I’ve decided that it’s time for me to add my own “Ways to Save” list to the oceans of other lists on the Internet.
You see, I have a philosophy when it comes to saving. Go for the easiest and most effective methods first. Then focus on making more money, while optimizing more savings in here and there.
You could spend a lifetime constantly optimizing and penny-pinching your expenses. But after a certain point, there is very little you can do without either destroying your health, destroying your happiness, destroying your time, or all 3! That’s a lot of destruction! And if you think frugality and money have no correlation, go out and eat the cheapest noodles you can find for the next year and then tell me how you feel.
But there’s a lot you can save before reaching frupidity. I mean, there’s no use trying to make more money yet if you’re not able to handle the money you already have.
So here are the simplest and most effective ways that I’d use to save money right off the bat before anything else:
15 Of My Favorite Ways To Save Money
1. Track Your Expenses Each Month
This one is #1 for a reason. What you measure, improves.
So here’s the easiest way to use this strategy.
- If you haven’t already, make an account with Personal Capital (it’s free!).
- Connect all your accounts to it (checking, savings, credit cards, investment accounts – everything).
- Let it track your expenses for at least a month.
- Once a month (put it on your Google Calendar or on your phone), take an hour or so to go through each of your expenses.
– Go to the “Banking” tab, click on “Cash Flows”, and then click on “Expense” at the top right. This will gather expenses from all your accounts. I like to go through and make sure I know what each expense is and then re-categorize them if needed.
- Once you’ve accounted for each expense and categorized them as you see fit, go to the top of the page and look at what your biggest expenses are.
- Set goals for the next month and brainstorm ways to lower each category. Make it a game! I keep a spreadsheet where I track the month, how much I spent, and ideas for spending less the next month. I wouldn’t go crazy in your first month – just pick one or two of the bigger ideas and work on those.
Tracking your expenses this way provides two benefits. One – you become more involved with your finances. And two – you slowly and consciously work-in habits each month to save you money. If you spent $250 on eating out last month, make it a goal to spend less than $225 this month. Slow and steady wins the race.
It’s a once-a-month thing, practically all automated for you, so what are you waiting for?!
2. Cut or Reduce Those Pesky Recurring Fees
If you haven’t heard of passive income, it’s when you put in a lot of work of front, and then continue getting money for it down the road. Like writing a book or selling an online course. You do the work, put it out in the world, and make money over and over. That’s the idea at least.
We’re going to reverse this idea into passive savings. You put in work once in the beginning and then save month after month.
For example, could you get rid of your cable if it meant saving X dollars each month? Or at least lower your subscription.
Maybe you don’t need high-speed internet if it’s just you and your spouse and all you do is browse social media. How about your phone bill? Or your paid Spotify subscription? And please oh please, stop renting your modem and router. Buy them yourself and they’ll pay for themselves in less than a year.
Use tip #1 to figure out what expenses come up each month. Then take an hour or two to call around and either cancel services you don’t need, downgrade, or get a better deal on those things that you need. Which leads to my next tip…
3. Shop Around For Insurance
This kind of goes with #2, but since insurance can be a little bigger, I decided to make sure it stands out in its own category. It’s easy to choose a type of insurance or an insurance company and then just forget about it. However, based on your history and current circumstances, it’s probably worth it to shop around.
I took a whole Saturday morning to shop around for car and renters insurance a few months ago. Mainly because I had a lot of questions about the two, but I actually ended up saving $100-$200.
With employer-sponsored health care, you’ll have to wait until your renewal date, but if you and your spouse don’t have much of a history going to the doctor’s office, you may find it better to take a shared or high-deductible plan (although having children would definitely warrant better insurance).
Some insurance companies may have safe-driver programs whereas yours might not. If you have insurances with different companies, it might be cheaper to bundle them. With bigger recurring fees like insurance, don’t just take them for granted. Do the work upfront that can save you money down the road.
4. Automate Paying Your Bills
This also belongs to the family of “passive savings.” If any of your expenses involve late fees (and even if they don’t), you need to do the work upfront and automate your bills!
Automate your credit card payments so you’re never late! I still check up on my account every couple weeks or so to make sure everything looks right, but not having to worry about overdue payments is such a stress-reliever.
If you can, automate your rent/mortgage payments. Your utilities. Even the money that goes into your investment accounts! By automating these payments, you cut down on late fees and make sure that you’re saving rather than blowing all of your money.
5. Be Accountable To Spouse For Expenses
Telling people what to do with their spouse in regards to money can be a touchy subject, so this is just something my wife and I do and if you’d like to try it, be my very welcome guest. (If you don’t have a spouse, maybe you can do this with a family member or friend – it’ll just be harder to ensure accountability).
