Saving money can be difficult, and Americans are notoriously bad at it—according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, close to half of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. Putting money away is especially challenging in this economy, in which many families have had to dip into their existing savings to make ends meet due to loss of income. Nevertheless, changing your financial habits can have a huge impact in how much money you’re able to save, regardless of your tax bracket. And it’s not always the most obvious changes that make the biggest difference in your pocketbook. Consider the following 8 key money-saving tips to revamp your finances.
1. Maintain your car
Car maintenance costs money, and it may seem that driving your car “into the ground”—or until it breaks down irreparably—is the most financially-savvy choice when we don’t have much extra money. However, investing in regular car maintenance like oil and transmission fluid changes can extend the lifetime of your car and help you avoid much costlier repairs, or having to buy a new car altogether. Regular tune-ups can also help you save money in gas costs. The most important money-saving car maintenance activities include: making sure your tires are always properly inflated, getting regular oil changes, and replacing your air filter regularly.
2. Maintain your body
Like car repairs, health care costs can also catch us off-guard and wipe out our savings. According to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine, medical bills cause over 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States, and 75 percent of those who file for bankruptcy due to medical debt actually have health insurance. Fortunately, there is one thing you can do to protect yourself from falling victim to these statistics: Get healthy. Although there’s no surefire way to guarantee you won’t get sick, numerous studies indicate that exercising regularly and following a plant-based diet can drastically reduce your risk of developing a costly—and not to mention, life-threatening—disease such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Talk to your doctor and use online resources like CDC.gov and USDA.gov to develop a game plan for your family to get and stay healthy.
3. Buy more things online
That’s right: Tip number 3 starts with the words “buy more things.” While you, of course, shouldn’t buy more things overall, if you want to shop smart and save money, you should buy certain items online instead of at brick-and-mortar stores. Why? Because you can get a better deal on many items, particularly on pricier purchases, like electronics, designer sunglasses, jewelry, and even mobile phones, if you shop around online instead of at the mall. Even “amazing deals” on items like computers and cameras advertised by stores like Best Buy can hardly ever beat the best available online deals. Moreover, even more mundane items like pet food and electric toothbrush heads can usually be purchased more cheaply online than in a physical store. Shopping from home also saves you gas money and money on meals out. Shipping from most online vendors is free if you spend a certain amount of money or if you’re a paid subscriber to a service like Amazon Prime. Check SlickDeals.net for the best online deals for gifts and big ticket items.
4. Raise your credit score
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you ask yourself how you can save money quickly, but taking action to improve your credit score can result in major long-term savings on interest over the years. The interest rates you’ll pay on car loans, mortgage loans and other loans are heavily dependent on your credit score, and having a good credit score could potentially save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the course of a lifetime. What can you do to raise your credit score? Paying your bills on time is certainly important, as is settling any outstanding negatives or delinquencies on your credit report. It’s also essential to check your credit report regularly so you can spot and request the removal of any errors in your file that may be weighing down your score and jacking up your interest rates. For more tips on how to raise your credit score, read the Credit Score Blueprint.
OK, the first four tips may be somewhat challenging to achieve, but they’re relatively easy compared to the second set: The following 4 money-saving actions involve critical thinking and doing things that may challenge you, emotionally. However, if you’re willing to make the tough choices these tips require, your financial health will improve tremendously—and you’ll probably gain some important insights in the process.
5. Identify and eliminate some of your “wants”
Distinguishing between your wants and needs (needs being basic food, clothing and shelter, and wants being just about everything else) is an essential component of financial responsibility. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the self-discipline to make these distinctions. According to the above-mentioned CareerBuilder survey, 56 percent of those polled said that regardless of their financial concerns, they would not give up their Internet connection, while 42 percent wouldn’t give up driving. Twenty-seven percent wouldn’t give up cable TV and 11 percent wouldn’t give up going out to eat. While you probably won’t need to get rid of your Internet connection and car unless things are really bad, these tough choices may be necessary if your financial situation is dire enough. And most of us would probably be better off both financially, as well as health-wise, if we cut down on money-wasting “wants” like HBO and restaurant meals. The important thing is to be clear-minded and disciplined enough to realize when we can’t afford a “want,” and to then get rid of it.
6. Stop wasting your time
This is one is a little esoteric. But think about it: time is money. The time you spend being unproductive or unhappy literally costs you money. Instead of eating take-out and watching four hours of TV every night after work, you could be spending some of that time doing something that ultimately saves you money, such as cooking for yourself or exercising. Or, you could be doing something that’s priceless because it aligns with your core values, whether that be volunteering for a charity or spending time with your family. We only have a limited amount of time on this planet, and good time management—just like money—ultimately provides you with more time to spend doing the things you really enjoy. If you’re a chronically disorganized time-waster, start small by planning your daily tasks and shopping trips using lists, and add up how much time and money you’re able to save in just a week.
7. Stop trying to impress people
“Keeping up with the Joneses” can be a very expensive habit, although many of us fall prey to it. If you’re trying to get other people to respect or envy you by buying a new bank-breaking designer handbag every season or by leasing a flashy sports car you can’t really afford, the joke’s on you. Most of the time, people won’t even notice your expensive attempts to impress them, and when they do notice, they may not have the desired reaction. Ask yourself: are your favorite people the ones who have the nicest things or are they the ones with the nicest personalities? Aim to impress people with the personal traits you most admire in others, such as generosity, intelligence or trustworthiness. Or, better yet, don’t obsess about what other people think of you one way or another. Keep in mind the famous Ethel Barrett quote: “We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.”
8. Discuss money with your loved ones
It’s rarely comfortable to talk about money matters with your spouse, kids or parents, but if you don’t, then you could end up paying for it, both financially and emotionally. Money disputes, including not having enough of it, are said to be the number one cause of divorce, and if you have money issues with your partner, you can only sweep them under the rug for so long. Keep an open dialogue with your significant other about money issues (such as overspending on nonessential items, credit card debt, long-term savings goals, etc.) to make sure you’re not headed towards a financial and/or relationship disaster. Talk to your parents about whether they have an estate plan set up. Talk to your kids about your estate plan, and about whether they expect you to pay for college or a wedding. You’ll doubtless end up talking about these things eventually, so you may as well bite the bullet and do it now before you make any costly miscalculations.