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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Whether you're facing heavy debt or the need to build a retirement nest egg, you probably would benefit from saving more money.

It may seem like a daunting task if you're already struggling to pay your bills, but there are simple steps you can take to cut spending and boost your savings. Although it may take some planning and lifestyle tweaks, even the most financially stretched people can take steps to hold on to more cash. Here are five money-saving ideas:

1. Get reacquainted with the kitchen.

The savings can add up quickly if you brown-bag work lunches and cook dinner at home. Those who dine in restaurants or order take-out food several times a week could save hundreds of dollars a month. Even cutting out a few fast-food lunches could make a difference. As Consumer Reports notes, a person spending $7 a day on lunch would save about $1,000 a year by bringing lunch from home four days a week.

Stretch your food dollars further by avoiding grocery store "convenience foods." You could save $5.50, for example, simply by purchasing a regular, 30-serving carton of oatmeal rather than three, 10-serving boxes of instant oatmeal packets, notes registered dietician Alice Henneman of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Added bonus: meals prepared from scratch tend to be healthier. You have more control over sodium, fat, carbohydrate and calorie counts when you pick the ingredients yourself.

2. Remember to comparison shop. 

Always check for coupons for items you plan to purchase. Whether shopping for electronics, clothing, car rentals, food or tires -- online or in brick-and-mortar stores -- search the Internet for coupons, promo codes and other deals. Online coupon sites like Couponcabin.com, BradsDeals.com, and RetailMeNot.com post last-minute deals. You also can use sites like PriceGrabber.com or apps, such as RedLaser, to comparison shop.

Look for discounts and compare prices on travel as well. Sites such as Orbitz, Hotels.com, Expedia, and Kayak may help you shave a substantial percentage off your hotel bill. Check your hotel's website as well for discounted rates.

3. Save on energy costs.

Use a programmable thermostat to lower your home heating and cooling bills, setting the device to hit cooler temperatures in winter and warmer temperatures in summer when you're sleeping or out of the house. Setting the thermostat back 15 degrees over eight hours could cut as much as 15% off your bill, the U.S. Department of Energy says. (Make sure you buy the right programmable thermostat for your heating system.)

Small steps can help you save on water heating bills, which cost the average U.S. household $400 to $600 annually. Among the DOE's suggestions: Setting your hot water heater to no more than 120 degrees, installing low-flow shower heads and wrapping water heater jackets around heaters that are more than five years old. Sealing drafty windows and doors will also help you to save on home heating bills.

4. Negotiate for better phone and cable TV rates. 

Companies want to keep you as a customer. If you call and explain that you're looking to lower your bill, the customer service rep might be willing to offer a discount on the spot, especially if you threaten to change providers, notes Quartz, the business site.

You also might consider trimming your plan. Can you get by with a 10-gigabyte mobile data plan, for instance, rather than your costlier 30GB plan? How much would you save in your monthly cable bill if you dropped subscription channels? Ask your provider to explain all of your options.

There's ample room for savings, given rising cable rates.

The average monthly price of expanded basic cable TV service -the most subscribed tier -- excluding taxes, fees and equipment charges, increased more than 5% to $64.41 in 2012, significantly outpacing inflation, the Federal Communications Commission reported this year. The average price for the next most popular service tier was $77.05, while basic cable was $22.63.

And consider the alternatives. Could you get by with a streaming video service or even checking out DVDs from the library? You could save hundreds of dollars that way.

5. Take advantage of your employer's tax-advantaged savings plans.

Dependent care and healthcare flexible spending accounts can lower your taxable income. As insurer Aetna explains, an employee in the 30% tax bracket who contributes $2,000 to a healthcare FSA would realize $600 in tax savings.

You can defer thousands of dollars in taxable income by contributing to your company's 401(k) retirement plan, and if your employer offers a match, be sure to fund your account at least enough to secure the full match, and watch your retirement savings grow.

 

 

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