Nearly four years into our so-called economic recovery, it's clear that frugality is still the prevailing financial trend. Saving money is not only necessary, it's almost patriotic. Here are 20 ways you can do your bit for the savings cause. They work for me. I hope they work for you. Check off the ones that apply to you and then take action.
1. Shop for new Medicare coverage. It is a mistake to assume that last year's Medicare coverage is still the best deal for you. Health reform has accelerated changes that were already affecting Medicare policies and prices. Open enrollment for 2013 plans runs until December 7.
2. Try one shopping trip a week. This will limit impulse purchases, force you to do better meal planning, and also cut down on car expenses.
3. Bargain for lower interest rates. Why should everyone benefit from lower rates but you? If you have any debt outstanding, now is the time to seek a better deal.
4. Refinance your mortgage. With home loan rates at 50-year lows, take a careful look at refinancing. How much will it cost you? Divide this by the number of years you expect to stay in your home. Then look at how much your monthly payments would decline with a lower mortgage rate. How many years will it take you to come out ahead? If it's only a few years, get yourself into a bank or other mortgage lender now.
5. Pay annually if you can. Insurance and other annual services will let you pay the bill in smaller monthly installment payments. But while these monthly payments are not considered a loan, that is exactly what they are. You wind up paying the equivalent of interest in the form of higher payments.
6. Buddy up on groceries. Build a shopping list for that weekly supermarket trip with a neighbor or other friend. You'll get some good social time and save money by buying larger sizes and splitting them.
7. Buddy up on travel, too. Every time you find yourself going on an errand by yourself, ask if there might have been a friend you could have taken along. And for vacations, it's often possible to lower the per-person costs if you travel with friends.
8. Brew it yourself. OK. Every list needs something you can ignore. Go get that venti latte!
[In Pictures: 10 Ways to Save on Food Costs.]
9. Don't buy movies and books. The library remains a great way to save a buck on books and movies. If you're comfortable with eBooks and streaming videos, check to see if your library has started offering digital lending. Many have.
10. Never pay a late fee. Make a list of when all your payments are due. If you use online bill payments and are not worried about overdrafts on your bank account, set your recurring bills for automatic payment and save time along with those late fees.
11. Unplug unused devices. I tried this and the results showed up right away in the next month's power bill. Most electronic devices use a bit of power even when you're not using them. Make it a habit to only plug things in when you're using them. Maybe your family room won't be lit up like Bourbon Street anymore with all those little lights.
12. Turn off heat to unused rooms. This is a no-brainer, but it's surprising how many obvious things we don't do. If you use hot-water radiators, make sure you bleed off any air pockets that have built up in them since last winter.
[In Pictures: How to Improve Your Finances at Every Age.]
13. Use programmable thermostats. Why heat up (or cool down) your home when no one is there? It's one thing to turn down thermostats during the winter, but it's even better to program your home's temperatures to turn off the heat (without risking pipe damage) when you're not there or at night when you're sleeping.
14. Merge your home phone and cellular services. As the number of cell phones continues to soar past the total for landlines, the question of whether you really need both is getting louder.
15. Generic is good. Look for generic store brands and give them a try. And when it comes to prescriptions, there is even less reason to stick with branded drugs if identical generic versions are available.
16. Flaunt your age for discounts. If there is one virtue of old age that is worth exploiting, it is senior discounts. Look for them. Use them.
[Read: 10 Great Senior Discounts.]
17. Make your own birthday and other event cards. The mark-up on greetings cards must be enough to make the folks at Exxon jealous. By crafting your own messages, you will save money. Even more, that personal touch will probably make a very favorable impact on the recipient.
18. Drink water, not soda. And I don't mean bottled water. Changing this single habit will help your wallet gain weight while the rest of you slims down.
19. No partial loads. Do not waste energy, water, and detergent by doing partial loads of dishes or laundry.
20. Barter. I truly believe the Internet was created to let us swap stuff. So, before you go out and buy a new appliance or hardware tool, see if you can find someone online willing to trade it for something you have. If you're not in a rush, go to Craigslist and set up automated email alerts for the items you're seeking.