofs -- such as white, galvanized metal or cement tile -- do the best job of reflecting the sun, and they cool quickly at night.
5. Every few months, comparison shop to see if you're paying too much for your telecommunications services -- Internet, land line phone and cable/satellite service. Many times, competing companies will offer better deals to new customers. If you find a better deal, contact your telecom providers and negotiate -- or switch.
6. Cancel all the extra services you don't use, such as call waiting, caller ID, voicemail, call forwarding and three-way calling. For cell phones, block add-ons like text messaging, Web surfing and music downloads if you don't use them.
7. To save energy on heating or cooling, buy a programmable thermostat, especially if no one is home most of the day. Set it to turn on a half-hour before anyone arrives home.
8. Analyze your homeowners or renters insurance to see if there is any coverage that you can do without, and take higher deductibles if you have cash on hand to cover them.
9. Condo owners need to know what the condo association's insurance policy covers so as not to double-insure.
10. Some home improvements can reduce the cost of homeowners insurance. Something as simple as installing a fire extinguisher or a deadbolt lock can take a significant bite out of your insurance bill.
11. Cancel private mortgage insurance, or PMI, once your mortgage reaches an 80 percent loan-to-value.
12. Make extra mortgage payments, whether monthly, once a year or on some other schedule, to get to 80 percent LTV and cancel PMI more quickly. One way for those on a 26-pay-per-year salary schedule is to make an extra mortgage payment in months where you get three paychecks instead of two.
13. Fix leaky faucets -- one drip of hot water a second is 20 kilowatts a month.
14. Be house-wise. Sell the big house or don't buy more house than you need. Get an affordable townhouse or a smaller home if a family member moves out.
15. Rent out a room in your home if you have more space than you need. If you have grown-up offspring living with you, negotiate with them to pay monthly rent for the privilege.
16. Lower your hot water thermostat 10 degrees, but no lower than 120 degrees. You'll still get all the hot water you need and save 25 kilowatt hours a month.
17. Cell phones can be expensive, especially if you're footing the bill for a houseful of users. Do a needs analysis and dump the phones that aren't absolutely necessary. Even with so-called family plans, canceling just one line can result in significant savings.
More Retirement Advice from Bankrate.com:
- How to Mend a Broken Nest Egg
- Ten Reasons to Review Your 403(b)
- Five Keys to Automatice Retirement Plans
18. To save on energy costs, seal leaks. Invest in weather-stripping kits if you have drafty doors. Caulk over cracks and small holes around windows and exterior walls. Look carefully around plumbing pipes, telephone wires, dryer vents, sink and bathtub drains, and under countertops.
19. If your cell phone plan offers free nights and weekends, make your weekly calls then. Not only will it possibly allow you to save money by canceling long distance service on your land line, it will save you cell phone minutes.
20. Landscaping with the right mix of trees and shrubs can lower your energy bills by blocking winter wind and summer sun.
21. When looking to buy a house or refinance your mortgage, take the time to apply for and compare several mortgage offers from a diverse set of sources: the institution where you do your day-to-day banking, a neighborhood bank, a credit union and an online lender. That way you can have confidence that you got the best terms possible.
22. When comparing mortgage offers, don't forget to look at closing costs. Fees for things like title insurance and home inspections can vary greatly, even within the same institution. Taking time to compare or negotiate lower fees can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars, greatly reducing the real cost of your loan.
23. To cut utility bills, add more energy-efficient insulation to your attic, with the appropriate R-value, or resistance to heat flow, for your climate and the type of heating in your house.
24. Switching to an Internet telephone service, sometimes called Voice over IP, or VoIP, can save you big, especially if you make a lot of long-distance or international calls. VoIP providers often charge only a flat fee and don't have all the tacked-on taxes and fees that traditional telephone services do.
