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Get More Bang for Your Buck

Posted: September 19, 2011

Finding the money to pay bills is no easy task these days. The high gas prices alone are hitting our pocketbooks hard. Following some financial strategies can help keep our finances afloat in these difficult times. Below are some suggestions from Utah State University Extension on managing our money to get the most bang for our buck.

     * Evaluate your budget. Compare estimated monthly income and expenses for the year. Where could you cut back? If you have a cell phone, could you cancel your home phone? Do you have a storage shed filled with seldom-used items? Revisit your budget every month. It isn’t meant to be set in stone. It should be flexible, and it needs to work for you.

     * Know what you spend. It might sound like a pain, but carry around a small notebook and jot down every cent you spend. If you are spending more than you earn, you will need to cut back somewhere. During a recession, it’s especially important to know where your cash is going.

     * Save for an emergency. This is money you will use in the event of a job loss, death, divorce or other calamity. Most financial experts recommend you stash away enough money to fund your basic living expenses (food, mortgage or rent, transportation, childcare and utilities) for at least three to six months.

     * Negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit card. It costs credit card issuers about $300 to obtain a new customer, so they’d much rather give you a lower rate than lose your business. Know your credit score and aim for a 720.  With a good credit score, you will be in better shape for negotiating your rate.

     * Stock up on sale items that have a long shelf life such as toothpaste, toilet tissue, paper towels, deodorant, laundry detergent, shampoo, soap and most cleaning supplies.

     * Use dishwashers to save time and money. It actually costs less money to run a full load of dishes than to scrub dishes yourself. The savings increase if you own an Energy Star model.

     * Save big on prescriptions by choosing a generic drug over a brand name. Depending on the medication, you could enjoy a 52 percent cut in the cost by switching to generic. Also, check into getting a 90-day supply for even greater savings.

     * Keep your home and auto coverage with one insurer. By combining your insurance, you can cut annual costs up to 20 percent.

     * Distinguish between your wants and needs. Think about each purchase, no matter how small, and make sure it’s necessary. If you don’t need it immediately, you may not need it at all.  So wait a week or two to be sure you aren’t making an impulsive purchase. This will also give you time to shop around to see if you can find it for less online or with a coupon to save even more on the purchase.

     * Repay your most expensive debts first. Make a list of your debts. Look at interest rates, how much you owe and your monthly payments. Put them in order of how you want to pay them off. Focus your energy on one debt at a time, and once you pay off one, work toward the next.  Try to pay more than the minimum payment and avoid late payments at all costs. Powerpay.org is an excellent website to help you organize your debts and pay them off as quickly as possible.

   Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension of Lackawanna County.