5 Little Things You Could Be Doing to Save Money, but Aren't
For instance, if you see a penny on the ground, these days, you wouldn't necessarily pick it up, even though, hey, it's free money. You've probably also heard a dozen times the tired but true advice that if you gave up your daily drink from the local coffeehouse, you could save well over a thousand dollars a year.
There are all sorts of money-stretching strategies we can do -- but probably don't. If you're looking for little ways to improve the health of your bank account, here are five ways you could get some more bang for your buck, if only you had more time or energy.
Unplug electronics. While lights are easy enough to remember to switch off, it can be easy to forget (or to feel it's not worth the bother) that you could also be unplugging your laptop, your PC, your DVD player, your microwave oven, cellphone charger and an array of other electronics when you aren't using them. Because your electronics, when plugged in and turned off, are still using electricity.
Right about now you're thinking: No way am I going to unplug all my devices after I use them. Who does that?
Probably next to nobody, which is why you may want to consider buying a few power strips or a surge protector with multiple outlets that -- and this is key -- has an auto power sensor. (A quick window shopping trip through a search engine suggests they can be found for around $30.) Some of these outlet strips will turn off your appliance's power when it isn't in use, to stop energy from being drained.
How much you can save. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if you turned off all or most of your electronics when they weren't in use, on average, you'd shave 10 percent off your electric bill.
Look at the bottom of your receipt. Almost every time you shop, some clerk is telling you that if you go to the bottom of your receipt and fill out a survey, you might win a coupon, gift card or perhaps more rewards points. Do you do it?
Probably not, but maybe you should.
Phil Benson, a Vietnam vet who retired about 10 years ago and lives in Bayonne, New Jersey, says that several years ago, he started filling out surveys at the bottom of the receipts he was getting at the office supply chain, Staples. He did it in part because he was a regular customer and was on friendly terms with the manager, who said it helped the store out when the surveys were filled out. In any case, it paid off for him: Six months after filling them out whenever he bought something, he won a $5,000 gift card.
"I bought my wife a laptop, so she would stop using my computer," Benson chuckles, "and we bought a really nice home safe, and then the next couple years, we just wound up spending the balance on little things. That was fun."
He still fills out these Staples surveys but hasn't won anything since. He now also fills out surveys on his receipts at the home improvement chain, Lowes, but so far, nothing has come of it.
How much you can save. Obviously, you can go all over the map here, earning nothing if you just fill out surveys in which there's a prize, but it really depends on the store and how strategic you are with those receipts. If you get in the habit of using any coupons that come with your receipts, you may save at least several bucks a week.
For instance, Carolyn Stone, a public relations executive in New York City, says her CVS drugstore receipts have CVS "cash" on them and coupons for cash off.
"I usually use them," she says, adding that she probably saves about $20 to $30 a month. "Sometimes more."
But she admits that's as far as she goes with her receipts. "If I have to email or call or do some effort, I won't do it," she says. She also issues a complaint that is likely shared by many shoppers these days: "My receipts can be more than one-and-a-half feet long."
Buy generic brands. So little effort here. You either reach for the generic or the name brand. You've been conditioned through advertising to believe the name brand is always the better product, and while that may sometimes be true, often there's no substantial difference, especially when the main ingredients in a product are the same.
How much you can save. Quite a bit, possibly as much as 20 to 30 percent, per several estimates from various studies. According to a study published last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research, American consumers are spending an estimated extra $44 billion a year on brand-name drugs, health care items and pantry goods.
Use perks you're already paying for. Your workplace may have certain benefits you aren't using. Your credit card may offer perks you never look at. If you're a member of a bulk warehouse store, or you have roadside assistance, such as AAA, you might have perks or benefits you'd want to use, if you occasionally perused the websites or brochures to remind yourself of what's offered.
Earlier this year, ThePointsGuy.com commissioned Princeton Survey Research, which interviewed 1,003 American adults, to see how people use travel rewards cards and what they do with those rewards after earning them. Seventy-nine percent of travel credit card holders said they had never transferred credit card rewards points to an airline or hotel loyalty program, despite presumably having those rewards points.
Granted, just because you have accrued credit card points, doesn't mean you should use them. If you can't afford to travel, for instance, unless you have a whopping amount of points, you're still probably going to be overspending. But nonetheless, it's a good reminder that everyone likely has some sort of perk that they're paying for, or entitled to receive, and don't.
How much you can save. Potentially hundreds and thousands of dollars, depending on what perks you're not using. For instance, many employees forfeit their paid vacations. Last year, the U.S. Travel Association commissioned Oxford Economics to determine how much vacation time Americans are giving up every year, and according to the study, in 2013, Americans permanently lost 169 million days of paid time off, effectively losing $52.4 billion in benefits.
Find strategies that help you remember the little ways to save. You probably would do more to save money if it were easier to remember to take those little steps that can add up. If the payoff isn't great, or doesn't seem great, it's easier to forget.
Which is how Donna Maurillo, a Scotts Valley, California, resident who works at a think tank, came up with an interesting strategy when she shops.
"At CVS," she says, "often they'll have a shelf tag that says, for example, 'Buy two of these, and get $5 in Extra Bucks.' If I just stuff the coupon into my wallet, I'll forget to use it," Maurillo says.
Instead, now Maurillo takes the two items immediately to the register, pays for them, receives her Extra Bucks coupon and continues shopping. "Then I use the Extra bucks as part of my payment for the rest of my purchase," she says.
How much you can save. At least a few extra bucks. And if you look for enough little ways to help you remember to save, maybe a lot.