If you search “ways to save money” on the internet, you will find website after website, article after article, listing suggestions as to how you can save money and reduce your monthly expenses. However, in my research, I can’t tell you the number of times I have come across really unhelpful recommendations such as “stop eating out multiple times per week,” “get rid of your maid service,” and “cut back on your family vacations.” Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us had such luxuries we could dispose of? It’s like these articles are being written for the wealthy, who all of the sudden have come across hard times, and now face “tough” decisions with respect to what they can or cannot live with. Well, many Americans are not that fortunate. Many individuals do not have a job right now and are relying on some sort of public assistance in order to just SURVIVE. My article consists of real solutions for real people who desperately need to save every penny they can. I focus on 7 of life’s core expenses: Home, Car, Food, Utilities, Clothing, Cable/Phone/Internet, and Cell Phone, and have devised a plan of action to help reduce each expense.
For many of us, our mortgage makes up our biggest monthly expense. With interest rates still near historic lows (currently around 4% APR for a 30-year fixed mortgage according to bankrate.com), a lot of money could be potentially saved if you refinance your home. Even if you are under water on your mortgage, you may still qualify for refinancing. I recommend lendingtree.com to shop for the best available offers. The site is free to use. You just need to complete a simple online form. If refinancing is not available, you could always try renting out your home and living in an apartment, or even staying with friends or family until your financial situation improves. Not comfortable with those options? How about renting out a bedroom that is not currently being used at the moment?
Our car(s) is another big monthly expense if you figure a likely monthly payment, insurance for the car, gas, maintenance, etc. If you live in a populated area and can take advantage of public transportation, then you may want to get rid of your car(s) because doing so will result in the most savings. If you live in a more rural area like me, then you really have to have a car, especially if you are still lucky enough to have a job. If your monthly car payment is too high for your budget, consider trading in your car and leasing a vehicle (assuming you have no problem staying under 10,000 miles per year). I see deals all the time consisting of no money down, with monthly payments much more manageable than what many currently pay for their car. And if you have equity built up in your car, you can use that money to further reduce your new monthly payment.
With food prices continuing to rise (seemingly by the day), people on a tight budget have to be more resourceful than ever. Coupons are an absolute must. I prefer couponsurfer.com or couponmom.com. Both websites are free to register, and the coupons are printable. I also buy coupons off of eBay for pennies on the dollar. I have always found the best coupons on eBay for some reason, a place many do not think of when it comes to coupons. My coupon gathering is complete with the inserts from the Sunday paper, which my kind neighbor lets me have when he is done reading it. Now of course you are not going to find a coupon for all of your food items. This is why it is important to try and buy food products that will allow you to stretch out meals (i.e. leftovers). I also recommend shopping at food stores that reward you for shopping there-not only in special food discounts, but a lot of grocers will allow you to accumulate points that can be used on gas for your car. That’s double savings!
I break down utilities into two sub-categories: heating and electric, although the two can go hand-in-hand at times. With winter right around the corner, we all know what’s coming with respect to our heating bills-they are going up-meaning even more money coming out of our pockets. eHow.com makes several good suggestions as to things we can do around the house to keep our heating bills as low as humanly possible.
Suggestion #1: Turn down your thermostat by just a couple of degrees.
I know in my house, no one is allowed to wear shorts and t-shirts during the winter months. My family is bundled in several layers of clothing, and our programmable thermostat (which I highly recommend to further reduce costs) is never set above 65 degrees.
Suggestion #2: Turn down your water heater by a couple of degrees.
It is not necessary to have your water heater on the highest setting in order to have a nice warm shower. So make the adjustment now, and you likely won’t even notice a difference, except of course in your heating bill.
Suggestion #3: Insulate your hot water pipes using cell foam pipe sleeves.
Having recently done an inspection of my pipes, I found that the sleeves I last put on a few years ago really needed to be replaced. So I shopped around and ended up finding the best deal at Lowes for new foam sleeves. The cost was less than $2.00 per sleeve.
