Save $50 a Day: The Complete List
Here are all our ideas to trim food, utility, housing, insurance costs and more.
We searched for big gains -- with little pain. The result? We sliced food bills by $2,794, found $1,214 in savings on utility costs, discovered leisure for $2,241 less, cut $3,715 in fees from banking and loans, plus shaved transportation costs by $2,827.
All the ideas listed in the section below reduce your cost-of-living by $18,250 per year. Break it down and you're saving $50 a day. See which ones work for you. Plus, find out how three super savers do it. (Don't forget to add your tips in the Comment Box below.
Pay Less for Banking & Loans
1. Bye-Bye, Late Fees: Millions pay credit-card late fees of as much as $39 each month. Use an automatic debit to make payments and you'll never be late again.
Annual Savings: $234(eliminating six late fees a year )
2. Wipe Out Interest: The average household has $7,430 in credit-card debt. But let’s assume you have just half that. Take advantage of a 12-month 0% balance-transfer offer from Bank of America or Discover.
Annual Savings: $422(on a rate of 13.6%)
3. Stay in-Network, Nix ATM Charges: Each time you use an out-of-network ATM, you pay an average of $3.43. Avoid charges by selecting a bank like Citibank, with more than 23,000 fee-free ATMs.
Annual Savings: $178(based on one fewer out-of-network ATM withdrawal per week)
4. Get Free Checking No Minimum? No Matter: Brick-and-mortar banks charge an average fee of $12 per month for checking accounts and require an average minimum balance of almost $3,500 to avoid it. If you use direct deposit or make five or more debit-card purchases each month, Chase offers a free account with no minimum balance required. Or bank online at Salem Five Bank, pay no monthly fees, and earn 2.75%.
Annual Savings: $144
5. Use Cash-Back Cards Savings Really Add Up: Tired of accruing airline miles that you can never redeem? Switch to a cash-back credit card and earn enough in a year to pay for a coast-to-coast ticket. If you spend $850 a month for 12 months using Blue Cash from American Express, you could see a $250 credit on your bill at the end of the period. Even charging $550 a month on basics such as groceries, gas and drugstore purchases can put money in your pocket.
Annual Savings: $250
6. Bounce No More Sign Up for Free Alerts: The average bounced-check fee has increased 34% over the past ten years and is now $29, according to Bankrate.com. If you never balance your checkbook, sign up for your bank's free alerts to warn you if your balance drops to the preset amount of your choice. Need a safety net? You can get overdraft protection. Just be sure you know how much you're paying for it.
Annual Savings: $174(six fewer overdrafts per year)
7. Refinance a Mortgage: Monthly mortgage payments take up the lion's share of most household budgets, so refinancing can produce substantial savings. With the interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan at less than 5.5%, now is a good time to refinance.
Slashing your rate from 6.75% to 5.25% on a 30-year loan will save you 17% on your monthly payment. On a $200,000 mortgage, that translates into a savings of almost $193 per month. For your own situation, use the How much will my payment be? calculator at Kiplinger.com. Of course, for a refi to pay off, you must stay in the house long enough to recoup any closing costs, which typically amount to 2% to 4% of the loan.
Annual Savings: $2,313(refinancing a $200,000 mortgage)
TOTAL ANNUAL BANKING SAVINGS: $3,715
Pay Less for Investing Costs
1. Slash Investing Costs They Drag Down Performance: The average diversified U.S. stock mutual fund charges 1.3% a year in expenses. If your fund isn't beating its benchmark (or you don't have the time to monitor actively managed funds), you're better off buying a low-cost index fund or ETF that hews to the benchmark. For instance, Fidelity Spartan 500 Index fund (symbol FSMKX), which tracks Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, has an annual expense ratio of just 0.10%. And indexing isn't a compromise strategy. Managers of many top pension funds and endowments swear by it.
Annual Savings: $1,200(based on cutting expenses from 1.3% to 0.10% on a $100,000 portfolio)
2. Keep Tabs on Your Trades: If you aren't an active trader, make sure you’re not penalized by a broker who charges an "inactivity fee." For example, E*Trade charges investors who don’t conduct any trades in a given three-month period $40 for the quarter.
