smart spending

7 easy steps to saving $1,000 in 2008

Do you wish you could save an extra $1,000 this year without downgrading your lifestyle?

It is possible to save big bucks by making small changes in your spending. At first blush, the amounts may not seem like much. However, taken together over the course of a year, they really add up.

Here are some tips to give yourself a $1,000 raise:

1. Look for discounted dinner entrees

Saving money doesn't mean you can't enjoy meals at your favorite restaurants. Discount deals can be found in the mail, newspaper or online.

"Before you head out to eat, check out your restaurant online," says Fatima Mehdikarimi, founder of the coupon Web site TheShoppingQueen.com. "Or, after you arrive, simply ask the manager if they have any special promotions. Don't forget to ask about promotions that are offered on other days or times."

She notes that one restaurant near her home has a relationship with a local movie theater, so diners can get a discount on an entree if they present a ticket stub.

"Your restaurant might not advertise these types of specials, so definitely ask about them," she says.

If you receive a "half off your entree" special or similar promotion a couple of times a month, and each discount is worth $5, the savings will top $120 after a year.

2. Return unopened, unused items

Many times, extra money may be even closer at hand than you might think.

"If you're looking for extra money, your closets or drawers are a good place to start," says John Mruz, president of Juggling Duck Organizers in Morristown, N.J.

Nearly everyone has a recently purchased product they will never use: the too-large blouse that still has the tag on it, or an unopened set of salt and pepper shakers that didn't fit the kitchen decor.

Try to return the item to get your money back, or it will likely make its way into an overstuffed closet or drawer, Mruz says.

Even if you can't find your receipt, the retailer may accept the return for a store credit.

"I bought $90 worth of new energy-efficient light bulbs for my kitchen a few months ago -- for the purpose of saving money -- only to find that I had the wrong size," says Mruz.

He meant to return the bulbs and exchange them for the correct size, but didn't get around to it right away. Eventually, he forgot about them.

"I put the bulbs in the basement, and they soon got covered over by random junk," Mruz says.

He recently discovered them when he was clearing out his basement.

"Fortunately, my home center retailer had a generous return policy," he says.

For Mruz, clearing some clutter from his basement meant an increase of $90.

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3. Look for extra grocery savings

There are several opportunities to save at the local grocery store, even if you don't like to clip coupons.

"When you enter a store, check to see if there are sales ads located near the front," says Mehdikarimi.

You might find a coupon for a purchase you were planning to make. Just make sure the sales don't entice you to buy items that were not already on your shopping list.

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