Saving money is one of the most important things you can do – for yourself and for your finances. Knowing how and where to cut costs is critical to being able to reach your financial goals.
Luckily, there are countless opportunities to save money in both big and small ways. Individually, none of the following tips are likely to be life altering, but your financial journey should be focused on the long game. Implement several or many and over time the difference will become apparent.
For the greatest impact to your bottom line, you definitely want to focus on your biggest expenditures. For most of us, this means cutting down on housing, transportation and food expenses.
Below are 50 tips and tricks for saving money:
1. Downsize your housing.
This is isn’t practical for everyone but like I just mentioned, whenever possible you should be tackling your biggest rocks first in order to make the fastest progress toward your financial goals. Since housing costs are typically a person’s greatest expense each month, the more you can do to lower housing related bills the better. Take the time to figure out if moving makes financial sense for you.
2. Reduce your utility usage.
Utility expenses can usually be reduced with a few simple hacks and new habits. If you don’t already, try the following:
- Turn out lights after you leave a room
- Shut off the television more often
- Unplug appliances you’re not using
- Shorten your showers.
- Reduce your A/C and heating usage – try adjusting by one degree at a time. Investing in a programmable thermostat is useful but not necessary.
3. Eat out less.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on consumer expenditures, American households spent an average of $3,365 on eating outside the home in 2017. That’s $280 a month – or $65 a week – which leaves a lot of room for saving money. If you usually eat out weekly, cut your dining out to once every other week or monthly instead. If you pick up something for lunch everyday, try bringing your lunch to work with you instead. A little preplanning goes a long way.
4. Pack your own lunch.
I know, I know, I just said this, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve found that the easiest way to prep a packed lunch is to make extra for dinner the night before and toss it in a a reusable container for the next day. Leftover dinner = tomorrow’s lunch. If you’re really trying to cut costs, there’s nothing simpler than a good old fashioned PB&J (or two). While it’s not the healthiest option, it is one of the cheapest.
5. Use curbside pick up.
I don’t ordinarily shop WalMart for groceries, but every once in awhile I do – basically whenever I receive a mailer offering $10 off a $50 purchase. Score. The real benefit to curbside pick up has nothing to do with coupons, though. For a lot of us, shopping for one thing often leads to shopping for another, and before you know it your cart is full of extra items you had no intention of purchasing but are somehow, now, certain that you need. Sound familiar? By placing your order online and picking it up, you’re much less likely to spend money on items that aren’t directly on your list.
6. Buy generic brands.
Generic brands get a bad rap, but in a blind taste test I wouldn’t know the difference between store brand black beans a brand name black beans and neither would you. If you have certain favorites that you refuse to buy in generic form, fine. You do you. But for many items and generally all staple items – sugar, flour, rice, beans, etc. – the difference is really only going to come down to price.
7. Eat meat less often.
Meat is often expensive compared to protein alternatives like beans, lentils, tofu, and peanut butter. Bacon in particular costs a fortune (sad face). Opting for meatless meals once a week, or cutting back on the amount of meat you eat overall, can therefore be a great way to save.
8. Skip the latest gadgets.
There are countless gadgets on the market that promise to entertain you, keep you connected, and make your life easier. While some of them do fulfill their promises, there is often a significant financial trade-off. You probably don’t need an Apple Watch any more than your son or daughter needs an iPhone, but if you somehow do then it pays to buy a previous model over the current one.
I bought our current cell phones used through Swappa and highly recommend the site and service. They have strict guidelines for sellers – for example, cell phones must be fully functional with clean ESNs and ready for activation in order to be listed – and excellent customer service.
9. Scale back kids’ activities.
This is a big one, and maybe a little controversial too. My kids have always been involved in sports and after-school activities, including music lessons, so I’m honestly a little torn here. On the one hand, I know that extracurriculars are important for a child’s development (and their college applications). On the other hand, I believe that’s true only to a point and never at the expense of your financial security or greater financial plan. At $25 and $50 per lesson, or $$$ per activity, scaling back even temporarily may be a good solution to budget issues.
10. Breastfeed and cloth diaper if possible.
No judgement here for those who opt not to do either, but breastfeeding is free and cloth diapering can be cheap if you skip the fancy schmancy brands. Definitely worth considering if you’ve got a new one on the way.
