May 14, 2013 at 1:40 PM ET
You know that old newspaper adage: "If it bleeds, it leads?"
The same is true of personal finance news: The headlines love to bleat about all of our (collective) bad money habits: "Workers Saving Too Little to Retire!" "Mortgages Underwater!" "Student Debt Crisis Looming!"
It's enough to make you want to crawl in your piggy bank and hide.
But, luckily, in addition to people cutting their expenses by $1,000 a month or paying off $15,000 of debt, there are a lot of good money trends going down. In fact, we've identified five new ways people all around us are saving: On their cell phones, their grocery bills, even their 700 (and counting!) cable channels.
Have you adopted these habits yet? We guarantee you'll be happier if you do.
We're getting rid of stupid cable channels
From 2001 to 2011, the average cable TV subscriber’s monthly bill has nearly tripled, from $48 to $128 per month. But we all know we're really only watching our favorite five channels, anyway—why should we pay for more?
The available solutions to this dilemma could save you $50 to $120 a month, depending on what you're willing to sacrifice.
The first option is a cable plan that gives you only channels you want. While larger cable providers, such as Time Warner, Verizon and Cablevision are still in the early stages of considering offering this kind of package, a company called Aereo has already put it into practice. Aereo created a remote antenna that provides service to channels such as CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC and more, for a maximum of only $80 a year. (For the record, despite cable protestations, two judges so far have ruled that the service is legal.)
Or, you could cut out cable altogether. Five million households now operate without cable services and are considered "Zero TV" households. That's only 5 percent of the U.S. population, but it's double the number that had in 2007. Their abstinence doesn't mean they're missing "Breaking Bad"—they're tuning in via Internet or cell phones, using sites such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
We're over new cars
The number of new cars purchased by Americans ages 18-34 dropped 30 percent in the last five years. In fact, we're purchasing about four fewer cars in our lifetimes than we have in the past: While it had been an industry standard to buy a new car every four to five years, the average car on the road today is 11 years old.
Americans have steadily been driving less in this same time period, beginning before the recession, due to an aging population (older people drive less), the rise of ride- or car-sharing services like Zipcar or Zimride and the increase in Internet connectivity, so people can work and socialize without stepping foot—or gas pedal—outside.
Owning a car has only gotten more expensive in the past few years. A study by AAA found that this year, people who have a basic sedan—like a Toyota Camry or a Ford Fusion—can expect to pay $9,122 for its upkeep, which is up 2 percent from last year. While not everyone has access to the easy fixes that are public transportation or carpooling, there's a simple money-saving takeaway: Hold on to that car!
RELATED: Why I Would Never Buy a New Car
We're seeing through cell phone plans
Did you know that U.S. families spend an average of $139 a month on cell phones? That's $1,668 a year, and a creep up from the $127 per month we were spending in 2009.
It's not so much the calling and texting that's the problem: When we have data, we use it, and when we use too much, we pay. It costs $10-$30 per megabyte of data past our allowance. But now, we're starting to see through those confusing cell phone bills, and spending less on your phone has become downright trendy.
There are the tried-and-true tricks for reducing data usage, like disabling push notifications, using Wi-Fi instead of 3G and consolidating phone lines into a family plan (although that isn't the right fit for everyone).
Then there's the really cool stuff: At SaveLoveGive.com, a free site started by a former Verizon employee, you plug in your phone number and the service analyzes where you're overspending. It's saved more than one user $1,000 a year, and the company estimates that 80 percent of us overspend on our cell phone bills by an average of $200 each year. How much could you save?
We're saving on food
Have you been spending less at restaurants? Most Americans are, according to a 2012 poll by Harris Interactive, which found that 71 percent of respondents choose to save money by cooking more rather than going out. A full 57 percent say they now consider dining out a luxury.
And how much can firing up the stove save you? The average restaurant meal costs about $12.28, while a home-cooked one will set you back $5.93—well under half the price of eating out. Taking into account that the average family dines out 4 to 5 times per week, that's about $2,554 per person in a year spent on eating out—in addition to grocery bills. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family of four spends $610-$1,203 per month on grocery bills, the higher end of which maxes out to $14,436 per year.
It's not hard to see the cost savings of eating in—and there are ways to save even when you eat at home. Read about how one woman saved her family $600 a month on groceries, how another regularly reduced her bill by 50-70 percent, or take our free checklist: I Want to Cut My Grocery Bill.
We're saving more for retirement
And that is reason to celebrate, considering that most Americans aren't socking away nearly enough. How can you get in on this savings trend? First, if you're not saving for retirement at all, our flow chart will show you what type of account(s) you need. If you are, but need to up the ante, try increasing your contributions by 2 percent every six months. Since your retirement savings are invested, and the interest compounds, a little increase now can lead to a big payoff later.
Need proof? Let's say you start saving $5,000 a year at age 30. With a 6 percent rate of return, you'll have $636,340.59 to retire at the age of 67. If you increased and sustained your contributions by 2 percent only once, after the first six months, you would have $649,067.41 at retirement—almost $13,000 more for a $100 increase early on.