5 sneaky ways to save a little money
By Megg Mueller
When it comes to saving money, everyone has their own, tried-and-true tactics. I clip coupons for the grocery store and compare them against my shopping list and against the grocery store sales flyers from my local paper. Maybe you keep your thermostat tightly regulated, doling out paper fans and sweaters to your family as the season's change. Whatever your personal money saving tips are, I bet there's a few you might not have thought of that just might save you a bit more each month.
1. Talk is not always cheap. Many people initially get locked into a cell phone contract, and then never look at their plan again except to pay the bill. But every few months, you should evaluate your usage. Are you texting more, and talking less? Have your monthly call minutes gone up due to that new boyfriend who isn't with the same carrier? Options such as unlimited text messaging, or family share plans can often save you money in the long run.
Your life changes, and so should your cell phone plan. Most carriers today allow you to change your plan at any time during your contract period. However, the catch is that you'll likely have to start a whole new contract, which extends your time with that carrier, so make sure to find out the details of your plan before switching.
2. Information is power. Most people know that a budget is a good thing, but they don't want to take the time to set one up. Budget planning software is the answer. US News and World Report recommends a few types, each designed to fit your personal money style.
Budgeting planning can be as simple as using an Excel spreadsheet. Even if you're not an Excel wiz, you can download templates that allow you to simply fill in the numbers, and it will take care of adding, subtracting, and compiling the data for you.
Maybe you want something a little more comprehensive - something that will let you download your bank and credit card information to the budget? There are software programs, like YNAB (You Need a Budget) and many others, that give you the freedom to put all of your financial information into one document. In programs like this, credit card statements, bank account balances and activity, and any 401(k), or retirement account information can all be tracked in one place.
Online budgeting planners are also available, and some of them are free. Mint, for example, allows you to set and track your financial goals, and you can monitor your progress and finances from any computer. Budgeting isn't always fun, but seeing a record of where you overspend can be the first step to curbing your spending enthusiasm.
3. Get it together. Bundling your home phone, cable, and Internet often saves money, as companies often cut deals to people who have multiple services. Get your various bills together, total your monthly spending, and start researching bundled plans. The same is true with insurance. Most major insurance companies give 10 percent to 20 percent discounts to customers who purchase car, life, home, and/or health insurance together.
4. Make the call. Credit cards are a great way to play before you pay, but the cost of getting this freedom is interest rates. When was the last time you looked at yours? It might be higher than the rate you started at, and that can cost you a lot of money. One of the simplest things you can do to save some cash each month is call your credit card companies and ask for lower interest rates. Yes, you really can. Whether or not your credit card companies are inclined to lower your rate will depend on many factors including your credit history, your current balance and your payment history.
Unfortunately, the down-turned economy has made credit card companies tighten their belts some too, so it might not be easy to get your interest rate lowered. However, it's worth the call if you can get your rates dropped by even a few percent. If you can't get your rates lowered, consider consolidating your debt onto one card that offers zero percent balance transfers. But remember, the zero interest rate is usually for a limited time frame, say six months to a year, so make sure you know what your interest rate will be once that 0 percent interest rate is over.
5. Let the bank save for you. Many banks now offer automatic savings plans that allow you to build your nest egg without even knowing it. These plans generally round-up your daily spending via debit card purchases, and deposit the difference into your savings account. For instance, if you spend $23.56 on your debit card at the store, your total is then rounded up to $24, and $0.44 will be deposited into your savings account. This won't make your savings account balance monumental overnight, but by the end of the year, you could save hundreds of dollars without even trying.
Saving money is a high priority for most people today, and using a few easy tricks, you could find that the savings really do add up.
Megg Mueller is a journalist with almost two decades of experience. She has worked as a reporter and editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal, as editor of health care and education manuals for Aspen Publishers, a subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer and wrote a weekly column on the hotel industry during her tenure as assistant travel editor for USA TODAY.com. Mueller is the editor of a tourism-based Web site and also serves as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper.