Either way, consumers are cutting back on spending.
Along with this comes a desire to save money as well. But how? If you have a few hours to spare you can find ways to put $100 or more back into your pocket.
The money may not show up instantly, but the time and effort to create the savings is minimal. By year's end you will have saved a nice chunk of change. In some cases, your savings will keep piling up well after that.
Here are eight actions to add $100 or more to your savings:
Many people don't realize that the major cost of running a washing machine is the electricity it takes to heat the water. This accounts for 85% to 90% of the energy used.
Set your washing machine to run a cold wash/cold rinse cycle instead of a hot wash/cold rinse. This should have little impact on how clean your clothes get since washing machines and detergents have advanced enough that only the dirtiest and greasiest clothes now need a hot wash to get clean.
While a hot wash/cold rinse setting will cost about $100 to $150 a year if you do a load of laundry a day, the same number of loads with a cold wash/cold rinse setting will cost about $10 a year.
That's $100 in savings, and can be much more if you have children and do frequent wash loads. Best of all, it takes a split second to turn the knob on your washing machine to receive this savings.
Many people have grown accustomed to having some type of flavor in their drinks -- whether that be soda, fruit juice, an energy drink or something similar.
While only drinking water (of the nonbottled variety) would be the ideal way to save the most money, there is about as much chance of that happening as you never eating another snack.
But even reducing the amount you drink can save quite a bit of money over time.
Instead of saying that you can no longer have the drinks you like, a simple way to reduce the amount you consume is to make a point of drinking three glasses of water a day.
The water will reduce your cravings for your usual drink, although not eliminate it, since you'll find you're just less thirsty during the day.
If you can cut out three drinks a week that usually cost $1, you have saved over $150 a year for the minute or so it takes to fill three glasses of water each day.
The Internet has leveled the playing field when shopping for such things as auto insurance and homeowners insurance.
All it takes is a few minutes of inputting information to see if you can get a better deal. Since it's such a competitive field, you can often save hundreds a year -- especially if you haven't checked prices recently.
Many people scoff at coupons because of the time it takes to gather and organize them.
Then there's the obvious nerdiness factor.
Truth is, even if you aren't the coupon-clipping type, you can still save quite a bit with them.
All it takes is five minutes to look at the ones that come with the Sunday paper, in the daily mail and any others that you happen across.
Cut out only those for the products that you already use and will purchase again and don't bother with any others. It only takes $2 each week in coupon savings to save more than $100 a year. When you think of all the coupons that go beyond groceries (pizza, oil change, haircut, etc.) it should be easy to save much more than this with little time or effort.
While most people don't take the time to do it, virtually all the services you currently pay for are negotiable, including your cable TV, gym membership, phone bill and Internet service. While asking for a better deal may not work with all of these all of the time, you will get a discount a lot more times than you probably imagine.
All it takes is a 10-minute call to each service. If you can negotiate a $10 a month discount on each, that comes to $480 a year in savings for a few phone calls. It will probably end up being a lot more.
While you're on the phone, be sure to make a call to your credit card company if you currently carry a balance on your credit card.
Many people don't realize that all it takes to lower your credit card interest rate in many cases is a simple phone call asking. A 2002 study found that over half the people who had good credit and called their credit card company to get a better interest rate were able to do so with the average person reducing the rate by one-third.
If you have a $5000 balance at 21% interest and were able to knock that down to 14%, you would save $350 a year. The 15-minute call will also knock years off the time it would take to pay the debt off.
You have a lot more stuff stored in your house than you will ever need or use.
A quick check of your closets, basement, garage and other nooks and crannies should produce boxes of stuff that you own, but no longer have any use for.
Instead of keeping them in perpetual storage, sell it all. You can do it online through sites like eBayEBAY or Craigslist, or have a garage sale and get rid of it all at once.
The basic guideline: If you haven't used something for the last year, you will probably never use it again.
Selling all this will keep your house less cluttered and will also bring in well over $100 in most cases.
With interest rates at the lowest level in years, it's time to see if refinancing your home loan (or any outstanding loan you have) is worthwhile.
Knocking off a point can save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan.
Even if you have a nonconforming loan -- or jumbo loan -- which made it difficult to refinance in the past, this soon may no longer be the case.
As part of the economic stimulus package that President Bush says he will sign into law this week, conforming loans that are backed by the Federal Housing Administration will increase to a $729,750 limit from $417,000.
Since nonconforming loans usually carry a higher interest rate, this will allow some with jumbo loans to refinance into a conforming loan.
While the difference in interest rates vary, a conforming loan can be a full percentage point less expensive since it is backed by the government.
A jumbo 30-year fixed loan that was 6.75% before the law, for example, would have a payment of $3,892 a month. Once enacted, the buyer would be able to obtain the same loan of $600,000 at an interest rate of 5.75%.
The monthly payment would be $3,502 which would save the borrower $390 a month, or $4,680 a year.
While refinancing is a bit more complicated than the other saving methods and will take a bit more time to complete all the necessary work, the amount saved per year is huge and thus well worth the effort.
Note: To make the savings last, you need to set the money aside that you save after completing the above tasks.
If you merely congratulate yourself for saving money, but don't separate the money into another account, it will likely be spent on other things and the savings will never materialize.
—For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.