Want to save a buck? How about a few hundred or a couple thousand?
I identified dozens of ways you can keep more money. Whether you need to plug leaks in your spending, learn where to find the best deals or even trick yourself into shaving expenses, this instructable has got something for everyone.
And here's a bonus tip: Before you even start looking elsewhere in your budget to cut costs, start at the source with your paycheck. If you get a tax refund, that means you're overpaying Uncle Sam from the beginning. Boost your take-home pay today by adjusting your tax withholding with your employer.
Step 1: SAVE MONEY ON FOOD
You gotta eat. The trick is to satisfy the hunger without starving your wallet.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American family of four spends $8,513 per year on groceries -- that's $709 per month! And many of us blow our budgets further on restaurant meals.
Here are ten ways to save money on food, whether you're eating in or out:
LEARN TO COOK
Eating out is a huge budget buster. Even seemingly inexpensive fast food can add up quickly. Cooking your own meals could save you a small fortune on restaurants and groceries (you'll buy fewer pricey frozen and prepared meals). Plus, you could make dating cheaper -- who wouldn't be impressed by a cozy dinner?
Scour the Web for simple recipes to get your feet wet, or check out beginner cook books at your local bookstore.
TAKE FEWER TRIPS TO THE GROCERY STORE
Making bigger shopping trips less often will cut down on your impulse buys. In fact, almost half of all shoppers go to the store three or four times per week. Shoppers making a "quick trip" to the store usually purchase 54% more than they planned, according to a study published by the Marketing Science Institute.
If you go to the store three times a week and spend $10 on impulse buys each trip, that adds up to $120 extra per month. But if you go only once a week, you'll spend $40 per month on impulse buys. That saves you $80 per month, or $960 per year.
BREAK YOUR RESTAURANT ROUTINE
This may seem obvious, but we are creatures of habit and convenience. Make an effort to cut back a little, such as dining out once a week instead of three nights a week. With $20 meals, this simple act will trim your expenses by $160 a month.
Or, try something different - and cheaper. Pick up a restaurant guide or a tour book of your city for budget-friendly suggestions. If you eat out three times a week, cutting just $5 from each meal ticket will save you $60 a month.
BRING YOUR LUNCH TO WORK
Spending just $2 a day on a home-made lunch versus $6 a day on the sandwich shop next to the office will save you about $80 a month and $960 each year.
GROCERY SHOP WITH FOCUS
Another way to cut down on impulse buys is to shop with a list. Sketch out the week's meals and jot down the ingredients you'll need. Remember to factor in treats, snacks and lunches. Then stick to the list.
You might find it helpful to leave the kids at home so you're not tempted to give into pressure from crying children for an extra treat or toy that isn't on your list.
You can almost always save money by choosing a no-name brand instead of a brand name. And you usually won't sacrifice much in quality on many items, from cereal to canned goods and frozen vegetables. Also, the savings on generic baby formula and prescription drugs can be huge.
You could save a few cents to a couple of dollars per item. And that adds up quickly each month.
MAKE YOUR OWN LATTE
That daily $4 cup of coffee is costing you $120 per month -- or more than $1,400 per year. Invest in a good-quality machine and make your own brew for much less.
Or kick the caffeine habit altogether and enjoy the health benefits along with the financial.
You know about coupons for groceries. But don't overlook bargains for dining out.
For instance, at Restaurant.com you can get a $25 gift certificate to local restaurants for only $10. Use the coupon once a week, and you'll save $60 per month.
Or, before you dine out, hit the Web. At http://www.retailmenot.com/coupons/food, you can quickly find printable coupons and codes for dozens of eateries.
TIME YOUR MEAL
No, eating quickly won't make the bill smaller. Rather, consider eating out for lunch instead of dinner. That way, you can get lunch-menu prices for dinner-quality entrees.
MIND THE UNIT PRICE
Many grocery store tags will tell you how much an item costs per ounce, per pound or by some other unit of measure. Comparison-shop by unit price and save.
For example, a pack of 40 diapers at our local drug store cost $13, or 33 cents per diaper. A box of 144 diapers cost $35, or 24 cents per diaper. A difference of 9 cents may not seem like much, but when you change a diaper six to eight times each day, that amounts to a savings of $16 to $22 per month.
One caveat: Don't buy in bulk if you won't use it all -- otherwise, you wasted your money, no matter how good a deal it was.
Step 2: SAVE MONEY ON ENTERTAINMENT
Having fun doesn't mean you have to blow your budget.
If your recent "nights out" consist of a walk to your mailbox to pick up your latest Netflix movie or browsing the shelves at your local Wal-Mart, it's time to get back in the saddle.
Here are 12 fun ways to get more out of your entertainment dollar:
WAIT TO THE LAST MINUTE
When it gets down to a couple hours before the performance, the theater may start selling "rush" tickets at a fraction of the price. It would rather sell the seats at a bargain than let them go empty. Consolidated discount ticket booths are popping up in cities nationwide. Or call your favorite home-town theater to see if it offers price cuts directly to the public right before show time.
