Finding hidden places in your budget to skimp even on a few dollars here and there can feel like a daunting task. The expenses of running your household, paying off any outstanding debt and, dare we say, having some fun can accumulate quickly. The cost of living ain't cheap.
But saving money each month is actually easily accomplished when consumers break down their spending habits and are willing to forgo some of their frivolities. Taking a holistic view of your spending habits helps you identify areas where you could afford to cut back.
Accumulating $200 in savings by merely cutting out $50 a week is a goal consumers can attain without making large sacrifices. Sure, it takes work, but it's a realizable goal that folks can achieve with just a little disciple. And though seemingly insignificant, the money saved can help pay down credit cards or student loans, go toward a downpayment for a car or a house, increase contributions to a 401(k) plan or IRA account.
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Editors' pick: Originally published June 6.
Mortgage rates have dipped again since the aftermath of the presidential election, giving potential homeowners a good opportunity to capture a low interest rate.
"Refinance your mortgage," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, the New York-based financial content company. "Mortgage rates are at the lowest levels since mid November and borrowers with good credit can find rates below 4%."
Even if your current insurance premiums appear to be inexpensive, shop around each year. Consumers who have moved or changed jobs can benefit, since rates are often lower, depending on your location or if you now work from home. Many agents give online quotes, so obtaining an estimate can be a simple task.
"Re-shop your insurance policies - auto, homeowners, liability and life," said McBride. "The other beauty of boosting savings is that it allows you to raise your insurance deductibles to further reduce your premiums."
Many gas stations offer discounts for motorists who opt to pay in cash. The savings can add up quickly, especially if you have a long commute to work or are planning trips this summer.
"This can save drivers 10 to 20 cents per gallon, so the savings isn't big," said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, a Boston-based provider of retail fuel pricing information and data. "But it might add up to $25 or so a month for the heaviest drivers."
Motorists who are seeking cheaper gasoline prices should fill up on Mondays, which can lead to saving hundreds of dollars each year, according to analysis conducted by GasBuddy.com. An analysis of fuel price data during three years determined that average gas prices were the lowest on Mondays. The worst day for drivers to fill up is Thursday.
Eliminating late charges by paying your bills on time could give consumers hundreds of dollars per year and boost their credit score. Most credit card companies charge at least $40 per month if you pay your bill after their grace period expires, said Jon Ulin, a certified financial planner and a managing principal of Ulin & Co. Wealth Management in Boca Raton, Fla.
Paying down, paying off and or consolidating high interest rate credit card debt can easily save consumers thousands of dollars per year in interest rate payments while also boosting their credit score, said Ulin.
"Many people fail to recognize that when paying only the minimum payment required on a credit card bill will not make any difference in paying down your principal," he said.
The same theory is also true for student loans. If you have amassed a large debt load, consider making an extra payment or refinancing some of your current loans so your payments are allocated toward the principal.
"With today's historically low rates, now would be the time to pay down or consolidate high rate obligations and become more fiscally responsible," Ulin said.
Paying down your debt will help with your monthly outgoing finances, said Jim Triggs, a senior vice president of counseling and support of Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization. "This in turn can help you save money going forward," he said. "If you do these things and start to establish a savings, you may be surprised at how rewarding it is and how you only had to make some minor changes to your budget to make this happen."
Shopping for a used car, household items or sports equipment can help consumers wind up with thousands of dollars in savings.
"From furniture to clothing, this can save hundreds of dollars per item," said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization. "Even better, stop buying things that you can get for free. Books and movies are available at no cost in local libraries, and an antenna can give you access to free television, potentially saving more than a hundred dollars each month."
One of the easiest ways to save some money is to buy a two or three year old car rather than a brand new vehicle, said Ron McCoy, a portfolio manager with Covestor, the online investing company, and founder of Freedom Capital Advisors in Winter Garden, Fla.
"It will really cut down on your car payment and save you paying a chunk of the early depreciation on the car since cars last much longer than they did years ago," he said.
Consumers can easily boost their cash flow by hundreds of dollars per month by shopping for household items and food in bulk, said Ulin.
"Many people get sucked into buying prepared meals for dinner which can add up," he said. "You could buy three pounds of raw chicken breasts for the cost of one stop at the Whole Foods prepared food section."
Many consumers are roped into bundled plans which offer services they did not want or rarely ever use. Instead, call your provider and say you're planning to cancel your service because it's too expensive, said Julian Kurland, who founded BillFixers, a Nashville-based company that negotiates monthly bills for consumers.
"They will likely offer you a new, lower rate without actually changing any of your services," he said.
Review your cell phone data plan to ensure you are not signed up with an outdated and expensive plan.
"We find that 60% of consumers are in data plans that don't match up with their usage," Kurland said. "With all the new unlimited plans coming out, you may even be able to get more data for less money."
Consumers should also eliminate unnecessary add-ons from their cable and cell bills. Some are paying $5 every month for navigation services on their cell plan while their smartphone likely offers it for free.
Pay for your own your own modem and wireless router because renting one from the cable company will cost you $10 per month for as long as you are a customer.
"Buying your own will pay for itself in well under a year," he said.
If you can't afford ACA or Obamacare coverage, don't avoid buying health care coverage entirely in case you have an accident, which can easily cost thousands of dollars, said Nate Purpura, vice president of consumer affairs at eHealth, an online health insurance exchange based in Mountain View, Calif.
"Consumers who simply cannot afford an Obamacare-compliant major medical health insurance plan or don't qualify for coverage outside open enrollment, can find more affordable options," he said.
Short-term health insurance plans can provide you with temporary coverage for unexpected illness and injuries for an average of $110 per month. Some insurance brokers and online marketplaces also sell packaged medical insurance products which bundle short-term coverage together with other products like accident or critical illness insurance, dental or vision insurance or telemedicine benefits, said Purpura.
"Packaged medical insurance products offer you more coverage than short-term plans alone, while often still being significantly less expensive than Obamacare-compliant major medical plans," he said. "You may be subject to an Obamacare tax penalty and pre-existing conditions and other benefits such as prescription drug coverage or maternity coverage may be excluded."
Too often consumers neglect to read the fine print of their prescription drug plan and are buying the wrong plan. All major medical health insurance plans provide coverage for prescription drugs, but the drugs covered can vary significantly from one plan to another.
Some health plans place different drugs in different coverage tiers, while others may exclude coverage for one drug but extend coverage for a second one when both are used to treat the same condition, said Purpura.
"If you're someone who uses prescription drugs on a regular basis, you can potentially save a lot of money by knowing which plans will cover your personal prescription drug needs at the highest level," he said. "eHealth's prescription drug coverage comparison tool allow users to enter their personal drug regimen and see which plans would cover their drug needs with the lowest out-of-pocket cost, which added up to median savings of more than $1,600 compared to over-the-counter prices."
Lowering your energy bill by a $100 or more a month can be accomplished by increasing your efficiency year-round. Decrease your air conditioning or heat if you are at work for ten hours day or invest in a gadget such as a Nest, said Ulin. When you are planning to upgrade your home, invest in energy efficiency windows and doors.
If you live in a city where electricity rates are deregulated, shop around every year to obtain the lowest rate.