50 Smart-Money Ways to Live Fiscally Fit
Debt settlement and bill consolidation are two of the most common forms of debt relief. While both options can help you to reduce your debt, they do not teach you how to live fiscally fit. The only way that you will ever achieve lasting financial freedom is to apply the dynamic laws of successful money management to your everyday life. These smart-money principles will help you to establish spending and savings habits that are built on solid bedrock. This article teaches you 50 ways to live fiscally fit.
Here are 12 smart-money strategies that you will learn:
- A faster, easier, and smarter way to get out of credit card debt. Once and for all, you can forget about debt consolidation, debt settlement, or filing for bankruptcy protection.
- Learn how to get a free annual credit report and a free ChexSystems report.
- Financial mistakes that can become big money leaks.
- The best and worst college majors for your career.
- 50 ways to earn extra money without getting another job.
- Why you need to write down every cent that you spend.
- Why you must have health insurance as well as long-term disability insurance. Did you know that 33 million Americans still do not have health insurance and that over 25% today's 20 year-olds will become disabled at some point in their lives?
- 10 invisible enemies that can prevent you from getting out of debt and living fiscally fit.
- 25 consumer products that you should never buy used.
- The importance of living within or below your means, keeping a budget, and never looking at money management as a dreaded chore?
- 15 types of insurance that you probably don't need
- How to attract or repel money
For your convenience, I have divided my article into the following categories:
- 25 facts about consumer spending and debt in America
- The battlefield of the mind and emotions
- General money management
- A faster, easier, and smarter way to get out of credit card debt
- Retirement and Social Security
- Insurance and health care
- Your credit report and credit score
- Job and career
- Spending habits
- How to prevent identity theft
- Miscellaneous smart-money strategies
- Live to give
Author’s note: Although I have made every effort to provide you with accurate, timely, and trustworthy information, I cannot guarantee that such information is correct, effective, or up-to-date at the time of your access.
25 Facts About Consumer Spending
The average American household has over $155,000 of debt. Liabilities include mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit card balances, medical bills, signature loans, back taxes, and overdraft charges. More than a third of the country is in trouble when it comes to paying bills on time. Recent studies have found that the average American household saves about 3.5 per cent of their annual income while the average Asian family saves over 30 per cent of their yearly earnings. Whether the annual income for an American family is $20,000 or $200,000, they are likely to spend most, all, or more of what they earn.
Why are Americans so deep in debt? According to a recent study by NerdWallet.com:
The rise in the cost of living has outpaced income growth over the past 12 years. While median household income has grown 26% since 2003, household expenses have outpaced it significantly — with medical costs growing by 51% and food and beverage prices increasing by 37% in that same span.
Only three of the major spending categories haven’t outpaced income growth: apparel, recreation and transportation. But apparel and recreation are relatively immaterial expenses; they don’t make up a large portion of the typical consumer budget.
Another reason why Americans are so deep in debt is that many consumers do not understand the difference between good and bad debt. Let’s take a few minutes and differentiate between the two:
Some debt is good. Examples of good personal debt are mortgages, student loans, and financing a car. Generally, good debt is used to purchases goods and services that can increase wealth. For example, student loans enable you to get the education and training today to reap a bigger paycheck tomorrow.
On the other hand, some types of debt are bad. Examples of bad personal debt are credit cards, payday loans, and overdraft protection. Why? Bad forms of debt are generally used to purchase goods and services that have no lasting value. For example, credit cards are often misused to finance daily living expenses, clothing, holiday gifts, vacations, or a trip to the casino.
Here are 25 facts about consumer spending and debt in America:
1. What is the average family budget? According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household income in the U.S. was $63,784 in 2013. Here’s how the average household budget breaks down:
Housing - $10,080
Transportation - $9,004
Taxes - $7,432
Utilities and other household operational costs - $7,068
Food - $6,602
Social Security contributions, personal insurance, and pensions - $5,528
Debt payment or savings - $5,252
Health care - $3,631
Entertainment - $2,564
Cash contributions - $1,834
Apparel and services - $$1,604
Education - $1,138
Vices - $775
Miscellaneous - $664
Personal care - $608
Total - $63,784
If you're an average American, you spend $1.26 for every $1.00 that you earn. For example, if your annual income is $50,000, you spend $63,000, a difference of $13,000. If your annual income is $75,000, you spend $94,500, a difference of $19,500. If your annual income is $125,000, you spend $157,500, a difference of $32,500. And so forth.
2. Low income families earn less than $59,410 annually while middle-income ones earn between $59,410 and $102,870. High income families earn more than $102,870 a year. Households earning less than $50,000 annually are more likely to use credit cards for daily living expenses and financial emergencies.
3. According to CreditDonkey.com, "An estimated 38 million households in the U.S. live hand to mouth, meaning they spend every penny of their paychecks. Surprisingly, two-thirds of them earn a median income of $41,000, which puts them well above the federal poverty level."
4. The average mortgage debt is nearly $170,000.
5. The average student loan debt is about $50,000. Nearly 70% of college graduates have outstanding student loans and over 25% of them are late with their payments or are missing payments altogether.
6. According to the U.S. Census, about a third of all owner-occupied homes are mortgage-free.
7. The average American household has almost $16,000 of credit card debt.
8. According to a recent study, over two-thirds of American families carry credit card balances from month to month.
9. The average household is paying nearly $7,000 in credit card interest every year. This is about 9% of their average annual income.
10. NerdWallet.com tells us that consumers vastly underestimate or underreport how much credit card debt they have. For example, actual lender-reported credit card debt in 2013 was 155% greater than borrower-reported balances.
11. The average auto loan is over $27,000.
12. American's aged 35-44 have the highest rate of bankruptcy. Young Americans aged 25-34 have the second highest rate.
13. A study by the management company CESI shows that 80% of married couples spend money behind their spouse's back and another 18.5% have opened a credit card without their partner's knowledge.
14. Nearly 5% of American households have over $20,000 in credit card debt and almost 35% of Americans have debt in collections.
15. Which generation and the best at saving? According to CreditDonkey.com:
Baby boomers tend to do better when it comes to hanging on to their extra money. Adults aged 55 and older have a positive personal savings rate of about 13%.
Millennials, on the other hand, meaning adults who are 35 and under, have a personal savings rate of negative 2%. Between high student loan debt and stagnating wages, saving anything at all proves to be impossible for many of them.
16. How much do your neighbors owe the IRS? Several years ago, a spokesperson for the Internal Revenue Service estimated that 8.2 million Americans owed over $83 billion in back taxes, penalties, and interest. That is approximately $10,000 per person.
17. Many consumers who are deep in debt cannot open a regular checking account because of fraudulent behavior with traditional checking accounts. Fraudulent banking behavior includes bounced checks at retailers and other companies as well as unpaid fees from overdrafts.
18. Payday loans are one of the worst kinds of bad personal debt. According to recent statistics, the average payday loan amount is $392. Chris Morran points out that:
The average payday borrower is not someone with a high-paying job. Only 4% of payday loans are made to consumers earning more than $60,000 per year. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of payday borrowers have annual incomes below $30,000. The largest chunk of borrowers came from those making between $10,000 and $20,000 per year; this group accounts for nearly one-third of all payday loans.
Lenders generally make money on these loans by charging a fixed fee for every $100 borrowed. These fees generally range between $10-20 per $100 borrowed, with the median being $15 per $100. The median APR on a payday loan is 322%, with the average APR being slightly higher at 339%.
Yes, you read that correctly!
19. Nearly 33 million Americans still do not have health insurance. As a result, medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcies in America. NerdWallet reports that:
One in five American adults will struggle to pay medical bills this year. A sudden accident or frightening diagnosis can touch virtually anyone, unleashing mountains of bills even on the insured. In fact, medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy, a last resort after millions of families have drained their savings, maxed their credit cards and even refinanced their homes.
20. Over 55 million Americans under 65 will have trouble paying medical bills in 2015:
- Over 35 million Americans will be contacted by collection agencies about unpaid medical bills.
- Nearly 17 million Americans will receive a lower credit score because of high medical bills.
- Over 15 million Americans will use up all of their savings to pay for outstanding medical bills.
- Nearly 12 million Americans will take on credit card debt to pay for medical bills.
- Nearly 10 million Americans will be unable to pay for basic necessities such as housing, food, and utilities due to medical bills.
- Despite having year-around insurance coverage, 10 million insured Americans ages 19-64 will face medical bills that they are unable to pay.
- Nearly 2 million Americans live in households that will declare bankruptcy because of their inability to pay for their medical bills.
- To save costs, over 25 million Americans will not take their prescription drugs as indicated. They will skip doses, take less medicine than prescribed, or delay a refill.
21. The 10 states with the most credit card debt are Alaska, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
22. The 10 states with the least credit card debt are Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Indiana.
23. The 10 cities with the most consumer debt per person are Denver, Seattle, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Portland, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Houston, and Philadelphia.
24. The 10 cities with the least consumer debt per person are:
- Billings, Montana
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Fargo, North Dakota
- Lincoln, Nebraska
- Bangor, Maine
- Charleston, West Virginia
- Yonkers, New York
- Witchita, Kansas
25. According to Coupons.com, here are the 20 U.S. cities with the most frugal shoppers:
- St. Louis
- Kansas City
- Washington, D.C.
- Oklahoma City
- Columbus, OH
Southerners are among the most frugal shoppers in the country. Eight of America’s most frugal cities--Atlanta (#1), Tampa (#2), Charlotte (#6), Nashville (#7), Raleigh (#10), Miami (#13), Dallas (#14), and Oklahoma City (#15)--are in the South.
Ohio is the most frugal state. Cincinnati (#3), Cleveland (#8), and Columbus (#19) all made the list.
The only city on the West Coast to make the list is Seattle (#18).
Living Fiscally Fit
Here are 50 smart-money ways to live fiscally fit:
The battlefield of the mind and emotions:
1. You must take full responsibility for your debt problem and admit the reasons for your financial mistakes. Therefore, you should not be afraid to ask yourself questions like these:
“Have I ever tried to live on a budget or within my means?”
“Do I look at money management as a dreaded chore?”
