Smart Money-Saving Tips You Need Now

How to tighten your budget without feeling deprived.

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Skip the lattes, sure—we've all heard that one before. But saving money, especially in tough times, goes far beyond cutting out luxuries. Saving money is like a magic show: a sleight of hand (subbing chicken for steak), a vanishing act (eliminating your landline), and materializing an object out of thin air (finding free college money). So, Houdini, here's your bag of tricks. Read on for more money-saving tips, or browse our archive below.

Cooking for yourself can be fast and easy, as well as surprisingly cheap. Try online recipe finders for meals that use what you already have in your fridge. Make enough for a few days, and then use the leftovers in sandwiches for work the rest of the week. Eating at your desk could save you more than $100 a month.

If going to the gas station makes you cringe, make sure your car is in top shape with a tune-up. Fixing any serious maintenance problems can improve your gas mileage by as much as 40 percent. Becoming a better driver can help you save money, too. Smooth braking and acceleration, as well as slower driving, will improve your mileage and keep money in your wallet.

You'll feel better about your monthly utility bills, and also the environment, when you take small steps to cut your energy use. Start by replacing your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Though CFLs cost more at the store, they don't need to be replaced as frequently and can save your household hundreds of dollars over their life spans.

It pays to educate yourself so that you can make informed decisions about budgeting, investing, and other aspects of your finances. Simple steps like automating your bill payments can help you avoid late fees and damage to your credit score. Ken McDonnell, director of the American Savings Education Council, recommends that you start by cataloging every expense you incur in an average week to learn exactly where your money goes. The results may surprise you.

And even though saving money is serious stuff, you can still have fun on a tight budget. Try renting movies and cozying up on the couch with friends or loved ones, and get inexpensive, designerlike clothing worth bragging about. When traveling, picnic lunches can be fun and tasty, and if your sense of adventure dictates a vacation abroad, look a little farther afield, to where the dollar is doing better. Then, sit back and relax on the beach in Thailand, where about 31 baht to your hard-saved dollar will have bought you an unforgettable vacation.