Image: Man stretching a dollar bill © PM Images, Getty Images

Some money-saving advice requires substantial work for not much savings.

Take, for example, hanging your clothes out to dry. Yes, it makes clothes smell great and is better for the environment than using the dryer. But, no, you're not going to save a ton of money. (Trent Hamm over at Simple Dollar figured that he saved about a buck a load.)

I like my dollar-stretching advice to do a lot more stretching than that -- even if it requires a little more effort. Use the following 12 suggestions (one for each month) as  a guide to stretching your bucks. Plus, I've included some of the best things to buy each month based on typical sales cycles, courtesy of Consumer Reports.


Ditch your bank. Monthly service fees are rising, and it's getting harder to avoid them. The average minimum balance needed to avoid fees soared $856 in 2012 to a whopping $4,447, according to a survey of 100 banks by Only 25% of big banks examined by the U.S. Public Interest Group still offered free checking.

If you can't ditch the fees, ditch the bank. USPIRG found that 60% of smaller banks still offered free checking. Online banks such as ING Direct, FNBO, Ally and others don't have monthly fees or minimum-balance requirements. Most large credit unions still offer free checking without minimum-balance requirements, as well.


Liz Weston

Liz Weston

Try a "no spending" month. Need to pay off debt, boost your savings or just take a break from consumerism? Vow to spend money only on essentials for one month. (February makes a good choice, since it's short.) MSN Money readers who tried this experiment several years ago saved $200 to $400 by eating in, finding free entertainment and staying away from retail stores and sites.


Take advantage of your flexible spending account. Most large employers offer these accounts, which allow you to put aside pretax money to pay medical or child-care expenses. Unfortunately, most workers fail to take advantage of FSAs because they fear the "use it or lose it" requirement -- you lose any cash you fail to spend by the end of the FSA plan year. However, that actually happens to only 4% of participants, so quell your fears and put at least a few hundred bucks in your FSA.


Get the full match. Tax time can make you painfully aware of the need to shelter more of your income from Uncle Sam, and there are few better ways to do that than by contributing to a workplace retirement plan. If your company offers a match -- and most large-company plans do -- you should be contributing enough to get the entirety of that free money. If you're worried about missing the money from your paycheck, start by increasing your contribution by just 1% or 2%. Ratchet it up in a few months or the next time you get a raise.


Get a better credit card. If you're carrying a balance, look for a low-rate balance-transfer offer that can help you get that debt paid off. If you pay in full every month, make sure your rewards program is still rewarding, since many get watered down as time passes. Your rewards should be worth at least 1% of your spending; many of the best cards today offer twice that, plus they tend to offer generous sign-up bonuses. NerdWallet offers regular reviews of the best rewards cards in various categories (travel, cash back, etc.).


Audit your energy use. The average U.S. household spends $2,500 a year on utilities, including natural gas, electricity, fuel oil and water, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You might spend a lot more if you live in a location that gets really cold or really hot. A do-it-yourself home energy audit can help you identify some upgrades that could slash your bills by up to 30%, according to the Department of Energy. (Find energy-saving tips on the website.)


Shop for office supplies. If you don't have school-age kids, you may not realize how deeply office supplies are discounted during back-to-school sales -- or how early those sales begin. You can get copy paper, pens, tape, markers and other supplies for a fraction of what they would cost the rest of the year.


Review automatic purchases. Automatic bill payments are a convenient, secure way to ensure you never incur a late fee or damage your credit scores. But no spending should be entirely automatic. You could be wasting a small fortune on a gym membership you're not using, subscriptions you're not reading or games you're not playing. Internet, television and phone bills may have crept upward without your noticing. Take a few minutes to sit down with your bank and credit card statements to make sure you're getting enough value for your money.

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