Figuring out the best ways to save a few extra dollars can be difficult. But, a few simple strategies can go a long way in helping you and your family pay down debt and be better prepared for financial emergencies, college expenses and retirement. Some take a few minutes, others may require discipline – but all are easy moves to stretch your dollars and improve your financial situation.
Regina Lewis, host of USA Today’s Money Quick Tips and TIAA-CREF Spokesperson, offers these simple ways to save money:
1. Learn to negotiate
Negotiating can mean big savings over time. Whether you’re seeking a better deal on new appliances, furniture, cell-phone plans or a cable bill, or trying to decrease bank or credit card fees – there’s likely some wiggle room. In fact, according to a Consumer Reports survey, almost 90 percent of those who took a stab at negotiating got positive results and saved money. Consider these tips:
Do your homework. Know what that flat-screen TV or washing machine is selling for elsewhere. Then, ask if the salesperson is willing to beat the price. If they won’t budge, ask for free delivery or see if they’ll throw in an extended warranty.
Be polite. Friendliness and a smile are harder to resist than tough talk.
Give sellers a reason to negotiate. If you’re a loyal customer, let them know. They may just give you a discount as they’re ringing up your sale.
Timing is everything. Some of the best deals come at the end of the month when salespeople are scrambling to meet quotas.
2. Start a college savings plan
A 529 college savings account for loved ones is one of the best investments you can make in their future. The primary benefit of a 529 plan is that the principal investment grows tax-deferred, and distributions for the beneficiary’s qualified college costs are exempt from tax. Most states have no age limit for when the money has to be used. If the child gets a scholarship, any unused money can be transferred to another beneficiary or withdrawn without paying a penalty (just the tax). You can start small. A one-time $100 contribution to a 529 plan, with 5 percent interest compounded annually, more than doubles over 15 years. Add $25 every month to that $100, and you end up with nearly $7,000 after 15 years. Anyone can fund a savings plan, so consider asking grandparents if they’d like to match monthly contributions.
To kick-start a 529 plan, take advantage of scholarships and contests offered online. You can enter TIAA-CREF’s Big Dreams Start Small $100,000 College Fund Contest for the chance to win $100,000 contributed to a state 529 college savings account. All you have to do is snap a photo of your child or grandchild dreaming big and write a caption about what the future holds for your loved one.
3. Go cash only
When using credit cards; it can feel like you’re not spending actual money. But a swipe here and a swipe there add up quickly, leading to high credit card balances, higher payments and a mountain of debt. Consider going “cash only.” If you can’t pay cash for it, don’t buy it. Dig your way out of debt by paying down your higher interest credit card balances first and use your cards for emergency purchases only.
4. Don’t go shopping for entertainment
Going into a mall is like entering a casino. There often are no clocks and no windows, so you lose track of time. While it’s fun to stroll around looking at all the new merchandise, it’s a surefire way to end up with a trunk full of unplanned purchases that can take a big bite out of your bank account.
5. Use the 30-day rule
Any time you’re considering a moderate-to-large purchase, wait 30 days and then ask yourself if you still want the it. Often times, you’ll find the urge to buy has passed and you will have saved yourself some serious money by simply waiting. Start a “30-day list,” including items you would like to buy and the day you’ll reconsider them. Better yet, try committing your 30-day list to memory. You may find unimportant purchases simply slip your mind.