When it comes to getting your financial house in order, sometimes a simple spending resolution or two can make a big difference.
Consider adding some of my "Top 10 for 2010" money-saving resolutions to your list in the new year:
1. Review Your Insurance Policies: It pays to conduct an annual review all of your insurance policies carefully and discuss cost-saving possibilities with your insurance agent. You might find that you have some coverage you no longer need—or didn't even know you had—or that you're eligible for some type of new discount or other incentive. "Bundling" policies through a single insurance company can often lower the total price you pay.
2. Use Up Gift Cards: Did you know that every year billions of dollars worth of gift cards expire unused or lose value? Make a point to use your gift cards (including store credits and rebates) for your very next purchase, before the cards expire or lose value. If nothing else, use your gift cards to get a jump on next year's holiday shopping.You can sell them online (see www.plasticjungle.com, www.unusedgiftcards.com, and similar sites), or donate them to charity (check with individual charities to see if your preferred causes accept donations of unused gift cards).
3. Stop Drinking Bottled Water: According to a New York Times article, you can spend up to $1,400 a year by drinking only bottled water. If you’re content to drink from the faucet, you can do so for about 49 cents. Use the calculator at www.newdream.org to calculate your savings based on actual consumption. It's also worth noting that public tap water is subject to far greater safety standards and inspections than most bottled water.
4. Cancel Your Gym Membership: How's that for a contrary-sounding New Year's resolution? Here's the catch: Go to a local thrift store, buy an inexpensive used bicycle, and then ride it over to the gym to cancel your membership. Bicycling or walking when you run errands will keep you physically and fiscally fit. Same goes for doing your own household chores. The average gym membership now costs about $600 per year.
5. Kick Your Bad Habits: What better New Year's resolution than to kick bad habits like smoking, drinking, and gambling? These cost you money now, but also in the future, because of the health, medical, and other personal problems they cause down the road. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day is probably costing you about $1,800 a year. Buying a case of beer a week is likely to cost you more than $1,000 a year. A few lottery tickets a week is probably costing you hundreds of dollars every year.
6. Cut the Grass: Nobody loves their lawns like we Americans. But considering the water, pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutant-spewing four-cycle lawn mowers they require, our lawns really aren't as green as they look. With U.S. lawn-care services now a $12 billion annual industry, our lawns are cutting much of the green out of our wallets, too. Reduce your lawn space by half by returning it to nature. Mulch or plant a no-maintenance ground cover, and you could trim $500 off the thousand dollars a year you probably spend now. Mother Nature will thank you, too.
7. Paper Cuts: The typical U.S. household spends about $400 on paper products each year. Most of those products wind up in the trash can or recycling bin. Resolve to cut your paper use in half by using cloth napkins and towels instead of paper ones and real plates and cups rather than disposable. Think twice before you press the print button on your home computer. You'll save about $200 a year. The non-paper alternatives are more economical and environmentally friendly, even after factoring in laundering of cloth towels and napkins.
8. Meat-Free Days: The typical American eats more than 200 pounds of meat per year. That represents an increase of 50 pounds since the 1960s and is far more meat than the healthy diet recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (see www.mypyramid.gov). Vow to make one or two days a week meat-free. You'll likely become healthier because of it, and wealthier, too, since meat typically costs more than comparable non-meat proteins.
9. A Bright Idea: We've all seen those crazy, corkscrew-like, energy-saving light bulbs, but most of us still don't use them, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Yes, CFLs (compact-fluorescent lamps) do cost more (about $3 each) than regular incandescent light bulbs and, indeed, take a few seconds to get up to full candle strength. But CFLs save you serious money over time.They last eight to 15 times longer than regular bulbs and use about 75 percent less electricity. DOE estimates that you save about $30 for each incandescent bulb you replace with a CFL (that is, over the lifetime of the CFL).
10. Garbage Out, Garbage In: Time and again here in the Savings Challenge, we've discussed how being organized is a key to cutting household spending. Decide to get rid of one item (preferably by selling, donating, swapping, or recycling it) before you buy a new item. Not only will it help you de-clutter your life, but I'd bet it will make you spend less, too. When you see how much stuff you already have, it's harder to get excited about shopping for more.
Remember, the easiest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your wallet. Here's to a frugal-but-fun 2010.
Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.