In challenging economic times, people look for different ways to save money and clean up their finances. It pays to educate yourself so that you can make informed decisions about budgeting, investing and other aspects of your finances. While the biggest savings come from limiting your spending to the cash in your wallet, the trick is to set reasonable goals.
Simple steps, such as paying off your credit card balance each month to increasing your contribution to your retirement account, are attainable and worthwhile goals. A good approach is to start with a few things that are so easy to fix that you'll stick with the program.
Another way to save is to take a second look at big-ticket items, such as insurance. For example, switching from whole life to term will save money and increase cash flow.
You may be surprised how quickly these changes can add up to real money in your pocket.
Read on for more money-saving ideas that can improve your financial position in the months and years to come.
By Jessica NaziriUpdated 17 March 2012
The reason you have to shop every year is that home and auto insurers change their prices based on their claims experience. The insurer who was the best bet two years ago may not be such a good value now. Spend half an hour determining whether you can get a better deal, and you might save yourself hundreds of dollars. Having the same carrier for home and auto insurance may result in a package discount of up to 15 percent. If your annual auto insurance premium is several thousand dollars, this could really pay off. Many companies also offer a “future effective discount.” If you pay today for your policy to start next month, you may save even more money.
Most Americans pay the bulk of their annual tax bills via payroll withholding. Through this process, a percentage of your pay is taken out each pay period and sent to the IRS, where it is credited toward your final tax bill. In 2011, the average tax refund was over $3,000, according to the IRS. That's $250 a month! That means you've given Uncle Sam free use of your tax money – without receiving any interest. The best course, tax experts say, is to adjust your withholding exemptions so your tax payments will match your actual tax liability.
Sources: irs.gov, bankrate.com
Since the late 1970s, studies have supported the notion that credit cards entice people to spend more than if they used cash. While it’s hard to determine how much you might actually be saving, you’ll know that you are avoiding the interest charges on a revolving credit balance, or any overdraft fees on your debit card. And when you fill up your tank, think cash: Many stations offer discounts of as much as 10 cents a gallon off the credit card price.
Whether it’s buying your daily cup of joe, or going out to dinner, these habits are costly, and can add up. If you make your habit an occasional treat, you'll save money — and you'll appreciate it a lot more.
For most taxpayers, investing in a 401(k) is the best way to lower your taxes and build a retirement nest egg. If you're among the 51 million Americans who participate in a company's 401(k) plan, you can contribute up to $17,000 in 2012, up $500 from 2011. If you are 50 or older, you can stash an extra $5,500 in catch-up contributions for a total of $22,000.
If you pay 30 percent of your income in federal and state taxes, each $100 contributed to your 401(k) costs you just $70. If your company matches your contributions at a rate of, say 50 cents on the dollar, you end up with $150 in savings for something that cost you only $70. If you are self-employed, you can stash even more into a solo 401(k) plan and a tax-deferred retirement account because you contribute as both an employee and an employer.
Roth IRAs are a great option for anyone interested in tax-free retirement income, and are particularly good for young workers who could benefit from decades of tax-free growth. Roth IRAs are also good for anyone who expects to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement.
Sources: TurboTax, IRS.gov
Try putting away just $50 a month into your savings account at the beginning of each month. At the end of the year you will have $600 in savings, not including the interest you accrue. You can always withdraw money to handle emergencies.
While this may sound more like good physical than fiscal advice, an increasing number of company health plans are paying you to take care of yourself. If you quit smoking or promise to exercise at least once or twice a week, they're likely to give you a break of $50 to $500, depending on your company health plan.
The deductibles on your current automobile insurance policy might be costing more than you think. One of the easiest and most recommended ways to save money on car insurance is to raise your comprehensive and collision deductibles. This is the predetermined amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim. For example, if the total damage comes to $3,000 and your deductible is $250, you would pay $250 and the insurance company would pay the rest. Depending on your policy and if you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25 percent. The higher your deductible, the more money you can save on your premiums.
Saving energy not only helps you save money on utility bills, but it also helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, Americans saved $1.5 billion by switching to compact fluorescent lighting, or CFL. Replacing one regular light bulb with an approved CFL bulb would save consumers $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb, and they last up to 10 times longer.
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a CFL light bulb, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year – and we’d save about $600 million in annual energy costs.
Sources: gelighting.com, energystar.gov
When it comes to buying in bulk, savings can be hit or miss. But research has shown that consumers who make a midweek “fill in” trip to the store buy twice the number of items they had intended. Some nonperishable items you should buy in bulk include toilet paper, alcohol and vitamins.
Toilet paper: Buying in bulk can be up to 50 percent cheaper than buying just a few rolls at a time. So find a place to store some extra rolls (try under your bed if you run out of space in the bathroom) and save yourself a few bucks.
Alcohol: Would you rather pay $8 for a six-pack or $14 for 20-pack? Go with the 20-pack and you'll not only save money on beer, but you'll also save on gas because you will be making fewer trips to the store.
Vitamins: You can save about $1 per bottle by buying in bulk, but be wary of expiration dates.
Insurance is not an investment. Aside from the fact that there are many better ways to generate retirement income, whole life insurance policies come with high fees and commissions, which sometimes lop off as much as 3 percentage points from the annual return.
On the other hand, a term policy is life coverage only. On the death of the insured, the insurer pays the face amount of the policy to the named beneficiary. You can buy term for periods of one year to 30 years.