Just Don't Do It
Every time you find yourself one click away from an online purchase, I want you to ask, Why am I buying this? Often the answer will be Because it's just $20. You know what I mean: the rationalization that a small purchase is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Well, it can be a very big deal. Stop spending just $20 twice a week, and you'll have $160 in monthly savings.
Give Yourself a (Tax) Break
You shouldn't be happy to get a tax refund. You should be mad—at yourself. A refund is nothing more than Uncle Sam returning money you overpaid. The average refund totals about $2,255, or an extra $188 a month you'd have at your disposal if it weren't sitting in federal tax coffers.
Adjust your withholding so that you don't have more deducted from your paycheck than is required (or if you're self-employed, rework the numbers to make sure your estimated quarterly tax payment is correct). Online tools can help you calculate the exact amount; just type "withholding calculator" into a search engine. Try to estimate carefully, and remember that it's okay to owe the IRS a small amount at the end of the year.
Those of you who use the standard deduction when filing tax returns should consider itemizing. A few years ago, the Government Accountability Office found that 2.2 million people who took the standard deduction could have reduced their tax bills by an average of $438 if they had itemized. TurboTax or TaxCut software can do the calculations and determine whether it makes sense to itemize.
Shoot for A High Score
Reducing the interest rate on any credit card with a balance is another great money-saving tactic. Transfer your balance to a card that offers an introductory rate of zero percent for the first 12 months. If you transfer a $3,000 balance that incurs 15 percent interest to a zero-rate card, you'll save at least $388 in interest payments the first year.
But there's a big if here. Credit-card issuers that offer the zero rate reserve their best deals for consumers with the best credit scores, so yours needs to be at least 760 (find out your FICO credit score at myfico.com). If your score is below 760, make it a priority to nurse it up by paying your bills on time, even if you're making only the minimum payment. That simple show of responsibility accounts for 35 percent of your FICO score. Another important step is to reduce the outstanding balance on your cards.
Here's the caveat with transfer deals: You must pay all your bills on time, or your zero rate could swell to at least 19 percent. And don't put any new charges on the card, because the zero rate usually applies only to the transferred money. If you can't pay off the entire balance by the end of the year, transfer it to another zero-rate card—but limit your transfers to one per year, to keep your credit score from suffering.
The Best Policy
Opt for higher deductibles on your auto-insurance policy, and your premiums could go down 40 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute. This move will also prevent you from filing too many claims, which could result in a higher rate or, in some cases, your being dropped by your carrier. Insurance policies should be for protection from major calamities rather than from minor scrapes. If you currently have a low deductible, call your insurer or agent and ask to boost it to at least $1,000.
Also, you can shave up to 15 percent off your overall payment by buying your home insurance and auto coverage from the same provider. And you may be able to reduce your auto-insurance cost by another 10 percent by taking a defensive-driver course.
Don't Kid Around
I know there's nothing you wouldn't do for your kids. But in saying yes to their every spending request, you're doing them a disservice. No child wants to live in a house that's full of money stress or, God forbid, be told that he or she has to move because Mom and Dad can't afford the mortgage payment. Scaling back on mall trips is both good financial management and good parenting. And if you happen to have teenagers, well, this is a perfect time to introduce the concept of a part-time job.
Less Is More
I can pretty much guarantee you'll find $100 a month in savings if you scale back on unnecessary expenditures. Pore over your bank and credit-card statements for the past year and weigh each withdrawal or charge. That premium cable package is probably draining $30 or more that could be better used toward your mortgage. Perhaps long walks or runs and some at-home lunges could substitute for the gym membership you barely use anyway.
Keep in mind that you won't have to forgo these luxuries permanently—you're simply looking for ways to cover your mortgage until the rates go down again. Right now, that requires homing in on every opportunity to save, big or small.
Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.