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Easy ways to trim expenses

By Paula Pant ·
Monday, October 29, 2012
Posted: 3 pm ET

You're busy balancing work, family, fitness and errands. You want to save money, but don't have time to shave a couple dollars off your grocery bill by making your own toothpaste or loaves of bread.

Your time is too precious to whittle away the hours trying to save a few bucks. What quick, easy changes can you make that will help you save hundreds of dollars over time?

Switch to new banking institution

Bank fees have risen significantly in the past few years. The median overdraft fee is now $27, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. study, and many bank checking accounts charge monthly fees, according to a Bankrate study.

Sign up for direct deposit to avoid paying a monthly checking account fee. Maintain a "cushion" in your bank account to avoid paying an overdraft fee. Also, vote with your dollar: Switch to a bank that charges fewer fees, or lower fees, than the other financial institutions in your area.

Rates vary by locality, so you'll need to shop around locally to see where you can get the best deal. As a general rule, credit unions tend to charge lower rates than traditional banks.

Expect to devote three to four hours to this effort, including research time. Your savings can add up to hundreds of dollars each year.

Properly inflate your tires

You can improve your car's fuel economy by as much as 3.3 percent just by keeping your tires properly inflated. That means every $100 you spend on gas turns into more than $103.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, fuel efficiency declines by 0.3 percent for every 1 pound-per-square-inch reduction in air pressure. Your tires will also wear and tear faster if they're underinflated, which means you'll have to pay more for tires over the life of your vehicle.

It takes just a few minutes to check your tire pressure. Assuming your tires are in good condition, you'll only need to repeat this process once every few months. (I check my air pressure each time I get an oil change.)

Read your owner's manual to discover the optimal air pressure for your vehicle. The DOE does not recommend heeding the air pressure recommendation printed on your tire's sidewall.

Work on your windows and doors

Window manufacturers like to upsell customers on energy-efficient upgrades such as low-emissivity and argon, promising that the savings from these enhancements will pay for themselves in the form of lower energy bills.

That may be true, but these changes are useless if cold air is leaking into your home through gaps around your windows and doors.

The cheapest and most effective ways to insulate your home are using a tube of caulk (which costs a little more than $2 for a 10-ounce bottle at home-improvement stores) and weatherstripping (which costs around $2.57 for 17 feet).

Apply a continuous bead of caulk around stationary objects, such as window frames and door trim. Apply weatherstripping around objects that move, such as the door itself.

You'll spend about one hour caulking and weatherstripping, including the time required to buy the materials, and you can potentially shave hundreds off your energy bills throughout the year.

Adjust your thermostat

Look at where you normally set your thermostat. Then, using that number as a baseline, keep your thermostat just 1 or 2 degrees higher in the summer, and 1 or 2 degrees lower in the winter. You'll save approximately 1 percent on your heating and cooling bills for each degree of difference.

That's just a rough estimate: The precise amount you'll save depends on the insulation in your home, size of your home, and peak versus off-peak energy rates in your area. But rest assured, this is one frugal habit that doesn't consume your precious time. Just set it, forget it and enjoy the savings.

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