Saving money is such a simple concept: Don’t spend as much and put the excess funds in a savings account.
And yet saving money can be maddeningly difficult. After all, there are so many distractions vying for our attention and wallet. Streaming services promise enlightening entertainment. Favorite restaurants, retailers, concerts and other special events crowd our social media feeds. Advertisements for everything from vitamins to clothing promise us a better life, if only we buy this product. It’s hard to resist.
So if you’re looking for money-saving strategies beyond “don’t spend as much,” consider the following ideas to keep more cash in your accounts.
— Shop on Wednesdays.
— Make a list.
— Start a money-saving hobby.
— Direct all windfalls into a savings account.
— Try the $5 trick.
— Consider a classic coin-saving strategy.
— Embrace the envelope system.
— Find free events.
— Quit an expensive habit.
— Challenge yourself to reuse stuff.
— Buy clothes from thrift stores.
— Ask if an item will go on sale.
— Try a no-spend holiday.
— Audit your expenses.
— Fix problems before they become problems.
— Turn your thermostat down.
— Reassess your subscriptions.
— Volunteer — strategically.
— Create a free event.
Mary Kaarto, an author and retired editor in Missouri City, Texas, says that years ago when she was a single mom, she experienced two layoffs and had to stretch her dollars as far as possible. So she bartered. For instance, her hairstylist was a first-time mom. Kaarto wanted to look her best for job interviews, and the hairstylist wanted someone she could trust to watch her newborn so she and her husband could have some date nights. Kaarto would get her hair styled, and babysit in exchange. She says it was a win-win situation for her and her hairstylist.
2. Shop on Wednesdays
What’s so special about a Wednesday? Many grocery stores launch new sales midweek, generally on Wednesdays, so shoppers who browse the aisles then often get first access to new promotions and discounts. Plus, stores sometimes honor the previous week’s coupons. Best of all, you can maximize your savings while shopping during a less busy time of the week.
3. Make a List
Instead of buying anything on the spot, save ads or computer screenshots of items you want, or have a file of links to certain purchases you plan to make at some point.
Kaarto says she keeps such a file not just for herself but for family members, too. This helps her come up with gift ideas for birthdays and the holidays, so she buys her family things they actually want or need. This tactic also helps her save money.
“What I have found through delayed gratification is one way or the other, I save money, either by deciding against the purchase, or patiently waiting until the best price comes around,” Kaarto says.
4. Start a Money-Saving Hobby
If you learned to sew, you could repair holes and replace buttons and maintain your favorite clothing items longer. If you learned to cook or tried your hand at baking, you might spend less on takeout. Learn to fix or do things, and you’ll spend less versus essentially hiring someone to fix or do things.
Some hobbies require significant upfront costs, but then you could end up saving in the long run. If you get into camping, for instance, you’ll spend a lot on a tent and a sleeping bag. But if you enjoy it and find yourself choosing nature over hotels on future vacations, you’ll more than make up for the gear costs.
Other hobbies like gardening or birdwatching may or may not save you money, but they might replace other activities like shopping or happy hour that you’re relying on to cure boredom or other anxieties.
5. Direct All Windfalls Into a Savings Account
Even if you’re past the age of receiving birthday money from relatives, unexpected cash may still come your way. Miguel Suro, a Miami-based attorney who runs the personal finance site RichMiser.com with his wife, Lily Rodriguez, recommends opening a separate savings account just for unexpected cash.
“Deposit all unexpected income there,” Suro advises. “I mean things like product recall refunds, class action settlements, refunds you get when you return an item or money someone gifts you. Just money that you weren’t expecting or counting on.”
Don’t forget bonuses from your employer. Suro adds that you can use the unexpected income for a specific goal, splurge on something you really want later or use it to create or pad an emergency fund.
6. Try the $5 Trick
Detroit blogger Aimee Spencer Tiemann says that a few years ago, her best friend shared a trick to save money: “Every time she received a $5 bill, whether it be the change from a purchase or from her tips as a bartender, she put it away in a container in her house. She said, no matter what, if she got a $5 bill, it went in the container. At the end of one year, she had $4,000 in there.”
Spencer Tiemann says she started doing the same thing, and within three months, she had $1,200. “It’s funny the psychological trigger in your brain when you do something as simple as putting a certain dollar amount away. You don’t think. You just do it. It’s almost a game,” she says.
That said, if you don’t typically carry cash or encounter cash very often, you might consider Acorns, Chime or another app that will round up purchases made on your debit or credit card and divert it into a savings account. Some of these apps cost money, but if you use them, you should save far more than you spend. With Acorns, you’ll spend $1 a year for accounts under $5,000; with Chime, a mobile bank app, you won’t pay any fees aside from a $2.50 out-of-network ATM fee.
7. Consider a Classic Coin-Saving Strategy
Granted, you’ll have to make a lot of cash transactions to save a lot of coins, but Spencer Tiemann says she’s seen a decent payoff by saving change in a container.
“Just taking the change from grocery stores and carry outs added up quickly,” Spencer Tiemann says, adding that saving coins has served her well. “If I added all of this up, it probably doubled my emergency fund.”
8. Embrace the Envelope System
With this approach, you pay for everything in cash. “I’m not sure if this is creative or just old-school,” admits Kristine Thorndyke, the founder of Test Prep Nerds, which provides test prep resources for exams like the MCAT.
Thorndyke says that early in her career, when she was starting her business and cash-strapped, she and her boyfriend saved money by paying for everything in cash. She says they were even pulling out cash according to their monthly budget and putting the target amounts into envelopes labeled for each category, such as groceries, entertainment, apartment, gym and miscellaneous.
