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Surviving the Economy: 7 More Small Ways to Save Big

by Student Loan Daddy

1) Avoid ATM fees.
When you take out money from ATMs that aren’t affiliated with your bank, you could be charged around $5.00 for every transaction — $2.50 by your bank and $2.50 by the ATM provider. Take out cash twice a week, and that’s $40 a month you’re paying just to have access to your money — something that’s free when you go through your own bank.

If your bank doesn’t have enough ATM or branch coverage to be convenient for you, consider opening a free account at a different bank with widespread ATMs where you keep just enough to cover your cash withdrawals from week to week.

2) Unplug.
Chargers and electrical appliances that feature a clock, a timer, any kind of memory, or that can be operated by remote “are all sucking electricity even when you’re not using them,” says Dale Bryk of the National Resources Defense Council. Of the total energy used to run home electronics, as much as 40 percent is consumed when these so-called “vampire appliances” — TVs, DVD players, computers, printers, stereos, automatic coffee makers — are turned off.

Shave some dollars off of your electric bill by either unplugging your home appliances when you’re not using them or by plugging them into Smart Strip power strips from BITS Ltd., which stop drawing electricity when your gadgets are turned off. After a few months of savings, the Smart Strips will pay for themselves.

3) Keep cool or heat things up — but only when you’re home.
The average household spends more than $2,000 a year on energy bills — nearly half of which is spent on heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. You can save about $180 a year by properly setting and maintaining the settings on a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature for you when you’re away from home. Generally, you can save about 3 percent of your heating costs for each degree you lower your thermostat in the winter and about 4 percent of your cooling costs for each degree you raise your thermostat in the summer.

If you have a manual thermostat, you can still save money by adjusting the temperature before you leave the house. Try turning your thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter by five to eight degrees before you leave for work or on vacation.

4) Make your own meals.
You’d be surprised how much eating out is costing you. A recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association found that Americans are spending more than 50 percent of their average household food budget on eating out, compared to the 25 percent they spent in 1955.

Spending just $2.00 a day on a homemade lunch versus $6.00 a day at the drive-thru or at a local restaurant will save you about $80 a month — that’s $960 a year. And if your excuse for eating out during the work week is because you need to get a break from the office, you can always grab your homemade lunch and eat at a local park. Take a walk afterwards, and you could save yourself a trip to the gym.

5) Buy generic.
Don’t buy into clever marketing. Why pay more for a name brand when generic brands are often made by some of the very same manufacturers, points out Joanna Pruess, author of Supermarket Confidential. You can almost always save money — sometimes a couple of dollars per item — by choosing a no-name brand over the name-brand products you know and love.

Go generic on everything from cereal to canned goods and frozen vegetables to over-the-counter medications. The FDA requires that over-the-counter drugstore-branded medications be as effective as their brand-name counterparts. That means your pharmacy’s generic ibuprofen pain reliever should do the job just as well as Motrin IB — for a few dollars less.

6) Shop the used-car lot.
If it’s time for a new car, you could save thousands simply by buying a car with some miles on it. Look for recent models — those less than five years old — and you could get a nearly-new car that’s still in fine working order for a fraction of the new-car price. Your insurance premium will almost always be lower on a used car than on a new one, and you’ll also generally get more value for your purchase price: New cars generally lose 30 percent of their value as soon as they’re driven off the lot.

7) Say no to new dorm décor.
While your kids might not be thrilled about heading off to college with someone else’s hand-me-downs, shopping for furniture or other dorm essentials on Craigslist, at garage sales, and at your local consignment, Goodwill, and Savers stores could help you save hundreds of dollars.

You may find deals on everything from beds and couches to lamps, desks, and bookshelves. And with a little work, you can often make less-gently used items look new again without spending what you would on something right out of the box.

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