Ever since I became aware of how easy it is to overlook savings opportunities (which is a more positive way of saying “money drains”) I’ve constantly found myself running to my desk to scribble down new side income ideas or money-saving tips.
Saving isn’t just the action of earmarking a percentage of one’s paycheck for a retirement investment. It’s about finding and sealing up the “gaps” into which our money falls when we’re not paying attention.
And yes, while it’s always fun to find the spare change between the sofa cushions, that’s not quite where I’m going… though I think I will have a look later today.
Whether it’s behavior or savings, the change adds up and if you put any of the following frugal living tips into action, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can turn things around.
1. Close Unnecessary Autopay Accounts
We’re always staring at numbers when we’re trying to figure out how to save money every month. Here’s an easy way to make bank statement reviews pay off fast.
It’s one thing to have utilities, insurance, and cell phone plans automatically deducted from your bank, but sometimes we forget about recurring charges that we’d forgotten to cancel… or for services we just don’t need.
We don’t think about them until they show up on our statements, or—when things are really tight—cause us to become overdrawn.
Look back at your bank records from the prior year, and identify those wasteful automatic deductions. While you’re at it, double-check the charges on your utilities and insurance to make sure there haven’t been any errors or upcharges.
Some companies, especially mobile phone carriers and car insurance, offer a discount when you sign up for their autopay programs so you might want to check with an account representative.
2. Maintain Your Cars for Maximum Fuel Efficiency
Not everyone can take on a new car payment and buy a shiny new hybrid or electric Tesla. We can, however, increase our existing vehicles’ fuel efficiency.
The Union of Concerned Scientists published a fantastic list, and I’ve boiled it down to my favorite tips… with a few of my own thoughts.
Give your a/c a break.
Park in the shade or use window reflectors, and consider investing about $30 in a solar-powered window vent.
Maintain your tires.
Rotate and balance your tires on a regular basis to improve mileage. Keep a tire gauge on hand and make sure they’re inflated to the PSI indicated on the tire’s sidewall.
Empty your car.
Not only is a car full of stuff a safety hazard and invitation for a car prowl, but it also decreases your fuel efficiency. Keep an emergency kit in the trunk, but leave gym bags, toys, and work tools at home.
Keep your car healthy.
Your investment in regular tune-ups can extend your car’s life and reduce your fill-up costs. Replace air and fuel filters, change the oil, and check spark plugs according to your vehicle’s manual.
Learn how to perform these tasks yourself—it’s easy!—and purchase your supplies from anywhere but a service station convenience store; their markup is huge.
Keep maintenance records.
When it comes time to sell your vehicle, potential buyers will have more confidence in a car that comes with proof of regular maintenance.
Even if you’re the grease monkey, you can take copious notes and include receipts for new parts and supplies.
3. Save Warranties and User Manuals
That last piece of advice made me think of another important way to save money:
Every time you purchase a vehicle, valuable tool, appliance, or piece of equipment, fill out and mail any necessary warranty registration cards and file away the product’s documents, receipt, and manual.
First, things do break. If it’s under warranty, politely demand a replacement. If it’s out-of-warranty, throw a Hail Mary pass and try to get the manufacturer or retailer to work with you.
Second, with a manual, you’ll not only know how to avoid failure, but you might learn how to troubleshoot or fix the problem.
4. Ask Your Vet for Triage Tips
Pet care expenses can add up, but there are some great ways we can save money while keeping our dogs and cats healthy.
Colorado Pet Pantry helps families and individuals in financial crisis keep their pets while reducing the burden on the state’s animal shelters. Here are their money-saving tips for balancing pet care when funds are tight:
First, keep up with annual health exams. Undiscovered illnesses can cause expensive emergencies. Be honest with your financial situation if you’re having trouble, and your vet is likely to help you come up with a wellness program suited to your budget.
Ask him or her to recommend a high-quality food at a reasonable (not necessarily cheap) price.
If you don’t have an affordable vet, look for a well-reviewed rural vet. Urban veterinarians have more overhead, and rural vets typically charge what the market allows… and that’s often not very much.
Once you know your pet is healthy, consider purchasing a vaccination kit from a nearby agricultural supply store. They’re easy to administer and come packaged with instructions and everything you need.
Note, you can’t purchase the rabies vaccine (have your vet do that) and it’s very important you find out if combination vaccination products will “overload” a small dog. Be sure to keep the packaging with your dated purchase receipt.
If you’re not comfortable vaccinating your pet yourself, that’s okay. Find out if any of your local pet supply stores host low-cost vaccination or teeth cleaning clinics.
5. “Stripping” Phantom Electricity Drain
I’ve already mentioned how certain appliances can draw power, even when they’re off. This is called idle load, phantom drain, or vampire drain and, according to the most recent data from the National Resource Defense Council, makes up about a quarter of the average American household’s electric bill.
I want to expand on the topic with some new, easy-to-implement ideas: Put your entertainment center equipment on a power strip, and turn the whole strip off with a single button when you’re not actively watching TV, recording a show, or playing the Xbox.
Do the same with computers, printers, routers, and scanners when you won’t be using them, and use timers on outlets where you typically charge up phones and tablets.
Find out if your power company is compatible with the Unplug Stuff app, which helps you figure out your home’s “idle load”.
If not, your utility company might have special monitoring suggestions, or they can send a technician over to help show you how to save money every month by plugging power leaks.
6. Adjust Freezer and Refrigerator Settings
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that you keep a thermometer in your refrigerator to make sure it stays at a steady at 40° F (4° C). Your freezer should stay at 0° F (-18° C).
If your freezer isn’t stuffed with bulk, frozen, healthy foods, fill the extra space with water bottles. When they freeze, they reduce the amount of power your freezer requires to maintain optimal temperatures.
If you keep extra freezers, it might be worth your while to upgrade them to an energy-saving model.
All too often, we rotate aged freezers into the garage or basement, only to fill them partway. Chest models, by the way, are more efficient than standing units.
7. Ditch the Storage Unit
If you’ve downsized, or you’ve had trouble letting things go, you might be paying for an expensive storage unit. Take a look at the accumulated cost and ask yourself if you’d spend that much to buy it all back if it were at a thrift shop.
If you’re just not quite ready to let go of everything, downsize the unit.
If you feel guilty about getting rid of family heirlooms that just don’t hold much sentimental value to you, give them away to family members or friends who will appreciate them.
You might have intended to hold a garage sale or put some of your stored items on Craigslist or eBay, but if you keep putting it off, you’ll still be in the hole.
Look online for local estate auction companies who are prepared to sort through and cart away unwanted but potentially saleable stuff.
By the way… don’t rent or purchase a home based on its ability to store or display all your current belongings.
Place more value on amenities, community, and quality than you would on floor space. You’ll save on square footage if you downsize before your move!