Sharon Dominick—Getty Images
By Mikey Rox / Len Penzo dot Com
October 24, 2016

The holidays are less than two months away, and if you don’t yet have enough cash stashed to cover all the upcoming expenses — like hosting family dinners, gifts, and all that extra gas you’ll use driving around town from here to BFE — its time to get crackin’. While I always recommend having a second source of income to cover periods of increased spending, you also can cut back your budget by making changes to it, starting today. Heres how.

Automate Your Savings

Chances are you won’t miss what you never had, which is why automating your savings is a great idea when you’re trying to add to the pot. You can usually set this up with your employer so that a designated amount per month is sent directly to your savings account before you receive your paper check or a direct deposit to your checking account, but that’s not always required.

Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch explains: “According to the founder of Digit, a tool that reviews your daily spending and transfers unused funds into an FDIC-insured savings account, users save an average of 5.5%of their annual income. Considering the average American salary is close to $52,000 per year, it adds up to a big chunk of change.”

Average savings per month: $238

Read More: How Does a Secured Credit Card Work?

Reduce Food Waste

By nature, Americans throw away a lot of food; sort of goes hand in hand with living lives of total excess, I suppose. In fact, although food is among the top three biggest household expenses, we waste nearly 25% of the groceries we buy. That should rip your heart out straight through your wallet.

There’s hope, however.

Woroch says, “You can cut out food waste by reviewing the contents of your refrigerator, freezer and pantry, and prepare meals with overlapping ingredients and those nearing their food expiration dates. Make this task truly painless with Supercook.com, a free online resource that curates a list of meals based on ingredients you already have. And, if a meal calls for out-of-season produce, go frozen to cut costs.”

Average savings per month: $83

Embrace a Capsule Wardrobe

Admittedly, one of my major expenses is clothing. I like to shop, and I like to look fresh. But my habit has led to me crunching numbers at the end of the month to ensure that my quality-of-life bills aren’t neglected. If this sounds familiar to you, rest assured that there’s a different, cheaper approach that you can adopt.

A trending topic among fashion bloggers is the capsule wardrobe, a highly curated collection of your favorite seasonal clothes, typically limited to a relatively small number of garments. By embracing this concept ahead of the holiday season and foregoing clothing purchases, families can save more than $100 per month. Plus, capsule wardrobes reduce your decision-making in the morning, something everyone can benefit from.

Average savings per month: $121

Read More: How to Take Control and Manage Your Money When You’re Deep in Debt

Program Heating and Cooling Systems

By adapting to opening windows and doors during the warmer months and bundling up inside when it’s cold out you could put roughly $275 back in your bank account annually. Or, ya know, you can invest in more energy-efficient climate control.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a programmable thermostat can save homeowners up to 10% annually by optimizing the HVAC system to run only when people are actually in the house to enjoy it,” Woroch says. “The Nest, a popular programmable thermostat, estimates annual savings of $131 to $145 per year based on data from actual users.”

Average savings per month: $23

Use Money-Saving Apps

Whether you’re buying groceries or baby gifts, using money-saving apps can save you close to $150 by Thanksgiving. Data collected from Ibotta users suggest $240 in annual savings. In addition to cash-back for groceries and retail purchases, download a coupon app like Coupon Sherpa for instant access to in-store deals, including 50% off your purchase with a Bealls coupon, or discounts to local restaurants and service providers.

Average savings per month: $47

Read More: 6 Really Frugal Halloween Costume Ideas for the Kids

Cancel Unused Gym Memberships

We’ve all gone through periods where we stop going to the gym as frequently (or at all), which generally tends to be in the colder months. I, for one, find it difficult to put on three layers of clothing to brave the elements — only to then break a heavy sweat working out — when I could just stay cuddled on the couch with some comfort food and Netflix.

“Two-thirds of all health club memberships in the US go unused. With the average membership costing $58 per month, that’s money better used toward holiday expenses,” Woroch explains. “That doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your health for the holiday spirit. Embrace cheap exercise activities like walking, jogging or biking, or use your own bodyweight or household items for strength training. There are also plenty of free workout videos available online, ranging from cardio to yoga.”

Average savings per month: $58

While I always recommend having a second source of income to cover increased holiday spending, you can also cut back your budget. In Part 1 of this article I showed you six painless ways to do this. Here are six more:

Shop For Lower Insurance Rates

Most of us put our insurance policies on autopilot, but doing so sabotages our budgets. According to a study by JD Power, only one-third of auto insurance policy holders shopped around for lower insurance rates, but those who did saved an average of $360 per year. Sites like TheZebra.com help you easily compare rates across several carriers so you don’t have to waste your Sunday afternoon switching between bids.

Average savings per month: $30

Eliminate Unused Subscriptions

Subscription-based services are growing more popular with monthly box deliveries containing food, clothing, beauty and more dominating the stage. But are you really using all these services or products? According toTruebill, a service that helps consumers identify and cancel subscriptions they no longer need or use, the average person pays for 11 subscription services. The tool saves users an average of $512 per year, so review your monthly bills and cut out any unnecessary or redundant services.

Average savings per month: $43

Switch to a Lower Data Plan

I recently called my mobile provider to ask if there were any deals available and, to my delight, there was. I shaved $8 off my monthly bill simply because the original plan I signed up for a decade ago had decreased in price since then. It’s possible to save even more by switching up your plan altogether.Eighty-five percent of mobile users are buying more data than they’re using, to the tune of $20 per month, says Woroch. So review your usage over the last few billing statements and work with your provider to identify potential savings options. After lowering your plan, you can then monitor your usage with a third-party app like Onavo Count and 3G Watchdog to make sure you don’t have any overages — or see if you can go even lower.

Average savings per month: $20

Consider a Credit Union

Bank fees add up. According to a recent banking survey, checking account holders who don’t meet minimum balance requirements pay an average of $14.76 per month. Transferring your checking account to a local credit union will wipe away these useless fees and put more money in your pocket for the holidays and beyond.

Average savings per month: $14

Brown bag your lunch

Sure, we all know that brown bag lunches from home save money — and keep us eating healthier, depending on how many bags of chips we throw in the sack, of course — but have you ever quantified it? Turns out there’s a significant savings over eating out that you can’t afford to miss out on.

Americans spend about $1,000 per year on lunches out, Woroch reveals. If you brown bag it between now and Christmas, you can save a little over $200. Consider bringing dinner leftovers or spending a couple of hours on the weekend preparing lunches for the week. A lunch salad with canned tuna or a hard-boiled egg is a thrifty and healthy option, while anything from the slower cooker will make your coworkers jealous while keeping you satisfied on a dime.

Average savings per month: $87

Increase Your Auto Insurance Deductible

While cancelling insurance premiums to save money is not advised, you can increase deductibles to pocket a little extra cash. For example, CarInsurance.com estimates consumers can save nearly $14 per month when they increase their deductible from $250 to $500. And those who want even more cash can opt to increase their $250 deductible to $1000, pocketing $30 per month. So evaluate how much your budget can take if you do get into an accident, and increase your deductible accordingly. The savings will help you have a merrier Christmas.

Average savings per month: $14 to $30

 

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