Some bills are fixed -- the monthly rent or mortgage payments, for instance. Others fluctuate with the season -- think the electric bill in winter and the water bill in summer.
For everything else you spend money on, it pays to shop around. Common sense tells you to do some homework before opening your wallet. And, with the help of the Internet, you can easily compare prices and read user comments.
To help you make ends meet, try these money-saving tips:
-- Take advantage of happy-hour deals or early-bird specials.
-- Meet for drinks at someone's house, then go out to eat to eliminate big-ticket alcoholic drinks.
-- Volunteer as event staff at favorite festivals or venues.
-- Join the governing board for free member perks.
-- Purchase season passes during early-bird dates.
-- Travel shortly before or after peak season.
-- Attend previews of professional shows or quality college productions.
-- Check your existing memberships, such as with the auto club and credit-card company, for discounts on eyeglasses, other merchandise and travel.
-- Ask for discounts at museums and tours.
-- Visit during scheduled free hours.
-- Investigate what your employer offers: group-buying discounts, free tickets, gym memberships.
-- Bundle your Internet, cable and phone service. Or shop around and unbundle.
Stretching food dollars:
-- Grate a block of cheese instead of buying shredded.
-- Buy cans of frozen OJ instead of reconstituted juice in cartons.
-- Freeze, can and store what you can't use immediately.
-- Get a group to go in on a warehouse membership and split the fee, savings.
-- Buy only as much as you can use before spoilage occurs.
-- Select lower-priced cuts of beef that can be tenderized or marinated.
-- Pack a lunch with reusable containers.
-- Look for coupons or deals in your Sunday newspaper and from individual stores. Use coupons, but only for items you'd buy anyway.
--Check your favorite manufacturers and online on Facebook or DealNews.com and BradsDeals.com.
-- Buy generic drugs. Or buy a 90-day supply through the mail.
-- Keep car maintained.
-- Keep your tires inflated properly.
-- Lighten load in trunk. Weight decreases gas mileage.
-- Ease up on the gas and brake pedals.
- Find lower gas prices at aaawa.com/automotive/gasprices
- Walk or ride your bike to any place within a mile.
-- Think vanpool, Rideshare and bus passes.
-- Increase your car-insurance deductible and decrease value of car coverage.
-- Wait for sales even at secondhand stores.
-- Shop the overstock section of your favorite store or brand-label website.
-- Shop your parents' closet for yesteryear fashions that are back in vogue.
-- Swap clothes with friends, neighbors, community groups.
-- Return clothes with price tags still attached.
-- Update wardrobe with less expensive accessories such as belts, scarves and necklaces.
-- Buy items that do not require dry cleaning or special handling.
-- Wash items in cold water and use a clothesline for drying to extend their longevity.
-- Ask for a price match if you've found a better deal elsewhere.
Where you hang your hat
- Move outside high-rent districts.
- Move to areas with good mass-transit options.
- Rent out a vacant room or living space.
- Insulate attics, walls, crawl spaces, water heaters and pipes.
- Install dual or triple-pane windows.
- Cover single-pane windows with clear plastic during cold, windy months.
- Apply adhesive-backed, foam weather stripping to prevent cold air from seeping in around doors, windows and air conditioners.
- Turn off and unplug appliances, lights and lamps not in use.
- Eliminate energy vampires with tips from energyhog.org.
-. Clean or replace filters.
- Turn the thermostat to 68 F or lower when you're home and awake, and lower it 7 to 10 degrees more when you're asleep or away. Use a programmable thermostat.
- Find rebates and energy-saving tips from the U.S. Department of Energy at energysavers.gov.
- Install CFL or LED light bulbs.
- Buy reusable terry-cloth washcloths and hand towels instead of paper towels.
- Use baby oil to polish chrome from faucets to hubcaps.
- Wash windows with a solution of one part vinegar to one part warm water. Use a squeegee.
- Clean stainless-steel surfaces with a soft cloth and a solution of four tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in one quart of water. Wipe dry with a clean cloth. Polish with a dry cloth.
What's in your wallet?
- If you can't afford it, don't buy it.
- Pay cash, and ask for a discount if you do so.
- Charge only what you can pay off every month.
- Avoid fees for late payments, overdrafts, ATM withdrawals.
- Understand the caps, expiration dates and redemption process for your cash-back credit-card rewards program.
- Sell or trade unused gift cards at sites such as PlasticJungle.com and GiftCardRescue.com.
- File your taxes as soon as possible if you are due a rebate.
- Shop for rates at bankrate.com. Negotiate for lower interest rates.
- Move your money to take advantage of lower fees, interest rates.
- Pay off high-interest rate accounts first.
Reported by: The Seattle Times, distributed by Scripps Howard News Service