Are you scratching your head at the end of each month, wondering how your bills soared that high, or where your “extra” money went? Do you daydream about a secure financial future, or think wistfully about what you would do if you had all the money you have spent loosely over the years?
Cease pondering, stop dreaming, and vow to start doing something about your finances, today. No matter how deep your personal financial quicksand, or how many money missteps you’ve taken, you can both learn from the past and take constructive action going forward. Get started with the ways to save money shared here. Sure, you may wish you had this tips earlier… but you have them now, and that’s all it takes to move forward to a rosier financial future.
Build better relationships.
Talk to your bank. Are you receiving the lowest possible interest rate on loans? What about your mortgage? Are you carrying extra insurance, or does your current policy fit your needs? If you have credit card debt, does your bank know your plans to pay off that debt? When was the last time you talked to the free financial advisor your bank likely has on staff? Proactive clients with long-term relationships with a particular institution can often negotiate better deals and rates. Some banks offer incentives for “house holding,” or consolidating assets, insurance, and other services with them. You won’t know what’s possible until you talk to them, so pick up the phone regularly.
Cultivate friendships for free. Literally. Skip weekends with your pals at the movies, expensive brunches, or out-of-town trips. Instead, link up for a day at a beach or park, or a drive to explore a nearby town that no one has actually spent time in. Local fairs and festivals are fun choices for groups with varying financial considerations–those who want to spend more, can, but those on a strict budget can still enjoy the day, environment, and perhaps a well-chosen treat.
Reign in your family. Already stressed about holiday gift-giving and the associated price tag? Make a pact with your family that no gift will exceed a certain monetary limit, and encourage homemade items or gifts of service. Those will small children would likely appreciate a free day or two of babysitting, for instance, while those with pets might value a guaranteed pet sitter during their next out-of-town trip. I’d bet anyone would enjoy having cleaning or chores done around their home.
Court the old fashioned way. Our most romantic moments rarely have anything to do with money. So, why is your dating life centered around how much money you spend on your partner? Picnics, walks, and surprise gestures don’t take a lot of cash–they take thought, time, and effort, which are worth so much more.
Talk to your friends and family. Be upfront about the fact that you are on a budget, and that you are committed to making it work. While you don’t have to get specific, making them aware of your ambition will save feelings when you decline invitations that don’t fit your budget. Better yet, they may think of creative and cheaper ways to spend time together.
Take pet care into your own hands. No more trips to the fancy doggy spa. Now, you bathe and groom your pooch yourself. Invest in a pair of clippers, soap, and other minimal tools, then prepare to lather, rinse, repeat.
Make gifts yourself. Homemade gifts show a thoughtfulness that store-bought items simply can’t equal. Mature adults recognize that the gift of time is truly the most precious of all, and will appreciate your gift even more. You will appreciate the fact that assembling your own goods will save a great deal of money, come the holiday season.
Evolve your entertainment options.
Read. Not only is a book cheaper than a movie, reading also boosts brain power, productivity, and can infuse you with creative ideas. Consider forming a book club with friends for another low-cost social option. Bonus points for choosing reading material that enhances professional skills, potentially leading to new or increased sources of income.
Better yet, read books from the library. Remember the library? That place where you spent time as a child is still there, and it’s still free. You already pay for it when you paid your taxes, so why not enjoy it? Modern libraries also offer DVDs, internet access, popular magazines, and family events.
Ditch the cable subscription. How many of those channels do you actually watch? Likely only a handful. Get the shows you love from Netlix or a similar vendor and cut both costs and time wasted by commercials. If it’s new and you have to see it, get it from RedBox for a dollar and some change.
Turn off the television entirely. Doing so cuts your electric bill, removes commercial temptation to spend, and frees you up to pursue other activities. It may take a few days to find other ways to unwind, but the rewards are worth it.
Shop smart, eat smart.
Only go grocery shopping with a list. Bonus tip: never go grocery shopping while you’re hungry. Numerous studies show that shopping sans plan, while hungry, is the fastest way to break the bank with unintended purchases.
Embrace your inner Iron Chef. We waste hundreds of dollars each year when we throw out spoiled, rotten food. Make a habit of regularly scouring your pantry and fridge, and actually using all that stuff that’s about to expire. If the same items keep making their way to your “use or lose” dinners, stop buying them.
Get excited about leftovers. Wasteful cooking is wasteful spending. Plus, cooking in bulk saves money. Get accustomed to preparing leftovers, and stock up on items like spices, cheeses, and other disguises that freshen them up that second time around…and the third.
Pay attention to expiration dates. Households waste hundreds of dollars each year on food that is thrown out. If you’re going out of town in a few days, skip the milk at the store so it doesn’t go to waste. When you do buy perishables, reach to the back to get your hands on items that expire later.
