Is your rainy day fund all wet? Every paycheck, you plan to save, but it seems like there's nothing left over after bills and creditors get their share. It's getting tougher to pay the bills on time, let alone save any money! Don't fret; there's a solution. There are a lot of ways to put another dollar in your pocket here and there. Here's what you need to do:
Draw up your current budget: First things first; find out where your money goes. Calculate your monthly income and make a list of all expenses.
Now that you know how much money you make and spend, it's time to cast a critical eye on expenses. Let's find out where you can trim the fat from your budget.
Around The House
Cutting down on waste and excess around your home is one of the easiest ways to save money. Are you one of those people who leaves lights on all around the house? With three TVs running? We're talking to you.
Adjust your thermostat: Turn your thermostat up a couple of degrees in the summer and down a few in the winter. Every degree saves approximately 3 percent in energy costs. If your home is empty during the day, consider buying a programmable thermostat to avoid heating and cooling your home when no one's there. Set the thermostat to turn the air or heat on about 30 minutes before you get home.
Turn off the lights: If you're watching TV in the living room, turn off the lights in the kitchen. If you're eating dinner in the dining room, turn off the lights in the living room. Don't waste energy by burning lights in rooms that you're not occupying.
Use low energy light bulbs: Compact fluorescent light bulbs use only a fraction of the electricity that regular incandescent bulbs use. Plus they last much, much longer.
Change your air filters: A clogged or dirty air filter reduces airflow to the heating or AC unit, causing it to work harder and use more energy. Change your filters once a month.
Shut doors and windows: Your dad was right: you really shouldn't pay to heat or cool the outdoors.
Turn off your computer: Computers suck up a lot of energy. Most will go to sleep after a period of sitting idle, but take it one step further by just turning it off.
Simplify your cable: Do you really need 100 movie channels? Consider a smaller package.
Downgrade your phone services: When's the last time you used call forwarding or had a three way chat? Only use services that are absolutely necessary. Take advantage of free long distance with your cell phone if possible. Consider using VoIP or a cell phone to eliminate your land line.
Consolidate services: Most of the big telecom companies and cable providers now offer discounts if you use them for combined cable, telephone and internet service.
Use cloth napkins, towels and diapers: Paper napkins, paper towels and disposable diapers are easy and convenient, but cloth can be washed and used again. Use these to save money and the environment.
Do the dishes: Use reusable dishes for your meals instead of paper plates and cups.
Hang your clothes out to dry: The dryer uses a lot of energy. It takes a lot to run, plus it can also heat up your house, causing your air conditioner to have to work harder. Accomplish that fresh, dried-on-the-line smell in your own backyard.
Buy energy efficient appliances: If you are in the market for new appliances, take energy efficiency into account. Look for items with the Energy Star label.
Get an energy audit: Your electric or gas company can send someone to your home to tell you specifically what you can do to make your home more energy efficient.
Enroll in cost saving programs: Ask your energy company if they offer any load management, off-hour rate or other cost saving programs that you can take advantage of.
Close the flu damper in your fireplace: Don't let hot or cold air escape out of the fireplace. Keep the flu closed.
Insulate your water heater: Pack insulation around your water heater to help retain heat. Also try turning the heater's thermostat down a few degrees.
Install low flow showerheads: You can cut your shower's water consumption in half by installing one of these.
Change washing machine settings: Heating water uses energy and costs money. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water instead of hot.
Use a gas dryer: Gas dryers use less energy than their electric counterparts.
Open a window: Take advantage of Mother Nature. If the weather's nice, turn off the air or heat and open the windows.
Eliminate drafts: Use caulk or weather-stripping to strengthen the seal around doors and windows to eliminate the loss of hot or cool air.
Shade your windows: Close shades, blinds or drapes during the day to keep light and heat from coming in through the windows. Direct sunlight will heat your home and cause the AC to work harder. Alternately, uncovering windows to let sun in could be helpful for heating in the winter.
Plant a tree: Strategic placement of trees and bushes around your home can increase shade and decrease energy consumption. Try shading your air conditioning unit as well as windows that get a lot of sun. Just three trees can save between $100 and $250 a year in heating and cooling costs.
An energy efficient home is only part of the equation. Transportation costs can put a huge dent in your budget. Let's take a look at what you can do to make hitting the road more cost effective.
On The Road
Getting from point A to point B can really cut into your budget. Here's how to get where you need to go without breaking the bank.
Get regular tune-ups: Keep all of the moving parts in your car running smoothly to get better gas mileage and prolong the life of your vehicle.
Turn off the AC: Roll down your windows and let the air cool your car.
Keep air in your tires: Underinflated or flat tires will reduce gas mileage.
Shop around for gas: Before you pull over and start filling up, shop around for the cheapest place to get gas.
Look for frequent shopper deals on gas: Some grocery stores offer 3 cents off per gallon with a frequent shopper card. Save even more when you do more business with them, like 10 cents off per gallon when you buy $100 worth of groceries.
Shop for gas mileage: If you're car shopping, avoid the Hummers. Focus on smaller cars that get good gas mileage.
