That’s why I believe the best way to save money is to focus on my biggest expenses, ie. housing, transport, food and recurring subscriptions. I find it a lot easier to live in a cheap apartment and not worry about smaller expenses like eating out, groceries, lattes, etc. (You can’t save on everything; a sustainable saving plan allows for some indulgences.)
But cutting back on the big things often require dramatic lifestyle changes. If that sounds too painful, why not start with the little things?
Here are some things you can do today to save money. Read on and give me more ideas at the end! :D
This entire website is about money and travel; I could fill this entire post with 100 money-saving travel tips if I’m not careful. So for travel tips, please follow the following links instead:
- Flight booking: clear your cookies, check the right websites, search for one ticket first, pay with a credit card, etc.
- Beware hidden fees when you fly with a budget airline.
- Hotel booking: take advantage of lowest-rate guarantees, secret hotel deals, flash sales and hotel auctions.
- Use free accommodation options like couchsurfing, house-sitting, home exchange and work exchange.
(For a crash course on free accommodation, check out the e-book How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World by Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo.)
Way before “antiquing” and “vintage clothing” became fashionable, cheapskates were already buying secondhand things. It takes some effort to find the good stuff, but the hunt can be exciting.
- Scour your local thrift stores and flea markets, as well as websites like Craigslist and eBay.
- Join a community like Freecycle, where you can get used items for free and give away your stuff. Craigslist also has a “free stuff” section you can browse.
- Get together with a few friends to swap your unused stuff.
- If there’s a good clothing find that’s a little faded, brighten it up by dyeing it.
- Buy used furniture. Quality secondhand furniture is better than Ikea and the price is similar. If and when you move, you can usually resell it at the same price. (Once, I even got a 400% profit on a Pottery-Barn-esque solid oak swivel chair.)
Water is good for you, people.
- Get it for free from your kitchen tap and public drinking fountains, then pour some into a reusable water bottle for the road. (Yes, bottled water is also good for you, but it destroys the environment and doesn’t help you save money at all.)
- Most restaurants also provide water for free. Considering the high mark-ups for drinks at eateries, think about how much you would save by ordering water whenever you eat out.
Let’s say you spend $3 on a glass of Coke every time you eat out — assuming you eat out twice a week, that’s $312 over one year. I’m not an expert on nutrition, but the sugar intake in one year must also go through the roof.
I know I’m supposed to prepare meal plans and shopping list, but who has that kind of time?
- Always check the fridge before you shop. There are probably some things at the back that you’ve forgotten about.
- Always eat before visiting the grocery store — otherwise those chocolates would look too tempting and you’d come home with a bunch of junk.
- Bring your own grocery bag. Some stores now charge a small fee for every plastic bag. Also, reusable bags are a lot greener and sturdier.
- Shop at discount grocery stores; not at Whole Foods.
- Shop the specials and think about what to cook as you shop. After frequenting one store for a while, I learn to recognize their lowest prices for certain items so I know if I should stock up or look around some more.
- If you don’t cook often and can’t think up recipes on the fly, check out the grocery store’s flyer before you shop and use the specials to plan your meals for the following week.
- Pay attention to the unit cost of everything. Don’t assume that the big family pack will always be cheaper than the snack pack.
- Choose store brands. They’re often just as good!
- Buy in bulk. If necessary, divide the food into portion-sized ziplock bags at home before freezing.
- For meat, purchase larger cuts and cut the meat into smaller chunks yourself. For example, buy a big pork loin and cut it into pork chops or pork steaks at home.
- Don’t buy pre-cut anything. Seriously, it’s not that hard to cut your own mushrooms.
- If you have some free time, avoid pre-packaged snacks. Bake your own cake or pop your own corn. It’s easier than you think!
- Stock up on things you can quickly throw into your lunch bag, such as granola bars, cheese sticks, fruits, ham, etc.
- Buy coffee and learn to brew it the way you like it.
- Does your grocery store have a loyalty program? Join it. You’re spending the money regardless, so why not take advantage of the rewards? If you regularly shop at multiple stores, use an app like Key Ring to store all your rewards cards on your phone.
Cooking and Eating
- Cut down on your meat consumption. Eat more fruits and vegetables instead.
- When you cook, prepare three or four times the amount of food you eat in one sitting and freeze the rest. There are bound to be nights when you don’t feel like cooking — that’s the time to whip out these frozen meals and heat them up. No need to order pizza!