Of course, there's a good chance a show will sell out. So it pays to keep your plans flexible.
CHECK OUT THE LIBRARY
Dust off your library card and enjoy DVDs and books for free. If you'd normally rent a movie a week and buy a book a month, you can cut costs by $30.
Plus, check out library-sponsored events, such as book readings and clubs, film screenings and lectures.
WORK OR VOLUNTEER
Here's a great way for cash-strapped teenagers and college students to have some fun and make a buck at the same time. Check out part-time jobs at a sports venue, concert hall or theater. You may have to empty a trash can now and then or tear tickets, but you might be able to catch a good portion of the show.
Or volunteer. In exchange for passing out play bills at the door, for example, you may be able to sit in on the performance when your work is done.
WATCH FOR DISCOUNT DAYS
Many theaters, museums, galleries, zoos and parks offer special discount days, such as standing room only or pay-what-you-can nights. Some even offer free admission on certain days of the month.
For performances, ask about free or drastically discounted admission to dress rehearsals.
TEAM UP FOR BABYSITTING
As any parent knows, a good chunk of any entertainment budget can be eaten up just paying the babysitter. Join forces with a relative, neighbor or friend and trade off watching each other's kids, instead. For example, you watch their kids one Saturday evening and they watch yours the following weekend.
If you spent $10 to $20 a week on a babysitter, you could save $560 to $1,120 per year with your co-op.
CATCH A MATINEE
Matinees aren't just for senior citizens or little kids. You can often get cheap tickets to movies, theater productions and other shows if you attend in the early afternoon instead of the prime evening time slot.
Daytime is also a good time to try out a hot new restaurant. You can get lunch-menu prices for dinner-quality entrees.
GO WITH A GROUP
When it comes to finding cheap entertainment, more really is merrier. Buy tickets in bulk to get a 10% (or more) discount to many exhibitions and events. Team up with friends, co-workers or relatives to get the lower rate.
Forget the $40-a-month gym membership that'll cost you almost $500 a year. Instead, check out community centers in your area. Some may be free or charge a minimal fee, such as $100 a year.
Or buy a good pair of running shoes, or dust off that bike and work out the old-fashioned way.
GIVE THE SECRET HANDSHAKE
As with many things in life, getting a deal on entertainment can come down to whom you know.
You could score discount tickets to amusement parks, sports arenas and other events through clubs and associations you belong to, such as AAA, AARP, a credit union, alumni or professional association or even your job. Flash your membership card; save money.
And if you're a student, always ask about student discounts with your ID.
GO BACK TO COLLEGE
College campuses are a trove of quality entertainment options, from student musical performances, film festivals, art exhibits, theater productions, dance recitals, sporting events and more.
The best part: Many are free or incredibly inexpensive to attend.
FIRE YOUR VIDEO STORE
Spending $5 for a movie at the corner video store can add up quickly. And mail-order subscription services can be costly, too, unless you watch a lot of movies every month to make the expense worth it. Instead, scope out DVD kiosks in your neighborhood.
For example, for $1 per night, you can rent a DVD from Redbox kiosks. They carry new releases and are located nationwide in thousands of convenient spots, such as fast-food restaurants and grocery stores. If you're a once-a-week renter, you could shave your movie costs from $20 a month to a mere $4.
There is plenty of free and cheap entertainment to be had at the hands of Mother Nature. Go hiking, picnicking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking or camping. You could even host a campout and hotdog roast in your backyard.
The sky's the limit.
Step 3: SAVE ON PHONE, INTERNET AND TV
Anyone paying the bills in their household knows that talk is anything but cheap. Cell phones and land lines can cost a pretty penny. Add your bills for Internet service and cable TV, and your telecom costs can quickly go through the roof.
Here are eight tips to help you hang up on high prices:
Bunch your services and save some green. For about $100 a month, you can get cable or satellite TV, local and long-distance telephone service, plus high-speed Internet service. This is often cheaper than it would cost for each service separately.
In addition to paying just one bill, you have just one company to call if you have a technical or billing issue.
RETHINK YOUR PHONE COMPANY
Save on your long-distance bill and chat via computer with free software from Skype.com. You won't pay a dime for any call to another Skype user. You can call non-users' landlines, too, for about $3 a month. Sure beats the $15 to $25 fee for a typical no-frills land line.
Or consider other low-cost Internet phone services such as Vonage. It comes with more perks such as voice-mail, caller ID and call waiting and costs $25 per month for free unlimited local and long-distance calls.
PRE-PAY YOUR CELL PHONE
The average wireless-phone user spends about $60 a month, including taxes and fees. If you talk for 200 or fewer minutes per month, you may save by switching to a prepaid plan charging 25 cents a minute or less.
