50+ Smart Ways to Save Money on Everything from Dental Care to Car Insurance
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family has an annual income of $63,784 and spends $7,677.00 a year on transportation, $6,129 on food, and $3,157 on health care. Although you may have little control over your mortgage or property taxes, there are many flexible areas of your budget including groceries, utilities, cell phone charges, cable bills, bank fees, car repairs, insurance, dining out, and personal care expenses. This article teaches you over 50 smart ways to save money on everything from dental care to car insurance.
For your convenience, I have divided my article into the following categories:
- How to save money on insurance
- How to save money on health care
- How to save money on dental care
- How to save money on taxes
- How to save money on clothing, accessories, appliances, electronics, etc.
- Miscellaneous ways to save money
Author’s note: This article's information was updated in 2016. I have made every effort to provide you with accurate, timely, and trustworthy information, however I cannot guarantee that such information is correct, effective, or up-to-date at the time of your reading.
How to Save on Insurance
1. Here are four kinds of insurance you don't need:
- Extended warranties
- Flight insurance
- Credit card loss insurance
- Cell phone insurance
Here are five kinds of insurance that you must have:
- Long-term disability
2. Combine your auto, property, and life insurance policies with one company. You can save up to 40% with combined coverage.
3. Raise the deductibles on your auto and property insurance. You could save hundreds of dollars a year in premiums.
4. Whether you own or rent, be sure to have insurance on your personal property. A homeowner's or renter's policy covers all of your property at its full replacement value in case of fire, theft, and certain types of weather damage. Now which is more cost-effective? Paying $150 - $250 annually for a premium or spending $25,000 out-of-pocket to replace all of your possessions?
5. Get long-term disability insurance. According to the Social Security Administration, over 25% of today's 20 year-olds will become disabled at some point in their lifetime. Being unable to work because of an accident or illness can have a devastating effect on your financial well-being if you are not prepared. Since few private-sector employers offer long-term disability insurance to their workers, having private LTD protection has become a necessary evil.
How to Save on Health Care
1. If you cannot show up for a medical appointment, call in advance and reschedule it. Otherwise, you might be charged a no-show fee.
In an informal poll, almost one third of the medical practices surveyed said they charge a fee for no-shows. Although $25 seemed to be the standard amount for a no-show fee, one practice charged $50.
2. Are you paying too much for health insurance? You can cut costs, but not coverage. Do a price comparison between different providers and plans within each provider. Look at deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket maximums, pre-existing conditions, allowable charges, etc.
I interviewed a California woman who has health insurance through her employer. Madison is a single parent with one dependent. Before switching providers, she was paying a monthly premium of $178. Madison decided to increase her co-payments and out-of-pocket maximum. She now pays a monthly premium of $97 and saves $972 annually.
3. Don't waste money at tanning salons. According to SkinCancer.org:
No matter what you may hear at tanning salons, the cumulative damage caused by UV radiation can lead to premature skin aging (wrinkles, lax skin, brown spots, and more), as well as skin cancer. Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.
4. Stop smoking. For example, the average cost for a pack of cigarettes in New Jersey is $8.35. If you smoke a pack a day, that adds up to $3,047.75 annually. Use the money you save to pay off debt or to build up cash reserves.
5. Even if you have health insurance or Medicare, you can still save 10%-80% on hundreds of prescription medications at GoodRX.com. Here is how they can help you:
- You can compare prices for all FDA-approved prescription drugs at virtually every pharmacy in America. GoodRX’s database includes big pharmacy chains (Walgreen’s, CVS/Pharmacy, Costco, etc.), supermarket pharmacies (Safeway, Kroger, Albertsons, etc.), local pharmacies, and mail order pharmacies.
- You can find pharmacy coupons, manufacturer discounts, generics, comparable drug choices, and savings tips all in one place.
- GoodRX will even send you refill reminders and alerts when prices change.
- Do you already have insurance? GoodRx can often beat your co-pay or help with drugs that aren’t covered by your plan.
