It's the same story every month: Once you've written out that fat check for your mortgage, made your car payment, and shelled out big bucks for countless other bills, there's scant left over for savings or life's little extras.
It's time to re-think where your money's going.
Here are painless ways to cut down on the costs that eat into your discretionary income and can help you save a bundle off your yearly expenses. Shop Smart for Groceries
We've all got to eat, so buying groceries is a non-negotiable expense. But many consumers just spend far too much for food. However, by being vigilant about buying in bulk, tapping weekly sales, joining supermarket loyalty clubs and clipping coupons, you can cut a hefty amount off your grocery bill.
One fast way to start saving is to start buying in bulk. If you're buying perishables like chicken and beef, for instance, you'll always get your best deals on larger packs and can save from 10 to 20 percent off the sale price, says Bob Shelton, a retail and consumer packaged goods consultant, who recently served as senior vice president and general manager of non-foods for Safeway, the giant supermarket chain.
Here's another tip: "Writing the purchase date on items that you buy in bulk to cut up and use now -- or repack and freeze to use later -- will prevent you from throwing away your savings after you get your food home," says Shelton.
You'll also save on buying in bulk for commodities like paper towels and toilet paper. Overall, shopping in bulk will save you from five to 10 percent on meat and produce, and 10 to 20 percent on other groceries, Shelton says, "with an average of about 10% in total."
Shopping the sales will cut your grocery bill by another five to 10 percent, Shelton says.
Supermarket sales are usually held twice a month: around the first of the month and then around the 15th, akin to pay cycles, Shelton says, so you might want to plan your shopping trips around those dates.
Signing up for supermarkets' personalized online loyalty programs, which offer discount deals based on your buying behavior, can save you another 10 to 20 percent off your most common purchases, Shelton says.
And don't forget those coupons: They only enhance the savings by an added 10 to 20 percent.
Supermarkets' core customers spend roughly $100 a week in a single shopping trip. But Shelton says you can slash that number by 35 percent or more by following these tips.
Tap Your Price-Comparison Power
Online price-comparison shopping is putting consumers in the driver's seat, empowering shoppers to get the best deals available like never before.
Take advantage of the deals by tapping comparison-shopping websites "that allow consumers to set price alerts, check store prices from mobile phones and download coupons," Sharon Banfield, a spokeswoman for PriceGrabber.com, the price comparison website, told WalletPop.
The savings can be dramatic. For instance, the average family spends about $1,725 on apparel each year, Banfield says, citing a recent Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Using an online shopping comparison website such as PriceGrabber to track the lowest prices can help consumers shave off up to $517.50 from their clothing bill every year," she says.
Say Goodbye to Your Landline Phone
Yes, you might be attached to your landline phone. But does it really pay to spend money on both your landline phone and your cell phone?
In 2010, Americans opted to eliminate their landline service in record numbers to join the 27% of households that rely exclusively on cell phones, according to Billshrink.com, a web site designed to help people minimize their bills.
"The cost of a landline can vary significantly depending on location and whether it's bundled with other services like cable or Internet," Schwark Satyavolu, CEO and co-founder of BillShrink, told WalletPop. On average, a landline costs from $20 to $50 each month, he says.
"While this is much less than the average cell phone bill, it stills adds up to $240 to $600 a year, Satyavolu says. "While there are some benefits to having a landline, if you don't use yours, consider switching to the lowest-tier plan or dropping it altogether to save hundreds each year."
Cancel Your Gym Membership and Exercise for Free
While you can't put a price on your health -- and exercise is integral to it -- gym memberships can be costly. An average gym membership ranges between $30 and $70 per month, or about $360 to $840 a year, according to research conducted by trade group The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. (And the average gym member used their club membership about 100 times in 2010, or just about twice a week, according to the IHRSA.)
But if you're like many people and don't get to the gym enough to justify your membership fees, think about discontinuing it: There are plenty of ways to exercise effectively for free -- from power walking to push ups. You don't really need a treadmill or other specialized equipment to stay in shape.
If you're thinking about eliminating your gym membership, check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Be Active Your Way" quiz on healthfinder.gov to help you find an exercise regimen tailored to your liking.
Consider Ditching Cable
The average consumer without a digital video recorder spends about $65 a month -- a whopping $780 a year -- on cable, according to recently published data from Centris, the market research firm. And DVR owners spend even more: about $82 a month, or almost $1,000 annually, on cable.
But in this age of digital media, there are myriad free and low-cost viewing options.
For instance, consider canceling your cable service and turning to streaming video websites and digital content providers to watch your broadcast network and cable shows, as well as movies. The major broadcast and cable networks -- from ABC to MTV -- all provide current TV shows for free, as do online TV sites like Hulu and TV.com.
If watching your shows online is not your thing, consider investing in a media streaming box like the Roku Digital Video Player for about $99, which allows you to stream TV shows and movies from the Internet onto your boob tube.
Or tap Netflix for about $7.99 a month to get your fix of unlimited movies.
By being a bargain-hunting shopper and cutting out the things you really don't need -- from that landline phone to the gym membership you rarely use -- you might just save enough for a mini-vacation. Bahamas, anyone?