CNN Money’s 7 Best Ways to Save – Are They Really the Best?

Everyone wants to save money these days. The economy is struggling, energy costs are still high, retirement accounts have been decimated, so finding ways to stretch your dollar have become more popular than ever. But what are the best ways to save money?

I stumbled across this article by CNN Money that lists the 7 best ways to save $2,000 a year. Sounds intriguing. I’d like to save an extra two grand a year, so I had to check it out. Besides, these are the best ideas, right? Let’s see how they stack up.

1. Transportation

I’m going to go ahead and agree with them and say that transportation is probably one of the top ways to save big money. Transportation is expensive regardless of what you use. If you own a vehicle, you have to buy it, pay for insurance, keep it maintained, and fill it with gas. If you don’t have a car and rely on other modes of transportation, those costs add up too. Whether it’s a taxi, the subway, bus, train, or whatever, you will have a regular expenses there too.

But they recommend getting a scooter instead of a car. Really? A scooter? Aside from those who happen to live in a large city or relatively close to their job, this is a fairly impractical tip. Obviously if you could get rid of a car, cut out a monthly payment and cut your gas consumption by 80% it would result in saving a few thousand as they suggest. But for most people, this simply isn’t an option, especially in cities that aren’t designed with slow and small vehicles like these in mind.

Here’s a better idea. Since transportation is costly and does make up a large part of many people’s budgets, start by avoiding some of the major car buying mistakes. If owning a vehicle is a necessity, simply making a few good decisions at the time of purchase will easily save thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle.

2. Cash

Next, they say you can save about $1,000 each year by using cash instead of plastic. There is a study that says people do spend more with plastic compared to cash, so if you switch to carrying cash you can keep your spending under control. I know that some people do find this is true, whereas others actually seem to burn through cash even faster than when using plastic. So, I think your mileage will vary.

In addition, there are drawbacks to using cash. You don’t have as much purchase protection, security, and you have to actually keep the money on you which could get lost or stolen. And let’s not forget the possible rewards or cash back that might be eliminated by switching to cash. So while using cash may be able to save money for some people, the benefits are minimal given the drawbacks. Using cash is the second best way to save $2,000 a year? I don’t think so.

3. Wine

Buying alcohol at a restaurant is expensive. There is no mistaking that. In fact, everything you buy at a restaurant is usually more expensive than if you were to buy it on your own. But what I find amusing is their solution to saving money on wine.

Strategy: Bring your own wine to your biweekly restaurant dinner.

Based on: $18 store-bought bottle plus $10 corkage fee vs. comparable $45 bottle bought at restaurant.

Save: $442

I just had to laugh. Bring your own wine to the restaurant? Maybe this is allowed in some establishments or states, but around here this is unheard of and would be strictly forbidden. Not only that, but this addresses just one tiny aspect of the whole eating out experience. It’s the eating out itself that’s costing you money, not just the wine. That $40 steak you ordered could be had for less than $10 if you went down to the butcher and bought your own. What are you going to do, start bringing your own food to the restaurant along with your wine and just tell them to cook it for you?

Here’s an idea. Just stop eating out as much. Period. A married couple that cuts just one $50 meal for two out of their weekly budget can save over $2,000 a year alone. Pack a few lunches or make use of leftovers better and you’re easily into the $3,000-$4,000 in savings a year territory. It isn’t just the wine that can save you money.

4. and 5. Homeowners Insurance and Auto Insurance

I’m combining these two since they are both just types of insurance with basically the same advice. They say you should shop around and raise your deductible. Good advice here, because it is possible to save decent money if you can find a company offering a better rate, and if you raise your deductibles you’ll lower your premiums.

Raising your deductible on your homeowners insurance is probably one of the best ways to save some money. Homeowners claims are pretty infrequent, and generally when you do have a claim, it’s going to be for a relatively major repair. If you have a low deductible you could easily be spending a couple hundred dollars a year away.

While this is a good strategy for your home, you have to be careful when thinking about your auto insurance. Again, higher deductibles mean lower premiums, but keep in mind that your car has a far greater chance of getting damaged. You want to strike a balance between deductible and premiums. Having a low deductible will mean relatively small claims can be covered by insurance while high deductibles can mean you’ll be paying for more out-of-pocket if you have claims that don’t exceed your deductible.

