Q: My husband is active duty in the military and I stay home with two young boys. How can we save money on a tight budget? We need to save $700 by July 1st for a family wedding. My husband is the best man.
A: Saving money can be particularly tough on one salary – not to mention during an economic downturn. But there are many money-saving strategies that can boost your bank account and help you save a few hundred dollars per month. Here are some ideas:
- Save on Your Current Housing
Some of the ways you can cut your existing housing costs are to get a roommate, rent out a room, and cut back on decorations and upgrades. Needless to say, if you rent, and you decide to bring in another tenant, make sure you’re not violating any provisions of your rental or lease agreement. Also, only pick a tenant or family member you’d be comfortable having around your kids.
- Save on Your Car
Lowering your transportation expenses isn’t always easy, but it can be done. If you live in a city with reliable public transportation, like New York or Boston, and you don’t actually need a car, consider selling it to raise cash. If you have a car and need to keep it, start following these cost-cutting tips.
Take account of all the expenses involved with having a car: your monthly car payment, gas and maintenance charges, insurance, parking, and so forth. See if you can renegotiate any of your current costs or shop around for better deals. For instance, if you’re paying $50 a month for parking at your apartment complex, can you park it outside the building and get a $50 discount from your landlord? (Obviously, you only want to do this if it’s relatively safe for your car to be parked on the street, as well as safe for you to enter your building from outside.)
Then there’s insurance. Ask your insurer about any discounts for which you might be eligible: good driver discounts, lower rates for taking a defensive driving course, or even decreased premiums for having an alarm system or antitheft device. Also, by raising your insurance deductibles, you can save 10% to 25% off of your annual premiums.
Get a Lower Car Payment Via Auto Refinancing
Even your car payment itself can be re-negotiated, through a process called auto refinancing, which allows you to get a lower interest rate and a smaller monthly payment than you currently have. Many people don’t know that you can refinance your car loan just as you can refinance a mortgage. A car refinancing is faster, simpler to do, and costs virtually nothing.
There aren’t any closing costs or points, like you might have with a mortgage. Most auto refinancing companies do business online. Capital One Auto Finance (www.capitaloneauto.com) allows you to refinance your car loan in just 15 minutes, saving the average customer more than $1,300 over the life of the car loan.
So if your car has a high interest rate, check out a lender like Capital One to knock down your monthly car note and save yourself some big bucks. I once refinanced my auto loan with Capital One and saved more $100 a month on my car payments. Two caveats though: don’t try to refinance your car right before you go in to apply for a mortgage.
You don’t want extra inquiry on your credit report. Also, if you do refinance your car, don’t extend the life of your payments. If you only have three years left to pay off your car, refinance with a lender that lets you keep a three-year payoff. Otherwise you’ll stretch out your payments and wind up paying additional money in interest charges. When you do save money with auto refinancing, apply your savings toward your home down payment or build up your cash cushion.
- Save Money on Food
Avoid wasting money on the things that can really blow your budget like eating out frequently. I’m not only talking about restaurants. I don’t have to tell you the impact of spending $50 or $75 for dinner for two. I’m talking about eating out at fast food places, or spending what seems like small change on local delis and the like. If you’re not careful, before you know it that “chump change” can really add up.
For starters, stop making your daily run for coffee and donuts or a bagel and juice before work. Many people spend about five dollars a day on these items, which equals $100 dollars a month, or $1,200 a year. Just as bad are those trips to the vending machine for junk food each day at work. If you spend $3 a day on these small items, eliminating those purchases saves $900 in a year.
At the grocery store, use coupons and choose your purchases based on the price per unit for everything from toiletries to food products, and take advantage of sales and reward cards from retailers who offer discounts to repeat customers.
- Save Money on Medicine
I love to tell people to do a makeover to save money – not a personal makeover, but a makeover of their medicine cabinet at home! This is an area to which most people never pay any attention. You probably don’t either. I’m sure many of you adore brand-name clothes and shoes, but when it comes to medicine, you don’t need brand-name products. Get generic drugs from your doctor or pharmacist. By law, generic drugs have the identical chemical makeup and active ingredients as brand-name medications—without the hefty price tag.
The typical brand-name prescription costs $100, while the average generic drug is just $30, a 70% difference. If you hit the pharmacy once a month, in the span of a year you’ll save $840 just by using generic drugs instead of brand-name prescription drugs.