Try to avoid traffic: Idling in traffic can burn up lots of gas. Try to avoid rush hour traffic as much as possible.
Consider the savings: It costs an average of 36 cents per mile to own and operate an automobile. Don't drive all the way across town to save a nickel on a gallon of milk.
Keep moving: Stop-and-go driving not only wears out your engine faster, but also uses more gas than moving at a steady pace.
Use cruise control: If you're not going to be hitting any stop signs or traffic lights, set your cruise control to conserve gas.
Slow down: It's simple. Drive the speed limit to save gas as well as make your life a whole lot easier.
Keep it light: Remove any heavy, unnecessary items from your car. An extra 100 pounds can decrease fuel economy of an average automobile by about one percent.
Find the shortest route: The shorter the distance you have to travel, the less gas you will have to use.
Combine errands: Run as many errands as you can in one trip to cut down on your driving time.
Carpool: If your co-workers live nearby, take turns driving each other to work. If you're going out with your friends or family, fit as many people as you can into a single vehicle.
Use public transportation: If the option is available, take a bus, train or taxi instead of driving.
Take a walk: If you live close enough, try walking to work. It's free and healthy.
Ride a bike: You may live a little too far to walk, but you can try hopping on a bicycle to make your commute. Again, this option is free and healthy.
Now you know how to save money on your drive to the grocery store, but it's also important to cut costs once inside.
Food For Thought
Watching your order total at the checkout can be daunting. Take these steps to help ease the pain.
Plan ahead: Map out your meals for the entire week. Go through your cabinets, fridge and pantry, making a list of any items you'll need for your planned meals.
Cut coupons: Savings of 25 cents here and 75 cents there can add up fast.
Look for sales: Ads for savings are what make the Sunday paper so thick. Take advantage of them. Look for flyers throughout the week, pay attention to TV commercials and check junk mail for coupons before you throw it away.
Shop around: Don't limit yourself to one grocery store. One store may have great dairy prices but overpriced produce. Another could have good meat sales, but your favorite cereal is too expensive. Pick and choose what you'll buy from each store. However, if you bring sales flyers from the competition, many stores will match the price.
Go generic: Just about every product has a generic counterpart at a much lower price. Buy these products; you can get the same thing for a lot less money.
Don't stray from your list: If you didn't write it on your list, you don't need it.
Bring your calculator: Is 24 ounces for $1.00 better than 36 ounces for $1.25? Bring a calculator with you to figure out the best deal.
Buy in bulk: It never hurts to stock up on items you use frequently. Bulk is often cheaper, so fill your cart. Be sure that you are able to use the item before it goes bad.
Don't shop on an empty stomach: Everything looks good when you're hungry. Eat before you shop so you're less tempted to pick up anything and everything that looks good.
Check your receipt: Before you leave the store, take a glance at your receipt to make sure everything checks out. Items may ring up at an incorrect price or be scanned too many times.
Grow your own food: Plant some herbs and vegetables in a small garden out back. You may not be able to replicate the produce aisle, but it can help cut your grocery bill.
Trimming your grocery bill will work wonders when it comes to stocking up your pantry, but even a house full of food won't satisfy a craving for your favorite restaurant.
Wining And Dining
Eating macaroni and cheese, salad and Hamburger Helper every night can get old fast. Treat yourself to a meal at a restaurant from time to time, just be sure to keep it within reason.
Limit yourself: Avoid making restaurant visits an everyday event. Treat yourself once a week or once a month.
Look for new restaurants: Lots of new restaurants offer discounts and specials to attract customers.
Go out for lunch instead of dinner: Most restaurants are cheaper at lunchtime. When you decide to treat yourself, go out to lunch and stay in for dinner.
Avoid weekends: Everybody goes out to eat on the weekends. Restaurants may limit specials and coupons during this time. For the best deals, visit during the week.
Drink water: Save a few dollars on your bill by drinking water instead of soda or alcohol.
Bring leftovers home: Restaurant portions are huge, generally twice the size of a recommended serving. Ask for a doggy bag and bring the leftovers home.
Now that you're operating on a full stomach, it's time to take a look at what you're wearing and how you decorate your home.
Don't Lose Your Shirt
The sheer volume of sales flyers, coupons and advertising that we are inundated with is enough to make your head spin. Cut through the clutter: focus on what you're looking for and compare prices for the best deal.
Distinguish between needs and wants: Before you start buying toys and specialty items, decide what you need more: the product or the money.
Look for sales: You can often find everything you need on the sale rack.
Wait for end of season sales: Pick up next year's bathing suit for a fraction of the cost at the end of the summer.
Shop online: The Internet offers many items used or at a discount. Try to find sites that offer free shipping.
Shop at closeout stores: They may not be pretty, but you can find great deals at stores like Big Lots, Marshalls and TJ Maxx.
Head to the second-hand store: Goodwill, thrift stores and pawn shops offer many quality used goods at low prices.
Find a garage sale: One man's junk is another's treasure.
