Money & Career

10 painless ways to save over $5,000

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I don’t do well with big, sweeping resolutions at New Year’s. They just set me up for failure and guilt — and who needs that in the dark, cold days of January? When it comes to making my New Year’s resolutions (and yes, I do make them) I try to focus on the small stuff — relatively painless steps I can take to help point me in the right direction for achieving my big goals. This is especially true when it comes to making positive financial changes — it’s the little things that count the most and even a few tiny steps can save you big money over the longer-term. Below, I’ve put together a list of simple and painless things you can do differently in the months ahead. Stick with just a few and you could save over $5,000 in 2012.

1. Tote your lunch once a week: It’s a small step, but brown bagging even just one day a week can help you save big money over the course of a year. Skip one $5-10 lunch per week and that’s $260-520 a year in savings.

2. Limit takeout to once a month: If your family gets takeout at least once a week try cutting back to once a month instead. A family of four spending $40 on takeout a week can save $1,600 a year while still enjoying their favourite takeout foods pretty regularly. Check out a few of my own tips for getting out of the takeout trap this year (it was our big challenge last year!).

3. Keep your tires inflated: Got soft tires? Then you’re throwing money out the window. By keeping your tire pressure at the right level you’ll see a 3.3 percent improvement in gas mileage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy — no small sum given how much gas costs these days.

4. Put on a sweater: Set your thermostat a few degrees lower when you’re at home and save money on your heating bills this winter. Instead of cranking up the heat, put on a sweater (remember how your Grandma used to say that all the time?).

5. Pay your bills on time: This is one New Year’s resolution that should be easy to keep — paying bills late can cost you in penalty charges and interest.

6. Stop buying bottled water: Switching to tap or filtered water is a small step you can take to save you money and reduce waste. By switching to a glass instead of a bottle and toting your own water you can save $1,500 or more a year, according to my last post on the topic.

7. Make a weekly meal plan: Take 15 minutes once a week and put together a list of meals for the week — then shop accordingly for ingredients. You’ll be surprised at how little food you’ll waste every week and how much you can save on your grocery bills.

8. Opt for drip coffee instead of lattes: For me, hitting the coffee shop is one of life’s great pleasures. Last year, I switched from lattes to drip coffee — a nice rich dark roast can be just as satisfying as the frothy stuff and I’ve come to prefer it. I also like the money I save. A latte at Starbucks can set you back $3.30, while a tall coffee costs about $1.80 — a difference of around $1.50. Over the course of a year that’s $547.50 in savings.

9. Pay yourself first: Set up an automatic deposit into a savings account every month. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount — even just $100. It’s easy to set up and you’ll be that much further ahead at the end of the year — 12 x $100 = $1,200.

10. Get a better deal on banking: Even if you love your bank, take a few minutes to see what the competition offers — you might find better interest rates and lower fees that could save you lots of money. Start with the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada — they have a neat tool that lets you compare what different banks in Canada offer. If you do find a better deal, go for it — why pay more for the same service?