December 9, 2007

Trim Expenses While You Trim the Tree

by Sue Stevens Friday, November 30, 2007

The holidays are typically a time we think about spending money, not cutting expenses. But let's face it, you're going to have to pay for all those shiny new packages under the tree (or whatever holiday icon you choose to celebrate).
You've heard all the standard ways to cut costs: don't buy Starbucks, take a bag lunch, and so forth. But you can get a lot more creative with slicing and dicing the way you divvy up your financial pie. Some of these trimming tips may be familiar to you and some may be new, but if you follow through on them, you're sure to shake loose a few more dollars that can be spent on whatever you value the most.
1. Watch out for shipping costs when buying via the Internet. Use the Internet to comparison shop, then pick up the item locally.
2. If you see something in a catalog that you want to buy, wait a week before ordering to see if you still really want it. (But don't wait too long or your holiday gift may not make it under the tree in time.)
3. When traveling, look online for ideas and/or coupons before you go. Once on site, ask the locals for low-cost favorite spots, a la Rachael Ray.
4. Try a vacation at home. See and do the things you've always meant to do and save on hotel costs. The holidays are a perfect time to enjoy local festivities.
5. Send free e-cards and save on postage.
6. Give your time or services instead of "things" for gifts.
7. Go gray. If you hate sitting with gloppy color on your head and paying an arm and a leg for the privilege, you should know that as the baby boomers age, gray is "in."
8. If you own a house, shift your higher-rate credit card debt to a lower-rate line of credit. Deduct the interest on your tax return.
9. If you own a house, use a home equity loan to pay off auto loans. The interest is tax-deductible.
10. Pay your mortgage payment biweekly instead of monthly--you'll save on interest costs and pay off your mortgage sooner.
11. Pay extra premium payments when paying your mortgage. As above, you'll save interest payments and be able to pay off your mortgage sooner.
12. Pay cash when possible--psychologically it's harder to spend cash than using credit cards, and you'll save on interest charges.
13. Set up one checking account for regular recurring expenses and another for bigger-ticket items. (Only buy if you've saved enough.)
14. Check with state or federal governments to see if you have money owed to you. To find out more about claims in your state, go to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators' Web site.
15. If you've inherited an IRA, understand how to stretch out the tax deferral by taking the correct minimum required distribution.
16. Don't get divorced.
17. Quit smoking.
18. Save all your change and use it to buy gifts next year.
19. Go to matinee movies instead of movies at night.
20. Stop buying clothes that are "dry clean only." Learn to iron.
21. Plan parties where everyone brings something.
22. Have cocktails at home and then go out; have dessert at home.
23. Order vegetarian when you're out.
24. Look up phone numbers in the phone book instead of paying for directory assistance.
25. Sell stuff you don't need or use anymore on eBay.
26. Shop resale shops or estate sales. 27. Shop the clearance racks.
28. Make your own greeting cards on a computer.
29. Fill prescriptions with the generic form of the drug.
30. Plan your purchases--avoid impulse buying.
31. Use public transportation.
32. Track your spending. If you write it all down, you'll probably spend less. And you'll know exactly where your money goes.
33. Use your senior discount (if eligible). Go to for information about member discounts and services.
34. Skip paying cab fare now and then. Walk or take the bus.
35. Don't buy mutual funds just before capital gains distributions.
36. Use a budget--especially for items like gifts.
37. Compare rates for cable and satellite. Go with the less expensive option. Only sign up for the channels you know you'll watch.
38. Consider buying a certified preowned car instead of a new one.
39. Don't renew subscriptions to publications you don't have time to read.
40. Don't watch so much TV. You won't see all the ads and be as tempted to buy. Take a walk instead or play with your kids.
41. Make IRA contributions early in the year to take advantage of additional months of tax deferral.
42. Lock in a fixed mortgage rate so your interest rate can't increase to a point you can no longer make your house payments.
43. Only use ATMs where you won't be charged service fees.
44. Use the public library to check out movies or books for free.
45. Consider dropping your land line phone at home. Your cell phone may be all you need and some come with free long distance services.
46. Give up expensive health club memberships. Learn to exercise outdoors, at home, or through the park district. Or join the YMCA.
