In today’s economy, income is short while expenses seem to be growing daily. Inflation has taken hold with the price of food steadily increasing, gasoline prices on the rise and utility are continually robbing their customers more and more every day. Considering we must eat, we need a means to get to work and living without heat is virtually impossible, some may think that every day is becoming worse than the previous.

However, much can be done in order to increase ones assets even in today’s economy if the proper steps are taken. The following is a list of 20 steps that can be taken in order to ease ones expenses, hopefully leading to the eventual goal of saving money. The list is in no particular order because different people may find different items useful. 

The most important thing to always remember is to never borrow money unless it is an absolute necessity. Assuming you can’t pay it off immediately, using your credit card to get that 50″ LCD TV you always wanted because its on sale makes about as much sense as buying it at 5 times its cost because you have money to burn. Which leads me to my first item … 

1 – Do not borrow money unless it is absolutely necessary.  There is a terrible cliche that has penetrated the American psyche, Keeping up with the Jones’. This wasteful idea has no value to the individual aside from maintaining ones ego. Too many people feel that if they don’t have the money to buy something today they can simply charge it on the credit card and pay it off at some later date. This mentality is one of the leading causes of our current financial crisis and needs to be stopped as soon as possible. Aside from cars and houses, if you don’t have the money for something, don’t buy it. Learn to save first and purchase later. This will not only teach you control, but it will cut back dramatically on your monthly interest payments, which in many cases can be as high as $500/month.

2. Make a budget flowchart. Take the time to write down all you expenses on a piece of paper. You need to break the chart into 3 distinct sections: Unavoidable (rent, utilities, etc), Necessary (gas, food, etc), Fun (restaurants, entertainment, etc). Add up the figures and compare it to your monthly income. This will give you a good sense of where you need to cut back on. Keep in mind, there are always surprise expenses, like a broken car, that can throw your budget off, so make sure to always leave some room for some minor savings.

3. Cut back on your Electricity. While this seems obvious, many people still don’t put forth an effort to cut back on their electricity costs. Strangely, this is the most painless way to save money. For starters, make the initial investment to replace all your light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs. Then, even with these efficient bulbs, when you leave the room shut off the lights. The same holds true with your TV and other entertainment, always shut them off when you leave. Most importantly, when leaving the house make sure that everything that can be off is off. It is amazing how much savings these little things can bring.

4. Avoid the Dryer when possible. This goes along with saving money on electricity. Many objects that you dry don’t need to go in the dryer, and by keeping them out you will save substantial energy in drying them. Items such as towels and blankets need a lot of energy to dry, while hanging them outside or on a rack requires no energy. 

5. Use your window shades properly. Most people use their window shades to prevent glare, but there is a much more energy centric use for them. By closing the shades in the summer, you can avoid the sun heating your house, and by opening them in the winter you can use the sun for just a little extra heat. 

6. Insulate your Hot Water Heater properly. While you obviously already have some insulation on your hot water heater, you may not have enough. An improper insulated water heater is always leaking heat, which translates into energy. 

7. Plant trees around your house. If you are a homeowner, using trees to further insulate your house can translate into large savings in energy as well. While it may prevent the sunlight from heating your house in the winter, the insulation factor will also keep the cold wind from cooling your house too much. Likewise, it will be a great energy saver during the summer.

8. Find a cheap Gasoline supplier by your house. I am sure that the majority of people do this naturally, but it is amazing how many people do not. Spend some time doing some research around your house to determine which stations serve the cheapest gas, and use them. The difference may astound you.

9. Cut travelling expense. Finding the shortest route to a place is likewise second nature to most people, however carpooling and using public transport when possible is generally avoided. Worse yet, some people have the habit of driving across the street for a few groceries. Walking a bit not only saves you money, but it may also be that little bit of exercise that your heart needs. If you own a bike, and you live close to work, not riding your bike to work should be a crime.  Also, use coupons from ChameleonJohn.com for travel, taxi, flight etc. related discounts. You can save on pretty much everything you buy online.

10. Pack a lunch. Eating out in DC for lunch runs about $10/day. This is a huge expense when you consider packing a good lunch runs about $4/day. By packing a lunch, you can save an average of $5/day in a big city which translates to $200/month. If you learn to now save that $200/month, this alone will put you on the path of financial security.

11. Cut food costs. Learn to shop where prices are cheaper and also try to buy items that are on sale. Avoiding expensive snacks is also a great trick, but this is often much harder than it sounds. If you really want to save lots of money, buy entire animals and freeze them. 

12. Reuse things. Instead of buying a nice water bottle, why not refill your plastic Evian bottle? Rather than buying garbage bags, why not use grocery bags? You still buy plastic containers? Many of your day to day items come in containers that are easily reusable once washed. If you pay attention, you will be amazed as to how many things can be reused, sometimes in the strangest ways.

13. Cut your cable. With so much media out there for free, its a sin to pay the cable company so much money for 200 channels, of which you watch 3. Do you really need to watch the next episode of Lost the moment it hits the airwaves? You know that iTunes now carries it, right? Do yourself a favor, part ways with your cable company.

14. Cook at home. Takeout and dining out is extremely expensive when done regularly. By cooking your meals at home, for a family of 4 you can save upwards of $50 for a single meal. Eating out is fun, and often tastes better than eating at home, but this should be a luxury enjoyed rarely rather than often. 

15. Buy in bulk where possible. While Costco is seeing record profits, many people still haven’t grasped the advantage of buying things in bulk. Assuming you have a place to store things, buying in bulk can potentially save you a great deal of money. Of course, you need to be careful, not everything in bulk saves you money. Do some research and watch your wallet thicken monthly.

16. Disconnect your land line. This is not be for everyone, but many people have landlines that they simply don’t use, or use so rarely that it makes no sense. Do you really need your land line? If not, get rid of it, a mobile phone is much more convenient regardless.

17. Bottle your own water. Do you really buy water still? Really? Why? Forget the fact that America enjoys among the best tap water in the world, a simple Brita filter is all you need in order to get that chlorine smell out. The amount you will save buy investing in a filtering system is immense when compared to the regular purchase of bottled water.

18. Keep your car as long as possible. Its amazing how long a car lasts if it is properly maintained. Keep an eye on your car, take good care of it and drive it as if you will never buy another car again. Trading in vehicles regularly is extremely expensive.

19. Routine Maintenance on everything. It is important to run routine maintenance on everything you own: Air Conditioners, Heaters, Bicycles, Everything. By regularly maintaining your personal belongings, you may be investing a bit more on a month by month basis, but by extending their lives substantially you will save a great deal of money when it comes to replacing them. 

20. Reduce your bills by asking. While writing this piece, I obviously did a little research. When I ran across this little tidbit of information, I surprised myself. Lifehacker has a short piece on how to reduce your bills simply by being persistent and asking all those who you have regular service with. They often run promotions, but never inform those that are already paying customers. You would be surprised how much you can save by a simple phone call.

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