Annual Savings: $160
3. Clone Your Favorite Manager: Sticking with no-load mutual funds is a strategy that can save thousands over time, and there is almost always a great no-load alternative to a load fund. For example, instead of shelling out a 4.75% load for Davis NY Venture A fund (NYVTX), go for the nearly identical Selected American Shares S fund (SLASX), which doesn’t have a sales charge.
Annual Savings: $235(avoiding a 4.75% load on a $5,000 investment)
4. Go With a Discount Broker: Full-service firms charge $30 or more for an online stock trade. But online brokers' fees average just $10, reports Aite Group, a financial research firm. We like E*Trade and TD Ameritrade for $10 trades. And be honest: Is your broker’s research worth the extra 20 bucks?
Or, trade for free. ZeccoTrading gives you ten free stock trades per month if you maintain a minimum balance of $25,000. WellsTrade allows 100 free trades a year if you keep a total of $25,000 or more in Wells Fargo in almost all types of accounts.
Annual Savings: $240(using a discount broker for one trade per month)
TOTAL ANNUAL INVESTING SAVINGS: $1,835
Pay Less for Health and Insurance Costs
1. Reshop Life Insurance Rates Are Lower, Even Though You're Older: Premiums have plummeted over the past decade, and you may be able to save hundreds of dollars by reshopping your policy, even though you're older now. Term-insurance prices varied widely in 1998, and many major insurers were charging a 40-year-old man at least $750 per year for a $500,000, 20-year term policy. Today, a healthy 50-year-old man can buy a $500,000 ten-year term policy (which expires in the same year) for just $445 -- a savings of more than $300 per year. Compare prices among dozens of insurers at Accuquote.com.
Annual Savings: $300(on a ten-year term policy for a 50-year-old)
2. Save on Meds Generics Pummel Pill Prices: Try switching from brand-name prescription drugs to generics or other low-cost alternatives. A 50-year-old couple taking five common drugsÑa cholesterol-lowering medication for each, plus high-blood-pressure and enlarged-prostate drugs for the husband and an osteoporosis drug for the wifeÑcould lower their monthly costs from about $575 to $37 by switching to generics and shopping at a lower-cost pharmacy. Find alternatives for your medications at Destination Rx.
Annual Savings: $797(by switching blood-pressure medication Norvasc to the generic brand at a big-box store)
3. Insure for Less Lower Your Home Premiums: Raising the deductible on your homeowners insurance policy from $250 to $1,000 or $2,500 can lower your premiums by 15% to 25% per year.For example, boosting the deductible from $250 to $1,000 on a house insured for $250,000 in northern California reduces the average annual premium at the 22 companies in InsWeb's database by $188; raising the deductible from $250 to $2,500 lowers the average premium by $319.
Annual Savings: $319(on a house insured for $250,000)
4. Raise Your Limits Boost the Deductibles: Increasing the deductibles on your comprehensive and collision coverage from $500 to $1,000, or even $2,500, can reduce your premiums by 12% to 18%. For example, boosting the deductibles from $500 to $1,000 would mean a savings of $648 per year, on average, for a northern California family with two teenage drivers, according to the database at InsWeb, an insurance Web site. Raising the deductibles from $250 to $2,500 lowers the average premium by $1,503.
Annual Savings: $648(with a $1,000 deductible and two teenagers)
TOTAL ANNUAL INSURANCE SAVINGS: $2,064
Pay Less for Food
1. Switch Supermarkets Stock Up on Grocery Staples at a Discount: Six-word strategy for saving on food: Get in car. Drive to Costco (Sam's or BJ's). We compared prices on 37 staples at Costco, Safeway and Whole Foods, calculated the prices for equivalent sizes, multiplied the total for each list by 12 (representing monthly shopping expeditions) and added Costco's $50 annual membership to the cost. Result: Costco can supply a family of four with many of the basics for an annual tab of $1,708, followed by Safeway, at $2,417, and Whole Foods, at a pricey $3,498.
Annual Savings: $1,790(Costco versus Whole Foods)
2. Caffeinate Cleverly Lattes Don't Have to Break the Bank: We wouldn't dream of asking you to quit cold turkey, but weaning off Starbucks could save you money. A 20-ounce latte from Dunkin' Donuts runs $3.29; at Starbucks, the same-size drink sets you back $3.65. Plus, at Dunkin' Donuts you don't have to say "venti" when you want a large.