“Do I have enough cash set aside to cover six to nine months of essential living expenses in case of a financial emergency?”
“Do I know the interest rates and balances on all of my credit cards?”
“Do I buy things on impulse or to impress others?”
“Do I use credit cards to supplement my income?"
“Do I treat credit cards the same as cash?”
“How many times do I eat out every week or month?”
“Do I live paycheck-to-paycheck?”
“How much do I spend on cigarettes, lottery tickets, and “coffee-to-go” every week?”
“Do I use credit cards to help pay for housing costs, utility bills, daily living expenses such as groceries, taxes, home improvements, etc.?”
“Why did I have to make an early withdrawal from my 401(k)?”
“Do I really need 100 cable channels?”
“Am I constantly paying late fees on my mortgage, rent, utilities, cable bills, taxes, movie rentals, etc.?”
“Do I know my credit score?”
“Have I ever taken a cash advance on one credit card to pay the minimum amount due on another?”
“Am I receiving phone calls and letters from creditors and collectors about late or missed payments?”
“Do I worry a lot about money and debt?”
As you can see, the list of questions is endless.
2. Never allow any of these 10 invisible enemies to prevent you from making financial progress: denial, fear, complaining, forgiveness, procrastination, pride, blaming, perfectionism, worry, and self-pity.
First, let's look at denial:
If you are deep in debt, are you in denial that you have a serious financial problem? Do you pretend that the problem doesn’t exist or that it will magically go away? CareOneCredit.com tells us about the battlefield of denial:
Debt has a way of building and trapping you in a cycle of increasing payments and balances. But when you’re in that kind of debt, you’re very often telling yourself excuses and half-truths that keep your debt building and keep you from getting the help you need to break that cycle. Denial is the biggest problem of those who say they want to get out of debt because they cannot face the fact that their debt is a serious problem.
Here are three strategies that can help you to overcome denial:
- “Denial exists when three beliefs intersect: 1. It cannot happen. 2. It cannot happen to you. 3. It cannot happen to you now.” - Johnnie Dent Jr.
- "Denial does not solve the problem. Denial does not make the problem go away. Denial does not give us peace of mind, which is what we are really seeking when we engage in it. Denial is a liar. It compounds the problem, because it keeps us from seeing a solution, and taking action to resolve it." - Bill Kortenbach, Counterpredators
“More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren't so busy denying them.” - Harold J. Smith
Next, let's look at fear:
David Schwartz tells us that "Fear is success enemy number one. Fear stops people from capitalizing on opportunity; fear wears down physical vitality; fear actually makes people sick, causes organic difficulties, shortens life; fear closes your mouth when you want to speak."
Fear comes in many forms: fear of failure, fear of constructive criticism, fear of people, fear of not pleasing others, fear of saying no, fear of rejection, fear of taking responsibility, and so forth. Most worry and procrastination stem from fear.
Is fear preventing you from getting out of debt and achieving financial independence?
- "I'm afraid to call the bank about my past due balance."
- "I'm too embarrassed to ask for help. What would others think or say?"
- “I’d rather have a toothache than confess my financial mistakes to a debt counselor.”
Here are some strategies to help you conquer fear:
- "There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure." - Paul Coelho, The Alchemist
- "Use action to cure fear and gain confidence. Here's something to remember. Action feeds and strengthens confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. To increase fear -- wait, put off, postpone." - David Schwartz
- “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
- “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Dale Carnegie
- “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” - William Jennings Bryan
Next, let's look at complaining:
Rather than getting their financial house in order, some people would rather complain about drowning in a sea of red ink. Complainers live on a constant merry-go-ground because the more they grumble, the more they attract into their lives to grumble about. Mason Cooley observes that “Complainers change their complaints, but they never reduce the amount of time spent in complaining.”
Do you complain too much, too often about your debt?
- "I'm drowning in bills."
- "Each chapter gets worse."
- "I'm so deep in debt."
- "First, it was student loans. Now, it's credit cards. I just can't get ahead."
- "When is my life going to get back to normal?"
Remember, you will never make real financial progress if you constantly complain about your credit card balances, the high cost of health care, your property taxes, or anything else.
Here are some strategies to help you outsmart complaining:
- "Realize that if you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.” - Anthony J. D’Angelo
- “If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you'd be surprised by how well things can work out. Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier.” - Randy Pausch
- "I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet." – Indian Proverb
- “Now, 10 years later, the person who talked and complained is still talking and complaining and still remains in the same position. The person who took the initiative and found solutions has been promoted several times." Catherine Pulsifer, from How Valuable Are You
- "Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free." - Author Unknown
Next, let's look at forgiveness:
Not wanting to forgive others who have treated you unfairly will keep you in an emotional prison and can affect your financial well-being. Furthermore, you must forgive yourself for all of your mistakes.
- “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” - Mahatma Gandhi
- “Forgiveness means letting go of the past.” - Gerald Jampolsky
- "Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning." - Desmond Tutu
The battlefield of the mind and emotions:
Next, let's look at procrastination:
According to Napoleon Hill, “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.” Procrastinators hold off on doing essential tasks because they are afraid of getting out of comfort zones. Their “hemming and hawing” involves health matters, finances, family and relationship problems, career development, addiction issues, and more. Rather than taking the first baby steps toward self-improvement, they prefer the easy and painless way.
- “I’ll get out of debt when I win the lottery.”
- "I'll put it on my list of New Year's resolutions."
- "Maybe I’ll do something after Super Bowl Sunday."
- "I'll do something about it when I get a raise."
Here are some strategies to help you let go of procrastination:
- “You may delay, but time will not.” - Benjamin Franklin
- "Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." - William James
- "If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it." - Olin Mille
- "A year from now you may wish you had started today." - Karen Lamb
Next, let's look at pride:
You will never achieve financial success if you let pride and “big-shot-ism” control your life. Prideful people are habitual know-it-alls and don't like to ask for help. Keep in mind that financial recovery is often a process that you cannot accomplish on your own. Therefore, getting professional help from a financial advisor may be essential if you want to live fiscally fit.
Here are some strategies to help you triumph over pride:
- “Pride is the mask we make of our faults.” - Hebrew Proverb
- “Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” - Ann Landers
- "Generally, prideful people are stubborn and rebellious. A stubborn person is obstinate and difficult to work with; a rebellious one is unruly and resists correction. Until you let go of pride and having to do everything your way or not at all, your chances of living a debt free life are as unlikely as winning $1,000,000 in Las Vegas.” – Gregory DeVictor
- "Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals." - Fulton J. Sheen
- "Never look down on anybody unless you are helping them up." - Jesse Jackson
“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Next, let's look at blaming:
Do you blame people or external conditions for your financial woes? For example, some individuals blame their financial problems on where they live. A few even make geographical changes, only to find that their financial difficulties follow them from Point A to Point B. If you spend money foolishly in Portland, chances are you will do the same in Minneapolis or Raleigh. Richard Roberts agrees:
Back in the days of the Old West, when tragedy struck people’s lives, they would simply jump on the nearest stagecoach and relocate in some other town where no one would recognize them. They could remain anonymous or hide their past. In the Old West, it was common to hear someone say that a cowboy was ‘riding with a secret.’ That meant there was something in his past that he wanted to overcome, so he was looking for a new place to start afresh.
Do you blame people, places, or things for your financial problems?
- "If I didn't live in California, I wouldn't be in so much debt."
- "It's a family curse."
- "The cost of living is too high."
- "It's my employer's fault. They should have cheaper health insurance."
- "I don't spend too much. It's the high interest rates."
- "If I didn't have to pay so much income tax, I wouldn't be in debt."
- "It was the recession. I didn't get the raise I wanted."
Here are some strategies to help you overcome the blame game:
- "Blaming is so much easier than taking responsibility, because if you take responsibility . . . then you might be the one to blame." - Unknown
- “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.” - George Bernard Shaw
- "A bad workman always blames his tools." – Proverb
- "Your complaints, your drama, your victim mentality, your whining, your blaming, and all of your excuses have NEVER gotten you even a single step closer to your goals or dreams. Let go of your nonsense. Let go of the delusion that you DESERVE better and go EARN it!" - Steve Maraboli
- “Every financial worry you want to banish and financial dream you want to achieve comes from taking tiny steps today that put you on a path toward your goals.” – Suze Orman
Next, let’s look at perfectionism:
Trying to be perfect at everything will only make you perfectly insane. If you’ve been waiting for perfect conditions to get out of debt or start an exercise program, you will never get anything done. Like procrastination and other invisible opponents, perfectionism is a one-way ticket to frustration and defeat.
- "Don't wait. The time will be never just right." - Napoleon Hill
- “Meet problems and obstacles as they arise. The test of a successful person is not the ability to eliminate all problems before he takes action, but rather the ability to find solutions to difficulties when he encounters them.” - David Schwartz
- “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough - that we should try again.” – Julia Cameron
- “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.” - Salvador Dali
- “The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake - you can't learn anything from being perfect.” - Adam Osborne
Next, let's look at worry:
People who have an anxious and worried mind torment themselves with nagging, disturbing, and distressing thoughts. They are always preoccupied with what misfortune will occur ten minutes from now, tomorrow morning, or two weeks from yesterday. In short, they are connoisseurs at predicting gloom and doom. The next time that you feel depressed, be sure to ask yourself what you’ve been worrying about for the past half hour. DumbLittleMan.com affirms:
Things never happen the way you imagine. When you worry, you are predicting the future. You are saying, 'I know that things will turn out badly.' But this just isn’t the case. You have no idea how the future is going to turn out, except to say that it will not be what you think it will be. So why worry?
Do you have an anxious and worried mind?
- "What if my in-laws found out that I have $25,000 in credit card debt? I'd never hear the end of it."
- "What would the neighbors think?"
- “How am I going to pay these bills?”
- “What if my car gets repossessed? How will I get to work?”
- "The mail carrier probably knows that I'm in debt. He sees all of those collection letters."
