Summer is the time to shed the winter blahs and enjoy the simpler things in life. It also presents a great opportunity to develop healthy new habits when it comes to your finances. Challenge yourself to save $1,000 by the end of this summer using some of the tips below. (HINT: Mint.com’s free Goals tool is an easy way to motivate yourself and track your progress and the Trends tab makes it easy to see where your money goes, while the Ways to Save feature automatically searches for other areas where you can economize).
Upgrade Your Home’s Efficiency
As temperatures rise, it’s easy to start dialing up the air conditioners and fans. But, it doesn’t take much to make those monthly energy bills increase. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) about half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling.
Run fans in place of an air conditioner, which requires a lot of energy (and money). Give your dryer the summer off. Invest $5 in a clothesline and dry your laundry for free in the summer rays.
If you must use an air conditioner, Environmental Protection Agency recommends you make sure the coils and blower components are clean as airflow problems can diminish your unit’s efficiency by up to 15 percent.
You can help diminish the need for A/C by cutting down on “waste heat” your home is generating, advises Stan Cox, author of Losing Our Cool. Unplug all non-essential lights, appliances and electronics, which will not only cut down on their passive output, but will make you think twice whether you really need to use them. Make use of the BBQ so you can avoid running the oven or stove, which will overheat your home.
InterNACHI also says that toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in home. Place an empty milk jug weighted with some marbles, cap on, in the toilet’s tank, to create a low-flow, energy-efficient toilet that will save thousands of gallons of water per year.
Beware of Summer Fashion Trends
If your savings strategy involves splurging on one key summer trend, think strategically before you buy. ScienceDaily reports that a study by marketing professors Vanessa Patrick of the University of Houston and Henrik Hagtvedt of Boston College indicates that buying one item with a trendy pattern or bold color that doesn’t “fit” your traditional style can lead to a spending binge of more items, as as you attempt to create a balanced environment. If you can’t immediately think of three things you own that the item matches, skip it.
Take Advantage of Technology
If you pay for premium cable channels, summer is the perfect time to slash unnecessary TV bills, when the programming gets stale. Cut back to basic cable only, and you could save as much as $40 a month. Better yet, do away with cable altogether and take advantage of free technologies like Boxee and Hulu that allow you to download and watch your favorite shows at no cost. You could save as much as $100 each month, depending on your current provider.
If you still have a landline, consider whether you really need it. According to the December 2010 CDC report on Wireless Phone Usage, nearly one of every six American homes (15.9%) with a landline received all or almost all calls on wireless telephones.
Cook at Home
Dining out can wreak havoc on a budget. Summer is a great time to experiment with healthy home-cooked recipes, and to buy fresh produce sold at local farmers’ markets. If you’re feeling really motivated, try planting a low-cost garden. Many herbs, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers are easy to grow, and will shave that much more off your grocery bill.
Think Like a Visitor
When you’re trapped indoors all winter, it’s easy to spend your weekend (and cash) on dining out, movies, and indoor entertainment. Free activities abound in the summer! Check your local paper or chamber of commerce website for weekend events. Vow to eliminate one night out each month with some form of free, or very cheap, outdoor entertainment. Replacing just one Saturday night dinner and movie date with a free outdoor concert and light picnic could save you more than $100 a month.
Rethink Your Ride
If you live close to work, consider biking or walking once or twice a week. You’ll not only save on gas and mileage, you’ll get a workout, which means you can cut back on the expensive yoga classes and the personal trainer sessions. If that’s not possible, consider ride-sharing in summer months with other people in your office, or neighborhood, that work nearby. According to the Sustainable Cities Institute, “an individual commuting with one other person on a 30 miles roundtrip, in a 25 mpg vehicle, with gas at $2.50/gal, would save between $1,140 (including one-half of variable costs) and $2,042 (including one-half of all costs) annually.”
Give Daily Discounts a Summer Break
While daily deals can offer great savings at restaurants or establishments you frequent, the “urgent” nature of the offers can lead to impulse buys. In turn, you waste money, regardless of the “value.” Ask yourself a simple question: “Would I buy this item if it were full price?” If the answer is “no,” take a pass.
If you had a daily deal buying frenzy and are now suffering buyers remorse, check out aftermarket sites like Lifesta or Coup Recoup, which resell previously purchased discount offers from sites like LivingSocial and Groupon. These sites are also a good place to potentially find even greater savings than the original deal posting site IF you stick only to purchases you need.
Vow to Lose “10” (Percent)
For the summer months, vow to cut your monthly spending by just ten percent. (If you use a free budgeting tool like Mint, you can easily see where you spend, and where you can cut back). Ten percent may sound like a lot, but Dave Ramsey, personal finance expert, explains that “personal finance is 80% behavior. You need to cut out habits that make you spend more.” By pretending that you don’t have the money, just for the summer, you’ll form new and improved saving habits that will last well beyond Labor Day. Use the money to pay down debts you have, or place it in an interest-bearing savings account to establish an emergency fund. If you’ve already covered both those bases, open up an investment account with your new-found $1,000 and get on the path to wealth-building.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.