I have just written a new book, called SAVE BIG: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands that shows you how to do just that.
There are lots of books about saving money, so what made me think I could add something new? All those other books seem to focus on the old, tired advice that you should do little things to save money like install low-flow shower heads to save $5, pack your own lunch to save $7 or -- the all-time favorite target -- give up your morning latte to save $4. I'm impatient with that advice because the savings don't add up fast enough and because it seems to suck all the pleasure out of life.
By contrast, I guarantee that every tip in SAVE BIG has the potential to save you at least $1,000.
How is this possible? If you figure out where you spend big, you can save big. Our top five costs are:
#1 Houses: The average American family spends $19,199 a year on their housing payments and upkeep.
#2 Cars: We spend $13,733 a year for car payments, maintenance, insurance, gas and depreciation.
#3 Credit: We don't normally think of interest on loans as an expense in its own right, but it is, and a big one.
#4 Groceries: The average family of four spends $10,692 a year on food, household supplies and personal items.
#5 Healthcare: $3,452 per person on average for insurance premiums, copayments, medications and so on.
Here are some examples of how I have cut my own costs in these key areas.
Houses are our number one cost, but it's possible to turn your single biggest expense into your biggest source of savings. When I sold my condo four years ago, I saved $25,000 by selling it myself instead of hiring a real estate agent, who would have charged me a 6 percent commission. I wouldn't recommend selling without an agent in a weak real estate market, but I think everybody should try to sell at least one home on their own during their lifetime, because it's not that hard and the savings are stupendous.
How often do you get a chance to save five figures like that? I saved even more money on the house I bought next. I scrutinized all my closing paperwork and saved $4,700 by challenging the junk fees I was being charged.
The number one way to SAVE BIG on cars is to buy used. Cars depreciate an average of 45 percent in the first three years. So anybody who buys a brand new car is losing 45 percent and anybody who buys a 3-year old car is getting a 45 percent discount!
My husband and I saved even bigger -- $10,000 -- by buying our used vehicle at a wholesale auto auction.
Some people think buying used is a bummer. Not so! Because you get such a huge discount on the vehicle, you can buy a nicer one than you could afford new. In SAVE BIG I give this one example that I love. Did you know you can buy a 3-year-old, low mileage Lexus for the same price as a Taurus? Which would you rather have?
Most people don't think of credit -- interest on loans -- as an expense, but we should. When I was writing SAVE BIG I tried to get stats on how much the average American pays in interest per year. To my amazement, nobody keeps track of that figure! But they should because interest often costs more than the item you wanted to buy in the first place.
The way to save on credit is to use less of it or get it for less. The way to get it for less is to ferociously protect and promote your credit score. I'm not shy. I confess that I had credit card debt and a crummy credit score back in the day. By taking steps -- free steps that didn't cost me a penny — I raised my score. And that new, higher score helped me qualify for a better interest rate on my mortgage, saving me $116,000 over the past decade.
Groceries come in fourth, and there are ways to cut your grocery bills by as much as 80 percent. Seriously! But it does require some work. I outline all the strategies to save biggest in the book. But at my own house we mostly use what I call the "Not Shopping" method. If you normally grocery shop once a week, you challenge yourself to skip some of those trips and subsist on the forgotten food in your fridge, freezer and pantry. It sounds obvious, but get this. If you cut out one shopping trip out of four, you are cutting your grocery costs by 25 percent. For the average family, that's a savings of more than $2,500 a year.
I'm passionate about saving on healthcare, our 5th biggest expense. My husband and I did the math and discovered that if you pay higher premiums up front in exchange for low or no co-pays when you go to the doctor, you often end up paying for more healthcare than you actually use. Our family of three saves $1,100 a year by paying less up front to an insurance company but more when we actually need care.
Do you detect a theme here? I like to cut my big, boring expenses instead of life's little pleasures. And by doing so, over the past 10 years I've saved more than $160,000! Let me put it this way. You would have to banish lattes from your life for the next 110 years to match my decade of savings! That's why I'd rather SAVE BIG!
To read an excerpt from Elisabeth Leamy's new book, click here.
To find out how to get your hands on SAVE BIG, click here.