Talk to anyone, walk into any store, log on to any Web site, and you’ll find that “saving money” are the buzz words of the moment. “Women are online comparing notes on cool ways to stretch a dollar,” says Ellie Kay, mother of three and author of Living Rich for Less: Create the Lifestyle You Want by Giving, Saving, and Spending Smart (WaterBrook Press 2008). “Frugality truly is the new black.”
Certainly, there are some crucial steps everyone should take -- creating a monthly household budget and sticking to it probably tops the list. But there are many smaller, simpler changes that can add up to a profound boost to any family’s bottom line. Jill Hart, for instance, reduced her cable bill by $60 a month simply by cutting out the channels and features her family didn’t need. “Our kids haven’t even noticed the difference,” says the 32-year-old mother from Bellevue, Neb. The additional savvy, cost-cutting strategies below won’t take a major bite out of your lifestyle either.
Challenge your charges Just about everyone is struggling to hold on to business these days…including the folks who are billing you. Pull out your phone, heating, utility and other regular bills. “If you take just 10 minutes to tell your insurance company or cable company that you are paying too much or tell your credit card company that you don’t like their interest rates, it’s amazing what they are willing to negotiate,” says Kay.
While you’re at it, arrange to pay those monthly bills online. The average American household would save $55.44 a year in stamps, gain one to two days in free time and dump 6.6 fewer pounds of paper into the environment,” according to Qwest Communications, a Denver-based Internet service provider.
Pocket the plastic Save your credit card for special situations and rely on good old-fashioned greenbacks instead. You might even want to take credit cards out of your wallet altogether. “People who do not use debit or credit cards are less likely to throw that extra item into the shopping cart or make an extra purchase,” says Ethan Ewing, president of an online debt-consolidation Web site called Bills. Then be sure to pay every bill on time, to avoid increasingly high late charges, penalties and fees. Most important, “never, ever charge more than you can pay off at the end of the month,” says Ewing. That way, you will avoid high finance charges and build your credit score at the same time.
Shake up your shopping habits Plan your family meals for the week around what you see on sale in your supermarket flyer, create a shopping list and don’t add anything else to your cart. By all means, hit the wholesale stores and buy in bulk when you can, but again, stick to a shopping list so you don’t go in for olive oil and come out with a year’s worth of plant fertilizer. “You’ll tie up money that could probably be better used elsewhere, like paying down credit card debt or put into savings,” says Ewing.
Downsize your groceries When you get home from the wholesale club, consider dispensing bulk items down into smaller, household-size containers. “If you keep something like fabric softener in a huge 128-ounce container, you’re likely to use it more freely and waste more,” says Kay.
Check out the library Of course you can borrow books, but libraries today are also the place to find movies galore, free kids’ activities, free adult seminars, book groups and even computer training. “Most people don’t realize that their neighborhood library can save them tons of money throughout the year,” says Malika Granville of the Brooklyn Public Library in New York.
Size up what you don’t spend Take shopping off your recreational roster and hit stores only when you have a specific purchase you need to make. Keep a small pad in your purse, and if you find yourself tempted by an impulse purchase, resist the urge and write down the amount you avoided spending. At the end of the month, add up your “postponed purchases” and deposit that amount in a savings account. You’ll be surprised to see how much you’ve avoided spending and how fast those fleeting impulses fade. If there’s something that still beckons and you can swing it, go back and buy it.