First of all, we’ve both sat down and talked about our financial goals. This means that we’re on the same page – very important.
We have a joint account, and we’ve agreed that if we want to buy anything “extra,” we have to ask the other person if it’s ok.
I’m not talking about getting a sandwich or the occasional something for a certain someone’s chocolate addiction (although we both feel pretty guilty even for doing that). I’m talking about expenses above maybe $10.
Having to ask the other person helps:
- Give us time in between the impulse to buy and the purchase to really think about it
- Give the spouse the chance to talk the other out of it
If it’s still something one of us wants, then we usually agree to think about it for a week or two. This has prevented a lot of stupid purchases (although a few slip in every once in awhile).
6. Shop Somewhere Cheaper
Where we live, there is a huge difference in prices between the local Safeway/Giant, the Super Walmart, and Aldi’s.
Aldi’s is by far the cheapest, with Super Walmart a close second, and Safeway/Giant is the most expensive. Aldi’s is a little farther away, so we only go there when we have a big list of stuff to get. But I hope the point is getting across – don’t shop at the expensive grocery stores!
I’m not saying that all Safeways or Giants are crazy expensive and you shouldn’t shop there. I’m just saying that you should find out! When we first moved here, I made sure we went to different grocery stores each week for the first few weeks. It really helped us get a feel for the prices at different stores.
Whether you’ve been living at your home for a month or for years, I suggest doing the same thing if you haven’t already. Too many people just go to one store because of name recognition or because it was closest and they just never took the time to go anywhere else. However, if another store can save you $20 a week and it’s only 5-10 minutes further, that could save you a lot of money over time!
And while I’m on the topic make a list before you go shopping!
Not having a list leads to impulse buying and lots of junk food. Bad for your health and bad for your wallet. It’s a simple idea, but that’s why it’s one of my favorites!
7. Buy More Store Brand Items
Along the same note, stop buying so many name brand things! This takes no extra time, but can save you a ton. Granted, some store brand food products do taste a little different. If it’s really that different, treat yourself to name brand stuff every once in awhile.
But for the most part, name brand and store brand items are pretty much exactly the same.
In high school, everyone had to have the best clothing brands. Now, nobody really cares. So yes, this goes for food and clothing and anything else that’s comparable. It feels good to treat yourself to “nice” things every once in awhile, but make it the general rule to buy value rather than buying into marketing schemes.
This is such a simple thing. So before you get into coupon clipping, just buy a cheaper brand!
8. Buy In Bulk
Continuing the trend of store-related tips, consider buying in bulk.
Obviously, this applies to things that don’t go bad quickly. You don’t want to buy in bulk only to have half of the food go bad. This can be for things like canned or frozen goods, or even socks.
9. Eat In More
When you go out to eat, you’re helping to pay for the food, the convenience, the workers, taxes, and who knows what else. With cheap food, you’re typically sacrificing your health for the money you save.
By eating the food you have at home, you save money. Yes, there’s the argument of that making your own food means you waste more time. But I think that the money you save, the quality of food you can eat, and the relatively short cooking time for standard meals justifies eating in.
Eating in is a lot easier when you have food to make. This means planning your meals ahead of time and then buying what you’ll need the week before. Every Saturday, my wife and I plan out the meals for the week before going shopping. This helps prevent us from listening to that tempting voice telling us to go out on weekdays. We have a plan, and we stick to it.
This also goes for bringing your lunch to work! I make a sandwich every morning before I leave. I pack it with some other things and it gets me through the day without me having to spend $7-10 a day for lunch. I can’t say that I appreciate the food anymore because I made it myself, but I do enjoy knowing that I didn’t have to waste money that day.
10. Invest In Life-Skills
This tip isn’t as simple as the other ones, but it can be pretty effective. You see, some skills are skills-for-hire and others are life-skills. Working with teeth
Some skills are skills-for-hire and others are life-skills. Working with teeth and prescribing medications are skills for hire. I don’t have the time to learn how to be a dentist or doctor. They are very specialized skills.
However, some skills are skills that are worth learning yourself as you’ll use them throughout your life. Brushing your teeth, for example. If you’re paying someone to do this for you, please contact me immediately and I’ll teach you myself.
Other life skills might include learning to invest in index funds yourself instead of hiring a fund manager. Or learning some simple sewing so you don’t have to buy a new shirt whenever you find a tiny hole in one of your old ones.
Think about what you pay other people to do right now, and figure out if it’d be worth it to take some time and learn those skills yourself! And once you have them, you’re set for life.
Oh and along with doing things yourself – make your own cards for people! It’ll mean more to them and you don’t have to spend $4-6 on a card they’ll probably throw away soon after anyway.
