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Small Steps to "Find" Money to Save

March 2017

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Do you want to save more money for retirement or other financial goals? There are only three sustainable ways to “find” the cash: increase income, decrease expenses, or do both. This article will focus on the second option: small spending cuts that can add up to big savings over time. Below are a dozen ideas to reduce household expenses. Some of these strategies also provide health, as well a financial, benefits.

  • Serve Smaller Food Portions: Big money-savers are meat, high-fat snack foods, and desserts. Consider preparing more nonmeat dishes or use meat with other foods such as stir fry dishes and casseroles.
  • Stock Up on Food Sales: Examples include periodic canned goods sales and in-season fresh fruit and vegetables from a home garden or local farm stands that can be canned or frozen for later use.
  • Pay Less for Nonfood Items: Less expensive sources of nonfood items (e.g., toothpaste) than supermarkets include discount drugstores, warehouse stores (in bulk), dollar stores, and other low-cost retailers.
  • Score a Double or Triple Play: A double play is buying something on sale and then saving even more by using a coupon. A triple play is a sale price, plus a coupon, plus some type of cash or product rebate.
  • Use Store or Generic Brands: “No-name” brands are available for a wide range of food products (e.g., applesauce) and health products (e.g., cold remedies). Unless national brands are on sale or you have a valuable coupon (or doubled coupon) to lower their cost, store or generic brands are often less expensive.
  • Time-Shift Appliance Use: Many utility companies provide “time of day meters” and discounts for running major appliances (e.g., clothes washer, dish washer) during off-peak hours, generally nights and weekends.
  • Seal Up Your House: In the winter, close off unused rooms and turn down the thermostat to conserve heat. Caulk or weather strip windows and doors and install storm windows. Install sweeps at the bottom of doors and use insulated window treatments, shades, or drapes to block cold air.
  • Save Energy in the Summer: Dry clothing outdoors to save on energy or laundromat charges and use fans instead of air conditioners, when possible, to cool your home. Also, have your oil tank filled during the summer to save on the cost of your first delivery.
  • Save Money on Gasoline: Use the lowest octane called for in your car owner’s manual and keep your engine tuned and tires inflated to their proper pressure. An app such as Gas Buddy can help you find the lowest gasoline prices when you are traveling.
  • Get an Insurance Policy Review: Talk to your insurance agent to make sure you are receiving all of the discounts that are available to you. Consider bundling policies if it will save money and raising deductibles if the cost savings is sufficient and you have emergency savings set aside to cover the deductible.
  • Consider a “New Used” Car: Buying a gently-used 2- to 3-year old car can save thousands of dollars on the purchase price of a car because the original owner will absorb much of the depreciation.
  • Avoid Costly Bank Fees: Compare local banks and/or a credit union to find the best match between your personal banking habits and account features (e.g., interest rates, minimum balance amounts, ATM fees, and direct deposit). Inquire if they have “relationship accounts” that provide perks such as higher interest or free safe deposit boxes if you “bundle” financial services or maintain a designated balance.