Between holiday shopping bills now due, increased winter heating bills and the upcoming income tax season, many people are feeling the pinch right now. Your best bet for getting back on track is to trim expenses.
Here are several ideas -- big and small -- that might do the trick:
Around the house
- Lower your thermostat. Turning down your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours at night can save you about five to 15 percent on your heating bill. For a $300 monthly heating bill, that's up to $45 in savings.
- Up to 30 percent of heated or cooled air can be lost through leaks, so add weather stripping around windows and doors and caulk around ducts, plumbing bypasses and other openings.
- Although more expensive initially, adding or upgrading insulation to your attic, exterior walls, water heater and floors will garner even bigger savings in the long run. The Department of Energy's Energy Savers website offers tips on getting started.
- Water heating is the third-largest home energy expense, so try lowering your water heater temperature to 120ºF or lower to see if it's still comfortable. No sense running scalding water from the tap.
- Energy Star products consume up to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models.
- Although initially more expensive, compact fluorescent lamps use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last three to 10 times longer.
- Fix your plumbing. A faucet leaking one drop per second wastes about 2,000 gallons a year.
- "Energy vampires" like computers, televisions, microwave ovens and cell phone chargers use up to 5 percent of your electricity, even in standby mode. Either plug them in only when needed, or attach to a power strip you can turn off at night.
- Increase insurance deductibles. If you have low-deductible home, renter's or auto insurance (say, $250), ask your insurance company how much your premiums would drop by raising the deductible to $500 or $1,000. Many save 15 to 30 percent or more.
- Balance your checking account to avoid fees for overdrawn accounts and returned checks. Ask your bank about phone, text or email alerts when payments are due or your balance drops below a certain level.
- Switch to a free checking account. You can shop rates for banks at Bankrate.com and find credit unions for which you're eligible at the Credit Union National Association's Search Engine.
- Consider generic vs. brand-name drugs; copayments are usually much lower.
- Find out if your insurance offers quantity discounts for mail-order prescriptions. Often, the copayment for a 60- or 90-day supply will be the same as for a 30-day supply at a regular pharmacy.
- Ask your doctor about pill-splitting. Many drugs come in double-dosage tablets that cost about the same as a lower dosage. (Caution: Some pills should never be split, so always ask your doctor or pharmacist first.)
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist about pharmaceutical companies' drug assistance programs for uninsured or low-income people. There's a lot of paperwork involved, but you could save thousands of dollars if you qualify.
Odds and ends
- Examine your phone bill for services you're not using like call waiting, call forwarding or caller ID. Dropping them could save $100 a year or more, depending on your plan.
- Slow down. Fuel efficiency drops about five mpg for each 10-mile speed increase over 55 mph.
- Kick bad habits. Smoking one $5 pack of cigarettes a day costs over $1,825 a year, not to mention potentially thousands in additional medical and lost-work costs.
- If you spend $3 a day on coffee, that's about $1,000 a year. Invest in a good thermos and quality beans and make your own to-go coffee.
- Ditto for bottled water; buy water filters for home and work and pay pennies a day versus dollars.
- This may be my favorite off-the-wall tip: According to a Printer.com test, by switching from Ariel, the most common type font, to Century Gothic, someone printing 25 pages a week on their home printer could save $20 a year in ink costs.
For more cost-saving ideas, here are a few great resources:
- AARP has a site called Save Money on Everything. Check out its article, 99 Great Ways to Save.
- America Saves is full of savings strategies and links to other resources.
- Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management program run by my employer, Visa Inc., offers numerous savings and budgeting tools.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.
To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit on April 4, 2011, go to Practical Money Skills.