7 Ways to Save Money in Tough Times

January 31, 2011

Times are tight. While you are looking for cost efficiencies at the office, you can tighten the belt at home, too. Here are seven tricks to make your money go further.

Times are tight, and not just for your practice. At the same time you are looking for cost efficiencies at the office, you can tighten the belt at home, too, usually without sacrificing much quality of life. Here are seven tricks to make your money go further.

1. Make a budget. It's amazing how quickly money makes its way out of your bank account if you don't track where it's going. Start with your household take-home pay and make a budget that accounts for all of your monthly expenses, then decide how you want to divvy up anything left over. Track all of your expenses and see where your money is actually going. You'll be surprised how this practice reigns in impulse buys and unnecessary expenses.

2. Refinance your mortgage. Home interest rates are predicted to rise from their current historical lows - just below 5 percent for a 30-year loan and as low as 4 percent for a 15-year loan - so now is a good time for most folks to refinance. If your equity position in your house will allow it and you plan to keep your home for at least three years, common financial wisdom says that you will save money by refinancing if it cuts at least one percentage point off your current mortgage rate.

3. Use coupons and discounts. In today's electronic world, this doesn't mean you have to spend Sunday morning with a newspaper and a pair of scissors (though those coupons still help too). Sign up for the e-newsletters of your favorite grocery stores, retailers, hotels, airlines, and restaurants. Many offer big weekly or monthly discounts (30 percent to 50 percent) off their products for subscribers or at least announce upcoming sales. And check out independent Web sites, like Groupon.com, where local businesses offer (sometimes steep) discounts on popular items.

4. Get rewards and cash back on purchases. There's no way to avoid buying the necessities, so get the most out of your purchases by using credit cards that offer cash back, or rewards that make sense for you. Some cash-back programs offer as much as 5 percent back. If you long to travel more, go with a card that offers airline miles. If your favorite retailer offers a card that earns you gift cards there, go with that. Just make sure you are earning something when you swipe, and paying the balance in full each month.

5. Eat at home. Smart meal planning and grocery shopping, as well as eating at home more often, can cut thousands of dollars from your yearly expenses. Plan and pack lunches for yourself and your kids to save even more. Eating at home helps you avoid the mark-ups charged by restaurants, for example the $3.50 single bowl of restaurant soup that costs $2.00 to make at home and easily feeds four people.

6. Reduce credit card interest. If you carry balances on your credit cards, interest rates are costing you big each month. It doesn't hurt to call your credit card company to ask if they will reduce your interest rate - really, they've been known to do it! If your credit card company won’t help you, move your balance to a low interest credit card or one of several zero percent APR credit cards. And if you're in this situation, consider skipping step four and make future purchases with cash or a debit card.

7. Cut back on extras. While stopping for a premium coffee may seem more like a routine than a luxury, consider that it likely carries a mark-up of more than 500 percent over home-brewed coffee. Cutting out extra expenses like a daily Starbucks run can help keep you in the black. Consider other places you could cut back - for example trading an expensive monthly gym membership for a home treadmill, or dropping premium channels from your cable bill.

Abigail Beckel is executive editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at abigail.beckel@ubm.com.