smart spending

10 ways to save $500 or more

Raises are hard to come by at many jobs, so don't wait for the boss to be struck by the sudden realization that you're valuable. Give yourself a raise by spending less of your cash.

Following any one of these tips can save you as much as $500 per year. Some of them can save you more. If you do all 10, you'll save at least $5,000 a year. That's a heck of a lot more than the measly 3 percent increase that your employer is likely to hand out. And the best part about it is that you don't have to smile and say "thank you."

1. Drive less.

With gas hovering around $2.50 per gallon, you don't have to cut back much on mileage to save $500 in a year. If your car gets 15 miles per gallon, you'll save that much in gas alone driving just 58 fewer miles per week. Considering that the average American household drives almost 22,000 miles per year, or roughly 420 miles per week, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, that isn't a huge amount.

If you have a 40-mile round-trip commute, persuading the boss to allow telecommuting one day a week, or squeezing 40 hours of work into four days will definitely go a long way toward saving $500 per year.

10 tips for painless frugality
  1. Drive less.
  2. Bring your own stimulant.
  3. Conserve energy.
  4. Dig gardening.
  5. Go small or stay pet-free.
  6. Don't flush money down the commode.
  7. Limit media.
  8. Sign up for tax-advantaged plans.
  9. Eat in.
  10. Don't bank on it.
If that doesn't work for you, there are other options. The cutback doesn't have to be extreme. Taking public transportation a few days a week can get you there easily. Trimming a couple of unnecessary short hops out of your routine is also a good way to save significant cash. Encouraging the kids to take the school bus instead of schlepping them in the car, or consolidating three trips to the grocery store into one weekly excursion may do the trick.

2. Bring your own stimulant.

Stop buying coffee at the chichi coffee joint down the street from work. Either bringing coffee from home in a Thermos or brewing it in the break room will actually improve the quality of your morning shot of energy, as well as cut its cost dramatically. You can get 40 cups of coffee from a pound of beans. Even the gourmet ones can be purchased for $4 per pound. If you're spending $2 per day on coffee -- easy to do in most workplaces -- you'll go from spending $500 a year to about $25 by making your own.

Save even more by taking cans of soda or bottled water to work instead of buying them out of the vending machine. Bottled water sells for around 30 cents a bottle at big-box grocery stores. Compare that to the 75 cents or more that you'll spend at the machine, and it's a no-brainer. You can go even further by cleaning your small plastic water bottles and replenishing them with drinking water from a gallon jug. (It's an environmentally friendly move, too.)

3. Conserve energy.

Dad was right. Turn off the TV when you leave the room. Using less energy is a painless way to save. Heat and air conditioning are the largest home-energy hogs. The U.S. Department of Energy points out that during each 24-hour period, you will save about 3 percent on your energy bill for every 1 degree that you lower the thermostat setting -- or, conversely, raise it when air conditioning is the big cost.

Buy a programmable thermostat and turn the system up 10 degrees during the day when nobody's home, and you'll save much more.

Here are some other quick fixes for savings that add up to an additional $400: Switch to U.S. Energy Star-approved light bulbs and save $60 a year. Running a 32-inch TV four hours a day costs $3 per month, but many families use the TV for background noise, letting it play 24/7. You can save more than $200 a year just by turning off the TV when nobody's watching it. Washing clothes in cold water is good for another $60 a year and powering down your computer at night saves $70.

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4. Dig gardening.

Not only does gardening burn lots of calories, but also a nice yard adds value to the house. If you do it all yourself, it's pure profit. Assuming a modest savings of $300 per summer for mowing your own grass and another $200 for such related expenses as applying your own weed killer and fertilizer, a $500 savings is easily attained.

Bonus idea: Assign jobs like shoveling, raking and car washing to Junior, who's always good for hitting you up for money. While you might shell out $200 for him to do these chores, it's a savings, considering that you were going to give him the money whether he worked for it or not.

5. Go small or stay pet-free.

Fido and Tabby are lovable, but they can cost a bundle. If you're considering a pet, keep the cost of their upkeep in mind. Pawprints and Purrs, an animal adoption agency based in Keithville, La., tells its clients to expect to pay these annual costs of pet ownership: cat, $700; small dog, $840; medium dog, $1,150; large dog, $1,525. Obviously, smaller is cheaper. The difference between a large dog and a small one is $685 per year -- that's a lot of kibble.

 

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