Cut Your Bills by 10 Percent or More

Mary Hunt

Is your money a little tight? The secret to getting the cash coming in to exceed the cash going out is to reduce your spending. It’s as simple – and as tough – as that.

But once you understand that cutting expenses is really like giving yourself a tax-free raise, the job gets much easier. The challenge is to find realistic yet painless ways to trim spending without taking all the fun out of your life.

Go on a cash diet.

It’s best to spend only cash in order to curb mindless spending. Surveys indicate that cash customers are more mindful of what they’re doing, and therefore spend 17 to 23 percent less than those who pay with plastic.

Also, limit ATM trips to once a week. Develop an envelope system for areas that can get out of control, such as office lunches and entertainment. Take your ATM cash and distribute it among your marked envelopes. When you go to lunch or a movie, take the money from the corresponding envelope. When the money is gone, that means no more spending until the next fill-up.

$$ Saver … A $100 traveler’s check stashed in your wallet will give you an uncanny sense of security and willingness to leave the plastic and checkbook at home.

Stop shopping.

Unless you have a specific need for something in particular and the money to pay for it, don’t wander aimlessly through the mall or surf the Internet to see what looks good. Instead, plan purchases, then find the best value for what you need. Remember, you rarely discover a true need while in a store.

$$ Saver … As you identify a need, write it on your "To Buy" list for your next planned purchasing trip.

Cancel long-distance service.

Have you scrutinized your long-distance telephone bill lately? Even a reasonable calling plan can become unreasonably expensive when you factor in that list of mysterious fees and charges. Switch from a calling plan to a high-quality, reliable pre-paid telephone card issued by a big name service provider such as AT&T or MCI. You can get them for as little as 8.5 cents per minute (all fees included) at warehouse discount clubs.

$$ Saver … A prepaid phone card is the equivalent of spending cash, so you’ll become more judicious with your calling habits – which means even more savings.

Slash the cost of hot water.

Twenty percent of your utility bills may be attributed to the water heater, which does nothing but keep about 40 galls of water very hot, day in and day out. Keep the water temperature on low or 120 F (the highest temperature recommended for a household with children or the elderly, and the lowest temperature recommended for washing clothes), or to a temperature that is comfortable for your needs. Check the instructions for exactly how to do so.

For every 10 F you lower the temperature, you will save about 10 percent of your water-heating costs – a considerable savings over the course of a year.

$$ Saver … Save even more by buying a $35 electric water-heater timer, available at most home improvement centers. The timer – which you can install in less than an hour – lets you set specific on and off times that suit your lifestyle, so the water is hot when you need it.

Buy prescription drugs by mail.

These perfectly legal and highly reputable pharmacies often charge less tha local druggists. Depending on the medication, you may be able to save up to 40 to 60 percent of the retail price.

Mail-service pharmacies cannot dispense prescriptions quickly in an emergency, but they are perfect for people who take medication for long-term conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease. Buying in larger quantities could reduce the cost, so discuss the possibility with your physician.

Medi-Mail: 800-331-1458

AARP Pharmacy Service (AARP membership not required): 800-456-2277 800-881-6325

$$ Saver … These companies will give quotes by phone, as will your local pharmacy. That makes shopping around a whole lot easier.

Increase gas mileage.

The average American car travels 13,000 miles a year and gets 25 miles to a gallon of gasoline. That works out to about $675 per car annually. Adopt new driving habits and you can easily lop off 10 percent, or $67, from that bill:

Empty your car trunk of everything but emergency equipment. Weight is the enemy of gas mileage.

Opt for radial tires. They last longer and save fuel.

Keep your tires inflated. Driving a car on semi-flat tires uses more gas, so check your tires whenever you fill up on gas.

Do not use high-octane gasoline unless the owner’s manual specifies it. Mileage efficiency does not increase with more expensive gasoline. Your car will run fine on the cheaper stuff.

Hit the movies early.

Instead of the traditional dinner-and-a-movie, go to the movie during matinee hours, then dinner. Matinee prices may be up to 50 percent off the regular adult admission price, even on weekends; check around.

$$ Saver … While matinee tickets are a bargain, the concession counter is not. Save your appetite for after the film.

Repair it yourself.

When an appliance goes on the fritz, the service call alone can turn into a major expenditure. Here’s a secret few people know: Many home-appliance manufacturers offer over-the-phone repair instructions. A technician will analyze the problem, walk you through a few steps, then give you a test to conduct- all for no cost. If a faulty part is the culprit, you can order it by phone.

General Electric, Monogram, RCA, Hotpoint major appliances: 800-626-2000

Whirlpool, Roper, Estate, Holiday major appliances: 800-253-1301

KitchenAid appliances: 800-422-1230

Maytag: 800-688-9900

Amana appliances: 800-843-0304

$$ Saver … Keep a copy of these numbers handy in your phone book, on your bulletin board or in your warranty file folder.

Shop the sales, eat the sales.

Make it a rule to buy and eat what’s on sale. That’s the best way to consistently lower grocery bills. Instead of sitting down with your recipe box and developing your menu plan for the week, start with the weekly ads from the store where you shop. If chicken, ground beef and red snapper are on sale, build your dinner menus accordingly. Likewise for breakfasts and lunches.

$$ Saver … Following this one tip could slash your yearly food bill by at least 25 percent.

Switch banks.

According to a recent survey, many Americans are spending as much as $300 every year in banking fees. Having access to your money has become very expensive indeed.

Solution? Switch to a credit union if you qualify. Or move your banking to USAA Federal Savings Bank, which provides a full range of financial services for the U.S. military. (you do not need a military connection to open an account.)

With USAA Federal Savings, checking accounts have no minimum-balance requirement or monthly service fees. The bank provides postage-paid envelopes to send in deposits, and refunds fees charged for using non-USAA ATMs for 10 transactions a month, at up to $1.50 for each transaction. Your first order of designer checks is free.

USAA Federal Savings, fully insured by the FDIC, also offers savings, money-market and IRA accounts. The bank has no branches, so you do all your banking by mail, phone, Internet, e-mail and ATM. Call 800-531-8080 to get a USAA membership number. Then open an account by phone or by visiting and clicking on "member access."

$$ Saver … You earn interest when you maintain a balance of $1,000 in your checking account.

More $$ Savers …

Switch from commercial window cleaner (18 cents an ounce) to club soda (2 cents an ounce). It works amazingly well.

Add an extra can of water when you mix concentrated fruit juice. You’ll achieve an immediate 25 percent savings on the cost of juice, and the difference in taste is nearly undetectable.

All alkaline batteries (name-brand, store-brand and generic) perform equally well in most cases. Always opt for the cheapest.

If not stained, wool items may be professionally cleaned only once a year. Be sure to hang them between wearings and air them out occasionally to allow the natural fibers to breathe.

Add ½ cup baking soda (very inexpensive) to the wash cycle to reduce your liquid laundry detergent.

© 2000 The Cheapskate Monthly. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

"The Cheapskate Monthly" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt.  What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt.  Today, "The Cheapskate Monthly" is read by close to 100,000 Cheapskates.    Click here to subscribe.