Kiplinger Today


Save Thousands in 15 Minutes or Less

Want to save a thousand dollars without leaving the house? It's possible with these quick, easy tips on everything from credit cards to audio books.


Ditch that expensive airline credit card

What you need: Driver's license, credit card and bank account numbers

How to do it: Annual fees for airline-specific credit cards can run as high as $95. With these no-fee travel cards, you earn points good on dozens of airlines, not only eliminating the fee but giving you a wider variety of airline choices. Apply for the Simmons First Visa Platinum Travel Rewards card or the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card. To get the PenFed card, you'll need to join the credit union, which costs just $15 for membership in Voices for America's Troops.

(based on one credit card change)


Lower the interest rate on your plastic

What you need: An excellent credit score -- 720 or higher

How to do it: Go to and click on Low Interest Credit Cards. Then search through the offerings and apply. With a high credit score, you should get a card with a rate in the 7%-to-8% range.

(switching from an average 14.17% rate to 7.25%, on a balance of $5,000)

Avoid bounced checks and costly overdraft charges

What you need: Checking account number

How to do it: Go to your bank's Web site or call a toll-free number. Link your checking account to a savings account or a home-equity line of credit. If you write a check you can't cover, the bank transfers funds, saving you overdraft fees of up to $35 each. Cost per transfer: $10 to $20. The fee is often waived for account holders with large savings balances.


Set up bank alerts to avoid fraud and unexpected fees

What you need:
An online bank account
Cell phone or e-mail address

How to do it: Click the tab in your online banking account to set up alerts to be sent to your e-mail or cell phone, or both. You'll avoid insufficient-funds fees that can be as high as $35. Other alerts notify you if your online ID, password or mailing address is changed so that you'll know if someone is trying to steal your money or your identity.

(assumes six overdraft fees avoided)

Sign up for automatic federal student loan payments

What you need:
Savings or checking account
Bank routing number
Bank account number

How to do it: To shave 0.25 percentage point off your student-loan interest rate, head to to access your federal student loans. First-time visitors will need to select a password, choose a security image and set security questions. Log in and click on "KwikPay" to enter your bank account information. You must agree to the terms and conditions and provide your electronic signature (your name, password and the date). Be sure to print your electronic receipt.

(assumes average loan amount of $25,250, paid back over ten years)

Total savings this section: $690


Switch to energy-efficient lighting

What you need: Energy-saving light bulbs

How to do it: Identify your five most-used lights -- those that are on for a minimum of two hours daily, indoors or out -- and replace them with Energy Star-qualified bulbs. Such bulbs cost more but last much longer. The price is about $2 for a compact fluorescent bulb, $4 to $8 for a halogen incandescent, and $10 to $26 for a light-emitting diode, or LED, bulb. For help selecting bulbs, see "How to Choose: The ABCs of Efficient Lighting," at New labels make it easier to pick bulbs based on brightness, light color and use of electricity.


Install a water-saving showerhead

What you need:
A WaterSense-qualified showerhead
An adjustable wrench and pliers, a couple of rags, a toothbrush, and plumber's tape

How to do it: A WaterSense-qualified showerhead ($15 to about $100) reduces water use but still delivers a spray with enough oomph to wake you up. Unscrew your old showerhead (using the tools and the rags to avoid scratching your hardware), clean the screw thread on the pipe with the toothbrush, wind some plumber's tape around the threads a few times, and screw on the new showerhead. (See "How to Install a New Shower Head for Dummies," on YouTube.) Check with your local water utility to see if you can get a rebate on your purchase (typically $5 to $10 per unit).


Slay your energy vampires

What you need: Belkin Conserve Smart AV ($29 at

How to do it: The Belkin device is a surge protector/power strip that will automatically shut off such components as a gaming console, receiver and speakers when you turn off your TV monitor. Simply plug the TV monitor into the green master outlet, and when you turn the TV off, the strip cuts power to peripherals connected to five of its seven outlets. (The two remaining outlets serve cable set-top boxes and DVRs that need constant connectivity to download program guides and record shows.)

(assumes energy savings on a DVD player, VCR, game console, subwoofer and amplifier)

Find a low refi rate and a good lender

What you need: The interest rate, balance and years left on your current mortgage

How to do it: Use the calculator at to determine the optimal refi rate for your situation. Then sign up at to receive e-mail updates as lenders offer rates that meet your needs. If you want lenders to contact you, sign up at

(assumes a 30-year fixed-rate loan of $195,000 dropping to 4.2% from 6.2%)

Put in a programmable thermostat

What you need:
A programmable thermostat ($20 to $160 at home and hardware stores)
Screwdriver, masking tape, pencil and drill

How to do it: Remove the old thermostat and label the wires according to their existing connections so that you can match them to the new ones. (Don't forget to switch off the circuit breaker.) To see it done, watch "How to Install a Programmable Thermostat—The Home Depot" on YouTube.

(net savings using the thermostat's preprogrammed settings)

Total savings this section: $3,766

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