40 ways to save on almost anything

Everyone's trying to save a buck these days. But we'd rather save a few hundred or even a couple thousand. Care to join us?

Combing through eight spending categories, we have identified dozens of ways you can keep more money. We'll show you how to plug spending leaks, find the best bargains and stretch your dollar further.

Because we believe you shouldn't overpay for anything, here's how to save on everything.

Save money on debt and banking

1. Erase debt: The No. 1 way to spend less money on debt . . . is to get rid of it! You'll erase those costly interest charges and put that cash back in your wallet where it belongs.

Here's how to start attacking your debts: Focus on the debt with the highest interest rate first. Pay the most you can afford above the minimum required each month. Once it's paid off, get in the habit of paying your new balance in full each month to avoid rebuilding the debt.

5 ways to save on entertainment

2. Get organized: Using software to piece together your financial information from banks, credit cards and other financial institutions is a smart way to budget. It can help you identify where you can save money to put toward paying down your debt.

But you don't need to shell out the $60 to $90 for Quicken. Instead, manage your money for free at Mint.com (which is owned by Quicken's parent, Intuit) or Wesabe.

3. Tailor your student loan to fit: Feeling pinched by student loan payments? Ask your lender if you qualify for a graduated payment schedule (your payments start out small and increase as, presumably, your income increases). Or ask for an extended payment period, with smaller monthly payments spread over 15 or 20 years.

If you're in the Federal Direct Loan Program, look into the income-contingent plan, which sets monthly payments according to your income, family size and the total amount of your loans. You get up to 25 years to repay the debt, after which the feds forgive the remainder.

4. Ask for a lower interest rate: Want a lower credit card rate? Ask for one. Studies have shown that more than half of such requests get results. You'll boost your odds of success if you have good credit and if you can provide examples of offers you've gotten from other companies.

This goes for your mortgage, too. If your interest rate is high, some banks are willing to reset the rate on your existing mortgage for a fee but without the cost and hassle of a full-blown refinance.

5. Take a hike: Don't stick with your bank or credit card just because it's there. Smart consumers always keep an eye out for bargains and are willing to make a move when the right deal comes along.

Finding a card with a lower interest rate could save you hundreds.

Save money on food

6. Cook your own meals: It's easy to order in or go out to eat. Trouble is, the restaurant habit is a real budget buster. The average American household spends 42% of its total food budget on dining out. So if you're serious about saving money on food, your first step is to eat out less -- and that includes lunch at work.

If the kitchen is foreign territory to you, get a good beginner's cookbook, such as "How to Boil Water" from the Food Network Kitchens or "Anyone Can Cook" from Better Homes & Gardens. The Web is also a treasure-trove of recipes for beginners and experts alike. Allrecipes.com and Epicurious.com are good places to start.

7. Stock up on staples: Watch ads for sales on nonperishable food, and stock up. That way, you'll have your family staples on hand when you need them, without having to make an extra trip to a store to pay regular price.

Items such as canned goods, pasta, condiments, bottled sauces, rice, oil, flour and sugar are great to buy in bulk because they won't go bad if you don't eat them right away.

8. Shop with a plan: Before you head to a supermarket, take 10 minutes to map out your meals for the week. Check your cupboards and fridge to see what you already have, then make a list of ingredients you need to buy. Don't forget to include breakfast, lunch and snack items on your list to help curb your impulse spending.

Eliminate shopping distractions to help you stick to the plan. For instance, leave the kids at home, and don't shop on an empty stomach.

9. Mind your math: Many grocery-store tags will tell you how much an item costs per ounce, per pound or by some other unit of measurement. Comparison shop by unit price and save.

For example, if a pack of 40 diapers costs $13, that's 33 cents per diaper. But if you buy a box of 144 diapers for $35, or 24 cents per diaper, you save 9 cents each. That may not seem like much, but when you change a diaper six to eight times each day, that amounts to a savings of $16 to $22 per month.

Also, look closely at "buy two, get one free" deals. Oftentimes, the price is jacked up, so it's not the incredible deal you might think it is.

10. Skip prepackaged and pre-prepped: To stretch your dollar more, pay for food, not packaging. Sure, that bag of pre-washed romaine lettuce is convenient, but it can cost $1 or $2 more than buying a head of romaine and washing it yourself. And really, how hard is that?

This goes for individually wrapped snack foods, such as the 100-calorie packs. It's much cheaper to buy your favorite munchies and separate them into smaller portions on your own.

Continued over at MSN.com: Save money on entertainment

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