I’ve seen plenty of articles written on ways to save money. I’ve got a few problems with the average “X ways to save money” list, though. First, a lot of the suggestions are just down-right disgusting. I’m sorry, but no matter how badly I want to save a little bit of extra money this month, I don’t want to switch to reusable diapers.
Second, most of the lists provide the same, boring tips, over and over again. While many of those tips are valid, they’re rarely presented in a way that actually helps you understand how to implement them effectively. Which brings me to my third point – few of them are actionable, and even fewer are designed to help you track your improvements and inch towards true progress.
Sure, if you’ve read articles like this before you’ll find that I’ve got a number of similar suggestions to those you’ve already read. But I’m going to present them in a logical, actionable order. I suggest you print this list out and cross each one off as you implement it.
That won’t work for all of the items, though – like packing your lunch, drinking water, or making sure you keep your tank full.
So, here’s how to use this guide the most efficiently:
- Start with the “things you can do today” and implement them.
- Move on to “things you can do this week” and implement those, too
- Go through all of the “things you can do this month” and put them into practice
- Cross off anything that’s “once and done” such as cancelling newspaper subscriptions, magazine subscriptions, and cable
- Proceed to the sections “spend now, save later” and “lifestyle changes” – prioritize anything that you can afford to take care of right away, and plan on implementing anything else that might require some time and effort
- Review the list weekly, making sure that you’re staying on course and maintaining good habits.
If you do this, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll start saving anywhere from $100 to $2,500 a month (or more, although that would surprise even me!).
- Cancel your newspaper subscriptions – newspaper subscriptions are entirely unnecessary. You have the internet, and the same articles and features are probably available for free.
- Cancel your magazine subscriptions – just like newspapers, this stuff is available online. You might have to find new, web-based publications to replace hobbyist and niche publications, but they’re out there. There’s even a forum dedicated to being a pizza delivery guy.
- Stop paying for cable – the cost of cable is just absolutely insane. With sites like YouTube, Hulu, and Crackle, you can get your mind-numbing entertainment for free on your computer. With Hulu+, or Netflix, you can stream an unlimited amount of movies and TV shows for as little as $8 a month.
- Say no to Starbucks – I hate to say it, but you should know better. If you’re buying a $5 drink every day, you’re spending a lot of money. Even $1.25 is too much for coffee. Just make your own and bring it to work in a thermos. Folgers really isn’t that bad.
- Pack your lunch – if you’re buying lunch every day at work, you’re spending a lot of money. Just start packing your lunch, and you’ll cut your expenses down drastically.
- Drink water – if you’re used to buying gallons of iced tea, sweet drinks, or juice, you’re used to spending a ton of money at the grocery store. They’re even more expensive at restaurants. Learn to love drinking water and you’ll not only save a few bucks, but you’ll improve your health, too.
- Ask for a discount wherever you go – I used to know a guy who sold cars. He joked that people don’t negotiate when buying a gallon of milk, so why should they negotiate when buying a car? I “negotiated” on the next gallon of milk I bought. The clerk checked their circular and found a coupon. Ask for a discount wherever you are and no matter what you’re purchasing, and it will add up.
- Stop carrying excessive amounts of cash – I can’t tell you how much money you’re going to save when you stop carrying cash (and credit cards and debit cards). You’ll prevent yourself from making impulse purchases, which could add up.
- Loose change pickle jars – I also can’t tell you how much money you’ll save by keeping a jar near the front door and emptying your spare change into it when you get home. After a month or two, you should have at least $20, though.
- Stop paying the idiot tax – if you play the lottery, you’re throwing your money away. Sure, it’s fun once in a while, but if you make a habit out of it you’re spending at least $15 a month, and probably a lot more.
- Always search for coupon, discount, or promo codes when shopping online – you’ll save a ton of money if you stop before completing your order and search the internet for discount codes. For instance, if you’re buying something on Amazon.com, stop and search Google for “Amazon.com coupon codes” – right now I see about ten, ranging from $5 off to 10% off your entire order.
