When your first paycheck comes this month, it's probably going to be lower thanks to the expiration of the payroll tax cut. For Americans earning around $50,000, the expiration translates into $80 per month or nearly $1,000 per year.
There are 10 (relatively) easy ways to get that money back:
- Adjust your IRS withholding If you’re in the habit of getting a fat IRS refund every year, you’re probably withholding a little too much out of each paycheck. But with the loss of the payroll tax break and higher costs all around, tweaking your deductions could mean more money now, even if it means less money when tax time rolls around. But beware: Come April 2014, your tax bill could be huge, and that would make us sad.
- Kill your snack habit We don’t need to do the math for you to let you know that the $5 spent daily coffee or other treats is adding up to hefty sum every month. Ok, we did the math anyway, and it's more than $100 a month that you could save here.
- Love a homemade sandwich Now imagine spending only $5 -- roughly the cost of a frozen TV dinner or homemade sandwich and chips -- for lunch, instead of almost $10 at Chipotle or Chick-fil-A every day. More money in your pocket. Cut your work lunch costs from $200 to $100 per month.
- Hock your useless old phone If you have even one old cracked iPhone 3 sitting around your house, you are sitting on cash. An old iPhone 4S can fetch up to $250, while even the original iPhone 3 is still worth $15. Check out the different ways to sell old iPhones and other used electronics.
- Stop online dating and meet nice people in real life Between cable TV, Netflix, Internet, cell phone and other extra monthly fees like gym dues, video game fees or online dating memberships, it adds up to a big hit on monthly bills. If you're not going to the gym -- or on a date -- at least two times a week, your membership probably isn't worth it.
- Stop downloading dumb stuff onto your smartphone Data plans usually allow between 300MB and up to 10GB per month in downloads, but if you're streaming Netflix to your phone or habitually watching cat videos on YouTube, you could be going way over that limit and paying extra for it. Use WiFi on your device or curb your enthusiasm to save money on your cellphone bill.
- Don't buy into the lotto hype Face it: You're just not going to win (that's why critics call the lotto the "math tax."). And you're wasting your money on scratch tickets too. And even if you do win, you'll probably be in the new super-high income tax bracket anyway. So we just saved you like $100 million in taxes right there. You can thank us later.
- Say no to plastic and mobile payments It's easy to spend more than you can afford when actual money is hidden behind credit cards and mobile payments. "With credit cards, people don’t remember how much they have spent and they increase [their spending]," Min Zhao, an associate marketing professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, told HuffPost.
- Say yes to cash and budgeting Limit spending to whatever cash is in your pocket. If you're having trouble figuring out how much you can actually afford to spend safely, there are dozens of online budgeting programs, including ones from Mint.com and LearnVest.com.
- Ride shotgun A new generation of ride-sharing apps for smartphones is making it easier than ever to find and share rides, thus saving you money on gas and car expenses. Plus it's good for the polar bears.
Buy Cheap Gift Certificates
<a href="http://www.Restaurant.com" target="_hplink">Restaurant.com</a> sells $25 gift certificates for $10 or $50 gift certificates for $20. The site also has sales throughout the year, and I've snagged $25 gift certificates for $5. I keep a stack of these things in my wallet at all times. Most places have a minimum purchase requirement (from $35 and up) but you can generally use the gift certificates any time. But <a href="http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2011/08/11/how-to-cut-your-restaurant-bill-in-half/" target="_hplink">there are drawbacks</a>: They're for dine-in only, they're nonrefundable, and they can only be redeemed once per month per restaurant. Still, the site has become so popular that you can <a href="http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2011/08/22/7-more-tips-to-save-at-restaurant-com/" target="_hplink">double dip</a> - buying Restaurant.com certificates through an airline's shopping portal in order to earn frequent flier miles, for instance.
Snag Online Coupons
If you're not already using <a href="http://www.groupon.com/subscriptions/new?division_p=wichita&utm_campaign=4003003&utm_medium=afl&utm_source=rvs" target="_hplink">Groupon</a> and <a href="http://www.livingsocial.com/" target="_hplink">LivingSocial</a>, start now. Both sites post daily deals that will give you 50 to 90 percent off at different restaurants. You'll have to act quickly, but you'll save a bunch. I just got a dozen cake pops (regularly $17) for $8 through Groupon. If you don't want to spend hours sifting through all the offers, Money Talks News deals diva Karla Bowsher has culled the very best on our <a href="http://www.moneytalksnews.com/deals/" target="_hplink">deals</a> page.
If you have a smartphone, some social networking apps will get you free stuff and discounts. Last weekend, I got free guacamole and a free flan for checking into the restaurant on Yelp. Here are a few apps that score you deals: <a href="http://www.yelp.com/yelpmobile" target="_hplink">Yelp Check-ins</a> - After you check in, mention Yelp to your server to get the goods. <a href="https://foursquare.com/about/new?from=hp" target="_hplink">Foursquare</a> - Many places offer discounts and buy-one-get-one offers to people who check in. <a href="http://www.scvngr.com/" target="_hplink">SCVNGR</a> - Every time you check in, you accumulate points. You can redeem your points for a discount on your bill or a free item depending on the restaurant.
