I know from personal experience that when it comes to getting your personal finances in order, taking those first steps is one of the most difficult parts. There is so much information and it seems like it will take forever before you can ever reach your financial goals. It makes a person want to give up even before they start, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. The main thing is to start, do a little bit each day and in doing so the savings will begin to pile up. Don’t have much time? It’s not a problem. Here are 25 ways I have improved my financial situation that each should take 10 minutes or less to complete…you can do the same:
Embrace the cold
This is one of my favorite saving tips because it takes a matter of a single second to perform and saves me about $100 a year. Go to your washing machine and switch the wash cycle button to a “cold – cold” wash. Give it a try. Your clothes will get as clean as they ever did (there is this huge myth that clothes only get clean in hot or warm water washes) and since the main cost of the wash is heating the water, your costs go down. There are a lot of other little tweaks you can do to your clothes washing habits which will save you money if you want to go all out.
Throw in the towel
Not literally, but into the dryer before you begin drying a load. For those that can’t hand dry clothes or on those days when it’s not possible, this is an easy way to reduce the drying time of a load by about 10%. Best of all it takes only a few seconds to do. I actually keep a big, fluffy towel on the shelf right above the dryer to use so it’s not even a hassle finding one when I need it and I would recommend you do the same. When you place a load of wet clothes into the dryer, throw in the dry towel as well. The dry towel helps absorb the moisture in the wet clothes as it tumbles around reducing the time needed to dry the clothes and saving you a bit of money. There are a lot of other dryer money saving tricks like this for those looking for more.
Pay the price
When we were younger and didn’t have the money to buy everything in cash instead of credit, my wife and I started several pay-to-use programs. Basically, instead of just using the things that you own like your washing machine, dryer and car, you pay yourself a small amount of money each time you use them. Not only does this ensure that you will have enough money when they need to be repaired and when you replace them, it has a wonderful side effect of making you use them less and more responsibility — saving you even more money. We have never had to use credit for appliances or cars since.
Tap some savings
I used to have a terrible soda habit that was costing me over $1000 a year. I won’t say that it is easy to break a habit like this when you have one, but I’m proof that it is possible. The main point for my success was to do it gradually instead of trying to do it cold turkey (which I had tried on numerous occasions before and failed).
I decided that I could have as much soda as I wanted, but made a rule that before I could have a soda, I had to drink a full glass of water. Simple. I could have as many sodas as I wanted as long as I drank a full glass of water before having the soda. The result? I didn’t feel deprived of my soda because I could drink one anytime I wanted, but by making myself drink a glass of water first, the water reduced my cravings for so much soda. After a time I made the rule I had to have 2 glasses of water before I could have a soda and gradually got to the point where I am today and I’m completely soda free.
Feel the pressure
Checking your tire pressure is one of those money saving tips that you hear time and time again and you probably still don’t do it. It seems to be one of those things that can always be put off until later. I ended up solving this problem by finding a tire pressure gauge that fits into the gas tank area of my car (I had it in my glove compartment, but how often do you ever remember to look in there?) Now each time I go to fill up the car, the tire gauge is right there when I open the tank and since I’m standing around anyway, it’s easy enough to check the tires. This not only gives you slightly better gas mileage, it also helps your tires to last longer.
Read the writing on the wall
I love to read and I used to have a large library of several thousand books at home. I donated them all to my local library a few years ago except for about 50 that I reread and reference time and again. Now, before I purchase any book, I test read it. I reserve it at our local library (which I can do online so I don’t even have to go to see if it is there) and then pick them up the next time I happen to be in the area. If after finishing the book I know that I will want to read it again and again, I go out and buy it. If not, I’ve saved myself the $20 purchase price. Since I read quite a bit, this literally saves me more than $1000 a year.
Make a call
When I first met my wife, she had over $10,000 in credit card debt. The very first move we made was to call each of her credit card companies and ask that the her interest rates be lowered. Two of the four credit card companies did it without any questions, lowering the cards from 17% and 19% to 7% and 8%. On one we had to go past the the initial receptionist to the manager and had a 15% card reduced to 8%. The fourth card wouldn’t budge on a 18% interest rate, so we transferred the debt to the 7% card and cancelled it. If you carry any monthly balance on your credit cards, call and ask to have the interest rate lowered.
