While the immediate thought is to try to cut back your grocery bills as higher gas prices and grocery prices make your budget tighter, these are often not the most effective.
Today I’d like to review some of the other areas that might help you to cut back successfully.
1. Underutilized monthly memberships.
How much use do you really get out of your gym membership? Are there any other memberships you have that you aren’t taking advantage of?
Canceling poorly utilized memberships is an instant savings that can be significant. The average gym membership is about $50/month. If you still like to go to the gym, find out about their per-use fees, and see if that would be cheaper for your personal habits than the monthly fee. Or start walking, bike riding and other fitness activities at home.
While they’re generally smaller expenses and happen just once a year, look at any magazine subscriptions you have. If you’re not reading it, cancel it!
2. Cut back on telephone services.
Some people these days have cut out their landline telephone and just use cell phones. Others choose to cut their cell phone. Either way, you may be able to save money by cutting one or the other, assuming that it’s practical for your lifestyle. It may not be.
If you keep a landline telephone, review the services you have on it. You may have a big package of services that you don’t take advantage of. Most people only use caller ID and call waiting with any regularity. You can even cut those if you don’t really want them.
You should also review any telephone service plans you’re on, whether it’s your cell phone contract or the deal you get on your long distance calls. You may be paying too much for your plan, or you may have too small a plan and be paying out for excess minutes.
Many cell phone carriers will let you change your contract with no penalty so long as you are going to a new contract with them. This may start your term over, and you do need to think about whether or not that’s the best move for you. If there’s just a little time left on the contract and another company has a better deal for you, it may be a good idea to just switch carriers at the end of the contract.
3. How many television channels do you really need?
Whether you have cable or satellite, you’re paying for a lot of channels you never watch. While cutting subscription television services completely out may not be for you, a more basic package can allow you to still watch many great channels with good reception for significantly less money. Review what you really need.
4. Eat out less.
Eating out is almost always significantly more expensive than eating in. If you’re getting the cheapest of fast food the costs may be similar, but the quality of the food goes way, way down from what you could enjoy at home.
Lunch out is probably the one that many people do on a nearly daily basis. If you can remember to bring your lunch, either with an ice pack or to put in the company refrigerator as you work, you can save a lot of money while doing something with your leftovers.
Similarly, cut back buying coffee when you’re out. Homemade coffee takes just a few minutes to make and is significantly cheaper.
5. Ask for a lower APR on credit cards.
It takes just a phone call, and if your credit is in good shape you have very good odds of getting a rate cut from your credit card company. While I don’t recommend making only the minimum payment every month, knowing that you’ll be paying less over time can be a significant benefit.
If your current credit card issuer won’t decrease your APR, start shopping around. If you have good credit, you may be able to apply for a card with a lower rate, and transfer balances over. Just be aware of balance transfer fees and introductory APR versus regular APR. A lower introductory rate isn’t a benefit if the long term rate is too high.
6. Adjust the thermostat.
In summer, learn to tolerate a warmer house, in winter, a cooler one.
During the summer, I put extra coverings on the windows that get the most direct sunlight. This has a significant impact on the temperature in my home. Depending on the window I may use a blanket, sheet or cardboard box. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.
In winter, of course, extra warm clothes are the rule.
In any season you can check to be sure that your home does the best it can in terms of insulation. This is one of those cases where you may have to spend money to save money over time, not an easy thing to do if your budget is already tight. But if you can manage it, the benefit will be there eventually.
Check your filters too. A clean filter can greatly increase the efficiency of your heater or air conditioner.
A programmable thermostat can take care of changing the temperatures for you, based on the daily routine you give it. If you tend to be away from the house all day, obviously you don’t need the heater or air conditioner running. But when you’re home you want things to be comfortable.
Another option is to use an efficient space heater. This can be more efficient than heating the entire house, especially if everyone spends all their time in the same room.
Alternatively, keep it in rooms that you don’t use much, and close their heater vents. Turn on the space heater as needed, turn off when you’re done.
7. Drive less and more efficiently.
With gas prices going up, anything you can do to cut back can help your budget. Planning your errands so they can be done can save money both in gas and in what you spend shopping.
Another way to drive less is to carpool or take public transportation. This is generally going to involve some inconvenience, but the savings can be substantial. My sister saves about $80/month carpooling with coworkers, and that’s the number she quoted me about 6 months ago. No doubt it’s more now.
8. Buy used.
Consignment and thrift shops often have great deals on near-new clothes and other merchandise. It may take a couple tries before you find the right shops for your tastes, but there’s a great range of options out there.
9. Rethink your watering habits.
Many people overwater their lawns. Do some research for your area and find out how much water your lawn actually needs a week. I heard a quote of 1 inch per week in my area, and it’s actually better for the lawn to have it in one deep watering, so long as the soil isn’t too dry, than in shorter spurts through the week. The lawn then grows deeper roots and becomes stronger.
10. Review your insurance coverage.
What are you paying to cover your car in case of an accident? What’s the deductable? How often have you really needed to use even a bit of your coverage?
While car insurance is pretty much a must in many places, you may be able to cut back on what it costs you. Increasing your deductible can save you money every month, and only costs you money if you make a claim. This can be a very good deal.
Cutting health insurance can be a bit trickier. There’s still a certain quality of coverage you probably want. But once again, if increasing your deductible will save you money overall with the way you use your health insurance, it may be worth the effort. The only question for many people is ‘Will I remember that during open enrollement?’