25. If you're getting a new mortgage or refinancing in an interest-rate environment where you think rates will fall, apply and then allow your rate to float for a while. Most lenders allow you to wait 30 days or more before locking in the interest rate you'll actually pay, so if you think rates are headed lower, take your time before locking -- you may capture a lower rate. Conversely, if you think rates are heading up, lock immediately. Either way, get your rate in writing. A spoken agreement isn't worth much if your lender decides not to honor it.
1. Don't "crisis cook." Shopping after work for the day's dinner gets expensive. Plan a weekly menu before shopping and watch your grocery bill shrink.
2. Don't waste money on prepared foods. Instead, prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them, or double a recipe when cooking and freeze the remaining portion for a hectic day coming up.
3. The highest-markup items at the grocery story are on the shelves at about chest level. Reach up or kneel down to select the cheaper house or generic brands.
4. Avoid shopping for food when you're hungry; you'll buy more. And try to shop without the kids; those little helpers can quickly boost your bill by lobbying for their favorite high-priced brands.
5. Grab your local supermarket's weekly insert or log onto its Web site to see the weekly specials. You can save big by buying whatever brands are marked down rather than always buying the same brand.
6. Check out the wealth of coupon sites on the Web before you shop.
7. Avoid purchasing non-grocery items, such as painkillers, contact lens solution, etc., at a grocery store. You usually pay more.
8. Beware of "discount store syndrome." Just because you're in a bargain store doesn't mean you're getting the best price on every item.
9. Always send in for the rebate on a purchase, whether it's $2 or $50. It all adds up.
10. Veer your wardrobe away from the extremely fashionable, trendy styles that limit how many times and how many ways you can wear them. Try to buy clothes with dual functions: business casual outfits that can be dressed down for a relaxed night out with friends, for example.
11. Dry cleaning costs add up quickly. So put the silks in the back of the closet and move your wash-and-wears upfront.
12. When your clothes are wrinkled, hang them on a shower rod, spritz them with a fine mist of hot water and they'll be wrinkle-free in the morning.
13. Put cash back in your pocket by taking the clothing you no longer wear -- that's still in good condition -- to a consignment shop. While you're there, shop for used clothes -- if they're in good condition, you'll save a bundle by not buying new!
14. Working couples can reduce out-of-pocket medical expenses and premiums by carefully comparing the costs of the benefits offered by each employer to find the best deal.
15. Check out the local beauty school for bargains on everything from haircuts and manicures to spa facials and highlights.
16. Save a bundle on taxes by paying your child care and health care costs with pretax dollars. Participate in your employer's flexible spending account program.
17. Cut child care expenses through flexible scheduling. Can you telecommute, job share or work more flexible hours to reduce the hours away from home?
18. If your public school district offers a half-day pre-K program for 4-year-olds, enroll your child. It's free and reduces child care costs to half-day rates.
19. Consider alternative ways to get health care for your pet. Humane society or university veterinary clinics may offer thriftier medical services than private practitioners. And always seek a second opinion when a vet suggests a pricey procedure. You'd do it for yourself, right?
20. Keep your eyes open for new restaurants in town. They typically offer grand opening specials.
21. Check your local newspapers for advertisements of lunch and dinner specials and early bird specials -- look for coupons, too.
22. Do lunch instead of dinner. Lunch menus usually offer the same entrees as dinner, just smaller portions and a smaller check.
23. Share an entree or stick with the appetizer menu. Many restaurants serve portions that are too large for one person to finish.
24. Check your favorite magazines' Web sites for online offers that may be lower than others you've received.
25. Use your local library -- your tax dollars pay for it, so you should be reaping the benefits. Check out a book you'll read once instead of buying it at the bookstore. Pick up a video at the library rather than renting one.
1. Start saving something today. It doesn't have to be a large sum. Even on a tight budget, a small amount adds up over time. Get an envelope, cookie jar, coffee can or whatever you like and set aside the same amount every week. The trick: Don't count it, don't spend it!