On GoodRx's web site, enter the name of the medication, its dosage and quantity, your location, and a geographical range of up to 25 miles. For location, a zip code will suffice. In seconds, you will see current prices, discounts, and manufacturer's coupons from major pharmacy and supermarket chains, local pharmacies, and mail order companies.
GoodRx is also endorsed by ConsumerReports.org:
A few apps promise to help you find the best prices on medications. To find out whether they really work, we tried four of them—GoodRx, LowestMed, Mobile Rx Card, and Pocket Doctor—to price a month’s supply of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (40 milligrams) and its generic equivalent, atorvastatin, using a ZIP code near our offices in Yonkers, N.Y.
We also tested whether the app would tap into generic discount plans by pricing another cholesterol drug, pravastatin (Pravachol and generic). And we priced Advil and its generic, ibuprofen. GoodRx worked well, but we suggest that you skip the other three.
How to Save on Dental Care
- If you do not have dental insurance, consider visiting a dental school where all work is supervised. Here is a complete list of dental schools in the United States and Puerto Rico:
University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry
University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry
Loma Linda University School of Dentistry
University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry
University of Southern California Ostrow School of Dentistry
Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
- Another option is to go to a dental hygiene school. Here is a list of 332 accredited dental hygiene schools by state.
- A third option is a discount dental plan. These can save you from 10-60% on common dental procedures. More than 100,000 dentists nationwide participate in these programs.
Here are some useful links:
Let’s see how much money you can save by using a discount dental plan.
Suppose you sign up with CIGNA Dental Network Access, a popular discount dental plan. Here are the sample savings for 10 common dental procedures for zip code 33176:
Routine six-month check-up:
- No insurance - $57
- Discounted fee for plan members - $18
- Member savings - $39
- Savings percentage – 68%
- No insurance - $99
- Discounted fee for plan members - $27
- Member savings - $72
- Savings percentage – 73%
Full mouth X-rays:
- No insurance - $144
- Discounted fee for plan members - $51
- Member savings - $93
- Savings percentage – 65%
Adult teeth cleaning:
- No insurance - $102
- Discounted fee for plan members - $40
- Member savings - $62
- Savings percentage – 61%
Child teeth cleaning:
- No insurance - $75
- Discounted fee for plan members - $28
- Member savings - $47
- Savings percentage – 63%
One surface white filling for a front tooth:
- No insurance - $175
- Discounted fee for plan members - $57
- Member savings - $118
- Savings percentage – 67%
Single crown – porcelain on high noble metal:
- No insurance - $1,267
- Discounted fee for plan members - $471
- Member savings - $756
- Savings percentage – 62%
Root canal treatment – front tooth:
- No insurance - $826
- Discounted fee for plan members - $290
- Member savings - $536
- Savings percentage – 65%
Root canal treatment – molar:
- No insurance - $1,170
- Discounted fee for plan members - $457
- Member savings - $713
- Savings percentage – 61%
Single tooth extraction:
- No insurance - $197
- Discounted fee for plan members - $52
- Member savings - $145
- Savings percentage – 74%
19 Ways to Save on Taxes
Taxes are the biggest expense you will ever face. From your very first job, you've been writing checks to the government. In addition to paying income taxes, you also pay property taxes, sales taxes, consumptive taxes, inheritance taxes, toll taxes, blueberry taxes (Maine), can and bottle taxes (California), duck hunting taxes (Pennsylvania), sparklers and novelties taxes (West Virginia), soda fountain taxes (Chicago), vehicle recovery taxes (Colorado), pay-phone call taxes (Indiana), playing card taxes (Alabama), wagering taxes (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, and Oklahoma), fur clothing taxes (Minnesota), and tattoo taxes (Arkansas).
Here are ten smart-money ways to save money on taxes:
1. Kiplinger.com points out that "Filing your tax return is a once-a-year event but trimming your tax bill requires year-round attention." Annabella Gualdoni adds:
Leave no tax deduction or credit unturned. You’ll save the most money on your tax return by making sure you know about every possible deduction or credit. Don’t be afraid to take legitimate deductions since you’re entitled to them. The rules change every year, so stay informed.