Annual Savings: $131(if you lay off the doughnuts and have one cup daily )
3. Choose Cheap Eats: Can't give up eating out once a week? At hip, fast-casual sit-down restaurants, you stand in line to order the food and save on prices and tip. We tried the food at four chains and pronounced them comparable to full-service restaurants.
FRENCH Mon Ami Gabi: Roast chicken with mushrooms and frites, wine and tip ($57.50). La Madeleine: Rosemary rotisserie chicken dinner (half chicken) with rice and broccoli, and wine ($32).Savings for two: $25.50
ITALIAN Maggiano's: Shrimp and angel hair al arrabbiata, wine and tip ($54). Vapiano: Scampi (pasta, shrimp, sauce, vegetables) and wine ($32). Savings for two: $22
TEX-MEX Chevys: Steak burrito with veggies, rice, beans and guacamole, and beer and tip ($44.50). Chipotle: Fajita burrito with steak, rice, beans, guacamole and salsa, and beer ($23.48). Savings for two: $21.02
BARBECUE Famous Dave's: Chopped pork, muffin, corn bread, two sides, soda and tip ($29.38). Shane's Rib Shack: Chopped pork, Texas toast, two sides and soda ($20.76). Savings for two: $8.62
Annual Savings: $463(for a couple dining out twice a month)
4. Belly Up to the Bar: You can eat well at a fraction of the price if you stick to the bar menu -- and we're not just talking wings. These restaurants are among many that offer fancy food on the cheap. We computed the difference in price between ordering two entrees from the regular menu and three items (one for each diner, plus one to share) from the bar menu.
Cheesecake Factory Entree: Salmon salad ($32) Bar: Chicken pot stickers ($9) Savings for two: $23
McCormick & Schmick's Entree: Rainbow trout ($35.60) Bar: Fish and scallop ceviche ($12). Savings for two: $23.60
Morton's the Steakhouse Entree: New York strip steak ($86) Bar: Petite filet mignon sandwiches ($30) Savings for two: $56
Annual Savings: $410(for a couple who dine out once a month)
TOTAL ANNUAL FOOD SAVINGS: $2,794
Pay Less on Transportation Costs
1. Save on Gas: The exhilarating drop in gas prices was welcome relief after last summer's run-up. But even at current prices, you can save big by altering your driving behavior.
Keep your cool. Easing up on aggressive driving can cut your fuel consumption by 35%. Speeding is the biggest culprit, but drag-race-inspired peal-outs and jerky lane changes also shave miles per gallon. SAVINGS: $400
Get rid of the junk in your trunk. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle costs you. SAVINGS: $30
Maintain your vehicle by keeping your engine properly tuned and tires inflated, replacing air filters regularly and using the right grade of motor oil. SAVINGS: $348
Annual Savings: $778 (based on studies using the best-selling Toyota Camry V6)
2. Buy a Fuel-Efficient Car: If you're in the market for a new car this year, you're in the driver's seat when it comes to haggling over price. But you can save even more by choosing a fuel-sipping model -- and it doesn't have to be a hybrid.
Set your sights on 30 miles per gallon. The Toyota Corolla or Honda Fit will deliver that, compared with 20 mpg for the Ford Taurus V6 or Chevrolet Impala V6. SAVINGS: $550
Downsizing from a gas guzzler also does the trick. Not all trade-downs are equal, though. For example, beware of swapping a relatively new large crossover for a smaller one with better gas mileage. The money you lose by trading in a newer vehicle (cars typically lose 40% to 50% of their value in the first three years of ownership) may be more than the money you save on gas. One example of a smart new-car downsize: Swap a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe AWD for a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen. You'll save on both gas and monthly payments without losing all your cargo space. SAVINGS: $1,031
Annual Savings: $1,581(if both changes are made by a two-car family)
3. Rent Cars Cheaply: Rent off-site instead of at the airport or hotel to cut a concession fee. Savings: $77Pay for your own gas. Prepaid rates are often close to pump prices, but unless you return the car on empty, you're paying for fuel you didn't use. SAVINGS: $40
Turn down the collision-damage waiver. Your own auto policy generally covers rental-car damage. SAVINGS: $81
Use a discount site, such as Hotwire.com. SAVINGS: $70
Annual Savings: $268(based on one one-week rental at $50 per day)
4. Cut Your Commute: The average commute is 30 miles round-trip per day. If you reduce your driving time by one day per week by telecommuting or carpooling, you'll drive 3,120 fewer miles per year. Reducing the miles you drive in a year can also cut your car-insurance premium.
