(Investing Answers) It’s often times easier to save 10% than it is to increase your monthly income by the same amount.
And you don’t necessarily have to make drastic changes to free up extra money each month — these changes can be as simple as switching to low-octane gasoline or cooking more meals at home. Over the course of a month, these small changes can add up to big savings.
Here are 25 ways to save that can add hundreds of dollars to your bottom line.
1. Plan a budget and stick to it. Nothing’s worse for your monthly finances than not planning ahead. If you know an obstacle is on the horizon, such as a car payment or other bills, prepare for it by setting the money aside. Additionally, make a list of your monthly income and expenses and budget the money required to make ends meet.
2. Track your expenses. Keeping track of how much you spend not only prevents you from bouncing checks, it also helps keep you on top of your budget. With either your checkbook or online bank account — or with personal finance sites like Mint.com — tally your spending at the end of each month and audit areas where you could stand to tighten the belt.
3. Cut out the cable. It’s hard to get a cable package nowadays for less than $100 a month. One alternative is to do away with it altogether. While this may seem drastic at first, you’d be surprised at how quickly you can adapt to life without cable. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of your TV — a cheap antenna still gives you access to local channels, and there’s always your DVD player when you’re in the mood for a movie. Just think about how much you can get done around the house when the TV isn’t calling your name.
4. Eat less meat. It’s almost expected in the U.S. to have meat with every meal, but in most parts of the world, meat is a luxury. Limiting your meat intake to just two or three meals a week can make a huge dent in your grocery bill.
5. End your gym membership. With all of the free alternatives, why pay the bloated fee for a gym membership? Jog in your neighborhood, lift weights in your garage, swim at your local public pool — there are plenty of options here. You might miss out on the networking possibilities of the gym, but if the recent LinkedIn IPO is any sign of its potential, this social network for the upwardly mobile is an excellent free alternative.
6. Sign up for Netflix. There’s a reason why Netflix (NYSE: NFLX) is one of the hottest stocks in the market right now. For around $20 a month, you can rent as many movies as you can watch, delivered direct to your mailbox. Or stream them online for added convenience. More and more companies are getting into this business, so you can bet the added competition will benefit the consumer with cheaper prices and increased availability.
7. Never go to the mall. It takes a strong-willed person to make it out of the mall without making a purchase. If you do need to go, have an objective in mind — like a particular store for an item you know is on sale — and avoid browsing, which can quickly turn into buying.
8. Become a one-car family. If you can manage one set of wheels, this option can amount to big savings every month — from loan payments, to upkeep, to fuel and insurance. Instead, take the bus or public transportation or ride share with your spouse or co-worker. Better yet, buy a bike and enjoy the health benefits of your daily commute.
9. Brown bag your lunch. $7 a day for a quick lunch quickly adds up over the course of a month — that’s easily around $150 bucks a month you could be using to pay off debt or create a savings.
10. Be your own hair stylist. While you might not want to cut your own hair or give yourself a perm, there’s still money to be saved by coloring it yourself or going to the salon less frequently for a style. And for simple cuts for kids, a $10 investment in scissors and a 20-minute lesson on YouTube can save you a trip to Super Cuts every two weeks.
11. Skip the vacation. Even if only for a year or two, cutting out the vacation is a good way to add a couple of grand a year to your bottom line. The trick is to make the most of your weekends and use the time to take care of projects you’ve been putting off (like reorganizing the garage or clearing out the clutter from your home). The immediate benefits of a tightly run ship will reinforce your objectives to do the same for your bank account.
12. “Stay-vacation” instead. Instead of spending the money on airfare, hotel, entertainment and meals, enjoy the sites in your own hometown instead. Chances are there are sites to see in your city that you’ve been too busy to enjoy. If it just doesn’t feel like a vacation if you’re in your own home, splurge on a local hotel for a couple of nights — you’ll still be saving on travel expenses and other costs of a traditional getaway.
13. Forget the daily latte. These little pick-me-ups don’t have to go away completely. Just try not to make a daily habit of the $5 cup of coffee. Brew your coffee at home or consider investing in your own espresso machine. Better yet, see if your workplace will pick up the tab on the coffee maker and test out your barista skills for your co-workers.
14. Cut the land line. With the growing preference for cell phones, most households could stand to do away with their land line altogether. Why pay the monthly expense — plus the added fees and taxes — when you’re just duplicating the service? And here’s a little-known tip: plugging a corded phone into a defunct phone jack still gives you access to 911 in case of emergencies.
15. Don’t buy books or music. Use the library instead. If you haven’t been to your local library in awhile, it’s time to get reacquainted. With a good public library, there’s no need for iTunes, Amazon or Netflix. Plus, you’re already paying for it with your taxes.
16. Make your own bottled water. Not only is the plastic a huge waste, the added cost is unnecessary when all you need is a water filter and a BPA-free plastic thermos to bottle your own water at home. Fill up at home and take it with you everywhere you go and you’ll reap the health benefits as well.
17. Take care of your car. It’s cheaper to keep your current car in good running condition than it is to buy a new one every three years. And with the advances in auto technology, there’s no reason why yours shouldn’t last for at least 100,000 miles. If you take care of your car — change the oil on time, perform all scheduled maintenances — it will take care of you.
18. Carpool. Even if you own a vehicle, you’ll benefit from teaming up with others heading in the same direction. Not only will you save on gas and maintenance by sharing the ride with a co-worker or neighbor, you’ll enjoy a stress-free commute.
19. Trim your utilities. Make it a habit to walk through your house and turn off lights in rooms not being used. If no one’s watching the TV, turn it off. Other quick tips include turning up your fridge, turning down your water heater and washing clothes and dishes only with full loads.
20. Pay your bills on time. Not only does it keep your credit score in good shape, but being prompt with bill payments also keeps away those unwanted late fees. Be diligent about keeping track of your bills and marking your calendar when they’re due and you’ll be on track to avoid any additional costs.
21. Leave your debit card at home. Carry $10 in cash with you in case of an emergency (like running out of gas), but leave your credit and debit cards at home where they’ll be inaccessible. This way, you’ll be less tempted to splurge on unnecessary items.
22. Comparative shop. If you must go shopping, or if you treat yourself to a big-ticket purchase, check around to make sure there isn’t a better deal elsewhere. Some of the best personal finance apps for smartphones offer services that will scan a barcode and check local and online prices for the best deals. Savings of a couple of bucks here and there — or hundreds off of a new TV — make the extra research well worth it.
23. Reduce your cell phone plan. Easy ways to save on your cell phone bill include eliminating text (download a free text app instead), reducing the minutes in your plan, making the majority of your calls during the free nights-and-weekends hours and skipping the add-on features. A pay-as-you-go phone might also be an option to ensure you don’t overrun your minutes and end up with a hefty bill at the end of the month.
24. Drive less. The objective here is to live in your neighborhood. For example, utilize your local grocery store instead of the bigger one across town. Or, try to live as close to your workplace as possible. If you do need to drive a good distance for an errand, consolidate the trip to achieve as many objectives as possible. This way, you’ll save both time and money.
25. Pay with cash. When you pay with cash, you’ll be more reluctant to give it away so easily . You’ll also be avoiding the hidden debit card fees that can slowly chip away at your account balance.