Prepaid plans generally charge 10 cents to 60 cents a minute, and compatible phones cost as little as $20. Compare plans at www.myrateplan.com.
CUT THE CORD
If you have a good cell-phone plan that you use almost exclusively, get rid of the dead weight on your finances and drop your land line. You could reclaim $20 to $50 or more each month.
EVALUATE YOUR CABLE USE
Do you really need all those cable channels? Take a look at what you're paying for and what your family is actually using. Then trim accordingly. Dropping your premium channels, for example, is a good way to start saving.
You may even find you don't watch TV enough to justify the cost of your cable service. Consider dropping cable entirely and watching your favorite shows online or on DVD - or reading a book.
HANG UP ON PHONE EXTRAS
Do you really need caller ID? Call waiting? Voice mail? Internet service on your cell phone?
Drop one or all of the extras and shave $5 to $50 off your bill each month.
GET A CALLING CARD
This is a great way to keep phone costs under control when you've got a roommate. That way, you're sure to only pay for the long-distance calls you personally make. No more billing disputes. Calling cards may also save you money over the long-distance plan offered by your phone company.
At Costco, for example, you can buy a Verizon phone card with 700 pre-paid minutes for $20. That's 2.9 cents per minute.
NEGOTIATE A LOWER RATE
With cutthroat competition among phone, cable and Internet providers, you can probably haggle your way to a better deal on your service.
Many of the best offers are for new customers, but that shouldnt stop you from asking for the same deal, or at least one better than what youre getting. You could always threaten to take your business elsewhere.
Step 4: SAVE MONEY ON TRANSPORTATION
The average cost of owning and driving a car 15,000 miles a year is $8,121 according to AAA. SUVs are even more costly, at $10,448 per year. That includes all costs of ownership, such as gas, insurance, maintenance, registration, taxes depreciation, financing and more. Yikes.
No doubt getting around can be a huge budget buster. Here are ten tips to help cut your costs:
BUY A USED CAR
Because cars lose most of their value in the first few years, buying used allows you to drive a vehicle you probably couldn't afford brand new.
Recent used models -- those that are less than five years old -- can be a real value because you get a nearly new car still in fine working order for a fraction of the new-car price. And you'll pay less for collision insurance and taxes, too.
BUY A SIPPER, NOT A GUZZLER
You don't need a hybrid vehicle to save money on gas -- higher purchase prices can cancel out any savings. But a regular car with good gas mileage could save you hundreds of dollars a year on fuel.
Drive 1,200 miles per month in a car that averages 18 miles per gallon, and you'll spend $233 per month (at $3.50 per gallon). Drive a car that averages 25 miles per gallon, and you'll spend $168 per month -- a savings of $65 per month, or $780 per year.
RE-SHOP YOUR CAR INSURANCE
Using a comparison site like InsWeb.com can help you determine if you've got the best deal. Rates vary widely from insurer to insurer. Your savings could equal hundreds of dollars.
Shopping around is especially important for young adults because their rates could drop as they approach age 25 or older, build a credit rating, start a career and get married. Insurers reward customers who are responsible.
DROP COLLISION & COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE
If you drive a beater -- say, one worth less than $2,000 -- you'll probably pay more to insure it than you would ever collect on a claim. Dropping that part of your coverage can reduce your premium by one-third.
RAISE YOUR DEDUCTIBLE
Upping your out-of-pocket outlay from $250 to $1,000 on any car can save you 15% or more on your car insurance.
But make sure you have enough cash in an emergency savings account to cover your deductible so you won't have to rely on costly credit cards to bail you out.
When shopping around for auto insurance, check first with the company that provides your renters or homeowners insurance. You could snag up to 15% off for a multiple-line policy.
SHOP AROUND FOR GAS
Gas prices can vary as much as 20% within only a few blocks, according to GasBuddy.com, a price-monitoring site. So hop online to find the best deal in your neighborhood or along your commute route.
A 20-cent difference on 60 gallons of gas per month adds up to $12 per month or $144 per year.
USE A GAS REBATE CREDIT CARD
If you frequent the pump, soften the financial sting with a credit card that'll give you cash back for filling up.
For example, the Discover Open Road card gives you 5% cash back on gas and auto maintenance charges up to $100 per month. That saves you about $60 per year. Plus you get a rebate of up to 1% on all other purchases.
HOP ON THE BUS, GUS
Public transportation can save you a bundle on commuting costs because you won't have to spend money on a parking space, gas and auto maintenance. Plus, you can probably get a lower insurance rate for driving less.
Ask if your employer will pick up part of the tab for your public transportation costs. If not, suggest the company look into the matter -- it could qualify for a tax break.
Two heads are better than one when it comes to commuting. Sharing the ride -- and expense -- with another person heading your way can cut your gas costs in half.
Check out carpooling opportunities at www.erideshare.com and www.carpoolconnect.com.