Things You Can Do This Week
- Shop your insurance rates – If you haven’t shopped your insurance providers for a while, you’re probably overpaying. Your provider isn’t motivated to tell you when you qualify for new discounts, and many have policies that prevent you from taking advantage of the best discounts without opening a new policy. The same is true for homeowners insurance, renters insurance, and plenty of others. Get on the phone (or online) and start shopping your rates this week.
- Reduce your insurance coverage – what’s your deductible? What kind of coverage do you actually have? Do you even need all of it? Make sure you adjust your coverage amounts to what you really need, and you’ll save big time.
- Negotiate your cell phone bill – This will only work if you aren’t locked into a two year contract. Get on the phone with your cell phone provider either way, though. Even if you can’t negotiate the rate, you can reduce the level of service you receive and save some serious change.
- Negotiate your internet bill – you might have to tell them you’re going to cancel your program, and they’re going to play hardball, but if you spend enough time working at it you could have your rate reduced. In some cases, they may even throw in a month or two of free service.
- Negotiate interest rates on credit cards and loans – How much are you spending on interest every month? Are you making all of your credit card and loan payments on time? If so, get on the horn and ask for lower rates. If they tell you it’s not possible, tell them you’ll just pay the whole balance off in full – that’s not what they want! They need you to keep paying interest in order to profit.
- Stop paying for bottled water – If you drink water regularly, you should stop buying bottled water. You can pick up a self-filtering bottle, or get a filter on your tap at home and save plenty of money.
- Stop buying paper towels ($10 to $50 per month) – the larger your family is, the more money you’re spending on paper towels, and they’re expensive! Save the environment and your cash by replacing them with towels. You can pick up a few for the same cost as a month’s worth of paper towels.
- Use powdered drink mixes – depending on how many gallons of juice or tea you’re drinking, you could save a lot of money by mixing your own.
- Maximize employee matches to retirement funds – this isn’t going to give you more liquid cash every month, but if you’re not making contributions to the point where you’re maximizing employer matches, you’re leaving money on the table.
- Plan efficient routes for necessary errands – you won’t waste as much gas. Load up Google maps and plan the most efficient route possible.
- Keep your tank full – Fill your tank before it hits half-full. You’ll save in two ways: your fuel pump works more efficiently when your tank is full, helping you get more MPGs. It’s also less likely to die from being overworked. Don’t forget to keep your tires properly inflated, too.
Things You Can Do This Month
- Refinance your auto loan – this is especially appropriate if you had bad credit when you got the loan. Credit unions offer the best rates.
- Refinance your mortgage – this works for the same reasons listed above.
- Learn to check sites like craigslist.org or freecycle.org before buying things – anything that you could buy second hand could be available on craigslist.org or freecycle.org for free. If not, you can probably find it much cheaper.
- Use your online banks automatic bill pay to avoid late fees – paying late fees is just crazy. Even if you have the money, though, you might just forget (I’m notorious for procrastinating). With automatic bill pay, you’ll never pay another late fee again.
Spend Now, Save Later
- Upgrade to a tankless water heater – also known as “on demand” water heaters. They reduce the energy expenses associated with keeping a full tank of water heated, and as an added bonus, ensure you always have hot water.
- Switch to CFL or LED light bulbs – they’re super efficient. LED bulbs last the longest and are the most expensive. CFL’s are a nice middle ground, providing similar savings to LED’s with a lower up-front investment.
- Install motion sensors instead of light switches – instead of remembering to turn lights off as you go from room to room, install motion sensors that can do the job for you.
- Upgrade your thermostat – switch to a learning thermostat that can automatically adjust the temperature based on when you’re home, and you’ll save big money. Also, stop keeping it so hot in the winter and just throw on a sweater.
- Upgrade your insulation – when was the insulation in your home installed? What’s the u-factor on your windows? They could be inefficient, allowing hot and cold air to escape your home, increasing your utility expenses.
- Buy gifts year round – instead of buying gifts when you need to, keep your eye open for sales on things that would make great gifts. This is especially helpful if you have children in your life.
- Assess the true cost of childcare – while many of the items on this list would make for good articles, this is the one that would benefit from it the most. If you’re living with your partner and both of you work, take a good long look at how much you’re bringing home after paying for childcare. You may find that it makes sense for one of you to quit your job and ditch the childcare.
