In December, I offered up 11 great and easy ways that consumers could save money in 2013. These ideas ranged from paying off your high-interest credit cards and buying generic brands all the way down to customizing your health plan and eliminating your checking fees.
But yesterday, my grandfather lost his battle to cancer, and today I honor his memory by sharpening my pencil and dishing out an additional 10 ways that you can save money, right now, without significantly altering your living habits.
Getting a great deal
My relationship with my grandfather was built upon jokes. Literally, joke after joke, with perhaps the only serious moment coming when the check at the restaurant we'd meet up at came due. If there was one thing he truly loved, it was in knowing he was getting a great deal. The family quip between my dad and me when he wasn't around was that we were "going to sharpen our pencil" when we we're in search of a good deal on something.
Here's some fresh ideas inspired by my memory of my grandfather that could help save you money.
1. Refinance your mortgage
This is an easy one that I completely overlooked last time. What on Earth are you people with mortgages rates at 5% or higher still doing paying your loans? Stop trying to second-guess the next move in interest rates and be happy that we're trudging along at a seven-decade-low in lending rates. A family with a 30-year mortgage at a 5% APR will pay nearly $280,000 in interest over the life of the loan. The current 30-year rate of 3.625% will lower your interest payment by roughly $87,000 over the life of the loan! That's not chump change! Also, be decisive but picky when looking for your loan or a refinancer, as you can occasionally obtain lower costs by shopping around.
2. Stop living like you're in the tropics
Unlike you Floridians and Southern Californians, I live in Seattle where we get these things called "seasons." Seasons, for the remainder of the country, mean a noticeable use of the thermostat in the winter and summer. The key here to saving money is to reduce the extremism to which we utilize the thermostat. In the winter there is practically no need to set the needle at 78 degrees Fahrenheit, nor is there a need to peg the household temperature at 68 degrees if its 106 degrees outside. The California Energy Commission states on its webpage that every degree above 72 that you place your thermostat at in the summer will save you 1% to 3%. I tried this out myself and lowered my thermostat to 68 degrees from 70 degrees and noticed a nearly $50 cumulative reduction in my energy bill over the course of two months.
3. Buy LED lights
I admit to having bashed the heck out of Cree last week on a valuation basis, but its LED light bulbs are a smart way for consumers to save money in the long run. Cree's new 40-watt LED bulb will cost just $9.97, but boasts the same luminosity as an incandescent bulb of the same wattage while supplying energy savings of 84%, and burning for 25,000 hours (or 25 times longer than your typical incandescent bulb) without the need for replacement.
I'm in the process of buying a house and I have a strong suspicion I know what LED bulbs will be gracing the inside. You can pick up these LED bulbs exclusively at Home Depot.
4. Utilize commuter benefits
There are two primary ways you can utilize commuter benefits. The first would be to organize a carpool group with your fellow co-workers which helps share the pain of gas costs and has the added benefit of being able to use the normally wide-open carpool lane (notice I said normally – I'm looking right at you, San Diegans!). The second method is to take advantage of benefits your company may already offer. For instance, The Motley Fool offers its employees completely subsidized on-site parking or a partial subsidy for a Metro rail pass. If your company offers these perks, taking advantage of them could save big money!
5. Drive smarter
This is one I admittedly don't follow, but I should. Driving faster may get you to work a minute or two sooner than the car going to the speed limit, but it also puts you at a greater risk of getting a ticket, having higher insurance rates, and definitely burns through your gas faster. Driving at the suggested speed limit without rapid accelerations can help improve your gas mileage by an average of 31%, according to Edmunds.com. Even U.S. automaker Ford has a page devoted to its car owners alerting them that their savings could be as much as 33% and 25% if they'd simply stop driving aggressively and slow down!
6. Cancel unused memberships/bills
How many of you have a landline phone in your house, or a newspaper delivered daily, or a gym membership? Now, think back to the last time you actually used your landline phone, read the newspaper, or went to the gym. Chances are a good third of you just answered "I can't recall," and had a light bulb go off in your head (and hopefully it was an LED one from Cree!). Canceling unwanted memberships and bills is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste. I've had a landline for years that I might use twice a year. Let's just say my cable service provider received a cancellation notice within the past week, and I'm well on my way to saving $480 each year!
7. Buy a bobble!
If you're like most Americans, you buy water by the case, or even the gallon. Well, break that habit and consider buying yourself a bobble. A bobble will run around $10; is made entirely of recyclable materials that are free of BPAs, PVCs, and phthalates; and has a filter designed into the bottle allowing users to enjoy approximately 300 cups of water before the filter should be changed. Another way of thinking about this is one bobble filter will eliminate 300 bottles from reaching the landfill. I know I pay about $3 for every 24-pack I buy, so that's around $37.50 for every 300 bottles versus $10 for one bobble, or, what I estimate is a monthly savings of around $5 every month. That does add up to $60 each year, folks!
8. Eat out for breakfast or lunch
There's not much I enjoy more than not having to cook my own meal and going out for food. However, consider what time of day you eat out, as that same meal can cost considerably more in the evening when restaurants command higher traffic and can punch up prices in order to match that increased demand. Simply dining out for breakfast or lunch, and not for dinner, can keep quite a bit of money in your pocketbook.
9. Use your loyalty rewards
In 2011, Cincinnati-based research firm Colloquy undertook what I believe was the first quantification of U.S. loyalty reward points. Its findings concluded that roughly $48 billion worth of rewards flowed into consumers' hands each year, but that a staggering $16 billion (one-third!) wasn't being used due to either a lack of understanding by the user or plain negligence. The solution here is very simple: if a retailer or credit card issuer offers you benefits, use them! Drugstore Walgreen (NASDAQ:WBA), for instance, was upgraded on Wednesday by UBS analyst Steven Valiquette, who noted that the company's disciplined use of its loyalty card program was keeping margins up. How much would you like to bet that it's also a function of Walgreen customers not utilizing their points efficiently?
10. Barter with your utility provider
Little-known secret: You can occasionally bargain your cable and Internet service provider, as well as your electric provider, down to a lower rate. You might think cable companies have the impression that with few choices they have you right where they want you, but the threat that you could leave often pressures them into lowering your rate -- at least temporarily. In addition, don't discount the idea of utilizing programs offered by most electric utilities and cable companies if you've fallen on a financial hardship. They'd much rather work something out with you than shut-off your cable or electric completely.
My pencil is now a bit dull after that, but I hope it's given you another 10 beneficial ways you can keep a few more dollars in your pocket than you had before!
If you've got a money-saving idea, feel free to share it with the community in the comment section below.