Here are some strategies to help you eliminate needless worry:
- “Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength-carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” - Corrie ten Boom
- "Worrying is bad for your health. Worry is not a normal state of mind, and it adversely affects your health, even your physical health. When you worry, physical changes are happening in your body which are very damaging. It increases stress which can increase blood pressure, cause higher levels of stomach acid, cause muscle tension and headaches, among many other things.” - DumbLittleMan.com
- “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.” - Michel de Montaigne
- “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due.” - William Ralph Inge
- “If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.” - E. Joseph Cossman
Finally, let's look at self-pity:
Self-pity, one of your worst invisible opponents, convinces you that you don't matter and that life is never going to get any better. Feeling sorry for yourself is akin to self-worship because everything is about Y-O-U. Like other invisible enemies, self-pity will keep you in a financial prison until you grow up and meet life’s responsibilities.
- “Oh, woe is me.”
- “I’ll never accomplish my dreams.”
- “I’ll never get out of debt.”
- “What’s the use?”
- "Each chapter gets worse."
- “If only I had better connections.”
- “I never get any good breaks.”
Here are some strategies to help you stop wallowing in self-pity:
- “Self-pity imprisons us in the walls of our own self-absorption. The whole world shrinks down to the size of our problem, and the more we dwell on it, the smaller we are and the larger the problem seems to grow.” - Kevin Malarkey
- "Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” – Helen Keller
- “All depression has its roots in self-pity, and all self-pity is rooted in people taking themselves too seriously.” – Debbie Macomber
Your invisible enemies want you to live in a constant state of lack and limitation. On the other hand, your higher self wants you to have plenty and some to spare. Therefore, your external conditions will never change until you silence your internal opponents that are preventing you from becoming the very best. Make a decision now to replace fear, denial, and your other invisible enemies with confidence in a successful financial future.
- “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” - James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
- “The outer conditions of a person's life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state...Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” – James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
- “As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” – James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
- Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves.” – James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
- “If you don’t step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, the number of situations that make you uncomfortable will keep growing.” – Theo Pistorius
General money management:
3. Trim the excess fat from your budget.
Trimming the excess fat from your budget is not as difficult as it might seem. Although you may have little control over your mortgage or day care costs, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year on groceries, utilities, cell phone charges, cable bills, transportation costs, insurance, taxes, bank fees, a new car or computer, dental care, prescriptions, entertainment, and much more.
It’s not as hopeless as it seems.
How much money can you expect to save each month by trimming the excess fat from your budget? That is the $64,000 question, since results vary from household to household. Variables include income, size of household, spending habits, time management, level of enthusiasm and discipline, willingness to change, and prospects for the future. Here are some guidelines you might consider:
- If your income is $50,000 or less, try to eliminate $250 - $500 a month in nonessential expenses. That adds up to $3,000 - $6,000 a year.
- If your income is between $50,000 and $100,000, try to eliminate $500 - $1,000 a month in nonessential expenses. That adds up to $6,000 - $12,000 a year.
- If your income is between $100,000 and $150,000, try to eliminate $1,000 - $2,000 a month in nonessential expenses. That adds up to $12,000 - $24,000 a year.
If you are really serious about living fiscally fit, these articles might help you as well:
4. Keep a budget and come to realize that budgets are necessary evils.
To learn more about budgeting, be sure to read How to Budget Your Money With the 50/20/30 Guideline and 10 Steps to Making a Financial Budget.
In addition to keeping a budget, get into the habit of writing down every cent that you spend. “Every cent” includes the $150 electric bill that you paid yesterday, the vitamin supplements that you bought this morning, and the ten gallons of gas that you will purchase tonight. It also includes all nonessential expenses such as cigarettes, lottery tickets, or the blueberry muffin that you buy every morning while on your way to work.
Once a week, go over your list of expenses and decide which ones can be eliminated or reduced. You will have more money left over at the end of the month or between paychecks and will not have to struggle to make ends meet. When implemented properly, writing down every cent that you spend will become a winning strategy for your entire household.
If you think that writing down every cent you spend is a time-consuming or daunting task, well think again. What you really need to do here is to renew your mind and to start letting go of everything in your life that is not bearing good fruit. Here are some classic examples:
- How much time do you spend every day on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites?
- How much time do you spend every day talking on your cell phone, texting, or watch television?
- How much time do you spend criticizing other people because they will not follow your script?
- How much time do you spend having self-parties because you cannot get your way?
- How much time do you spend complaining about the weather, traffic congestion, taxes and politicians, your demanding job, the cost of living, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, paying the bills, your imperfect spouse, the nosy neighbors, your Internet connection, the Super Saturday sale at Macy’s that you missed, and a gazillion other trivial matters?
Although I am probably ruffling a lot of feathers right now, I sincerely hope that you get my point.
By the way, I have been writing down every cent that I spend for most of my adult life. I learned this smart-money strategy years ago from my grandfather when I was in middle school. It’s not always easy or convenient, but is definitely worth the time and effort.
5. Live below your means and create a lifestyle that conforms to your income. You will have money left over at the end of the month and will not be burdened with trying to make ends meet.
In order to live below your means, stop trying to keep up with “lavish, high-roller” friends who have careless spending habits. Your financial well-being is more important than trying to impress Mr. and Mrs. Jones with a $499 coffee table or a $99 jewelry box. Mary Hunt asserts:
Living below your means in this high-pressure, credit-based, gotta-have-it-all-right-now society is not exactly easy. It takes skill and determination to go against the tide and buck a system that encourages spending all we have now plus what we hope we'll get in the future.
Overspending on "little things" can eventually become big money leaks. For example, if you spend $6.50 every day on a pack of cigarettes, that adds up to $2,372.50 annually.
To save more and spend less, here are 10 Tips to Live Within Your Means -- Painlessly.
6. Set aside enough cash to cover six to nine months of essential living expenses for financial emergencies. Essential living expenses include housing, utilities, transportation costs, groceries, personal care expenses (haircuts, etc.), insurance, health and child care, property taxes, necessary clothing, and pet care. Keep this cash in an FDIC-insured savings or money market account.
The following information about emergency savings has been made available courtesy of CreditDonkey.com:
How many Americans have less than $100 in emergency savings?
Almost half of Americans would not be able to cover an unexpected expense of $100 or less. An estimated 22.9% of men and 22.7% of women say they don't have at least a Benjamin in their emergency fund.
What percentage of Americans have a three-month emergency fund?
Saving three months' worth of expenses is a lofty goal. According to one survey, it's something that just 17% of Americans say they have a 3 to 5 month emergency fund.
How many have six months' worth of expenses saved?
Twenty-three percent of adults surveyed acknowledge having an emergency fund that could last them at least six months.
Who is more likely to have an emergency fund?
Age, income and race play a part in determining how Americans save for emergencies. For example, 36% of retirees have a 6-month emergency account compared to 16% of 18 to 29-year-olds. Ten percent of college grads lack any savings versus 36% of those with a high school diploma or less.
Likewise, you should also plan ahead and make large purchases without going into debt. To purchase big-ticket items such as a new washing machine, save a fixed amount of money every week or month until you reach your goal. Deposit these funds into a savings or money market account that is separate from your emergency savings.
7. 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. Late fees are assessed on your mortgage, cellphone, cable, utilities, insurances, credit cards, library books, traffic tickets, and of course Uncle Sam.
General money management:
8. Creating multiple streams of income can have a major impact on your finances. Even an extra $500 every month can go a long way to reduce debt or increase your retirement account. Here are over 50 ways to earn extra income:
- Answer questions online.
- Bank for profit. Many banks--on and offline--offer cash incentives for opening new accounts.
- Become a TV extra., a freelance writer, a holiday staffer, a lifeguard, a mystery or personal shopper, a tour guide, a translator, or an affiliate marketer.
- Cash in on unused gift cards.
- Complete simple tasks for businesses. Erin Huffstetler tells us that “Amazon Mechanical Turk has a list of one-time jobs – research projects, product reviews, transcriptions, etc. – that pay immediately upon acceptance of your work.”
- Cook, bake, or cater.
- Design websites
- Sell your crafts. Mary Hunt explains: "Do you knit? Make jewelry? Sew? If so, there are lots of opportunities to sell handmade wares online. As a member of Etsy (Etsy.com), you’ll have your own online store to showcase your items. It’s free to become an Etsy seller, but you’ll pay a fee of 20¢ to list an item with up to five photos for four months. When the item sells, you pay a 3.5 percent commission to Etsy. There’s no limit to how much you can charge, and what you earn is based on how your crafts sell."
- Donate plasma, sperm, or blood.
- Get paid for your time online. Check out Volition.com for a list of companies to consider.
- Get paid to watch television.
- Have a garage sale.
- Have your car wrapped.
- If you are a CVS customer, join the CVS Advisor Panel. You can earn up to $10 in Extra Care Bucks for participating in a single survey.
- If you’re a webmaster, sign up for Google AdSense or AdSense alternatives such as Chitika.
- Man a polling station.
- Mow lawns.
- Offer your professional services at Fiverr.com or at a similar site.For example, here is a list of graphics and design services that you can promote on Fiverr.com: Cartoons & Caricatures, Logo Design, Illustration, Book Covers & Packaging, Photoshop Editing, Flyers & Posters, Business Cards & Stationery, Banner Ads, Social Media Design, 3D & 2D Models, Web & Mobile Design, Presentations & Infographics, Invitations, T-Shirts, and Vector Tracing.
- Participate in a focus group.
- Participate in a mock trial.
- Sell your collectibles online. Kiplinger.com tells us that perhaps you collected baseball cards, stamps, or coins when you were young, and now they’re just collecting dust. But they might be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. One place to get top dollar for your collectibles and small items of value is eBay.
- Refer people to your cellphone provider, cable company, etc.
- Rent out a spare bedroom.
- Rent out an underused parking spot.
- Rent out items that you own.
- Scalp some tickets.
- Search for unclaimed property.
- Sell things you no longer need on Craigslist, Oodle, eBay Classifieds, Recycler, Sell.com, Monster, Classified Ads, Classifieds Giant, Adoos, or U.S. Free Ads.
- Sell your hair
- Sell your old mobile phone.
- Sell your photos at stock photo websites like iStockPhoto.
- Shovel snow.
- Sign up for clinical trials. DailyFinance.com points out that “Most large universities have ongoing medical research projects evaluating the efficacy of new medicines and treatments. As part of this evaluation, they often need 'volunteers' on which to test these medications. Since the pool of willing volunteers is limited, cash compensation for the volunteer's cooperation is sometimes provided, ranging from a few hundred dollars up to four figures."