6. Energy-Efficient Appliances

This is a good tip that’s lacking in detail. They recommend updating your washing machine for a savings of $145 a year. It’s true that an energy-efficient washer or dryer will use less energy, but you have to look at the total cost and benefit. Keep in mind the cost of buying a new appliance. If a new energy-efficient washer will set you back $500, meaning it will take three and a half years to break even.

Again, it’s a good idea to save money on energy, but their advice misses the boat. First, the savings is minimal with their washer example, and second, it isn’t even one of the common appliances that qualify for a tax credit. If you really want to make a dent in your energy bill, look no further than the water heater. Water heaters alone account for between 10-20% of a home’s energy use, so updating to a new efficient model can amount to pretty substantial savings. But to top it off, you get a tax credit for an energy-efficient water heater. That’s certainly where I’d look before considering a new washing machine.

But don’t stop there. There are a lot of ways to save money with new energy efficient items in your home. As light bulbs start burning out consider switching to CFL bulbs. Be mindful of your energy use and turn off the TV, computer, and other items when not in use. A programmable thermostat or shaving a few degrees off of your heating or cooling can have a significant impact as well.

7. Interest Checking

Their last tip almost feels as if they ran out of ideas and just threw this in. They recommend saving over $100 a year by switching to the Schwab interest checking because they reimburse ATM fees. First of all, you’re doing things wrong if you go to an out-of-network ATM every single week and pay the fee. You either need to plan your cash withdrawals better so you can use your own bank’s ATM, use the ATM less frequently, or find a new bank that has more ATMs in your area.

Of course you can avoid this completely if you use a debit or credit card. But even if you want to use cash, you can usually get cash back when making a debit purchase. Go to the store and buy a bag of chips with your debit card and ask for $40 cash back. No need to use an ATM and no fees. Either way, they are talking about saving $2 each week. Obviously, cut the ATM fees out, but there are a million other ways you can save just $2 a week.

What Are Your Top Ways to Save?

While this list they provided was a good starting point, I think there are far better ideas out there, or at least more practical high-impact ideas. So I wanted to open this up to the readers to find out what your best ways to save money are. Do you have anything that results in decent savings with little sacrifice? I’m sure we can put together a far better list than just these seven ideas, so let’s hear your tips.

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Filed Under: Personal Finance

About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.

21 comments
Eric Myers
Eric Myers

Saving money is important and a lot of the suggested ways are no doubt problem areas for a lot of personal and business overspending. I think that its good to try and cut costs from all angles. From the big to the small things, everything counts.

Titan
Titan

There are some good tips in here. Carrying cash around, its always more difficult to spend the cash instead of swiping, it makes you think more. Engery efficient appliances not help save money but help save the planet as well. A tip not mention but has saved me money is getting out of my cell phone contract and getting net10, i pay just a flat 10 cents a minute. My cell phone bill went from around 80 a month to more in the 20 and 30 range.

alfred kelley
alfred kelley

1. minimize buying clothes, going out to eat.
2. ride public transportation and drive- do both.
3. make sacrifices of items you have-get rid of cable/satellite,etc..
4. bargain shop when you go get food/things for your house- try to find the most affordablest price

5. get a high interest savings account- to have your savings grow- netspend.com- 5 % apy

6. make more money-and you can save more money.
Good luck to everyone!!

Robert Largent
Robert Largent

Along with energy star appliances I forgot to mention weatherizing your home. A little caulk can save a bundle.

Robert Largent
Robert Largent

I see a lot of comments, most of them are on the same track as the original article. Originality in thought may be dead.

