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Creative Ways to Save Money in 2017
The Opportunities Are Limitless
The crystal ball on Times Square had dropped, and the confetti cleaned up; now it’s time to get back to your daily grind. Though consumer confidence regains its highs after years of economic stagnation, it’s still wise to remain prudent.
The good news is that if you had struggled to save money the past years, the opportunities to rein in your spending in 2017 are practically limitless. A little creativity will go a long way for your wallet. Here are a few tricks you may want to try:
1. Put your paid TV subscriptions through a diet. Many Americans have smartly cut the cords on cable carriers and instead turned to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video, etc. They are all excellent alternatives for cable. But ask yourself: Are you actually getting the most bangs for our bucks for paying for all those channels? The subscription for each provider might seem tiny, but multiple payments every single month adds up fast. So try to get a good idea of what you really need, and pare down to just the one or two services you really care for. Or better yet, cut them out entirely and enjoy what has always been free: overt-the-air broadcasting, which usually gives you dozens of high quality local channels; many websites, such as YouTube, from which you can grab plenty of freebies; and your local library, which are always stocked with chock full of latest hits. Walk away from paid TV subscriptions and pocket the savings.
2. Pay your insurance premiums in one lump sum. You probably have insurance for everything: Your home, your cars, your life and even your pets. The premiums are expensive, and you may be paying them monthly or semi-annually. But if there is a chance to fold your premiums into one annual payment, you can save money. Fortunately, many major insurance companies, like Liberty Mutual and GEICO, allow this option and offer significant discounts. The lump sums seem too large for one bite? Then you can prepare for each of these expenses by dividing the total by 12, and stash away that amount each month for 12 months so that by the time your premium is due, you’ll have the cash on hand to pay in full.
3. Grasp all the flyers in your hand, literally. You may still go the time-honored route to save money by scavenger-hunting through the circulars in your local newspaper cut coupons. In fact, the three-dollar Sunday paper yields pretty handsome returns for you just the way it is. But with today’s technologies, shopping apps such as Flipp and Retale put all those circulars in your hand, or more specifically, on your phone. Enter your zip code into the app and you will be able to browse dozens of local weekly ads. Or search them for deals on specific items and find the best prices in seconds. The result might surprise you; a deal can even turn up at stores you would never think to look, including dollar stores and discounters like Big Lots.
4. Don't go shopping when you are vulnerable. People have been telling you not to go to the grocery store when you're hungry. They are right. That's because you are more than likely to overspend – you’ve got to eat. The same applies to spending in general when you're emotional: The new cashmere scarf you just picked up at Macy’s won’t be any warmer than the five you already have in your closet, but you might just want it for no apparent reason after a big fight with your annoying husband. Consider pulling your credit cards out of your pocketbook and leave them home if you have the burning urge to have a shopping spree. Obviously it is easier said than done when you are emotional, but try to remind yourself that there are plenty of cheaper and more constructive ways to let those feelings evaporate, like calling up your sister and have a stroll in the park.
5. Cool your head with a waiting period. This is the best way to combat emotional or impulsive shopping. With the Super Bowl being two weeks away, the eighty inch ultra 4K LED Samsung TV that you just saw this morning seems like a good plan for your newly furnished living room. Try promising yourself to take another look at it in a month; you’ll be amazed at how ridiculous this impulse of the moment seems after mulling it over. Not only will you save money in the moment, but you'll set yourself up to form a very good financial habit, which is shared by virtually every single millionaire in the world. And by the way, you’ll probably find that the 60-inch LG that you already have works just fine for the Big Game.
7. Bring out your bargaining talent. It’s true that many of the costs you encounter are fixed, such as that eight-pack toilet issues sitting on the shelf at your Walmart. But don’t believe for a moment that all listed prices are set in stone and not negotiable, even at the big boxes. Consumer Reports magazine’s surveys find that more than half of the time people are able to come away with a significant discount, if they ask. Obviously a farmer's market or car dealership is the presumed place for bargaining, but many department stores and even online retailers are willing to sweeten the deal for you. I was able knock off a couple of hundred bucks and grab free shipping for a pro style gas range at Abt.com via live chat with a sales associate. Most stores offer coupons; even if you don’t have one on you, they will have it for you at the checkout – all you need to do is to ask – the worst thing that could happen is the reply “no”. But you have nothing to lose.
6. Get a price adjustment. It happens all the time: You snagged a new vacuum cleaner at 25 percent off and felt like you'd hit the jackpot - only to fall off your stool when the next Sunday’s circular comes and that same darn thing is now half off! But there is no need to hit yourself in the head. Reputable stores these days tend to bend over backward to keep their customers happy. If you buy something and the price of that item drops within a week or two, sometimes even a month of your purchase, you can often get a refund for the difference by showing your receipt. Major retailers like Kohl’s and Target are excellent in this category. Just be sure the read the fine print in the store or on the retailers’ websites - these deals may come with lots of restrictions. Best Buy, for example, often hit you with a restocking fee.
