All it can take is a look at how much money we've socked away for retirement and how much we'll probably need when we retire to get us panicking a little, wondering how to save money fast.
Without further ado, here are a host of strategies to consider. Take on a few of them and you can likely plump up your retirement coffers significantly.
Sell your stuff
It may seem obvious, but many people don't think of it. You probably have an attic, garage, and/or basement full of items you don't need any more and probably will never use. Your closets and bookcases might also be ripe for a pruning. Selling them on eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) or Craigslist, or in a yard sale, can very likely net you several hundred dollars -- quickly.
Buy less food, and less expensive food
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as of 2012, Americans were throwing away about 35 million tons of food annually. That includes about 52% of fruits and vegetables bought, and 50% of seafood. That's not only wasteful, but it means we're almost literally throwing away our money. Try to buy less than you think you need, and you might save a lot of money. Perhaps cut back on pricey items such as steaks and shrimp, too. If you can reduce your weekly grocery bills by just $30, you'll end the year $1,560 richer.
Make some phone calls
This is one of the easiest strategies for how to save money fast. Shop around on the phone and get better rates on a variety of things. Start with insurance. Get your policy details out for your car insurance, home insurance, and any other policies. Call a few competing insurers and see what they would charge you for the same coverage. It's not uncommon to instantly save several hundred dollars. Consider upping your deductible, too. Going from $250 to $500 or from $500 to $1,000 can save you $100 or more per year in premiums. Get all or most of your insurance from the same insurer and you can get a bundle discount. Tackle your credit card debt next, calling your lenders to see if they will reduce your interest rate so that you don't have to shop around for a better one. Many times, if you're a good customer, they will. Call your cable company, too, to see what discounts are available, reminding the sales rep that you have other options.
One of the few upsides of being a smoker is that you can have a lot of cash available to you by quitting. It isn't easy to do, of course, but it will boost your health as well as your wealth. According to recent data, smoking a pack a day in New York costs nearly $4,700 per year! In Virginia, the state with the least expensive cigarettes, it was still nearly $2,000 per year. Be deliberate about it, though. Every day that you don't smoke, put what you would have spent on a pack in a safe place, and add it to your savings regularly.
Eating lunch out can be more appealing than munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich you brought from home, but if you replace three lunches eaten out with brown-bagged meals save $25 per week, that's $1,300 per year. If you go out to dinner regularly, you can save even more. Just eliminating two $50 meals per month can net you $1,200.
Cut little costs
Think beyond cigarettes and lunches to other regular small expenses you incur. Do you buy and drink a lot of soda? If you spend $3 per day on sodas – or tea, coffee, bottled waters, etc. – you can save nearly $1,100 per year by cutting them out. Are you spending $20 per month on a gym membership you never use? That's $240 per year going up in smoke.
Cut the cable
Cable television and related services have gotten very expensive in recent years, with many people paying between $150 and $200 per month for cable, telephone, and Internet services. Consider dropping your landline phone and just using your cell phone. Consider dropping the cable TV and just streaming videos and TV shows instead. These moves might lop $100 to $150 off your monthly bill, and could save you $1,200 to $1,800 per year.
Get hotter or colder
Set your thermostat or air conditioners so that you're a degree or two less comfortable and that can save you money, too. Getting a programmable thermostat is smart, too, as it can automatically lower the heat in winter when you're out of the house, and crank it up for your return.
When you find yourself about to buy something that you don't exactly need, such as a new TV or a new sweater, see if you can put it off for a few days. The urge for it might pass. You might also ask yourself how necessary it really is, whether you have less expensive alternatives, whether you can put off the purchase for a few months or a year, and so on. In your head, try to calculate how long you'll have to work to earn enough to pay for the item. Another good money-saving trick is to leave your credit cards at home and pay for most things with cash. Studies have shown that we spend less with cash than with plastic.
Be less generous
Generosity is a wonderful thing, but if you pick up the check more than your friends do, perhaps cut back on that a little. When it comes to birthday and holiday gifts, rein that in, too. Make some gifts instead of buying them.
If you can employ just a handful of these money-saving strategies, you can probably save several thousand dollars per year. Be aggressive about it and you might save even more!
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns shares of eBay. The Motley Fool recommends eBay. The Motley Fool owns shares of eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.