Frugalists everywhere always point to the "latte factor" whenever they talk about saving money. If you make coffee at home or cut out that morning cup, you could save thousands of dollars each year. That works for people who don't really care about their morning cup of joe. For the people who absolutely need it each morning, cutting out that Starbucks run really hurts and it's hard to find savings when you're struggling to make it through the morning.
[In Pictures: Top 10 Cities with the Most Debt]
That's why I advocate saving money on the things you don't care about it so you can spend it on the things you do. If you love going out to lunch during the day, by all means go out to your local hot spot and look for savings elsewhere. If you love can't stand carpooling and driving on someone else's schedule, don't car pool. There are, however, many things in your life that you can save money on without even noticing it.
Nine times out of ten, the generic product is just as good as the brand name product. It's like hardcover books and softcover books, what's inside is the same, they just package it differently and charge two different prices. So the next time you're in the store and mulling over which version to buy, consider the generic.
If there are brand named products that you absolutely love, by all means buy the brand name! For products like bleach, it doesn't matter if you buy the generic or Clorox (which is just bleach with a fancy label). For many food products, the brand names may be higher quality than the generics, they may last longer, or you simply enjoy them more. The key is this—if it's important to you, spend a little more; if it's not, go generic.
Open an Online Savings Account
If you don't have an online savings account, get one. If you're using the savings account from your brick and mortar bank, you're probably earning a little more than nothing on your savings. As of September 14, 2010, the Regular Savings account at Bank of America earns 0.05% APY compared to 1.25% APY at Ally Bank. Online banks offer ACH transfers, higher rates, and access to better yielding certificates of deposit.
[Visit the U.S. News My Money blog for the best money advice from around the web.]
Shop Around for Insurance
How often do you think about insurance? Probably not that often. If you haven't shopped around your insurance policies within the last year or two, consider shopping around because you could save yourself a lot of money in the process. There are two ways you can save money by shopping around for insurance.
First, insurance policies, like auto and homeowners, should be revisited as least once a year so you can update them to your current situation. You may find that you are over-insured, like paying hundreds of dollars a year on coverage for a car worth only a thousand dollars. Or perhaps you've boosted your emergency fund to the point you could handle a higher deductible, thus keeping more money in your pocket.
Second, you can save money by having insurers compete for your business. Last year I was able to save hundreds of dollars by going with a single insurer, rather than a separate one for our home and our cars. Insurers compete like every other business, so make them compete for yours.
Find a Bank With Lower Fees
If your bank charges you fees each month, look for an alternative. Open up your statement and if you see inactivity fees, maintenance fees, overdrafts, or other fees, spend some time looking for a better bank that won't charge you each month for you to put your money there. The banking industry earns billions of dollars each year on these fees.
[Visit the U.S. News Personal Finance site for more insight and money management tips.]
Some people would advocate that you should change your behavior to avoid these fees. I think that it's easier to change your bank than it is to change yourself. That doesn't mean you should overdraft like crazy just because it's cheaper now, but you might as well change banks first so your transgressions don't hurt as much!
There are just four of many things you can do to improve your financial situation without even noticing a change. Look at your daily routine and try to find areas where you could do something better without spending too much more time or effort, financial or otherwise, and improve every single day.