Single or married, many African-American women are primary earners in their households and have to make their hard-earned dollars stretch. We've rounded up practical tips to help you save big on almost everything. From housing to shopping to investing to travel, we've got you covered. Here are 40 ways to make the most of your money while adding more cash to your coffers.
1. Buy a house directly from the owner. You'll save the 5 percent fee real estate agents charge, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. For listings, go to forsalebyowner.com or trulia.com.
2. Buy foreclosed. Banks have an inventory of millions of houses selling for 20 percent to 30 percent below market price. Get a free listing of foreclosures in areas that interest you at realtytrac.com.
3. If the value of your home has fallen and your property is overassessed, hire a lawyer to protest the assessment. The lawyer gets paid only if your bill is reduced, with the fee equaling 25 percent to 50 percent of the first year's savings.
4. Instead of hiring a contractor, why not do it yourself? Consult diyornot.com for help deciding whether to go it alone. For step-by-step instructions on projects, visit doityourself.com.
5. Cut your energy bill by 15 percent by installing compact fluorescent bulbs and insulating your water heater and attic.
6. Install a programmable thermostat, which lets you raise or lower temperatures throughout your house according to your comfort level. One top pick is the Ecobee Smart Thermostat (ecobee.com), which can be operated remotely. It costs about $400, but could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
7. Buy home improvement supplies from specialty online retailers. Instead of paying top price at a national chain store, shave up to 50 percent off fixtures and more at sites such as efaucets.com, tileshop.com and horizonshutters.com.
8. Okay, it's official. You can drop your cable service. Sign up for playon.tv, an online service that gives you access to major networks, cable TV and movies via your computer or video game console, like PS3. Cost: $4.99 a month.
9. Buy designer labels at bargain prices. Fashion designers sell top-quality clothes at the end of each season for discounts of 50 percent to 75 percent off retail prices. Search for your style at bluefly.com, yoox.com or hautelook.com.
10. Download instant coupons for your favorite stores. Print them or beam them from sites like couponsherpa.com and coupons.com.
11. Sign up for cash rebates at extrabux.com. Expect to receive up to 30 percent in rebates on purchases at more than 2,500 retailers, including Walmart, Macy's and Victoria's Secret.
CREDIT AND BANKING
12. Shop for low-interest-rate credit cards: If you have a credit score of 650 or higher, go to cardrating.com to find an annual percentage rate of 7.25 percent or less, such as the card issued by Simmons First Bank (simmonsfirst.com).
13. Many banks offer up to 100,000 bonus frequent-flier miles when you sign up. To find the latest deals, browse nerdwallet.com and mybanktracker.com.
14. Earn more on savings. Check out depositaccounts.com to find the highest-yielding FDIC-insured savings accounts and CDs in the country.
15. Consolidate high-interest credit card balances. If you can't qualify for a low-interest-rate credit card because your credit score is too low or you've accumulated too much debt at interest rates of 20 percent or more, it might make sense to work with a national credit counseling agency to combine all your outstanding debts into one payment at a much lower interest rate (typically 6 percent to 10 percent). This will allow you to pay off all your credit card debt in two to three years instead of 20-plus. To avoid scams, choose an agency that's a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org) or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (aiccca.org). And check with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to make sure there aren't any alerts on the provider you're considering. One to try: Cambridge Credit Counseling at cambridge-credit.org or 800-527-7595.
16. Track spending. Simple financial software or apps for your smartphone can help you identify where your dollars go. You'll be amazed at how much you waste every day! Take back control with packages such as Quicken, Acemoney and UltrasoftMoney.
17. Shop doctors for the best prices. Before you go for any procedure, compare what different doctors charge at healthinreach.com.
18. Settle medical bills. Offer to clear your outstanding debts to a health care provider for 10 percent to 20 percent of what you owe. You could save thousands of dollars that otherwise could hang over you for years. You can also use a professional negotiating service such as Health Care Advocates (healthcareadvocates.com or 215-735-7711).
19. Sign up for a dental discount plan and score 20 percent to 70 percent off everything from routine cleanings to root canals to bridge work to orthodontics. To find discounts at 87,000 dentists, try Key Dental Plans at keydental.com or 800-539-4550.
20. For the drugs that you take on a regular nonemergency basis, fill prescriptions from Canadian online pharmacies such as canadadrugsonline.com and save 50 percent or more over American prices.
21. Sign up for a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) if your employer offers it. An FSA program allows you to put aside up to $2,500 a year on a pretax basis to use for medical, dependent care and transportation expenses. Just make sure to use all the money by the end of the year. If you don't use it, you'll lose it.
