Most of us never seem to have enough money to live within our means. There is always the inevitable car repair, refrigerator problem, or other unexpected cost that makes us have that “hand-to-mouth” sustenance that causes the savings account to dwindle. Though only around 1 in ten million will win the big dollar lottery, the rest of us can save by doing the little things to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our money.

How do you save money??

Do not spend money on unnecessary items or service.

Sounds simple? It is not, but most people can save by using some, or all, of the following suggestions.

• Like a business, have a BUDGET for each month (or better, each week). Force yourself to follow that budget. If the Starbucks budget is max’d out, do not do Starbuck. If it is an item that is absolutely necessary, reduce another expense amount to pay for it, but do not go over in the expense you took it from either.

• Skip the Starbucks, Caribou, Panera, etc., daily stop for coffee and a pastry. If you love the coffee, purchase a bag of it and make it at home. Skipping 3 or 4 days of the coffee shop will pay for the whole bag of coffee beans you purchased from Caribou.

• Take all your change daily and put it in a piggy bank at home. You would be surprised how much money you will have for Christmas or a vacation.

• Credit card bonus points that earn cash is money that can be used for a special situation. Allow the cash bonus to grow, and when you go on vacation, turn the points into gift cards to restaurants. The vacation is expensive enough, but it is nice to know that many of your meals can be paid for with those gift cards and reduce the vacation cost.

• Make a list to go shopping and buy only WHAT IS ON THE LIST. Retailers are experts at making you believe you “need” that gadget or widget that is reduced from $99.99 to only $19.99! Stay with the list only.

• If you see that widget that you “just must have”, do this: wait 24 hours to buy it. It is amazing how often the “need” is diminished when you wait. Think of the Christmas toy you dreamed of as a child, and then discarded in a couple days. Very often it is the same with impulse buying.

• When you go to buy a “discretionary” item, one that is not absolutely necessary, ask this: How long would I have to work to pay for this? A $100 item will take you 10 hours to pay if you earn $10 per hour ($10 x 10 hours=$100). Is the 10 hours work worth it? Or will the $50/5 hours of work be acceptable? Or do you buy it at all?

• Never use an ATM that will cost you a fee. Why are you paying to get your money out of a bank? Use only your bank’s ATM where there is no charge. Granted, if you are away from your bank’s ATM, you need to plan ahead to have the cash needed. Also, a few banks allow you a small number of free transactions at competitor locations (5th 3rd is one, but there are others too).

• Instead of going out on the town with friends to eat, drink, and go to a movie, have the party at your house and rent a movie. It will definitely be cheaper than going out, plus often the other friends will bring food too so you get a chance at eating different food like when you go to a restaurant. There is also a good chance that the party will be reciprocated at a later date. This will increase your saving again, and save your friends some money too while still having a very enjoyable time!

• Ditch the premium cable channels. Unless you watch a lot of movies, they are an unneeded expense. Better yet, cancel the cable altogether! That will save you $60-$90 each month; though this may be hard for many people, but think how many “work hours” you have to work to pay for flipping through 250 channels then saying to your spouse that there is “nothing on TV tonight”!!

• Use a programmable thermostat in your home, or just adjust it on your way out. If no one is there all day, why keep it so warm or cool? Also, a couple of degrees warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter will help the heating bill. In the winter, a sweatshirt or sweater keeps you warm at 68 or 70 degrees. On a hot summer day, 75 or 77 degrees will feel wonderful when you walk in from 85 or 90 degrees.

• Put the blinds up in the winter to let the sunshine into your house to help heat it up. Of course, lower the blinds in the summer to reflect the heat out in the summer. If you like natural light in the summer, open the blinds on the west side in the summer mornings, and close them in the afternoon. Vice versa for the east side of the house.

There are many examples of ways to save money, and these are but a few of hundreds of way, and will hopefully be “food for thought”. Look at every bank and credit card transactions and see if you can do without it…or at a lower level while still being reasonable and responsible.

The final strategic point is that you need to SAVE the money you did not spend on the above suggestions!!! If you save $60 on the cable bill each month, but go to the theater every weekend with your spouse and buy popcorn and a drink, then you actually saved nothing. At least put it towards a credit card bill, if not in your savings account or IRA.

Maybe you have enough so you do not need to worry about saving, and if so, that is great! (Of course, if that was true, you probably would not be reading this in the first place!). In the meantime, the rest of us will start with these suggestions. We all need to start somewhere, so go to it.