1. Transportation. Can't do much about. Yes I drive, yes I have a car. I map my routes out before I leave the house.
2. Cash. I don't carry more than $20. Just asking to be robbed carrying a big wad of cash. I get cash back when I make purchases, avoiding the ATM. I also use the credit option at most stores when using my card. TO avoid other fees.
3. Wine. Wow. It would make far more sense to advise people to skip alcohol and soft drinks when eating out and drinking tap water. The mark up on those items is HUGE. You can almost cut a 1/4 of your final bill by drinking water.
4. 5. Insurance. I can agree with most of that.
6. Energy Star appliances. I am on board with the cutting back on energy use to save money. Motion activated lighting outdoors and in areas that are quickly visited (Closet, bathroom, laundry room)
7. Interest checking- Paypal works for this option. You can get a Paypal account and a paypal debit card.

Now, my ideas. Use freeware on your computer.
Dump windows, use Linux.
Dump Internet explorer, use Firefox.
Dump Norton anti virus, use AVG anti virus.
Dump Microsoft Office, use Open Office.
Any program out there has a similar version that is free. Google Majorgeeks, check out their freeware.

Don't pay for magazines, they can be had for free online.
Don't buy a newspaper, you can read all the news online.
Don't go to Starbucks for coffee, McDonald's has the same coffees at half the price.
Don't drink bottled water, fill a bottle with tap water.
Sign up for free stuff. Walmart gives away a lot of samples. (I don't want to give away all my secrets, a lot of free stuff is limited supplies)
Get rid of your land line phone, use skype on your computer or google voice.
Haggle everything. There is more than one insurance company, more than one cable provider, more than one Internet provider. Make them earn your business.
Pay attention to free advice, people like Clark Howard, Leo Laporte, Consumer Reports, Aurthur Frommer and others can all help you save money with their advice.

Rosa
Rosa

I don't think you should shrug off the transportation thing so fast, though the scooter idea is pretty limited.

It can be hard to switch to biking, walking, or busing, just like it's hard to learn not to use credit cards or to balance your checkbook so it never bounces. But if you put the effort in - learning traffic safety, investing in gear, learning safer/faster routes, getting in the habit of doing it - you save a tremendous amount of money. There are also easier, intermediate ways - carpooling, parking farther out where it's cheaper, stuff like that.

I stayed out of the debt trap when my old car bit the dust, back when I was 22 - instead of taking on debt for another car, I got a bike as part of my cash-only lifestyle. The value of the $8k or so I didn't borrow then is not huge, but the psychological value of staying out of debt is. My partner and I remain a 1-car household because each of us is able to bike most of the places we go, so there's little conflict about who gets the car (even with a child - a $400 bike trailer is exponentially cheaper than a car.)

Eves Bank
Eves Bank

Yea I use a credit union - and I'm never charged any fees. They also have excellent customer service.

Rick Johnson
Rick Johnson

To avoid ATM fees switch to a credit union instead of a bank. Just about all credit unions belong to a network that lets you use the ATM at ANY credit union and at most 7-11s across the country with no fees at all.

Phinance
Phinance

The cash versus plastic argument is very true for me. When I go out and have plastic only, I often will cover my friends if the meal is under $50. And even if you collect the difference from your friends in cash, you'll most likely spend it all.

Tim Landry
Tim Landry

To n-girl and others - as someone who has specialised in Disability Insurance - you will be shocked at how little more "Long Term" disability costs than "short term" - and if you ARE disabled for 90 days - the AVERAGE disability will be longer than 2 years.

MoneyEnergy
MoneyEnergy

Funny. Great comments here, I agree with most. Other ideas I have for saving:

1. When travelling, don't get suckered into "gift shops" and souvenir spending;

2. For coffee/Starbucks addicts, do you really need that second cup later on in the day? I know I waste money that way.

3. Rethinking what it means to be charitable: you don't have to give away money. You can volunteer or help out in some other high-impact way than handing money over anonymously online or at your doorstep.

N-Girl
N-Girl

There was some points missed, such as getting rid of credit card debt, not aquiring new debt while having cc debt. Destinguishing between wants and needs. Saving for big purchases.

It would be nice to use public transportation, but many rural areas do not offer it. In my area where I live, the public transportation is not consistant enough to be utilized as a regular and alternative to driving.

The part about the wine in the article was pointless. Who were they writing that for? I have YET to see anyone do this in a restaurant.

It did not point out that paying extra $$ on the mortgage's principle.

I installed a water filter at home, because our water has an awful taste of chlorine, thus saving $$ on bottle water. Making coffee at home has also save $$ as well.