Another call to make is to your TV cable company. My mom loves her cable and she had been paying a high price for it, so I made a call to the cable company and got her bill reduced from $79.20 a month to $39.95 a month for 6 months. The cable TV business is competitive and using competitors promotions with the willingness to switch companies can often land you significant savings on what you are currently paying. The process is straightforward and simple:
1. Make the call.
2. When the phone is answered, immediately ask to speak with someone in the cancellation department.
3. Explain that you enjoy and are satisfied with your current service and you don’t want to switch to a competitor if you don’t have to, but you have a deal from the competition that is much less than what you are currently paying. Explain the deal and name the competitor — in all likelihood your service is already well aware of it since they keep tabs on one another.
4. Ask politely if they can match or at least reduce the amount you are paying for your current service so you don’t have to switch.
If they can give you a better deal, they will since it is much less costly for them to keep you as a customer than to find a new customer to replace you. I love painless savings
And one more call
Another simple call I make on a yearly basis is to my car insurance company. Insurance it an extremely competitive business and the Internet has made it easy to compare prices which puts you in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Much like with cable TV, do an Internet search and get some price quotes from competitors that you can use to bargain with. Make the call and the insurance company will do whatever they can to keep you.
If gas prices have changed your driving habits, this can also get your insurance bill lowered. Since my wife decided to take public transportation for her job rather than the car, we had 10% knocked off our most recent insurance bill when I called and asked for a better deal.
If I shop a company on a regular basis (and sometimes even if it is occasionally) I will spend the few minutes it takes to sign up for their reward program. In return, I usually get a number of discounts and special deals for things that I was going to buy anyway. I sign up for every frequent flier program because even if I never accumulate enough miles to get a free ticket, I can almost always redeem the miles I do get for free magazines. Most retail customer reward programs will send percentage off coupons throughout the year and since I would be shopping at the store anyway, it’s money in my pocket. While I’m still not a big coupon person, I have learned that signing up for the newsletters for the brands that I do buy (here’s a contact list for major food manufacturers and organic food manufacturers) will get me coupons for things I actually buy (warning: you may want to create a separate free email account if you do this to keep your main account somewhat manageable).
Turn down the heat
I am by no means a great do-it-yourself person, but I can do basic maintenance. One of the best moves I ever made was replacing a manual thermostat with a programmable model in the first house I purchased. My heating bill in the winter and air conditioning bill in the summer dropped about 20% with its installation and it was wonderful to wake up on cold winter mornings to an already warm house. Even if you have to hire someone to install it, it’s well worth the price since it will save you a bundle over time and make your living conditions a lot more comfortable.
Report some savings
The government lets you obtain a free credit report from each of the 3 major credit reporting agencies each year at annualcreditreport.com. I have it arranged so that I get one report every 4 months which I feel gives me a better idea of what is happening to my credit over the entire year rather than requesting all of them at once. I request my Experian report in January, my Equifax report in May and my TransUnion report in August. This allows me to see if there are any problems or mistakes (which can lower your credit rating and mean it costs more to get loans) and monitor to make sure there hasn’t been any identity theft that has taken place.
When my wife had all her credit card debt, I threatened to take her credit cards, place then inside a container of water and stick them in the freezer if she didn’t stop using them until they had been paid off (a step that a good friend of mine had taken years ago to stop himself from using his credit card). Although it never came to that, she did take them out of her wallet and put them in the back of her desk drawer where they did remain until the debt was paid off. The simple act of taking your credit cards out of your wallet and placing them somewhere else means that they can’t be used for impulse purchases.
Timing is everything
I have to admit that I love to take long showers. This drives my wife crazy and doesn’t do much for our water and energy (for heating the water) bills. My main problem is that I used to do a lot of my thinking and article brainstorming while in the shower so I wouldn’t even realize how long I had been in there. My wife solved that problem by bringing in it a kitchen timer that I now set at 10 minutes every time I take a shower. It does mean that I have to do my article brainstorming on walks instead of the shower, but our energy and water bills have gone down quite a bit since the timer was introduced.
Make a switch
In my younger days when my wife and I first got married, we used disposable plates, chopsticks (we live in Japan) and napkins for practically every meal. They seemed relatively inexpensive and clean-up was a lot easier, but when we realized we were spending several hundred dollars each year on all that disposable stuff, we switched to plates, regular chopsticks (silverware when in the US) and cloth napkins. An added bonus is that we produce a lot less trash than we used to as well.
