SAVING HACKS FOR WHEN YOUR BUDGET GETS TIGHT

You might be surprised at how easy it is to save thousands of dollars each year without sacrificing the quality of the things you regularly buy.

With a little planning, you can purchase the items you really want at the lowest possible prices, and avoid spending extra money you really didn’t need to. Individually, the money-saving ideas below can save you hundreds of dollars each year — together, they can save you thousands.

ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY AUTO COSTS 

Don’t change your oil every 3,000 miles. That’s an auto industry hustle. Read your owner’s manual – most people only need to change their oil once every 6,000-7,500 miles. Buy a tire air pressure gauge and check your tires each month. Properly inflating your tires helps them last longer and improves your gas mileage. Have your air and oil filters changed as needed to maintain optimal gas mileage. Don’t buy premium gas unless your owner’s manual specifically recommends it. Most cars run just fine on regular gas.

SLASH HOME UTILITY COSTS

Why pay extra for heating, cooling, lighting and washing you don’t need? Lower your water heater temperature two degrees at a time until you reach the right temperature for showers and sinks to reduce your gas bill. Invest in low-flow toilets and showerheads. Only wash clothes and dishes when you have full loads, and use cold water. Buy a programmable thermostat and lower the heat during the 16 hours a day you are asleep or at work. Use low-cost window-covering kits to reduce drafts and heat loss. Use energy efficient light bulbs. You only need to water your lawn once each week to a depth of 1 or 2 inches, rather than several times each week.

PULL YOUR CREDIT REPORT

You’ll have more access to credit and get lower interest rate offers if you have a higher credit score. Go to FreeCreditReport.com and get copies of your three credit reports. Find out what factors are negatively affecting your score and correct any incorrect information that might be hurting your creditworthiness.

TRANSFER A CREDIT CARD BALANCE

Eliminating 20 percent worth of interest fees on a $5,000 credit card balance can save $1,000 you can use to pay down other balances. When you are sure your credit reports are accurate, shop for a credit card that lets you transfer a balance for 12 months or longer. You’ll have a balance transfer fee of several percent, but you can eliminate a balance with a 10 to 30 percent interest, using those hundreds of dollars of savings to pay down other cards you have.

GO TO THE MOVIES — AT HOME

Eliminating just one trip to movies per month can save a couple more than $500 per year, and a family twice that. To make up for your missed outings, plan a special movie night once each month, taking advantage of the on-demand free movies your provider offers. Make it a movie you’ve really wanted to see, make some fresh popcorn, and have your favorite beverage of choice on hand.

REFINANCE YOUR MORTGAGE

Did you know the government will help you reduce your mortgage debt (and lower your monthly payment)? Depending on whether you’ve made all of your mortgage payments or are currently behind on your mortgage, you might qualify for a re-fi through the Home Affordable Modification Program or Home Affordable Refinance Program (HAMP and HARP). These programs let you lower your total balance and monthly payments, usually with no fees out-of-pocket to pay.

LEARN TO COOK — SLOWLY

No, you don’t have to take classes or become a gourmet to slash your food bill. Saving just $20 each week by brown bagging one lunch and eating one fewer fast-food dinner can save up to $1,300, depending on how much you save by not putting those meals on a credit card. You’ll still get to eat your favorites, and you only have to learn a few basic cooking techniques (Can you use a can opener?) Start with dinner you can make that just requires opening a few cans or boxes and adding water or a few other ingredients. Once you get comfortable in the kitchen, you’ll want to learn more techniques and expand your cooking and savings opportunities.

DO YOUR TAXES CORRECTLY

Are you taking advantage of all of the income tax deductions available to you as a parent? Did you know you might be able to write off some of the expenses of your child’s sports camps? Have you claimed head of household status? Review your annual income tax strategy each year with a professional to make sure you don’t give Uncle Sam money you can keep in your bank account.

CHECK YOUR HEALTH PLAN OPTIONS

Learn the difference between a health reimbursement arrangement, health savings account and flexible spending account. Depending on the plan for which you qualify, your employer might make a contribution, and you can reduce your payroll taxes and use that money to spend on your health care bills.GET ORE

CLOTHING FOR LESS

What do you think affluent women do with clothing they’re not wearing anymore? They donate it (along with great men’s and kids clothing) to thrift stores. You’ll be shocked at the rows of $7 blue jeans and $3 designer blouses and shirts you’ll find in these increasingly well-appointed stores. Go to big box retailers and do your seasonal clothing at the end of each season to get items for half-price or less. For example, buy next year’s summer bathing suits this fall, or your winter clothing come spring.

GET IN SHAPE FOR FREE (or close to it)

Do you really need to pay a monthly fitness center membership fee or hire a personal trainer to get and stay in shape? Create your own home gym and exercise like a pro without one. Buy used exercise equipment at local second-hand stores, and watch exercise videos on streaming services for free on YouTube.

This article was written by Sam Ashe-Edmunds, contributor for The Daily Clutch.

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