Stash snacks in your car. Doing so will free you from the temptation of a drive-thru window when rush hour keeps you on the road, or when that lunch you skipped makes your blood sugar crash at the end of a long day. You’re also more likely to eat a healthy, budget-friendly meal in the evening if you don’t walk in the door starving.
Forego alcohol, cigarettes, and other expensive habits. Your health will thank you, and so will your wallet. Even occasional indulgences add up over time.
Compare grocery stores. Consider not only the store’s standard selection, but also the frequency of sales and sale items, and gas and time to get to the store. Shopping at several stores may result in the lowest possible grocery bill.
Go generic. Many retailers offer store brands that are significantly discounted from the name brand items. Get in the habit of purchasing these product lines whenever possible. The quality is comparable but the savings can be huge.
Plan by sales. Grocery stores often post weekly specials. A quick scan of your store’s weekly flyer will tell you what is in season and, therefore, lower in price, as well as clue you in to sales, discounts, and promotional offers. Plan your meals around the sale items and what you have on hand, and watch your food bill decrease.
Stock up immediately following a holiday. Everything from cards to wrapping materials and decorative items is cheaper immediately following the holiday. Think beyond Christmas and Thanksgiving, and head for the stores in the days following any holiday for which you send a card (Mother’s Day, Valentines Day, and so on) for deep discounts.
Use technology and gadgets to your advantage.
Set up an “offers only” email account. Use it to sign up for every rewards program you can, from that coffee shop you frequent weekly to the specialty grocer across town you only see occasionally. Over time, those perks and rewards will add up.
Sewing machines are cool. Why? Because they save you money! Every time a button pops off, a strap pulls loose, or a hem tears, you simply set it up and go to town. No more tailoring or alterations bills, or ditching of clothing due to damage. Now, you can make your wardrobe last.
Install a programmable thermostat. Some models even allow you to set different temperatures during the day and night, meaning you’ll be comfortable when you’re home but not paying to cool or heat a space that no one is in during the day. If you’re not sure what the ideal temperature is for your abode, call the manufacturer of your heating and cooling units and pose the question to them.
Take banking online. You’ll save a stamp and gas to get to the post office if you have to. You can also pay bills in the middle of the cycle and keep careful watch over every transaction, which means no more late or overdraft fees.
Unplug. Turn lights off before you leave. Keep doors and windows closed while the air conditioning is running, and turn it up a few degrees if you won’t be home. Unplug chargers and other devices that suck energy when not in use. Better yet, do all of these things and watch your energy bill hit rock bottom.
Run ceiling fans. Running ceiling fans counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter can lower both your cooling and heating bills. The rotation disperses cooled or heated air, meaning less energy is required to establish and maintain the desired temperature in the space. Don’t know how to change the direction on your fan? Get up on a ladder and take a look–most have a switch on the side–or call the manufacturer directly.
Give your dryer a rest. Your dryer requires electricity, which can raise your utility bill sky high. Keep the bill in check by doing a bit o’ good for the environment by drying your clothes on a rack or line. Folding drying racks can be found at any home goods or superstore. Or, hang a rod and line with materials readily found at hardware stores.
Invest in “smart” power strips. If you use a computer at home, or run multiple devices like a laptop, printer, stereo, and so on from your desk, this item is a must have. The power strip focuses power usage on the devices you’re actually using, reducing the energy sent to the others and negating “phantom charge.” While some consider unplugging energy from gadgets you’re not actually using to be a waste of time, consider that the charges aren’t so “phantom” when they show up on your bill.
Get fit for free. Paying each month for a gym membership or classes at a local club? Say good-bye to the bill and start walking or running in your neighborhood. Or, spend one month’s membership on a few free weights, exercise ball, bands, or an ab roller from a superstore, and purchase benefits that last beyond 30 days.
Shop used items first. Clothing, sporting goods, furniture, household goods, and a host of other items can often be found in good condition on community boards, newspaper classifieds, or through online hubs such as Craigslist. Get in the habit of looking for gently used items before you shell out full price for a new one.
Brown bag it. Bringing your lunch to work each day will save you hundreds each month, not to mention you’ll be able to spend that precious break in a manner you actually enjoy, with food that nourishes and you can afford–sounds like a pretty good break!
Streamline your wardrobe. Pay a reasonable price for quality, sturdy classics, then mix and match them. You may not be sporting the shirt on the cover of this month’s fashion magazines, but you will be classy, tasteful, and dressed in a way you can afford, which is always in style.
Drive by the rules. Tickets can cost a small fortune in some states, so avoid them by driving within the speed limit and obeying other regulations. Your gas mileage will thank you, too.