Sometimes, she says, they would find extra cash in the miscellaneous category and splurge on something fun that month. “This isn’t a strategy I’d suggest employing for forever, as the cash aspect is actually kind of a nuisance, but it was a great way to see how we spend money in a really literal sense and think about our budget differently,” Thorndyke says.
9. Find Free Events
You may actually spend some money at free events — at a festival, for instance, you may buy food. But most communities generally have free events, such as free concerts, nature walks or stargazing events in local parks. Libraries often have guest speakers and other events for kids. Also look out for free local art shows, parades and sometimes even sporting events.
10. Quit an Expensive Habit
This isn’t a fun way to save money, but it could add a lot of cash to your checking or savings account. If you drink a lot, whether beer or soda, or if you smoke or eat a lot of junk food or regularly buy lottery tickets — basically, if there’s a habit or behavior you feel you should give up, you could do so in the name of saving money.
Even if you just cut back, you’ll save money. If you eliminate an expensive habit, well, you may save a small fortune.
11. Challenge Yourself to Reuse Stuff
If you pause before you throw out trash, you might find that you can actually reuse some of your garbage. Think about the plastic sandwich bag you used for one sandwich and are about to throw away. Sure, there are some crumbs, but otherwise you can wash it out and use it again and again.
It may sound incredibly cheap, but if you save money on things like plastic bags and aluminum foil and do your part to help the environment, you may save money and feel better at the same time.
12. Buy Clothes From Thrift Stores
Jodi O’Donnell-Ames, a Pennington, New Jersey-based wellness and empowerment coach, speaker and founder of of the nonprofit Hope Loves Company Inc., says she stopped buying new clothes some time ago. Now, she only shops at consignment and thrift shops. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much money this simple task has saved me,” she says.
If you loathe the idea of buying used clothing, O’Donnell-Ames has some advice: “I buy items that are brand new with tags and that typically end up costing me one-eighth of the original price. Yet the clothes are brand new.”
13. Ask if an Item Will Go on Sale
We forget about this tactic because we’re all focused on Googling deals, says Charles Thomas, financial advisor and founder of Intrepid Eagle Finance in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Sometimes the direct approach is best,” he says. “If you have an item at a store you want to buy, find an employee and pose a direct but straightforward question: When does this go on sale?”
Sometimes employees don’t know when items go on sale, but Thomas says he and his clients have often had a lot of luck with this saving strategy. “Retail employees rarely get this question and by asking it, you’ll be ahead of the pack on the time to buy,” he says.
14. Try a No-Spend Holiday
Pick a day or two — or a week if you can manage it — and vow to not spend any money aside from regular bills. It can be very easy to go overboard at the supermarket or impulse shop on Amazon. But if you start creating your own no-spend holidays, you might train your brain to spend less.
15. Audit Your Expenses
Take a close look at everything you spend money on and ask yourself if there’s any expense you can pare back. Maybe it’s time to look at your insurance policies and see if you’re overpaying for anything. Or maybe you divorced eight years ago and still have your ex-spouse on your life insurance. Or perhaps you’ve never calculated how much you’re spending on takeout three times a week, and maybe it’s time to start grocery shopping more often. Examining how you spend money — and then taking action — can result in significant savings.
16. Fix Problems Before They Become Problems
After you’ve finished auditing your expenses, you might want to audit your home and car by looking out for possible problems.
Poking your nose around for potential spending problems later might be the last thing you want to do if money is tight. But think about the last time your car broke down. Wasn’t it because you ignored a strange sound in the engine? Maybe you’ve been thinking it’s time to clean out your gutters. If you don’t, one day you could find that there are so many leaves in the gutter that water has pooled on the roof of your house, and the next thing you know, you have a leak.
So while rooting around for potential problems may not save you money today, and you might even spend money (getting your brakes fixed, for instance), it could save you much more money later.
17. Turn Your Thermostat Down
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you could save as much as 10% a year on your electric bill by turning your thermostat down 7 degrees to 10 degrees for eight hours a day from its normal setting. You could also check if your electric company offers free energy audits. If so, it will send someone to your house who can point out any appliances that are energy hogs and offer ways to make your home more energy-efficient. Granted, you often have to spend money to save money on electric bills. But at least it won’t cost you a cent to turn down the thermostat.
[ SEE: 10 Best Money-Saving Apps. ]
18. Reassess Your Streaming Services
Aim to do this at least once a year. Do you have four or five streaming services and only use one regularly? Or maybe it’s time to get in the habit of keeping one or two favorites and using a few others for a couple months out of the year when one of your favorite series airs.
Personal finance experts used to berate consumers for spending too much on daily coffee; now it’s streaming. Still, there’s no question that with Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, NBC Peacock, CBS All Access and other services, the costs really add up. And, of course, you could always get rid of cable.
19. Volunteer Strategically
If you volunteer at a zoo, art museum or local theater, for example, you may be able to enjoy exhibits or plays and concerts for free. Yes, you’re working, answering questions or showing people to their seats. But if it means you’re seeing a lot of something you’d rather not spend money to see, it may be worth it.
20. Create a Free Event
Consider a neighborhood swap meet, or a swap meet with friends or family members. You could even do a potluck dinner or picnic.
But think about it. If everyone brings food, the group can enjoy a great meal for not too much money. And if you hold a neighborhood swap meet, you could all agree to bring gently used clothing or school supplies or whatever you think people will want to trade. As a bonus, maybe you’ll strengthen some bonds by hanging out with your neighbors, family members and friends.
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