Let’s keep this one simple and clean - just a bunch of relatively easy ways to save money. As you incorporate more and more of these tips into your life, the savings add up and it wouldn’t surprise me if you could save thousands over the course of a year.
It will take a little work on your part but those thousands of dollars in savings are what helped us get out of debt earlier, kept us out of debt for several years and will hopefully help us pay off our recent auto loan soon as well.
- Cook at home often: If both the husband and wife work, this is likely to be very difficult. Start out with the habit of cooking at home once a week and slowly increase the frequency until you find a balance between saving money and getting stressed out.
- Make your own coffee: Everyone seems to have heard of the latte factor. Even though the author may have overestimated the savings from skipping a latte at Starbucks, don’t underestimate the ding it puts in your pocket in the long run. You don’t have to entirely ban drinking coffee, but skip it as often as possible unless you make it at home.
- Brown bag lunch at least a few days a week: Lunch times are great opportunities to network and make connections that could improve your career growth. So unless there is a common eating area for brown baggers, you may choose to limit brown bagging lunch to three days each week. Find a balance between saving some money and making the connection. In my case, I take my lunch with me 2-3 times a week and eat out the rest of the time.
- Make a list before going shopping: They call it impulse buying for a reason. Humans simply have a very tough time resisting the temptation to purchase extras while shopping. Without a list you will buy items that you simply do not need. Even worse is when your forget to purchase the actual item you came to the store for in the first place. If you plan on cooking at home, pre-plan a rough menu and make a list before you go grocery shopping. Getting all that you need in one trip can help avoid another unnecessary trip and temptation.
- Go grocery shopping while you are in a hurry: Maybe you need to go out in a couple of hours. Or your favorite show is going to be on TV after a couple of hours. Try to squeeze in the grocery trip in that intermediate time. Armed with your grocery list, you should be in-and-out very quickly with little time for meandering and getting tempted to buy things you don’t need.
- Watch out for expiration dates on perishable goods: This one seems intuitive when you read it, but I am surprised at how many people do not pay attention to expiry dates. No point getting a gallon of milk if it is going to turn sour with a couple of days. Same goes for meat, eggs, yogurt, spreads, frozen items, deli/bakery items etc. Some people say you can use a few items a few days after expiry – but I personally value my health more than money and would rather avoid buying such items in the first place.
- Buy in bulk whenever possible: When it comes to non-perishable items, buy in bulk whenever you find something on sale. The items I usually stock up on are, cereals, tinned goods, rice, beans, pasta, coke, toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, toilet paper etc. For such items, shopping at warehouse stores like Costco, Sam’s Club etc can save you quite a bit of money, provided you stick strictly to your shopping list when you shop at these places.
- Buy generic products whenever possible: Does it really matter whether your cereal is made by Kellogg's or is the store brand? Does it matter if your milk is Oak Farms or the store brand? For a few things (like soda in particular), I prefer brand name products. For others, I do not mind generic store brands if they can save me money. Find what works for you and switch to generic brands for at least a part of your grocery list.
- Use grocery store bags to line trash cans: This may not work if you use a massive trash can but we use a small sized one for which the grocery bags are a perfect fit. This not only helps us save some money, but reduces our environmental foot print and avoids the kitchen from stinking from a huge overflowing trash can.
- Consolidate and pay off debt as soon as possible: If you carry any debt, focus on consolidating it to a lower interest and paying it off as soon as possible. Money paid in interest is money thrown away! Why spend your hard-earned cash to make the financial institutions rich?
- Pay your bills on time and avoid late fees: Get organized about your regular bills. If possible, automate the payments. Most utilities and other recurring bills can be set to be charged to a credit card or deducted from a checking account these days. Also, many banks offer free bill pay programs. So there really is no excuse for forgetting to pay a bill on time and forking out the late fees. Say, by chance you do forget a bill, if you are a first time offender, call the company and request politely to waive the late fees, and more likely than not, they will oblige.
- Be aware of your bank balance and avoid over draft fees: If you use your checking account often or have some bills that are paid automatically from your checking account, be aware of the balance and avoid overdraft fees.
- Avoid ATM fees: Be aware of the ATM withdrawal fees charged by your bank. While some banks waive fees for all ATM transactions on any ATM machine, most don’t. So be sure to use only those ATM machines where your bank will not charge the fees, or withdraw directly at your bank.
- Avoid credit cards with annual fee: Credit cards with their cash back bonuses and reward points are a great way to save some money. Just make sure that the card does not charge you any annual fees! There is no dearth of cards that offer fee-free reward plans, so there really is no reason to pay the annual fees.
- Disconnect land line if possible: Unless you have small kids in the house or older people to take care of, it is more than likely that you will be able to survive with only the mobile phones and can get rid of the land line. We have survived without any problems for over 4 years now with out a land line. Our Internet comes via cable.
- Instead of buying books, borrow books from the library: Whenever possible, borrow your books instead of buying them. The card to your public library is free and the libraries are generally well stocked. In my city, the chain of public libraries is connected and the available books can be checked online. If there is some book that I cannot find in my local branch, I can make a request online for it to be brought in from one of the other branches to mine which is very convenient.
