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Best money-saving tips for 2018

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By Mike Timmerman, Clark.com

For the past year, I’ve been writing a column for Clark.com called Michael Saves to provide quick and easy ways to save money.

I started the weekly series in January 2017 to put various savings strategies to the test and share my experience with you — Clark Howard’s loyal audience.

There have been hits and misses, but I managed to save thousands of dollars throughout the year.

How to save on pay TV, cell phone service, groceries and more in 2018

However, the most rewarding part of my job has been hearing from Clark’s fans who’ve read my articles and then found a cheaper cell phone plan, saved at the grocery store or lowered their cable/internet bill.

As we look ahead to 2018, here are my top tips to help you trim the fat from your budget in the new year:

1. Save 2 full paychecks in 2018 

Do you get paid every other week? Try this simple budgeting trick that I’ve been using for more than a decade.
When you sit down to create your budget for 2018, set your projected monthly income based on receiving two paychecks a month and nothing else.

Twice a month = 12 months x 2 = 24 checks
Every other week = 52 weeks / 2 = 26 checks

For the two months when you receive a third paycheck, treat it as bonus money to reach a savings goal!

Treat 3rd paychecks like bonus money! When I was paying off my $86,000 mortgage in two years, I would use those “extra” paychecks to reduce the principal balance. Here are some other ideas:

Pay off a debt
Contribute to a retirement account
Add it to the new car fund
Pay an insurance policy (auto, home, life)
Grow your emergency fund
Erase student loan debt
Start a vacation fund
Save up for a home renovation

RELATED: New tool offers credit card perks without debit card dangers

2. Lower your monthly cell phone bill

When’s the last time you shopped for a cheaper cell phone plan? If it’s been more than six weeks, Clark says you may be paying too much for wireless service.

In September 2017, I dropped my cell phone bill to $12 a month with Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile.

Although you must have Xfinity internet to sign up for the mobile deal, Xfinity Mobile’s pricing is hard to beat at just $12 per GB or $45 a month for unlimited data — and it runs on Verizon’s network.

My previous plan was $60 a month, so I’m saving almost $50 a month just by switching cell phone providers.

3. Cut your cable/internet bill

Instead of calling your cable and internet provider to negotiate a lower rate, let Trim do it for you!

Trim is a personal assistant that works to save you money. In many cases, the service is able to get credits that your provider owes you for cable and internet service interruptions.

Trim said it can lower your cable/internet bill with Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, RCN and other major providers.

After I received my first $30 credit in late August, I thought that was the last I would hear from Trim. But I was wrong. I’ve received two additional credits, one for $15 and another for $4.83.

Several of my family members, friends and co-workers have also had success with Trim. My mom has received more than $50 in bill credits from Comcast!

Trim’s chatbot told me via Facebook Messenger that it keeps 25% of what it saves customers. Read more here.

RELATED: Clark’s TV bundle will cut your cable or satellite bill in half!

4. Cut grocery and restaurant spending

The right tools were just what I needed to reduce food spending. My Instant Pot pressure cooker and Crock-Pot slow cooker have made preparing meals at home a lot easier — and tastier!

By using both kitchen gadgets regularly, I’ve slashed my grocery and restaurant spending by nearly $1,200 this year.

5. Cut your prescription drug costs

Even with health insurance, prescription drug costs can be a burden. To lower my out-of-pocket expenses, I downloaded GoodRx and LowestMed, two free apps that search pharmacies for discounts and coupons.

Believe it or not, the apps may find prices that are even lower than your insurance co-pay — or sometimes free!

On top of that, I saved 75% on one particular drug that I take by getting a prescription for a higher dose and splitting each tablet into four pieces.

This is NOT safe to do for all medications, but you can ask your doctor if it’s an option for you.

RELATED: The easiest way to save on prescription drugs

6. Save your savings

If you take a look at the bottom of your receipts, most of them will tell you how much you “saved” by purchasing items at a discount.

But does buying things on sale get you any closer to retirement? After all, you’re still spending money.

For the last two months of 2017, I set a goal to “save my savings.” I added up the “you saved” amounts listed on the bottom of my receipts and transferred the total to my bank account — $162.36 for November.

The more I “save” at retailers, the more my savings account balance grows. It’s that simple!

7. Challenge yourself

Many people start the new year with ambitious plans to stay on budget, but how do you make your New Year’s resolution stick? Practical money challenges can help you stay motivated to reach your goals!

I created this 12-week money challenge that’s focused on action items — not saving a specific dollar amount.

our challenge is to do one thing each week to improve your financial situation — increasing earnings, reducing spending or both — and save $1,000 or more over 12 weeks.

The best part is that you can customize this challenge with specific action items that apply to your life!

For example, if you’ve recently switched cell phone providers, plug in another challenge in that spot. Click here to print out a blank 12-week challenge to fill in yourself!

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