25 Ways to Save Money in a Tough Economy (Part 2)

Jen Knox, who blogs at Automatic Moms, is sharing her tips on saving money in a tough economy in this two-part series (check out part one from yesterday).

14. Use coupons. C’mon, all you coupon-haters…they’re free money! I’m in shock every time I hear that someone takes the coupon circulars out of their Sunday paper and tosses them in the recycling without even looking at them. There’s money in that pile! Even if you only save $2 a week on coupons, that’s enough to make your Sunday paper better than free in most areas. Save $5 a week in coupons and that’s $260 a year in savings that took practically 3.4 seconds to achieve. My opinion: You are crazy not to at least try to use coupons. Seriously, it’s easy.

15. As long as you’re in a coupon mood, use virtual coupons too. Coupon codes are again…free money! Why pay for shipping if all you have to do is enter a little code to get the charge deducted from your total? Free shipping, percentages off, dollar amounts off….they’re all available and always changing. Before you hit the checkout page, it pays to do a quick search to see if you can trim something off your total.

16. Save on health costs. Call your health insurance provider and simply ask them if there are ways you can cut costs. Are there generic medications you could take instead? Do they offer a mail-order pharmacy that offers discounts? Do they offer incentive programs in exchange for visiting a doctor, using a gym (for those that are too stubborn to lose their gym membership, you might be able to get a discount from your health insurance company for verified attendance) or maybe taking a class. When I was pregnant with my son, I participated in our insurance company’s “Healthy Babies” program. A nurse called me once a month to see how I was doing and to ask about my prenatal care. That’s it. And I earned a nice $100 check just for agreeing to take the calls. Easy!

17. If you can’t eliminate something, just reduce it by half. Love your cable TV? Don’t cancel it, just call your cable provider and see if there is a cheaper package with most of the channels you like. Love your cell phone? Don’t cancel it, just switch to a pre-paid plan (if you current contract has expired or is expiring) and use it less. Love your Netflix and Blockbuster Online membership? Don’t cancel; just go down to one movie at a time instead of three. There are ways to save money on almost anything without really feeling the loss.

18. Make what you have already work better. Change the furnace filter to help it run better (including in the summer since your air conditioner uses the same ductwork and filter). Clean the gasket on your fridge with vinegar to cut through grease and grime that can keep it from sealing properly. Thoroughly wash the filter for your dryer: take it out and put it in a basin or sink with hot soapy water and let it soak for a couple of hours, and then brush it with an old toothbrush to get all of the residue off. Let it air dry overnight before using it again. Hint: This is a good time to hang your clothes outside in the meantime.

19. Swap services with friends and family. Know how to cut hair? Do it for free for a friend in exchange for a night of babysitting. Know how to build a website? Offer the service to your business-owner neighbor in exchange for some lawn mowing. Use your imagination. Times are tougher for everyone now, and there are few people who would turn down something they need for something they can do for someone else. Check if your local community has a bartering board online and see what you can do to get what you need done.

20. Maximize the money you already have. In addition to gathering loose change and bills in your house and actually depositing them in a savings account (see tip #2) check to see if the accounts you have are really paying a competitive amount in interest. Chances are that if you are depositing the money in the savings account that funnels into your checking, you are losing big-time. Check online banks for competitive interest rates…some even pay a bonus for setting up a new account.

21. Hold a swap meet. Get the local moms and friends together for a toy and clothing swap meet. Here’s how it works: Everyone brings toys and clothing they no longer want that are still in good condition and puts it in a pile. Each person draws a number out of a bowl and then the lowest number selects first, then number two, then number three and so on until the pile is depleted. Once the pile is distributed, let the swapping begin. Make deals with other moms like, “I’ll trade my  Baby Gap overalls for your  Gymboree jumper”. One rule: Everyone has to go into it knowing they might not get everything they want and no hard feelings allowed. As long as you go into it with those expectations, it can be a fun social gathering too.

22. Save some real money with a mortgage overhaul. It’s one thing to call your company and ask if your adjustable rate home equity line interest rate can be lowered, but we’re talking a major redo. If you’ve been in your home for awhile and expect to stay for the next five years at least, this might be a great time to refinance your mortgage to save real money month after month. Resist, however, the temptation to take out your equity even to pay off bills. Instead, take the savings each month from your new rate and payment to pay down debt and get close to a paid-off mortgage sooner.

23. Avoid fees and save postage. Start paying bills automatically via direct debit. Almost all major creditors and utilities offer the option to pay automatically via a direct withdrawal from your checking account. This can be scary for people at first, but after doing this for the past four years, it has actually saved us so much money. Just think: if you have ten bills you pay regularly via the mail, you are probably accustomed to realizing almost too late that a bill is due and you forgot to pay it. Instead, don’t risk a late fee or additional fees for paying by phone and just set the bills up to withdraw the money automatically. Plus, those 120 stamps you use all year long will cost you even more this year as the rates increase. As of now, at 44 cents, you will save almost $52 in postage alone. I wouldn’t step over $52 in the street, would you? Why throw it away on postage when you don’t have to?

24. Have it delivered and save. A Sunday newspaper in my major metropolitan area has a cover price of $1.75 and is worth every penny considering all of the coupons in each issue. But we have it delivered to our door for only $37 a year! That’s only 72 cents an issue and it’s delivered directly to my door. Check with your local newspaper and ask for the yearly paid-in-advance rate. It’s lower than you think and saves you the effort of going somewhere else to pick up the paper. This also applies to magazines. Magazines in the store can be $3 or $4 apiece – that’s $36-$48 a year for just one magazine. Check online magazine stores for discounted subscriptions and watch freebie boards for free trial subscriptions. (For those in the Minneapolis are you can get free passes to the Water Park of America when you order a Star Tribune subscription through Pocket Your Dollars)

25. When you can’t buy…borrow. Not money, stuff! Everyone is experiencing some degree of difficulty in this turbulent economy, so why not start a neighborhood borrowing network? Each family offers up one item available for anyone in the network to borrow (like power washers, paint sprayers, lawn equipment, power tools, etc.) and when a family needs an item, they email the member with that item and borrow it for seven days. Make some ground rules about borrowing terms and schedules and make sure that every member knows how to operate the item safely. An online document system like  Google Docs can be used to maintain a list of members, equipment and who has what in their possession. Save on one tool rental a year and each family could save $50 or more.

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Jen Knox knows how to stretch a dollar and run an efficient home and small business. For more tips and articles on saving money and time, visit her site at  http://www.automaticmoms.com.

Your turn: How else do you save money during tough economic times?

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