Eight Easy Ways to Save $5,000 a Year
As the economy hobbles along, penny-pinching has become a fact of life.
But let's be honest: We like our lifestyles. Downsizing, giving up restaurant meals or getting a part-time job can be tough to swallow. Instead, there are places in your budget you can target for easy everyday savings.
Follow these tips, and you could save more than $5,000 a year without a lot of sacrifice.
1. Bottle your own water
Buying bottled water five times a week at $1.50 a pop adds up to $7.50 a month, or $390 a year. All for water, which you can get pretty much for free from your tap. Bottle your own in a reusable sports bottle instead.
It's also good for the environment. The nonprofit Food and Water Watch says bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year, and that plastic requires up to 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce.
"But I recycle," you say? Then you're in the minority. Food and Water Watch notes that while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, more than 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away.
Weekly savings: $7.50
Yearly savings: $390
2. Re-evaluate your credit cards
Taking a closer look at your credit cards can save you a bundle.
Some assumptions and averages to consider:
* The average credit card interest rate is 13.76 percent (BankRate.com).
* The average household credit card debt is $10,115 (May 2010 Nilson Report).
* The median cost for annual credit card fees is $50 (CreditCards.com).
So what does that mean to you? Imagine you're an average American household with several credit cards adding up to $10,115 of debt at an average interest rate of 13 percent, and two of your cards charge $50 each in annual fees.
If you pay the minimum (2 percent of the balance) each month, you're paying a whole lot in fees and interest per year -- and that assumes you don't face any late-payment fees.
If you have extra cash, pay down your balances. If you can't do it in a lump sum, pay what you can -- always try to pay more than the minimum -- and stop charging while you whittle down the balances. If you like the convenience of plastic, use a debit card instead.
The goal: Pay as you go. Stop carrying a balance. Eliminate (or at least minimize) costly credit card fees.
Weekly savings: $25.95 ($24.03 in interest and $1.92 in annual fees)
Yearly savings: $1,349.59 ($1,249.59 in interest and $100 in annual fees)
3. Make your own
We are a society of consumers, and in our busy daily lives, we're often happy to consume what's most convenient.
Consider your morning coffee and breakfast. Spending $5 at Starbucks or the local deli every day, five days a week, equals $1,300 a year, for lattes, muffins and whatever else you savor. Instead, spend about $1 a day by making to-go coffee at home and having a bowl of cereal.
Then there's lunch. Say you pay $6 a day during the work week for lunch. If you buy lunch every day, you spend $1,560 a year. Instead, brown bag it, making sandwiches with all the fixings for less than $2 per day.
Weekly savings: $52 ($24 for coffee/breakfast and $28 for lunch)
Yearly savings: $2,704 ($1,248 for coffee/breakfast and $1,456 for lunch)
4. Slay the energy vampires
A quick look around your home will show you plenty of appliances that suck electricity even when they're turned off.
Coffee pots, toasters and cell phone chargers are among the appliances that use electricity when they're plugged in, even if they're turned off. Any appliance with a digital clock, such as microwaves and cable boxes, eat energy, too. The U.S. Department of Energy says the average home has 40 or more energy vampires, and that roughly 75 percent of electricity used for appliances and home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.
Help the environment and lower your electricity bill by unplugging. If that's not convenient because the plugs are hard to reach, such as for a computer or home entertainment system, consider using a surge protector or power strip that can be turned off by a single switch. Then, unplug the power strip, too.
Weekly savings: $1.92
Yearly savings: $100 (according to EnergyStar.gov)
5. Buy a programmable thermostat
If you're not home around the clock, you don't need your home to be a set temperature all the time. You also probably wouldn't notice if your home was a few degrees cooler when you're sleeping.
To better manage the temperature of your home and save on energy bills, invest in a programmable thermostat. You can set the thermostat at lower temperatures when you're away and the heat can kick up before you arrive back from work.
Programmable thermostats cost $25 to $100, but you'll save far more than that in the first year alone.
Weekly savings: $3.46
Yearly savings: $180 (according to the U.S. Department of Energy)
6. Raise your insurance deductibles
Raising the deductibles on your auto and homeowners insurance could save you plenty.
Of course, actual savings will depend on what you pay and the kind of coverage you have. Consider this example: The Insurance Information Institute says upping your deductible from $500 to $1,000 could save 25 percent on a homeowners policy. You could expect savings of 15 to 30 percent or more by making the same adjustment on your auto policies.
My math for this example is based on national averages. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the average single-family homeowners policy cost $822 in 2007, and the average cost of car insurance was $795 in the same year.
Weekly savings: $7.01 ($3.95 for a 25 percent reduction in homeowners premiums and $3.06 for a 20 percent reduction in auto premiums)
Yearly savings: $364.50 ($205.50 for a 25 percent reduction in homeowners premiums and $159 for a 20 percent reduction in auto premiums)
7. Clean out your car
I'm certainly guilty of this one. It's the end of October, and my beach chairs still sit in the back of my mini-van, along with the soccer chairs and sports equipment.
Keeping unnecessary stuff in your vehicle reduces gas mileage. Approximately 100 pounds of extra weight reduces mileage by up to 2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy website fueleconomy.gov.
On average, lowering the weight your car carries will save you between 3 cents and 5 cents per gallon.
Let's assume an average savings of 4 cents per mile per gallon for a car that drives 12,000 miles per year, gets 26 miles per gallon and uses 461.5 gallons of gas a year.
Weekly savings: 36 cents
Yearly savings: $18.46
8. Properly inflate your tires
You can improve your gas mileage and save money by making sure you have enough air in your tires. According to fueleconomy.gov, underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by .3 percent for every drop in pressure for all four tires.
That adds up to a savings of up to 8 cents per gallon, the agency says.
Using the same figures as we did for Tip No. 7 (clean out your car), you can save a good spot of cash.
Weekly savings: 71 cents
Yearly savings: $36.92
If you follow all eight money-saving tips:
Weekly savings: $98.91
Yearly savings: $5,143.47
Here's one final set of numbers. If you take these savings -- let's say $5,000 in the first year and every year for the next 10 years -- and invest the funds in a diverse mutual fund earning an average of 7 percent a year, you'll have $78,918 at the end of 10 years.
Not too shabby.What do you do? I'd love to hear how SecondAct readers are saving money. Please share your tips in the comments section below.