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Get a Cheapskate Makeover

12 simple ways to get your cheap on

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En español | Have you ever heard a squeaky-tight little voice in the back of your head saying something like this? "You spend too much money! You really need to cut back."

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That's your Inner Miser. He lives in the part of your brain that realizes that spending more than you can afford and wasting money is ultimately making you miserable. If your Inner Miser's voice is getting louder, maybe you're ready for a cheapskate makeover. Here are some simple ways to get started. Some of the savings may be small — and some not so small — but these savings will add up over time. And every time you painlessly save a penny, it inspires you to save another.

1. Skip the Grocery Cart: Running into the grocery store for just a "few items"? Avoid using a shopping cart or basket. If you have to carry everything you buy, you'll be much less likely to pick up things not on your shopping list. A study by the University of Wisconsin showed that shoppers making a "quick trip" to the grocery store usually bought 54 percent more than they planned.  

2. Drive Without Spilling a Drop: Keep a cup filled to the brim with water in the driver's side cupholder of your car. Make a little game out of trying to drive without letting your cup runneth over. This will help you to slow down and avoid jackrabbit-type starts, resulting in better gas mileage. Over time, more fuel efficient — and safer — driving will become second nature, and you'll be able to skip the cup of water.

3. Pack a "Big Bag" Lunch: You can save a lot of money — almost $1,000 per year, by my calculations — if you bring your lunch to work every day rather than dining out. But if you're like me, many mornings you're just too rushed to pack a lunch. Instead, try carrying an entire bag of groceries to the office with you every Monday. Keep the loaf of bread in your file cabinet and the cold cuts and fruit in the office fridge. You'll find that eating in is the most convenient and economical option.

Next: Take advantage of thrift stores. >>

4. Good Gifts, Good Prices, Good Cause: Finding the perfect one-of-a-kind gift can be costly both in terms of time and money. There are some real vintage treasures at bargain prices to be found at thrift and secondhand stores, but who has the time to look? Goodwill Industries has an online auction site ( where you can bid on special "finds" from Goodwill stores across the country.

5. Go Generic: Buying generic and store-brand products instead of brand names will usually save you 20 percent or more, and many times people report liking generics better. In many cases, the product inside the package is identical and sometimes even produced by the same manufacturer as the brand-name counterpart. You owe it to your bank account to at least give store brands a try, starting with the products you buy most often.

6. Clean Something You Already Own: One of my "Miser Advisers" says that whenever his kids want to buy something new, he tells them to first go clean something they already own. He says that the act of sprucing up a possession they already have usually convinces them that they really don't need something new.

7. Employee Cellphone Plans: If you have a cellphone, check with your employer's phone company. Many companies — including Verizon, U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint — offer discounted plans (sometimes as high as 20 percent) to employees of their corporate customers.

8. Make Mine a Cheapskate Spritzer: Based on my calculations, the average family of four could save about $800 per year by simply ordering tap water when dining in restaurants or carrying out fast food. Sodas, coffee and — most of all — alcohol have the highest markup rates in the restaurant business. To spice things up, try ordering a "cheapskate spritzer" — ask for a slice of lemon in your glass of water and add a little sweetener at the table.

Next: Why you should carry around big bills. >>

9. See the Light: We've all heard that compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) — those newfangled corkscrewlike light bulbs — save us money. They use about 75 percent less energy and last about five times as long as regular lightbulbs. Even though they cost a bit more, they'll save you about $10 per year for every regular bulb you replace, and even more for lights you leave on the longest. Start by replacing those bulbs first. But here's a CFL tip you might not have heard:  Many local utility companies have programs offering customers a few free CFLs to encourage people to give them a try. Check with your power company to see whether it's giving away any freebies.  

10. Can You Break a Hundred? Numerous studies have shown that you're likely to spend less when you force yourself to pay with cash instead of a credit card. Psychologically, it's just harder to part with actual greenbacks. Take it one step further and try carrying only $50 and $100 bills, which are really difficult to part with and sometimes hard to break.

11. Go Overseas: Taking an exotic vacation abroad might not be a good way to save money, but try doing it a couple times a week through your evening meals. Many ethnic recipes — including Hispanic, Asian, African and Mediterranean — tend to be less expensive to prepare than typical American fare, since they often rely less on expensive meat and dairy products. As a result, they're often healthier, too. Check out ethnic cookbooks from the public library or go online to a free recipe website where you can search by country or region — and get cookin'.

12. Host a Naked Lady Party: Ladies, rather than go shopping for new clothes, how about having your same-sized girlfriends over for dinner (potluck, of course) and asking them to bring along clothing they no longer want so that you can all swap? Guys, I suppose you could do the same thing, although sending an invitation to a Naked Man Party to your buddies might not go over too well. Instead, maybe you can swap some power tools or gym equipment.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.

Also of interest:

What are the best deals for fall shopping?
Learn more ways to save on household expenses.
• Check out the AARP home page every day for tips on travel, healthy living, and great deals.

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