11. Cut the cord.
Between all of the streaming and online options, there are so many choices for television and movies that it just doesn’t make sense to pay a huge cable bill each month. How many of those channels are you actually watching? We use Hulu and Amazon Prime – we use Amazon Prime Student (since my son is a college student) and pay just $59 for the year. (By the way, Amazon Prime is only $5.99/month if you have an EBT or Medicaid card.)
12. Learn to cook.
This is literally one of the best things you can do for your budget since food takes a huge “bite” out of your income each month. (So cheesy. Sorrynotsorry.) Eating out costs significantly more than eating in, whether you’re at a sit-down restaurant, a fast food joint, or just picking up something quick for lunch. Even if you’ve never cooked before or have suffered major cooking disasters in the past, I’m fully confident that you can learn.
For our wedding we were gifted a gigantic 1000 vegetarian recipes book and that’s literally how I learned to cook, working my way through it page by page and recipe by recipe until I had a solid grasp of basic cooking formulas – i.e. grain + vegetable + protein + sauce = dinner.
I recently bought How to Cook Everything the Basics for our college bound son and he was able to easily whip up three different recipes in a single week without any issues and even declared them all successes. Now, he’s not a complete newbie to cooking since we’ve made a point of forcing our kids to “adult” since they were small, but I think this is a good choice no matter your current cooking level or ability.
13. Collect credit card rewards.
I use credit cards for the vast majority of my purchases so I can collect rewards. Then I pay off my balances in full each and every month so that it costs me nothing. I’ve never personally been in credit card debt – if you have or you currently are then this advice may not be for you. Credit cards can be a great financial tool when used responsibly and with the right card it can be easy to rack up hundreds of dollars in rewards at no cost to you.
14. Get rid of your car payment.
The average new car payment in 2019 is $554 a month and the average monthly payment for used cars is $391. That’s a lot of money that can be freed up for savings or put toward debt. Reconsider what you own and why. The trade-off between the 2018 model and the 2013 might very well be worth the all the extra money that you’d be able to pocket by trading down to something more affordable.
15. Compare prices.
If you’re serious about cutting expenses then you should comparing prices for everything you purchase, from cell phone plans to auto insurance to grocery stapes. The internet makes comparison shopping a lot easier than it used to be which also makes it easier negotiate with service providers for things like lower priced internet. Don’t be complacent about routine bills – once per year (or every other year at a minimum) you should be be calling around to see if there are better deals to be had.
16. Entertain at home.
There have been many times that we turned down an invitation to go out and invited friends to come over for a cook-out instead. Never once did we feel like we were missing out on the bar scene or other venue that we could have gone to and wasted a whole lot of money at. Entertaining at home can be super stressful and also expensive or incredibly cheap and chill. You could go all out and design a themed party that includes some fancy-ass charger plates and matching everything…or you could host a potluck and let your guests foot most of the food bill while you throw some sandwiches together and make sure the house is mostly presentable.
Kids’ birthday parties offer an especially great opportunity to save if you’re willing to forego the bowling alley or trampoline park. I’ve never hosted a birthday party anywhere except for at home, and I’ve never even paid for a bakery cake. Honestly. Instead, we hosted bi-yearly parties for our kids involving a whole lot of minute-to-win-it games (costing a few dollars total). Prizes consisted of candy bar or $1 earbuds and the like, and everyone went home tired and happy. My kids have fond memories of those parties and that’s literally all that matters to me.
17. Stop smoking, vaping, chewing, etc.
These are expensive, unhealthy habits that do absolutely nothing for you but can cause significant harm. Seek out addiction resources if necessary.
18. Cut out alcohol.
Groan. I hear you. Really consider the cost though. Those bottles of wine add up. And the damage is a lot worse if you’re going out for drinks instead of staying in – a single beer can ring it at $5 or more. If you add in that pizza you made the Uber driver stop for on the way home, a night out could easily be costing you $50+.
19. Hang dry your laundry.
In the US, hang drying clothes isn’t nearly as popular as it once was – certain HOAs even ban the practice. But we lived in Japan (Okinawa) for 4 years so hanging laundry outside to dry has become second nature to me. I even made sure to buy an extra drying rack and accessories before moving back stateside to have on hand when mine inevitably wore out. Hanging your clothes outside is so popular in Japan that the weather report indicates how long it will take your laundry to dry and most apartment balconies are equipped with built in drying racks.
Pro tip: a breeze is what keeps clothes from getting “crunchy” – since I don’t do laundry around the weather, I usually just throw jeans and towels in the dryer for a few quick minutes to soften them up.
