Are you struggling with debt and worried about your financial future? Americans owe about $11.32 trillion in debt — from credit cards to mortgage payments to student loans. But in a tough job market, with cost of living expenses escalating, it can be difficult to get ahead financially.
Here are some simple steps you can take to save a little money each month and be in good financial health for 2014:
1. Evaluate your phone plan
Cell phone plans aren’t cheap. Ask yourself: Are you really taking advantage of everything your plan provides? Do you really need unlimited data or the other extras you pay for? Downgrading your cell phone plan or switching to a prepaid plan can cut down on your monthly phone bill, which will help you save more money to pay down your debt.
2. Adjust your food budget
On average, Americans spent $3,291 on food at home and $2,678 on food away from home in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bringing lunch to work instead of eating out is an easy way to save money.
But consumers can make a more substantial lifestyle change by evaluating their grocery budgets. Cut out expensive, unnecessary food items like candy and snacks, and buy fruit instead. Buy store brands instead of label names. Take advantage of coupons. Consume less meat. Make a grocery list. These small changes will help you save money on food.
3. Explore public transportation
Paying for a vehicle, gas, and car insurance is a surefire way to rev up your expenses. In some cases, it’s necessary to have a car — especially if you’ve got children to take care of or a job that’s far away. But if your city has good and reliable public transportation, consider taking the subway or bus. Explore biking. Downsize your vehicle or get rid of one car if you’ve got two. Also, take advantage of car-sharing services. It will not only benefit your wallet, but it’s also good for the environment.
4. Workout from home
About 51.4 million Americans are health club members, according to data from the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association. Staying healthy and fit is important, but it’s a cost that you can cut. If you pay $50 for a gym membership per month, that adds up to about $600 per year — money you can spend elsewhere. Try working out at home, running around your block or a local park, or buying exercise DVDs to sweat in your living room.
5. Monetize your hobbies
Do-it-yourself activities have become more popular over the years. If you’ve got a hobby or knack for making jewelry, knitting, or painting, take advantage of it. Sell your items online. Dust off your piano or violin and give lessons. Making money off of what you’re good at is a simple way to increase your income when you need money. Also, consider some of the more unusual ways to make money.
6. Clean out your closet
You don’t need things weighing you down in the new year, so take a look at the stuff in your closet and purge. Sell little-used items on eBay or Craigslist or have a garage sale. Donate your old jeans to get a tax deduction or take them to a consignment store. Keep clothing that you can repair with a little patch or sewing and throw out what you haven’t worn in decades.
7. Give up your expensive habits
Do you smoke, drink, or go out a lot? These expenses add up. Try to kick your bad smoking habit, reduce the amount you drink, or go out once a week instead of three times. Again, these are small steps that you can take that may not add up to much at first, but will pay off in the long run.
8. Save on electricity
Small changes will help you decrease your electricity bill. Make sure to turn off the lights when they aren’t in use, don’t leave the TV on all night, and switch or unplug devices when they aren’t being used. See how much you can save by turning off your lights here.
9. Leave your credit cards at home
If you don’t have your Visa or MasterCard with you, then you won’t spend money you don’t have. Don’t add more to your debt pile. If keeping your credit cards in a safe place won’t deter you from taking your plastic with you to the store, then lock it up in a ziplock bag full of water and freeze it. If you’re buried in debt, the only time you should even consider using a credit card is for emergency situations.
10. Take a look at how you’re paying debt
You should be making at least the minimum payments each month for your credit card, mortgage, and student loan bills. But can you afford to accelerate your payments? The more income you can contribute to paying off your debt, the better you will be financially. Remember to prioritize your debt, so that higher interest bills are paid off first.