The August 2008 issue of Consumer Reports — one of my favorite personal finance magazines — features two articles that may be of interest to readers of Get Rich Slowly. The first offers tips for cutting expenses. The second gives a brief overview of budgeting.
Cut your spending by $500 per month
The Consumer Reports Money Lab looked for easy ways for the average American to save money. They came up with six suggestions and estimated potential savings for the average consumer. Here are their suggestions (with links to relevant articles at GRS).
- Find cheaper auto insurance. By shopping around, the average person can save $65 per month. Need help? Here are 10 expert tips for saving on car insurance.
- Optimize your life insurance. Premiums have dropped in the past ten years, the article notes. It may be worth replacing an existing policy. Also, by adopting a healthier lifestyle, you can cut costs. Average savings? $110.
- Shop smart for food. CR cites U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicating the average family of four can drop its grocery bill by nearly $200 per month though smarter shopping. We just discussed grocery shopping tips on Monday.
- Stop paying bank fees. The average U.S. household pays more than $25 per month in bank fees. There’s no reason to do so. Learn how to avoid overdraft fees and get yourself a high-interest bank account.
- Call up cell phone savings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family spends $90 on phone-related expenses. Consumer Reports suggests checking to be sure you’re not paying for too many minutes.
- Pay off your credit card. If you can get out of debt, you’ll not only save on finance charges, but you’ll also free up the cash that was going to pay the principal. Estimated monthly savings: $65.
Consumer Reports also encourages readers to increase contributions to their 401(k) plans. This helps prepare for the future and reduces that tax bite today. You can read the entire article at the Consumer Reports web site.
That’s what a household budget really is — a plan to track your spending and keep it within boundaries. Done right, a budget lets you spend without guilt. Here we offer ways to make your budget — oops, spending plan — simple and painless.
Their advice will be familiar to long-time GRS readers:
- Set goals. I believe that the road to wealth is paved with goals. Consumer Reports believes that long-term goals help you achieve big things, while short-term goals keep you motivated.
- Track expenses. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but track your spending. You can use a notebook, computer software, or even online tools.
- Plan for surprises. If you haven’t already, start an emergency fund. Most experts advise saving three to six months of living expenses, but CR suggests a “personal escrow” approach instead.
- Set priorities. Know which bills get paid first. For most people, this means the big things like food and home. (If you pay yourself first, it may be your retirement.) Whatever’s left after your expenses is your discretionary money.
The full article includes tips on how to create a web-based spending plan. The rest of this month’s issue includes ratings of large kitchen appliances, tips on buying tickets to shows and ballgames, and a tests of two dozen running shoes. (They didn’t test the pair I bought last month, though.)