2. Contribute to your employer's 401(k). In 2016, you can contribute up to $18,000 annually into your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. If you turn 50 at any time during 2016, you can contribute an additional $6,000 for a total contribution of $24,000. However, the total contribution between you and your employer cannot exceed $53,000.
Here are three benefits of saving for retirement using your company's 401(k):
- Your contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, thus lowering your taxable income for each year you contribute.
- The money you contribute to a 401(k), along with its earnings, grows tax free until you begin to withdraw.
- Most 401(k) plans also include a matching contribution from your employer (a.k.a. free money).
If you cannot contribute the max to your 401(k), contribute enough to receive your employer's matching contribution. According to the 401k Help Center, “The average company contribution in 401k plans is 2.7% of pay. Numerous formulas are used to determine company contributions. The most common type of fixed match, reported by 40% of employer's, is $.50 per $1.00 up to a specified percentage of pay (commonly 6%).”
Let’s say that you earn $50,000 a year, contribute 10% to a 401(k), and receive a 50% match from your employer of up to 6% of your salary. Here is how your annual contribution and match break down:
- $50,000 – annual income
- $5,000 – 10% contribution to 401(k)
- $1,500 – 50% matching contribution (free money) from your employer of up to 6% of your salary
- $6,500 - Total yearly contribution to retirement account
Here is another example:
Suppose that you earn $100,000 annually, contribute 12% to a 401(k), and receive a 25% match from your employer up to 10% of your salary. Here is how your annual contribution and match break down:
- $100,000 – annual income
- $12,000 – 12% contribution to 401(k)
- $2,500 – 25% matching contribution (free money) from your employer up to 10% of your salary
- $14,500 - Total yearly contribution to retirement account
Here is a third example:
Let's say that you earn $70,000 annually, contribute 10% to a 401(k), and receive a 100% match from your employer up to 3% of your salary. Here is how your annual contribution and match break down:
- $70,000 – annual income
- $7,000 – 10% contribution to 401(k)
- $2,100 – 100% matching contribution (free money) from your employer up to 3% of your salary
- $9,100 - Total yearly contribution to retirement account
Here is another example:
Suppose that you earn $35,000 annually, contribute 6% to a 401(k), and receive a 100% match from your employer up to 5% of your salary. Here is how your annual contribution and match break down:
- $35,000 – annual income
- $2,100 – 6% contribution to 401(k)
- $1,750 – 100% matching contribution (free money) from your employer up to 5% of your salary
- $3,850 - Total yearly contribution to retirement account
Here is a final example:
Let’s say that you earn $75,000 annually, contribute 12% to a 401(k), and receive a 50% match from your employer up to 6% of your salary. Here is how your annual contribution and match break down:
- $75,000 – annual income
- $9,000 – 12% contribution to 401(k)
- $4,500 – 50% matching contribution (free money) from your employer up to 6% of your salary
- $13,500 - Total yearly contribution to retirement account
3. Here are four mistakes to avoid with your employer’s 401(k) plan:
- Not enrolling as early as possible.
- Not taking advantage of your company’s matching contribution.
- Withdrawing funds too soon. You can use this Wells Fargo investment calculator to estimate how much in taxes and penalties you might owe if you withdraw cash early from your 401(k).
- Not having a diverse portfolio.
4. Switch to a Roth IRA. Read DailyFinance.com's analysis of how a Roth IRA could save you $185,180 in taxes.
5. Give yourself a raise. Kiplinger.com advises:
If you got a big tax refund this year, it meant that you're having too much tax taken out of your paycheck every payday. Filing a new W-4 form with your employer (talk to your payroll office) will insure that you get more of your money when you earn it. If you're just average, you deserve about $225 a month extra.
6. Saving for your retirement is more important than saving for your children's college education. Why? Your children will have more sources of money for their college education than you will have in retirement. Here are just a few sources of student money:
- Federal Pell Grants
- State grants. Most states have some sort of free money program for higher education.
- Scholarships from the college or university itself.
- Community-based scholarship programs like The Pittsburgh Promise.