47. With the high cost of oil, those hybrid cars are looking more attractive all the time. Check out Hybrid Car Guide for more.
48. Wait a little longer between manicures (try doing one yourself!), massages, or highlights, and try a local training school.
49. Play golf less often, look for tee times when rates are reduced, or play at lower-cost public courses.
50. Pay off your credit cards monthly and avoid paying interest.
51. If you must charge, switch to a no-fee or low-fee credit card.
52. If your house down payment was less than 20%, cancel your private mortgage insurance once your mortgage balance is 80% or less of your home's value.
53. Check your credit history. Go to and make sure everything is accurate. Good credit may mean lower interest charges.
54. If you have a tendency to "bounce" checks, deduct a "cushion" from your balance. Then if you accidentally let your balance go below zero, you'll hit that cushion instead of paying fees for insufficient funds.
55. Participate in company retirement plans to save on taxes. Your taxable income will go down and you'll defer taxes to the future.
56. Take advantage of your employer match in your 401(k) or other retirement plan.
57. Don't take a loan from your 401(k) plan--you'll save on double taxation of that repaid interest.
58. Take advantage of company-sponsored reimbursement plans. If your company sponsors free retirement advice, take advantage of it.
59. Talk to financial planners at no cost. Look for newspaper money shows or local events where this service may be offered.
60. Take advantage of free health screenings at work (if offered).
61. Switch to an HMO from a PPO for health insurance.
62. If self-employed, consider switching health insurance plans to high-deductible plans to take advantage of HSAs.
63. Take advantage of medical prescription drug cards.
64. Get multiple quotes on insurance. It pays to shop around.
65. Raise the deductible on your homeowners insurance and car insurance policies.
66. Increase the waiting period to six months or longer on your long-term care insurance.
67. Review life insurance premiums. Can the dividends pay the premium instead of purchasing more coverage?
68. Buy term instead of whole life or universal life insurance.
69. If considering moving or retirement, look into places where the cost of living and/or state tax rates are cheaper.
70. Keep track of your cost basis on investments to save money on taxes when you sell an investment.
71. If you have a loss on your Roth IRA (the current balance is less than what you contributed), consider taking out the balance and claiming a deduction for the loss on Schedule A of your tax return.
72. Avoid paying penalties on retirement distributions by waiting until you're over age 59 1/2 to make withdrawals. Start required minimum distributions from traditional IRAs when you're age 70 1/2.
73. Do a 1035 annuity exchange to a company with lower expenses.
74. Put investments that generate ordinary income in tax-deferred accounts.
75. Use tax-exempt bonds in taxable accounts.
76. Put investments that generate capital gains or dividends (both generally taxed at lower rates than ordinary income) in taxable accounts.
77. Pay attention to the expense ratios on mutual funds you buy.
78. Consider using exchange-traded funds.
79. Pay attention to mutual fund brokerage fees.
80. Use prior-year capital-loss carryforwards to net out realized capital gains. You'll pay less tax.
81. If you have stock options, consider holding the shares after exercise for at least one year. You'll pay capital gains tax on the appreciation when you sell.
82. Cook in bulk and freeze.
83. Turn down your home thermostat a couple of degrees in the winter.
84. Only do full loads of laundry and fill the dishwasher before running it.
85. Get a roommate and share expenses.
86. Investigate phone service via the Internet.
87. Use regular gas instead of premium.
88. Cut back on eating out.
89. Be a smart grocery shopper--cut coupons, shop at discount stores, and stock up on sale items. Check out Costco or Sam's Club.
90. Buy energy-efficient appliances. They're cheaper in the long run.
91. Get rid of "add on" services with phone, TV, etc.
92. Keep up maintenance on cars. It may prevent costly future problems.
93. Get annual physicals to prevent costly future problems.
94. Wash your car at home and skip the car wash.
95. Pay bills online. Save postage.
96. Trade in your car with high insurance premiums for a car with lower insurance premiums.
97. Buy an I-PASS and save on highway tolls (in Illinois).
98. Sign up for a Upromise credit card. A percentage of your purchases will go into a college savings fund for your children.
99. Do your own home improvements. Home Depot and Lowe's employees can walk you through what you need to know.
100. Bring your lunch to work or scout out the inexpensive places to buy lunch. Look for inexpensive items on the menu, like soup.
101. Cut back trips to Starbucks or other premium coffee shops.

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