- Start a blog.
- Test web sites.
- Tutor kids and adults.
- Use your home as a film set.
- Walk dogs or be a pet sitter.
- Write an e-book.
- Write software reviews.
- Write, edit, and proofread documents.
Get Out of Debt
General money management:
9. Be sure to do your homework before enrolling in a debt consolidation or debt settlement program. For example, nearly 65 percent of the people who enroll in a debt settlement program drop out because they cannot afford to make the monthly payments to an escrow account.
In case you do not know the difference between debt consolidation and debt settlement, here are definitions of each:
Debt consolidation, also known as interest-rate arbitration or bill consolidation, takes your high-interest loans and credit cards and consolidates them into one, low-interest loan that you can afford. In other words, you're taking out one loan to pay off many others. You make one monthly payment to a debt consolidator who distributes the funds to your creditors until they are paid in full. Only unsecured debt--credit cards, medical bills, and personal loans--can be consolidated. You cannot consolidate mortgages, rent, utilities, cell phone and cable bills, insurance premiums, car and student loans, alimony, child support, taxes, or criminal fines.
There are two kinds of debt consolidation: non-profit and for-profit. Both types work with your creditors to work out modified payment plans. Contrary to the popular notion, non-profit companies charge a nominal fee for their services. If a debt consolidation company is for-profit, you must also pay an upfront service charge of about 15% of your debt's face value. For example, if the total amount owed to creditors is $15,000, you can expect to pay a fee of around $2,250.
Here are some pros and cons of debt consolidation:
- You might not qualify for a debt consolidation loan because of delinquent credit history.
- While debt consolidation can help you to reduce your debt, it cannot teach you how to live fiscally fit.
- Debt consolidation can help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.
- If your unsecured debt is less than $10,000, bill consolidation is probably a better option than debt negotiation. This is because most debt settlement companies do not accept clients unless they have more than $10,000 in debt.
- Because most bill consolidation loans are unsecured, the lender can’t lay claim to your home if you are unable to keep up with the payments. However, late or missed payments will adversely affect your credit history as well as your credit score.
- There is no public record that you have ever consolidated your debts.
- Consolidating your unsecured debt can affect your "credit utilization ratio". Geri Detweiler tells us that “Credit utilization refers to the percent of your available credit that you’re currently using. For example, if the credit limit on all your credit cards combined is $30,000 and you have $15,000 in credit card debt then your credit utilization is at 50%. But if you get a debt consolidation loan and close all your credit card accounts, your total debt will still be $15,000 but your credit utilization will now be 100%, which may hurt your credit score.”
- A debt consolidation company cannot represent you in court unless it is also a law firm. Likewise, a company cannot prevent the foreclosure of your home or the repossession of your car.
Debt settlement, also known as debt arbitration or debt negotiation, is a debt relief approach where negotiators communicate with creditors on your behalf to settle your debts to reduced and agreed-to amounts. Only unsecured debt—credit cards, medical bills, and personal loans—can be negotiated. You cannot settle mortgages, rent, utility bills, cell phone and cable charges, insurance premiums, car and student loans, alimony, child support, taxes, or criminal fines.
Once you enroll in a debt settlement program, your negotiation team opens a trust account for you. You must deposit up to 50% of your unsecured debt into the account over a period of 24-60 months. This money is used to settle your debts with creditors. Because the average debt settlement firm is for-profit, you must also pay the company a 15-25% service charge. This fee is based on the original amount of your unsecured debt or the amount negotiated, depending on the debt settlement company.
Here are some pros and cons of debt settlement:
- Reduced balances appear as "paid in full" or "paid as settled" on your credit report.
- While debt settlement can help you to reduce your debt, it cannot teach you how to live fiscally fit.
- Debt negotiation can help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.
- There is no public record that you have ever settled your debts.
- Settling your unsecured debts will adversely affect your credit score.
- Despite repeated warnings from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a few debt settlement companies still claim that they can reduce your debt to "pennies on the dollar." If you define "pennies on the dollar" as ten cents or less, this just does not happen today. Be careful of taking something that you read or hear too literally. While one national bank might have settled for 60% off in 2009, they might only be settling for 25% or 30% off today.
- I strongly suggest that you hire a debt settlement company that is also a law firm and preferably one that is in your geographical area. For example, a woman from New Jersey hired a California-based debt settlement service that outsourced all legal matters to a law firm in Florida. (Yes, you read that right!) When she was sued by a creditor for an unpaid balance, the law firm did not personally represent her in court. All correspondence was handled either by email or on the phone. The woman subsequently lost the case and was handed a judgment for over $10,000.
- Participation in a debt settlement program cannot stop creditors from suing you for any unpaid balances.
- During the negotiation process, calls and letters from creditors might continue. Enrolling in a debt settlement program does not automatically stop "lawful collection activities."
- Settling your debts can be a gamble because some creditors might refuse to negotiate. In such cases, you are responsible for paying the outstanding balance on the creditor's terms.
- You might suffer tax consequences. For example, if you owe $25,000 and settle for $15,000, the $10,000 difference is considered taxable income. The creditor must send you a 1099-MISC reporting a "discharge of indebtedness income.”
- Settling your unsecured debts cannot prevent the foreclosure of your house or the repossession of your car.
- A debt settlement company might not be licensed to do business in your state. For example, CuraDebt, a debt management firm that was founded in 2000, cannot provide financial services in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
- Some debt settlement companies try to enroll you in a their program without reviewing your financial situation with you.
- Most debt settlement firms do not teach you about budgeting and money management techniques.
10. Here is why you should look at bankruptcy as a "last-ditch solution" to your financial issues:
Bankruptcy is a process where you legally declare yourself unable to pay your outstanding debts. You must meet with a judge in order to establish a payment schedule or to have most or all of your debts discharged. The two types of personal bankruptcy are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reminds us that "If you plan to file for bankruptcy protection, you must get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within 180 days before you file. You also have to complete a debtor education course before your debts can be discharged."
Here are ten reasons why the consequences of bankruptcy can be overwhelming:
- Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years and can make it difficult to get credit, buy a home, rent an apartment, get life insurance, or even get a job.
- You will have to explain to a judge and/or trustee how you got into your financial mess. (For example, did you use credit cards to supplement your income or to keep up with the Joneses?)
- Bankruptcy doesn't come cheap. The ChicagoTribune.com reports that "The legal fees of an experienced bankruptcy attorney can be substantial. For a Chapter 7 filing, administrative and filing fees are around $300, with additional attorney fees likely to be between $1,500 and $2,000. Total expenses for Chapter 13 will be more expensive. Most fees will have to be paid up front. In addition, according to the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, there will be additional costs for requisite pre-bankruptcy credit counseling and a credit education course."
- Some of your personal property and/or real estate might be seized. LegalMatch.com points out that “If you are unable to exempt all of your personal property or real estate under the bankruptcy exemptions, some of your property may be seized by the bankruptcy court and sold to pay your creditors.”
- Bankruptcy cannot eliminate alimony or child support obligations, criminal fines, and your most recent back taxes.
- Except in very limited circumstances, bankruptcy cannot wipe out student loans.
- Bankruptcy cannot prevent a “secured creditor” from repossessing property. Nolo.com tells us that "A bankruptcy discharge eliminates debts, but it does not eliminate liens. So, if you have a secured debt (a debt where the creditor has a lien on your property and can repossess it if you don't pay the debt), bankruptcy can eliminate the debt, but it does not prevent the creditor from repossessing the property."
- You must have steady and regular income to qualify for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. In addition, you must commit to a rigid budget over the life of the Chapter 13 plan.
- If you’re a renter, some landlords might not look favorably upon a bankruptcy filing.
- According to FindLaw.com, "You cannot file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you previously went through bankruptcy proceedings under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 within the last six years."
- There are emotional and social stigmas to filing for bankruptcy. David Haynes observes that “the stigma does not affect your finances in any way. It purely relates to how people view you. So, if you are a person that is very concerned with what people think of you, the social stigma may matter greatly.”
You will lose all of your credit cards. This is a blessing in disguise though because it will force you to pay cash for everything as well as to live within or below your means.
General money management:
11. Never spend money in advance because you are expecting a financial windfall. Whether it's a tax refund or year-end bonus, wait until you have the cash before buying the new mattress or microwave.
12. Never look at money management as a dreaded task. If you want to live smarter financially, wise money management is a daily responsibility. You can complete routine financial tasks more efficiently and with less mental effort if you approach them as constructive uses of time and not as dreaded chores. Laura Adams declares:
If money management isn't something you enjoy, consider my perspective. I look at managing my money as if it were a part-time job. The time you spend monitoring your finances will pay off. You can make real money by cutting expenses and earning more interest on savings and investments. I'd challenge you to find a part-time job where you could potentially earn as much money for just an hour or two of your time.
13. Never take financial advice from people who are train wrecks with their money. For example, would you take career advice from someone who is chronically unemployed? Or, would you take marital advice from someone who has been divorced three times? Or, would you take nutritional advice from someone who is a foodaholic? Probably not.
By the same token, never take financial advice from someone who has $50,000 of credit card debt and no savings.
14. Courtesy of Bankrate.com, here is one of the best ways to boost the value of your home:
Make your kitchen really cook. The kitchen is still considered the heart of the home. Potential home buyers make a beeline for this room when they first view a home for sale, so make sure your kitchen looks clean and reasonably updated.
For a few hundred dollars, you can replace the kitchen faucet set, add new cabinet door handles and update old lighting fixtures with brighter, more energy-efficient ones.
15. According to HowStuffWorks.com, here are five factors that can decrease the value of your home:
- An abused bathroom
- A kitschy kitchen
- Repairs in arrears
- School district details
- Neighborhood conditions
16. Don't buy too much house. The bigger your home, the more you will pay in taxes, maintenance, and utilities.
17. Before making extra payments on your mortgage, be sure that you are contributing the max to your 401(k) and have paid off all of your unsecured debt (credit cards, lines of credit, etc.).