Plus, here are 22 tuition-free colleges and universities:
- Alice Lloyd College
- Barclay College
- Berea College
- Blackburn College
- College of the Ozarks
- Cooper Union
- Curtis Institute of Music
- Deep Springs College
- Ecclesia College
- Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
- Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York (CUNY)
- Sterling College
- University of California Irvine School of Law
- United States Air Force Academy
- United States Coast Guard Academy
- United States Merchant Marine Academy
- United States Military Academy
- United States Naval Academy
- University of Washington
- Warren Wilson College
- Washington State University
- Webb Institute
Your children can also get free money for graduate school. Find out about how to access grants, scholarships, and fellowships for post-secondary education.
7. If your employer has a flexible spending account, don't lose another dollar and use it. A flexible spending account--also known as an FSA--is a tax-advantaged plan that allows you to set aside a portion of your earnings to pay for qualified expenses such as medical and dependent care. Money deposited into an flexible spending account is not subject to payroll taxes, thus saving you money.
Companies typically offer three types of flexible spending accounts:
- Medical spending accounts
- Dependent-care spending accounts
- Commuter spending accounts
With a medical spending account, you can set aside money to help pay for routine items such as health insurance copays for uninsured treatments such as vision care or for over-the-counter drug purchases. With a dependent-care spending account, you can set aside money to help pay for costs associated with putting the kids in day care so that you and your spouse can work. With a commuter spending account, you can utilize pre-tax dollars to pay for public transportation and parking expenses that you incur getting to and from work.
Here are some examples of eligible expenses for a medical FSA:
- Artificial limbs
- Dental treatment
- Eye exams
- Hearing aids
- Lab fees
- Physical exams
- Vision correction surgery
Here are some examples of expenses that are not covered:
- Cosmetic surgery
- Insurance premiums
- Maternity clothes
- Teeth whitening
- Veterinary fees
Here are some examples of eligible expenses for a dependent-care FSA:
- Before and after school care
- Babysitting fees that are work-related
- Day care expenses
Here are some examples of expenses that are not covered:
- Babysitting fees that are not work-related
- Dance and piano lessons
- Kindergarten tuition
- Medical care
Here are some examples of eligible expenses for a commuter FSA:
- Mass transit fares, including tickets, passes, tokens, vouchers, and other fares for riding buses, trains, or other public transportation vehicles to and from work
- Official vanpool fees
- Parking fees (including parking meters) at or near your place of work
- Parking fees at a location from which you commute to your work place via mass transportation
Here are some examples of expenses that are not covered:
- Highway or other roadway tolls
- Traffic tickets
- Costs that have been paid for by your employer, such as a business trip.
For more information on healthcare, dependent care, and commuter spending accounts, be sure to visit Spending Account Eligible Expense Guide.
8. Courtesy of Kiplinger.com, here are 71 Ways to Cut Your Tax Bill.
9. How can you get a quick IRS refund?
- File as early as possible
- File electronically
- Choose direct deposit for your refund
According to the IRS, taxpayers who file their returns early make fewer mistakes than those who wait until the last minute.
10. How can you check your refund status online? TurboTax.com advises that "The IRS now has an online tool called "Where's My Refund?" that allows you to check the status of your refund. After providing some personal information, you can find out when it will arrive.”
11. Forty-one states and the District of Colombia collect personal income taxes from their residents. Here are the states with the highest personal income tax rates:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
12. Here are 10 states with the lowest personal income tax rates: Alaska, Florida, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.
13. Here are five U.S. cities with high property tax rates:
- Bridgeport, Connecticut
- Des Moines, Iowa
- Providence, Rhode Island
- Newark, New Jersey
- Manchester, New Hampshire
14. Here are three U.S. cities with low property tax rates:
- Cheyenne, Wyoming
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Denver, Colorado
- Honolulu, Hawaii
15. These five states have no sales tax:
- New Hampshire
16. Here are the states with the highest sales tax rates:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
17. According to TaxFoundation.org, the five states with the highest average combined state-local sales tax rates are Tennessee (9.45%), Arkansas (9.19%), Louisiana (8.89%), Washington (8.88%), and Oklahoma (8.72%).