2. Treat saving as a bill. Consider having the amount transferred automatically from your checking account or paycheck. Pay your account every month or every two weeks.
3. Empty your pockets -- or your purse -- at the end of the night. Put all the change into a jar. Not only will you feel lighter, but your spare change adds up a lot faster than you think.
4. Just paid off a big debt such as a car loan or child's tuition? Keep making the payments -- this time to yourself.
5. Trying to lose weight this season? Each time you go without dessert, that midafternoon candy bar break or that fatty mochaccino at the coffee shop, put the cost of your forgone goody into your savings jar.
6. Involve the whole family in saving. Plan a treat for everyone when you reach the savings goal. Make it something everyone will look forward to, but inexpensive, such as a day at the zoo, museum or beach.
7. Some online banks offer high-interest checking accounts. If these accounts meet your needs when it comes to balance requirements, debit card usage and convenience, why not earn interest on your balance?
8. Stay up-to-date on your checking balance, either by balancing your check book or checking your account online frequently. You'll avoid overdraft fees and better track what goes in and out.
9. If you bounce a check, and it's the first time, ask for forgiveness, including waiver of any fees. A bank will sometimes do that for goodwill. Of course, don't become a repeat offender.
10. Make it a habit to use only your bank, thrift or credit union's ATMs. You'll avoid paying surcharge fees to your bank and the other bank. Or consider opening an account with an online bank or brokerage that covers out-of-network ATM fees.
11. To avoid ATM fees, get extra cash at the grocery store -- most of the grocery store point-of-sale terminals are free.
12. Think before you charge. Unless you're in the habit of paying your credit card bill in full each month, don't use the cards for anything you can eat or wear and avoid using credit cards to buy "wants" such as a new stereo or TV. Wait until you have the money to buy it.
13. If you're knee-deep in credit card debt, get rid of all of the credit cards but one. Take that one and make it hard to impulse shop with -- freeze it in a bowl of water in your freezer.
14. Don't take cash out of your credit card. The rate for cash advances is much higher. And there is no grace period -- you start paying interest right away.
15. Read your monthly credit card statements carefully. Look out for hidden charges, such as credit insurance.
16. Don't pay for theft insurance on your credit card. If your credit card is stolen, you're only liable for $50 at most.
17. Avoid credit card fees. Dodge $39-and-growing fees by not exceeding your credit limit. And send your payments in early -- if you're five minutes late it could cost you $29 or more.
18. Pay more than the minimum. It'll take a very long time and cost you a lot in interest to pay off your balance if you only pay the minimum.
19. Don't be late on any loan or credit account payment. Credit card companies check their customers' credit reports frequently, looking for any late payments to justify raising the interest rate -- a phenomenon called "universal default." In some cases, triggering a universal default can double your credit card's interest rate.
20. Negotiate better terms -- lower interest and higher limits -- with your credit card issuer, especially if you've had a year of on-time payments.
21. Consider transferring your balances from high-interest cards to low-interest credit cards. Then, make the same payment as before, or double the minimum.
22. If the opportunity exists, work overtime or an extra shift at least once or twice a month.
23. Participate in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. Your contributions are made with pretax dollars. You save for the future while reducing today's taxable income.
24. Set up a tax-advantaged IRA or Roth IRA account to build up your retirement savings.
25. Save your raise. The next time you get a raise at work or a tax refund, consider directing half to savings. If you're not used to the money, you won't miss it.
Car and commuting
1. Look for ways to cut out your car altogether. Consider walking, biking or telecommuting. If you live in an area that has good public transportation, take advantage of it. Even if you can't quit driving altogether, using some of these methods, your family can get by on one car instead of two.
2. Consider carpooling. Carpool matching services are available free in many communities. Do a search online for a local carpool center or call your local government.
3. When using mass transit, be sure to take advantage of multiple-ride discount cards, monthly passes and any other deals for riders.