20. Forget about trying to impress others.
Be careful about tying your self-worth to your net worth. Remember that looks can be deceiving – as much as you may want to keep up with Joneses, you should recognize that they are almost certainly up to their eyeballs in debt. It makes no sense to focus on impressing others with what you have; you should instead focus on who you are. Character matters, stuff does not. Don’t spend money on anything that isn’t in alignment with your priorities and values and never put your financial security in jeopardy to do so.
21. Make friends with your local library.
Free books – what’s not to love? Be sure to check into other programs your library may offer as well, including language learning software; kindle loans; reading programs, playtime, or story time for kids; board game and puzzle loans; ebook options (such as OverDrive); community classes; tax preparation; movie and game console rentals; printing and faxing services; internet and computer access; and more.
22. Reconsider your cell phone plan and provider.
I swapped our entire family over to Ting in February 2019 and honestly would have done it sooner if my husband and I hadn’t already been signed up with Sprint under the free 1-Year Unlimited Talk, Text & Data plan (if you can get in on it, do! We paid roughly $4.50 a month per line for taxes and fees only). Switching all four of us from our previous carriers was literally the easiest and quickest process ever and Ting’s customer service has been top-notch. I love that you only pay for what you use – our average bill for 4 lines is just $65 – and it’s super easy to set limits on things like data or texting. Another plus is that Ting allows you to choose your network based on your area so it’s not as limiting as some other low cost carriers that only work on one network or another. (If you sign up through my link you’ll receive a $25 credit!)
Bottom line: there are a lot of low-cost plan options available and a lot of ways to save. The cell phone industry is incredibly competitive so there are always new deals to be had.
23. Walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation.
Clearly this is location dependent, but when feasible these are all great, low cost alternatives to driving or even owning a car. During my son’s first year of college he rode his bike to a nearby train station every day and then hopped onto the Metro to get to class. By doing so, he was able to avoid the need for a car altogether and his transportation costs were essentially $0.
23. Don’t buy a new car.
Vehicles are a drain on your finances, and brand new vehicles are the worst. Really. I wrote a whole post about it here.
24. Stay out of debt.
If you want to keep your budget in check then you need to do everything you possibly can to avoid consumer debt. Cut expenses like crazy, side hustle to make extra income, but don’t borrow money that you can’t immediately pay back. The average credit card interest rate is just over 19% – that means you’re padding someone else’s pockets with 19% interest for months or years. The smarter choice is to save up until you can buy with cash and build an emergency fund so that you have money set aside in case Murphy stops by.
Or hike or walk or ride your bike. Do push ups in your garage. Whatever you do, don’t pay for a gym membership that isn’t consistently being used. Just because you want to be the kind of person who goes to the gym regularly doesn’t mean you are – be honest with yourself. You can always workout at home until you’ve built up a consistent enough habit that it becomes worthwhile. Or, you may discover you can find plenty of ways to get and stay fit without a gym.
26. Become a minimalist.
For years, one of my favorite bloggers has been Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist. Essentially, minimalism is the idea that by having less you make space for more – more of whatever it is that you truly care about. From a strictly financial standpoint, minimalism has a lot of advantages over the more traditional practice of conspicuous consumption. Fewer possessions will naturally mean less spending which, in turn, means fewer expenses – reducing expenses is one of the best things you can do for your budget and your bottom line.
27. Shop thrift stores and second hand.
Whenever possible, shop for previously owned items rather than automatically shopping for items brand new. This has the benefit of being cheaper overall, but it can also help delay purchases and prevent impulse shopping since not all items you want or need will be as readily available to you.
28. Ditch the soda.
And the $5 latte, and bottled water. These are small costs individually but they do add up over time. If you can’t give up your daily dose of caffeine and can’t or won’t drink from the tap, invest in a Berkey or a quality coffee maker. Remember that your daily habits affect your longterm goals.
29. Choose quality products.
Be deliberate about your purchases and consider the cost-per-use (cpu) formula when comparing items rather than the upfront price only. The more durable a product, the longer its lifespan and the lower your cpu will usually be in the long run, even if it costs more initially.
Kids’ backpacks make a great example: you can spend $30 on a cheap backpack that needs replaced every school year or you can spend in the $100 range for a backpack that will last for 5 years or more. My son carried his same $80 LLBean backpack from the 5th grade through the 11th and it hardly showed any wear by the time he decided to upgrade for college. At 180 school days per year over 7 years, that comes out to $0.06 per day. Buying the cheap bag to “save” money would have cost an additional $130 (plus a whole lot of extra time and energy).