I noticed the article also didn't mention about getting rid of the vices, like quitting smoking. How about looking into short term disability insurance? (Some companies offer it.) Nothing can be as devestating as having something happen such as an illness that keeps you from working.

To get great ideas, read some great posted on MSN money under the community section. Many great postings! Much better than this CNN article!

Wise Money Matters
Wise Money Matters

Why is wine on that list? Do THAT many people overspend on their budgets simply because of wine? Personally, I rarely get wine at a restaurant.

I agree with Writer's Coin that eating out in general can save you money. Much more than simply wine.

Tim Landry
Tim Landry

To drivers - one additional tip (driving is too much of a HABIT) - I have a friend who lives 900 METERS from work. She looked out her window and even though there was a HUGE amount of traffic - she HAD to drive to work - she needed her car later. IT TOOK TWO HOURS TO DRIVE 900 METERS - think she MIGHT have saved some gas and some stress by walking - plus it is healthier. She could always have walked back for her car and there is NO WAY we would be talking two hours. Admit I live in a big city with great public transportation but I am 63 and am DELIGHTED I never learned how to drive

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin

I would just say food. That means eating out, taking lunch to work, etc. We all have to eat, but we don't have to spend a ton when we do.

Imee
Imee

Among these tips the ones I follow most are on transportation and cash. I commute most of the time and I spend cash rather than use credit cards. I feel better and more in control of my expenses this way.

Henry
Henry

That wine one was entirely ridiculous. Who are they writing for: upwardly mobile types only? The only people who would bring a bottle of wine are those who eat out a lot - and therefore can afford eating out. If you eat out once ever so often, you're probably not going to be ordering wine anyway - or if you do the expense isn't going to break you.

Anyway, it's mainly a fluff article to take up space, pretty meager. But that wine comments is sorta irksome.

Kristy @ Master Your Card
Kristy @ Master Your Card

I wasn't impressed with the list. I think # 1 has merit, but more in the way that you mentioned. If you want to save money, avoid taking on more than you can reasonably afford, and pay it off as quickly as possible. The rest seemed like filler in my opinion.

I've also heard that tip about taking your own wine to dinner before and thought at the time it was ridiculous. To see it here is even more ridiculous. I agree with your assessment...just eat out less to save money. It's not the wine, but the eating out in general that's costing a person's savings.

I think one of the tips that should be on there is the 24-hour cooling off period. You see something you want, give yourself 24 hours to cool off. If you still really want it, well I say add more time because you probably don't need it. But, if you can pay for it with cash as opposed to credit cards, then get it. But, 9 times out of 10, after 24 hours, you'll probably not be that concerned with getting it. You only wanted it on impulse.

Jessica
Jessica

I too think this list is pretty pointless. However I have to disagree with you on the wine. Many cities have restaurants that are specifically BYOB in order to avoid the cost of having a liquor license. The food is usually cheaper as there is less cost to keep the restaurant open, and you control what you pay for what you drink. If you wan to go out, you'd be stupid not to go BYOB. Also, if you call ahead you'd be surprised how many licensed restaurants actually offer BYOB with a small corkage fee just to compete. One should look into such a great idea before poo-pooing it, as wine and other beverages are usually the thing with the most ridiculous mark up.

Miranda
Miranda

I wasn't overly impressed with CNN's tips, either. We save money eating out by 1. Cutting back to once a week and 2. Going out to lunch instead of dinner since lunch is cheaper.

We also re-evaluated our health insurance coverage. I don't need maternity anymore since we're taking appropriate measures to avoid having anymore children. Having that on our insurance alone was costing us $150 a month ($1,800). We also found that we could get a policy that didn't cover such items as acupuncture, which we don't need...

Kevin @ The Money Hawk
Kevin @ The Money Hawk

Pointless article on CNN's part.

Wine? Are you kidding me? Stupid.

Interest checking? Stupid.

Cash? Stupid

Energy-efficient appliances? Stupid.

Are these all viable means of saving money? Of course. Are they the BEST ways to save money? No. They put mediocre tactics on a "best of" list. Stupid.

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