Figure out how to trim the fat with these practical cues from Personal Finance Editor Tanisha A. Sykes.
SCRUTINIZE YOUR CELL PHONE BILL
I absolutely love my cell phone. But I don't love the way my cell phone provider lays out its bill. It took my husband and me an hour with a representative to figure out we were overpaying for insurance and unlimited data plans. We dropped them in one minute flat!
SAVE $30 A MONTH
Instead of buying a $650 keyboard for our 9-year-old daughter's free piano lessons (she won a scholarship worth $1,400 for 10 months of lessons), I cleaned off my in-law's Yamaha keyboard. Yeah, it's a little clunky, but no matter as long as she learns the scales. At those prices, it would have cost us a little more than $200 per month to provide the same opportunity. For gently used items, check out etsy.com and copious.com.
SAVE $205 A MONTH
HAVE A GIRLS' NIGHT IN
About four times a year, a group of girlfriends and I get together for cocktails and dinner at a restaurant. Although it's not high-end fare, it can add up to a few hundred dollars annually. Now we meet twice a year at one another's homes instead of eating out as often.
SAVE $200 A YEAR
"The key to couponing is to only buy what's on sale and have a coupon for it," says reader LaKenya Linton, 34, co-owner of Hustling Spirit Clothing (hustlingspirit.com) in Mount Royal, New Jersey. An avid couponer, Linton once saw Brawny single paper towel rolls on sale for $1 each. At the coupon clipping service weclipyousave.com, she bought 80 Brawny coupons for $6. Each coupon was worth 50 cents off Brawny. Her local supermarket doubles coupons, so when Brawny single roll paper towels went on sale, she bought 80 rolls and essentially got them for free. "I haven't had to buy paper towels, toilet paper or deodorant for six months," she exclaims.
SAVE $50 A MONTH
SKIP THE EXTRA KIDS' ACTIVITIES
I got a text from a girlfriend recently telling me about yet another activity for our daughter. I'm all for raising well-rounded children, but after the $125 gymnastics payment, the $165 after-school care payment, registration fees, uniform, sneakers and fund-raising duties, I thought, She could dance next year.
SAVE $25 A MONTH
DROP THE GYM
My dad always says, "Baby, convenience will cost you every time." And he's right. I've gotten into the habit of paying for extras to save time. For example, I recently belonged to two gyms. That's right, you heard me. The one closest to my home is bare bones, and for $37 a month my husband and I work it out. At the posh gym near my job in New York City, I pay nearly $110 a month. It's a lovely gym with a beautiful spa, but right now, it's not worth it. Gone.
SAVE $110 A MONTH
COOK AT HOME
As deadlines loom and late nights at work increase, making meals at home ceases. Enter takeout consisting of breakfast smoothies, grilled salmon and mixed salad and pasta bowls from my favorite restaurants. Dining out equals 11.27 percent of the cost of living expenses for an average New Yorker, according to published reports. So I made some changes. Now, when duty calls, I plan meals for work and keep snacks handy.
SAVE $200 A MONTH
For Linton, a married mother of Kingston, 3, and Jerrell, 16, getting a deal on clothing is a must. "I once bought my toddler a Ralph Lauren three-piece suit for $20. Thrifting works for me because it's good-quality clothing, but if my younger son rips his shirt, I don't mind because it's secondhand," she says. She shops at Once Upon a Child (onceuponachild.com) and Plato's Closet (platoscloset.com), both of which have multiple U.S. locations. "They even have sales where you can stuff as much as you can in a bag for $10. Plus, I sell some of the items back to the store, so it's like recycling," she says.
SAVE $75 A MONTH
SLASH THE CREDIT REPORT MONITORING
After a business deal gone awry a few years ago, I'm working on improving my credit score. It's inching higher, thanks to on-time payments and lower debt levels. Credit monitoring is a good idea if you have been a victim of identity theft or you are planning to make a large purchase such as a home. Instead of paying for a service, I order a free copy of my credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting companies at annualcredit.com.
SAVE $16 A MONTH
PUT ALERTS ON YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
Late fees, over-the-limit fees and bounced checks can wreak havoc on your family's finances. "Make sure you have alerts from your banks when your account balance reaches a certain threshold," says Gail Perry-Mason, senior director of investments at Oppenheimer & Co. in Michigan. "Overdrafts are just giving money away. Go to mint.com and get a financial report card weekly."
SAVE $35 A MONTH
FIND FREE TUTORING
My 16-year-old son needed help in algebra II. I called a service with a great reputation and a 100 percent money-back guarantee. After speaking with the representative, I was sold—until she said you have to buy the tutoring in increments of 7 hours, 15 hours or 30 hours. Of course, I said: "I'll take 30 hours." Her response: "Well, it's $70 per hour, so that will be $2,100." I said, "Um...what's the payment plan?" There wasn't one. I advised my son to go to the free tutoring service at his school, seek out his teacher and study with a kid who's excelling in the subject. He did just that and is now doing better. There's nothing like exploring your options and saving money to boot.
SAVE $467 A MONTH
TAKE A MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS DAY
Make some changes at home. "Each week, shop and compare your insurance rates, cable, cell phones, auto loans and energy bills," advises Perry-Mason. Consider whether you really need the services of the landscaper, the hairdresser and the nail salon, she says. Always monitor your bank account to ensure that you're getting the very best deal for your dollars.
SAVE UNLIMITED AMOUNTS