Many, if not most, of us want to save more money. But it can be hard to do -- especially when we're faced with lots of tempting possible purchases every day and we often have a credit card on us that makes spending quick and easy.
Fear not, though -- because you can save money and potentially a lot more of it than you thought you could. Here are seven tricks you might try. See how much you can save with them.
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1. Make the most of cash-back credit cards
This trick is not for you if you tend to use credit cards to buy more things than you can afford. If you're reasonably disciplined, though, it can put (or keep) some significant dollars in your pocket regularly: Get and use one or more cash-back credit cards. These cards offer anywhere from 1% to 2% back on every purchase, and some pay up to 5% or 6% back on certain purchases, such as those at supermarkets or particular retailers. If you spend $300 per month at Amazon.com, for example, and earn 5% back on most purchases there, you'll essentially be spending 5% less -- saving about $180 annually. An American Express card that offers 6% back on supermarket spending can save you $24 per month, if you spend about $100 per week at the supermarket.
There are lots of great credit cards out there, so make sure you're using the ones that serve you best. For example, if you travel a lot, look into cards that offer travel rewards and discounts -- and if you're in debt, focus not on getting cash back but on paying off your debt, perhaps with the help of a 0% introductory APR card or a balance-transfer card.
2. Raise those insurance deductibles
This money-saving trick is especially painless: Increase the deductibles on various insurance policies you hold. The higher your deductible, the lower your monthly premium will be. Just be sure you're not signing up for a deductible you can't afford to pay, should you need to.
The table below shows the kind of difference various deductibles might make in your premium. The data was gathered by the folks at valuepenguin.com, as they looked at sample premiums at different deductible rates for a 34-year-old married man with a 2010 Toyota Camry:
Hiking your deductible from, say, $250 to $1,000 might save you $167 per year -- which can add up from year to year. Look into whether it makes sense to increase your home insurance deductible and even your health insurance deductible, too.
3. Make some of your savings automatic
You've probably heard the adage to "pay yourself first." It makes sense, as we often end up with little left for savings at the end of each pay period, after we pay our bills and also make many discretionary purchases. One way to make paying yourself first is to automate your savings.
Many employers will let you have a set amount transferred directly from your paycheck to a certain bank account or two each pay period. You might, for example, have $350 sent to a savings account every pay period, and thereby end up with $8,400 in savings each year.
It's also smart to make good use of a 401(k) account at work, if you have one, as that also automatically withdraws preset sums from your paychecks, plowing it into retirement savings. (Each year, aim to increase the percentage of your income you contribute to your 401(k) -- and to your other savings accounts, too.) Be sure to invest that money effectively as well, remembering that long-term dollars are likely to grow the fastest in stocks. Thus, consider a low-cost, broad-market index fund such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEMKT: SPY), Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (NYSEMKT: VTI), and Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (NYSEMKT: VT).
4. Empty your freezer -- by eating what's in it
This may seem like an odd money-saving trick, but give it some consideration. There's a good chance that you have a lot of money tied up in your freezer, in the form of frozen steaks and other foods. Make a plan to eat much or all of what's in your freezer. You might, for example, plan to tap the freezer for two to four meals per week, until you finish. Each meal you make from (or partly from) your freezer means you're not spending fresh dollars at the supermarket on meal fixings -- keeping those dollars in your pocket. This can actually be a fun personal challenge.
Once you've freed up a lot of space in your freezer, don't rush to fill it again. Remember how often foods just languish in the freezer, tying up your dollars.
5. Consider refinancing your mortgage
With mortgage interest rates inching up in recent years, it may not seem like a great time to refinance your home loan. But remember that today's rates are still quite low, historically speaking. As a rough guide, if your mortgage's current interest rate is about a point or more higher than a rate you could get now, refinancing could be worth it. Another instance in which refinancing can make sense is if your credit score has vastly improved since you got your loan. If it has, you may well qualify for a much lower interest rate than the one you started with.
As an example, imagine that you took out a $200,000 30-year 6% fixed-rate mortgage a decade ago, in 2008, and that your monthly payments are $1,199. If you refinance into a new 30-year loan at 5%, your payments will drop to $898, saving you $301 per month. (That's a hefty $3,600 per year.) Of course, you'll now have 30 years of payments ahead of you again. You might instead refinance into a 15-year loan that will end sooner, or you might just plan to make some prepayments in order to shorten the life of your loan.
6. Always inquire about discounts
This money-saving trick is another relatively painless one: Ask for discounts. Many of us qualify for one or more common discounts, such as senior discounts, student discounts, and discounts for members of AAA or AARP or some other organization. Many employers offer a host of handy discounts -- on items ranging from movie tickets to car rentals -- to their workers, so check with your HR department to see what might be available to you.
Plenty of other discounts can be secured just by asking. When you're at a store, consider asking to speak with a manager to ask what discounts might be available. Many managers have the power to offer you a lower price. You might ask if the quoted price is the best they can offer you or if there's any way the price can be lowered, to keep you from going to a competitor. At smaller stores, you might offer to pay cash, thereby saving the retailer what they would have had to hand over to the credit card processor.
Some phone calls can pay off well, too. Spend a few hours calling any company you regularly do business with, to ask what better deal you might get -- that includes your cable company, your insurance companies, your utility companies, your cellphone provider -- even your doctor's office.
7. Leave your credit cards at home
Finally, a very effective way to trick yourself into spending less is simply to make spending more difficult -- by leaving your credit cards at home. Research has shown that we tend to spend more when we pay with plastic than when we pay with cash. In one famous study at MIT, researchers had their subjects bid on tickets to see a Boston Celtics basketball game, and those who were told they would pay with credit cards bid nearly twice what the cash payers bid.
If you can't bring yourself to part with your credit card, aim to at least be more thoughtful about when you use it. Before making any purchase, ask yourself how necessary it really is. Perhaps impose a weeklong cooling-off period on yourself before making any big purchase, to make sure you still want it after some time has passed.
Saving a lot of money -- for retirement or college or a home down payment -- can be hard, but you can still be successful at it, especially if you employ tricks and strategies such as the ones above.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Selena Maranjian owns shares of Amazon and American Express. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has the following options: long December 2018 $271 puts on SPDR S&P 500 and short January 2019 $285 calls on SPDR S&P 500. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.