This weekend I read a book called 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth by John Javna. As the title indicates, it’s a book about living a greener lifestyle. In the book the author talks about “picking the low hanging fruit” when greening your lifestyle. By “low hanging fruit,” he means those changes that are easy to make, have a low learning curve, don’t cost a lot, and don’t require major lifestyle changes. Despite their ease, low hanging fruits can have a big impact. Some examples of low hanging environmental fruit are putting in CFL light bulbs, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, turning off the lights when you leave a room, and turning the thermostat up or down a couple of degrees to save energy. Low hanging fruit is the easy, simple stuff anyone can do but that, over time, adds up to big benefits for the planet.
While I was reading this book, it struck me that personal finance has a lot of low hanging fruit, as well. Getting control of your finances doesn’t always require radical lifestyle changes or a lot of time spent learning new concepts. Many times what’s needed are small adjustments that will, over time, save you a lot of money and improve your overall financial picture. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of low hanging personal finance fruit. You’ve probably heard some of these before, but they bear repeating because of their simplicity and capacity to generate big savings.
1. Save something out of each paycheck. Even if it’s only $5, remember it will grow over time.
2. Make a (realistic) budget and follow it. Learn where your money goes and how to better allocate it.
3. Adjust the thermostat up or down a couple of degrees. Good for your wallet and the planet.
4. Turn off the lights, computers, TV’s, etc. when you’re not in the room. To make it easier, put things on power strips and just flick off the strip.
5. Revisit your insurance policies, service contracts, utilities, etc. See if there are better deals available than what you have now and/or cut some features you never use.
6. Eat out less.
7. Identify your money drains and plug them. If it’s clothes, shoes, DVD’s, books, food, coffee, etc. that’s costing you money, figure out ways to cut your spending on these items.
8. Save your change/dollar bills and put the money in a high-yield savings account.
9. Stick to a list in the grocery store.
10. Learn how to use coupons and grocery sales to their best advantage.
11. Look for free entertainment and ditch cable, DVD rentals, etc.
12. Reduce your water bill by taking shorter showers and only running full loads of wash.
13. Pay down your debt (even if you can only pay a small amount over the minimum, it helps) and don’t add more.
14. Fund your retirement. Whether it’s a 401K or your own IRA, stash a little something each paycheck for your old age and make certain to get any matching funds your company offers.
15. Shop thrift stores, yard sales, and consignment shops for some of your needs.
16. Stop shopping recreationally. Only hit the store when you need something.
17. Pay less than retail for as much as you can. Whether it’s by shopping sales, using coupons, or negotiating the price, don’t pay retail unless you have no other choice.
18. Read about personal finance and become familiar with the vocabulary and concepts.
19. Sell things you don’t need to generate quick cash and reduce clutter.
20. Brown bag your lunch to work and have the kids do the same for school.
21. Keep a price book and know where the best prices are found and on which brands.
22. Save on gas by combining trips, planning your route, keeping your car maintained, and slowing down.
23. Lower your water bill by taking shorter showers, washing clothes and dishes only when you have full loads, and only watering the lawn when it really needs it.
24. Check your credit report and correct any errors.
25. Use cold water in the laundry instead of hot.
26. Reduce the temperature on your water heater to save electricity (not lower than 120 degrees Fahrenheit or you risk bacteria growth).
27. Get a reusable bottle and carry your own coffee or water rather than buying it.
28. Be conscious of fees and avoid late fees on bills, overdraft fees, ATM fees, and annual fees for credit cards.
29. Use your library for books and other media.
30. Consider bundling services. Many cable and phone companies offer bundles of phone, Internet and TV services that may save you money. Only do this if you will use all the features in the bundle and it truly saves you money.
31. Switch to cloth napkins and towels to save on the cost of paper products.
32. Ask for a lower interest rate on your credit cards, or move your balance to a lower rate card.
33. Don’t waste anything. Eat what you buy at the store, eat your leftovers, use up all of a product before tossing the bottle, and be aware of expiration dates so things don’t go bad before you can use them.
34. Get cash back for online shopping through programs like Ebates or points sites such as MyPoints, Quick Rewards, or Sunshine Rewards.
35. Pay bills online and save postage, check and stationary costs.
36. Eliminate magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Use the library, read them online or get them for free.
Sometimes we overlook the low hanging fruits when faced with large financial problems. We think that simple, easily attainable steps can’t possibly help, so we overreach and head straight for the higher fruits which are harder to master. Then we get frustrated and give up.
In addition to being easy, the benefit of picking the low hanging financial fruit is that it prepares you to pick the higher fruits. Once you master the small things, you have more knowledge and confidence to reach higher for the things that are harder to learn and change. Picking low hanging fruit is also motivational. When you start to see small changes adding up, you become motivated to do more and learn more. So don’t overlook the low hanging fruit. Grab it and let it work for you.