By Andrew Housser
A penny saved is a penny earned, so the saying goes, and in these challenging economic times, it pays to find creative ways to save as many pennies as you can. When you lower your everyday expenses with these belt-tightening tips, you can reap the reward of a more robust bank account.
1. Refinance your mortgage.
For many Americans, about a quarter of their income goes toward mortgage payments each year. It may make sense to take advantage of record-low fixed rates and check into refinancing. Even if your current rate is only a little higher than today's current rate, the costs of refinancing may still be worthwhile (depending on how long you are planning to stay in your home). Use an online mortgage refinance calculator to determine whether this option makes sense for you.
2. Don't overpay for your phone.
Phone companies' monthly taxes and usage fees quickly add up. Think about where you make and receive most of your calls, and whether you still really need a landline. If so, it can make sense to look into switching to a voice-over-the-Internet service provider such as Ooma. Even after paying around $250 for the device, most people still save about $300 per year, as there's no charge for actual calls. Now is also a good time to see if you can lower your cell phone bill. Ask about no-contract plans or non-advertised deals.
3. Cut cable.
More affordable options like Netflix or Hulu stream shows to your computer or TV. Get your movies from Redbox or Blockbuster kiosks for only a few dollars -- or for free from your local library.
4. Be a smart shopper.
Up to 40 percent of groceries are tossed each year because the food expires or goes bad. If you're guilty of buying more than you need -- or forgetting what's on your shelves already -- inventory your fridge and cupboards before heading to the store. Plan meals around the food you already have on hand and what's on sale that week. Shop at stores that offer double coupon savings, and always go with a list to help keep to your budget.
5. Enjoy energy savings.
Affordable do-it-yourself upgrades can be long-term money savers. Replace furnace and air conditioner filters every three months to keep airflow moving efficiently. Use a programmable thermostat to heat and cool your home only when you're in it, and during hours you need. Lower your water heater temperature and wrap the unit in an insulating blanket.
6. Evaluate your insurance options.
You'll often save money by keeping all of your insurance business -- auto, home, jewelry -- with one company. Just make sure you're getting all the breaks that you can on your auto insurance, including credits for having no accidents, car safety features such as OnStar and GPS units, and low mileage. You can comparison shop for home and auto insurance at RateKick every year to make sure you are getting the best rates. 7. Reduce Rx expenses.
By law, generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as brand names, but they cost much less. Always check to see if your prescription is available as a generic. For recurring prescriptions, save money by using your insurance company's mail-order pharmacy, or try BidRx. This site gives you a list of competitive prescription prices from pharmacies nationwide so you can order from the least expensive provider. 8. Go easier on gas.
Proper car maintenance can save you money at the pump. Keep your tires properly inflated, aligned and balanced. Get regular tune-ups and oil changes. Mobile apps like GasBuddy can identify the station with the lowest gas prices. When you do fill up, make sure the gas cap is securely tightened to avoid the risk of gas evaporating from the tank.
9. Drink and dine at home.
Morning latte drive-throughs and workplace lunches can wreak havoc on your bank account. Brewing a cup of java and making a brown bag lunch at home at least three times a week is easier than most people think, and it's much more possible to keep it healthy.
10. Be clothes conscious.
Get creative to save on apparel. Shop end-of-season sales for significant savings. Do a kids' clothing swap with other moms. Troll thrift stores and consignment shops (you can sell or donate your family's gently-worn clothes, as well).
In today's land of more-than-plenty, most of us can easily cut a few corners, get by with less and still enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. Chances are you and your family won't even notice these cost-cutting measures, yet your bank account surely will.