- Learn a couple of recipes to use up leftover ingredients. For example, you can throw almost anything into a soup, fried rice, stew, quiche or casserole.
- Reduce your portion size. This is easier than it sounds. If you do it slowly and gradually, your stomach will adjust to the smaller portion on its own. This will also help if you’re on a diet!
- Fix stuff yourself. There are free instructional DIY videos and tutorials online for most things. I used these resources to learn how to hang a frame, paint a room, replace a toilet, replace a light fixture, build a wardrobe and install laminate flooring.
- Buy one or two pots of herb plants and put them on your kitchen windowsill.
- In the winter, turn the heat down before you go to sleep.
- Lower the temperature of your water heater.
- Unplug devices you’re not using. In Australia, every power socket has an on/off button — I miss this little feature!
- Turn off the lights.
- Skip the tumble dryer and hang your clothes up to dry instead. They’ll last longer.
- Install water- and energy-efficient things like CFL lightbulbs, a programmable thermostat and low-flow shower heads. Learn more ways to lower your bills here.
- Check if your city offers any incentives to make your house greener. When I installed a dual-flush toilet, I got a $100 rebate off my utility taxes.
- Watch videos online on Netflix or Hulu. Cable is expensive and unnecessary in this day and age.
- I’m sure you’ve heard about how you’re supposed to throw away anything you haven’t used in the past year.
I know it sounds scary; if you feel like you have nothing to wear now, how would you cope with even fewer clothes? But trust me, it’s easier to choose from just a few wearable items in your wardrobe than a bunch of things you can’t really wear. This goes for things other than clothing, too, by the way.
- Sell unused things on eBay or Craigslist, and you’ll suddenly have some extra money for that vacation. If you have a lot of stuff, hold a garage sale or set up a stall at your local flea market.
- Craving a certain type of food? Find a recipe online and try it out in your kitchen. This is fun to do with a bunch of people. And if you manage to master a dish you like, you can have it more often!
- Not a cook? Invite friends over for a potluck dinner.
- Watch a movie at home. It’s great; you can pause it at any time for a toilet / snack break.
- Check out your city’s website to find free events, such as music festivals and free-entry days at museums. These are almost always more fun than the predictable dinner-and-movie outings.
- Go to the park, the beach or a friend’s house instead of the mall. You’ll avoid the temptation to shop.
- If you’re eating out, do it at lunchtime instead of dinnertime. You’ll enjoy the same food at a lower price.
- Eat or drink outside during happy hour.
- There’s often one day of the week when movie tickets are cheaper. Take advantage of this discount.
- Visit the cheaper theaters.
- Watch the non-3D version of movies.
- Do you have to watch the movie now or can you wait for it to come out on DVD? Be selective with the movies you choose to watch at the theater.
- Do people still buy and collect DVDs? Rent a DVD or watch the movie online instead.
- Drink at home before you hit the club. Alcohol mark-ups are huge, so you could save a lot of money by cutting back on your alcohol consumption or drinking at home.
- If you go out to a bar as a group, buy beer by the pitcher.
- Get coupons from websites like Groupon or LivingSocial. You may find yourself trying new things just because the coupons are available and you think, “Why not?”
Yes, you can go without shopping and save a lot of money. But eventually there will be things you have to purchase. There are ways to avoid paying retail price for most things.
- Only buy something if you love it. Don’t get roped into a purchase just because something is on sale. Remember: if you don’t buy it, you’d be saving 100% of that money.
- Before you decide to buy something, go home and sleep on it. You may feel differently about the purchase the next day.
- Choose long-lasting, quality items over cheap crap that will break down in a week.
- Wait for end-of-season sales for clothes and end-of-year sales for other things.
- Buy less-than-perfect items. When I bought my DSLR, I chose the one with the open box and got a couple hundred dollars off the retail price. Packaging, no matter how perfect, is never worth that much.
- Buy quality; not hype. I bought my new MacBook Air from Apple’s refurbished section, so I got an older model with better specs at a lower price.
- Choose generic medicine. The ingredients are usually the same as the name-brand version. Don’t pay a premium to get slightly better packaging. Note: check with your doctor first, though!
- Buy e-books — they’re cheaper and they literally take up no space.
- If you want a hardcopy book, try to find it at a secondhand bookstore; you may be able to exchange your old book for a new one.