18. The Tax Foundation also lists the cities with the highest combined state, county, and city sales taxes: Birmingham, AL (10%), Montgomery, AL (10%), Long Beach, CA (9.75%), Los Angeles, CA (9.75%), Oakland, CA (9.75%), Fremont, CA (9.75%), Chicago, IL (9.75%), Glendale, AZ (9.6%), Seattle, WA (9.5%) and San Francisco, CA (9.5%).
19. Here are five tax-friendly states for retirees: Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona.
How to Save on Clothing, Accessories, Appliances, and Electronics
1. When buying small or major appliances, choose reliability and energy-efficiency over all other factors. By focusing on quality, you will save a significant amount of money over the long haul.
Before you buy an appliance, research it first at ConsumerReports.org. Consumer Reports reviews air conditioners, air purifiers, blenders, carpet cleaners, clothes dryers, coffee makers, dish washers, food processors, freezers, hot plates, humidifies kitchen ranges, microwave ovens, mixers, refrigerators, sewing machines, space heaters, steam irons, toasters, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and water heaters.
2. When buying clothes and shoes, quality is more important than quantity. High-quality clothes and shoes will last twice as long as poor quality ones. Plus, they will stay in style longer.
Always buy brand-name clothes and shoes at department store clearance sales, online closeouts, off-price retailers, and outlet stores. For example, you could save up to 80% over regular retail if you buy winter clothing in February and summer shoes in October.
Quality vs. quantity is not limited to clothing and shoes. You can use this strategy with small and major appliances, cookware, electronics, seasonal merchandise, and much more. As with clothing, always buy this merchandise at department store clearance sales, online closeouts, off-price retailers, and outlet stores. For example, I recently purchased a wall clock from Crate & Barrel for $7.95 that was marked down from $29.95. That's a 73% savings.
3. Never buy any of the following items used: blenders, child car seats, children’s furniture, computer software, cookware, cribs, digital cameras, DVD players, hats, laptops, mattresses, pillows, shoes, software, swimsuits, tires, undergarments, upholstered furniture, and vacuum cleaners.
4. What should you buy at warehouse clubs? Here are some examples:
- Dried beans and pasta
- Toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissue
- Office supplies
- Non-perishable foods
- Vitamins and nutritional supplements
- Powdered laundry detergent
5. Here is what you should never buy in bulk at a warehouse club:
- Condiments (mayonnaise, ketchup, etc.)
- Cooking oils
- Liquid bleach
- Liquid laundry detergent
- Skincare products
- Whole grains and brown rice
6. Before purchasing home & garden products, laptops, tablets, appliances, electronics, televisions, cameras, and cell phones, compare prices at over 4,000 merchants at PriceBlink.com. Did you know that prices can change by the minute?
7. Buy socks, underwear, lingerie, belts, wallets, and luggage at retailers like Marshall's, T. J. Maxx, and Ross. You can save lots of money over department store prices. For example, a 3-pack of men's brand-name socks might cost as much as $18 at a department store. At an off-price retailer, the price might be as low as $2.99 or $3.99.
8. Go holiday shopping the day after the holiday. Buy Christmas cards and gift wrap on December 26. Purchase Halloween costumes and decorations on November 1.
9. Buy DVDs online and save up to 50% over what you would pay elsewhere.
10. Buy small electronics such as cameras and MP3 players online. They are usually cheaper than at brick-and-mortar stores.
11. Televisions on web sites cost about 10% - 25% less than those at big-box stores.
24 More Ways to Save Money
1. Buy school supplies--filler paper, notebooks, binders, pens, pencils, etc.--after the school year begins. You could save up to 90%.
2. Instead of buying expensive word processing software, use Google Docs.
3. Some public libraries sell gently-used CDs, DVDs, and books that are donated by Friends of the Library. The funds raised from the donations go towards library programs and events. For example, the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has thousands of gently-used or never-used books, CDs, and DVDs on sale for as little as 50 cents apiece. Book topics include:
- Black studies
- Commerce & finance
- Cooking & gardening
- English grammar & composition
- Film & theatre
- Art & music
- Mystery & thriller
- Reference (dictionaries, thesauri, etc.)
