Sure, saving money sounds totally doable in theory. But when you think about where your dough goes every month — from those daily iced nonfat vanilla lattes at Starbucks to that premium cable package (gotta be up-to-date on "Big Little Lies") — it's enough to make you give up before you even start. Luckily, there are some simple strategies you can use to whip your financials into shape this season. Consider this guide spring cleaning for your bank account.
1. Pay with cash Instead of card
"If you use a credit or debit card, you're more likely to spend more than you would with cash," says Tiffany 'The Budgetnista' Aliche, a financial educator. After all, when you're not physically handing over money, it doesn't actually feel like you're doling out anything, right? "Credit cards can be the instrument of the devil because you're unaware of how much you're spending," says Jonathan Murray, managing director of UBS Services in Hunt Valley, Md.
Case in point: For a well-known 2001 study done at MIT, researchers gave participants the opportunity to buy tix to a sold-out pro basketball game. Those who were told they could pay with credit card were willing to spend more than double than those who were told they would have to pay with dolla dolla bills.
Need a reason to quit your cards? In March, the Federal Reserve moved to raise interest rates, which will likely bump up your credit card's annual percentage rate. "You have to know yourself," says Aliche. "If you know you're not going to be able to pay off a card every month, it's best to use cash." Still stuck with a balance? Murray suggests calling your credit company to see if you can lower your interest rate.
2. Make your cards work for you
That being said, credit cards can be a great tool if you're responsible, says Aliche. Love to travel? Look for one that offers points you can use to book hotels and flights. Drive everywhere? Find one that offers points for gas. "As you spend money, you're also making money towards things," says Aliche.
3. Switch to a free checking account
You're fully aware that credit cards have fees — but did you realize that certain checking accounts do, too? Yep — some will charge you maintenance if you don't maintain the minimum balance, says Murray. The fee isn't pennies, either. On average, people pay $14.76 a month if they don't meet the minimum checking account balance, says Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert.
4. Lower your cable and phone bills
When was the last time you looked into how much you were shelling out for all those TV channels? "Cable companies are sneaky," says Murray. "They'll raise your rates without telling you." Woroch recommends calling your cable provider to see if there are any new promotions or discounts you can take advantage of — enrolling in autopay or paperless billing could save you a few bucks.
As far as your phone goes, Woroch says the majority of us pay for more data than we actually use —which amounts to about $20 a month. What you can do: Monitor your usage over a month with an app like Onavo Protect to find out how much data you're wasting. Then, switch to a lower plan — and don't forget about connecting to free Wi-Fi whenever possible!
5. Cut cable altogether
Despite having access to close to 200 TV channels, we only regularly watch 17, according to Nielsen. But on average, we spend $103 a month on TV services, according to Leichtman Research Group, Inc. The good news: There's never been a better time to cut the cord. The cheapest plans for Hulu and Netflix cost $7.99 each a month, while a yearly subscription to Amazon Prime is $100, so take your pick. "You can still keep up with all of these great shows without having to pay that much," says Aliche.
Of course, whether you stream these services onto your TV with a Roku or watch on your laptop, you still need internet access, which will vary in price depending on your location and the speed. The "Simply Broadband Max" plan from Frontier Communications, available across the U.S., is $19.99 a month for the first year. It has a speed of 6 Mbps and should allow for you to stream or play games from one device and browse from another. In New York City, you can get 155 Mbps internet service from RCN, which is good for six or more devices, for $34.99 for the first year.
6. Resist the urge to order takeout
"If you can pack your lunch at night and eat dinner at home, you can save hundreds a month," says Murray, who likes the Budget Dinners app because it features recipes using inexpensive ingredients.
Dread the thought of lunching on the same salad day in and day out? Think about it like this: If you normally spend $3 on breakfast and $7 on lunch Monday through Friday — that's $50 a week. Instead of vowing to never eat out again, give yourself a max amount to play with — like $20 a week, says Aliche. "I don't believe in over-sacrificing," she says. "You can have something every day but you're staggering it. Pay in cash, and you'll really stick to your budget."
7. Open a 'Fun Fund'
"When people think of saving, they think of deprivation," says Aliche — but it doesn't have to be that way. She suggests stashing moolah into two savings accounts — one for all the responsible stuff you need to take care of, like saving for retirement, and one which she calls a "fun fund" that you can use for traveling or going out for a nice dinner. Have a set amount of money (like $50 or $100) automatically transferred into each of these accounts once a month. "Associate saving with something good," says Aliche.
8. Shop your closet
Over the years, chances are you've accumulated items you've totally forgotten about. "It's tempting to run to the store when we need something," says Jamie Novak, professional organizer and author of Keep This Toss That. "Instead, shop at home. There's a really good chance you already own what you need." Want to take advantage of the warmer days by having a picnic? "Dig out that picnic basket you received as a wedding gift 10 years ago," says Novak.
9. Sell your wares online
Turn your clutter into cash by selling your goods, says Kendal Perez, savings expert with CouponSherpa. Use sites like Poshmark and ThredUp to get rid of gently-used clothes and shoes; TheRealReal to part with designer labels; and Gazelle to say goodbye to electronics like tablets, video games and DVDs. (An iPhone 6 in good condition could net you more than $100.) Because one person's trash…
10. Ditch the gym for the great outdoors
Like just about everyone else on the planet, you probably joined a gym in January as part of your New Year's Resolution to shape up. But how often have you really gone? "Now that the weather is beginning to get warmer outside and the days are longer, you have more opportunity to work out outdoors before it gets too hot," says Woroch. If you signed a contract, ask if you can freeze your membership, she says. You may still need pay $5-$15 a month, depending on the gym, but you'll still save.
11. Try to negotiate a raise
Think you deserve more in each paycheck? Q1 ended on March 31, which means now is the perfect time to schedule some one-on-one time with your boss to demonstrate how valuable you are. Ask your manager if they think your hard work could warrant a raise, says Murray. "Come armed with your goals for the year and make a professional argument about how you're exceeding them," he says.
12. Use a money-tracking app
Move over, Snapchat—it's all about money-tracking apps like Mint and Quicken. Using one of these can help you understand where, exactly, your money is disappearing to. Gathering all that data and seeing it one place can help you hone in on ways to save, says Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial wellness service. "The point is to learn to be mindful of where your money is going," she says. "This allows you to prioritize and make targeted changes to your spending."
13. Switch to generic meds
In the case of medication, name brand isn't always better. Woroch explains that the Food and Drug Administration requires prescription and OTC generics to be exactly the same in dose, strength, safety and efficacy as their name-brand counterparts — except they're way cheaper. You can save anywhere from 30 to 50 percent by switching to a generic. Woroch says that Zocor, a name-brand cholesterol medication, can cost about $175, while the generic is only about $70.
14. Check your A/C
'Tis almost the season for blasting your A/C 24/7. And according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans spend a whopping $29 billion a year to power their air conditioners every year. "Duct leaks, dirty filters and broken window seals all contribute to wasted energy and money," says Woroch. In prep for summer, it makes sense to pay a little to save more. Hire a professional to service your air conditioner and HVAC system — and remind yourself to replace filters every three months, says Woroch.