Losing weight used to be the numero uno New Year’s resolution, but the ugly economy has shoved this lofty goal down to second place lately. A survey commissioned by Fidelity Investments found 46 percent of respondents said their highest priority was to save more money.
Eating right and exercising are straightforward, however, in comparison to paying off debts and socking away rainy-day cash. Of late, it feels like slipping on a Walmart sidewalk is the only feasible retirement plan; yet the top long-term goal cited in the survey was to make retirement a financial reality.
If solvency and savings are at the top of your list, you’ll want to see and do these 15 tips for a healthier financial life.
1. Cook It!
It’s the same thing every noon: The gang troops out to pick up lunch from the nearest deli or eatery. Then they get home from work and order out for dinner. What a senseless waste of money! With restaurant prices on a five-year increase in excess of 26 percent, cooking at home is truly the way to go.
Spend a little time on Sunday (perhaps before and during the football games) to cook for the rest of the week. It’s fairly easy to throw together a pot of spaghetti sauce that will translate into multiple meals throughout the week. Besides, one can only eat so much pizza.
2. Be Smart About Your Smartphone
Data and text-message plans eat up budgets faster than 4G connects you to Facebook. If you’ve already teamed up with relatives, call a family meeting and decide what you can live without, then cut back your plan when it’s time to sign another contract. You might even try creating a family plan with friends and neighbors, if the provider will allow you to do so.
3. Cut the Cable
Every year it’s another rate-hike email notification: “Due to increased overhead, we’re jacking up your cable/satellite bill another 15 percent.” Cut these money-hungry mongrels out of your life by switching over to free, streaming videos, sports, movies and television shows.
4. Coupon It Up
Thanks to TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” all of America knows you can cut your bill with coupons at the grocery store. What you many not realize is these money savers can be used for nearly everything from hotel accommodations to office supplies.
Mobile coupons make the process even easier. Coupon Sherpa, for example, has an app that allows you to access coupons from your smartphone for use right there in the store. When grocery shopping, this same app lets you search for a preferred supermarket by ZIP code, then download coupons directly to your loyalty card. The savings are then deducted at checkout.
5. Use the Public Library
Modern libraries now have DVDs, CDs, video games, e-books and Internet access — all provided for free. Many allow you to place an online hold for an item you want and receive it within days. Naturally, you can also peruse the stacks, but that’s so 10 minutes ago. Check with your library, as well, for discounts on passes to museum, zoos, and other attractions.
6. Go Guttenberg
We’re not talking about the actor Steve Guttenberg here: This is a plug for Project Gutenberg, where you can download thousands of free e-books from a single website. You won’t find recent titles here as only copyright-expired books are posted, but surely you can find something in their 36,000 book selection to catch your interest. Books are downloadable to your PC, Kindle, Android, iOS or other portable devices.
7. Discounts through Gift Cards
There are a couple ways to save here. First, you can go to sites like GiftCardGranny.com and buy discount gift cards, sometimes saving as much as 50 percent off the face value. Secondly, you can exchange gift cards you don’t want for cash at the same site. That way, those cards don’t sit amoldering at the back of your dresser drawer.
8. Gift With Daily Deals
Daily deals are everywhere, from Living Social to your local paper, and they’re a great way to save on gifts, if you use your smarts. There are a lot of deals for spas, teeth whitening, restaurant meals, etc. that are so cheap it must pain the provider to provide these offers. Make sure you read the small print, however. You’ll want to consider expiration dates and whether add-ons are included, like restaurant tips and desirable services that aren’t included in the package.
9. Swap Stuff
There are tons (well, pounds) of websites where you can swap everything from books to children’s clothing. Swap.com is the mother of them all, but check here for a comprehensive list.
10. Sell Your Stuff
Consignment shops are ready to start laying in stock for spring and summer, so now’s a good time to get your gently used clothes, shoes and accessories ready for resale. You can sell other items on Craigslist or, for higher-end items, auction them on eBay. Make sure you read the selling tips for both websites so you can unload your belongings with the least amount of muss and fuss.
11. Host a Garage Sale
Garage sales aren’t just a form of entertainment for the shoppers — They’re a good way to clear out household clutter and make a few bucks. Since larger sales draw bigger crowds, begin organizing your neighborhood now to team up for a Godzilla-size event. Advertising is the most important aspect of a successful sale, so don’t forget to figure in the cost of a newspaper ad. Also check into promoting your sale at websites like YardSaleSearch.com and GarageSalesTracker.com.
12. Get With the Program
Heating and cooling accounts for 42 percent of home energy costs, some of which is pumped into empty spaces and empty houses. Installing a programmable thermostat helps control the temperature and your bill, with savings from 10 to 30 percent. Try turning down the thermostat by just 1 degree during the winter or up 1 degree during warmer weather months to cut an additional 5 percent. Space heaters can also help reduce the amount of heat used in empty spaces.
13. Transfer Your Money Out of Sight
A great way to avoid spending your entire paycheck is to have funds automatically transferred into some sort of savings account. Out of sight is out of mind, right? If you never see the cash, you’re less likely to spend it.
14. Spend Cash Only
It’s so easy to swipe your way to the poor house. Instead, hide those debit and credit cards and give yourself a weekly allowance. It’s human nature to part less easily with cash, so you’re less likely to splurge on little (or big) extras.
Of course, this means you’ll have to make regular trips to the bank, so make sure your account is housed at an institution that doesn’t charge extra for personal services.
15. Ask and You Shall Receive
If you have a credit card, ask for a rate reduction to trim those painful monthly interest fees. Simply call the customer service hotline and tell them that you want an interest rate reduction, or you’ll take your business elsewhere. If the customer service rep is unhelpful, ask to speak to a supervisor who has more authority over such requests. With a $5,000 balance, even a 3 percent rate reduction saves you $150 a year. Do the math to realize the savings potential of a quick call.
Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., and has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.