Annual Savings: $200(not counting the big reduction in stress)
TOTAL ANNUAL TRANSPORTATION SAVINGS: $2,827
Pay Less for Utilities
1. Install a Smart Thermostat: Why heat or cool your home when you don't need to? With a programmable thermostat, you can put your temperature preferences on autopilot. Cost: $70.
Annual Savings: $180
2. Buy Better Bulbs: At $7 a pop, compact fluorescent light bulbs aren't cheap. But those that are Energy StarÐrated use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to ten times longer.
Annual Savings: $166(if 20 bulbs are replaced)
3. Go Low-Flow: Replacing even one pre-1994 shower head and one faucet with conserving counter-parts can make a big difference in water usage. For a thrifty shower head with oomph, try Delta's Water-Amplifying Shower Head (shown above; $13 at Home Depot). It uses a low 1.6 gallons per minute. For an even cheaper fix, outfit your faucets with screw-on aerators (50 cents to $3 apiece).
Annual Savings: $47
4. Plug a Leaky Toilet: A leaky toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water daily, or 73,000 gallons per year. Put a drop of food coloring into the toilet tank; if it shows up in the bowl, you've got a leak.
Annual Savings: $146
5. Ditch the Old Fridge: The biggest energy eater in your kitchen is the refrigerator. A new Energy StarÐrated model will consume 40% less electricity than a model made eight years ago. Consider Frigidaire's 18.2-cubic-foot model (FRT18HP7JW; $750 at Sears).
Annual Savings: $100
6. Seal the Gaps: No need to heat and cool the great outdoors: Caulk and weatherstrip your doors and windows, and don't forget to close the flue damper when your fireplace is not in use.
Annual Savings: $96
7. Launder for Less: Cut your water and energy use by more than 40% with an Energy StarÐqualified clothes washer, either a top or front loader. Our pick: the Kenmore HE5t series of front-loading washers ($1,600) and the Bosch Nexxt 800 series ($1,450).
Annual Savings: $50
8. Kill a Watt-Waster: Your home electronics are sucking electricity even when they're turned off. Unplug them or use a power strip to turn off multiple devices simultaneously (such as the Smart Strip Power Strip, $40, at www.smarthomeusa.com). Use a power meter to figure out which devices are most wasteful.
Annual Savings: $56
9. Flush FrugallyReplace a toilet made between 1980 and 1994 with one certified by the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program that uses less than 1.3 gallons of water per flush. For economy, check out the Glacier Bay Elongated HET ($128 at Home Depot). For contemporary style, the dual-flush Toto Aquia (shown at left; $435) lets you choose a lower or higher water flow as needed.
Annual Savings: $90
10. Dial Down Your Water Heater: If you have an electric water heater, turn the temperature gauge down to 120 degrees. (Make sure your dishwasher has a heater that boosts the temperature back to 140 degrees to ensure proper cleaning.) If the water heater is warm to the touch, wrap it in an insulating jacket (such as a Thermwell blanket; $20 at Amazon.com).
Annual Savings: $43
11. Bundle Up for Savings: Competition is a wonderful thing. And phone, wireless, cable and satellite-TV companies are competing like mad to get your business by bundling services at discount prices. Right now, the standard-issue package is $99 for TV, telephone and broadband Internet service. All those services can easily total more than $150 a month if billed separately, so a monthly savings of $20 is a minimum if you go the bundling route.
One caveat: That $99 deal usually lasts for only one year. Solution: If your contract price rises, you can either switch providers for a lower rate or threaten to switch providers to bargain your rate back down.
Annual Savings: $240
TOTAL ANNUAL SAVINGS: $1,214
Pay Less for Leisure
1. Save on Ticketed Events: Online reseller StubHub.com often (but not always) beats prices on Ticketmaster.com and TicketsNow.com -- especially for games that season-ticket holders want to unload. But be sure to check several ticket sellers (the following prices are for two tickets and include all fees and shipping).