Garden. Whether it’s a single planter with basic herbs on a windowsill, pots of tomatoes on your porch, or an extensive in-ground plot, gardening will cut your produce bill. Having plants around may also reduce stress and improve the overall quality of your living environment, cutting doctor’s bills and the need for that stress-busters class you pay for each week.
Reuse, recharge, recycle
Save grocery bags. They’re the perfect size for small trash cans in a guest room or bathroom, or to pick up pet poop or collect diapers in a nursery. You paid for them, might as well use them.
Buy rechargeable batteries. They will save you money, especially for families with kids’ toys, or people with power tools. Remember to unplug your charger when not in use.
Barter. Have a sweater you’re over but that babysitting neighbor always compliments? Do you cook, but the handy man down the street doesn’t? Talk to service providers about bartering; with taxes continuing to soar, many are open to the idea. Make a short list of items you would be willing to barter and negotiate them out of your home to clear clutter for a good cause.
Avoid cards with annual or usage fees. If you have to pay to play, that card isn’t that good of a deal. These days, there are a number of cards that offer no annual fee. Attracted to a particular card but they do charge an annual fee? Call them, and ask for it to be waived. If you threaten to go with a competing lender who doesn’t charge, they just may be open to helping you out.
Get your coupon on. Coupons are, quite literally, free money. It’s worth it to sit with a circular for a few minutes each week and clip those you think you’ll use. For extra savings, combine coupons with regular store sales.
Remove your card from any stored shopping accounts. Entering your card number every time you shop online forces to think about your purchase. Taking the time to type it in means you will have to decide the purchase is worth it, reducing the chances of spending unnecessarily. Not storing cards also keeps them more secure.
Ride share. Always drive yourself? Consider teaming up with a friend during weekend outings, or better yet, find a coworker who can help your commute. You’ll save money in gas, mileage-based insurance and, over time, vehicle maintenance.
Keep a piggy bank. Every penny you lose is a penny that could be spent reducing debt, contributed to an emergency fund, or otherwise constructively employed. Keep track of them and give yourself a visually encouraging boost with a loose change jar in an easily accessible location. Decide how you’ll use the money before you toss in the coins, and delight at how quickly it adds up.
Save automatically. Divert part of your paycheck directly into your savings account. Some employers allow paychecks to be deposited into multiple accounts. If yours does, designate a sustainable percentage to go to savings. Not sure what you can reasonably put aside? Start with a set amount, such as $50 (the minimum to open an account at many banks) or even $100. At the end of your pay period, evaluate how much, if at all, you miss that amount. Dedicate raises and bonuses directly to savings.
Make mature choices
Accept that a car is only a piece of sheet metal. You don’t need one with bat wings and 10 speeds. You need one with a good safety rating and good fuel economy, one that your insurance company won’t charge a fortune to insure. You don’t need a truck unless you need to haul things; you don’t need a sports car unless you are a street racing driver. Take emotions out of the car buying equation, and make practical choices you can afford.
Take advantage of the stuff your taxes paid for. Public transportation, community events and educational classes, and public parks are in existence because your taxpayer dollars funded them. Enjoy the places, people, and opportunities you’ve already funded.
Live where you can afford to. This doesn’t just mean a part of town. To make your budget work, perhaps you should consider a new town, state, or even region. “Fun” places are only fun to live in if you can afford to do fun stuff there. You might be surprised by how relaxing you find any location, once you’re free of money woes.
Do the required maintenance on your home, car, and anything else you own. While it’s a pain at the time, adhering to the recommended maintenance schedule will drastically increase the lifespan of cars, lawnmowers, tractors, anything with an engine. In some cases, such as your vehicle, regular maintenance can prevent costly problems and keep you safe. When it comes to assets such as your home, regular maintenance preserves their value.
Stay focused. Saving for something specific? Keep your eye on the prize, literally, by placing photos of the items or notes with a keyword on your wallet and near your computer. Tempted to peruse the world wide web for some spontaneous, pajama-clad retail therapy? Halt! Take a look at the picture–what you’re saving for is much more satisfying than any spontaneous purchase.
If the first 49 don’t completely cut the proverbial mustard, remember there is another sure-fire way to save more money:
Earn more money. If you’re serious about boosting your reserves, you may need another job. Devote time to finding new sources of income every day, or cultivating skills that allow you to pick up a gig here and there from home. No task is too small or menial, and every penny adds up. Dog walker? You can do that. Babysitter? Every family needs one. Driver for Uber, ghostwriter, transcriptionist, or tutor? If you’ve got the skills, use ’em, and cash in.
Hungry for more ways to save money? Check out these 10 Easy Ways You Can Save Money Tonight.
Featured photo credit: Clipped Coupons With Scissors 3/Chris Potter via flickr.com