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Sign On (Website) - 7/27/2008 by R.J. Ignelzi, Dean Calbreath and Lori Weisberg
You've canceled your road trip, passed on the latest iPhone and turned your daily iced mocha latte into a weekend-only treat. And still, your wallet is noticeably lighter than it was even a month ago.

How much more can you give up?

Sometimes it's the minor adjustments and gentle tweaking of daily life that produce the most savings, consumer experts say.

“It may take just a little more time and a little more effort, but doing some simple little things really can save you money,” said Sue Perry, deputy editor of ShopSmart, a sister publication to Consumer Reports. “Be mindful of what you're doing and have a saving strategy. It all adds up.”


Balance your checkbook and monitor your credit-card bills every month to determine exactly where your money is going. Just by bringing attention to your spending, you can start to see patterns and begin to set priorities. One priority should be putting money into savings, no matter how modest the amount. Even taking the loose change out of your pockets each day and putting it into a piggy bank can make a difference, says, a British Web site offering money-saving tips.


Avoid impulse buying and use a list, especially when grocery shopping. Take time each week to go through your pantry and fridge, determining what you need based on what meals you plan to prepare, what's on sale and in season. And don't shop before dinner on the way home from work. “That's when everything looks good and you often end up spending more money on foods that have little nutrition value,” said Joan Rupp, a registered dietitian and nutrition instructor at San Diego State University. Buy cheaper generic or store-brand items. And peruse the entire grocery shelf before making your choice. Pricier items are placed at eye level, while less-expensive products are often on higher or lower shelves. “Watch out for grocery-store mind traps. Things on the end of the aisle look like they're on sale, but they're typically not,” Perry said. “Pay attention and comparison shop.”


This month's issue of Money magazine cites a study of supermarket receipts showing that shoppers with credit cards spend an average of 30 percent more than those who use cash, largely on purchases of nonessential items. People pay less attention to what they're buying when they use credit. Another study showed that when college students used cash at their campus bookstore, they could recall what they spent 68 percent of the time, versus 35 percent for students using credit.


It's tempting to think you'll get a better deal if you buy a whole crate of peaches or an entire case of cough syrup. But if the food spoils faster than you can eat it, or the “use by” date passes on medicine before it's used up, you've wasted money. Be realistic about what you'll use and keep your volume purchases to staples like paper towels, trash bags, diapers and detergent. (Cooking in bulk is a different story: You can save money and time by doubling or quadrupling soup or casserole recipes and then freezing them in individual containers for later use, said Patti Wooten Swanson, a nutrition, family and consumer science adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension Service of San Diego County.)


“Food prices are very high right now, and that's (reflected) in restaurant prices. Plus, there's a huge markup on prepared foods,” said Mike Russo, consumer advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group. “You can save money on food by making your own lunch. And, you save gas by not driving to a restaurant.” This is also an opportunity to eat a healthier diet since you can control the amount of mayonnaise on your chicken sandwich and cheese on your salad. For a little variety, have an occasional office sandwich swap or potluck.


Exchange books, music and DVDs with friends or trade them on the Internet via member sites such as The public library isn't just a place to borrow books, movies and DVDs; it also offers a wealth of events and activities including lectures, film series and exhibits. Check out the local parks and recreation centers for free or nominally priced programs, classes and activities for seniors, singles, children and families, ShopSmart's Perry said.


The U.S. Energy Department estimates that each 5 miles per hour above 60 mph that drivers go costs them an additional 30 cents per gallon of gas. While you're at it, keep your tires properly inflated and aligned, refrain from constant braking and accelerating, eliminate extra cargo in the car and remove roof racks and other aerodynamic drags. (A roof rack can make your car 2 percent to 3 percent less efficient.)


Install a programmable thermostat set to heat or cool your house only when you need it and cut your energy bill by 10 percent to 20 percent, according to the Energy Department. Replace your old incandescent light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent ones and put the lamps on timers. Connect your entertainment center and/or computer workstation to a smart power strip. Energy-saving power strips cut power to all devices on the strip, so every time you power down your workstation, you shut down your monitor, printer, scanner and so on.


Make sure you're getting the highest interest rate possible on your savings accounts. As your savings build, consider transferring the money into relatively short-term certificates of deposit, which can generate a steady stream of interest income until the stock and bond markets improve. If you're paying high interest rates on your credit cards, call the card issuer and try to negotiate a lower rate. Some issuers would rather lower the rate than lose a reliable customer. Jennifer Delcamp Wallis, author of “Get Out of Debt and Stay Out of Debt,” offers tips for renegotiating a credit-card rate at


Get help if your bills are stacking up and you are having trouble making your mortgage payments. There are nonprofit counseling agencies to assist homeowners. Start by calling the Homeownership Preservation Foundation's hotline at (888) 995-HOPE or go to the Web site for more information. Counselors will work with callers to help come up with a plan, which may include contacting mortgage companies to work out more favorable loan terms or monthly payments. Because the foundation partners with community-based nonprofit organizations, callers may be referred to a local counseling agency for more personal help.
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