How to Save Time When You're Saving Money

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Getty ImagesYou don't need a lot of time to improve your budget.
By Stefanie O'Connell

We've all heard the recognizable Geico slogan: "15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance." It's one of the most recognizable slogans out there, along with "I'm loving it" and "Just do it." By promising a significant discount in minimal time, Geico advertises the idea that savings are simple. All it takes is an initial investment of time to research the deal, run a price comparison or call to negotiate.

Using that time-saving goal, let's take a look at other areas where a little effort can result in a boost to your bottom line:

Retail Discounts: Using gift card resale sites like Gift Card Granny, you can save anywhere from 5 to 50 percent on gift cards to major retailers, including Target (TGT), Starbucks (SBUX) and hundreds of others. Simply visit the site, search your store of choice and choose from the discounted gift cards available. The whole process takes about a minute from search to checkout. One thing to note: While many of the gift cards can be redeemed immediately online, a few will require an extra couple of days for shipping before you can use them.

Verdict: Just one minute can save you 5 to 50 percent when shopping.

Entertainment and Educational Discounts: Utilizing your local library can save you 100 percent on various forms of entertainment, from books to music to movies. In today's digital age, many libraries are making accessibility easier than ever, offering borrowing options in the form of e-books, even MP3 downloads. If you take the time to visit your local branch, you can also benefit from various free programming like performances, readings and classes.

Verdict: 15 minutes (or whatever you count as your commute time to the library) can save you up to 100 percent on entertainment and educational resources.

Clothing and Furniture Discounts: From Craigslist to thrift stores to yard sales, there's no shortage of places to find unique, vintage outfits, accessories and practical pieces for your home. This kind of scouring of second-hand sales typically takes more effort and a larger investment of time than some of the other savings strategies, particularly if you're in need of something specific. There are also no guarantees, which can be troubling to some.

My personal experience with this savings strategy has proved to be well worthwhile. I was able to find a fully functional kitchen unit that retails at $250 for just $25 with a five minute Craigslist search and a 15-minute trip to go pick it up. It still sits in my kitchen two years later, fully utilized and fully functional. If you really luck out, you might find some gems under the "free" section or by utilizing sites like Freecycle or Let's All Share.

Verdict: 30 minutes to several hours can save you up to 100 percent on clothing and household items.

Auto Discounts: New cars tend to decrease in value 25 to 40 percent in the first two years. Cash in on that massive depreciation by buying a used model. You'll need to spend some time researching vehicles and prices with sources like the Kelley Blue Book and double-checking the vehicle history with Carfax. You'll also want to have a mechanic come and do a full in person inspection. But that extra time devoted to the initial purchasing process can save you thousands in the end.

Verdict: A few hours (overall several days) can save you 25 to 40 percent on an automobile.

Service Discounts: From your cable and Internet package to your insurance rates, you can cut your recurring bills significantly by calling your providers to renegotiate. Simply ask for a discount. If that doesn't work, be prepared to quote the prices of the competition and ask for a price match or an even better rate. If you go so far as to disconnect, you might find you finally get the price you've been waiting for. All it takes is a phone call to save for months, even years.

Verdict: 20 minutes can save you around 10 to 30 percent on your current service rates.

Energy Discounts: Reduce your utility bills by going green. Things like solar panels, weather proofing windows, LED light bulbs and other energy efficient products can significantly cut your energy bill. Of course, the initial investment can take anywhere from five to as many as 20 years to pay off, so you'll have to be committed to your current location to make the green savings worthwhile.

Verdict: Hours of initial research and installation (along with years of patience) can save you up to 50 percent on energy bills.

The bottom line? Geico isn't the only place that lets you save with a little time commitment. An initial investment in upfront research can save you a bundle in the long run on just about anything.

Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.

How to Save Time When You're Saving Money
Most of us spend a ton of time researching our options when we first sign up for a plan or policy, then forget all about it and make monthly payments like a robot. But this can cost you.

If you've been on the same cell phone plan for a while, or you haven't looked at the terms of your insurance policies (home, life, auto) since you got them, it's time to do a review. Your circumstances may have changed, and new plans or deductions may have come out since you first signed up. Call up customer service (or your agent) and have them walk you through your options if you're having trouble comparing things on your own.
One of the biggest budget sucks is our own forgetfulness. We miss payments and incur late fees because we've misplaced our statement or didn't manage to get our mail out in time. We fail to save as much as we'd like because we just never remember to do it.

The easiest way to save yourself some money (and hassle and stress) is to set it and forget it. Sign up for auto-pay so your monthly bills are automatically deducted from your checking account. Have a certain amount automatically transferred each month from your checking to your savings account. Remove the human error factor, and your budget will be better for it.
We charge so much nowadays -- whether on credit cards or debit cards -- that it's easy to spend a lot of money without really registering it. When you have a set amount of bills in your wallet, however, it's extremely easy to see how much you've spent so far this month and how much is left.

Take those budget categories of yours -- groceries, entertainment, etc. -- and turn them into real, physical envelopes. At the beginning of each month, put that month's allotment of cash into each envelope. When you're running low, you'll know you need to be careful with your purchases. When you're out, you're done spending on that category till next month.
If you're prone to impulse purchases, imposing a waiting period on yourself is an easy way to break the cycle.

For large purchases, a 30-day waiting list is best. Write down the item that's calling to you, then wait 30 days before allowing yourself to buy it. You may realize in that time that you don't need it after all. Or you may forget why it called to you in the first place.

For smaller impulse buys, like that fancy new product you spotted in the grocery aisle, follow a 10-second rule. Before the item can go into your cart, spend 10 full seconds asking yourself if you really need it and how you will use it. Simply analyzing why you're getting something can disrupt the siren call of a product.
It's all too easy to blow $5, $10, even $20 on something, whether it's an extra meal out or a coffee on the run. In the grand scheme of things, it "doesn't seem like much" to us. But if you start thinking of your money in terms of the time it took you to earn that money, suddenly you find yourself evaluating your spending choices a little closer.

Figure out what you make per hour if you're salaried (if you're hourly, this will be easy). Let's say you make $15 per hour. For every $15 you spend, you'll have to spend another hour of your time at work to pay for that item. A coffee a day for a week can cost you an hour or two. And bigger items, like that flat screen TV you're eyeing? You get the drift. Framing purchases in light of time spent can help you make sure something is worth it.
In the end, a budget is simply a means of making sure your money is working for you. It allows you to see how much you're brining in and allocate it towards the things that are most important to you. If you can hold those bigger goals in mind, everyday budgeting becomes easier.

If you're wondering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself if that money would be better spent towards your big goal. Put a visual reminder in your wallet to keep you on task-like a photo of a sandy beach if you're trying to save up money for a trip. Viewing your budget in terms of what it will allow you accomplish-not the things it won't allow you to buy, can revolutionize your spending.
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