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Education Center » (Almost) effortless ways to boost your savings without sacrifice

(Almost) effortless ways to boost your savings without sacrifice


En español | Chances are you already know that giving up just one $4 mocha caramel latte lite (with whipped cream) every workday, could save you nearly $1,000 a year—or roughly $30,000 over a 30-year career—to put toward your retirement. But do you really want to deprive yourself of the little things you enjoy?

What if you could save more without sacrificing very much? Here are a few ideas to help you find the money you need for the future without eliminating your small pleasures today—or micro-managing every penny.

Get rid of forgotten fees

One way to discover extra dollars is to look at places where you might be wasting them. Are you paying for a health club you don’t use? Online sites you don’t visit? Subscriptions to magazines or newspapers you never read? Rather than give up some of the little purchases you love (like that daily on-the-run latte), start reviewing your credit card statements in detail every month to spot unnecessary costs and get rid of them. One recent study found that the average American household with an income of $63,000 spends more than $8,000 on goods and services every year that it doesn't really need.1 The “miscellaneous” category on your annual credit card statement is a good place to start looking for these long-forgotten monthly charges.

Hard to do, but definitely worth it: Stop smoking!

You know it's the right thing to do for your health, but what about your pocketbook? As though you needed more good incentives to quit, from* comes this tip from a confirmed former-smoker in North Carolina2:

“Many years ago, my husband and I decided to stop smoking... I told him that each day I was going to put away the amount of money we would have spent on the cigarettes. So I made a ritual of putting away $3 in a desk drawer every night—smoking was much cheaper back then. At the end of one year, I had saved almost $1,100. That money paid for a trip to London! I suggested this cessation method to a friend and he was also successful in both saving money and eliminating his smoking habit.”

Take a little time to plan ahead

Most people know that buying airline tickets early can yield big savings, but thinking ahead for other purchases can save you money, too. Take the time to find the best prices for big ticket items, like a new car, by doing some preliminary internet research (see more tips for that, below).

You might also save time and money by filling your gas tank regularly at a local station with the best prices rather than paying higher prices along the highway. You likely know that it’s not a good a idea to grocery shop when you’re hungry—so make a list, clip some coupons and make sure you’re not susceptible to cravings and impulse purchases before you head to the supermarket.

Planning ahead for cash when you travel or commute can help you avoid extra ATM withdrawal fees charged on non-affiliated debit or credit cards. These fees can be significant, especially in resort cities like Las Vegas. If you need cash and can’t locate a branch of your bank, consider taking advantage of the no fee cash back option that many stores offer when you buy a single small item with your credit or debit card.

Other fees you can easily avoid with a little advance planning: Fees for buying movie tickets online, bank fees for not maintaining a minimum balance or for keeping inactive accounts open, and late fees on utility or credit card bills—which not only increase the amount you owe, but may also hurt your credit score.

Did you know that you may be able to save a little extra by paying a few of your bills before the due date? Many local utility companies, for example, encourage customers to pay early by offering discounts.

Give and take at a clothing swap

Whether you're a savvy fashionista or a mom with fast-growing kids (or both), a clothing swap is a great way to save by finding stylish bargains. The idea is to gather up gently-worn items from your closets and bring them to a central location where you can trade with others who also have chic, worthy castoffs. You can look online for local swaps or try hosting your own with friends. What you don't swap can always be donated to a local charity.

Wait on new wheels

Instead of replacing your vehicle every few years, try driving it longer by keeping it well maintained and biting the bullet for any repairs—unless they are more than the car is worth.

According to Ronald Montoya,* consumer advice editor, in his article "Fix Up or Trade Up?," it's almost always less expensive to repair a car than to buy a new one. In addition to delaying the monthly payment (which today can average around $500), you'll also avoid the sales tax and higher insurance and registration costs for a new vehicle. Plus today's cars are designed to last much longer than in the past (some even come with 10-year warranties).

Other ways to save on car ownership from Montoya: Raise the deductible on your car insurance, buy a "certified" pre-owned vehicle, do your homework before you visit car dealers, and consider purchasing accessories on your own. A portable GPS, rather than one installed in the vehicle, is almost always less expensive. And you can take it with you when you walk away.

More ways to find savings


Potential Savings

At Home

Turn down thermostat at night

5–15% on your heating bill3

Lower water heater to 120 degrees


Install low-flow showerheads


Take advantage of off-peak
reduced power rates

About 7% on your energy cost5

Call your utility company for a
free energy audit

Up to 40% on your energy cost6

You Shop

Buy in bulk (with a friend) and
buy in-season

50% or more on your
grocery bill4

Purchase prescriptions online

35% or more7

Use generic medicines

Up to 80% over the cost of
name brands8

Choose generic or store
brand groceries

25% or more on your
grocery bill9

Get free money from your employer

If your employer offers to match some of the money you put into your workplace retirement plan, try to contribute at least enough to make the most of it. For example, let's say your employer offers to match 50% of your contributions up to 5% of your salary. If you earn $50,000 a year and contribute 5% (or $2,500) a year to your retirement plan, your employer would kick in another $1,250. It's essentially free money. Don't leave it on the table.

Remember that every little bit counts

A few stray dollars here and there may not seem like much right now. But if you add them up week after week, year after year, you may be surprised by what you save so you can put more toward what you want in the future—like a home of your own or a dream vacation in retirement.

Learn more and take action

  • For more ideas on easy ways to save on everyday expenses, view this short video at
  • If your 401(k) plan is administered by Merrill Lynch, you can adjust your contribution rate to take advantage of your employer’s match (if applicable) on Benefits OnLine® > 401(k) > Current Elections > Contribution Rates.
  • Use our Financial Calculators to calculate how much more you might have at retirement by spending a little less today.

1 Source: "Ten things Americans waste the most money on,"*

2 Source: "The craziest thing I did to save money,"*

3 Source: "A Series of Factsheets on New Construction Issues: Automatic and Programmable Thermostats,"*

4 Source: "Top 50 money saving tips."*

5 Source:*

6 Source:*

7 Source: "Comparison Shopping: Getting the Best Price on Your Drugs,"*

8 Source: "10 ways to save on drugs,"*

9 Source: "Simple ways to slash your grocery bill,"*

* Merrill Lynch is providing a web address to this third-party website only as a convenience to you. Merrill Lynch and its parent, subsidiaries, and affiliates have no affiliation with this website, and do not control the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or appropriateness of any content, links, or information contained in, or displayed on, the website. Merrill Lynch and its parent, subsidiaries, and affiliates do not explicitly or implicitly endorse or approve, or pay for, or participate in any way in the development of, any content, links, or information contained within, or accessible to or from the third-party website. If you choose to access this third party website, then you will be subject to that website’s terms of use, information security, and privacy policies, if any, over which Merrill Lynch and its parent, subsidiaries, and affiliates have no control or influence.

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