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Stomp out spending

These money-saving tips could free up $5,182 from your budget this year
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With major stock market indices crashing more than 30 percent in 2008, home prices plummeting in Placer County and around the globe and unemployment numbers moving upward, 2009 looks like it’s going to be a year where most people will be feeling a tight pinch in their pocketbooks. With many more people looking for ways to save a buck, the Journal editorial staff has come up with a list of ideas that could save some families thousands of dollars. So here we go, a recession-era list of savings tips to help keep afloat during the latest economic downturn: Tap into the tap Stop buying bottled water. You don’t even have to buy one of those fancy metal bottles to tap into savings here. Use a plastic sports bottle (regularly given away as freebies at events like home shows and county fairs) or – if you’re brand conscious – keep recycling a store-bought bottle of aqua pura. If you’re drinking two 20-ounce bottles of water a day, that’s $3 if you’re paying $1.50 a pop. Multiply that by 365 days in a year and you’re talking about a savings of $1,095. Cost for the tap water is probably less than $5 during that time. Bottles are free, so you’re saving another $10 or so on that. Brew your own Those fancy mocha drinks are great as a treat but can thin out a budget real fast. Pick up one a day on your way to work (if you still lucky enough to have a job) and you’re looking at an annual payout of $780. Instead, buy some Hershey’s chocolate syrup, brew your own coffee, add your own milk and stir the concoction up at home before you leave for work. Add some ice on hotter days. Cost for the year is about $70 for ground coffee, syrup and milk. Spice at the right price Foodies with a penchant for spices can buy in bulk at the grocery store. Average saving is a buck or two over buying a whole jar. And you buy what you need rather than having a bottle around for a couple of years losing its potency. Over a year, with about 30 purchases, you’ll be saving from $30 to $60 and having fresher spices for your next creation. Sneak a snack OK, we all know the movie theaters aren’t cool to bringing your own food into their screenings. But, with a little common sense, smuggling snacks can save some big dollars and keep your entertainment budget from ballooning. With a box of Junior Mints running $4 at the theater, buy some healthier snacks – in a quantity you’ll consume – in the bulk bin. Even Junior Mints are about half what they are at the theater. Go to 20 movies a year, and instead of buying those giant Junior Mint boxes for a total of $80, you’ll be paying less than half that and eating better. And instead of the soda, head to the drinking fountain. At $3 a cup at the theater, that will save you another $60. Call it Scoobie-snack civil disobedience. Water, water everywhere Always, always, order water in a restaurant. Go out for a fast-food meal, ask for a cup after you pay. Sometimes, eateries charge for the cup but will give you one after the transaction. Or bring your own bottle in and fill up at the tap. If you have 50 restaurant meals a year (that’s low for average families), you’ll be saving big bucks based on $1.50 a drink multiplied by a party of four. That’s $300 a year to put toward house payments or building up an emergency fund. Savings in the cards Make your own Christmas, birthday, thank-you cards rather than buy them. For example, at Christmas, use your computer to scan kids’ Christmas artwork or a favorite photo, then print the image out with an appropriate message on heavy card stock paper. Not a poet, go to the card shop and get some inspirations for messages there. If you give 30 cards a year, and spend $3 a card, that’s $90 a year in card savings. The cost of the materials are negligible but the memories are priceless. Clean up your act Replace your vehicle’s air filter regularly. Dusty filters can result in up to a 10 percent reduction in gas mileage. Based on 10,000 miles of driving, $2-a-gallon gas and 20 mpg, you’ll be paying about $1,000 in gas per year. With a new $10 air filter you install yourself, you’ll save up to $90. Library loaner A library card will allow you to check out many of the latest DVDs and a large number of the classics for free. That will keep costs down from renting (although $1 Red Box rentals are now keeping those costs down) or buying (average cost for a DVD is roughly $15). If you’ve been buying 20 DVDs a year, that’s a saving of $300. The library also stocks CDs, books on CD, and (obviously) the latest literary best sellers. Stacking up savings Pre-plan your lunches and pre-build your sandwiches. Buy deli meat at $7 a pound at the grocery store and a loaf of bread (about $2). Pre-make and wrap those sandwiches on a Sunday before the work week and you’ll be paying $9 a week vs. $35 a week if you buy prepared lunches at $7 a pop. Just remember that eateries and coffee houses are hurting right now and while you’re cutting back to save money, still try to support your favorites because, if you don’t, they may not be around next time you pop by. Over a year, the sandwich savings could reach $1,352. That’s enough to keep a home payment bill from going overdue. Online shopping Never pay full price when online shopping. Go to current codes.com, where they keep a database of the online promotional codes for discounts, free shipping and more. If you get the shipping costs taken off 20 items a year, at an average cost of $5 per shipment, that’s $100 you keep in your pocket. Back to basics Consider cutting back on meat purchases. Or go vegetarian. Buy bulk beans and rice to have with vegetables. With chicken breasts running at $2 a pound and steak for much more than that, the savings mount up. If you’re paying an average of $3 a pound for meat and average a pound of consumption a day, that’s about $1,100 a year. Factor in the increased cost for more beans and rice, buy a couple of vegetarian cookbooks and some bulk spices with that money and you’re still well ahead. Freeze don’t toss If you buy a loaf of bread and expect it to sit, bag half of it and freeze it rather than eventually tossing it. Or buy bread on sale and freeze the loaves you don’t need initially. If you toss out half a $3 loaf of bread or some buns every couple of weeks, you’ll be throwing away almost $80 a year in hard-earned income. Use all these tips to the max and you’ll reduce spending by a grand total of $5,182. Toast your resolve with an ice-cold glass of tap water and look forward to better times. The Journal’s Gus Thomson, Deric Rothe, Michelle Miller-Carl, Bruce Warren, Jenifer Gee, Loryll Nicolaisen and Anne Papineau all contributed ideas to this report.