7 easy steps to saving $1,000 in 2008

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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.

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.

If you don’t find any deals at the store’s entrance, there’s still a chance to save money at the checkout line.

“Ask the cashier if there are any coupons or specials going on that would apply to any of your purchases,” says Mehdikarimi.

By getting in the habit of asking about sales each time you pay for your groceries, you could regularly discover discounts for items that you were already planning to purchase. The clerk might have extra coupons on hand, or a manager who’s ringing up your groceries might let you know about a special offered on one of your brands.

Even a customer may help you if she hears your question and mentions a “buy one, get one free” deal that you missed.

Another way to save is to sign up for store coupon clubs.

“Grocery stores have many programs that allow you to get discounts for purchases,” says Mehdikarimi.

If your grocer has a baby club, for example, signing up for the program could save you hundreds of dollars in diapers, infant food and other baby products over the course of a year.

If you’re able to save just $4 off of your bill during each weekly shopping trip, total savings would be more than $200 a year.

4. Check out materials from the library

The next time you plan to buy or rent a favorite movie classic, head over to your local library instead and borrow the video for free. Many libraries stock DVDs — movie classics and newer titles — and CDs with generous borrowing periods.

If you need children’s videos, visit the juvenile area for new cartoons and educational selections.

Adding up the savings

Type How often? Savings each time Yearly savings
Dinner discounts Twice monthly $5.00 $120.00
Returning unused items Varies Varies Varies ($90 in this example)
Finding grocery deals Weekly $4.00 $208.00
Check out library materials Monthly $20.00 $240.00
Bundling utilities Monthly $20.00 $240.00
Negotiating savings on services Monthly $10.00 $120.00
    Total: $1,018.00

While you are at the library, see if they have the latest book releases. Many libraries post best-seller lists for your convenience, and they probably have several copies of many titles. Remember to return everything on time, because libraries charge late fees just like rental stores do.

If you want reading material but you don’t want to leave your home, call your local library and ask if they offer e-books that can be downloaded to your computer.

If you borrow just two books or movies a month that you would otherwise buy or rent, you could save between $120 and $240 per year.

5. Bundle cable, phone and Internet services

If you can’t live without your cable, telephone and Internet access, but the monthly bills are getting uncomfortably high, consider bundling all of your services under one company.

“With the competition for cable and Internet being so high, there’s a good chance that you can negotiate a promotional rate,” says Mehdikarimi.

Just be aware that unexpected fees could be added to that low quoted rate.

“Because of taxes and other state-imposed fees, the overall savings for a bundle might not be as great as you may have been led to believe,” says Mruz.

However, your bill could still be much less than if you paid for the services separately.

Even if you don’t opt for a bundled package, ask your providers for a price break.

“If your rates are too high, call some other companies to find their rates. Then call your current provider and ask them to match the price,” says Mehdikarimi. “My philosophy is that it never hurts to ask.”

If you’re able to reduce your total fees by $20 a month, that adds up to $240 for the year.

6. Negotiate with monthly service providers

Once you get off the phone with your cable, Internet and telephone provider, call your alarm company, lawn care person and any of your other monthly service providers to negotiate prices. Depending on where you live, you might even be able to negotiate natural gas rates.

“Obviously, you’re not going to get very far with monopoly utilities, but for the companies that have competition, you can definitely negotiate your price,” says Mehdikarimi.

She suggests that in each case, find what out what the competitors are charging. Then ask your provider to match the price.

Don’t get discouraged if the first person you speak with can’t approve a rate decrease.

“You might need to ask for a supervisor,” says Mehdikarimi.

One tip is to call during normal business hours to increase the chances of reaching a supervisor who can authorize a rate change.

If the idea of negotiating for a better price sounds intimidating, remember that the conversation can be pleasant, even if you have to ask the customer service representative to put the boss on the phone.

“The call doesn’t have to be confrontational,” says Mehdikarimi. “Remember that you’ll be in a telephone situation where you’re not looking at someone face to face. Tell yourself that they’re a random person, and after this call, you’ll never have to see them again.”

If you save a total of just $10 a month negotiating all your monthly services, you’ll save an extra $120 a year.

7. Stash money for easier savings next year

By making these barely noticeable changes to your lifestyle, you could save as much as $1,000 over the next year. But how do you increase your savings in future years?

Bill Billimoria, personal finance expert and author of “On Golden Pond Or Up the Creek?” suggests letting your cash work for you.

“Take the money you saved so far and put it into a high-interest savings account or mutual fund,” he says. “Then let compounding interest do the magic.”

If you place $1,000 in an account that pays a 7 percent annual return on investment, the original amount will nearly double after 10 years. That means twice the money for no extra work.

Saving money by doing “nothing” can be a very lucrative habit.