Get rid of a load
This is something that I used to be really bad about. I basically was carrying around an entire sports store in my car’s trunk for a couple of years. Now the only thing in my trunk is an emergency kit and whatever supplies I need for where I happen to be going. Not only does it save me a bit on gas, I can actually fit things I need into my car now which makes my wife a lot happier.
Filter some savings
I remember taking a look at my mom’s furnace filter the last time I was back in the US. It was winter and the furnace didn’t seem to be working. It didn’t take long to realize the problem was the filter which hadn’t been changed for at least a year. Now when I call her it’s a running joke that I ask her if she has recently changed the filter. It takes a couple minutes at most to replace your heating or air conditioning filter every few months. You’ll find that doing this on a regular basis will make your systems work much more efficiently saving you money.
An audit you want
One of the best decisions I ever made was calling my local utility company and asking them to come out to do an energy audit on my house. Many offer to do this for free or they may charge a small price, but either way it’s worth it. In addition to doing the audit and showing me where I was losing money due to poor insulation and leaks (and how much it would cost to fix them), they also brought an energy saver kit with low flow shower and sink heads, weather stripping, toilet damn, etc. They offered it for less than half the regular price that it normally sold for and helped me install them. I could see the savings in my bills the next month. With energy prices at all time highs, making this call and setting up an appointment makes it even more worth the 10 minutes it takes.
See the light
We had slowly been making the switch to energy efficient CFL lighting inside our house as our old bulbs burned out, but made a full house switch a few years ago when an area store was offering them for $0.25 a piece as part of a Earth Day promotion with the local energy company. As soon as we made the switch, we wished we had done so earlier. Replacing one bulb at a time doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, but when we switched the whole house, we could instantly see the savings. Since then we have also gone to a motion sensor security light and solar lighting for the garden and pathway to our door.
Become a fan
I used to never pay much attention to the kitchen and bathroom fans in our house and I would often leave them running. I read an article that explained keeping these fans running basically sucks all the warmed (winter) and cooled (summer) air out of the house making your heating / cooling system work harder. We started to use them only when needed and turn them off religiously when we were done which resulted in a large dip in our energy bill. I still feel like hitting myself for not realizing this sooner.
Change you can believe in
My very first emergency fund was put together from the change in my pockets (it works even better in Japan where they have a $1 and $5 coin). I never liked carry change around so this was an easy saving method to implement and since coin changing machines in Japan are free (unlike in the US where saving coins can actually cost you money if you’re not careful), it was perfect. I still empty my pockets on a daily basis into a jar by our front door to this day (although now it’s our vacation fund).
Raise your standards
One of the first things I did once I had an emergency fund in place was to call my car insurance agent and raised my insurance deductible from $500 to $1000. I’ve always had the highest deductible I can get while still knowing I have the money to cover it in case an accident does happen. In fact, when our cars get older so that they are no longer worth a lot but still run fine, I drop all collision insurance.
Dephantomize your house
Did you know that the clock on your microwave oven probably uses more energy during the year than the actual use of you microwave? I ended up buying power strips to plug in all our appliances a few years ago when I learned about phantom energy use. All those appliances that you “turn off” are still consuming energy. While a single appliance by itself would not be a big deal, when you add up all the different appliances and systems in the average home, the phantom electricity load will reach $20+ a year and can even reach $100+ in houses that have a lot of electronics. Now I have a lot less phantom energy waste since I can use the power strips to keep the appliances from sucking up energy even when they appear to be off.
Flex your wallet
I can no longer participate in these programs since I am now self employed, but when I was working for a company that offered them, it was a great way to take care of all my medical needs tax free. Simply sign-up for a medical flexible spending account (FSA) if your employer offers one. You need to be careful because if you have any extra money in the account at the end of the year it gets forfeited, but there are a lot of things you can use the money for including over-the-counter medicines.
Bank on it
Opening up an online bank account was great not only because they pay much higher interest rates that traditional banks, but also because they are an excellent place to keep money that you don’t want to touch. There are plenty to choose from and you can even get sign up bonuses so that you are making money while you save.
While all of these ideas may not be appropriate for your situation, the ones that are should be easy to implement and begin helping your finances right away. Not that I want to sound like a Nike ad, but it’s true that the most important thing is to just do it. Once you get started it becomes much easier to work on other areas of your finances as well. These are just a few of the ways that you can improve your finances with little time involved. Feel free to share others that you use and have benefited from.