If you're able to make extra payments on your mortgage, here are three examples of how much money you could save over the long-term:
Original loan amount - $200,000
Original mortgage length - 30 years
Date of loan - September, 1996
Interest rate - 7.50%
Date of first extra payment - December, 2013
Additional payment amount - $100
Frequency of payments - Monthly
By increasing your monthly payment by $100, you will pay off your loan balance 1 year and 4 months sooner. You will save $9,148.83 in interest over the life of the loan.
Original loan amount - $300,000
Original mortgage length - 30 years
Date of loan - September, 2012
Interest rate - 5.50%
Date of first extra payment - March, 2014
Additional payment amount - $100.00
Frequency of payments - Monthly
By increasing your monthly payment by $100, you will pay off your loan balance 3 years and 5 months sooner. You will save $41,095.37 in interest over the life of the loan.
Original loan amount - $250,000
Original mortgage length - 30 years
Date of loan - September, 2005
Interest rate - 6.00%
Date of first extra payment - June, 2013
Additional payment amount - $250
Frequency of payments - Monthly
By increasing your monthly payment by $250, you will pay off your loan balance 5 years and 7 months sooner. You will save $51,272.20 in interest over the life of the loan.
18. If you have too much credit card debt, it is likely that you have mismanaged your plastic portfolio. Here are 15 costly mistakes to make with credit cards.
1. Only making the minimum monthly payments. NerdWallet.com tells us that "Most credit card issuers only require a minimum payment of 4-6% of the total balance to be paid every month. However, if you pay only this minimum amount every month and continue to make charges on the card, the total balance on the card is going to rise substantially; in no time, that 4-6% is going to amount to a pretty high figure that you’ll have to fork over every month."
2. Not knowing the interest rates that you are paying on your cards.
3. Spending money on your card just to get cash back or rewards points.
4. Making late payments or missing payments altogether. Consequences include late fees, higher interest rates, and a lower credit score.
5. Paying annual fees, foreign transaction fees, late fees, over-the-limit fees, cash advance fees, and balance transfer fees.
6. Signing up with your bank's payment protection plan.
7. Not reading the fine print. According to CreditCards.com, the “fine print” is that tiny text insert where you'll discover when the 0-percent or very low interest rate expires. It's also how you can find out about any balance transfer fees, as well as any offer limitations.
8. Exceeding the credit limit on any of your cards. Charging beyond 30% of your credit limit is dangerous to your credit score.
9. Ignoring monthly statements. Kiplinger.com advises: “This may be the easiest pitfall to avoid. As soon as you receive your monthly credit card statement, take a few minutes to look it over. Mistakes happen, so be sure there are no erroneous charges. The sudden appearance of unfamiliar charges can also signal identity theft. Call your lender immediately to report discrepancies.”
10. Having a credit limit that is too high.
11. Neglecting your credit scores. Kiplinger.com explains that “Five major factors to into a FICO score: payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%) and types of credit used (10%). All it takes is a poor showing in one of these categories and your score can drop.”
12. Cosigning a credit card. Never cosign a credit card or any other type of loan unless you have money to lose.
13. Using a credit card or taking cash advances on a credit card to pay for any of the following: mortgage or rent payments, car loans or leases, utility bills, cell phone charges, cable bills, ISP charges, insurance premiums, vacations, home improvements, taxes, tuition payments, cosmetic surgery, and gambling.
14. Not treating credit cards the same as cash.
15. Misunderstanding introductory rates. AllCards.com declares: “Don’t be misled by introductory rates. Cards that offer special introductory rates can definitely save you some money, but you need to understand how it works. You first need to know how long the introductory rate is in place and second, you need to know what the rate will be after the introductory period is over. Typically, the introductory rate will be in place for 6 to 12 months. It's common for rates to jump significantly after the introductory period is over, so be sure to know how the offers work before you sign up.”
Here is a faster, easier, and smarter way to get out of credit card debt:
19. Instead of enrolling in a debt consolidation or debt settlement program, why not ask your bank for a lower interest rate and simultaneously increase your monthly credit card payment(s). Here are some examples of how well these two strategies work:
Did you know that a five-minute phone call to your credit card issuer could save you hundreds or even thousands, of dollars in interest charges? Courtesy of PBS.org, here is an example of how well this approach can work:
When was the last time you called your credit card company and asked them to reverse a late fee or lower your interest rate?
If ‘never’ is your answer, you’re in the majority. Only one in five respondents to a new survey by CreditCards.com said they had ever made such a request. And yet, 89 percent of those who had bothered to call about a late fee succeeded in having it reversed, and 78 percent were able to get a lower APR.
‘Most people don’t ask for breaks for one reason,’ CreditCards.com lead analyst Matt Schulz said. ‘They don’t think it will work. But people have more bargaining power than they realize. They just need to be willing to use it.’
It’s a buyer’s market. Credit card companies are competing with one another to gain and retain customers. And, adds Schulz, it’s a lot less expensive to retain customers you already have.
Business.HighBeam.com adds that rising delinquencies and default rates have made credit card issuers more inclined to cut deals with their cardholders. You might be able to lower your interest rate or monthly payment, get penalties waived, or even reach a settlement for substantially less than what you now owe.
Even if your bank lowers a credit card’s APR by only a percentage point, you could potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest over the long-term and get out of debt faster.
Let’s say you have $25,000 of credit card debt with a 21.5% APR. Assuming that you make no additional charges or cash advances, it will take you 128 months to become debt free if you make a fixed monthly payment of $500. You will pay $38,890.29 in interest and a grand total of $63,890.29 (principal + interest). Summarizing:
Fixed monthly payment: $500
Number of months to become debt free: 128
Total principal paid: $25,000
Total interest paid: $38,890.29
Total amount paid (principal + interest): $63,890.29
First, suppose that your credit card company lowers your interest rate from 21.5% to 20.5%, a difference of one percentage point. Assuming that you continue to make a fixed monthly payment of $500, you will get out of debt 14 months sooner and save $6,923.13 in interest charges. Summing everything up:
Fixed monthly payment: $500
Number of months to become debt free: 114 (14 months sooner)
Total principal paid: $25,000
Total interest paid: $31,967.16
Total amount paid (principal + interest): $56,967.16
Total amount of interest saved: $6,923.13
Next, suppose that your credit card issuer lowers your interest rate from 21.5% to 19%, a difference of 2.5 percentage points. Assuming that you continue to make a fixed monthly payment of $500, you will get out of debt 27 months sooner and save $13,878.86 in interest charges. Summarizing:
Fixed monthly payment: $500
Number of months to become debt free: 101 (27 months sooner)
Total principal paid: $25,000
Total interest paid: $25,011.43
Total amount paid (principal + interest): $50,011.43
Total amount of interest saved: $13,878.86
Finally, suppose that your credit card company lowers your interest rate from 21.5% to 17%, a difference of 4.5 percentage points. Assuming that you continue to make a fixed monthly payment of $500, you will get out of debt 40 months sooner and save $20,042.24 in interest charges: Summing everything up:
Fixed monthly payment: $500
Number of months to become debt free: 88 (40 months sooner)
Total principal paid: $25,000
Total interest paid: $18,848.05
Total amount paid (principal + interest): $43,848.05
Total amount of interest saved: $20,042.24
Now it’s time for you to see how increasing your monthly credit card payment can dramatically cut down the time it takes to pay off your debt, along with the total interest paid:
Let’s say you have $15,000 of credit card debt with a 17.5% APR. Assuming that you make no additional purchases or cash advances, it will take you 88 months to become debt free if you make a minimum monthly payment of $300. You will pay $11,281 in interest and a grand total of $26,281 (principal + interest). Summarizing:
Fixed monthly payment: $300
Number of months to become debt free: 88
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $11,281
Total amount paid: $26,281
By increasing your monthly payment from $300 to $305, you will get out of debt 3 months sooner and save $427 in interest. Summing everything up:
Fixed monthly payment: $305
Number of months to become debt free: 85
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $10,854
Total amount paid: $25,854
Net savings: $427
By increasing your monthly payment from $300 to $310, you will become debt free 5 months sooner and save $820 in interest. Summarizing:
Fixed monthly payment: $310
Number of months to become debt free: 83
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $10,461
Total amount paid: $25,461
Net savings: $820
By increasing your monthly payment from $300 to $325, you will get out of debt one year sooner and save $1,838 in interest. Summing everything up:
Fixed monthly payment: $325
Number of months to become debt free: 12
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $9,443
Total amount paid: $24,443
Net savings: $1,838
By increasing your monthly payment from $300 to $350, you will become debt free 21 months sooner and save $3,142 in interest. Summarizing:
Fixed monthly payment: $350
Number of months to become debt free: 67
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $8,139
Total amount paid: $23,139
Net savings: $3,142
By increasing your monthly payment from $300 to $400, you will become debt free 34 months sooner and save $4,885 in interest. Summing everything up:
Fixed monthly payment: $400
Number of months to become debt free: 54
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $6,396
Total amount paid: $21,396
Net savings: $4,885
By increasing your monthly payment from $300 to $500, you will become debt free 49 months sooner and save $6,795 in interest. Summarizing:
Fixed monthly payment: $500
Number of months to become debt free: 39
Total principal paid: $15,000
Total interest paid: $4,486
Total amount paid: $19,486
Net savings: $6,795
MoneyChimp.com tells us that "Even a small monthly sacrifice--buy a little less, reduce your debt a little more--can make a big difference." They add:
The ultimate is to become a deadbeat, which is what credit card companies call people who pay off their balance every month, avoiding finance charges completely. If you're a deadbeat, credit cards are a beautiful deal - in fact, they're a short term interest-free loan. Life is sweet, for deadbeats.
How a California Couple Became Debt Free by Using this Strategy
By March, 2010, Michael and Jennifer (not their real names) had racked up nearly $40,000 of credit card debt. After years of using plastic to finance everything from home improvements to wedding expenses for their daughter, they were barely able to make the minimum monthly payments on five credit cards. Michael and Jennifer did not keep a budget and were living beyond their means. Calls and letters from creditors along with constant worry motivated them to get help from a consumer credit counselor.