8. Earn rewards for spending. If you must pay for stuff or services, insist on getting something in return. Are you someone who uses your credit card for most of your purchases and pays off the balance in full each month? There is good news for you. All three major credit cards: Visa, Master and Discover offer several versions of reward programs in their efforts to court your business. The Citi Double Cash Master, for example, offers 2% flat reward for all purchases, while Chase Freedom Visa and Discover It give you 5% in rotating categories. You want to make sure that your rewards program suits your needs in terms of cash back, gift cards, or travel; otherwise you may use websites such as NerdWallet.cm or Creditcards.com to find one that will work best for you.
9. Share your car for a price. Statistics show that cars are parked 95% of the time; all the while car owners are paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars’ for insurance and other fees just to let them collect dust in the driveways or garages. But if you have a flexible work schedule, have easy access to public transportation, or live close enough to your office that you can walk to work, you can join the increasingly trendy sharing economy. Peer-to-peer car rental sites such as Turo and Justshareit.com let you put your idled car to beneficial use by allowing you to rent it out whenever you like. It's a viable strategy because you are making money from something you own but are not using, and you get to decide when, how, and for how much you'll be charging - a win-win.
10. Get smart with the ATMs. If you routinely use plastic for your purchases, as most us do, an ATM seem like a faraway cousin. But sometimes, like when you spot an antique set of silver ware at the flea market, you’ve just got to have cash. Stopping at ATMs on a regular basis could rack up fees. Even if you are able to maintain good balances at your own bank for an ATM fee waiver, using a machine just once outside of your bank’s network can still set you back a few bucks. So plan ahead of time and budget the cash you’ll need to take out from the ATM. And you can go one step further: Never pay ATM fees again by setting up an account at one of those online financial institutions like Ally Bank, and better still with Charles Schwab, which will reimburse you for any ATM uses, even ones abroad!
11. Use less than you are used to. The sponges on the bathroom countertops are all smaller than usual, and that’s no accident - my wife had cut them in half. I think it’s a brilliant idea as the half-sized sponges work just fine and whole on lasts twice as long. The savings may not seem significant at first, but when the idea behind this is applied to all the chores around the house, they can add up. Chances are we all use more than necessary: toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent or dish soap, etc. If you can halve what you use, you potentially halve your costs as well - and still get what you need done. Of course you want to make sure your teeth are healthy and your dishes clean, so figure out how much you actually need by experimenting and reading instructions, and don’t use a drop more. For toothpaste, for example, all you need is a pea-sized squirt, and not a full spread that covers the entire length of your toothbrush. And with shampoo, applying just once will leave your hair just as refreshed most of the time.
12. Skip the Starbucks. This obsessed with coffee, and it’s for good reasons. Researches have repeatedly confirmed that java is good for our health and helps improve our work productivity. That’s probably why we seem to have a coffee shop on every street corner. But stopping by one every day can literally cost you hundreds of dollars a year. We won't tell you to cut out your daily latte fix, but drinking your home brew can water your cost down to fraction of what would have been at your regular joints. Really have to buy? Then at the least you can make that latte less expensive at certain coffee retailers, including Starbucks, by bringing along your own cup for the baristas to fill. It'll only save you 10 cents on every order, but if you are a Starbucks junkie, this can definitely add up to some savings over the year.
13. Be a vegan for a day. Some people have pizza Wednesdays, others have pasta Fridays; can you have your own version of weekly meal rotation, such as vegetarian Sundays to prep yourself for the week ahead? Meats, especially beef and seafood, have been getting increasingly expensive. Beef prices, for example, have gone up by nearly 10% for the past couple of year, according to USA Today. And same for seafood. So if you can plan to just have one or two meals a week meat free, it will add up to significant savings over the course of the year. And when you are not going vegan, the kind of meat you do buy counts, too. Lean meats such as chicken, turkey and pork will save you a lot of money over many cuts of red meat like flank steak and filet mignon.
14. Rethink your purchase's value over time. I can see the glow on your face when you get your hands on a latest Louis Vuitton Python, or feel the chill down your spine when you press the “start” button in the dashboard of a 2017 BMW M760i – The pride and the thrill make you feel like a million bucks. But now think of the value in another way: The thousand-dollar handbag or the two-hundred-grand sports car, how many hours of work you will have to put in in order to afford it? Then realize that almost everything you buy will start depreciating as soon as it changes hands. Start thinking about the time value of money to truly get a sense of where your dollars are and could be going. What happens if you invest the money? When looking at the future value of money, you’ll realize that your handbag or fancy car, which instantly loses value, could turn into a growing fortune in the stock market instead.
These creative ways to save do not require major sacrifice in your normal routine. All you need is to start now; the result is immediate, and the benefits will be long lasting.