EVENT: New York Knicks at New Jersey Nets. BEST PRICE: StubHub, $91 COMPARABLE SAVINGS: Ticketmaster, $196Annual Savings: $315(three games)
EVENT: Britney Spears at American Airlines Center, in Dallas. BEST PRICE: StubHub, $177 COMPARABLE SEATS: TicketsNow, $374Annual Savings: $394 (two concerts)
EVENT: Premium seats at smash musical Wicked on Broadway. BEST PRICE: Ticketmaster, $541 COMPARABLE SEATS: StubHub, $925Annual Savings: $384(one show)
2. Swap Sitting Services: Round up another family or two with cabin fever and take turns baby-sitting the kids. If you go out for four hours every month and would have paid a baby sitter $10 per hour, you can save $40 per month. All you need to do is watch the other family's brood occasionally -- which gives your kids a few extra playmates.
Annual Savings: $480(one night out a month)
3. Check Out a Film: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- the sixth installment of the popular wizardry series -- hits theaters on July 17. To see it on opening day, a family of four would pay $28 (the average ticket price is $7, according to the Motion Picture Association of America).
But you can see it free if you wait a few months and borrow the DVD from your local library. If it's checked out, request a hold so that the previous borrower can't renew. The library will notify you when it's available.
Annual Savings: $168(bimonthly night at the movies for a family of four)
4. Travel Last-Minute: Whet your wanderlust and save big by booking an impromptu, package-deal vacation at LastMinute.com. Reserved a week before departure, a trip for two from New York City to Amsterdam in early January cost about $2,000, including a round-trip flight and five-night stay in a four-star hotel. If you had planned the same trip several months in advance and booked it all separately, you'd have spent $2,500.
Annual Savings: $500(one package trip to a vacation destination)
TOTAL ANNUAL LEISURE SAVINGS: $2,241
Pay Less for Must-Have Trends
With recession-battered retailers slashing prices to attract customers, it should be easy to trim the cost of just about everything in your family budget. And big-box retailers are offering some of the best deals around.
1. Save on Electronics
DIGITAL CAMERAS: Tennis pro Maria Sharapova's favorite camera, the Canon PowerShot, is usually priced at about $200. At Wal-Mart in early January, you could buy one, with the travel case, for $174.Savings: $26
LAPTOPS: The average laptop costs $795, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. But at Best Buy in early January, the top-selling Acer 15.6-inch Aspire laptop was on sale for $400. It has all the memory and features most users will ever need.Savings: $395
TVS: The average price for a high-definition TV is $874, and you can easily spend more than $1,500. At Costco in early January, a 42-inch Panasonic Plasma HDTV went for $730. Savings: $14
Annual Electronic Savings: $565(assuming one of each item)
HANDBAGS: Designers Toni Hacker and Ben Harnett offer a mini black studded clutch for $220 at www.haydenharnett.com. At Target, you can bag a similar Hayden-Harnett original for just $20. Savings: $200
Shoes: Go to BlueFly.com for designer labels at discount prices, such as Michael Kors leather flats marked down from $98 to $45 in early January. Savings: $53
Jeans: At trendy Hollister stores, girls' jeans start at $50. Get your daughter a pair of L.e.i. jeans -- featuring teen country-music star Taylor Swift as the spokesmodel -- at Wal-Mart for as little as $10. SAVINGS:Savings: $40
Suits: A man's suit costs up to $900 at Bloomingdale's. But at Loehmann's, you can score designer duds up to 65% off. Savings: $200
Annual Apparel Savings: $493(assuming one of each item)
3. Lose the Locks: Trim your tresses and not your wallet with less-pricey haircuts.
MEN'S HAIR: A high-end salon can charge $50 or more for a cut, but a trim at the local barber or Hair Cuttery costs about $15. The local barber school often charges even less.Annual Savings: $210(assuming six cuts)
WOMEN'S HAIR: Salons charge $90 or more to style long locks. Dropping in at a beauty school such as Paul Mitchell's and taking a chance with a stylist-in-training chops that cost to $17.Annual Savings: $292(assuming four cuts)
TOTAL ANNUAL SHOPPING SAVINGS: $1,560