Michael and Jennifer did not feel comfortable about filing for bankruptcy or by using debt settlement. Instead, they decided to change their careless spending habits and use the extra money to reduce their credit card debt. Here is a summary of Michael and Jennifer's extreme financial makeover.
Names: To protect anonymity, the couple I interviewed does not want their real names to be used. I am referring to them instead as Michael and Jennifer.
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Current ages: Michael is 59 and Jennifer is 55.
Marital status: Married for over 25 years with no dependents.
Rent or own their home: Michael and Jennifer own a home and have a monthly mortgage of $1,737.00.
Employment status: Both spouses are working at full-time jobs.
Number of years free of credit card debt: 3
Financial profile before reducing their debt:
Combined annual income: About $150,000
Amount of credit card debt: Nearly $40,000
Number of credit cards: 5
Combined interest rate on all five cards: 16%
Total minimum monthly payments on all cards: Approximately $600
By continuing to make the minimum monthly payments, it would have taken Michael and Jennifer 13 years and 3 months to get out of debt. They would have paid $55,000 in interest and a grand total of $95,000 (principal + interest).
Michael and Jennifer's debt reduction plan:
After six months of careful financial planning, Michael and Jennifer began to see light at the end of the debt tunnel. By saving money on everything from transportation to taxes, they doubled their monthly credit card payments from $600 to $1,200. Michael and Jennifer become debt free in 44 months and saved over $40,000 in interest.
Here are some of the cost-cutting measures they put into action:
1. Both spouses changed cell phone plans and saved over $50 a month.
2. They trimmed their annual grocery bill by about $1,200.
3. Instead of eating out several times a week, they ate out once or twice a month and saved over $2,000 a year.
4. They trimmed over $3,500 from their annual tax bill. For example, Michael increased his annual 401(k) contribution from 6% to 15% and Jennifer increased her amount from 7% to 10%.
5. Michael took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the East Bay to his job in San Francisco's Financial District and saved over $4,000 a year in gas, parking, and bridge tolls.
Retirement and Social Security:
20. Contribute regularly to your employer's 401(k) because most 401(k) plans also include a matching contribution from your company (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
By the way, over 40% of American households are "at risk" of not having enough income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living when they retire. Therefore, you should think twice about withdrawing cash early from your 401(k). You can use this calculator from Wells Fargo Bank to estimate how much in taxes and penalties you might owe if you withdraw cash early from your 401(k).
21. Watch for hidden 401(k) fees because hidden expenses might be draining your account. Investopedia explains:
Unfortunately, investor naiveté is such that millions of people incorrectly assume that the 401(k) provider - the mutual fund company that devises the baskets of holdings into which your money goes - neither wants nor accepts anything for its trouble. The truth is that the principle that there's no such thing as a free lunch extends into even such intangible realms as financial planning. Your 401(k) company collects a fee every month. And the cumulative size of those fees can be a huge determinant of your eventual returns.
22. Think again about starting to collect Social Security benefits too early. According to the Social Security Administration, a benefit is reduced 5/9 of one percent for each month before the normal retirement age of 67, up to 36 months. For example, if you retire at age 62, you will only receive 75% of your full monthly benefit. If you retire at age 65, you will receive 93% of your full benefit amount. You can use this chart from the Social Security Administration to see the effects of early retirement
23. Here is how you can find the best savings and money market interest rates:
Before you open a savings or money market account, get online and compare interest rates between different financial institutions, including those outside of your geographical area. Here is a useful link:
- Bankaholic.com/money-market/ provides you with the highest savings and money market rates. Updated daily.
24. Join a credit union. A credit union is a member-owned financial co-operative that is democratically controlled by its members. The difference between credit unions and commercial banks is simple: Credit unions work for their customers and commercial banks work for their shareholders.
Here are seven credit unions that anyone can join:
- Alliant Credit Union
- Connexus Credit Union
- Consumers Credit Union
- Lake Michigan Credit Union
- NASA Federal Credit Union
- Pentagon Federal Credit Union
- Navy Federal Credit Union
To find or research a credit union, go to: Credit Union Resources and Information.
25. Bank fees can add up. Here is a list of 30 common bank charges:
- Account research fees
- Balance inquiry fees (online, by phone, or at an ATM)
- Cancelled check copy fees
- Cash deposit fees
- Charges for redeeming rewards points
- Fees to replace a damaged, lost, or stolen debit card
- Direct deposit fees
- Dormant account fees
- Early account closure fees
- Fees for depositing international items
- Fees for returning original checks with paper statement
- Fees for transferring money from checking to savings, and vice versa
- Foreign transaction fees
- Human teller fees
- Minimum balance fees
- Mobile banking fees
- Money order fees
- Monthly maintenance fees on checking accounts, etc.
- Notary fees
- Online bill payment fees
- Out-of-network fees
- Overdraft fees
- Overdraft protection transfer fees
- Over-the-phone bill payment fees
- Paper statement fees
- Returned deposit fees
- Returned mail fees
- Stop payment fees
- Traveler's check fees
- Wire transfer fees
Would you pay $5 - $10 to replace a lost or damaged debit card? How about $1.00 for a printed ATM statement or a roll of quarters? What about $3.00 to use a human teller? And it doesn’t stop there. Miami.CBSLocal.com reports that "For a dollar a month, some banks allow you to go straight to the front of the phone line, skipping other callers on hold."
To find the best checking account for your financial needs, go to NerdWallet.com/checking-accounts/
26. Here is a list of banks that offer free or low-cost checking:
- Capital One 360
- Schwab Bank
- Ally Bank
- UFB Direct
- USAA Federal Savings Bank
- Aspiration Summit
- Radius Bank
- FNBO Direct
- Salem Five Direct
- BBVA Compass
- Mutual of Omaha Bank
- First Internet Bank
27. Make sure that your checking account balance is never below $100. If you don't have overdraft protection, the charge for insufficient funds now averages $35 per transaction. Some banks even charge a fee each day your account is in arrears.
28. Here is what you can do with your spare change:
First, don't pay a 10% fee to have your loose change counted. Next, find a bank with a free coin-counting service. Here are five financial institutions that offer free coin-counting for their customers.
- Chase Bank
- Commerce Bank
- PNC Bank
- U.S. Bank
- Credit unions
29. Here is what you must know about prepaid debit cards:
Prepaid debit cards have become increasingly popular over the past several years. The average prepaid card has between 6 and 15 fees. As a result, some cards could cost you hundreds of dollars more annually than others.
When choosing a prepaid card, take these 12 factors into account:
- How much does the card cost? While most prepaid cards are free, a few could cost you as much as $9.95.
- Is there a card activation fee? While most prepaid cards are free to activate, several could cost you as much as $9.95.
- Is there a fee for direct deposit?
- Is there a charge to withdraw cash from an ATM? If so, how much per transaction?
- If you get cash back at the point-of-sale, is there a transaction fee? If so, how much?
- What is the monthly maintenance fee?
- Are you required to keep a minimum balance on the card? For example, one prepaid card automatically debits you $0.99 anytime your balance falls below $50.
- What happens if your balance goes below zero?
- Are there customer-support and balance-inquiry fees?
- Can you write checks online or from your mobile phone? If so, are there any processing charges?
- Can you link the card to savings, money market, or PayPal accounts?
- Does the card accept domestic wire transfers? If so, what are the processing fees?
i recommend these three prepaid debit cards:
- Walmart MoneyCard MasterCard with Cash Back Rewards - No annual fee and no credit check
- American Express Serve - $1 monthly fee (no fee in New York, Texas, and Vermont) and no credit check
- American Express Serve Free Reloads - $4.95 monthly fee (no fee in New York, Texas, or Vermont) and no credit check
30. Avoid check cashing stores.
Check cashing businesses are generally located in neighborhoods that have no commercial banks, credit unions, or super stores like Walmart. They charge a fee of 2–20% to cash a government, payroll, or personal check. The processing fee is based on the check’s face value ($500, $1,000, etc.). Check cashing stores also sell money orders for as much as $5.00, which is nearly five times what you would pay at a grocery or drug store.
To save money on check cashing fees and money orders, choose a brick-and-mortar or online bank, credit union, or even Walmart. If you cannot open a regular checking account because of delinquent credit history or fraudulent banking behavior, consider using one of prepaid debit cards listed above that have no credit check.
To load funds via direct deposit with any of these cards, complete a direct deposit authorization form from the issuing bank and give it to your employer or benefits provider.
Now let’s see how much money you could save in check cashing fees by using one of these prepaid cards:
Suppose you receive a biweekly payroll check for $1,369.00 and cash it at a check cashing store that charges a 3% processing fee. For each check, you would pay a service charge of $41.07 (3% of $1,369.00 = $41.07). If you cash 26 checks a year, you will pay a grand total of $1,067.82 in processing fees.
Most of the prepaid debit cards referenced above do not charge a fee for direct deposit, thus saving you $1,067.82 annually. There could other fees associated with each card (for example, monthly membership), but these are insignificant to paying $1,067.82 in check cashing fees elsewhere.
Insurance and health care:
31. Get adequate health insurance for your family because medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcies in America. If you don’t have health insurance, one hospital visit could saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses. Remember, investing in insurance is investing in the quality of your life. Blue Cross Blue Shield agrees:
The reason you need health insurance may not be so much for the occasional doctor’s visit or prescription drug for a minor illness. You may be able to fit those expenses into your budget. The most important reason you need health insurance is to protect your family’s finances if you’re in a serious accident or are diagnosed with a serious disease. In these cases, the needed surgeries, treatments, medications and visits to specialists can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Over 33 million Americans still do not have health coverage. If you do not have health insurance, here are some useful links:
32. Here are five kinds of insurance that you must have:
- Health insurance
- Life insurance
- Auto insurance
- Long-term disability insurance
- Property (homeowners/renters) insurance
33. Here are 15 kinds of insurance you probably don't need:
- Accidental death insurance
- Auto collision insurance
- Cancer insurance
- Cell phone insurance
- Child life insurance
- Down payment insurance
- Extended warranties for cars
- Flight insurance
- Home warranty insurance
- Involuntary unemployment insurance
- Mortgage insurance
- Payment protection on your credit card
- Pet insurance
- Rental car insurance
- Water line insurance
34. Why do you need long-term disability insurance? According to the Social Security Administration, "Just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67." Being unable to work because of an accident or illness can have a devastating effect on your finances if you are not prepared. Since many private-sector employers do not offer long-term disability insurance to their workers, having private LTD protection has become a necessary evil.
