Friday, April 18, 2014

Tune up your budget and stop wasting money: 18 money-saving tips

"A penny saved is a penny earned," - Benj. Franklin.

By JULIA ANDERSON
It seems as though the basic costs of living --- food, clothing, mortgage rates, rent, insurance, cable TV --- are all going up. Those 60 and single, those retired on fixed-budgets and those who would rather spend their money on travel or other special indulgence and not so much on day-to-day basics, may need a spending tune-up.
It's easy to make those tough spending decisions when you're on a tight budget but if you're in the comfortable middle-class, expenses may be creeping higher without your notice. Are you a frog in a pan of water turned to boil? I hope not.
Below are tips gleaned from experts including those at Motley Fool on how to stop blowing your money. Some of these tips are familiar. Others you may not have thought about.
1. Let's start with our children and grandchildren. Your own financial welfare comes first even if you'd like to give money to struggling family members. Is the money going to their household expenses or is your gift a one-time donation that will help them get to a new level of self-sufficiency? Say no, if the gift is jeopardizing your own longer-term financial welfare and only helping them tread water, not get ahead.
2. Bad (little) habits. We've heard many times about cutting back on our $4 daily coffee habit. That expense adds up to hundreds of dollars a year. We all know about paying off expensive credit card debt. That's a no brainer.
According to nerdwallet.com, Americans owe $11.68 trillion in debt, an increase of 3.7 percent from 2013. Stop using credit cards and debit cards....use only cash. Limit your spending to a fixed cash amount each week. When you're out, you're out.
3. Wasted energy. In my area, the power company raised its residential electric rate by 5 percent this year and wants another 5 percent increase next year. That's more than twice the overall inflation rate. You can reduce your power bill by one-third if you use recommendations offered by Energy Star experts at www.energystar.gov. Simple things like turning off all electrical devices in your home at night, installing a programmable thermostat that automatically lowers indoor temperatures at night or when you're gone. Simple things like turning down the temperature on the water heater and doing full loads of laundry in cold water will save you big money on the power bill.
4. Unused gym memberships. How many of us buy a membership but fail to use it. You're not alone. It turns out only 18 percent of us actually use our gym membership on a consistent basis. If you're not using it, ditch it. Click here for more.
5. Wean yourself off your vices: Gambling, drinking and smoking. Did you know that the average American loses almost $400 per year to gambling? That shocked me. And we spend on average 1 percent of our total income on alcohol. That includes that lovely Pinot Noir at Trader Joe's. That's $1 for every $100 we spend. Look for online tips for wine savings. Click here. For instance, take advantage of fall discounts as the new grape crop is harvested.
Tobacco is getting really expensive thanks to rising taxes. Stop smoking save money and improve your health.
6. Food waste and expense. We toss out an average of $529 per person a year in unwanted snacks and meals, according to a savings tips report from Motley Fool. Never mind what we spend on expensive organics. Food costs are going up thanks to drought, beef and dairy shortages. Get a handle on your grocery bill. I avoid Costco because I end up buying "bargains" I don't really need. Going to Costco requires discipline. Sometimes I flunk that test.
Food waste is a big one, especially if it's organic bananas at 84 cents a pound and regular bananas are 54 cents.
I've just discovered a company that is knocking traditional brick and mortar retail food businesses on their heads. The company, Zaycon Foods, based in Spokane, Wash., avoids the expense of retail store operations but instead delivers pre-ordered bulk food purchases to certain locations each week. The arrangement offers huge savings on meat, as much as $2 a pound less than at the local Safeway. If you're organized, this may be the way to go. Here's the Seattle Times story on Zaycon.
7. Some people I know (not me) are hooked on "speedy shipping." We like instant gratification.When we buy something online we want it now. Katherine Muniz writing for Motley Fool, says that expensive fast-delivery deals cost money and are a bad habit. As well, online purchases late at night should be banned from your home computer. That late-night spontaneous purchase also may not be so smart in the light of day. Delayed reward is something we should be teaching our grandchildren.
8. Brokerage fees on trades and account management fees.  Do you know how much your broker is charging you to make an investment transaction on your behalf? If you don't, ask. Does that stock mutual fund have an up-front 5 percent fee? What about stock trades at $100 a pop? How much more ahead would you be, if you did it yourself at a discount Web site? If you're working, do you know the management fees applied to your 401(k) funds? Over the years, these fees can take a real chunk out of your nest egg. If the product being offered to you by a broker or investment adviser is confusing, get a second opinion. Murky and complex products are meant to keep them in business. They may or may not be the best thing for your. Click here to see my sixtyandsingle.com post on this topic.
