Easiest Ways to Save Money in a Tight Economy

We all know we need to cut back on spending these days. But, we, Americans, loathe to make big changes in our lifestyles. We like what we like and we don’t want to have to give it up.

But, there are so many easy ways to make small changes that add up to more savings annually; in fact, if you do all of them, you’ll save hundreds or even thousands every year.

Much of it has to do with planning and prioritizing. With a little pre-planning, you will be surprised at how easy it is to save money, and by prioritizing what is important to your lifestyle, it will be relatively painless to cut out what you don’t need.

The most obvious issues faced by most families these days are the costs of food and gasoline.

Here are the best simple tricks and tips that you can use to save money on groceries and filling up the gas tank:

Nothing is more basic than food, and with food costs rising along with everything else, this is where a lot of your family budget is probably going. A few simple changes can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year:

Studies have shown that people who only shop once per week spend far less money than those who go several times per week. In fact, shoppers who make that quick trip to the store for one item will spend as much as 54% more than they had planned. In addition, buying in bulk less frequently is less expensive (and easier on the environment) than purchasing individually packaged items. So, plan out your list and try to only go to the grocery store once per week.

Leave your children at home, if at all possible. You can focus better without them who keep on asking for this or that, and you won’t end up buying extras that you do not want or need.

Adopt a tip from your mom or grandmother (who probably survived some tough economic times and know what they are talking about) and clip coupons. Find the coupon booklets from the store you frequent (and thus, find coupons you would actually use), and have an envelope at home to save them. When it’s time to plan your shopping trip, look through your coupons and use them to help plan the week’s menu, and then buy the items on sale.

While it is important to buy some products for their brand name or organic health benefits, choose generic labels whenever possible.

Many people are already cutting down on expensive extras like going out to eat. You don’t have to give it up entirely; just prioritize. Save restaurant outings for very special occasions, and savor the outing for the treat that it is. Pick places that offer two-for-one deals, or ask your friends for recommendations of inexpensive restaurants. It’s difficult to enjoy yourself if you are worrying about the bill, so next time you think about dining out, consider whether it is worth the expense.

Pre-planning goes a long way in terms of lunch meals also. If you grab lunch at a cafeteria or nearby sandwich shop from work, it will cost you a lot more than if you take a few moments the night before and pack a delicious, nutritious bagged lunch. Include this planning for your grocery trips, and use ideas from your deli to dream up imaginative and creative lunches for yourself.

Think the same way about that triple-whip-whatever latte you grab from the espresso drive-through. A cup of coffee (costing USD 3 – 4) every morning can add up to about USD 75 per month, or over USD 900 per year. That’s the equivalent of about five gallons of gas per week.

It seems like everyone is trying to cut down on their spending at the gas tank. But, there are some simple ways to make it even easier and make your gas dollar go further:

The first and most obvious one is not to drive whenever possible. Of course, most of us would say that’s impossible; Americans are in love with their cars. And in many communities, driving to work is a necessity. But, that does not mean we can’t try our best to make a few smarter choices when it comes to our gas consumption.

Whenever you can, walk. Going to the local park with the kids? Make the walk an integral part of the trip. Try to plan your errands so that you can take one day a week and make it a no-drive day.

See if there’s a way to carpool with someone else from work. It will save a lot on gas, and you might find a new ally at the office. Or check out public transportation. It may take a little longer to get to work, but sometimes with efficient bus systems, it’s not that much harder to do than drive.

If that’s not possible, try to negotiate a work-from-home day, may be one day a week. People do this with their job and mostly, work from home two days per week. They are already witnessing big savings in gas. If your workplace isn’t that flexible, there are still things you can do to save on gas:

Find the best station near you. Our local radio station lists the best gas station deals in the area every day, but even if yours doesn’t, notice where the gas is cheapest, and plan your route around stopping there. It may seem like just pennies, but it all adds up. Some gas stations will have discount days; find out when your local stations have the cheapest gas.

Furthermore, find out about a gas-saving driving technique called “hypermiling.” In simple terms, this is just trying to get the most miles out of your tank of gas. Hypermilers recommend driving 60 miles per hour maximum, which improves your gas mileage. In addition, avoid excessive braking and speeding up. If cars ahead are braking, try just taking your foot off the gas pedal at first, before applying pressure to the brakes. Often, by the time you catch up to traffic, it’s begun moving again and you don’t need to brake. Use your cruise control whenever possible as sudden changes in speed will eat into your gas. When you are in doubt, let your car coast. Devoted hypermilers say they have been able to double their gas mileage, and when using a super-efficient car (a hybrid or fuel-efficient compact car), this can lead to huge amounts in gas savings. Honda Insight Hybrid owners brag of getting more than 100 miles per gallon with the combination of the hybrid engine and hypermiling techniques.

