I was a lucky kid when I was in high school. The car I inherited came with, among other things, a little DVD player in the glove compartment and a screen which flipped down from the ceiling. When I was feeling less than studious, I would sneak out to my car and watch a movie instead of going to another weary study hall.
It was a fun distraction, but it was murder on my battery, and replacing a car battery when you’re earning minimum-wage from a part-time job isn’t the easiest task. Even as you get older, those little car expenses can quickly add up. They don’t have to, though. In fact, there are a bunch of things you can do to save money on your car, and they really don’t require a great deal of time or effort.
Check Your Fluid Levels
It doesn’t take a mechanic to do this, and if your mechanic tells you it does, don’t go back to their garage. Checking a few basic fluids on your own comes with two-fold savings. First, by checking yourself, you’re saving the cost of having someone else do it for you. Second, by regularly checking your fluids, you know when something might need to be replenished or replaced, saving you from damaging parts down the road.
You don’t need to be a mechanical whiz to check your car. There are an endless number of guides to teach you what to look for, including:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Windshield washer fluid
- Power steering fluid
You can replenish some of these fluids yourself without any hassle beyond locating a cap. How awesome is that?
Check Your Filter
This is another incredibly easy DIY operation. Your car’s air filter can weigh down your engine efficiency, with some estimates saying you can lose up to 10% of your gas mileage with a dirty filter. Spare yourself the extra cents at the gas pump and check your filter once a month. It’s not something that necessarily requires replacing, either. You can clean it with an air hose, reducing the number of replacements you have to pay for while still helping you maintain the best fuel economy.
Keep Your Tires Inflated
You know it’s good to not drive on a flat, but don’t just eyeball it when it comes to your tires. You can check and fill them in a few seconds at the gas station (often for free). Plus, keeping your tires properly inflated can increase your gas mileage by a few percentage points per tire. Meaning, you can get more value out of what you put in at the pump. Proper inflation also helps the tires last longer, so you won’t be spending money replacing them on a regular basis.
Check for Insurance Discounts
You don’t have to change your whole policy to save on your car insurance. Many providers offer discounts or incentive programs you can take advantage of simply by being a good driver. See if your insurance company gives an accident-free bonus for safe driving. If you are a student driver or you have one on your policy, ask about the good student discount. You can motivate yourself to study while you save.
Take Public Transit or Carpool
An easy way to save money on your car is to not drive it as often. If you live in an area where public transportation is available, consider taking it on occasion. Avoid parking nightmares by taking the bus or train to a show or event, or enjoy your night out a bit more without worrying about driving home impaired.
Another easy option is to carpool. Yeah, you might have a few extra people in your car every once in a while, but you’ll be reducing the distance you’re driving on a regular basis, which means you’re spending less on gas, putting less costly wear on the car, and even being a bit environmentally conscious in the process.
Don’t Idle Unless Necessary
You’re going to have to run your engine if you’re stuck in traffic, but if it’s a cold winter day, you don’t need to let your car warm up before you head out. Newer cars are built to run efficiently a few seconds after ignition, so sitting around waiting for your car to warm up is wasting gas.
Instead, give your vehicle long enough for you to put on your seatbelt and adjust the radio, and then don’t be afraid to get going. If you find your new car is having trouble turning over in the cold, don’t be afraid to seek out a mechanic’s help before you end up with a much larger, more expensive problem.
Pay for the Help You Need
There are a lot of simple things you can do on your own when it comes to your car, but one of the most costly mistakes you can make when it comes to maintaining your vehicle is to assume being able to do some things means being able to do them all. Like anything else, your car will experience wear and tear and at some point, you’ll need to get the lights checked, investigate some noises, or have real maintenance completed by a professional.
Don’t wait too long when it comes to routine maintenance, or it could end up leading to more costly damage. Instead, find a mechanic you can trust, and work with him or her to make sure your car is properly maintained at regular intervals. It might not seem like the cheapest option upfront, but it’s a lot cheaper than having to pay for a new, non-damaged car.
Let’s face it – you could always use another money-saving strategy. While looking for loose change in your couch cushions is all well and good, you are trying to make serious progress towards paying off your debt or saving up to reach a goal. Unfortunately, you’ll barely make a dent with a roll of dimes.
I’m not knocking penny collection as a valid way to meet your financial objectives, but you should also think big-picture. To construct a budget that will withstand surprise costs, you’re going to have to plan ahead. Calculate how much money you’re going to spend unexpectedly in the coming year. If you read that last sentence slowly, you’ll see the problem. How could anyone possibly predict when they’re going to need a bunch of cash on hand?
The truth is, nobody has a crystal ball, but there are five distinct ways you can take action now in order to avoid going into debt in the future.
1. Pay Attention to Your Home and Vehicle
When was the last time you checked your car’s tire pressure? When was the last time your home’s HVAC system was serviced? These are questions you should know the answer to, because they can save you hundreds of dollars every year not only by preventing repairs, but by making both your vehicle and your home run smoother and more efficiently. Here are some specific ways to prevent high repair costs:
Regularly Service Your HVAC System
In the summer months, you can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 15% if you regularly change the air filters. The system will not have to work as hard, resulting in a longer life span. You can also make sure no grass, weeds, or leaves get within two feet of the outdoor unit by doing regular yard work – making it easier for the system to draw in air from the outside.
