Seven simple tricks we know would save us money (and still don’t do)

You know that saying, “You’re your own worst enemy”? Well, when it comes to money, it’s usually true.

In matters of personal finances, most of us operate under the simple (though possibly incorrect) assumption that having more money is better than having less money. The way to having more money generally consists of two intertwining paths: making more and spending less.

Making more money is (perceived to be) the harder of the two paths, so we often wave that one off in favor of the saving money route. There are a lot of simple, time-tested ways to reduce our personal expenditures. Unfortunately, we hardly do any of them.

Drive slower

From FuelEconomy.gov:

While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas.

Gas is expensive and it isn’t likely to drop back down to 1955 price levels any time soon. The more you travel, the more gas costs are going to impact your monthly budget. Drive slower and drive steadier. Rapid acceleration and sudden braking are murder on your fuel efficiency. (But you probably already know that.)

Adjust the thermostat

“Don’t touch the thermostat!” Chances are good you’ve heard that a time or two in your life. The theory is pretty sound – impulsively cranking the heat or the AC burns more energy and raises your electric/heating bill.

But you actually should touch that thermostat. Altering the thermostat settings during the day while you’re at work and at night while you’re asleep can make a big impact on your energy costs. Per Energy.gov, “By turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours, you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill.” Best solution? Get a programmable thermostat and set it to automatically change at the appropriate time.

Stop wasting food

According to a recent USDA study, in 2010 31 percent of the available food supply in the United States went uneaten. That 31 percent represents 133 billion pounds of food.

That’s a lot of food. It’s so much because we’re all a little guilty of being wasteful. The more you can do to plot out your meals and maximize the food you purchase, the less food and money you’ll end up wasting. Shopping with a list is a great start, but make sure you’ve got a plan for everything you’re buying. And if it’s perishable, maybe freeze what you don’t finish.

Turn off the lights when you leave the room

And turn your computer all the way off when you aren’t using it. In fact, go ahead and unplug everything that you aren’t using right now.

Using less electricity is easy, but a real struggle for most of us, because it’s all little things that don’t seem that important.

Use coupons

Coupons are still a thing. They still come in flyers and newspapers and they still save you money, but not everyone uses them. Why not? I have no idea.

Audit your usage and change your plan

Cell phone plans and cable TV/internet packages usually work like this: the more you add to the plan, the less those additions cost. It’s telecommunication super-sizing. The trouble is, like most super-size packages, eventually you’re paying for a lot of things you don’t need.

It’s like popcorn at the movie theater. Paying $0.25 more for a large box sounds like a good value, until you consider that you only eat a small bag worth of popcorn. Buying something you don’t need isn’t a good value at any price.

So consider what you really use and reduce your phone and cable packages accordingly.

Plan ahead

Doing anything at the last second always costs more, from sending a loved one to a birthday gift to going to a show. The further ahead you plan, the better equipped you’ll be to take advantage of deals and avoid costs associated with last minute rushes.

Just like with wasted food, when you plan thoroughly and then execute that plan, you avoid wasting time, money, and other resources. That’s not to say you should always avoid spontaneity, but if you want to make the most of what you have, a good plan is a great start.

None of these tips are exactly revolutionary, but they’re all a great starting point. If you aren’t taking these seven simple steps, ask yourself why? You may have a perfectly good reason. But if you don’t, consider making some minor changes to start saving some major money today.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
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