Easy Ways to Trim a Household Budget
Grow your own vegetables, fruits or herbs
Nutritionists recommend eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but buying produce at the store can be expensive. Many people are also concerned about pesticides and genetic modification in mass-produced foods. “Growing your own produce can save a significant amount of money,” advises Holland, “and you’ll have control over what goes on your plants and in your body.” You may not have room in your yard for a full-blown garden, but most vegetables adapt well to containers or vertical growing.
Pick a sunny corner on your deck or patio and some good, sturdy pots, and plant your favorite fruits and veggies. Strawberries and other berries grow well in containers, as do carrots and potatoes. A trellis or cages support tomatoes, beans and peppers, and can be used to convert trailing plants such as cucumbers or zucchini to vertical growth. If you don’t have a patio, you can still grow an herb garden in your window for the freshest seasonings.
Save energy to slash your utility bills
Holland points out that energy costs represent a tremendous opportunity for savings. “Even something as simple as turning out the light when you leave a room can reduce your electric bill,” he says. Replace your regular incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs, and unplug appliances when you aren’t using them. Insulate your water heater and hot water pipes to reduce heat loss. Use your dishwasher's quick wash and air dry features, and hand-wash dishes if you don’t have a full load to run.
You can also save money by using your heating and air conditioning less. A programmable thermostat keeps the temperature comfortable while you’re home, but reduces the heat or air conditioning while you’re gone. In addition, try keeping your home two degrees cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer than you’re used to; it won’t affect your comfort level dramatically but can significantly reduce your energy bills.
Barter or trade goods and services
Doing things around the house yourself can save plenty of money, but there are some things you just aren’t able to tackle on your own. Before you call in an expensive handyman or hire a service, talk with your neighbors. Many of them are probably also trying to keep their expenses down and might be happy to trade services. Babysit your neighbors’ kids if they’ll mow your lawn, or offer your organizing skills in exchange for a gutter cleaning.
Organize a swap meet
Conducting neighborhood swap meets can also yield savings on household items. Consider holding them every other month, with a different theme for each meet. Exchange books, movies and music in February; plants and gardening supplies in April; beach, pool and summer items in June; kids’ school clothes in August; holiday decorations in October; and toys and games in December. Anything you don’t trade that’s in good condition can be donated to a charitable organization. “It’s a winning plan all the way around,” explains Holland. “You’ll clear out your clutter, bring in new items you might not have the money to purchase, help those in need and get a break on your taxes.”
Take advantage of credit card rewards
When you’re trying to budget and cut costs, credit cards are often the last thing a financial expert will recommend. That can be a mistake, says Holland. “If you can pay off the balance every month, wise use of a rewards card can save you a lot of money.” He advises finding a program with rewards that match your spending. If you’re a film buff, for example, a rewards program that offers movie theater gift cards can save you hundreds of dollars a year in ticket and concession expenses. You can also save up rewards points for a major purchase; some programs cover trip expenses such as hotel rooms or car rentals, while others let you earn big-ticket items such as a television, luggage or golf clubs.
If you have a lot of credit card debt, however, or if you’re likely to carry a balance, consider carefully before applying for a rewards card. The interest you’ll pay on a credit card balance might end up costing more than the rewards you’d earn.