Save $$ Every Month This Year!
Socking away spare change. Downloading coupons. Saying no to afternoon coffee stops. Sound familiar? Chances are, you've resolved to be wiser, savvier, and more discerning with your money in 2011. That puts you in good company: Two-thirds of Motherboard Moms say they hope to get out of debt, save for specific projects, or eliminate excess spending this year. All noble goals—and ones that beg for some careful planning and a few how-to reminders from finance experts. Look no further: Here's a 12-month plan loaded with strategies to help you save in ways both large and small, throughout the year. You'll be happily surprised by how easy it can be.
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Adults who are expert savers usually started honing their money skills when they were young, says Kelly Campbell, founder of Campbell Wealth Management. That's why it's never too early to get together as a family to set savings goals for the year and to discuss wants vs. needs. To help kids see how saving really works, set them up with some shoeboxes or jars. They can see how much they save for charitable giving, short-term goals (a new Wii game, for example), or long-term goals (college tuition) adds up. "To make their short-term goals understandable, make them concrete," says Susan Beacham, a family finance expert and founder of Money Savvy Generation: "Have kids draw a picture of their savings goal item, then label it with a monetary value."
This month, turn your thermostat down 5 to 10 degrees at night (or program it to do so automatically) for a 5 to 10 percent savings on your monthly bill. Going away for the weekend? Lower it to 55 degrees.
That gift card that Aunt Barbara gave you for Christmas—for a store you never set foot in? Trade it in at exchange sites like giftcardrescue.com or plasticjungle.com for cards redeemable at retailers you shop regularly.
Draw up a new household budget this month, using mint.com or another free online tool. If you've got some specific savings goals in mind, like a vacation or home renovation, consider opening accounts for these and having money directly transferred from your paycheck or checking each month. (Check with your bank for options.) "We put away just $30 a week, but it really helps us at Christmas," says one Motherboard Mom. "Another $30 is put into a separate account for our regular savings," she says.
← Small change Skip the salon and cut your kids' hair (find tips at parents.com/kids/hygiene/how-to-cut-your-kids-hair/), for a family savings of $25 or more.
Have the kids make their own valentines out of scrap paper, old magazines, and other craft-friendly household materials. A homemade "Be mine" can be just as meaningful as the store-bought variety.
Take a "spend break" this month to help identify the little budget-wreckers that really add up, like that mid-afternoon venti latte or pair of on-sale shoes you didn't really need. At the end of the month, add up your savings: you're bound to be impressed. Keep that sum—and what you might do with it—in mind when little temptations strike in the future.
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Slash energy bills by unplugging unused small appliances, forgoing the dry cycle on your dishwasher, and turning off unused lights. Everyone in the family can be assigned an energy-saving responsibility. "A child can make a great sergeant-in-arms over electricity—he or she will be relentless about making sure the older siblings turn off lights," says financial expert Beacham.
Be on the lookout for great buys on kids' clothes at garage sales and church rummage sales this month (as the weather warms, the sales usually start). You'll walk away with barely worn outfits, shoes, and more. For even more savings, sell the clothes your own kids have outgrown, too, and put the earnings back into the wardrobe budget.
Getting a tax refund? Super—but before you run right out and stimulate the economy, sock some of it away to meet those savings goals you set in January, then donate a portion to a favorite organization (it's a write-off for next year's taxes). If you're getting a large refund, consider reducing your withholding, says personal finance expert Ray Lucia: "Instead, use the extra money each payday to pay down high interest-rate credit card debt or fund a Roth IRA." Also, if you tend to rely sporadically on credit to make ends meet, withholding less (and having the funds in hand monthly to cover costs) may be a better strategy. If you have no refund coming your way and you'd like a little windfall to meet a financial goal, "increase the amount withheld from your paycheck so you get a small one next year," Lucia suggests.
← Small change Be sandal-ready but budget-savvy by booking a pedi appointment—with a friend. By doing your own toes with a friend you can save as much as $40 a month.
Planning to don those strappy shoes on...spring break in Paris—or a warm-weather vacay?? Ooh la la! Instead of paying high hotel or resort rates, search airbnb.com for amazing deals on home sublets in your destination.
You're almost halfway through the year—time to revisit your savings goals and adjust as necessary. Have the kids assess their savings projects too. "Checks and balances are extremely important," says financial expert Campbell. "You can put it all in an Excel spreadsheet and at the meeting, ask, 'Did we hit our goals, and if not, why are we short?'" Just checking in and being aware of how you're doing can keep you on track.
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The weather's gorgeous—so get out in it, and do your errands by bike or foot. You'll save on gas and boost fitness, which pays off in lower health care costs now and in the future.
Pinch toilet paper rolls so they roll less easily. You'll curb overuse and save up to $5 a month.
When organizing summer recreation, steer your kids toward the same programs: Camps and kids' classes often offer sibling discounts of $10 to $15 per class, says Stacey Bradford, author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents. But don't feel like you have to snag a spot in that acrobatics class everyone's talking about, says financial pro Bradford. "You can easily save $200 or more a season by limiting the leagues and classes," she says. Take advantage of freebies—playgrounds, movies in the park, and backyard playdates.
← Small change Pay cash exclusively this month. "Research shows that you spend less when you pay with cash than with plastic because it hurts more," says nationally syndicated talk-show host and author Dave Ramsey. For a real summer challenge, Ramsey suggests "an envelope system to help you stick to your budget: Mark envelopes with the names of items you can pay cash for, like gas, groceries, eating out, entertainment, and clothing. Put the amount of cash you budgeted for that topic for the month in the envelope. When the envelope is empty, stop spending."