11. Figure Out What Activities You Like Best
A lot of times, we spend money on things just to “have fun.” Movies, mini-golf, bowling, eating out – all in the name of “fun.”
But do you really need all of these things to have fun?
Sure, if there’s a movie you’ve been wanting to see since the previous year, go treat yo’self (or better yet, wait for the movie to come out on Redbox). But don’t just go see a movie because you have nothing to do that weekend!
Make a list of the things you enjoy most. For me, I enjoy working on this blog, biking, learning, and occasionally rock climbing. Only rock climbing costs money, so I only go a few times a year because I hate spending extra. However, I could probably justify buying a long-term rock climbing pass if I didn’t do any of the other things.
The trick is to not spend money on things you don’t really care about. By doing this, you have more money to spend on things that actually matter to you and/or your spouse.
If you’re like me though, you mainly stick with the free things that bring you joy.
12. Cut Out Bad Habits
This is another tip that may not be so simple, especially if your “habit” is really an “addiction”, but it’s one that gives some of the biggest returns.
Let’s take smoking and alcohol as an example. If you do either of these on a fairly regular basis, you’re spending a good chunk of money each year. Do this for the rest of your life and think about how much money you could have had. Not only this, but smoking kills! If you’re a smoker I’m sure you’ve heard this a bajillion times, so I’ll just focus on the money aspect for now.
By cutting out these habits, it’s like you’re giving yourself a raise each year. And your bonus includes better health.
Everyone has their own ideas about what a “bad” habit is. For me, excessive TV watching is “bad”. It wastes time and if you pay for cable or a subscription service like Netflix, can take up money. I’m not saying all TV is bad, but you may want to rethink having Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon Prime, and whatever else you use to watch shows or movies.
If you’re a compulsive spender, use your moments of strength to train your weaker self. Cut up your credit cards when you’re off your shopping binge. Put systems in place to prevent those bad habits from continuing.
13. Go Easy On The Electricity
Although it may be common sense, it deserves mentioning – turn the lights off when you leave a room! Of course, your bill isn’t going to skyrocket when you leave the lights on for a few extra minutes, but it’s easy money that can be saved.
Also, I’m a huge fan of using air conditioning when necessary, but you don’t need it all 24/7, especially when you leave the house. Buy a fan. It doesn’t require nearly as much power. You may even look into getting a programmable thermostat that can optimize your power usage for you. Make sure you’re washing full loads of laundry. Etc.
It’s the simple, small things we do that really add up. So do the easy thing and try to keep your electricity usage to a minimum.
14. Buy Used Instead of New
When you do have to buy, look around for cheaper, used items. Look on sites like Ebay or Craigslist. Amazon also helps you buy used items. It’s nice to have new things, but think about the item in 5 or even 2 years.
Will it even matter if what you bought was new or used? Will it still serve its purpose?
It’s really about prioritizing. Is the newness of something worth the extra money that could go to your financial goals?
15. Gift Cards
This doesn’t really go with my “easy” requirement (where it just fits into the normal course of life), but it’s a fun one. I had never even heard of this idea before reading it on Mr. Freaky Frugal’s post the other day.
Basically, you can buy discounted gift cards from places that collect them after people decide they don’t want them. So maybe you buy a $100 gift card for $90. Then you go out and spend $100 or more. You just saved $10!
The Best Ways To Save…
Hope these tips were simple and effective enough for you! They’ve helped me stay on top of our finances since moving to a new place and starting my full-time job over on the east coast. From my experience, if you don’t have a simple system for saving and you aren’t used to saving that much, you won’t last long with some of the”extreme saving” options out there.
For example, I’d much rather track my expenses once a month than learn how to make my own soap to save a few cents.The easiest ways to save are the ones that can be built into the things you already do.Click To Tweet
Start with the simple things you can live each day. It may take some time to build the habits, but if you come back to this post often, build these methods directly into your life, and consistently apply them, you’ll find saving and building wealth to be much easier.
Then learn to make more money as you continue optimizing your savings.
Here are some other ways of saving that I’ve found useful:
- Go to the library instead of buying books right away.
- Mystery shopping can be a nice way to get a free movie or car work done. You have to fill out a survey at the end, but that can save you anywhere from $20-$80. I saw an offer at BestMark that would reimburse up to $100 for eating out at a certain restaurant and asking certain questions. Beware of scam mystery shopping companies though.
- Share your saving goals with friends, parents, or siblings. Or even put it on your blog if you have one! Being accountable to others is a huge incentive.
- Cut your own hair. This one isn’t for me, although it may work for you. I tried cutting my hair, my wife tried it, and we concluded that it was a job best left to professionals. Definitely a skill for hire in my case.
- Bike/walk to places relatively close by.
What do you think – have any of these tips helped you? Do you have any other tips that have really helped you save?