- Refinance your mortgage to get a lower rate or to switch from a 15-year mortgage to a 30-year loan.
- Raise your deductibles on your homeowner's or renter's insurance.
- Challenge your property-tax assessment.
- Eliminate premium channels from your cable or satellite TV service.
- Drop the pay TV services altogether.
- Reduce phone extras such as call forwarding or call waiting.
- Cancel your land line in favor of cell service (or vice versa).
- Seek a cheaper long-distance carrier (try SaveonPhone.com or LowerMyBills.com ) or switch to Internet calling if you have high-speed service .
- Investigate whether bundled service (phone, high-speed Internet and television) might save you money.
- Wash only full loads of dishes or clothes.
- Use a clothesline and use your dryer just to soften air-dried clothes.
- Use shades, blinds and drapes to regulate your home temperature: Keep them open in the winter to let in light and drawn in the summer to block the sun's rays.
- Install a programmable thermostat so your home is heated or cooled only when you're actually there.
- Don a sweater in winter and shorts in the summer so you're not overheating or cooling your house.
- Douse unneeded lights and turn off TVs, computers and other electronics when not in use.
Buying used cars and driving them for years is a great way to reduce your lifetime transportation expenditures. But there are other, more immediate ways to save, as well: Raise the deductibles on your auto-insurance policy.
- Get all the discounts you deserve, such as good-driver, good-student and multiple-car discounts.
- If you're driving less, tell your insurer; you may get a cheaper rate.
- Cancel collision and comprehensive insurance on cars older than five to seven years.
- Investigate carpools and public transportation, and see if your employer offers any subsidies.
- Bike or walk as often as possible.
- Avoid repair bills by maintaining your vehicles properly with regular oil and filter changes.
- Group your errands and, if you have more than one car, use the vehicle with better gas mileage.
Dining out consumes about half the average family's food expenditures, so eating in more often is one of the fastest ways to trim your budget. Other ways to control costs include:
- Bring lunches and snacks to work.
- Cook once, eat twice: Double whatever you're making and freeze the excess for a later meal.
- Make at least one or two meatless meals each week.
- Avoid over-packaged, over-processed and highly advertised foods. The closer a food is to its natural state, the less it tends to cost.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season.
- Cruise through your fridge daily to use items before they go bad.
- Give up a vice (smoking, drinking, soda, salty snack foods).
- Use the weekly grocery store circulars to see what's on sale and plan meals accordingly.
Personal insurance and retirement:
You might be tempted to cut back on your 401(k) contributions to pay off debt, but that's not a good idea, if you can possibly avoid it. Most companies with 401(k)s offer matching funds, so failing to contribute means you lose that free money. You also don't want to drop disability insurance, which protects you should illness or accident prevent you from working. Here are better areas to look for savings:
- Consider "refinancing" your term life insurance; rates have dropped in the past decade so you might be able to qualify for a lower premium.
- If you have a long-term disability policy, investigate the savings if you opt for a longer waiting period to reduce premiums (if you have an emergency fund or other income to bridge the gap).
- Suspend contributions to annuities and other accounts that don't offer matching funds or tax breaks.
- Make sure you got proper tax credit for last year's retirement contributions if your adjusted gross income was under $25,000 (for singles) or $50,000 (for couples). The retirement tax credit of up to $1,000 for lower earners is one of the most overlooked tax breaks, said MSN tax columnist Jeff Schnepper in "10 big deductions too many people miss." If you deserved this break but didn't take it, it's worth amending your return.
Medical costs are rising at a rate much higher than general inflation, while employers are asking their workers to shoulder a bigger share of the expense. You can fight back if you:
- Buy generic drugs.
- Look for free and low-cost clinics.
- Use urgent-care clinics rather than emergency rooms whenever possible.
- Ask for discounts when you pay cash.
- Carefully review hospital bills for errors.
- Monitor insurance claims to make sure they get paid.
Clothing and services:
Professional organizers say most people wear just a fraction of the clothes they own. If that describes you, consider easing your budget by selling stuff you don't wear and being more careful when you shop. You can also trim what you spend on personal care and other services. For example:
- Find out what looks good on you and stick to classic styles that won't look weird next season.
- Inventory your wardrobe and buy pieces that work with what you already own.
- Avoid dry-clean-only clothing.
- Make hair appointments at beauty schools, rather than full-priced salons.
- Drop your health club and form a walking or jogging group with friends.
- Hold a clothing swap with friends.
- Ask friends and relatives for hand-me-downs.
- Give kids a clothing allowance or offer "matching funds" for what they want to buy.
- Check out consignment and thrift stores for lightly-used items.