Feeling The Pinch? Try These Belt-Tightening Tips

Jason Alderman

By Jason Alderman

Between holiday shopping bills now coming due, increased winter heating bills and the upcoming income tax season, many people are feeling the pinch. Your best bet for getting back on track is probably to trim expenses.

Here are several ideas – big and small – that might do the trick:

  • Lower your thermostat. Each degree you lower it saves up to 3 percent on your heating bill. Turning down your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours at night can save about 5 to 15 percent. For a $300 monthly heating bill, that’s up to $45 in savings.
  • Up to 30 percent of heated or cooled air can be lost through leaks, so add insulation, apply weather stripping around windows and doors and caulk around ducts, plumbing bypasses and other openings.
  • Water heating is the third-largest home energy expense, so try lowering your water heater temperature to 120o F or lower to see if it’s still comfortable.
  • Energy Star products consume up to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models (visit www.energystar.gov).
  • Compact fluorescent lamps use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last three to 10 times longer. Although initially more expensive, they last six to 15 times longer.
  • A faucet leaking one drop per second wastes about 2,000 gallons a year.
  • If you have low-deductible home, renter’s or auto insurance (say $250), ask your insurer how much your premiums would drop by raising the deductible to $500 or $1,000. Many save 15 to 30 percent or more.
  • Balance your checkbook to avoid fees for overdrawn accounts and returned checks. Ask your bank about phone or email alerts when your balance drops below a certain level or payments are due.
  • Switch to free checking. You can shop rates for banks at www.bankrate.com and find credit unions for which you’re eligible at the Credit Union National Association (www.cuna.org).
  • Consider generic vs. brand-name drugs; copayments are usually much lower.
  • Ask whether your insurance offers quantity discounts for mail-order prescriptions. Often, the copayment for a 60- or 90-day supply will equal a 30-day supply at a regular pharmacy.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about pharmaceutical companies’ drug assistance programs for uninsured or low-income people. There’s a lot of paperwork involved, but you could save thousands of dollars if you qualify.
  • Examine your phone bill for services you’re not using like call waiting, call forwarding or caller ID. Dropping them could save $100 a year or more, depending on your plan.
  • Slow down. Fuel efficiency drops about 5 mpg for each 10-mile speed increase over 55 mph.

And finally, this may be my favorite off-the-wall tip: By switching from Arial, the most common type font, to Century Gothic, someone printing 25 pages a week on their home printer could save $20 a year in ink costs.

For more cost-saving ideas:

  • AARP has great tips on the “Budgeting & Saving” site (www.aarp.org).
  • America Saves is full of savings strategies and links to other resources (www.americasaves.org).
  • Visa Inc.’s free personal financial management program Practical Money Skills for Life (www.practicalmoneyskills.com) offers numerous savings and budgeting tools.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

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