- If you have to buy books, check if you can buy it used: Used books do not quite give the same feeling as leafing through the crisp pages of a brand new book. But considering that you can get used books for almost as much as half the price of a new book, it is a small price to pay. My favorite place to buy used books is a local chain called “Half Price Book Store”. Check if you have something similar in your city. For text books, look online on bulletin boards, mailing lists etc, and price compare on websites like addall.com.
- Price check before buying anything expensive: For other items that are expensive, do a price check before buying the item. If you can wait for a while you can track the prices and grab a great deal when it comes along. Frequently available online coupons make it even more easy to save some money. This is especially true while purchasing any electronics.
- Avoid impulse buying: Make it a habit to avoid impulse buying. Many of the things you want to buy do not seem all that necessary, if you only you wait for a day or two. Also, waiting means you will be able to check prices and make an informed decision to buy it at the best possible price.
- Bottle your own water: Drinking water is good for your health. I always make it a habit to keep some at my desk at all times. Bottled water is the most convenient since it can provide protection against accidental spills. That said, buy bottled water only once in a while, and then reuse that bottle to fill your own water. If you are not happy with tap water, invest in a Brita Filter – in the long run it can save a lot of money.
- Avoid the vending machines: Almost everything that is dispensed via vending machines has a huge markup (and is rarely healthy). However, if you suffer from snack attacks at work, consider creating a secret stash of snacks. If you like drinking soda and have a fridge at the workplace, save a refrigerator pack in the fridge with a post-it with your name on it. If you have a long commute, consider a stash for the car as well and avoid a quick drive-thru visit.
- Keep your car as long as possible: When possible, try to keep your car as long as possible. Find the balance between the money spent on repairs versus the monthly installment on another vehicle and choose to run your old car as long as the repair costs are low.
- Do regular scheduled maintenance on your vehicles: Do not skimp on or forget to do regular oil changes. Remember to check the air in your tires often. And use the grade of fuel that the owner’s manual recommends. These small acts can significantly lengthen the life of your car, giving you years of use.
- Avoid buying a new car: When you eventually buy a car, see if you can make do with a pre-owned vehicle. A new car depreciates significantly the moment you drive it out the dealership. Is the new car small really worth thousands of dollars? Pre-owned cars that are only a few years old with low mileage are the best bargains. Regardless of the purchase, learn to negotiate with car dealers.
- Ride your bike or carpool whenever possible: In many of the cities in the US it is hard to get by without a car. That said, just because you have a car does not mean you have to use it every day. Whenever possible, ride your bike or share a ride with a colleague or spouse and save both on gas and reduce the environmental footprint.
- If you watch a lot of DVDs, get an online DVD store membership: Membership to online movie stores like Netflix or Blockbuster Online can save you a lot of money compared to buying DVDs or renting it from a local store. You need to wait once you order the movie, but if you watch a lot of movies at home, then you can easily get into the habit of ordering ahead of time so you always have something at home. If you are patient and your library has the resources, check to see if they have a movie section. You won't get anything very new, but they are free.
- If you like watching movies at the theater, go before 6:00 pm: This is one of our soft spots when it comes to spending. We really like watching movies in the theater with the big screen and the great sound effects. But instead of paying ~$10 a pop for the ticket, we usually go before 6:00pm when the tickets are a little less expensive. Also, for movies that we don’t absolutely want to watch right away, we just wait until it screens on the discount theater where the tickets are $2 a pop. We avoid the temptation to buy snacks, by usually going for a theater some time soon after our lunch or sometimes sneaking in our own snacks in the purse.
- Regulate your electric use: When not in use, unplug electric appliances. Apparently, unplugging the TV instead of just switching it off can save a lot of electricity! When not in a room, switch off the lights and the fan. Use a programmable thermostat to control your A/C and heater usage. If that's too much, at least know what each appliance uses and unplug a few of them.
- Plan vacations ahead of time: Vacations are a necessary part of saving our sanity in the busy lives that we lead. But vacations are also a huge drain on the family finances. You can cut the cost of a vacation significantly by planning and booking ahead of time. Bookmark travel sites for finding inexpensive airfare, hotel etc., and book at least two weeks in advance.
- Finally, keep distance from lavish, high-roller friends: If you have lavish friends who buy a new car every other year (or worse still, lease it), have large screen TVs and every other conceivable electronics gadget, eat out at fancy restaurants every other night and just live way beyond their means, keep the distance. They may be nice people and mean you no harm, but hanging out with such people often can lead to a lot of unnecessary desires and discontent. What’s more important – your friends or your peace of mind?
NOTE: I am not saying that you should follow *all* these tips. Trying to be too frugal can make both you and the people around you very miserable. So, pick out a few tips at a time that will work for you and make them a habit, before deciding if you can incorporate more money saving habits in your daily routine.
Written by Sam Baker of GradMoneyMatters.com - a site dedicated to providing students a choice of money making ideas so they can say no to debt. Republished 6/19/2011.