- Plan your meals; knowing what you're going to have for dinner means you're less likely to succomb to the ease of eating out.
- Make a list before you go to the grocery store, and do not stray from it. Those marketing people are counting on you to impulse buy; the entire store is designed to entice you to buy things that you hadn't planned on purchasing.
- Take back things that you are not going to use.
- Compare prices per unit (ounces, milliliters, etc.). Most price tags offer that information, but if they don't, get out your calculator. Bigger isn't always cheaper per unit, especially if you won't use very much of the product and it goes to waste.
- Buy generic when you can. Many generic products are made by the same company as the brand-name ones.
- Look through the paper for store advertisements and circulars. Wal-mart, for example, will match any competitor's ads.
- Use coupons for things that you buy anyway, but avoid the products that you wouldn't normally buy (don't forget that coupons are first & foremost an effective money-making tool for the companies).
- Monitor your spending habits. Look for areas where you could cut back.
- Research your company's 401(k) plan and start contributing to it! A majority of employers will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. This is money that you would not get otherwise--so it is wise to capitalize on this. Your contributions are taken out before taxes, and therefore your net paycheck does not suffer that much, speaking from firsthand experience.
- Start an online savings account, and set up automatic money transfers into it that coincide with your paydays. If you don't have that money in your checking account, it won't seem so disposable. We use INGDirect. There is a $25 sign on bonus, and they pay three to four times better interest than a traditional savings account at the bank. We made nearly $180 in just interest in 2007, in addition to the sizeable nest egg we now have saved.
- Monitor your credit report yearly. Dispute any discrepancies. Be proactive.
- Work to build your credit worthiness. The better your credit, the better the interest rates you can get on mortgages and the more money you save in the long run.
- Use credit cards responsibly. Pay your bills on time and in full. Do not "max out" your cards; maintain a sizeable cushion between your balances and your credit limits. Do not apply for credit cards just to get the 10% discount; there really is such a thing as too much credit. And every time you apply for such a card, an inquiry is made into your credit; having multiple inquiries from several different lenders lowers your credit score. One retail card at a store that you frequent is probably enough (though we don't even have that), and one visa or mastercard (accepted in most places)--preferrably with a rewards or cashback program--is more than sufficient.
- Simply put: don't spend beyond your means.
- And for goodness' sakes: tithe/give to charity. The return on this investment is immeasurable.
- Partner up with other moms/parents and trade off on providing childcare for each other at no cost.
- Use the free programs at the local library or go to the park for the afternoon.
- Breastfeed if you can. kellymom.com estimates that breastfeeding saves you anywhere from $714 to $3164 in the first year of life over having to buy formula, not to mention the added benefit of reduced medical costs due to the boost in baby's immunity.
- Make your own baby food. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than grinding up the dinner you make for the rest of the family.
- Shop the consignment sales. The quality is like new, and the prices are very reasonable.
- Be a consigner yourself. I haven't tried this yet, because I'm too sentimental to part with the baby clothes yet, but a friend of mine made around $200 at the Rhea Lana sale earlier this month with relatively little effort on her part. I am working up the courage to participate in the next sale.
- Pursue energy efficiency.
- Change air filters regularly, and clean out your dryer vent often.
- Keep your appliances in good, working order.
- Replace weather stripping on doors and caulk around your windows.
- Use compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
- Install a programmable thermostat. For a one-time purchase of around $30 to $40, you can save approximately $150/year in energy costs, according to Energy Star.
- Do your own lawncare/landscaping.
- Do your own home repair or barter services with a neighbor (mow their lawn in exchange for a repair, for example).
- Consider purchasing a home maintenance warranty plan for larger repairs.
- Install guttering on all sides of the house to prevent moisture damage to your foundation.
- In general, keep your home in good repair.
Finally, I recommend feeding the following website for great money-saving tips: The Simple Dollar. They offer practical advice in layman's terms, or as they say "financial talk for the rest of us."♦