4. Maintain your car. Keeping tires inflated properly saves fuel and tread wear, and a well-tuned engine that gets regular oil changes burns less gas.
5. Buy the lowest grade (octane) of gasoline that is appropriate for your car. As long as your engine doesn't knock or ping, the fuel you're using is fine.
6. Don't top off the gas tank. Rapidly starting and stopping a gas pump can cause it to overcharge you for the small amount of gas you put in, and there's a good chance gas will slosh or seep out.
7. Lighten up on the accelerator, and don't make fast starts or sudden stops. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. For example, driving at 55 mph rather than 65 mph can improve your fuel economy by two miles per gallon.
8. Tighten the gas cap. And if your cap doesn't fit snugly, buy a new one. Gas easily evaporates from the tank if it has a way to escape.
More Auto Advice From Bankrate.com:
- Six Common Car Shopping Mistakes
- Great Used Cars for Bargain Hunters
- Watch Out for 'Cash for Clunkers' Scams
9. Buy a fuel-efficient car. When pricing cars, factor in long-term fuel costs. Keep in mind that sunroofs add to wind resistance, lowering the mileage per gallon.
10. Be smart with the air conditioning. On the highway, closed windows decrease wind resistance, so run the air conditioner. In stop-and-go traffic, shut off the air conditioning and open the windows.
11. Comparison shop for auto insurance at least once a year. Check with at least three companies before signing up.
12. You can save money on car insurance by changing your profile. Improving your credit, getting married, moving to a better neighborhood, taking a defensive driving course or joining the right national and local organizations can lower your insurance.
13. Keep your driving record as clean as possible, and if it's pretty spotless already, make sure your insurance company knows it. Be a squeaky wheel about discounts if you've gone a certain number of years without an accident or ticket, store your car in a garage or drive fewer than a certain number of miles each year.
14. Bundle insurance coverage. If you have more than one car, insure them on the same policy to get a break. Or try insuring your auto policy through the same company that insures your home, for a discount.
15. Don't buy more insurance than you need. Consider raising deductibles (bank that amount for emergencies) and increasing your liability coverage.
16. Consider dropping collision insurance if you drive an older car. Ask: How much of your premium is collision insurance? Do you have $2,000 if you needed a new car tomorrow?
17. Rein in those ridiculous teen-driver insurance premiums. Make sure your teen studies hard -- some auto insurers offer discounts to good students. If she'll be driving a family car, designate which vehicle she will drive to avoid be charged as if they're driving the highest-risk vehicle on your policy. And when she goes off to college, take her off your insurance altogether to save big.
18. Car shop on a rainy day, at the end of the month or toward the end of the year. Car dealers will be begging for business. You will probably get a better deal and more for that trade-in.
19. Know your credit score before you car shop and secure your financing ahead of time from your bank or credit union. That way, you can ask the dealer to beat the offer you already have. Either way, you can be confident you got the best financing deal.
20. Use the Internet to get the best auto deal. Find the value of your trade-in and search online to find the lowdown on pricing and financing options on the car you'd like to buy. Visit several Web sites to compare everything from sticker price to customer rebates to regional incentives from manufacturers.
21. Let car dealers haggle with each other. E-mail, fax or phone several car dealers. Make it clear that you're contacting several dealers and you'll buy from the dealer that makes the best offer.
22. Negotiate the price of a new car, the price of your trade-in and your financing separately. A dealer will try to roll one or more of these transactions together. Don't let him.
23. Be prepared to walk away from a deal. You know within a few hundred dollars what you should be paying, and every minute spent discussing a figure significantly higher than that is wasted.
24. Bite the bullet. Sell your old car privately, get someone else to assume the lease or stay with the thing until it's paid off. Don't roll negative equity into a new car loan.
25. Consider buying a one- or two-year-old car. If the factory warranty is still good, you could get a car with 95 percent of its life left for 20 percent to 30 percent less than the cost of buying new.