Gasoline is doing that dreaded creeping upward thing again. Between the 15th of February and March, each gallon pumped 50 more cents from our wallets. And, according to AAA spokesman Michael Geeser, another $4 mark is "very reachable" by Memorial Day.
How can you replace those lost bucks? We asked two valley financial planners (Joe Caldera of Caldera Wealth Management and Patti Peterson of Williams Financial Group) and came up with 10 of the simplest solutions. Employing every one of them could save you way more than what OPEC costs you -- as much as hundreds per month.
"They're all common sense," Caldera says, "and require just a little energy to stick to."
Cash-back credit cards (average monthly savings: varies)
If you pay your balance each month, go with cards such as the American Express SimplyCash (1 percent to 5 percent) or Costco TrueEarnings (1 percent to 3 percent, although a Costco membership is required). When maintaining a balance is unavoidable, simply ask for a rate reduction. Sometimes, it works (if you don't get angry for waiting 20 minutes on hold).
Coupons, coupons, coupons (average monthly savings: $200-$500)
For restaurants, check out groupon.com, restaurant.com, livingsocial.com and 3oclockclub.com. Some restaurants may even note the coupon on your reservation, so your guests will never know they're not worth full price to you. When grocery shopping with your newspaper coupons, beware of higher-priced other items the supermarket uses to make back its coupon losses and laugh at you.
Brew coffee at home and take it with you (average monthly savings: $160)
If you still crave the Starbucks experience, then burn the coffee and make yourself wait 14 minutes for service.
Switch to term life insurance (average monthly savings: 75 percent in insurance)
Term is pure insurance. The extra financial bells and whistles of whole and universal life aren't worth the cost to someone who isn't wealthy, no matter what the guys in fancy suits tell you. (It's your wasted money that keeps their suits fancy.)
Entertainment freebies (average monthly savings: $100)
Borrow new DVDs and books from the library. (If you insist on ignoring this advice and buying DVDs, look for anything with Dan Aykroyd in it to be cheap.) And ShowTickets4Locals.com is a free seat-filler organization that gives out limited numbers of last-minute tickets. (Cirque shows you won't find, but you're guaranteed at least to get more than your zero money's worth.)
Buy in bulk (average monthly savings: $50)
It's smart to stock up on things you'll use every day anyway -- as long as it's not a giant can of something that changes color before you get to the bottom. Also, while you're at Costco or Sam's Club, sneak a free lunch by shooting among appetizer sampling stations. (Bring a moustache or wigs if you're embarrassed to keep returning for more.)
Wash your hands often (average monthly savings: $50)
Especially during flu season, this will probably prevent doctor and emergency room co-pays -- assuming you're lucky enough to have health insurance. More importantly, it could save you lost work time that could go to your vacation (or that you'll end up paying for out of pocket if you have no time off left.)
Switch incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents (average monthly savings: $25)
The corkscrewy ones will cost you more, but only at first. By year's end, you will have recouped on all the regular bulbs you didn't need to replace.
Maintain recommended tire pressure (average monthly savings: 2.4 percent in gasoline if you're 2 pounds short in each tire)
"Air" is the pump to hit before "gas." Underinflated tires produce as much unwanted rolling resistance as giving a lift to Rush Limbaugh.
Slow down (average monthly savings: 20 percent in gasoline)
According to AAA, slowing from 70 mph to 55 mph will cut your gasoline bill by a fifth. (They couldn't say how much you get by slowing from 70 to our speed limit, 65, but it's probably still significant.) Oh, and that finger drivers may display when they pass you on the left is their way of saluting you for helping to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0456.