This is a list of common things my wife and I do to save money on a regular basis. Luckily, we are both frugal by nature and we actually do most of these things without needing to discuss it much. These tips can be used by almost anyone, and more importantly, they don’t force you to make radical changes to your lifestyle. With a few small changes, it’s very easy to use these money saving tips:
Be a Savvy Money Manager
How you manage your money can have a big impact on your bottom line. Simple changes like making your savings automatic, using a free online checking account, keeping your savings in a high yield savings account, and avoiding ATM fees can save you hundreds of dollars a year. More importantly, these changes are quick and easy to make, and don’t cost you anything!
1. Make it automatic. Before I see my paycheck, a good portion of it is diverted to my online savings account and retirement savings. This forces me to save money without taking any additional action on my part. This is important because it reduces the temptation to spend it, and reduces the barrier of having to “actively” save.
Action item: Enroll in your company 401(k) plan if you have one, and make an automatic payroll contribution with each paycheck. Start small if you need to – you probably won’t even notice a big difference in your take home pay. If you don’t have a 401(k) plan, open a Roth IRA.
2. Don’t pay banking fees! I use my bank for automatic deposits, free bill pay, free checks, and free reimbursements for all ATM fees. I won’t pay for any of those services. (I bank with USAA, which offers all of these features and more). Here are some recommendations for other great online banks that don’t charge many fees:
- Free online checking accounts.
- Best high interest savings accounts.
- Current savings account interest rates.
Action item: Check to see how many fees your bank is charging you and how much you earn in interest. Change banks if necessary.
3. Use rewards credit cards. If you are a responsible credit card user, then you should absolutely use a cash back credit card for all your purchases. I get cash back on every purchase and I pay the card off every month so I don’t pay any interest fees. I only recommend credit cards if you have no current credit card debt, and can afford to pay the balance every month! If you don’t want to use credit cards, then consider using a cash rewards debit card. The best on the market is the debit card from PerkStreet Financial. If you are a savvy credit card user, consider saving more money by using specific credit cards based on the type of purchase. Here are some good examples:
Action item: Use rewards credit cards or debit cards wisely and reap the rewards!
4. Track your spending and investments. It’s essential to know where your money is going so you can manage it efficiently. We use a free money management tool to track our savings and investments and make updates to our financial accounts when things get out of balance. This is a great way to track all your income and expenses.
5. Buy insurance. Health insurance, home owner’s insurance, auto insurance, and other types of insurance are designed to save you money! Sure, you may end up paying premiums for years and never file a claim, but in the event you need to file a claim, your premium will likely be small compared to what you would have had to pay. You’ll be very happy if you ever need it!
Action item: Make sure you have the appropriate amounts of insurance to protect you and your family.
6. Avoid debt and out your money to work for you. We have a mortgage, which we don’t mind because we would either have a mortgage or pay rent. But we are free of any student loans or consumer debt including credit cards, automobiles, home equity line of credit, or anything else. This means we pay very little interest and are able to make more of our money work for us instead of work for someone else. And that’s the whole point of saving money, isn’t it? 😉
Save Money Around Your Home
After making small changes to how you manage your money, the biggest way to save money every day is by making small changes around your home. These small changes usually don’t take much effort, but can save your hundreds of dollars a year in recurring energy costs for things like utilities and energy.
7. Examine your cable TV needs. You can save a lot of money by bundling these items with the same provider rather than purchasing them separately. But you may also find that you can do without some of these items. For example, my wife and I dropped cable TV two years ago, and haven’t looked back. We use cable TV alternatives such as over the air network television, streaming video, and DVDs.
Action item: Examine your needs and don’t be afraid to cancel a service if you don’t feel you are getting good value for it. You will be surprised at how easy it is to live without cable TV and other luxuries. Even simply cutting a premium channel or service from your cable subscription can save you hundreds of dollars a year.
8. Examine your telephone and cell phone needs. You may also find that you can do without a landline. My wife and I have used our cell phones exclusively for over six years without any problems. I only recently had a landline installed for my business, be still use our cell phones exclusively for our personal calls. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to cancel or downgrade your cell phone plan if you don’t use it enough.
Action item: Examine your needs and dropping your landline if you don’t need it. You can also downgrade or cancel your cell phone service if you aren’t using all the features. Here are some tips to save money on your cell phone bill, and how to cancel your cell phone without paying early termination fees.