Each year, make sure you have a professional clean the HVAC system’s drain and make sure no ducts are blocked. The cleaning will cost you an annual fee, but the amount can be scheduled into your budget far ahead of time – better than paying up to $500 plus labor for a new HVAC fan motor, because the old one was overtaxed and under-serviced.
Check Your Car’s Tire Pressure
While it’s a matter of debate whether cars need an oil change every 3,000 miles, you can bet your tires need to be filled at regular intervals. Every time you lose 3.0 PSI, you also lose 1% of your fuel efficiency. You won’t believe what deflation does to your actual tires! If you keep your tires properly inflated, they can last an additional 1,143 miles. With worn-out tires as one of the top vehicle maintenance costs, why not part with a few quarters to delay paying for a whole new set?
2. Schedule Regular Doctor Visits and Live Well
When it comes to your health, nothing can be gained from putting off your annual physical. Catching diseases before they escalate is a sure way to both live longer and not pay as much in medical bills, and regular health screenings are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Want to know how much the average American family pays in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses? $9,144! You should be proactive about getting a physical, as well as actively budget for prescriptions and co-pays.
Chances are, you’re paying for your healthcare plan whether you use it regularly or not. Why not make it a point to get screened? Then, you could potentially avoid ten of the most common, most expensive medical conditions, as reported by Forbes.com.
Here are a few:
- Cancer – $49,000
- Hemophilia – $62,000
- Coronary Artery Disease – $75,000
If you have a cost-share plan with your medical insurance company, you might end up paying for almost half the total cost of treatment. Believing you’ll never get seriously ill is not a good outlook – most people have this mindset until something happens to them. See your doctor on the regular and stick to a healthy diet and fitness plan.
3. Plan Out Your Meals
You might not be Julia Child, but you can follow directions. You’re reading this article, aren’t you? Shopping and cooking (or microwaving) for yourself will not only result in a healthier you (see #2 on this list) but can save you hundreds – possibly thousands – in the future.
Before you buy the latest and greatest cookbook, invest in these two items:
- Crock-pot slow cooker
- Plastic bins to freeze food
There are two main benefits these items will provide: you can easily make your food ahead of time and have it cook while you are gone, and you can make it in bulk. Now on to the execution of your food proactivity.
First, devote one day of the week to meal preparation. Then, follow these steps:
- Pick out a few recipes that have less than five ingredients.
- Make a list of ingredients to buy.
- Go to the store and stick to a budget.
- Go home and start cooking.
- Freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions for future fast reheat.
Your dinners are set for the week, or weeks, depending on how much you cooked. When you come home from work starving, tired, and ready to switch on Netflix and pass out, you will no longer be tempted to drop $20 on Chinese takeout. Not only that, you’ll have set a grocery budget and stuck to it.
You can also save money by packing your lunch. Go to your local deli and look at the sandwich prices – $6, maybe $9 for a combo. Instead, buy a loaf of bread – $3. Buy a pound of chicken breast – $5. Buy a pound of cheese – $5. For only about double the price of eating one sandwich, you get six to eight sandwiches. Even if math isn’t your strong suit, you can see the payoff here.
4. Budget for Holiday Shopping
In 2018, holiday shoppers spent an average of $801 each. That is a giant number for your budget to absorb in one month. What if you spread that cost out over the course of a year? Even as a monthly expense, your holiday shopping budget will cost you around $66 per month.
If you’re the type of family member who likes to spoil their relatives, that number could get even higher. And that’s only counting the gifts that you’re purchasing for friends and family. What about wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and bags? What about travel expenses to visit distant family? What about hosting a holiday party at your own residence and buying food, alcohol, and decorations?
The costs can rise quickly and you might find yourself tempted to just “put a little on the credit card.” If you WANT to be paying off last year’s holiday gifts until next summer, be my guest. However, if you want to get ahead of the game and have plenty of money to enjoy yourself and be Santa Clause to everyone else, start planning for next year’s holiday right away.
Put money aside monthly, after you get your tax return, or after another windfall of cash. Recognize the holiday season is something to save for in order to keep your budget intact.
5. Anticipate Family and Friends’ Life Events
If you thought your gift-giving stopped at the holidays, you were wrong. Birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, christenings, baptisms, and more cause you to shop until you drop.
You’ll know your parents’ golden wedding anniversary is coming up well in advance – so plan for it. You might not know your sister is planning on getting married – but once she gets engaged, plan for it. It’s not just the holidays that require thought and preparation, but caring for everyone else in your life too.
Here’s a suggestion: don’t just save blindly. You’re not restricted to one savings account. You can have multiple accounts at no charge just by meeting a minimum balance. Make sure one of your savings accounts is geared specially toward events requiring you to spend money. You’ll feel awesome when you’re able to contribute to someone else’s happiness, especially since it doesn’t require you to swipe that credit card or take out a loan.
After reading this list, you’re probably exhausted. Being proactive takes work! Now you’re getting the point. By putting in extra thought, extra care, and extra time, you can and will avoid major expenses that could seriously rock your budget, your plans, and your life.