22. If your current mortgage interest rate is 4 percent or higher and your credit score is 650 or higher, you can save tens of thousands in interest by refinancing to a mortgage at 3 percent to 3.5 percent.
23. You can even refinance if you owe more on your mortgage than your house is worth (known as being under water). Consult the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program to find out if you qualify. Go to youcanrefi.com or call 888-777-9682.
24. Employ the Mortgage Equity Optimization Strategy to pay off your 30-year mortgage in about five to seven years on your existing level of income. This strategy involves using a home equity line of credit as your main bank account. Discover how this might work for you at truthinequity.com.
25. If you hate to negotiate with car dealers, hire a car-buying service to help you figure out which car fits your needs, then shop for the best price and financing or lease deal within 100 miles of where you live. Expect to save $1,000 to $5,000. Just make sure you hire a buyer's agent, who only represents you. Consider using CarQ at carq.com or 800-517-2277. This service charges $300 to $500, depending on whether it reviews the deal you already have or handles the purchase from beginning to end.
26. Sign up for pay-as-you-drive car insurance. Install a device in your car that monitors mileage and your driving habits. Car insurance companies such as Progressive offer discounts of up to 30 percent on premiums if you limit your mileage and demonstrate safe driving.
27. Settle back taxes with the IRS or your state tax agency to avoid massive penalties and interest mounting up. Both the IRS and states provide Offer in Compromise programs that allow you to settle your past tax debts for pennies on the dollar, typically from 20 to 50 cents, depending on your circumstances. To see if you qualify for these programs, go to taxlifeboat.com or call 877-440-1740.
28. Consolidate your federal and private student loans at a lower interest rate and pay them off years sooner, saving you tens of thousands of dollars in interest. You may also qualify for federal income-based repayment plans, which forgive all your student loans after ten years if you meet certain criteria. Visit College Education Services at quickconsolidation.com or call 855-460-3543 to learn more.
29. If you need an advanced degree to get a raise at work, you can take courses online at a reputable university. While colleges charge the same tuition for online courses as for attending in person—and some charge more—going back to school virtually allows you to keep earning a paycheck at your job. To get a list of accredited online degree programs, go to ope.ed.gov/accreditation.
30. Find the best deals on student loans and grants. To sort through the bewildering thicket of loan and grant options, go to finaid.org, which also provides a calculator to estimate your expected contribution to tuition costs.
31. Learn about almost any topic from top professors for free. Go to the Open Courseware Consortium's Web site (ocwconsortium.org) and download lectures. To drop in on college courses at some of the best universities in the world, go to education-portal.com.
32. Snag a great deal on a cruise. If you book through a travel agent who specializes in cruises, you can get as much as 50 percent off published fares. To find these agents log on to cruising.org. You can also have travel agents compete to offer you the best deal on a cruise package at cruisecompete.com.
33. Get the lowest airfares online. Many Web sites, such as Travelocity and Expedia, automatically search for the best daily fares, but sites such as airfarewatchdog.com and farecompare.com often find deals that the big sites miss because they scan every airline's fares continuously.
34. Save big on hotel rooms. Hotels presell millions of their rooms to large hotel booking sites that pass the savings of as much as 50 percent off published rates to you. Two sites for such deals are hotels.com and hotelsweep.com.
35. Book last-minute travel deals. If you are able to be flexible and can travel within 30 days of booking a vacation, you can save 50 percent or more off regular rates. Visit evrentals.com/last-minute-vacations for deals on rental condos and time-shares.
36. Skip baggage fees. Many carriers charge $25 or more per checked bag. Cut down on those fees by flying on airlines such as JetBlue (first checked bag is free) and Southwest (no charge for two checked bags), or get an airline credit card with Delta or American Airlines which lets you check your first bag for free.
37. Eat out for less. By printing coupons for your favorite restaurants from sites such as restaurant.com and groupon.com, you can save as much as $25 off a meal at any of the thousands of eateries in their listings.
38. Go off-airport to save on car rentals. If you rent a car from a local car rental agency or dealership, you can save $50 or more per day. For example, check out deals at toyota.com/rental.
39. Slash those brokerage fees. If you can pick stocks on your own, you can dramatically whittle down the commissions you pay by signing up with a deep discount online broker. Get a list of the best deals at stocktrading.com. Two examples: You pay only $3.95 a trade at optionshouse.com or $4.95 a trade at tradeking.com.
40. Enroll in a Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP). A DRIP allows you to automatically reinvest dividends into more shares of a stock with little or no brokerage fees. It compounds your money over time without your having to monitor it. Sign up for DRIPs at hundreds of companies at directinvesting.com for a one-time fee of $25.