Ask For Special Occasion Deals
Every restaurant in town knows when my birthday is. Last year, I got three half-price meals, six free desserts, two free entrees, and about a dozen free cocktails - and all I had to do was sign up for a birthday mailing list and turn a year older. Many restaurants have a birthday or anniversary club. Signing up is free and they'll send you a coupon around the date. Ask your server how to sign up - and even if they don't have a mailing list, he'll tell you what you can get for free or cheap on your special occasion. There's even a site devoted to listing restaurants where you can eat free on your birthday: <a href="http://eatfreeonyourbirthday.com/" target="_hplink">eatfreeonyourbirthday.com</a>
Follow Restaurants On Twitter
Social media-savvy restaurants post special deals on Twitter. Some even post code words. If you tell your server the code word, you'll get a discount or a freebie. Last month, I got a free dessert for saying "Free Sean Payton" to my server. (I live in New Orleans, and the code words referred to our NFL coach who has been suspended by the league.) To find a restaurant's Twitter info, visit its website and look for the "Follow Us" links. One should be for Twitter. Another should be for Facebook. Speaking of which...
Become Facebook Friends
Here at Money Talks News, we take surveys, hold contests, and give out freebies on our Facebook page as a way to keep in touch with you. Many restaurants do the same thing. By "liking" the restaurant page, you'll get access to special deals not mentioned anywhere else.
Use Apps To Find Deals
I've made it a habit to open a few apps before I walk into a restaurant. There are several free apps that post deals to local and chain restaurants. Most places will apply the discount to your bill if you show them the app - no need to print the coupon. Here are a few apps worth downloading: <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.droidwax.foodcouponsapp&hl=en" target="_hplink">Dining Deals</a> <a href="http://www.localeats.com/localeats-mobile/" target="_hplink">LocalEats</a> <a href="http://www.valpak.com/coupons/show/mobileApps" target="_hplink">The Valpak App</a>
Dine In Off-Hours
Many restaurants in my area extend their lunch hours until late afternoon. By eating dinner early, I get the lunch prices, which are often 25 to 50 percent cheaper than the dinner prices for the same entrees. Before you try somewhere new, visit the restaurant's website and see if they have a lunch or early bird special.
It's uncommon, but some restaurants let you bring your own beer or wine, which is usually cheaper than the cost of paying per glass. Before you go, call ahead and ask if the establishment is BYOB. If they're not, skip the cocktail and have one somewhere else. Some places will charge a "corkage fee" if you bring your own wine, but even at $10 per bottle, it's still often cheaper than buying the same bottle in the restaurant. Most restaurants in my area overcharge for alcohol. For example, my local bar charges $3 for a mixed drink, but the restaurant next door charges $6. I save 50 percent stopping by the bar for my after-dinner drink.
Split Your Meal In Two
Restaurant meals are over-proportioned, so split your meal in two. You'll eat dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow for one price. It may seem like obvious advice, but it's harder in practice. If you're not careful, you'll end up eating everything on the plate. To beat the extra calories and save money, I divide my plate in half before I start eating. I only eat from my "now" half of the plate and ask for a to-go box for the rest.
Know Your Steaks
Knowing the different steak cuts and how they're prepared will save you money. For example, my friend always goes for the filet mignon because it's well known and tender. It's also one of the most expensive cuts you can order. Meanwhile, I ask if the hanger or flank steak was marinated. If it was, I order that. It's the cheapest steak on the menu, but it's also flavorful and tender - if marinated. MSN says sirloin, flank, skirt, and hanger steaks <a href="http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/19636378/ns/today-today_grilling_guide_2008/t/meaty-guide-best-cuts-types-beef/#.T-CV5lLwf9o" target="_hplink">are really underrated</a>. Give them a chance.
Plan Before You Travel
If I've learned one thing being a local in a tourist town like New Orleans, it's this: Tourist traps are alive and well. Many of the famous restaurants tourists want to visit are overpriced and not the best dining experience. If you want an authentic experience and a better price, check out a review site like <a href="http://www.yelp.com/" target="_hplink">Yelp</a> or <a href="http://www.urbanspoon.com/c/329/Wichita-restaurants.html" target="_hplink">Urban Spoon</a> before you visit a vacation spot. Pick a few places the locals rated highly and check their websites for menu prices. You can save a ton by planning ahead and skipping the hot spots.
Pick The Place
I'm fortunate to have very cheap friends. "I don't care where we go as long as it's cheap," is a common refrain on a Friday night. But I also have some less-than-frugal friends who visit from out of town. Since I know they'll want to try that expensive five-star restaurant they heard about on the Food Network, I jump the gun and suggest a similar but cheaper place. If you're dining out with a group, suggest reasonably priced places ahead of time. It will keep you from having to choose between a $25 salad or a $30 piece of chicken.
Become A Regular
Around here they call it lagniappe - the little something extra you get for being a great customer. Like the free cup of gumbo I've gotten every time I visit a diner in my neighborhood. I get that little something extra because I'm a regular. Trying new places is great, but you can get a discount (or a lagniappe) by building a relationship with the servers or owners of local restaurants.
Take Surveys And Earn Cash Back
With iDine, you can earn 5 to 15 percent back any time you eat out. Just sign up on their website. Within 30 days of your meal, sign on and complete a quick survey. For every survey you take, you'll earn cash back. When you reach $20, iDine will mail you an American Express gift card. It takes some effort, but it's free money. See? Dining out doesn't have to mean going all in - or staying in.
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