How to cut your cost of living
Everything's getting more expensive -- mortgage payments, utility bills, groceries, taxes, gas. You name it, it costs more these days.
That's why we've pulled together dozens of cost-cutting ideas that will help you make ends meet.
Some will save only a few bucks a week. Others can lower your expenses by hundreds of dollars a month.
You can't possibly use them all. But finding a few that work for you can make it a lot easier, and less stressful, to keep up with the cost of living.
Cut your coffee costs. Skip that pricey morning latte. This is the most often repeated advice for saving money because it works. Save $2 a day, $14 a week, $56 a month. Try your office coffee. Many employers have upgraded to machines that brew one cup at a time with a variety of flavor options. It's not the office sludge anymore.
Skip the vending machine at work. Buy snacks at the supermarket and stash them in your locker or desk drawer. Better yet, go to your local health food store where you can buy trail mix in bulk. This isn't hippie food. The mixture of nuts and chocolate and dried fruit is cheap and healthy.
Use one phone. Got a cell phone and a land line? Ditch one. If you're sticking with the cell phone, take a closer look at your plan. Do you really need all those bells and whistles? You can save big by dropping the fancy plan for basic service, but before making the switch, make sure your savings won't be eaten up by penalties for breaking your contract. When shopping around for a new cell phone, use Billshrink.com to compare plans.
Make the most of Internet discounts. Use sites such as Penny Pincher Gazette to find printable online coupons. Look for savings on products you buy and use all the time.
Find more store-branded products you can trust. Whether its green beans or toilet paper, store brands are almost always cheaper than name brands. Take advantage of that by substituting store products for name brands you frequently buy to see if the quality is comparable or at least acceptable.
Cut back on dining out. Pack a lunch for work. Don't eat dinner out quite as often and use the coupons you get in mailers and Sunday newspapers to hold down the bill when you do visit a restaurant.
Drop your cable. You can live without it -- really. Most shows come out on DVD, or you can watch them for free on Hulu.com and Fancast.com. Plus, for under $10 a month, you can get a Netflix subscription that streams movies and premium cable television shows through your computer, Wii, Xbox, PS3 or Internet-capable HDTVs. Sound too radical? Then cancel the premium movie channels you rarely watch and ask your cable company to match the best deal on basic service being offered by a competitor. It will often do so.
Cancel your gym membership. Working out is a wonderful way to maintain your health and lower medical expenses down the road. But most people who join a gym never go. If that's you, stop making the monthly payments.
Redo your commute. Never thought public transit was worth it? With gas prices often on the rise (and, in many places, toll prices), it could be now. Look into carpooling with coworkers, or check for folks with similar routes at eRideShare.com. Working from home one or two days a week or switching to a four-day workweek are other ways to cut commuting costs.
Pull that lawnmower out of the shed. Having your yard manicured by a landscaping service is great, but it's getting more expensive. Indeed, your lawn care bills may be one of those rapidly rising bills that prompted you to read this story. Mowing it yourself is not only less costly but good exercise. You can also save big by not watering your lawn through the summer. Most varieties of grass go dormant in August because of the heat, then go through a growth spurt in September. So let it lie in August instead of forcing it to go green with water it doesn't want.
Shop for cheaper car insurance. If you've been with the same car insurance company since you got your license, you could be paying too much. Just make sure to check comparable levels of coverage and beware of ridiculously low rates from insurers you never heard of -- they often refuse to pay when you have a claim.
Downsize your ride. For many of us, car payments are our second-largest monthly bill. Once gas and insurance are included, total transportation costs can rival rent or mortgage payments. Switching to a smaller car or truck can reduce your monthly payments and save on gas and insurance, too.
Cut your heating and cooling costs. The Energy Star auditing program is a must do. Created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, it sends a contractor to your home to assess your furnace and air conditioner, doors and windows, appliances and insulation. The audits aren't free, but some utilities will cover the cost. New Jersey Natural Gas customers, for example, are eligible for a rebate that reimburses them for the $250 charge. Go to this site to find an auditor near you.