Saving money on everything you buy is one way to help meet your financial goals, whether they include living a more upscale life, paying off debt or saving for retirement or your kids’ college. Here are some solid money saving ideas and a bonus tip that could help you save over $2,000 this year.
1. Shop with a list.
When I don’t have a list, I walk through the store looking at everything, trying to remember what I wanted to buy. Inevitably, my eye catches items that were not on my list, and I end up buying things I had never planned to buy, without really thinking it through. A list will keep you focused and avoid many impulse purchases that can add up to hundreds of dollars a month.
2. Wait 24 hours.
When you see something you hadn’t planned on buying, try to wait at least 24 hours and see if you still think it’s necessary or desirable. In many cases, you will decide to pass on the item and save yourself the money you would have spent. You can also do this online by leaving something in your shopping cart until the next time you go to the site.
3. Comparison shop.
It’s not surprising that comparison shopping is one of the best ways to save money. It really just makes sense. And comparing prices before you make a purchase has never been easier–smartphones can allow you to do this right in the store, or you can do a Google search when buying online. You can often save even more money comparison shopping for services like trash removal, cable and internet, and cell phone plans. The Zebra is a website that helps you compare car insurance rates–and believe me, you are paying too much if you haven’t switched in a few years.
4. Make coffee at home.
A Starbucks coffee costs at least $3, but making your coffee at home can cost pennies with a regular coffeemaker to about 50 cents if you use single serving pods. If you buy Starbucks on a daily basis, you will save close to $1,000 a year even if you use more expensive pods. That’s your emergency fund right there, so no more excuses about how you can’t save.
5. Grocery store timing.
Knowing when the meat department puts out their daily allotment means that you get the first look at the discounted meat that comes out with the newly prepped packages. Different stores have different levels of markdown, but it is possible to save up to half of the regular price with this one method. You can often also get baked goods for half price if you know when the bakery stocks the discount shelf as well.
6. Pack your lunch.
If you work outside the home, packing your lunch can save you at least $5 a day, plus it is probably healthier than eating out every day. Often, you may have leftovers from dinners during the week that you would just throw away, or you can buy salad greens and throw a few chicken breasts in the crockpot at the beginning of the week and eat salad with your favorite fixings for just a few dollars a week rather than $25-50 to eat out.
7. Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs.
One of the simplest ways to save money is to become more energy-efficient in everyday living. CFL or LED light bulbs have a higher initial cost but last up to 10 times longer and use only 10 to 25 percent of the electricity of incandescent bulbs. And I have gotten free bulbs from my child’s school, community events, and my electric company that have made the switch even more frugal.
8. Use a programmable thermostat.
These devices, which cost around $50 or so, can save you hundreds of dollars every year on your electric, gas and oil bills by adjusting the temperature when you are out of the house or sleeping at night so you use less resources. I adjust my heat four degrees lower at night, and now I can hardly sleep if it isn’t a comfortable 64 degrees at night rather than 68 like during the day.
9. Keep up with car maintenance.
Car maintenance can seem like an ongoing and maybe even an unnecessary expense, but it really is a great way to save money and also to extend the life of your vehicle. Getting the oil changed, the tires rotated, and the air filter cleaned or replaced when needed will give you better gas mileage and prevent wear and tear that will cause repair bills down the road. Similarly, getting the brakes checked regularly and replacing them as soon as they are worn will save you from having to replace the rotors, which are more expensive and shouldn’t need replacement when brakes are maintained.
10. Always pay cash.
A study by MIT in the early 2000s showed that people were willing to pay up to double the amount on some purchases if they used a credit card compared to using cash. The theory goes that if you use cash, you are more aware of what you’re spending and more reluctant to part with your money than with a credit card.
11. Ask for a lower rate.
It’s probably a good idea to do this with all your regular bills and with your credit cards if you carry a balance. Asking whether I qualified for discounts on my satellite TV bill is now saving me $30 a month, and I was also able to get one credit card to drop my rate until I could pay it off completely. You can also use balance transfers to get lower rates, even zero percent in some cases, which can save you temporarily unless you can get it paid off during the lower rate period.
Bonus tip: Get rid of credit card debt as fast as you can.
The average household that has credit cards now carries a $15,983 balance on average and pays an average 18 percent interest on the debt. If you take all the money you save implementing these and other money-saving methods and apply it to your credit card debt, you will save $2876 a year on interest once it is gone (depending on your particular balances). The best ways to save money don’t hold a candle to being debt-free and no longer sending thousands of dollars to credit card companies every year with nothing to show for it.
Investing $2876 a year at a conservative 6 percent annual return for 20 years could earn you over $100,000 toward your kids’ college expenses or retirement. Paying credit card interest just doesn’t make sense.