30. Skip your next salon visit.
Or massage, or manicure. Stretching out your appointments from every 6 weeks to every 8 weeks instead will save you 3 appointments per year, easily saving you as much as several hundred dollars. Other options are to skip certain visits altogether – learn how to do your own nails with an at-home gel manicure, or save massages for special occasions only.
31. Master the art of DIY.
Sew your kids’ clothes, make your own gifts, build your own farm style table. While there are many things that can end up being more expensive by doing-it-yourself (especially if you have a few failed attempts along the way), generally speaking, it cheaper to DIY than to buy. You should at least consider the costs of each to determine which makes more financial sense. You might already have the skills you need for your next project, but there are plenty of ways to learn in case you don’t. Working on new skills and projects with a partner or friend can be great for relationship building as well as make for cheap entertainment.
32. Maintain your belongings.
I don’t expect you to darn your socks, whatever that even means, but taking good care of your things goes a long way toward making them last. The longer we own something, the lower its cost per use and the greater value we receive from our original purchase. We currently live in a disposable society, but that doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t take care of our stuff to help it last as long as possible. (Now go polish your table for crying out loud.)
33. Use coupons if it makes sense.
Coupons can be a great budget tool or they can work against you depending on several factors. Since we eat mostly fresh produce, utilize a CSA, eat a lot of generic brands and almost no prepackaged foods, couponing heavily doesn’t make a lot of sense for us – every situation is different though. In any case, it never makes sense to use coupons on products you wouldn’t ordinarily buy because spending money to save money is a terrible idea.
34. Take advantage of free entertainment.
Depending on where you live, there may be a whole host of free entertainment venues that you could be taking advantage of. In my area there are multiple museums with free entry and numerous outdoor activities that are held throughout the year, from art shows and galleries to concerts in parks and more. An online search will usually produce multiple sites that list free activities. Trip Advisor is a great place to start your search.
35. Join a CSA.
If you’re not familiar with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. I’ve been a part of four different CSAs over the past decade or so and can’t recommend the concept highly enough.
When you join a CSA, you are buying a share of a farm’s expected harvest. You typically pay for your share upfront and, in return, will receive a box of fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the farm each week during the harvest season. Season length will vary by farm and location but in my experience it’s usually lasts 18-22 weeks. Costs to join can also vary widely by location (and some CSAs have additional requirements such as volunteering a certain number of hours on the farm) but you can expect to pay a minimum of $350 or roughly $30/week.
You can read more and find CSA programs in your local area through Local Harvest here.
36. Wear a regular uniform.
Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have shown us what it means to rock the same look for years at a time. It makes sense that having a set “uniform” of everyday clothes makes life, or at least mornings, simpler. Fewer choices can lead to less time wasted and to increased productivity. Having a simple wardrobe has another obvious perk – it’s better for your wallet. Plus, once you find a look that works for you, you’ll always be comfortable in your clothes.
37. Pay attention to your credit score.
Your credit score affects your ability to borrow, but also how much it costs you to borrow. The difference between a credit score in the 600 range and the 750+ range can literally mean thousands of dollars in your pocket over the life of a loan or mortgage. You can read more about how credit scores are calculated and what you can do to increase yours here.
The great thing about bartering is that it allows you to decide how much something is worth to you. Is providing 3 hours of babysitting worth a home cooked dinner? Is trading your hair cutting skills for a kids’ play kitchen worthwhile? Can you use an iPhone 6s in exchange for x, y, or z? There are unlimited skills, services, and stuff that can be bartered – all you need is to be connected with others who are also willing to trade. A quick Facebook search should turn up sales/freebie/bartering groups in your area, or you can join a bartering Meetup group, or other swap group such as U-Exchange or SwapStyle. Another option is to advertise on CraigsList.
I first heard the word insource on the Frugalwoods blog and love the term – insourcing is the opposite of outsourcing, and just means doing the work yourself rather than hiring (and paying) someone else to do it for you. You probably don’t need help figuring out how to mow a lawn if that’s something you ordinarily pay for, but don’t be afraid to attempt more specialized or complex tasks too – a little bit of YouTube-ing goes a long way toward helping you learn how to do things like:
- Change your own oil, air filter and headlights
- Cut your family’s hair
- Fix a leaky toilet or sink
- Repair a lawnmower
- Recaulk a bathtub and shower
40. Commit to a spend-free week (or month)
Have you heard of Mustache March? Dry January? How about having a no-spend November? The idea isn’t to literally spend nothing (I’m guessing that would really tick off your landlord) but to cut out all nonessential spending. Depending on how much you ordinarily spend outside of your budget and on things that aren’t technically necessary, there is a lot of potential for savings here.