9. Use a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats save you an estimated 10-20% on your heating and cooling bills. When we aren’t home, or we are sleeping, our house is quite a bit warmer or cooler, depending on the season. We save a substantial amount on our utilities compared to many of our neighbors!
Action item: Buy and install a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one already, and use it!
10. Use ceiling fans, floor fans, and space heaters. My wife and I program the thermostat to go to the upper-50s at night during the winter. Why so cold? Because we close the door to our room and use a space heater for heat. There is no sense heating an entire house while we sleep. We also use ceiling fans and floor fans to assist with heating and cooling – depending on the season of course! In our computer room we use an air vent booster to increase air flow.
Action item: Try using space heaters, fans, extra blankets, or other means of reducing your energy costs. You will be surprised how much you can save and still remain comfortable.
11. Install CFLs to save energy. Compact fluorescent lights use about a quarter of the electricity of normal incandescent bulbs. They also need replaced much less often – often lasting five years or longer. LED lighting has become popular recently and the bulbs use even less energy than CFLs. However, the bulbs are still very expensive, and we haven’t made the switch yet.
Action item:Install a few CFLs in the rooms you use most frequently. You will start seeing small savings almost immediately.
Be a Smart Consumer
The Internet has been the great equalizer when it comes to researching major purchases and saving money. But you can also save a lot of money on everyday purchases you make at your local grocery store. Here are some ways we save money on almost everything we buy:
12. Use coupons and rebates. We use coupons for oil changes, groceries, books, on-line purchases, and just about anything else we can find. You can even find coupons on the back of receipts. There are several great websites that offer users cash back on virtually every online purchase (this is on top of the savings you can get with your credit card!). Some examples include of these free online rebates companies include:
Action Item: Join Ebates, Fat Wallet, or similar companies and earn cash back on virtually all online purchases when you shop through their portal.
13. Actively search out deals. It never hurts to try and find a better deal, or request a better deal from your service providers. Read about how I saved $1,000 by making two phone calls – one to my cable TV provider a few years ago, and another when I challenged my property taxes. I also actively search other deals that can net me free money through sign ups and referrals.
Action item: Call your cable TV provider or other service provider, and ask them to lower your rates. Seek similar deals where possible.
14. Plan and research major purchases. I do a lot of research before I make a major purchase. This includes reading product reviews from places like Consumer Reports and creating a spreadsheet on Google Docs where I can compare reviews, prices, features, and other aspects of the product. Then I look for additional savings and discounts. My wife and I recently did this to save money on a vacation. A little planning on our end saved us over $2,000.
Action item: Be proactive when making a major purchase. Planning and research can save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.
15. Buy quality products. Quality items may cost more up front, but they last longer and generally provide better results than cheaper, inferior products. Examples of items you should buy higher quality – furniture, clothes and shoes, vehicles, and other items that will see a lot of use. I used this premise to build a professional wardrobe on a budget.
Action item: Don’t skimp on quality just to save a buck. Quality items often cost less in the long run.
16. Buy generic where applicable. Yes, I just wrote “buy quality,” but you can save a lot of money on generic items for which the brand name product is essentially the same as the store brand. Food and medicines come to mind as items where generic products are good deals.
Action item: Always look at alternatives when it makes sense (and cents!).
17. Sign up for a warehouse membership. My wife and I recently bought a Costco membership. For us, it has been well worth the $55 annual fee, but your mileage may vary. Just be sure to visit with a clear shopping list and avoid impulse purchases. If you can do this, you will almost certainly save money!
Action item: Research the warehouse membership options in your area, and consider buying a membership.
Save Money on Food
Food is a large expense for most families, and an unavoidable one at that. But just because it is an unavoidable expense doesn’t mean you need to spend too much money on it. With a little planning, you can save a lot of money on your food expenses each month.
18. Use grocery store rewards cards. Most grocery stores (and many other stores) offer free membership cards that allow shoppers to save at least 10-15% on every trip. (Personally, I dislike the savings cards because I believe the stores actually mark everything up to force their customers to get the cards, but that is another story…) We still save a lot of money on groceries, so we use it.
Action item: Sign up for your grocery store card and start saving!
