Smart Tips On Saving Money

Katie Young
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Wednesday - September 17, 2008

Bills, bills, bills. I hear a lot of complaints these days from my friends about the number of bills they have to pay.

The thing with bills is once you start getting them, it never stops. Bills for everything from your mortgage to your credit card to your car need to be paid on time every month.

It is a difficult burden that causes a great deal of stress for many. A recent Associated Press article maintained that Hawaii’s economy has been hit hard by falling tourism, higher gasoline and electricity prices, costlier groceries and more than 5,300 layoffs since the beginning of the year.

Some people are forced to file for bankruptcy because they can’t make their mortgage payments, or they might be able to scrape together their mortgage but they can’t handle their credit card debt.

It’s a scary reality for many. But even for those who aren’t close to the bankruptcy line yet, saving money during these rough economic times is still a top priority. We’re all looking for quick ways to cut our expenses and hold on to more of our hard-earned cash. Even if it’s just a few dollars, it all adds up.

According to an article on Yahoo by Leslie Haggin Geary, there are many ways to make quick cuts in your monthly bills.

The Hawaiian Electric Company has shown us one way: energy-efficient light bulbs. They might cost more than traditional bulbs, but they wind up saving money on your electric bill because they use two-thirds less energy and can last up to 10 times longer. My father always told me to “Turn off the lights when you leave the room!” Daddy dearest was oh-so right. Want to be even more energy efficient? What’s wrong with watching TV in the dark or turning off the tube altogether and reading a book?

To help with your gasoline costs, Geary also says to adopt good driving habits and stop speeding. For example, if you typically drive at 70 mph instead of 55 mph, you’re lowering your vehicle’s fuel efficiency by as much as 17 percent, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Also, if you’re hauling around 100 extra pounds of junk, you’re lowering your fuel efficiency by up to 2 percent, says the ACEEE.

When it comes to food and groceries, I have to say this is probably where I spend the majority of my money. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, Americans spend an average of $6,111 per year on food. In Hawaii we must spend even more for extra costs involved with shipping food to our isolated state.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, families can slash their food budget by $240 if they switch from pricey meals to lower-cost options. For example, says Geary, supplement smaller portions of meat with cheaper items like rice or pasta.

Also, go to the store less frequently. Plan out your meals for the week and use a shopping list instead of trying to run to the store every other day. The shopping list also helps with those “impulse buys.” So make the list and stick to it. You can also cut costs by purchasing what’s in season. Don’t pay top dollar for foods just because you’re having a momentary craving.

When it comes to big things like banking and credit cards, it’s wise to comparison shop, says Geary. Switch banks, credit cards or brokerage accounts that drain your finances by switching to competitors offering better deals.

Also, watch for the hidden fees involved with taking your cash from that ATM at the mall. Whenever possible, use your own bank’s ATM machine and take out more money at once so you won’t be stuck needing cash at an inopportune moment.

Don’t forget to scrutinize your bank statements as well. More than two-thirds of lenders say they can change your rates “at any time, for any reason.” Double check your statements so you are sure you’re being charged the same amount and also check for any fraudulent charges.

Finally, don’t forget about your taxes. It doesn’t hurt to start early.

Reduce your taxes by taking advantage of a first-time home-buyer credit, claim a homeowner’s tax break or get breaks if you’re a low-income earner. Geary says one out of four eligible taxpayers fails to claim the earned-income tax credit that is dependent on someone’s earnings, marriage status or children.

The bottom line is there are many ways to save. In these times, we can’t be doing things the same way we used to. Use the MidWeek grocery inserts to find the best deals, cut coupons, clean your car or turn off the lights - think about the little things that can eventually make a big difference.

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