Suggestion #4: Check windows and door for drafts.
This could be a big reason as to why the heat in your home escapes so quickly. If necessary, just put some caulk around your windows, and new weatherstripping around your front door. Both the caulk and the weatherstripping are relatively inexpensive.
Suggestion #5: Close your curtains after a day of sunlight. This helps preserve the heat you have in your house that was created by the sun.
This seems so common sense to me, but for some reason, I rarely utilized this tip before reading this.
With regards to your electricity bill, eHow.com also makes some helpful suggestions.
Suggestion #1: Unplug all appliances not in use.
Just because an appliance is off doesn’t mean energy is still not being consumed. I was surprised with how much lower my electric bill was after I unplugged just about everything in the house. It is somewhat of an inconvenience to plug and unplug everything, but the savings really do add up.
Suggestion #2: Replace your incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs.
This requires some money up front, but again, you will be saving much more in the long run.
With two young children who seem to be growing out of their clothes by the week, this is another big expense that can be trimmed for big savings. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have friends with older children who hand our kids down clothes that no longer fit them. As for my wife and I, if a piece of clothing needs repairs, we have a close friend who does tailoring in her spare time, and she helps us out. If the piece of clothing is beyond repair, there is always thrift stores such as the Salvation Army, where you can buy clean, second-hand clothing for a fraction of what you would pay in a big retail store.
When my financial situation became dire a while back, the cable TV was the first thing to go. This was tough since I am an avid sports fan, but I decided to forgo my already basic TV package, and just listen to games on the old radio. And as for my prime time TV shows such as “Modern Family” and “CSI,” I just watch them the next day. Just go to the station’s website and you can download the episode for free. All you need is internet access (more on this in a second). A much more affordable option than cable or satellite is Netflix (streaming only) for $7.99 per month. No need for Netflix’s DVD option since you can borrow these for free from your local library. With more content than ever including original shows such as “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development,” Netflix’s huge video library is all my family needs for TV entertainment.
As for the internet, this was something my family could not go without. We use the internet for email, news, Netflix (because of the required WiFi), and work. My family currently uses Verizon High Speed Internet (.5 to 1 mbps), which costs us $24.99 per month, the cheapest plan I could find on the web for high-speed access. The speed is plenty fast if you use your internet for things like web surfing and email.
As for the home phone, many people go without one and just use their cell phones as their only phone. However, if you have to have a home phone, then I highly recommend Magic Jack Plus, which gives you service for as little as $19.95 for an entire year! You don’t even need a computer to use it, and you can even keep your old phone number.
Some people might consider a cell phone to be a luxury. However, to me and many other individuals, it’s really a necessity. According to chacha.com, the average monthly cell phone bill in the U.S. was $65.00 last year; however, depending on your specific plan, you might be paying over $100 a month after expensive data plans, taxes, and fees. With my 2-year cell phone contract with Verizon Wireless just expiring, I have seriously been considering Virgin Mobile’s $35.00 a month no contract plan. Virgin Mobile, for those of you who do not know, is powered by the Sprint Network. For $35.00 a month, you get 300 minutes, unlimited data with speeds of 3G and 4G (where available), web messaging, and email. And for $45.00 a month, you can increase your monthly minute allotment to 1200. You can even keep your existing phone number! According to Virgin Mobile’s website, you do have to purchase a cell phone from them in order to use one of their plans; however, I saw new smart phones being sold on their website for as low as $34.99.
And just a good rule of thumb for maximizing your cost cutting and save money is to comparison shop everything-from insurance to groceries to just about any piece of merchandise you need. Websites such as nextag.com and bizrate.com can help you find the best prices around.
So in summation, if you have already sold the family yacht, and gave up your timeshare in Cancun, then focus on expenses that affect just about everyone, particularly those Americans barely scraping by in life. By trimming our mortgage and car payments, reducing our heating and electric bills, shopping second hand, and utilizing a bare bones phone, internet, and TV plan, life should be at least a little bit easier from a financial standpoint. Good luck to us all!