19. Cook at home. My wife is a great cook and we both enjoy cooking and eating at home more than we do going out. We only go out about once a month, but when we do, we prefer to make an evening out of it and go somewhere fairly nice. We prefer eating out once a month at a nice restaurant more than we enjoy eating out several times a week at chain restaurants such Chili’s or TGI Friday’s. Eating out once a month at a nice restaurant is much more affordable than eating out once or twice a week at chain restaurants.
Action item: Consider reducing the frequency you eat out.
20. Brown bag it, and eat leftovers. I grew up eating leftovers, and I still love them (as long as they are not leftover from when I was a kid! yuck!). I estimate I save a minimum of $20 a week by bringing my lunch to work. It is also healthier, and on the rare occasion I go out to lunch with coworkers, I enjoy it more.
Action item: Cook an extra serving or two when you make your meals and take them to work or school. Leftovers are more affordable and healthy than most restaurant options.
Arts & Entertainment – Big Saving Opportunities!
You don’t have to spend a small fortune to have a good time. Whether it’s a family outing, or paying for entertainment, there are a lot of ways to save money. Here are some of our favorite money saving tips for the arts and entertainment:
21. Use the library. My wife and I borrow movies from the library almost every week. New releases aren’t always available, but lately, we have been watching a lot of classic movies from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. My wife and I also borrow CDs, books, and puzzles for our daughter.
Action item: Join your library. Most offer free memberships and a variety of items you can borrow at no cost.
22. Visit parks. My wife and I love to go hiking and our children also love getting out and enjoying the weather. We have 2 great parks nearby that we visit often. We get great exercise and the only costs to us is the gas to drive there.
Action item: Look into the free parks, nature preserves, and other free activities in your local area.
23. Manage your paid subscriptions. We don’t get the newspaper or magazines since almost everything we want can be found on-line for free. There are other subscriptions we pay for, such as Amazon Prime, which I feel is one of the best deals out there for savvy consumers. Some times adding a paid monthly subscription can actually help you save money. For example, you may find that a Netflix or Blockbuster subscription will make it easier for you to cancel cable TV. At $7.99 a month, you could end up saving $20 or more per month, which adds up quickly. Want more info? Here is a Netflix review, and a free trial offer.
Action item: Review each paid subscription you have and determine if you need it, or if you can get a free or less expensive option.
Take Care of Things
Pride in ownership goes a long way to helping you save money. Performing seasonal maintenance around your home, doing your own home improvement projects, and doing scheduled maintenance on your vehicles and other items makes them last longer and saves you money.
24. Take care of things. I treat items I own with respect and I take good care of them. This includes doing things such as cleaning our house, washing our cars, and polishing shoes. Things last much longer when you take good care of them.
Action item: Stay on top of scheduled maintenance such as oil changes, filter changes for your car and house, etc. Clean and service items when necessary.
25. Home improvement and car repairs. Once upon a time I was an aircraft mechanic in the USAF, so I am fairly handy with tools. I am comfortable repairing most items around the house, and I always attempt to repair problems before calling a professional. However, I am not afraid to hire out anything dangerous or that I don’t have the tools or knowledge to do (usually electrical or plumbing). The same goes with car maintenance and repairs. Stay on top of maintenance like tuneups and oil changes, and your car will run more efficiently, last longer, and cost less to maintain.
Action item: Buy a basic tool kit and learn to do basic repairs. Your home and car will last longer and you will save hundreds or thousands of dollars by doing it yourself.
26. Be a smart driver. Many people underestimate how their driving habits affect the wear and tear on their vehicle – which can lead to shortened life spans for tires, breaks, transmissions, shocks, and other high dollar items. Taking care of your vehicle when driving results in less wear and tear and gets you better gas mileage. Some tips include accelerating smoothly and at a reasonable rate, coasting to a stop as often as possible, and using cruise control on the highway. My car is rated to get 26 mpg around town and I regularly get 29. That’s not quite hypermiling, but it’s not bad!
Action item: Don’t let road rage get the best of you. Plan your trips efficiently and take your time getting there. You will have a more peaceful drive and save a lot of money over time!
I know some of these tips won’t apply for everyone, but they work for my wife and I. I’m sure there are many more things we can do to save money, and there are a few places where we can plug some money leaks, but overall, I think we are doing a good job. I hope these tips can help a few other people out there!
Inspired by: An article by Dawn at Frugal for Life.