Cut It Out

The Wall Street Journal

When it comes to cutting costs, consumers always look at the big stuff. Postponing that vacation. Keeping your car a few more years. Nixing the addition on the house.

But it's often the little things that can make an even bigger difference. For instance, Joseph Montanaro, a certified financial planner for USAA Financial Planning Services, says he saved $130 a month just by kicking his daily Dr Pepper habit. That's a savings of $1,560 over a year.

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We calculated the savings you might see from making various adjustments over a period of one year, from carpooling to work, to drinking a cheaper cup of coffee, to taking a quicker shower. If you do all the things we suggest here, you could save at least $5,000 over a year's time. That's real money.

So, what lifestyle change can save you the most cash? Read on.

How much can you save over one year if you...

1) Cut your daily shower to 10 minutes from 15 minutes?

$102. A 10-minute shower uses about 25 gallon of water (that's assuming the showerhead emits 2.5 gallons of water a minute). That means a total water and energy cost of 57 cents a day, or about $208 a year, according to Seattle City Light's Conservation Resources Division.

By contrast, a 15-minute shower consumes 37.5 gallons of water with a total energy and water cost of 85 cents. Over a year, that 15-minute shower costs you slightly more than $310. So get out of the shower faster to save some money.

2) Reduce your home's water heater setting to 120 degrees from 140 degrees?

$125. That's if you use an electric water heater. The annual savings would be somewhat less -- $75 -- if you have a gas water heater, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar program.

3) Brew your own cup of coffee instead of picking up a latte at Starbucks?

$912. A tall latte at the local Starbucks will run you about $3 a cup, or $1,095 a year, if you go there every day. If you brew your own at home for 50 cents or less per cup, you'll pay nearly $183.

4) Prepare your own lunch rather than buying out?

$1,460 to $3,650. If you make lunch from last night's leftovers, you can avoid spending an extra $4 to $10 a day, says Dwight Raiford, a senior financial planner with MetLife.

5) Hit the water cooler at work instead of buying bottled water?

$260 to $390. If you can avoid paying for the bottled stuff (at $1 to $1.50 a bottle), you can save at least $5 to $7.50 for each five-day work week. Yet one more reason to gossip around the water cooler.

6) Carpool or work from home one day a week instead of driving into the office each day?

$423. Let's assume a gas price of about $4.07 a gallon (We know. It's much higher in a lot of places and it's not going to stay at $4.07 a gallon.) Let's also figure on a daily round-trip commute of 30 miles and that a full-size car or SUV can get about 15 city miles to the gallon. An employee who logs on from home or catches a ride with a co-worker a minimum of once a week can avoid spending at least $8.14 at the pump a week.

7) Cut your lawn yourself instead of hiring a lawn service?

$1,040 to $4,680. You can trim costs substantially by cutting your lawn yourself. Lawn services generally charge $20 to $40 for a weekly cutting for an average lawn, and as much as $90 if you throw in leaf blowing and hedging, etc. But you'll have to subtract what it costs to fuel your mower. Obviously, you'll have to use a manual mower to get the most savings.

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8) Polish your nails at home instead of getting a weekly manicure?

$520 to $1,040. Skip the salon and buff your nails yourself, and you'll pocket $10 to $20 a week.

9) Order a film from a movie-rental service instead of going to the nearest multiplex?

$36. This assumes that a movie ticket is about $7 these days (yes, such places exist. It can be more like $10 or up in many places). It also assumes that you go to the movies once a month, and that DVD services like Netflix.com, Blockbuster.com and Intelliflix.com offer plans for as low as $3.99 a month.

More benefits: The flat monthly DVD service fee often includes more than one rental a month, and the popcorn you pop may be cheaper and healthier than the stuff at the local theater. And we won't even begin to discuss the cost of a baby-sitter.

10) Use compact fluorescent bulbs in your lamps and light fixtures instead of the old incandescent type?

$120. If you replace just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent one, you'll save $6 in electricity costs over a year, according to the EnergyStar program. If you've got 20 bulbs in your house, those savings will start to look even brighter.

Ms. Kim is a writer in Hightstown, N.J. She can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

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