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12 Ways to Save Money Today

Who couldn't use a little extra money right now?

Ending up with a little extra cash at the end of the month is no daydream. You have the power to put more money in your own hands every month. And it doesn't mean taking cold showers or going without coffee runs.

A few simple changes can net you some significant gains. The trick: Keep to the ones that are compatible with your lifestyle. One person's luxury is another person's necessity. But if you make cuts in areas where you're least likely to feel it, you're way ahead of the game.

Here are a dozen ways you might save money:

1. Bargain.

"There are no set prices on anything anymore," says Fred Brock, author of "Live Well on Less Than You Think." "Everything's up for grabs."

And that could even include your health care bills. After a medical procedure left him with a bill that was less than his insurance deductible, Brock negotiated a deal with the health care provider. His approach to them: "Why don't I pay it commensurate with the rate the insurance company would have paid?" he says. The savings: more than $500.

With medical care, that often means you're doing your bargaining after the fact. "That's OK," says Brock. "Do it anyway."

2. Bring your own.

When Brock worked in a New York office, co-workers would feed the vending machines $1, twice a day.

His solution: go to a discount retailer, buy the same drinks or snacks, and take them to work every day.

A two-can-a-day soda habit drops from $2 a day to about 50 cents a day. That's $366 a year of found money, without giving up the soft drink fix. Or, with a relatively modest 6 percent return, it could grow into $30,791 in 30 years. (Check out the compounding interest calculator at MoneyChimp.com to calculate your own savings.

3. Identify invisible waste.

Nearly everyone spends money on things they don't use, such as:

  • Extra phone minutes, or that fee that allows you a discount rate for calls to Canada (when you don't know anyone in Canada)
  • Wasted vegetables that get tossed
  • Cable stations that you're never home to watch
  • Subscriptions to magazines you "should" read (and don't)
4. Deep-six the guilt and start buying smart.

Instead of planning for the way you should live, plan around the way you do live. That means if you know you're really going to eat dinner out twice this week, you can plan to buy groceries for five dinners at home, not seven.

Or, you can make a soup or stew with leftover food, and freeze it for one night when you don't feel like making dinner and don't want to spend money on ordering in.

Do movie night at home. Instead of shelling out $10 for each ticket plus expensive concessions, a family can make popcorn and rent a movie, says Brock. Suddenly that $55 night out costs less than $10 (or just a couple of bucks, if you check out the movie for free or $1 from your local library). And there's a lot more family interaction than when you're sitting there in a darkened theater, he says.

5. Get automated.

An automated thermostat costs about $35 to $55, says Lee Goldberg, who covers sustainable technologies and renewable power as a senior technical editor at EN-Genius.net, a Web site for electronic design engineers.

What it will save you: "About 10 percent on your utility bills," he says. It pays for itself in no time and means that you're not paying to heat or cool the house when you're not there.

6. Cut back on cars.

Can you make do with one car instead of two, or two instead of three? "Having one car makes a tremendous difference," says Brock. "Cars are like money pits."

Or, if you don't want to cut the number of cars you own, can you cut back on the miles you drive? Combining errands, or picking things up on the way to and from work is a great way to reduce mileage, gas consumption and vehicle wear and tear.

Goldberg likes to car pool with neighbors, especially when there's a longer drive involved. Besides saving money, "you're building your social network," he says.

7. Clean for less.

Brock received one of his best money-saving tips from a home economics professor. Her advice: Next time you need household cleaners, pick up an inexpensive spray bottle at the store and fill it with a mixture of white vinegar and water. If what you're cleaning needs a little more muscle, add some baking soda (carefully, so that you don't get that volcano effect). "You can clean anything you want with it," Brock says.

8. Reshop your insurance.

"Revisit all of your policies," says Carolyn McClanahan, CFP, president of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla. The common problem: Consumers carry deductibles that are too low. Most people wouldn't file a homeowners insurance claim for a few hundred dollars. So why pay for that coverage?

Set deductibles to the highest amount you can comfortably afford to pay out of pocket. Changing your deductible to $1,000 or $2,000 can save you some money, she says.

And if you have group life insurance through your employer, you can probably get a better deal on your own, says Andrew Tignanelli, CPA, CFP, and president of Baltimore-based The Financial Consulate Inc. "On average, private term life insurance is 20 to 50 percent cheaper" than a group policy, he says.

The key: You want a solid company that will stand behind the policy. Check out your top picks with ratings services such as A.M. Best or Standard & Poor's, he says. And limit your selections to only top-rated firms.

9. Slice your food bill (without cutting back on food).

Want good produce for less? Investigate community-supported agriculture (CSA), says Goldberg.

How it works: You buy a "share" of a local farmer's crop. And he or she delivers it to your door once a week or so.

Another good option: the local farmers market. One source for finding local CSA options or farmers markets: LocalHarvest.org.

10. Be a water miser.

Would it bother you to limit your showers to 10 minutes? For some people, this is a major sacrifice; for others, no big deal. If you're in the latter camp, give it a try.

McClanahan tried it in her house one month "and the water bills went down significantly," she says.

Other water-saving ideas: Turn off that tap while you brush your teeth. And, if you use ground or tap water in the garden, set times to water for a short span in the wee hours of the night. That way, water you use goes into the plants, instead of evaporating. Or you can purchase a rain barrel to capture free rain water to use on plants.

11. Investigate bulk buying.

Sometimes buying a larger amount saves you money. So do the math: If that 24-pack of toilet tissue is really cheaper, make room in the closet. Likewise, buying larger cuts of meat (like whole chickens), and cutting them yourself can yield the same dinners for a lot less, says Goldberg.

Examine the prices of things you buy regularly to see if bulk buying might save you money.

12. Don't just cut spending: save.

"What's important is that you save it - you don't fritter it away on something else," says Brock. At the end of the week, take the money and deposit it into a savings account. And at the end of the month, "take it out and put it into a mutual fund, or whatever your investment vehicle is," he says. "Get it out of the bank and invest it. Over time, you'll be able to save an incredible amount of money."

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