- Ditch the car payment – if you’re stuck with a car payment now, you’ll have to wait to implement this one. Buy used cars with cash and ride them until the wheels fall off. Put some of the money you save into a “future car fund” and only pay in cash to avoid interest fees on loans. Hondas and Toyotas are commonly recognized as the most reliable vehicles on the road.
- No more pets – if you have a pet now, this won’t help that much. Commit to having no more pets and you’ll save a ton of money on food and vet fees.
- Learn to make your own household cleaning products – vinegar is an amazing resource and can serve as an all-purpose cleaner. There are plenty of other cleaners you can replace with home-made alternatives, too.
- Get a roommate (or rent a room to someone else) – if you live by yourself, or have a house that’s big enough to allow you to rent out an extra room, you can reduce your living expenses by a few hundred dollars a month. Split the utilities to maximize your savings.
- Stop shopping for designer brands – go to the thrift store or by store-brand clothing whenever possible. You’ll save a lot of money.
- Stop going to big chain grocery stores – they’re overpriced. Aldi’s is an international discount grocery store, and most of their products come from the same plants as the name brands you love. You can feed a family of four with less than $100 a week shopping there.
- Only go to the grocery store after eating, and with a list – if you’re hungry you’re likely to buy more. If you don’t have a list, you’ll fall victim to impulse buys. Shop after eating dinner and only buy what’s on your list.
- Shop your cupboards before shopping the store – before you even head out to the grocery store, take inventory. You may have enough at home to provide meals for a few days.
- Learn to stockpile foodstuffs – whenever you find great sales stock up. This will reduce trips to the grocery store (saving you time and fuel) and also maximize your savings.
- Switch to generic brands whenever possible – I like Digiorno pizzas, but I found that Giant has a pizza that’s identical – and about 1/3rd of the cost. There are plenty of other examples, but I’m sure I don’t have to list them.
- Develop a dining menu – know what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Know what snacks you plan on eating. Stick to the menu to avoid eating through your stock before scheduled.
- Reduce your consumption of meat – meat is expensive. Find vegetarian alternatives, and you could save anywhere from $50 to $100 a month.
- Eat leftovers – a few containers can go a long way when it comes to saving money. Don’t throw food away – it’s like flushing money down the toilet.
- Never buy another book – go to the library or check project Gutenberg, instead.
- Buy clothing off-season – need a new coat? By it in the spring. Need a new bathing suit? Buy it in the fall. They’re on sale, because the retailer needs to liquidate their inventory and make room for the next season’s expensive clothing.
- Stop using credit cards – they enable impulse buys and the interest is too expensive.
- Learn to love extreme couponing – I’m sure you heard of this before. Some people can buy a week’s worth of groceries for $4. While I can’t imagine being that “extreme” learning how to use coupons efficiently can save a ton of money.
- Develop a budget and stick to it – know what money is coming in and what needs to go out. Budget a line item for entertainment, and one for an emergency fund. Everything else goes into your savings account.
- Pay yourself first – budget a line item for paying yourself, first. This guarantees that you build a savings, no matter how long it takes.
- Stop smoking, drinking coffee, drinking, and doing other drugs – I shouldn’t need to mention this at all, but plenty of people imbibe. Give up these habits and you’ll save a ton of money.
- Go to bed earlier – instead of keeping the lights on all night, turn them off and get to bed. You’ll save some cash.
- Cancel your gym memberships – jog or ride a bicycle instead. Gym memberships are almost always overpriced, and most people who have them don’t even use them.
- Grow your own vegetables – you won’t save a ton of money, but you’ll eat healthier and reduce your produce costs. You can also sell some of the extra vegetables or give them away as gifts.
- Learn to can your vegetables – canning is popular among homesteaders and frugal-living experts. You can take all of the extra produce your garden produces and save it for a virtually indefinite period of time.
- Grow your own flowers – they make great gifts, and you won’t have to buy them at the grocery store. This is especially easy to do if you’re already growing your own vegetables.
- Make your own greeting cards – greeting cards are expensive. You can find free templates online and print them at home for pennies. A similar, less-personal card from the department store is going to run $1 or more.