Financial Literacy - Growing your bottom line
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smart spending
Smart ways to trim big-ticket expenses

Communications

Premium cable channels and cell phone plans with thousands of minutes and options like texting and Web access go right to the top of the "want" list rather than the "need" list.

The average monthly price for expanded basic programming is $42.76, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Add a couple of premium channels, a sports package or two and your monthly bill can easily top $100 per month.

"Nobody should be in the position that they are going to lose their home or can't make credit card payments on time because they absolutely have to have HBO2," says Gary Foreman, publisher of Stretcher.com.

Consider if you really need extra cell phone options or an infrequently used landline. The average monthly cost for bundled cell phone service (including voice, Web access and texting options) is between $99 and $149, plus taxes and surcharges.

Potential savings: $100 or more per month.

Clothing

Families with young children tend to spend more on clothing because kids seem to grow into the next size overnight, and they tend to be a little rougher on their wardrobe. The solution? Shop the clearance racks often.

"I purchased six pairs of jeans for my kids this way, with original prices at $60 and sales prices at $20 for a total savings of $240," says Ellie Kay, author of "How to Save Money Every Day."

Another solution is to buy used clothing at consignment or thrift shops, but make sure it's in good condition.

Financial adviser Susan Zimmerman of Mindful Asset Planning in Apple Valley, Minn., says she saved a bundle by waiting until her children were older before they got the latest gear.

"I didn't buy toddler and preschool clothes at a store at all," she says. "I got them at garage sales and things like that."

Potential savings: Hundreds of dollars, depending on how many children you have and how often you need to buy clothing.

Utility bills

The typical American family spends more than $1,600 a year on home utility bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The price of home heating oil alone rose 49.2 percent between August 2007 and August 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Much of that energy is wasted through cracks in windows and doors and through open chimney flues.

Close the damper on your fireplace if you have one. Leaks through the damper can increase your heating bills by 8 percent or more.

In colder climates, small improvements such as caulking and using plastic films around window frames will stem the amount of heat that's wasted.

"Start with obvious things like weather stripping the house to reduce air conditioning and heating costs," says Gary Foreman, publisher of Stretcher.com. "Any time you can create an air pocket that way, you will save on your heating bill."

Set your thermostat back when you're not home and while you're sleeping. Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. An added benefit is that you'll prevent unnecessary scalding injuries.

Potential savings: You can save up to 10 percent on your heating and cooling costs. A dwelling that incorporates a "whole-house energy efficiency plan" by using proper insulation, compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy-efficient appliances can cut energy costs by up to 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Entertainment

Just because you're in "savings combat mode" doesn't mean you have to wait until 49-cent-burger-night to treat the gang to dinner and a movie. One way to curb expenses: Invest in region-specific entertainment coupon books at such sites as Entertainment.com.

The books sell for between $25 and $45 each and pay for themselves in short order. The discount coupons offer deals for eating at local restaurants, but an added benefit is you can also save on movie theaters, theme parks and other local stores.

Potential savings: The coupon book for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area claims more than $18,200 in savings if you use every coupon. Of course, you don't want to use every coupon or your entertainment expenses will be through the roof! But even if you were to use just 10 percent of the coupons, you'd save about $1,820.

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