You may think you've done it all: You're careful with a buck, don't overindulge, and stash away as much as you can for future goals. But while it may not seem as if there's any more you can comfortably squeeze from your budget, there are ways to save more -- 10 pretty painless ways, in fact, to save $50,000 or more in almost every aspect of your life, from your everyday bills to your taxes and investments.
The strategies that follow will get you to that goal in two to 10 years, without impinging on your quality of life. Some need only one or two moves; others, several steps. A couple require making big changes, but most don't. What all 10 have in common: They'll put a lot more cash in your pocket -- money you can, no doubt, put to very good use.
The strategy: Cut the cost of the stuff you need to buy.
Years to $50,000: Seven
How to do it: Focus on easy-to-execute economies in five key areas -- food, insurance, energy, cars, and vacations -- that won't impinge on your quality of life.
1. Groceries. Buy store brands when possible; many private labels offer quality without the premium price, research shows. Upload virtual coupons from the store website to your smartphone for discounts at the register. Estimated savings: 25%.
2. Dining out. Snag discounts online (check out groupon.com and restaurant.com, which often runs sales offering $25 coupons at local restaurants for $2 to $3). And turn your freezer into a takeout alternative by cooking double batches of stir-fries and stews to thaw as needed, says Gary Foreman of the Dollar Stretcher. Savings: 45% of your monthly prepared food and restaurant bills.
3. Insurance. Kick up the deductible on your homeowners policy to $1,000 for a 25% savings; ditto for auto, and mention your clean driving record and good credit to lower car premiums by about 30%, says the Insurance Information Institute. Bundling auto and home coverage may save you up to 15%.
4. Energy. Pop in a programmable thermostat (about $55) to save up to 15% on heating and cooling, the Department of Energy says. Unplug "vampire" electronics, like TVs and computers, which suck up power even when on standby. You'll shave nearly 10% off your power bill, says Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
5. Cars. Drive less aggressively (accelerate slowly, ease up on the brakes), stick to the speed limit, avoid unnecessary idling, and rely on cruise control to keep a steady pace. Savings: $600 a year on gas bills, says Edmunds.com.
6. Vacations. Rather than a hotel, opt for a home swap (homesforexchange.com) or rental (airbnb.com); you'll save on lodging and food. Drive instead of flying. But if you must fly, price fares atitasoftware.com, airfarewatchdog.com, and kayak.com. Then search bing.com/travel to find out whether to buy now or wait. Savings: 25% off your travel costs, estimates Kayt Sukel of Travelsavvymom.com.
The tradeoffs: It's tough to implement so many little steps; since each yields minor savings, it's also hard to see the cumulative effect. To avoid losing sight of the goal, "save your savings," says Harvard prof Peter Tufano: Estimate your total monthly cutbacks and have that automatically transferred to a savings account.
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