- Only buy a new book after you’ve finished the ones you already have. This goes for video games as well.
- Buy gift cards when they go on sale. You can often find heavily discounted gift cards on Craigslist.
- This is rather unconventional, but stick with a couple favorite brands and check out their offerings from time to time. It’s easier to know how much things should cost and pounce on sale items if you’re familiar with the brand.
For example, there are two clothing lines whose cut and measurements fit me perfectly, so I follow them closely. I know this sounds crazy because I used to think Cheesy was crazy for doing this, but now this makes perfect sense to me.
I wrote in this post about forgoing a car or choosing a cheap, secondhand car. But if you like your car, here are some easier ways you can save on your transportation costs.
- Perform basic maintenance on your car. There are many tutorials online you can use to learn these skills.
- Tweak your driving habits to use gas more efficiently. Here are some tips to get better gas mileage.
- Fill your tank at cheaper gas stations. GasBuddy can help you find these stations.
- Keep your tire pressure within the recommended range to improve your car’s gas mileage.
- Carpool. It’s better for the environment
- Make an agreement with your friends and family to not exchange gifts during the holidays…
- …or buy the gifts throughout the year instead of just before the holidays, when things are generally sold at retail price. You’ll also avoid the holiday shopping crowd.
- Make your own gifts. Even if you’re not crafty, you can probably find some easy-to-follow guides online.
- Provide your services as gifts. For example, as a wedding gift, offer to mow the lawn or feed the pet when your friend is on her honeymoon.
- Does your bank charge any account-keeping fees? If yes, switch. There are too many free accounts available for anyone to be stuck with these fees.
- Stop paper statements and get the digital ones online.
- Get an ATM card that doesn’t charge any withdrawal fees, even when you use it abroad. For Americans, this means a Charles Schwab card.
- Use a credit card that doesn’t charge any annual fees and gives you cash back.
- If there’s an annual fee on your credit card, it better offer some serious rewards. Read all about the basics of travel hacking with credit cards here.
- For travel, use a credit card that doesn’t charge any currency conversion fees. Read more about this.
- When abroad and paying a merchant with your credit card, always choose to pay in their local currency; not your home currency. Read more about this.
- If you carry credit card balance, pay it off.
- If you can’t pay it off right away, call the bank and ask them to lower your interest rate. This goes for other loans as well.
- If you have a mortgage, talk to your mortgage broker or banks about refinancing. You may be able to qualify for lower interest rates.
- Schedule automatic payments for as many bills as possible. You’ll avoid late fees and interest charges.
I wrote some insurance tips in this post as well, but here are some more:
- Shop around for cheaper insurance policies at renewal time.
- Increase your deductible.
- Bundle your various insurance policies.
- Take the time to read your insurance policies — including the ones from your credit cards and workplace — so you know exactly what’s covered.
More ways to save…
- There’s a place called the library. You know, that place where you can rent books and DVDs for free? The one whose membership you’ve already paid for through your taxes? Use it. You may be surprised by what the library offers these days. Mine now lets me borrow e-books from home!
- Take advantage of free samples. The small size of the packaging makes them perfect for travel.
- Take the time to learn what benefits your workplace provides.
- Cancel your landline phone and use VoIP services like Skype to make phone calls.
- Go through your cell phone bills, call your phone provider and talk about how you can adjust your plan to lower your bills
- This should go without saying, but smoking is not only bad for your bank account. Seriously, just quit.
- Only buy music if you really, really, really like it. Otherwise, stream music from websites like Songza or Pandora.
- Before you buy premium apps, check to see if there are any free alternatives.
- Learn basic sewing tricks like patching a hole and sewing a button.
- Cut your own hair. This is easier said than done, unless you like buzz cuts. I only cut my own bangs and only my hairdresser seems to be able to tell.
- Cut your hair at a beauty school; it will be cheaper. Some student hairstylists even offer their services for free on Craigslist.
- Cancel the gym membership and work out at home. You only need three things.
- In fact, cancel all your unused memberships and magazine subscriptions..
- Keep a change jar. Before you realize it, you’ll have a sizeable sum inside.
Even more ways to save…
- How to Save Money to Travel the World.
- Your 3 Biggest Household Expenses and Why You Should Focus Your Savings on Them
- 15 Easy Five-Minute Fixes to Save Thousands of Dollars This Year
How do you save money?
Anything not mentioned on this list? Let me know and I might add your tips to this list! :D