Another important point: the more weight you are carrying around in your car, the worse your mileage will be. So, dump out the softball gear and all the extra junk you have in your trunk, and see the mileage improve. Some experts recommend never filling your gas tank up completely, because the extra weight of the gas will drag down your mileage. However, take into consideration the extra trips to the gas station for more frequent fill-ups, and calculate whether that’s worth the lighter load.

Make sure that the car is in good running condition, and have the brakes and air filters checked. Get regular tune-ups to ensure efficiency, and get the tires filled. The proper amount of air in the tires alone can improve your gas mileage noticeably.

Fill up in the morning. Gas is more condensed when it’s cooler, during morning or evening hours, so you will literally get more gas for your buck than if you fill up mid-afternoon.

The more you see the savings from these techniques, the more you’ll want to do even more. It can be fun and a challenge at the same time to see where else you can save in your grocery budget and at the gas pump. These tips may seem like a lot, but try one or two you think are doable, and when you see the savings start, you’ll be motivated to try others.

The economy may very well get worse before it gets better, and we all may need to make even bigger changes to our habits in order to survive. But for now, these small adjustments can be a start, and when you see they are not that difficult to make, the future may not seem so daunting.

Buying Secondhand Saves Money, but Can Cost You Dearly

It used to be that there were three basic ways to find used items to buy―yard sales, thrift stores, and the classified section of newspapers. But nowadays, with the Internet bringing the world into your living room, people have access to a multitude of online yard sales and auctions. It’s hard to resist the lure of getting something used for pennies on the dollar compared to buying it new. In some cases, you can find a great bargain and get just what you were looking for while saving a little money. But there are some things you should always buy in person or brand new, instead of buying them unseen.

Computers
Yes, you can get what sounds like a screaming used system on eBay and other online sites, and you can save a lot of money by buying factory refurbished models from dealers and online computer stores. But many new computers nowadays are so affordable that there’s no real reason to buy a used system. With a used system you can’t get it customized to provide exactly what you need, and the technology will always be at least a little outdated. Because of the speed at which technology changes nowadays, it never pays to buy an old or used computer, especially if you plan to use it for work or anything important. Many mass-market manufacturers, including Dell and Compaq, offer entire computer systems for less than $500. They may not be the best built computers in the world, but at least everything is brand new and you’ll have a manufacturer’s warranty to back them up.

Appliances
One of the most risky large items to buy online can be appliances. Washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, gas ranges―you can find just about any used appliance out there for sale. But old appliances have no warranty or guarantee, and you can’t tell how well they will work just from a seller’s description and a photograph. Newer models of appliances will be more energy efficient and have more up-to-date technology, which will save money on utility bills. Shipping for large items such as appliances can also be expensive. If you really want to buy a used appliance to save money, the best way to do it is to see it in person, and preferably see it working, before laying out the cash for something that might not work when you get it home.

Strollers, Car Seats, and Cribs
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year at least 16 children die because of unsafe cribs. Some of those deaths are from cribs that are designed poorly, but many of them are from cribs that simply break down unexpectedly. The risk of your child being injured or killed isn’t worth the few bucks you might save by buying something online sight unseen. Strollers, car seats, cribs, and any other child-related merchandise should always be bought new.

High-tech Electronics
With the growing plethora of fancy electronic items taking over our lives every day, and the expensive tags they carry, it can be tempting to search online auctions for affordable digital cameras, DVD players, and even plasma screens. But because high-tech electronics usually have delicate mechanisms, even the slightest flaw can affect your enjoyment of the product, and that flaw might not be readily apparent. Older models of plasma screens, for example, may have images burned into the screen that you might not see right away. Electronics are also being continually updated, and the speed with which newer models are released is growing faster each year. You can buy brand new digital cameras cheaply that won’t have the highest pixel count and won’t have many of the fancy features new cameras offer, but you will have a manufacturer’s warranty, and sometimes you can even try them out in the store before buying.

Mattresses and Upholstered Furniture
Mattresses are particularly tricky to buy used, because you never know who has been sleeping on them, what has been spilled on them, or what type of home they were used in. Unless you know the person you’re buying it from, or you have access to a reputable company that can clean and disinfect it, you should never buy a mattress used. Upholstered furniture also carries the same risks. These items may come from homes with heavy smokers, cats or dogs, babies in diapers, people with chronic illnesses, flea or bedbug infestations, or any number of situations that could contaminate the furniture to a point where it makes your life miserable. Spend the money and buy them new.

Although there are hundreds of things you can buy used that will save you money and give you just as much satisfaction as you’d get from a new item, there are also hundreds of used things that could easily make your life miserable. With a little savvy and common sense, you can save yourself a lot of heartache―as well as money―by spending a little more and buying something new in the first place.