Want to save money this year without giving up your lattes or other little treats? Think you've "found" all the money you can by squeezing every cent out of your budget? There is more you can do, without deprivation, according to Carmen Wong Ulrich, who reveals smart moves to make your bank account richer.
Stop throwing away receipts • During a dash to the drugstore to buy a pack of gum, Ulrich was handed an insanely long piece of paper with her receipt, a coupon to use when she next shopped at the store. These rewards are given out at thousands of stores, which use records of your purchases to provide you with targeted coupons for products you're more likely to buy (as "Big Brother" as it seems, it's nearly inescapable in a world of electronic registers and UPC codes). And don't forget to pair up coupons. At Rite Aid recently, Ulrich saved more than $10 on a $40 total by using loyalty points plus a coupon from her previous visit. (You can save at least $240 a year.)
Don't pay bills via regular mail • You'll save a lot more than just postage. Cellphone providers, banks and other businesses give discounts on either interest rates or fees if you pay your bills online. AT&T gives you a $10 reward card if you sign up for autopay. Student-loan lenders such as Sallie Mae also give lower rates to qualifying borrowers who sign up for automatic bill pay. Say you've borrowed $30,000 at 7 percent interest, and get a .25 percent discount, you'll save $50 this year and $580 throughout the life of the loan. Car insurance discounts for auto-pay abound. Allstate lowers premiums 2 percent if you sign up, plus 10 percent more if you get statements via email. If your family pays $190 a month for coverage, that's $274 saved per year. And autopay helps you avoid late fees of up to $29 a pop. As a bonus, set payments to go out a few days after your paycheck comes, so you're never in overdraft.
Stop paying for long-distance phone calls • Remember the days of the surprise $36 call? Those days of huge phone bills are gone, and even better, via your smartphone or computer, free phone and video calls are the new normal. Granted, you have to pay for phone services or a Web connection, but long distance shouldn't cost a cent. Sign up for free Web-based calls with a service such as Skype (skype.com) and calls from one account to another are free (you can also video chat, if you like; it's easy to stick with voice only, though, if you can't always be bothered to look camera-ready). Just create a username and password (as you do with email) and add the Skype user with whom you want to talk. And if you're calling someone who doesn't have a Skype account, international rates are 2.3 cents a minute or even lower if you sign up for a subscription to the service ($2 a month to call any phone in the United States or Canada; $13.99 a month for unlimited global services).
An option to save on calls
With Google Voice (www.google.com/voice), U.S./Canada calls (and voicemail) are free, and international calls range from 2 cents to 15 cents a minute, depending on location.