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Living on a Budget
by AARP Education & Outreach, Updated May 2010
In these turbulent economic times, everyone is looking for ways to cut costs and save money. AARP can help. This worksheet offers 15 tips for cutting back on your monthly expenses right now. We've provided a rough estimate of what you might be able to save every month. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, so fill in the blank of "your actual savings" to keep track of how you're doing each month. Here are also some suggestions for tax savings and other longer-term ways to save money and several other resources and Web sites that you might find helpful.
1. Cut out one restaurant meal per week. Consider cooking one extra meal in per week rather than dining out, and you could save anywhere from $40.00 to $100.00 per month. You could even team up with friends to do a "meal swap." Estimated monthly savings: $40-100.$40.00-100.00.
2. Make your daily coffee at home. Specialty coffees can be delicious but pricey, running anywhere around $2-$5 per drink. You can save a bundle by replacing your weekday latte with home-made coffee. Estimated monthly savings: $20.00-50.00.
3. Use coupons at the grocery store. Do you wonder if clipping coupons is worth your time? Coupons can save you up to 10-20 percent off your grocery bill, so if you spend $200 - $400 per month, using coupons could save you as much as $20.00 to $40.00. It's best to only use coupons for items you normally use in order to maximize your savings. Consider signing up for a grocery store club card to save even more. Estimated monthly savings: $20.00-40.00.
4. Consider buying generic drugs. Did you know that generic drugs are sold at some retailers for as little as $4 per prescription? And the FDA requires generic drugs to have the same quality, strength, purity and stability as brand-name drugs. Generic drugs account for about one-half of all prescription drug purchases in the U.S. If you take two prescriptions per month, you could save anywhere from $20 - $40 per month (or much more) by purchasing the generic form. Estimated monthly savings: $20.00-40.00.
5. Rent a DVD rather than going out. Renting DVDs a few times a month can help you save for other monthly expenses, and you have healthy snacks instead of overpriced popcorn. Estimated monthly savings: $10.00-20.00.
6. Downsize from premium to basic cable. Premium cable channels that can run over $80 per month. By scaling back to basic cable, you can still receive many channels, while saving $20 to $40 monthly. Estimated monthly savings: $10.00-40.00.
7. Switch from premium to lower octane gas. At up to $3 per gallon, gas continues to take a huge bite out of monthly budgets. Use the lowest grade gas required for your car (check your owner’s manual). Premium gas can cost 20-50 cents more per gallon than standard, so filling up with a standard grade can save you $5 (on average) per tankful, or $10 if you fill up twice a month. Visit www.fueleconomy.gov for price comparisons in your area. Estimated monthly savings: $5.00-10.00.
8. Use public transportation or carpool to save on gas. By relying on public transportation rather than your car or carpooling, you might save a tank of gas per month (approximately $40), and help the environment at the same time! Estimated monthly savings: $40.00-60.00.
9. Keep your tires inflated and your engine tuned. Studies show that simply keeping your tires properly inflated and your engine tuned can save you over $100 per year in fuel. Estimated monthly savings: $5.00-10.00.
10. Use a "basic" cell phone plan with limited minutes.The average cell phone bill is $63 - $77 per month. Scaling back from a cell phone plan with loads of minutes (and bells and whistles that you don’t find necessary) to a basic plan with limited minutes can save you $20.00 – 30.00 per month. You’ll still have the peace of mind of having your cell phone, especially in case of emergency, but won’t have to pay for what you’re not using. Estimated monthly savings: $20.00-30.00.
11. Use a cell phone with prepaid minutes. Why pay for hundreds of dollars for cell phone minutes you're not using? With pre-paid cell phones, you will only pay for the minutes you use, saving you upwards of $30 per month. Estimated monthly savings: $20.00-30.00
12. Drop extra line services from your home phone. Extra services on your home phone, such as call waiting, can each cost around $50 per year. Check which services you’re currently signed up for and drop any that you don’t need on a regular basis. Estimated monthly savings: $5.00-10.00
13. Save big on your home energy costs. There are many ways to lower your home energy costs 10% or more, by turning down your thermostat; using appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines during non-peak hours; unplugging appliances when not in use, using ceiling fans instead of A/C; and much more. Find additional energy efficiency information at www.energysavers.gov. Estimated monthly savings: $25.00-100.00
14. Switch to a free-checking or one without a required minimum balance. Often times we stay with the same bank we used for years, out of convenience or habit. However, with familiarity can come high monthly service charges. Many banks offer checking accounts that are free, or ones that don’t have a minimum balance service charge, which can save you up to $10 per month, so consider shopping around. Visit www.bankrates.com. Estimated monthly savings: $5.00-10.00
15. Use only your bank's Automated Teller Machines. Use only your own bank's network of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and avoid costly fees from other banks, which can run $1.50 - $3.00 each time you withdraw money. If use an ATM once a week, save over $5-$10 per month by eliminating these extra charges. Estimated monthly savings: $5.00-10.00
For Tax Savings
Explore options if you are facing an unusual hardship situation such as job loss.
• The IRS may be able to adjust payments for back taxes, help you avoid defaulting on payment agreements or possibly defer collection action.
• Visit the IRS Web site to learn more about help for financially distressed taxpayers.
E-file to get your refund in as few as 10 days.
• Learn more about electronic tax filing and payment options.
Action Steps to Longer-Term Saving
Consider refinancing your mortgage
• The Consumer Federation of America's Web site says on a 15-year $100,000 fixed-rate mortgage, lowering the APR from 7% to 6.5% can save you more than $5,000 in interest over the life of the loan, and paying two points instead of three saves you an additional $1,000.
Learn how to lower your homeowner's insurance rates
• Talk to your insurer about raising your deductible.
Lower your auto insurance rates
• Lower your rates by raising your deductible.
• Contact your state insurance department, which can give you typical rates charged by different insurers. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has contact information for your state insurance regulator.
• Contact AARP’s Driver Safety Program to learn how you can reduce your car insurance rates as you become a safer driver.
Pay off your credit cards
• Make paying off your credit card debt a priority.
• Call your credit card company to negotiate on lower rate on your existing balance or shop around for a lower rate card.
Apply for financial assistance with your utility bills
• Check out AARP's guide to energy assistance available in your state.
• The US Department of Energy has many ideas about how you can save energy and stay warm.
• Get more information about how you can apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Improve your credit score. Higher credit scores can lead to lower interest rates:
• Read about Credit Scoring on the Federal Trade Commission's Web site.
Find out if less expensive health insurance is available.
• AARP's Money Matters Tip Sheet on Insuring Against Risk has more information and action steps.
Find out if you're paying the best price available for life insurance.
• AARP's Money Matters Tip Sheet on Life Insurance has more information about saving on life insurance rates.
• Real the consumer alert on life insurance rates from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. It's easy to find out how to contact your state insurance department.
Conduct an energy audit on your home.
• Find out how to conduct an energy audit from the U.S. Department of Energy.
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