- Save Money on Household Items
Get creative about stretching the stuff you already buy and use at home on a regular basis. We all need toothpaste, right?
To save money reach for the tubes, not the pump toothpastes sold in many stores. Why? Pumps don’t last as long as tubes, so they give you less bang for your buck. What about that deodorant you buy. Did you know that budget-conscious people purchase sticks or roll-ons because aerosols get used up faster? (Not to mention that aerosols are less friendly to the environment.)
- Save Money By Kicking Bad Habits
If you have a habit that’s hurting you, financially or health-wise, it’s high time you kicked that habit. Take cigarettes as a case in point. The average pack of cigarettes costs $4, excluding state taxes. If you smoke two packs a day, that adds up to $10 daily (taxes included) just for the “pleasure” of sucking on a nicotine stick!
Do your best to rid yourself of that bad habit. If you can, you’ll save $300 dollars a month or $3,600 dollars a year, not to mention the savings you’ll reap from fewer medical bills.
- Save Money on Utilities
Being a lot more conscientious about your habits around the house can help you save thousands of dollars on utilities. Here’s how to be savvier in this area. Unplug appliances when you’re not using them. That goes for toaster, coffee maker, blender, and other appliances. Leaving them plugged in is just draining power and wasting money unnecessarily.
If you make a habit of unplugging these items, you’ll save 10% on your energy bills. The same thing goes for wasting energy by having so many lights on in the house. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Also, switch high-watt bulbs to lower-wattage ones or fluorescent bulbs to save even more money. Lower your hot water costs by up to 50% just by taking showers instead of baths. Only run your dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer when they’re full for additional savings on your utility costs.
- Save Money on Clothes
Do you want to save money on clothes? Well, at the risk of being called a “traitor” by my own people (i.e. those of the female persuasion), let me start by making this suggestion, especially to you ladies: just stop shopping so much! OK … I’ve said it. I had to get that off my chest because so many people I know, particularly women, moan about how they don’t have any money whatsoever. Somehow, however, they always seem to have the money to go shopping for clothes – either with cash or credit. If you must go shopping, go when there’s a sale, or use those store coupons that come in the mail or that you can find in the newspaper in which your favorite retailer advertises.
Additionally, save yourself money by simply shopping around. Take advantage of some really great deals you can find on the Internet. Quit always buying designer labels. Places like H&M and Target have really cute clothes, too, and usually no one will ever know that you bought that nice pair of jeans from a discount store or an outlet. If you make it a practice to avoid paying full retail price for your clothes, you can save yourself hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the course of a year.
Ditto on clothes for the children. Check out bargains at Target or WalMart, as opposed to pricier retailers like Children’s Place or Macy’s. Why do we insist on spending gobs of money on high-priced shoes, clothes and outer-wear for our kids – knowing full well that those children are going to grow out of those items so quickly?!
- Save Money on Entertainment
When you’re building your cash cushion and trying to get a down payment together you might think that all things fun have to go out the window. Not so. You can enjoy yourself plenty if you do it the smart way – namely by sticking to free or low-cost forms of entertainment. For example, choose free museums and local cultural spots and historic venues over other activities that cost money. If you’re dating, have picnics in the park or cook your sweetie dinner at home, rather than the traditional movie and restaurant thing.
If you’re a partier, get to the club early to avoid paying a cover charge. Better yet, go to someone’s house party where there’s no price for admission, except maybe an inexpensive bottle wine if you want to bring one to your host. The idea is to select fun diversions that won’t bust your budget.
- Save Money on Miscellaneous Expenses
Here are some other ways you can cut back on the dollars going out your door. This advice comes from AmericaSaves.org:
|Save $.50 a day in loose change||$15|
|Cut soda/pop consumption by 1 liter a week||$6|
|At work, substitute 1 coffee for 1 cappuccino||$40|
|Bring lunch to work (saving estimated $3/day)||$60|
|Eat out 2 fewer times a month||$30|
|Borrow, rather than buying, one book a month||$15|
|Comparison shop for gas (save est. $.25/gallon)||$4|
|Maintain checking account minimum to avoid fees||$7|
|Bounce one less check a month||$20|
|Pay credit card bill on time to avoid late fee||$25|
|Pay off $1000 of credit card debt, reducing interest||$15|
Notice that if you follow all these tips, you can save $237 a month – in addition to the many thousands of dollars saved annually using the strategies I recommended earlier. That’s a nice chunk of change to set aside for the future, isn’t it?