Your One-Day Financial Makeover
You just may save up to $5,000.
Movie with the girls. Ka-ching! An $8 focaccia sandwich for lunch. Ka-ching. The cat's blood-pressure medicine. Ka-ching! Late fees, insurance, utility bills. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. Sure, you could save money―if only you could stop spending it. You can't, of course, but you can spend it more slowly, wisely, and purposefully. How? Set aside one day (or a few evenings) and devote the time to cutting costs, following the daylong schedule on these pages. Along the way, take a look at Real Simple's solutions to readers' top four money problems. Then observe as you reap the benefits―and save up to $5,000 this year.
Morning: Housing and Food
9:00 a.m. Research your next purchase.
If your dishwasher is close to kaput or your printer is running low on ink, do your purchasing homework now. "Waiting until the last minute means paying full price," cautions Neale Godfrey, author of Money Still Doesn't Grow on Trees ($16, amazon.com). Go to dealcatcher.com or pricegrabber.com, two on-line marketplaces that offer coupons, rebates, and price comparisons on everything from ink-jet cartridges to DVD players to dishwashers. Type in the kind of item you're looking for, then compare deals from outlets like amazon.com, Overstock.com, and BestBuy.com. Or try dealtime.com or bizrate.com, which also offer free price comparisons. All these sites provide reader reviews, which can alert you to the strengths and weaknesses of a given product.
Average savings: From $10 for print cartridges to $50 for a dishwasher (over buying them at a local stationery or department store).
9:30 a.m. Take a bite out of grocery costs.
The average family of four spends about $450 a month on food, according to the Food Marketing Institute, a supermarket trade association. To economize, join a warehouse club like BJ's Wholesale Club (bjs.com; $45 annual fee), Costco (costco.com; $50), or Sam's Club (samsclub.com; $40). Visit each club's website to determine which has the best location and product mix for you, then join online. The clubs can be 20 to 50 percent cheaper than regular grocery stores when it comes to products like condiments, coffee, bottled water, and canned beans and vegetables (they're also, hands-down, the best place to shop for appliances, trash bags, aspirin, and best-selling books, among other things). One RS tester found she could save $75 to $100 a year by purchasing bottled water from Costco rather than the local Stop & Shop. (A bonus: Sam's and Costco sell calling cards that charge just 3 1/2 cents a minute on long-distance calls.) But don't neglect your supermarket entirely―it will have better deals on items like produce, chips, and cookies.
Average annual savings: $1,850 (based on the average bill for a family of four at 35 percent savings, minus the average club membership).