It’s been a couple of weeks. That means about 30 percent of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions. If that resolution is a financial one, then I urge you to “take a mulligan.” Hit the re-set button. Begin at the beginning. Start over. Don’t give up!
When Bankrate.com asked people about their top financial priorities for 2016, staying current on living expenses was #1, followed by paying down debt and saving money. And really, all three are the same, right? These responses mean that people’s budgets are tight and they’re looking for meaningful relief.
Problem is, too many folks go looking for savings in the bottom of a latte cup or brown bag lunch. Those $5 and $10 sacrifices do add up, but too slowly to provide much relief in 2016. When David Bach wrote The Latte Factor, he said the small, incremental savings could add up to a million bucks over the course of your entire life. NOT this year.
That’s why I suggest you learn how to save BIG. I define saving BIG as any one strategy that can save you at least $1,000 a pop. To save BIG, you have to figure out where you spend big. Actually, I figured it out for you. Americans’ top five costs are:
Housing (buying or renting + maintenance, insurance, taxes, etc.)
Cars (buying, fueling, maintaining, insuring, etc.)
Credit (interest on mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc.)
Groceries (including household goods and personal care items)
Health care (insurance, deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, etc.)
A couple of years ago I wrote a book called, you guessed it, Save BIG. Here’s your first dose of savings for 2016: I’m GIVING you the 50 most surprising strategies from the book. Can you think of an easy way to save at least $1,000 that I haven’t listed here? Share it in the comments section below.
1. While you are renting, negotiate a lower monthly rent by using new tenant specials in your building or nearby buildings as your wedge.
2. If you plan to stay in the same area, buy a house ASAP, because it gives you both a nest and a nest egg.
3. Appeal your property taxes if your local government has over-valued your property — it’s surprisingly easy to do.
4. Raise your homeowners insurance deductible to at least $2,500 and save 40 percent.
5. Refinance if you can get a rate at least .5 percent lower than your current rate so you can recoup your closing costs in less than five years.
6. Reduce the length of your loan — not just the rate — when you refinance.
7. Petition your bank to drop PMI as soon as possible if property values go up. (Banks won’t offer. You have to ask.) PMI, or private mortgage insurance, protects the lender, not the borrower, if payments are no longer being made on the loan.
8. Negotiate a lower commission with real estate agents when buying or selling. And once in your life, when market conditions are right, try selling a property yourself.
9. Buy a used car -- never new -- and preferably one that is about 3 years old.
10. Choose a “dark horse car” that is equivalent to the most popular makes/models and save up to 20 percent. Edmunds.com, which coined the phrase "dark horse car," says the classic example of this is buying a Nissan Maxima instead of a Toyota Camry.
11. Shop for financing at your bank, credit union and online before going to a dealership so you have leverage.
12. When choosing a car, consider not just the sales price but the true cost to own it, available on Edmunds.com.
13. Turn your car over every 7.5 years instead of every 5, the national average, and you will need two fewer cars in your lifetime.
14. Sleuth out “secret warranty" -- when automakers don’t want to do a recall they sometimes repair affected cars for free.
15. Shop around for car insurance every few years. Also try shopping through a warehouse club.
16. Raise your car insurance deductible and save 30 to 40 percent.
17. Cancel your collision and comprehensive coverage when your car is not worth repairing.
18. You can refinance a car loan, often at a much lower rate. Credit unions specialize in this.
19. Pay down your debt, if you can, to raise your credit score, because the higher your score, the lower interest rate you will get on loans.
20. Request a “security freeze” from Experian, Equifax and Trans-Union to protect yourself -- and your good credit -- from identity theft. Doing so can also keep your credit score high.
21. Keep balances on credit cards at less than 30 percent of the credit limit and move money around on your cards, if possible, so all balances are under 30 percent.
22. Request a higher credit limit as another way of improving your credit to debt ratio.
23. Ask creditors to report positive information and delete single sins.
24. Undergo rapid rescoring (available through mortgage brokers and lenders only) to get the highest possible score before taking out a mortgage.
25. Negotiate for a lower interest rate on your credit cards.
26. Use your (non-retirement) savings to pay off your credit card debt.
27. Pay your credit cards off from highest to lowest interest.
28. Price match to take advantage of all the best sales at one store.
29. Buy groceries when they are at their cheapest, rather than when you need them, and stockpile.
30. Copy veteran grocery shoppers who share their best deals online at websites like BeCentsAble.net.
31. Know the sale intervals of the top 20 products you buy and get enough to last until the next sale.
32. Use websites like CouponMom.com that tell you where to find the coupons you need, and how to match them with sales, instead of clipping them randomly.
33. Frequent stores that double or triple coupons.
34. Combine manufacturer coupons with store coupons.
35. Learn to roll drugstore rebates from one shopping trip to the next to shop for free.
36. Form a grocery buying club to get groceries wholesale.
37. See if there are grocery auctions in your area and bid instead of buying.
38. Raise your health insurance deductible as high as you can afford to.
39. Choose a high deductible health plan, which allows you to open a Health Savings Account to save money for medical expenses pre-tax.
40. If you are healthy, pay lower premiums up front but a higher percentage when you go to the doctor.
41. If you are young and healthy, you may be able to get private insurance for less than your employer plan.
42. Make sure your kid’s college isn’t charging for health insurance if they are covered by your policy — this is common!
43. Go generic with your medications.
44. Choose an older medication that works well but is less expensive or try a different (less expensive) drug in the same class.
45. Split pills: buy larger dosage pills and cut them in half. Or buy one large dosage pill instead of a bunch of small dosage pills. (Ask your doctor if this appropriate for the meds you take.)
46. Get medications for free through a pharmaceutical assistance program.
47. Shop around for medical tests like MRIs and blood tests.
48. Get a discount on a hospital stay by offering to pay cash in advance for a flat fee.
49. Hire a medical billing advocate to find and fight errors on your hospital bill.
50. Apply for “free care funds” if you are unable to pay your hospital bills.
Elisabeth Leamy is a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show." She is the author of Save BIG and The Savvy Consumer. Elisabeth is also a professional speaker, delivering talks nationwide on saving money, media relations, and career success. Elisabeth receives her best story tips from readers, so please share your ideas with her via Facebook, Twitter or her website.
Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.