- Religion & Philosophy
- Science & medicine
- Science fiction
6. Don't rent a public storage locker. The average 10 x 20 storage unit costs about $100 a month. Smaller units cost as little as $50, while the larger ones can cost as much as $200 a month.
7. Refill ink cartridges instead of buying new ones.
8. Cancel your satellite radio subscription and save up to $200 a year.
9. Learn basic sewing. You can repair small tears and sew buttons on garments.
10. If you receive a gift card you don’t want, you can sell it online and get up to 93% cash back on its face value.You can also buy other people’s unwanted gift cards and save up to 65%. Choose from thousands of retailers including Best Buy, CVS, Crate & Barrel, Disney Store, Dunkin Donuts, Exxon, Gap, Home Depot, Kroger, Old Navy, Olive Garden, Red Robin, Safeway, Sears, Sephora, Shell, Starbucks, T. J. Maxx, Target, and Walmart.
11. Read newspapers online. You can save up to $2.50 for the weekday version and up to $5.00 for the Sunday edition.
12. Don't buy cookbooks. Instead, you can get thousands of free recipes online. You can also type "free recipes" (with quotes) on Google and get over 1,500,000 results.
13. If you do not have laundry facilities at home, avoid “wash, dry, and fold” services that charge up to $5.00 for a pound of laundry. Once again, you're paying extra for convenience.
14. Cancel your gym memberships and start using Mother Nature instead.
15. Don't buy a calendar. Type in "free calendars" (with quotes) on Google and get over 225,000 results.
16. Keep all of your receipts for at least 60 days in case you need to return an item.
Here are some factors to consider when returning merchandise:
- While retailers like Nordstrom don’t require a receipt for returns, many other retailers demand a proof of purchase. This cuts down on return fraud which now costs retailers nearly $9 billion annually.
- Some retailers like Burlington Coat Factory will only give you store credit for returns.
- Some retailers have a separate return policy for electronics. For example, you might have to pay a 10% - 15% restocking fee.
- It may take several days for a credit to appear in your checking account.
- Here are seven retailers that have "above-and-beyond" return policies: Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Costco, Zappos, JC Penney, Kohl's, and L.L. Bean.
17. Wash and iron your dress shirts. Suppose that your dry cleaner charges $2.50 to launder a shirt. At 20 shirts per month, you are spending $50 in shirt laundry. That’s a grand total of $600 annually.
18. Wash your car instead of taking it to the neighborhood car wash.
19. When shipping packages, allow plenty of time and choose low-cost carriers.
20. Swap babysitting with family members, friends, and trusted neighbors.
21. Make an appointment with an HR rep and find out about all the benefits you are eligible to receive. For example, you might be entitled to free baseball or amusement park tickets.
22. Don't have your mail delivered to a private mailbox store. Instead, have it delivered to your residence and save hundreds of dollars annually.
23. Don’t buy too much house. The bigger your home, the more you will pay in taxes, maintenance, and utilities. If you're a prospective homeowner, read this Investopedia.com article about how to figure out how much mortgage you can afford.
24. Pay all of your bills on time to avoid late fees. A late fee--also known as a past due fee--is a charge levied against a person by a company or organization for not paying a bill or returning a rented or borrowed item by its due date. BankRate.com reports:
Did you know late fees are assessed on just about all your monthly bills? These include bills related to your mortgage, cellphone, cable, utilities, insurances, credit cards, library books, traffic tickets and even kids' activities. And, of course, Uncle Sam assesses severe late fees and penalties if you're past due with your tax payment.
Some Final Thoughts
This article has taught you over 50 smart ways to save money on everything from dental care to car insurance. Now that you have learned how to receive a longer receipt for less money, here is another important way to live fiscally fit:
Write down every cent you spend.
“Every cent” includes the $150 electric bill you paid yesterday as well as the $5.99 pastrami sandwich you bought today for lunch. Every week or so, go over your list of expenses and decide which ones can be reduced or eliminated. You will have more money left over at the end of the month and will not be burdened with trying to make ends meet.