Following the fits and starts in the U.S. economy is well and good, but when you come right down to it, your own personal economy has its ups and downs too. There are bound to be times when you realize "Hey, this isn't gonna work, I'm gonna have to cut back somewhere!"
What would you cut back first? A recent poll suggests we have some definite priorities when it comes to deciding what to keep in our budgets.
The unscientific poll, which ran on MSN.com and SavingsAccounts.com in June, asked readers what they'd be willing to do (or do without) to save $500.
What we'd cut first
The available choices included eating out less, canceling cable, clipping coupons, taking a second job, holding a yard sale and canceling Internet access. Of the 10,191 responses, 38 percent chose "all of the above," suggesting that many of us see multiple opportunities to save money on our everyday expenses while bringing in additional funds.
For those who focused their savings strategy on one single item, dining out was the first on the chopping block. Nearly one in three respondents said they would start bringing lunch to work or school each day or having more dinners at home.
But we're not giving up our wired lifestyle. Only 1 percent would simply cut Internet service to save money.
Limiting dining out was the biggest single action respondents would take, but it wasn't the only one that got a reaction. Let's look at all the choices:
- Bring my lunch to work or school every day or eat at home more often: 32 percent
- Cancel my cable TV: 12 percent
- Clip coupons: 6 percent
- Take a second job: 6 percent
- Hold a yard sale: 5 percent
- Cancel my Internet access: 1 percent
- All of the above: 38 percent
Looking to cut expenses, meet a goal or save for a rainy day? Take a deep dive with SavingsAccounts.com to see how much you could actually save by taking some of the actions above.
Save big bucks by brown bagging
If you enjoy lunches out with your coworkers or take your family out to eat every weekend, money is slipping through your fingers ... and out of your checking account. Intellaprice's 2010 numbers for casual-dining restaurants, reported by the Nation's Restaurant News, showed that the average lunch entree runs $8.07, with dinner entrees at $13.70.
Even a somewhat modest three lunches out per week, with four dinners out over the course of a month, will cost you over $150 … without tip, drinks or a Bloomin' Onion. You can also save big by entertaining at home.
Cut the cord: Going cable-free
Somewhere between the "Stepford Wives" and the "Real Housewives," cable became a utility, as (seemingly) necessary as electricity, water and gas. With broadband service and easier access to shows online, though, some are willing to make the cut.
Just how much will cutting cable save you? Depends on your service, of course, but 2010 numbers from research firm Centris found that the average monthly cable bill ran $70. If you can't live without "True Blood" or international rugby, you're probably paying a lot more than that.
Giving up the Internet
The slim response to giving up Internet access--a scant 1 percent selected that choice alone--suggests that this won't be your favorite strategy. (The fact that you're reading this article online is even better evidence!) In its same research, Centris found that Internet service bills averaged $40 a month.
One option to consider: If you already pay for wireless network access through a smartphone or tablet PC, you may be able to get by without the Web on your home computer.
Conserve cash by cutting coupons
Coupons have become a hot commodity in the last few years, with online coupon resources becoming more prevalent. There are innumerable online coupon sites to help you find deals, but no matter how great a deal you find, make sure it's for items you'd buy anyway. After all, it isn't a savings strategy if you use a 75-cents-off coupon as an excuse to try the latest flavor of Pepperidge Farm Milanos--as tempting as it may be!
Some have turned "couponing" into its own verb, not to mention a life goal, with strategies that may save you money but will cost you a lot of your time. Driving to three different grocery stores each week doesn't seem like an exercise in efficiency, does it? If you keep to your usual items and schedule, you're more likely to enjoy savings without stress.
Bring more money in
What about choices you could make to bring in money, rather than just hanging on to what you have?
Getting a second job is a surefire way to help pay bills and pad your savings account. You'll need to ask yourself a few key questions before you take that second job, but if you have the time and energy, it's a great strategy.
A garage sale or yard sale not only brings in cash, it also simplifies your life and gives you more space. Tips for successful sales abound, such as these garage sale tips from GetRichSlowly.org.
A little bit of everything
Thirty-eight percent of your peers can't be wrong: Your best strategy may be all of the above, or at least working on multiple fronts. Increasing your income gives you more money to play with--and tuck into savings accounts with high interest rates--while cuts to your budget let you hang on to more cash. Also, make sure the money you do have to spend is working for you by evaluating the best credit cards for your needs. With these strategies, you'll meet your savings goals that much faster.