41. Use the 48 hour rule.
What’s the 48 hour rule, you ask? In a nutshell, it’s a cooling off period. Since so much of what we buy is based on impulse, chances are good that if see something you want but wait 48 hours to purchase it, the urge to buy it will dissipate or disappear altogether. 48 hours not doing the trick? Try implementing a 30-day rule instead.
42. Take care of your health.
Easily one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family, but also important for saving money. Medications, lost wages, insurance premiums – getting sick can be expensive, not just in the short term but in the long term as well. Not only that, but your health affects your overall quality of life so staying healthy means enjoying your life more.
43. Track your spending.
If you’re trying to save money – whether that’s to help you get out of debt or part of your overall goal to be reach financial independence – setting up a spending plan is one of the best things you can do for your bottom line because it will help keep you accountable. I use a combination of Excel, Mint and Personal Capital to budget and track my money as well as my progress over time. If you’re not tracking your spending, you won’t know exactly where your money goes each month and you won’t know how much potential there is to reduce your spending in order to save.
44. Don’t store your credit card information online.
A simple hack but one that makes it harder to buy online and can therefore save you significant money. Sometimes it only takes the slightest inconvenience to prevent us from doing something. If those tiny inconveniences are preventing us from good habits, that’s obviously a problem. But when they prevent us from doing things we shouldn’t be doing anyway – well, that’s something we can and should take advantage of. Simply removing your credit card information from sites you shop at regularly and not allowing your card numbers to be stored on your computer can prevent you from experiencing a nasty case of buyers remorse.
45. Perform regular car maintenance.
Anyone can learn to change their own oil, replace air filters, and make sure their tires are properly inflated – whether your vehicle is brand new or 15 years old, regular maintenance is a must if you want your car to run its best and keep running (and running). We often treat our vehicles as disposable and trade up every few years, but with proper care a vehicle’s lifespan can be well over 10 years and 150,000+ miles.
46. Consider your hourly wage against the cost of an item.
How much does [that thing you want to buy] cost and how much is it actually worth to you? If it costs $100 and you make $20 an hour, is it actually worth 5 hours of your workday and your life?
47. Waste less food.
Statistics indicate that as much as 40% of the food supply in America goes to waste every year. According to Forbes, a 2018 study by the USDA reports that we waste roughly 1 pound of food per day per person, or 20% of all food on our plates. Rough math tells us that if we spend the statistical average on food each year, $7,729, then in the same year we’re throwing away approximately $1545 worth of food – that’s about $129 every month.
Want to save money? Store your food properly and eat your leftovers.
48. Skip the extended warranty.
Extended warranties are rarely worth the additional cost. In fact, if you make your purchase by credit card, there’s a good possibility that your purchase is already protected because many credit card companies offer extended warranty coverage for free – often for periods of a year or more (Citi cards offer 2 year protection). Regardless, Consumer Reports agrees that it rarely makes sense to pay for coverage; instead, save the money you would have spent so you’ll be prepared to repair the item yourself it the need arises.
49. Adopt free hobbies.
Photography can be an expensive hobby (or so I’ve heard). Reading, hiking or learning a new language? Not so much. Better yet, find various ways to monetize the things you love to do. Flip furniture for profit or teach a class on knitting. Love to write? Why not start a blog?
It’s possible to make more money but your time will always be limited. Therefore, how you spend you time matters even more than how you spend your money – be scrupulous when deciding what kinds of people, things and activities are allowed to fill your days and your life.
50. Change your money mindset.
What you believe about money has a direct impact on your finances and, consequently, your results in life. “Knowing” that you are “bad with money”, or that you “can’t save”, or that you’ll “always be broke” only sets you up for success in those beliefs. I’ve seen this kind of situation play out in people’s lives over and over again. Instead of focusing on what you have or don’t have, or even what you want to achieve, shift your focus toward learning about money and finances. Research ways to save, how to invest, and anything you don’t understand. This has two benefits: 1) it takes the pressure off of you and where you are currently and 2) it allows you to put your energy toward developing the tools necessary to reach your financial goals and get to where you want to be.