10 Ways to Stretch Your Paycheck in a Downturn

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

More than 70 percent of America’s workers are still living paycheck to paycheck according to a recent American Payroll Association poll. And current tough economic times have everyone wondering what they can do to stretch their paycheck a bit further. We’ve compiled a list of what we feel are ten of the best ideas to help stretch your paycheck. With a little extra effort, you can yield some big savings.

1. Stop buying bottled water

Americans spend a staggering amount on bottled water - $15 billion last year. Name brands in small bottles can cost more than $10 per gallon while tap water costs about ½ of a cent per gallon.

If you feel the tap water in your area needs further filtration to be palatable, many commercial filtration systems are available that filter water directly at the tap or in containers which translate to a cost of approximately 18 cents per gallon.

2. Skip the Gourmet Coffee

OK, maybe you can’t go cold turkey on your morning latté, but you can at least reduce the number of times you stop for that special brew. At an average price of $3.00 per cup, it’s a savings that you owe yourself.

One pound of coffee which generally costs approximately $8 - $15 per pound can yield approximately 32 eight-ounce cups of coffee, that’s only 25 to 47 cents per cup. Brewing your own coffee at home and taking it with you in a reusable coffee mug is a great cost savings option.

3. Buy Less Prepared Food

According to the Food Marketing Institute, about 28 percent of shoppers don’t know what they are having just two hours before a meal. American workers have less time to plan and prepare meals. This has led to an increase in the popularity of “fresh prepared foods” at local markets. These foods are generally healthier than some frozen foods options and, although they are time savers, come at a significant price.

Cook from scratch whenever possible. Make freezable items ahead and defrost as needed. You may find that you are eating simpler, healthier meals while saving big money on your weekly food budget.

4. Buy Staple Items in Bulk

Buying in bulk can provide consumers with substantial savings not to mention fewer trips to the store to buy pantry basics. Items that are usually less expensive when purchased in bulk include cereals, grains, pasta, pasta sauces, bulk bags of frozen skinless chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, paper towels and toilet tissue.

Remember that bulk items are only worth buying if you can use them before they expire. Pay attention to prices as well. Don’t assume that the warehouse price is the lower price. Compare unit prices at warehouse stores with other retailers to make sure you are getting the lowest price.

5. Clip those coupons!

Clipping coupons and reviewing the local supermarket circular can actually yield big savings. Make sure to only clip coupons for items that you truly need. Catalogue coupons by item and file them by expiration date to make it easier to keep track of valuable savings. For extra savings, find a store in your area that doubles coupons and make that your favorite store. A lot of supermarkets now offer frequent shopper and reward cards that you simply scan at checkout. Be sure to sign up for one and start saving!

6. Buy Generic

Many store brands are just as good as or identical to brand names and much less expensive. Try out sample products to see if you enjoy them before stocking up. You may find that you like the generic brand as much as the brand name you were used to using. It’s certainly worth giving these “store brands” a try knowing that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice quality for price.

7. Dine Out and Take Out Less

You don’t need to do the math to know that it is less expensive to eat at home than at a restaurant or take-out establishment. While it is hard to cut this out completely, try to eat breakfast at home, try brown bagging it for lunch more frequently and save dinners at restaurants for special occasions only.

8. Go to the Library

Buying books can be very expensive. Instead, take a trip to the public library and take advantage of a wealth of reading material – for free! Many local branches offer not only the latest book releases, but a wide variety of DVDs as well. Borrowing DVDs from the library can help you save on movie rental and late fees.

9. Pay Bills On-line

Avoid paying postage and late fees by paying your bills on-line and on time. You can pay direct to your creditors or set up automatic bill-pay with your bank. As an added benefit, the time you save by paying bills on-line can be used to clip coupons, prepare those home cooked meals, or read a library book!

10. Lower Monthly Bills

If you are spending money on cable, home phone and internet service, research available options to see if you can find a more affordable plan. Phone and cable companies are eager to keep your business. It is in your best interest to put their customer service abilities to the test and negotiate terms that are more affordable for you and your budget.

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