It's been several tough years in a row for many people, with shrinking 401k's, the subprime mortgage crisis, and layoffs. The rough economy found a way to affect almost all of us, and we could all use a little relief. Finding new ways to save money can help take a bit of the sting of your current financial situation, and put things in a new light.
With that in mind, here's our list of 10 ways to save money in 2011:
- Minimize your health care costs. Combine your employer's "high deductible plan" with a healthcare spending account. You may have avoided your employer's plan with the high deductible because you were afraid of having to pay off the deductible in the beginning of the year. However, if you put a set amount into a healthcare spending account, you could save money and avoid out of pocket expenses. Oh and it's good for more than just your co-payments. Many items that you buy often are qualified purchases, tylenol and other over-the-counter meds, sunscreen, etc. However, be sure to do the math first...this approach saves most people money, but doesn't work well for everyone.
- Try Google Alerts to find out when an item you want is on sale. This new feature from Google allows you to create up to 1,000 alerts where they will email you when something new that you are searching for shows up on the internet. You'll need to do a little research to find the right search terms, but it's a powerful tool. For example, if you are waiting for a "no interest" sale at BestBuy, you could use the search term [ site:www.bestbuy.com "no interest" ]. When Google sees the words "no interest" at the BestBuy website, it'll email you straight away. Head over to http://google.com/alerts to check it out.
- Quit writing checks to pay bills. Almost every bank offers a reasonable online bill payment solution now, and if yours doesn't, you can easily switch. Aside from the time and postage savings, you end up with a more real-time view of your income and expenses. You can't improve what you can't measure, and online bill payment really shows you how well ( or not ) you are doing with your budget.
- Find your local bakery thrift store. These places have exceptional bargains...including a loaf of bread for around 50 cents. And, they usually also sell cakes and snack-sized baked goods, and sometimes items like potato chips. See if there's one near you:
- Dump your designer coffee habit. Sure, you love your morning Starbucks, but how much do you really love it? Over at hughchou.org, they have a coffee calculator that shows how much money you could have if you switched from expensive coffee to office coffee, and invested the difference. It's astounding...switching from a $3/day coffee, and investing the difference at a 5% return would net you $8,647.30 after 10 years. Check out the calculator at: hughchou.org
- If you do a fair amount of driving to unfamiliar places, go ahead and invest in a GPS unit. With the after-Christmas sales, you can easily find one for less than $100 new, or even $50 on eBay. They aren't likely to get much cheaper. The time and gasoline savings from taking the most direct route, and not getting lost as often, will easily allow you to recoup your money within a year. And, if you buy a unit that knows where those automated red-light violation cameras are, you might save yourself a costly ticket.
- Ditch your current cell phone plan. According to the NPD group, cell phones sales are in a serious slump, at their lowest point since they started measuring in 2005. That means prices are coming down. There are excellent resources on the web now that will make a personalized comparison of available plans, and even spell out how much money you'll save if you switch plans or carriers. See billshrink.com for an excellent tool that asks you a few questions about your current plan, and then finds alternatives for you.
- Stop ordering soft drinks when you dine out. Most restaurants will bring you a glass of water with ice for free, and it's better for you too. If your kids whine too much about it, bring along a packet of flavoring like Krystal Lite, Kool-Aid, etc. You might feel a little embarrassed about dumping it in the water, but with the restaurants charging $2 a drink, just tough it out and think about this: A family of four that does this just once a week will save over $400 a year.
- See if you can cancel the PMI ( Private Mortgage Insurance ) on your mortgage. Lenders are required to do this, but they only cancel the PMI based on the numbers they had at the time of the loan. If the value of your home has gone up, you may be able to cancel your PMI payments early. The formula is that you must have a loan balance that is, at most, 80% of your home's current appraised value.
- Treat yourself every once in a while. Just as with diets, a strict budget plan is likely to cause you to slip and "binge" if you don't treat yourself now and again. Keep it in moderation, but if you've been dying to get that iPod all year, don't go without forever. After all, there should be some reward for saving all that money, remember that you can't take it with you.
Oh, and it couldn't hurt to check out some of our other money saving tips as well...