35. Be sure that you have a long-term medical care plan. Barry Glassman explains why this financial strategy is so important:
70% of people over 65 will require care at some point in their lives. Given that 50% of claims last more than one year and medical costs are projected to continue rising faster than inflation, these costs adds [sic] up quickly. It’s important to know your long-term care options and how you plan to pay for these future expenses if you need to.
36. Know your risk tolerance when investing:
You cannot control the stock market. It's like a gambling casino. Similarly, you have no control over the interest rates on money market accounts, CDs, and government-issued bonds.
Once again, know your risk tolerance when investing. If your tolerance is low, do not invest in biotech stocks, Forex (foreign currency trading), and hedge funds. You'll sleep better at night.
Here are seven low-risk investments with moderate returns:
- Savings accounts
- United States savings bonds
- Certificates of deposit
- Money market accounts
- Treasury notes, bills, bonds, and TIPS
- Corporate bonds
- Dividend-paying stocks
37. Investopedia.com is one of the best web sites for free and high-quality investment information. Investopedia's categories include, but are not limited to the following:
- Personal finance
- ETFs (Exchange traded funds) & mutual funds
- Stock analysis
- Tax center
- Stock basics
- Economics basics
- Options basics
Your credit report and credit score:
38. Be sure to get a free credit report and credit score once a year. This helps to detect identity theft early and to correct inaccuracies that might have been caused by a clerical error or computer glitch. To get your free annual credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. To get a free annual credit score, to go FreeCreditScore.com.
Why is it so important for you to get an annual credit report? Courtesy of ConsumerAffairs.com, here are three reasons why:
Mistakes DO happen
Do you know who has had access to your credit report information? Do you know if the information they saw is accurate? According to a study by U.S. PIRG, 70 percent of the credit reports have errors of some kind and 29 percent contained serious errors like false delinquencies and judgements that don't belong to the consumer.
Before you start shopping for mortgage, take a look at your credit report before the mortgage companies do.
Someone may be committing fraud by using your identity and applying for credit in your name.
By the way, did you know that the search term "free credit report" generates over 1,000,000 searches every month on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing?
39. You should also get a free copy of your Chex Systems report once a year. Chex Systems is a consumer credit reporting agency that identifies consumers who have a history of fraudulent behavior with traditional checking accounts. ChexSystems reports include unpaid fees from overdrafts, checks bounced at retailers and other companies, check orders at banks, credit unions, and third-party companies, credit inquiries, and consumer-initiated credit freezes. About 80% of banks and credit unions use ChexSystems reports to assess the potential risks of having an account applicant as a customer.
To get a free annual Chex Systems report, go to Chex Systems Consumer Assistance.
Job and career:
40. Based on high unemployment rates and low earnings, here are 10 of the worst college majors for your career:
- Criminal Justice
- Philosophy & Religious Studies
- Political Science
- Social Studies
- Theatre Arts
Here are 10 of the best college majors for your career:
- Chemical Engineering
- Computer Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Environmental Studies
- Medical Assisting Services
- Petroleum Engineering
41. What is the price tag for a college education in the USA? The College Board confirms that the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015–2016 school year was $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
Here are 24 tuition-free colleges and universities:
- Alice Lloyd College – Kentucky
- Barclay College - Kansas
- Berea College – Kentucky
- Blackburn College - Illinois
- College of the Ozarks – Missouri
- Cooper Union – New York City
- CUNY Teacher Academy - New York City
- Curtis Institute of Music – Pennsylvania
- Deep Springs College – California
- Ecclesia College – Arkansas
- Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering - Massachusetts
- Macaulay Honors College at CUNY – New York City
- Sterling College - Vermont
- UC Irvine School of Law - California
- United States Air Force Academy - Colorado
- United States Coast Guard Academy - Connecticut
- United States Merchant Marine Academy - New York
- United States Military Academy - New York
- United States Naval Academy – Maryland
- University of Washington - Washington
- Warren Wilson College – North Carolina
- Washington State University - Washington
- Williamson College of the Trades - Pennsylvania
- Webb Institute - New York
42. Here are 35 financial mistakes that can become big money leaks:
- Spending $3.50 every day for a latte. That adds up to $1,277.50 a year.
- Paying $13.99 for a pound of roast beef at the supermarket deli.
- Buying books that you will never read.
- Subscribing to newspapers and magazines that you never have time to read.
- Spending $6.99 for a Halloween DVD and only watching it once.
- Paying $5.99 or more to have a pair of jeans laundered at the dry cleaners.
- Spending $299 for a premium gym membership and rarely or never using it. Why not try Mother Nature instead?
- Do you have things in your kitchen that you rarely or never use? How about espresso cups, serving bowls, bag holders, vegetable steamers, martini glasses, bread makers, napkin rings, cake pans, pizzelle makers, mixing bowl sets, waffle irons, popcorn poppers, lasagna pans, citrus presses, woks, griddles and grill pans, cutting boards, cooking utensils, pizza pans, etc.? You might want to think twice before buying something else for the kitchen.
- Spending $299.99 on a pair of designer sunglasses.
- Spending $2.50 every day for a blueberry muffin at Starbuck’s. That adds up to $912.50 annually.
- If you’re a guy, how much do pay for a haircut? If you live in Pittsburgh, you can pay as little as $18 for a trim at Enrico's, a popular salon in the city’s Oakland neighborhood. Or, you can pay as much as $50 (plus tax and tip) at a downtown salon.
- Spending $8.99 on a bunch of fresh flowers every week. That adds up to $467.48 annually.
- Spending $35 on a pedicure every week. That adds up to $1,820 a year.
- Spending $69.99 for a Decomates wall clock when you can get it on sale for $10.99. That’s a savings of 84 percent.
- Before purchasing home and garden products, laptops, tablets, appliances, electronics, televisions, cameras, and cell phones, not comparing prices at over 4,000 merchants at PriceBlink.com. Did you know that prices can change by the minute?
- Spending $29.99 on a bottle of hair conditioner because your stylist claims that it will make your hair look five times thicker.
- Buying a certain brand of perfume or cologne because the advertiser claims that it will attract the opposite sex.
- Spending $89 on the latest miracle diet. If the last diet didn't work, why should this one?
- Buying the latest miracle eye cream because the advertiser claimers that it will make you look 10 years younger.
- Not having adequate dental coverage. If your employer does not have a dental plan as part of their benefits package, there are several alternatives including dental schools, dental hygiene schools, and discount dental plans.
- Underestimating health care costs. For example, a retired couple can expect to pay over $10,000 annually in health care.
- Using payday loans or cash advances from credit cards to raise quick cash.
- Using your emergency savings to pay off your mortgage early.
- Making any financial decision when you are angry, lonely, tired, or depressed.
- Refusing to pay for additional education and training today for a bigger pay check tomorrow. (Incidentally, this is one of the worst financial mistakes that you can ever make.)
- Allowing commercials or infomercials to influence your spending habits.
- Buying something because it is on sale. If you already have three pairs of shoes that you’ve never worn, don’t buy another pair because you can save 50% off regular retail.
- Not wanting to improve your credit score. Having a good credit score can save you thousands of dollars on everything from a mortgage to a car loan.
- Not signing up with every customer rewards program that comes your way.
- Smoking cigarettes. According to 247WallSt.com, "A person who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day in New York state will spend more than $4,000 a year, which is roughly 10% of the average American income before taxes."
- Not following up with your bank immediately when an unauthorized transaction appears on your checking account. This could be the first sign of identity theft.
- Not realizing that one credit card is sometimes too many.
- Supporting your adult children.
- Making a needless trip to the grocery store instead of using what you have on hand. At BigOven.com, you will find leftover recipes for chicken, ham, eggs, tomatoes, and much more. Just enter any ingredient and BigOven searches over 300,000 recipes to find out what you can make.
- Getting cash at an out-of-network ATM and paying $7.00 in combined service charges to your bank and the out-of-network bank. If you make this financial blunder 50 times a year, you will end up paying $350 in bank fees.
43. Here are 35 goods and services that have gigantic markups:
- Bakery goods – 100%
- Bottled water - 4,000%
- Brand-name pain relievers - 398%
- Brand-name prescription drugs - 200% to 3,000%
- Chick peas at the salad bar – 386% markup over regular retail
- Coffee-to-go – 3,000%
- College textbooks – 163%
- Cutting the lawn – 492%
- Designer boots vs. brand – 354%
- Designer jeans vs. brand - 650%
- Designer lingerie vs. brand – 1,100%
- Diamonds - 230%
- Domestic beer – 694%
- Ethernet cable – 1,000%
- Eyeglass frames – 1,000%
- Furniture - 400%
- Greeting cards – 200%
- Interior painting – 6,329%
- Mixed drinks - 1,150%
- Movie theater popcorn and candy - 1,275%
- Movie tickets - 192%
- New roof - 650%
- Ordering a soda when you dine out – 300% to 1,200%
- Phone charger – 672%
- Pre-cut fruits and vegetables at the grocery store - 100%
- Printer ink – 300%
- Psychic phone call - 9,186%
- Restaurant wine - 400%
- Snow removal – 3,900%
- Skin care products - 300%
- Text messages - 6,000%
- The infamous hotel minibar - 400%
- Valentine’s Day roses – 220%
- Valet airport parking – 313%
- Wedding dress - 290%
44. According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of feeding an American family of four a healthy diet ranges from $146 to $289 a week. The USDA uses national food intake data and grocery price information to calculate different costs for a healthy diet at home. Here are the latest numbers for a family of four:
- a thrifty food plan: $146 a week;
- a low-cost food plan: $191 a week
- a moderate-cost plan: $239
- a liberal plan: $289 a week
While you may have little control over your mortgage or property taxes, food costs are still one of the most flexible areas in the family budget. Here are 25 smart-money ways to save money on groceries.