Consider alternatives: Expensive does not always equal quality. Check out professional ratings from Consumer Reports and read what customers say online to find out if you're getting biggest bang for your buck.
Avoid fashion trends: Don't spend a ton of money on an item that you won't want to wear next month. Stick with classic styles that you'll wear often.
Once you've got your necessities down, you can focus on how to save money on the fun stuff.
Everybody Have Fun Tonight
Entertaining yourself doesn't have to mean spending a lot of money. It doesn't even have to include going out.
Get cheap novels: Instead of filling your bookshelves with brand new books, consider buying used. There are chain stores that offer used books at half and even a quarter of the cover price. Libraries often have great sales as well. Better yet, borrow books, movies and CDs for free at the library. Once there, you can also surf the internet as well as read magazines and newspapers.
Cut down on subscriptions: Pick one or two magazines that you enjoy the most and cancel the rest.
Share with friends: Go through old books or movies that you have lying around and propose a trade with one of your friends for something that you haven't read or seen yet.
Have a game night: Instead of going out, invite friends and family over for board games.
Host a potluck: Invite people over for dinner and have each person bring a separate dish. It's fun and much cheaper than going out.
Catch a matinee: Movies at 2PM are the same as 7PM. Beat the crowd and save money by catching the early show.
Go to a discount theater: Lots of cities have theaters that show movies after their initial release. Check out movies on the big screen at big savings.
Don't buy popcorn: Tickets are expensive enough. Don't pay for an overpriced popcorn and Coke, too. Eat something before you go and drink water if you get thirsty.
Rent a movie: Bypass the high ticket prices and expensive snacks altogether. Head over to the video store and rent a movie.
Support your Alma mater: High school and college sporting events can provide cheap entertainment.
Watch tomorrow's stars today: Many large cities host minor league games that cost a fraction of the big league price.
Check out the local art scene: Poetry readings, art openings, high school plays, and community theater programs can be fun and inexpensive.
Watch for free events: Check the newspaper and Internet for open houses, festivals, library events and other community gatherings in your area.
Members only: Museums and zoos often have deals and special events for members. Sign up to support the arts, furry friends and your savings.
Explore the great outdoors: Pack a picnic and go for a hike at a park or recreational area nearby. You can even pack a tent and sleeping bag to stay for the weekend.
Go for a swim: Enjoy some good clean fun in the sun: head to the lake or beach.
Listen for free tickets: Newspapers and radio stations often hold contests to give away free movie and concert tickets.
Saving money on entertainment is great, but be careful how you take care of the bill. Plastic can be hazardous to your bank account's health.
Credit cards are not free money. They can become a black hole for your finances in the blink of an eye. Use them responsibly. Remember: at some point, you'll have to pay them back.
You only need one: You can get into enough trouble with one credit card; don't compound the risk by getting more.
Cut up the rest: Once you've chosen your card to keep, destroy the others. Be sure to also cancel the associated account.
In case of emergency: Consider your credit card a safety net. Don't use it for anything that you don't absolutely need.
Pay off the balance: As soon as you get your statement, pay off the balance. Minimum payments don't cover much more than the interest charge.
Look for hidden fees: Look closely at your statement and take note of what kind of fees you are paying out. Programs like credit life insurance, credit disability insurance, involuntary unemployment credit insurance and credit property insurance are generally unnecessary. Make sure you don't have to pay for them.
Get a low interest rate: Zero percent interest doesn't last forever. Many credit cards offer this as an introductory rate, but before you jump at this opportunity, find out how long it lasts and what your rate will be when it expires.
Watch your statement: On top of hidden fees, you may also find double or fraudulent charges that you will need to dispute.
Utilize rewards: Rewards programs are everywhere these days. If you have the discipline to pay off your balance each month, use your card to pay all of your bills and rack up lots of points. Just be sure to use the card responsibly. The rewards won't even cover the interest that you'll pay if you carry a balance.
Say no to the free shirt: Just about everywhere you go, there's somebody trying to get you to sign up for their credit card. A free shirt, free hat, or a ten percent discount may be appealing, but these little freebies can hurt you in the long run. Even if you never use the card, the application alone can bring down your credit rating.
Pay on time: Late payments are messy. They incur fees and allow the credit card company to raise your interest rates. Make a note on your calendar and pay ahead of time.
Staying out of debt is a big part of building a savings. Here are a few more of the little things you can do.
This And That
Consider these extra tricks when trying to save a few bucks.
Take your lunch to work: Instead of paying five or six dollars for a "value" meal at lunch every day, bring a sandwich, apple and drink from home.
Go to beauty school: Time for a manicure, pedicure or haircut? Go to a training salon and get professional work done at a fraction of the cost.
Quit smoking: It's much easier said than done, but smokers, you're burning up a gold mine. Smoking a pack a day costs about $1,460 a year.
Keep charity receipts: Any kind of donations that you make throughout the year can be used as a tax write off.
Keep less money available: Leave your credit cards at home and take only the cash you'll need. If you run short, put something back.
Check out these references for more great ways to save a buck: