Editor’s Note: I initially prepared this post before we moved from the NW, so some of the tricks I had used there are no longer applicable. No longer can I utilize aternative commuting methods, because driving to various sites throughout the day is a part of my job. Despite this, I still believe there are good tips within this post, and therefore decided to post it anyway. Also, since writing, I stumbled upon a similar post by Frugal Dad in which he compiles 122 reader-suggested money saving tips. You can check it out here.
Every time I see an article promising me easy ways to cut costs, and save money, I feel a rush of excitement followed immediately with disappointment. Most of these articles are full of ideas that I am already doing – bringing my own coffee to work, brown-bagging my lunches, taking the bus, planning a menu, etc. All great advice! But not so helpful for those of us already doing it.
I save $1000 every month, sometimes more if I’m lucky enough to get a bonus or a third paycheck that month (I’m paid every two weeks, instead of twice a month). I am not including my retirement savings in this number. This accounts for roughly 1/3 of my take-home pay. But sometimes, I feel like I could and should be saving more. And so I search for ways spend less, and save more.
I have compiled two lists below. The first is a list of unconventional wisdom for saving money. These are ideas that had never crossed my mind until I was lucky enough to find them. The second is a collection of my favorite, tried and true tips for saving money. All tips on this list are things that have, without a doubt, had a substantial impact on my spending habits.
Creative ways to $ave
1. Remove unused cargo racks - How did this never occur to me? I have a set of racks atop my car that we use occasionally for bike transport. But the only purpose they serve when not in use is looking cool. And how cool can I possibly look driving around, wasting gas?
2. Keep your eyes open for new restaurants. They typically offer grand opening specials. - I haven’t tried this yet. And, I suppose, I could be risking a poor dining experience – we don’t eat out often, and when we do, we like to go places we know and love. But it might we worth a shot.
3. Collect vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer. As soon as it’s full, make a soup out of them. R insists that the best soup bases are homemade. I wouldn’t know, because I never have enough ingredients at the same time to make my own. But this is a fantastic idea.
4. Pay for your laundry and car usage. – Act as if you’ve returned to the laundromat, and pay yourself for each load of laundry. The idea is that your usage will be reduced, and you’ll have some extra moolah to save.
5. Switch to cloth napkins. – I think this is debatable. Sure, you save money when buying napkins or paper towels – which are pretty inexpensive to begin with – but you spend more washing the cloth napkins.
6. Use you local park’s playground as a workout station. Monkey bars can be used for pull-ups and leg lifts. The park will also have a trail where you can run. – Makes it kind of hard to justify that gym membership during the summer. Winter may be a different story.
7. Plant a tree next to your outside air conditioning unit. By shading your outside unit you may improve the operating efficiency of the overall system by 20%. – I don’t own a home, and don’t use an air conditioner. And I would also point out that one would either have to wait a long time for a new tree to provide enough shade to make a difference, or they would have to purchase a mature tree – the cost of which may outweigh the savings. But either way – talk about thinking outside the box!
8. Stay at a college dorm room when traveling. Many universities rent out dorm rooms at a decent price during the summer. - Speaking of “thinking outside the box.” I attended a basketball camp in my youth, and we had the great fortune of staying in the dorms. It was a great experience at the time, but I don’t know how much I would enjoy it in my adult life.
My Favorite ways to $ave
1. Keep the Change – This works for the debit card/checking system, and the cash system. Every time I spend money, I round the amount up to the next full dollar amount when recording the transaction in my budget or check register. If we spend $50.87 at the grocery store, that $0.13 gets thrown into our change jar. It can really add up to some substantial savings – R and I have saved up $600 in less than a year with this method!
2. Bring lunch from home – R still eats out quite a bit during the workweek. These meals come out of his personal money, so it’s none of my business. But I do know that the teriyaki place he visits, which represents the cheapest place he dines, costs him almost $7 per meal, after tip. Just three days of eating there per week costs him $84 a month. That’s over $1K a year. Meanwhile, my “work lunches” budget gets $20/month, only costing me $240 a year.
3. Brew coffee at home – I’ve mentioned this before, but this is a great way for me to save money. However, I do have a boss who walks to get a cup of coffee down the street every day. At first, I thought about how much money he must be throwing away on his daily caffeine fix. It took many months for it to dawn on me that he needed a guaranteed escape for just a few minutes each day. For some, maintaining sanity in a stressful atmosphere may prove well worth the cost of the coffee.
4. No cable/No TV – When I was growing up, my parents refused to purchase cable tv. Once I moved out, I continued the resistance to paid television. And then, about a year ago, R and I gave up our television entirely. We occasionally watch full tv show episodes online (ABC, NBC, FOX, Hulu, and many others are great places to find your favorites!), but we mainly use our time doing other things. Not only are we saving money by keeping the cable bill away, but it also helps our relationship – instead of vegging out in front of the tv every night, we have the opportunity to talk to each other, or get out and do something else. Seriously – getting rid of our tv may have been the best thing we’ve done.
5. Alternative commuting – My alternative commuting has come up before, but it bears repeating: I have saved hundreds of dollars in gas money by driving to work less. There’s a great site, Drive Less, Save More, that lets you open a free trip diary and track all of your alternative commutes. It also lets you see your results, ie. how much money you’ve saved. In June and July, by alterna-commuting 3 days a week, I saved approximately $240 in gas. That comes out to about $1440/year. Pretty substantial.
6. Mini-trip biking. R and I live about a mile from the nearest library, and 2 miles from the nearest grocery store. We tend to make these trips fairly frequently (though, the grocery store trips have been reduced since we started menu planning). In the past, we would always hop in the car and drive on over. Now we’ve been hopping on our bikes instead. I don’t have a way to quantify the money we’ve saved, but I feel confident that it has made a difference in our overall fuel consumption.
7. Library. I. Love. The library. No joke. Movies, books, magazines – all can be directed to the local branch, all online. It’s amazing. I have saved so much money by not buying the books I want to read, or the patterns I want to knit, or the movies I want to see. It is awesome.
8. Menu Planning. I have gone back and forth over the years with my dedication to menu planning, but it’s due to laziness, and not a lack of effectiveness. When I plan a weekly menu, I visit the store only once per week. I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner that night, or wait for chicken to thaw, because I can take it out the night beforehand. We eat out less, because we have everything we need to make dinner at home.
9. Snacks in my desk drawer. I keep a collection of healthy snacks in the drawer of my desk – keeps me away from the vending machine when I get that mid-afternoon stomach growl.
10. Rechargeable batteries. The recharging center was an investment that I was reluctant to make, but it’s turned out to be a great one. I purchased 4 AA rechargeable batteries. My digital camera needs two, so I keep two in the camera, and two charged up in the case. This way, I’m never making last minute stops at the 7-11 to buy new ones after the old batteries run out! And believe me, this has happened far more than I’m comfortable admitting.
11. Digital camera. When R and I first got together, he tried encouraging me to get a digital camera, but I didn’t want to – I liked having the physical photos in my hand. But I always bought those cheap throwaway cameras, because I was so terrified of losing a nice one. I finally received a digital for Christmas, and I’m totally converted. Less printing costs, less camera costs, and better quality photos – score! Not to mention the plethra of online companies offering free prints to new customers. Find out How To Get 1,761 Free Digital Prints!
12. Empty water bottle. Bringing an empty water bottle to the airport to fill up on the other side of security has saved me, on several occasions, from purchasing an overpriced beverage once inside.
And there it is: the best savings advice I have to offer.
Need more? Also see:
- 25 Ways to Save Money (cashmoneylife)
- 10 Unconventional Money-Saving Tips (Get Rich Slowly)
- 100 Great tips for Saving Money (The Simple Dollar)
- 106 Money-Saving Tips for a Frugal Lifestyle (Zen Habits)