1. Agree to a weekly or monthly budget and stick to it no matter what.
2. Before you do the grocery shopping, be sure to read your supermarket's advertising circular. Plan your shopping around what is on sale. Always take advantage of "buy one, get one free" offers, especially on big-ticket items like vitamins and meat.
3. Combine manufacturer's coupons with advertised specials. If your supermarket doubles coupons up to 99¢, combining them with weekly specials can save you even more money. You can get free grocery coupons at CouponMom.com and RedPlum.com.
4. The average American household wastes about $500 worth of food every year. Therefore, what are the best ways to cut back on food waste?
- First, always check the expiration dates on perishable foods before you buy them. Even if the dates expire during home storage, perishable foods should be safe for several days or longer if they are stored properly in the refrigerator.
- Next, don't procrastinate about putting bulk meat into the freezer.
- Finally, organize your pantry. From time to time, perishable items might be lost in unorganized pantries.
5. Invest in a crock pot. According to TheSimpleDollar.com, a crock pot "is perhaps the best deal on earth for reducing cooking costs in a busy family. You can just dump in your ingredients before work, put it on simmer, and dinner is done when you get home."
6. Buy bone-in and skin-on meat because it is usually cheaper per pound than the boneless and skinless varieties. You can always remove the skin and bones prior to freezing or cooking.
7. If it is convenient, buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets.
8. Cook a simple and economical meal like soup or stew at least once a week.
9. Use meat as an "accent" and save money every time. Homestead.com points out:
In the typical U.S. diet, a pound of meat serves four because meat is an American luxury, but in Latin or Oriental cooking, a pound of meat will serve eight or ten. Oriental cooking in particular uses meat as an accent, and I think you’ll find, as we do, that you’ll even feel better after a meal that makes heavy use of grains accented by small bits of meat as opposed to a plate covered by a slab of steak or roast. Again, besides saving money, you’re saving your health.
10. Here is another reason why you should read your grocery store's weekly circular: Some grocery stores put high-priced merchandise that isn’t on sale in front of the store or at the end of aisles. They try to trick you into buying it at the regular price.
11. Many supermarkets feature unadvertised specials especially in the meat and produce departments. Keep an eye out for these pleasant surprises.
12. Avoid making last minute impulse buys (magazines, tabloids, candy, gum, etc.) while in the checkout line.
13. Many supermarkets have special clearance areas. You can find terrific markdowns on everything from olive oil to cake mixes.
14. Always look at the unit price (price per ounce or pound). Sometimes the larger size isn't the most economical.
15. Find lower-cost alternatives to expensive items. For example, buy chicken legs instead of pricey ground sirloin.
16. Recycle old meals. Homestead.com reveals that “Monday’s Casserole and Tuesday's Roast can become Wednesday’s stew with a little stock and some seasonings. Likewise a large piece of meat can be stretched a lot further, as well as be more tasty and healthy if you use it in several different dishes with many bite-sized morsels.”
17. You might also want to shop at non-traditional stores. According to SavingAdvice.com:
Bread outlets, farmers markets, butchers, ethnic stores, and ding and dent stores are all sources of less expensive food than traditional grocery stores. The same is true within the store. If you go to the ethnic section within your grocery store, you will often find the same spices for less money than they are selling in the spice section.
18. Instead of buying pre-cut fruit such as watermelon or pineapple, buy the entire fruit and save money every time. Likewise, don't buy packaged coleslaw or salads. Why pay $2.19 for a 16 ounce package of coleslaw if you can buy a head of cabbage for as little as 69 cents a pound?
19. Instead of making a needless trip to the grocery store, use what you have on hand. At BigOven.com, you will find leftover recipes for chicken, ham, eggs, tomatoes, and much more. Just enter any ingredient and Big Oven searches over 300,000 recipes to find out what you can make.
20. Find out how your grocery store calculates "buy one, get one free" offers. Some supermarkets and drug stores require you to buy both items in order to get them at the "buy one, get one free" price. If you buy just one, you automatically pay the regular price instead of 50% off.
For example, if you purchase one unit of a BOGO promotion at Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, you will pay 50% of the regular retail price. On the other hand, if you purchase one unit of a BOGO offer at CVS, you will automatically pay regular retail.
21. Buy generic or store brands instead of brand names. For example, the price for a 42 oz. box of generic oatmeal is $2.69 at one Ohio supermarket. Comparably, the store brand is $3.99 and the brand name is a whopping $5.99. Is your calculator available?
22. Buy in-season produce. You can pay as little as 99¢ for a pound of red seedless grapes when they are in season, and as much as $3.99 a pound when they are not.
23. Brown bag your lunch. SavingAdvice.com confirms: “This is an oldie but goodie which applies just as much today as it ever has. If you pack your own lunch instead of going out or buying from vending machines, you are going to save a lot of money throughout the year. If you never seem to have enough time to make your lunch in the morning, make it the night before.”
24. If your supermarket "price matches" its competitors, take advantage of this fringe benefit. You won't waste time and money going to several different stores for the best prices.
25. Pay with cash instead of a debit or credit card and you will spend less.
45. Always buy high-quality clothes, shoes, appliances, electronics, furniture, seasonal merchandise, etc. that will last longer.
Likewise, here are 25 consumer goods that you should never buy used:
- Bicycle helmets
- Camera lenses
- Child car seats
- Children’s furniture
- Computer software
- Digital cameras
- DVD players
- Pet supplies
- Photo light bulbs
- Upholstered furniture
- Vacuum cleaners
- Wet suits
How to prevent identity theft:
46. Protect your privacy and decrease the odds of identity theft by shredding any personal documents you no longer need.
Identity theft affects over 10 million Americans annually. To safeguard your personal and financial information, shred any documents you no longer need, including:
- Any document that contains your date of birth, social security number, PIN numbers, user names, passwords, member and group IDs, rx numbers, etc.
- Medical bills.
- Patient-summary forms from your primary care physician, medical specialists, etc.
- Utility, cable, and cell phone bills.
- Correspondence from creditors, law firms, magistrates, debt consolidation companies, debt settlement firms, collection agencies, etc.
- Correspondence from family and friends.
- Correspondence from the IRS, state and local governments, and the Social Security Administration.
- Old Federal, state, and local tax returns, as mandated by law.
- Financial statements from banks, credit unions, brokerage firms, etc.
- Lease agreements.
- Student loan information.
- Resumes, cover letters, and letters of recommendation.
- Any document related to your pension or retirement account(s).
- Any document related to your health, life, car, long-term disability, and homeowners/renters insurance.
- Finally, any other document that contains information that you wouldn’t want to read about in tomorrow’s newspaper.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it takes an average of six months and 200 hours to recover from identity theft.
Miscellaneous smart money strategies:
47. If you want to attract money into your life, make a decision now to use it wisely and constructively. If you respect money, it will respect you back; if you disrespect money, it will take wings and fly away. Suze Orman agrees:
Strange as it may sound to you, money is attracted to people who are strong and powerful, respectful of it, and open to receiving it. I want you to think about this--it is something I firmly believe and have said time and again: Money behaves and responds just like a person--nuture it, treat it well, and it will grow and flourish; treat it carelessly, or with disrespect, and it will dwindle always to nothing. Quite simply, if you respect money and give it the attention it needs, it will respect you back.
48. If you are considering a geographical change for career or retirement, here are the ten most expensive U. S. cities in which to live:
- New York (Manhattan)
- New York (Brooklyn)
- San Francisco
- New York (Queens)
- San Jose
- Hilo, Hawaii
- Stanford, Conn.
- Orange County, CA
- Washington, DC
49. Here are ten of the least expensive U.S. cities in which to live:
- Augusta, Georgia
- Temple, Texas
- Wichita Falls, Texas
- Jonesboro, Arkansas
- Youngstown, Ohio
- Idaho Falls, Idoho
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Norman, Oklahoma
- Pueblo, Colorado
50. Create strong passwords, especially for your financial accounts.
If you can create your own password, make it a minimum of eight characters. Use upper and lower case letters as well as numbers. The stronger you make your password, the more difficult it will be for a hacker to decode.
Here is an example of a weak password:
(Please do not use this password.)
Here is an example of a strong password:
(Please do not use this password.)
The most popular passwords are "password," "12345," and "abcde." Other common passwords include repetitions of the same letter or number, such as "xxxxx" and "22222." Do not use these types of passwords.
Never use the same password for all of your online accounts. Instead, create a unique password for each account. Yes, that’s a different password for checking, retirement savings, Paypal, the Social Security Administration, each of your rewards cards, Twitter, etc. Taking a few extra moments can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration over the long haul.
Keep your user names and passwords in a safe place. Only you should have access to this information.
Live to Give
“You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” - Zig Ziglar
"If you haven't got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble." - Bob Hope
Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller did it long before they became billionaires. Joe Vitale declares that it is the "greatest money-making secret in history" and the "one thing that works for everyone. What is this "one thing"?
Giving money away.
Why not get into the habit of making cash contributions to your favorite charity. It might be your public library, a food bank, an animal shelter, an energy assistance program, or an organization that is dedicated to helping people with special needs. Never give with the sole purpose of getting something in return. Instead, give out of heartfelt gratitude for what you already have. Let the blessings come naturally.
If you think you can't afford to give, think again. You can't afford not to give. Giving teaches you not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom raising children, a civil servant, a medical professional, a high techie, or a factory worker, you must attain and maintain a spirit of wanting to serve others.
By the way, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American household made $1,834 in cash contributions to charities in 2013.
This article has taught you 50 smart-money ways to live fiscally fit. The next time that you are tempted to spend money foolishly, be sure to remember one of these timeless quotes:
“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.” - Benjamin Franklin
“He who does not economize will have to agonize.” – Confucius
“The art of living easily as to money is to pitch your scale of living one degree below your means.” - Sir Henry Taylor
“No one's ever achieved financial fitness with a January resolution that's abandoned by February.” - Suze Orman
“Never spend your money before you have it.” - Thomas Jefferson
“You want 21 percent risk free? Pay off your credit cards.” – Andrew Tobias
“Creditors have better memories than debtors.” - Benjamin Franklin
“If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.” – Earl Wilson
“It's not your salary that makes you rich, it's your spending habits.” - Charles A. Jaffe