Some bills are fixed — the monthly rent or mortgage payments for instance. Others fluctuate with the season — think the electric bill in winter and the water bill in summer.
For everything else you spend money on, you don't need your mother to tell you it pays to shop around. Common sense tells you to do some homework before opening your wallet. And, with the help of the Internet, you can easily compare prices and read helpful user comments and reviews.
To help you make ends meet in the new year, we offer these money-saving tips.
- Take advantage of happy-hour deals or early-bird specials at restaurants and bars.
- Meet for drinks at someone's house, then go out to eat to eliminate big-ticket alcoholic drinks.
- Volunteer as event staff at favorite festivals or venues.
- Purchase season passes during early-bird dates.
- Travel in periods shortly before or after peak season.
- Attend reviews of professional shows or quality college productions.
- Check your existing memberships, such as with the auto club and credit-card company, for discounts on things such as glasses and for stores and travel.
- Ask for discounts at museums and tours. Visit during scheduled free hours.
- Investigate what your employer offers: group-buying discounts, free tickets, gym memberships.
- Bundle your Internet, cable and phone service; conversely, if you have been bundled for years, it may be time to shop around.
- Restore a damaged CD with nongel formula toothpaste and a cotton cloth; rub in a straight line from the center of the CD outward to covering scratches. Rinse with water.
- Eat in. Eat your leftovers.
- Make a meal out of what is already in your refrigerator and pantry.
- Buy in bulk. Packaging equals costs equals higher prices. Grate a block of cheese instead of buying shredded. Add water to frozen orange juice instead of reconstituted juice in plastic jugs or cartons.
- Freeze, can and store what you can't use immediately.
- Get a group to go in on a warehouse membership and split the fee and savings.
- Buy in-season fruits and vegetables.
- Buy only as much as you can use before spoilage occurs.
- Go meatless.
- Select lower-priced cuts of beef that can be tenderized or marinated.
- Pack a lunch with reusable containers.
- Use coupons — but only for items you were going to buy anyway. Look for coupons or deals in your Sunday newspaper and from individual stores, your favorite manufacturers and online on Facebook or places like DealNews.com and BradsDeals.com.
— Buy generic drugs or buy 90-day supply through the mail.
— Keep car maintained, tires inflated properly.
— Lighten load in trunk. Weight decreases gas mileage.
— Ease up on the gas pedal. Ease up on the brake pedal.
— Find lower gas prices at sites such as GasBuddy.com or Gasprices.mapquest.com.
— Walk or ride your bike to any place within a mile.
— Think van pool, ride-share, bus passes, off-peak driving on toll roads, and biking. Consider a hybrid or electric car for your next purchase.
— Buy used.
— Increase your car-insurance deductible; decrease the value of car coverage.
— Wait for sales — even at secondhand stores. Shop the overstock section of your favorite store or brand-label website.
— Buy only what you need — eliminate the expensive "wants."
— Shop your parents' closet for yesteryear fashions that are back in vogue.
— Swap clothes with friends, neighbors, community groups.
— Return clothes with price tags still attached.
— Update wardrobe with less expensive accessories such as belts, scarves and necklaces.
— Buy items that do not require dry cleaning or special handling.
— Wash in cold water.
— Ask for a price match if you have found the same item cheaper at another store.
— Move outside high-rent districts to areas with good mass-transit options.
— Turn a daylight basement or third-floor into a rental. Rent out a vacant room or living space.
— With record low mortgage rates and housing prices at 2004 levels, there hasn't been a better time to buy a house or condo since, well, 2004. But don't buy more than you can afford or need.
— Insulate attics, walls, crawl spaces, water heaters and pipes.
— Install dual or triple-pane windows. Cover single-pane windows with clear plastic during cold, windy months.
— Apply adhesive-backed, foam weather stripping to prevent cold air from seeping in around doors and windows.
— Turn off and unplug appliances, lights and lamps not in use. Eliminate energy vampires with tips from EnergyHog.org.
— Replace old appliances with energy-efficient ones. Clean or replace filters. Check for state rebates.
— Turn the thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or lower when you're at home and awake, and lower it 7 degrees to 10 degrees when you're asleep or away. Use a programmable thermostat to make this happen automatically.
— Find federal rebates and more energy-saving tips from the U.S. Department of Energy at EnergySavers.gov.
—Fix leaky pipes.
— Install CFL or LED light bulbs.
— Buy reusable terrycloth washcloths and hand towels instead of paper towels.
— Use baby oil to polish chrome — from faucets to hubcaps.
— Make a solution of one part vinegar to one part warm water and use a squeegee to wash windows.
— Rub tough streaks with crumpled newspaper and the vinegar solution.
— Clean stainless-steel surfaces with four tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in one quart of water and use a soft cloth. Wipe dry with a clean cloth and polish with a dry cloth.
— Avoid fees for late payments, overdrafts, ATM withdrawals. If you can't figure it out in the fine print, ask.
— Charge only what you can pay off every month.
— Understand the caps, expiration dates and redemption process for your cash-back credit-card rewards program.
— Pay cash. Ask for a discount if you pay in cash.
— Sell or trade unused gift cards at sites such as PlasticJungle.com and GiftCardRescue.com.
— Check your income-tax withholding form to eliminate tax rebates. File your taxes as soon as possible if you are due a rebate. See IRS.gov for help.
— Move money out of financial instruments that have zero returns. Shop for rates at Bankrate.com.
— Refinance everything. Negotiate for lower interest rates. Move your money to take advantage of lower fees and interest rates. Pay off high-interest rate accounts as soon as possible.
— Cancel services you no longer need or use.