En español | Despite the improving economy, consumers still find that their budgets are squeezed.
Soaring gas prices and higher Social Security payroll taxes are nibbling away at U.S. household savings.
Families are shelling out more to cover basic expenses, and at the same time taking in less.
The spike in gasoline — prices rose by 45 cents a gallon in January alone — emptied consumers' wallets quicker. And the decline in wages hasn't helped, either. Personal incomes plunged 3.6 percent in January, and disposable income dropped 4 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
To take the sting out of higher costs, consider these 10 steps to shore up your bottom line:
1. Save at the pump
Go to sites like gasbuddy.com and fueleconomy.gov to find local gas stations advertising the cheapest price per gallon. You could save as much as 40 cents per gallon. And while you're there, check your tire pressure. Flatter tires can decrease fuel efficiency.
2. Best plastic
The website cardhub.com released its list of the best credit cards that offer gas rewards. Some are affiliated with the gasoline companies; others give rewards at the pump for using them at department stores, supermarkets and other establishments.
3. Online repair parts
You can buy auto parts for less online than what car repair shops may charge. Go to sites like autopartswarehouse.com or partsgeek.com to compare costs. Find a mechanic who is willing to install parts purchased online.
4. Carpool to work
If you can't find a colleague at work to share the ride, consider using erideshare.com to connect with someone in your area. It can save you thousands of dollars each year.
5. Morning pick-me-up
Instead of spending $5 for your daily cup of coffee at a local shop or in your company's cafeteria, make it at home and take it to work. Possible savings: $25 a week.
6. Carry coupons
If you're not the clipping-coupons-from-your-newspaper type, no worries. Before you head to the grocery story, print out coupons from sites like couponmom.com and coupons.com. Or do an online search for coupons — it'll bring up dozens of sites.
7. Senior discounts
Being older has its perks at some supermarkets and local food stores, which offer unadvertised discounts of up to 10 percent. Ask at your store.
8. Retail rescue
Couponsherpa.com, retailmenot.com and other websites pool the best printable discounts from retailers like Kohl's, Walmart, Gap and Best Buy. Some have mobile apps that let you scan bar codes with your smartphone or tablet computer.
9. Unplug it
Computers, televisions and other devices and appliances burn energy when they're plugged into outlets. So when they're not in use (this goes for cellphone and laptop chargers, too), unplug your stuff.
10. Cool down
If you're away from home for most of the day in wintertime, lower your thermostat to 58 degrees. The Alliance to Save Energy says you can save 3 percent on your heating bill for each degree you lower the thermostat.
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