It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. Even if you're
all tapped out by the holidays, you can regularly "discover"
an extra $10, $20 or $50 in your bank account with a little help
from the experts.
Here are 16 ways to find $50 -- or more -- in your
1. Accept free money.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But employees constantly pass
up matching funds from employers for everything from retirement
savings to day care expenses. When Cherise Oleson decided to have
corrective eye surgery, her husband Mark, director of the Iowa
State University Financial Counseling Clinic, enrolled in his
employer's medical savings account program. The plan allows the
couple to pay for the surgery in pretax dollars -- saving them
one-third the cost of the $3,500 surgery. Many companies offer
similar accounts for dental and child care expenses, and the programs
are a great deal if you have regular expenses -- like child care
-- or anticipate elective surgery or dental expenses in the coming
year. Similarly, take advantage of matching programs for retirement
accounts, too. If you're 30 this year, and getting a 6 percent
return on your retirement savings, each dollar your employer puts
in will be worth nearly $8 when you turn 65.
2. Put on a sweater.
Turn down your thermostat one degree and you will save 2 percent
to 3 percent from your monthly energy bill, says Alvin Ubell,
co-author of Save
Energy, Save Money. If you have a winter power bill of
$100 and you crank the dial back just 5 degrees, you'll find an
extra $15 in your checking account each month -- and make a quick
$50 between now and spring thaw. Want to find an extra $5 to $12
a month? Turn the water heater down, too.
3. Deep six PMI. Planning
to refinance your home? Get rid of private mortgage insurance
(PMI) while you're at it, says Brian J. Surette, a senior economist
with Freddie Mac. As long as you've covered at least 20 percent
of your home's original cost -- either in down payment, equity
or both -- you don't have to carry PMI. How much you save depends
on the value of your home. But on a medium-priced home -- in the
neighborhood of $139,000 nationally -- PMI runs $40 to $70 a month,
according to the Mortgage
Insurance Companies of America, a mortgage industry trade
4. Pay your credit cards on
time. Sure, it's tempting to let those bills slide a week
or two, but in this case time really is money, says David Bendix,
president of the Garden City, New York-based Bendix Financial
Group. "For some people, this can be a couple of hundred
dollars," Bendix says.
5. Go early. From matinee
movies to Broadway shows to early bird dinners, showing up ahead
of the crowd nets a significant savings. Plan on seeing two movies
a month? Take a date in the evening, and you'll pay at least $14
before you even hit the popcorn counter. Switch to a matinee,
and you get the equivalent of one trip to the theater for free.
6. Pay your dues (annually).
From insurance to magazine subscriptions to gym membership,
paying fees annually usually nets you a nice chunk of change.
When Elaine Biech joined a gym, she had a choice of paying $25
each month -- a total of $300 annually -- or $175 upfront. "The
reason these places want [payment upfront] is that they have cash-flow
problems," said Biech, author of The
Consultant's Quick Start Guide: An Action Plan for Your First
Year in Business. Biech weighed the options and figured
out that even if she skips visiting the gym here and there, she's
still getting five months of membership for free.
7. Take a hike. In
New York, where transit is pricey, CPA Barry Picker often walks
or bikes to his job site. "My office is only a mile from
my house," says Picker, author of Barry
Picker's Guide to Retirement Distribution Planning. Picker
figures he saves roughly $45 a month -- and loses a few pounds
in the process.
8. Don't throw anything away.
Clearing out your closets or bookshelves? Donate or sell
anything usable. "Even a sum as nominal as $150 worth of
clothing will give you a charitable deduction worth $50,"
When Patricia Schiff Estess cleared out her bookshelves
recently, she carried two armfuls of books down to The Strand,
a used bookstore in New York. They gave her $130 for her castoffs.
"I felt like I had robbed a bank," says Schiff Estess,
author of Money
Advice for Your Successful Remarriage: Handling Delicate Financial
Issues Intelligently and Lovingly."I'm clearing some
shelf space, and they're paying me for it." Want to save
money and space? Schiff Estess's advice: If you haven't used something
in three years -- get rid of it.
9. Switch credit cards.
Take the $1,000 balance from a 19 percent rate card and put it
on a card with a 9 percent rate and you'll save $100 annually.
Oleson's extra credit move: Apply your savings to the balance
each month and get out from under your debt a little quicker.
10. Cut back on coffee.
If part of your morning routine includes a $4 coffee binge, cutting
back to twice a week could net you an extra $64 a month. Can't
go cold turkey? Take a thermos full of home brew, or stop at Burger
King for less than a buck. At the end of the month you'll find
an extra $40 in your pocket.
11. Only buy things you'll
really use. "I've really been conscientious about
that," says Biech, who's employed this technique to cut her
bookstore bill, but not her reading list, in half. It works equally
well for magazine subscriptions, clothing, CDs and accessories.
12. Contribute early.
Planning on putting money in your IRA? Move the cash into your
account as early in the year as you can, says Picker. Even at
a 5 percent rate of return, putting in your $3,000 contribution
six months earlier nets an extra $75 in interest.
13. Join the club.
Travel regularly? Sign up with one of the airlines or online travel
sites so that when there is a good deal to a place you regularly
visit, you'll know. Try Expedia.com,
or an airline that services your favorite destinations.
14. Brownbag it. Even
a cheap meal out is $5 a pop, says Schiff Estess. Pack your own
lunch every other day, and you'll save $50 a month. Gotten hooked
on vending machine snacks? Even in quarters, a buck or two a day
adds up. If you have to have soda or snacks, buy your favorites
at the local discount house and bring them from home. Sure, the
calories are the same, but at least your wallet will have a chance
to gain a little weight, too.
15. Work and play well with
others. Live in a condo or co-op? Consider going in with
a neighbor to purchase items you use only once in a while -- like
power tools, stepladders, card tables and folding chairs. "Chances
that you both would need it at the same time are rare," says
Schiff Estess. And you get to cut the cost of household necessities
by at least half.
16. Give yourself a new start
in the new year. Use your Christmas bonus or whatever cash
you've gotten for the holidays to pay down the balance on whichever
credit card has the highest rate. If you're carrying a $500 balance
with a 15 percent rate, paying it off could save you $75 annually.
Put that savings into a money market, brokerage or retirement
account, and someone else gets to pay you every month instead
of the other way around.