Jan. 26, 2010— -- For many Americans, paying the bills every month is downright depressing, but as "Good Morning America" consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy says, there are several ways to ease the pain and save big time.
Check out her tips on how to save on all your monthly bills -- from car costs to cell phones -- and click here to read an excerpt from her book "Save Big".
One of the biggest ways you can cut home energy costs is to look into retail energy providers in your area.
Many states deregulated their power industries so alternative companies, or retail energy providers, can compete for your business. According to Leamy, they often offer large discounts off the old school power company rates and some will let you lock in a rate so you have the peace of mind that your power bills will not suddenly increase.
Jan Underwood from Fort Worth, Texas, saved $2,042 a year by shopping around for power services this way.
Additionally, if you do have a retail provider, check your rates against competing retailers in your area but make sure to check the company's reputation before committing.
If you install new energy-efficient windows, insulation and appliances, the federal government, the state government and your utility company will pick up part of the tab. Right now the federal government will kick in $1,500 of your cost for these upgrades in the form of a tax credit.
The government also offers separate bonuses for going solar, Leamy says.
Your power company might offer a kilowatchers program, and that will bring more savings, Leamy explains.
Here's the deal: You agree to let the power company cycle your air conditioner unit off for short intervals during times of peak usage. This saves the power company's grid and saves you money.
The power company attaches a little radio receiver to your air conditioning unit to control it. Most users don't even notice the difference, but they do notice the average savings of $400 a year, Leamy says.
Some employers offer discounts on cell phone monthly rates that could keep some green in your pocket, even if you keep the phone glued to your ear.
Josh Davis, from Manchester, N.H., saved $204 a year when he took advantage of his employer discount on his cell phone bill.
Ever had the inkling you were paying too much for how much you use your cell phone? You could be missing errors and some serious savings.
Enter Validas, a Web site dedicated to saving you money on your cell phone bill.
For $5 the Web site claims the service will "analyze your wireless bill for errors, disputes and savings" and says it saves customers an average of 22 percent or $450 a year for a typical customer.
If you're going over your allotted minutes each month, it may be time to start keeping track of your gabbing, according to Leamy.
You can sign up with Web sites like overmyminutes.com, which is a free service that sends an e-mail or text message to let you know when you're about to run out of minutes.
According to Leamy, what many cable companies call basic cable is actually their midrange offering and includes dozens of channels.
But there's an alternative to basic cable that the companies don't always advertise. It's called lifeline cable or broadcast basic.
For an average savings of $420 a year with lifeline cable you can get your local network affiliates like ABC as well as the local PBS station and some extras like college channels or government access stations.
Not all cable companies provide a lifeline cable, but chances are there's one in your area that does.
This might seem drastic, but with the rise of television shows on the Internet, more and more Americans are turning away from the cable box and toward the computer. The average American's annual cable bill is $720, so cancelling it means real savings.
Generally you can still watch your favorite shows, Leamy said, soon after they've been shown on air.
At Hulu.com, you can find thousands of episodes of hundreds of shows, all free.
Another Web site, cancelcable.com, has a show-finder tool to help you watch your favorite show in a number of ways.
Many cable companies offer incentives for you to eliminate mailings, Leamy said.
Time Warner Cable, for example, offers a $1 credit each month if you go paperless and receive their statements and notifications by e-mail.
Ask your mechanic if your car can use regular gas even if premium is recommended. The vast majority of cars are designed to run on regular octane.
Your car's owner manual should say the precise octane level your car requires. Then, try to find that exact level of octane rather than using the generic terms "regular" or "premium."
You might think that gas costs are fairly constant from day to day, but research shows that there's a weekly trend to gas prices, Leamy said.
It turns out prices tend to rise toward the end of the week, when people are preparing to travel, and they start to drop again Sunday, so filling up on Wednesday is the cheapest way to go.
If you commute to work, the federal government allows you to use pretax money to pay for parking.
After you fill out the paperwork, money is automatically deducted from your paycheck. Ask your employer and parking vendor to participate in the program if they don't already.
WageWorks.com is one company that processes the necessary paperwork.