9. Deal Web sites. I don't know about you but I get email messages every day that offer me huge discounts on deals....laser hair removal, restaurant discounts. Buy now, the clock is ticking! This is stuff I may never end up using. Make sure you will use what you buy. It's the same with discount coupons. Will I ever use them before they expire?
10. ATM fees. How often do we use our debit card in a machine other than at our own bank? According to Consumerist.com, the fee for using an out-of-network machine can be as much as $5 per whack. Can you believe that those fees add up to $7 billion a year for all of us.
11.Designer clothes for babies! Who are we kidding?!! Kids out grow stuff in no time. Yes, you want to do something special because you're a grandmother but please, why start the kid out with the wrong message --- that how much something costs is not important. Women are particularly vulnerable to this living in the moment stuff. Hey put it on a credit card. You get the picture. Don't be fooled by the free shipping on a $135 Burberry dress at Nordstrom.com.
12. Unused gift cards. I'm kind of "over" gift cards. Why not just give cash? Most people enjoy getting money the most as a gift. After all, you can use it for whatever you like! After money, gift cards are a popular choice. But do they work? It turns out, an estimated $41 billion worth of gift cards went unredeemed in the six years from 2005 to 2011. Give cash, not gift cards!! Before buying a gift card, read the fine print, check the expiration date, treat the card like cash. Click here for more tips.
13. Buying warranties. Every time I buy some new electronic device, I'm offered a warranty in case it breaks. I guess buying a warranty makes sense if something is going to break. Consumer Reports tells us most products don't break during the two to three year time span covered by an average service plan. Also retailers keep 50 percent or more of what you're charged a warranty. Don't bite.
14. Lottery tickets. I think about buying a lottery ticket but I hardly ever get around to doing it. I know that some people are hooked. In 2011, we spent $66.5 billion on lottery tickets, an increase of nearly 10 percent from the year before. Buying a lottery ticket once in awhile can be fun, but if you're buying them every week, that's money down the drain. The chance of winning is one in 175 million. That's way worse odds than being killed by an asteroid. Eight signs you are a gambling addict, click here.
15. Clothes. Since I retired, I've been careful about my money and find myself cruising through a Goodwill store every so often. It's fun when you find something that's a real deal. The same goes for vintage clothing stores. But sometimes I come home with something I end up not wearing. But I have trouble justifying regular retail shopping when there are great bargains can be had at Goodwill.  How to find good stuff at Goodwill, click here.
16.. Traffic tickets. Here's one from the Motley Fool list I hadn't thought of. Speeding and traffic tickets. But it makes sense. I once got two speeding tickets in 10 days. They added up to about $400. Plus when my insurance company found out, my car insurance bill went up. I'm still working that off.
Did you know that one in every six Americans is fined a speeding ticket every year? That equates to roughly 41 million tickets a year, and 100,000 tickets per day. In California, 16 million tickets are issued each year with an average fine of $250. If you live in a metropolitan area, your car license plate is probably getting scanned. Any violations may just show up in the mail with a photo of your car. Speeding ticket fines have become a revenue stream for hard-pressed states and cities. According to the National Motorists Association, speeding tickets generate between $4.5 billion and $6 billion a year throughout the U.S.
 17. Cable. When I first became 60 and single, I dumped my satellite cable plan and saved $60 a month. I've never found a good reason to go back, except maybe during baseball season. Premium cable packages are expensive. Trim them down to the basics or look into another Internet hook-up provider. Fees seem to be going up at twice the overall inflation rate.
Get your smart nephew to help you. Try a basic Netflix.com combo of mailed movies and streaming video for under $20 a month. How to lower your cable-phone-Internet bill, click here.
18. And finally, beware of companies that sell financial products and services --- everything from reverse mortgages to credit reports, bank trust management accounts to insurance company annuities. These businesses spend an average of $54 per person on advertising and marketing their products every year. ($17 billion).  Meanwhile, nonprofits, professional organizations and the government only spend $2 per person on materials and messages meant to improve our collective financial literacy and help us avoid bad financial decisions.
Don't be taken in by "quick" solutions to your complicated money problems, by "returns" that are too good to be true or by even a family member who offers to buy your house and let you go on living there. Financial abuse is alive and well. Older people, usually women, are a favorite target.
It's up to all of us to be smart about our money and our financial futures. Don't waste it, save it.
Hey, April is Financial Literacy Month. I couldn't help myself.
- Cheers, Julia



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