When you use cash, chuck all the coins you receive as change into a jar. At the end of the month, deposit the stash into savings—or just put it toward summer fun.
← Big picture Be sure you're using credit in the smartest possible way. Point-of-purchase offers for store cards are alluring (30 percent off my purchase today? Oh, why not), but watch out, says Bradford: "They tend to have a very low spending limit, which can end up hurting your credit utilization score. You're probably better off skipping it." If your card isn't paying off regularly in rewards you can use on everyday necessities like groceries and gas, shop for a better one: bankrate.com, cardhub.com, and creditcards.com are good card-comparison resources, says Bradford.
Offset a seasonal spike in fuel costs by organizing daily activities into the fewest trips possible. Have a teen driver in your home? Ask her to make a quick grocery run on the way home from her summer job. "I can't tell you how often parents tell me they're just dizzy from all the trips they make," says Beacham. "It's pretty amazing how far a tank of gas can go when you consolidate errands."
Improve your car's gas mileage by keeping tires inflated to the PSI (pounds per square inch) rating recommended by the manufacturer. Driving on under-inflated tires can set you back an extra $300 to $500 a year, according to fueleconomy.gov.
← Big picture It's yard sale season, so get in on the action—and then put your profits into savings or toward your back-to-school or holiday-shopping budgets. Boost your sale turnout by making it a multifamily affair with neighbors, if possible. Advertise on community billboards and listservs at least a week in advance, and mention your most enticing items. Price competitively, but remember: You can always go down, but never up, on an item. A great way to get the kids involved? A lemonade (or cold bev of choice) stand will be a hit with shoppers on a hot summer day.
Nothing beats the dog-day doldrums like a good film or book, but those media purchases can add up. Hit the public library for DVDs and books instead. Many systems allow you to browse online and put items on hold—no hunting the stacks required. And if you have a stash of personal books or movies you no longer want, trade them in for different ones or for cash.
Although you may have school supplies on your mind, now is really the time to shop off-season sales for wardrobe basics, says mom blogger Erika Lehmann of chicshopperchick.com. "Staples like T-shirts, denim, bathing suits, and even some shoes will all go on sale in the off-season and can save you 50 to 80 percent over in-season prices!" says the bargain-hunting pro.
With back-to-school excitement comes a dose of dread: staying out of the red with the inevitable list of must-have supplies. Fear not. It's smart to take advantage of sales, but bear in mind that many items will be deeply discounted in just a few weeks. So keep last year's backpack in service until the new ones go on sale—and don't drop your entire clothes budget before the kids have done the inevitable trend scouting. "Let them go to school and see what kids are wearing," Bradford suggests. "That way, you'll have some money left over to let them indulge."
← Small change The time-tested, proven answer to school-night dinner dilemmas? Pizza. And you can serve it up on the way-cheap with a store-bought crust and sauce, plus your (healthy!) toppings of choice. You'll save $10 to $20 over takeout—and have fun watching the kids prep the pie.
Don't take the kids shopping with you! "I'm not a fan of bringing kids along to the store because that can lead to impulse purchases," says Bradford. Instead, browse online together. The kids can offer input without being swept away by store promotions.
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Couponing is practically an extreme sport for some, but don't worry—you can take advantage of those money-savers without too much effort. Have coupons for products you buy regularly sent to you by sites like thecouponclippers.com, and cruise other coupon sites at the beginning of the month (or week) for those items. Plan shopping trips around double-coupon days and watch for sales. And use coupons for the smallest size allowed for the greatest savings. Don't hesitate to ask the grocer questions to set up your couponing plan: "Many merchants will actually tell you about sales ahead of time and give you tips to maximize your savings," says Cathy Freund, couponing expert and owner of Money Mailer in South Kansas City. Visit the websites for brands you love. You're highly likely to find discounts and coupons there.
Take 10 percent off your electric bill by turning down your water heater from 140°F to 120°F. Insulate your water tank to cut heat loss by up to 45 percent, which can save you from 4 percent to 9 percent in water-heating costs, according to energysavers.gov.
Skip foods marketed as especially for toddlers or kids, such as toddler cookies or crackers. The markup on these products is typically 50 percent, says Bradford, while the "adult" versions are perfectly acceptable at any age.
← Big picture No college account yet? Open it now. "A 529 is one of the best plans," says Bradford. Then, if you feel comfortable, you'll be poised to ask grandparents to help fund it with a portion of their gift budget for their grandkids during the coming holidays.
Chuck some money into your flexible spending account when the opportunity arises. The money you save from all that tax-free co-pays will add up throughout the coming year.
Clear out closets and toy boxes, separating the castoffs into "resell" and "donate" categories. Clothing in good condition can earn you some extra holiday cash at consignment shops, and you can squeeze in one last deduction on this year's taxes on the giveaways.
← Big picture Draw up a firm holiday budget and gift list, and then leave the credit cards at home when you shop, taking just enough cash to cover the items you're looking for. Impulse purchases don't stand a chance.
You know those coupon books kids always give parents—with vouchers for a room cleanup, a car wash, and so on? Take this page from their playbook. Your child will likely revel as much in brandishing his "night off from dish duty" voucher as he does his new play sword—and you won't have spent a dime.
Forgo those immediately discarded gift tags and make your own.