Review your homeowner’s insurance too, if applicable. Balance what you will be able to handle paying in case of a claim with what you are willing to spend monthly.
11. Turn it off and unplug it.
Turn what off?
Whatever you’re not using. Turn off unnecessary lights and teach the kids to do the same. Turn off the television… unplug it if you’re willing, as it does use some electricity even when it’s off. Same for the DVD player or any other electronics that have a clock or respond to a remote. Any of those you’re willing to unplug can save you a bit of money.
12. Get a smart power strip.
A smart power strip is an interesting device. It shuts off the power to all devices plugged into it when you shut the first device down. This can work great for entertainment centers and computers… just make sure that if it’s something you want to stay on, such as a DVR, you plug it into a separate strip.
This can seem like a small thing, but the power these things use up just by being in standby mode can really add up.
13. Clean out the house… declutter!
While this won’t necessarily save you money, it can make you money or at least get rid of the things you don’t use anymore. If you think you can make some money, hold a garage sale or sell the best stuff on eBay. It’s a bit of effort that can be quite profitable.
14. Drink more tap water.
Get a Brita or other filter if you prefer, as it will quickly pay for itself over buying bottled water, drinking juice or drinking soda. It’s also very healthy for you.
If you don’t like to have a glass of water at your desk, especially if you’re concerned about spills, get a reusable water bottle. If BPA concerns you, there are metal bottles available, or non-BPA plastic ones. ReusableBags.com carries a good selection. I’m completely hooked on mine.
15. Check your car’s air filter.
A dirty air filter reduces your gas mileage. And cleaning one is so simple even most people who can’t do car repairs may be up to the job.
Cher your owner’s manual to locate the filter. Undo the top screw or release the clamps, take off the top and you’ll see the filter inside. Pull out the filter and use the hose of your vacuum cleaner to suck the dirt out of it. Run the vacuum through the holder as well to get any other dust. Take care not to be too rough with the filter, as you can damage it. Put it back in and reattach the top. The job is done and you didn’t have to pay someone to do it.
16. Talk about ways to save money with friends.
Friends can help you to find new ways to save money and just encourage you in your own efforts.
17. Look for free events in your area.
I went last weekend to a street fair just 2 miles from my home. We walked out of there with a free month of karate classes for my daughter, and a generally fun day. We did spend some on rides for the kids, but not much considering the overall entertainment.
Most cities will have some sort of event calendar online these days. Find your city’s website and check it out.
18. Borrow from the library.
Rather than buy books or rent movies, check out the selection at your local library. While their selection of movies won’t come even close to Netflix, or even a local movie store, you can check to see if the movie selection is adequate to your needs.
But many do pretty well, especially when it comes to finding great titles to read to the kids. Children don’t care how long the book has been out; they’ll enjoy the story regardless.
19. Make your own cleaning supplies.
Just a few ingredients that you may have around the house already can work wonders. Baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil can replace most of the cleaning supplies that cost you far more, and aren’t toxic.
20. Use rechargeable batteries.
The battery charger and rechargeable batteries are a bit of an investment at the start, but they quickly pay for themselves. We handled the expense in my family during the changeover by just buying rechargeable batteries as needed. Our charger handles all sizes we use.
21. Think about living in a smaller home or apartment.
This one won’t work right now if you’re upside down in a mortgage, and definitely may not be right depending on the real estate market in your area. Going into a smaller home can save you money in many ways if it makes sense to do so, from a lower mortgage payment to lower heating bills and so forth. Do not try this if you own a house unless you are sure you will save money!
On the other hand, renters may have more flexibility to move if they’re not stuck in a lease. If you can move into a place that costs you less to rent every month, you may have a significant savings that will make up for the expense of moving quickly.
Just be sure both the financial and the intangibles are worth the move. If you love where you live, the money may not be worth it unless things are just that tight.
22. Think before you buy.
Anytime you think you want to buy something, consider why you’re doing it. If you can walk away and return to the item later, do so. If the purchase can wait a month, do so. Do what it takes to make sure that it’s something more than an impulse buy.
23. Simplify your gift giving.
You don’t have to cut it out, but you can simplify it and give things that will be greatly appreciated and cost you less money.
Try giving time, especially to friends and family who you know have very little of it. Free babysitting is appreciated by parents of small children. A homecooked meal may be appreciated by grandparents, especially if it means you take some time to be with them.
If you’re creative, take advantage of that fact and make gifts. Homemade gifts don’t always have to be chintzy. Create something that you know the recipient will appreciate and that you’ll enjoy making.
24. Shower more efficiently.
I know, a nice, long, hot shower is bliss for many people. It also uses a lot of water and either electricity or gas to keep the water warm. If you can keep the length down you will save money.
You should also be sure that you have a low flow showerhead on your shower. A good quality one will still provide excellent water pressure, but use significantly less water. I’ve found that the mist setting on mine is good for everything but rinsing conditioner out of my hair, and uses significantly less water than the other settings.
25. Wash your clothes in cold water.
Most of the time, your clothes will come out nice and clean, even if you don’t use warm water. If you’re worried about it, there are now detergents formulated to work in cold water. I’ve never used one and never had a problem with clothes not getting clean enough… except when my kids absolutely stain them. What can I say? They’re kids. They like to get really, really messy.
There are, no doubt, many more ways you can save money. I’d love to hear more suggestions from any of my readers.