If you're like many people, at the beginning of every year you resolve to get your finances in better shape by paying off debt and adding to your savings. But like many resolutions, the reality often doesn't meet the goal.
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All is not lost. There are still five full months left in the year -- time for a quick review of simple ways to save. The goal? To set aside at least an extra thousand dollars by Christmas, without sacrificing your quality of life. Going on a "dollar-diet" is no way to get the job done -- painless savings are the only kind you should attempt because they're the only kind that work.
1. Lower your cell phone bill. Potential savings: $100. If you're not using minutes you're paying for, switch to a cheaper plan. That could save you $20 a month, or $100 by Christmas.
2. Lose your land line. Potential savings: $140. If you find that your land line is gathering dust, lose it. And even if you want to keep your land line, if you have a broadband internet connection, get your phone service through it rather the phone company. A service like Magic Jack will give you unlimited calling for $2/month rather than the $30 you might be paying for traditional phone service providers.
3. Staycation instead of vacation. Potential savings: $1,000+. The savings from staying home vs. traveling for vacation are obvious. The trick is to maintain your quality of life while you do it. No working allowed. Turn off the computer and the phone. Relax, have fun, and take day trips exploring your local area.
4. Raise your insurance deductibles. Potential savings: $250. Raising your car and home insurance deductibles could have zero impact on your quality of life, but it could have a big impact on your savings. Decide what you can afford to pay out of pocket, spend a few minutes on the phone and see what you can save. Another way to save: shop your insurance and see if you can get a better deal.
5. Drop the gym. Potential savings: $150. Unless you're training for competition, a gym can be expensive overkill. You can buy cheap weights at yard sales or places like Play It Again Sports. Better yet, find them free at sites like craigslist or Freecycle. You can buy cheap workout videos and exercise in front of the TV, or get both exercise and fresh air by walking, jogging or biking in your neighborhood.
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6. Drop premium cable channels -- or drop cable altogether. Potential savings: $50 - $600. One of the most popular stories we've done this year was "You Don't Have to Pay for Cable," a step-by-step guide to bypassing your cable company while still watching your favorite shows. Even if you decide against that, however, consider dropping premium channels. They're expensive and often filled with lousy fare anyway.
7. Sell Stuff. Potential earnings: $400+. If you're like most people, you've got clothes you don't wear, CDs you don't listen to, books you don't read, DVDs you don't watch, furniture you don't sit in -- you get the picture. Take it to a consignment shop or a swap meet; sell it online at eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY - News) or craigslist; have a yard sale. If nothing else, donate it and create a tax deduction. But don't mess up your quality of life by stressing out and trying to do everything at once. Pick one thing (or room) every month from now until the holidays, clear out the clutter and make some money!
8. Save on Food. Potential savings: $300+. The web is full of tips to save on food. Some will be obvious (use a list), but some might surprise you. For example, did you know that you might find groceries at 50% off at a salvage grocery store?
9. Haggle. Potential savings: $500+. According to this survey by Consumer Reports, negotiating a lower price is not only possible, it's likely. What can you negotiate? Pretty much everything. You can call your credit card company and ask for a better interest rate. You can ask for a lower price from your doctor. You can negotiate a lower price on your cable bill. The fact is, you can negotiate a lower price on anything from home electronics to hotel rooms.
10. Carry only cash: Potential savings: $250+. Try an experiment between now and the holidays. Carry only cash -- no plastic. This simple idea can easily result in major savings. The reasons are simple: If you carry only the cash you need to buy what you went out for, you'll avoid impulse buys. Plus, it's psychologically more difficult to spend actual money than "plastic" money.
Combine those ideas and you'll have at least an extra $1,000 by the time the holidays roll around. And if you need more ideas to make it work, the web is overflowing with hundreds, if not thousands, more.
The key is to carve out a little time, check out some resources, decide what you're willing to try, and get on with it. But remember to avoid anything that might make your life less enjoyable. The key to making it is making it easy on yourself. So if you want an extra grand by the time the holidays roll around, start today!