Gas prices have taken a bite out of our pocketbooks, the stock market's summer slide packed a punch, and the downfall in housing is looming large. What does a Fool do in the face of such uncertainty?
The answer is: save.
Spending less and saving more won't turn the tide on the economy, but it will help you to ride out the storm. Use these 50 simple tips to help you shore up your finances for the tough times ahead.
1. Eliminate unnecessary fees. Avoid ATMs outside your network, except in an emergency. Check with your bank to make sure you have the best type of account for your needs; often, if you maintain a minimum balance or get at least one check automatically deposited each month, you can qualify for free or reduced-rate checking. Buying standard issue checks (think generic blue) can save a few bucks as well.
2. Sign up for automatic bill pay to avoid late fees and tarnished credit. While you'll typically have to pay a monthly fee, it's a small price to pay for peace of mind and an unblemished financial record.
3. Monitor your mortgage. Is now the time to refinance? Do you need to shop around to replace your ARM? Keeping on top of your mortgage situation can help you save big.
4. See if the Geico gecko really can save you a lot on car insurance. All it takes is a phone call!
5. Contact your lender about consolidating your school loan.
6. Shred old financial documents. According to the Better Business Bureau, the average identity fraud case cost consumers $6,383 per incident. While most banks and credit card companies offer protection against fraud and end up footing the bill themselves, you will still be out some time and money while the case is investigated.
7. Maintain, maintain, maintain. Taking good care of your furnace, roof, air conditioning, and appliances, among other things, can save big bucks.
8. Hold a yard sale. It will force you to get rid of clutter in your garage, basement, and attic, as well as pad your pockets.
9. Turn off the lights when you're not using them.
10. Treat your plumbing like the delicate flower it is. No Hot Wheels down the toilet or pasta, rice, or beans down the drain.
11. Update your household inventory for insurance purposes. Video is the best vehicle for documenting what you own. Save a copy off-premises and one in a fireproof safe in case of disaster.
12. Watch less TV. Do you really need 300 channels? Going down even one tier in your cable service may save you $50 a year or more.
13. Know your cell phone personality. Match your usage as closely as possible to a plan so you neither pay for service you don't use or have to pay outrageous overage charges.
14. Ask your utility companies to perform energy audits (they'll do it for free). You may be able to save hundreds per year on the cost of heating or cooling your home by following their recommendations.
15. Check the expiration date. Buying outdated or soon-to-expire medication is as good as throwing money away.
16. Buy the small size. Unless you have a large family or a documented need for more, think small. Sure, the larger package has a better per-ounce price, but odds are you will have plenty left over to pour down the drain when the expiration date comes around.
17. Think generic. Ask your doctor if you can safely substitute a generic brand for your prescription drug needs.
18. Ask your doctor for free samples of the drugs she's prescribed for you, especially if it's a new medicine you're not sure your body will tolerate.
19. Use your insurance company's mail-order prescription program. Chances are you will save money and time, in addition to avoiding the tempting candy bars by the Walgreen's checkout.
20. Shop around. Believe it or not, there are price differences between pharmacies. While it's advisable (for safety's sake) to establish a relationship with one pharmacist for your prescription drug needs, she may be willing to match another pharmacy's lower price if you ask.
21. Compare costs via the Internet. Cost-comparison sites like Froogle can help you to save big.
22. Familiarize yourself with seasonal sales.
23. Use coupons (and not just the pesky ones you have to cut out from the Sunday paper either). Anytime you buy online, open another browser and do a quick search for online coupons for that retailer. You can sometimes save as much as 15% with a quick click of the mouse.
24. Make your credit card work for you. In addition to using your plastic wisely, research which cards offer perks such as cash back, airline miles, or even money toward college tuition.
25. Make secondhand a way of life. Shopping at yard sales, consignment stores, eBay, and Craigslist are great ways to cut costs immediately.
26. Shop tax-free. Take advantage of the tax-free shopping weekends in several states. Be forewarned that many states schedule these for early August, long before some of us feel ready to think about winter clothes.
27. Why pay retail for a toy that may only hold your child's attention for a second or two? Discount stores such as TJMaxx, Marshalls, and Tuesday Morning offer great bargains on quality toys.
28. Forbid yourself from buying things simply because they're on sale or promise a rebate. Regardless of the bargain price, an extra expense is just that -- yet another drain on your resources.
29. Be a smart shopper by buying quality when it counts. Consumer tools such as Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping reports can help you to get the best quality for the least money.
30. Cultivate the ability to delay gratification. Giving yourself more time to think about a purchase means you'll make a more informed, less impetuous decision.
31. Grocery shop on a full stomach. Anyone else drawn to junk food in the store when they shop hungry? A bag of sweets, potato chips, and soda look that much more tempting on an empty stomach.
32. Arm yourself with a list. It tends to focus us on what we need, rather than whatever strikes our fancy in the aisle at Safeway.
33. Plan your meals. Hand-in-hand with carrying a list, meal planning will help to eliminate random purchases. Stay focused on Monday night's pot roast, rather than the Utz potato chips on sale.
34. Go natural. Prepackaged foods cost more and are generally not as good for you.
35. Buy a deep freezer. You can buy big quantities of items when they're on sale and save over the long haul.
36. Cut out the beef. Decreasing your meat consumption or eliminating it altogether can spell big savings over the course of a year.
37. Buy non-groceries at a non-grocery store. Purchasing pharmaceutical items like eye-care products can ratchet up your grocery bill unnecessarily; better deals can be had elsewhere.
38. Go solo. Kids tend to toss high-priced, ooey-gooey cereals into the cart when you're not looking or pressure you to buy items that you weren't planning on buying.
39. Don't get fooled by clever advertising. If the grocery store's sales price says "Four for $1," it doesn't mean that you automatically have to buy four, a quantity that may be too much for your family. Unless the fine print has a caveat (e.g. "Four for $1 OR $0.37 each"), then each item will cost $0.25 and you'll still save when buying a smaller quantity.
40. Make saving a family affair. Like dieting, it's much easier to trim the fat from your budget if your loved ones are right in there with you.
41. Kick some of your more expensive habits. Alcohol and cigarettes are line items that can pack a punch to a budget.
42. Get organized. When we can't find a household item we need, what do most of us do? Purchase it again, of course. Why else would my husband and I have six spackle tools from Lowe's with nary a home-fixer between us?
43. Get it out of sight. Getting money immediately withdrawn from your paycheck and put into savings is a great way to create a nice little nest egg.
44. Windfalls = savings. Use unexpected refunds, monetary gifts, and freak acts of the money gods to pad your savings rather than fund splurges.
45. Learn to love home-cooked meals.
46. Turn frugality into a game. Instead of force-feeding budgeting tips to yourself, look at this as an adventure. Try to top your own savings each week or compete with a friend.
47. Keep your tires properly inflated. You'll prolong their life, as well as saving on gas.
48. Buy regular gasoline. No need to buy premium when regular will get you there just as handily.
49. Like your home, your vehicle will last longer if you invest in regular maintenance. Make it part of your routine to check the car's fluid levels and tire pressure. Copy the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule and put it in your glove compartment for handy reference.
50. Keep your old car another year. Should you have to purchase one now, follow our Foolish advice for getting insider deals.
Implementing small cost-saving measures may not be as fun as, say, winning the lottery, but it's a 100%-guaranteed way to keep more money in your pocket. Those are odds a Fool can love.
Want more valuable money-saving tips? Give our new personal finance service, Motley Fool GreenLight, a try. It's free for 30 days. We'll get you on the road to financial freedom in no time.
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her anemail.