Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
While the recession may have been declared “officially” over, many people are still hurting financially. In times like this, reducing household expenses is important. Below are some strategies to consider when you need to live on less income than before or you are reducing spending to build up an emergency cash reserve:
- Reduce the risk of incurring costly medical expenses by getting an annual flu shot and physical exam, having regular health screening tests, taking required medications, eating nutritious meals and snacks, and exercising regularly.
- Request generic equivalents of prescription drugs, where available, and order 90-day supplies of drugs by mail, instead of 30 day supplies from a local pharmacy, because costs are generally less expensive.
- Save energy by closing off unused rooms, checking weather stripping and caulking, and upgrading attic insulation. Get a free energy audit to provide a list of recommended action steps and projected savings.
- Buy grocery items on sale and/or in season and select generic or store brands, which are generally cheaper than national brands (exception: when national brands have deep discounts or doubled/tripled coupons).
- Shop flea markets and farmers markets close to closing time to look for deals from vendors who do not want to carry their products back home.
- Buy “gently used” clothing on sale at consignment shops. Look for bargains on furniture, appliances, and home furnishings at thrift shops, garage sales, and/or through online auctions.
- Plan airline trips around weekend or mid-week specials and be flexible about travel dates, airlines, and airports that you fly into or out of. Avoid “peak” travel dates and times and try to do the reverse of what other travelers do.
- Drive a car that costs less than average to insure and ask for discounts, including “safe driver” rates and a premium reduction for driving short distances. Raise your deductibles if the savings is worth it and you have an adequate emergency fund for potential out-of-pocket costs.
- Buy a “new used” car (e.g., 2 to 3 years old) so that some of the heavy depreciation has already taken place. Check Consumer Reports’ April issue for a description and ratings of recommended makes and models.
- Use restaurant discount coupons and “early bird specials,” take a “doggie bag” of food home for another meal, eat an appetizer as a meal (instead of an entrée), and/or eat out at lunch, instead of dinner, when portions are smaller and prices are less expensive.
- Choose a cell phone plan that best meets your needs (e.g., number of minutes per month, rollover minutes, free unlimited calling during certain hours) or purchase low-cost prepaid telephone calling cards as needed. Better still, purchase “bundled” telecommunications service where television, Internet, and phone service are combined.
- Pay bills electronically through online banking or pre-authorized debits from a bank account to save on postage. Assuming that 20 bills per month are paid now with stamps, this is an annual savings of $105.
- Try to negotiate lower prices on purchases with words such as “Is this the best price available?” or “Are there any discounts available on this product?” Mentioning a competitor’s prices can sometimes produce discounts from merchants, as can the use of store “rewards cards” and “cash-back” programs.
- Pay credit card bills in full to avoid interest charges. If you are a “convenience user,” use credit cards that provide cash-back rebates or product discounts. Avoid credit cards with annual fees and no grace period.