Whether you want to start saving, add to existing reserves, or beef up an already brawny bank account, here are 31 savings tips to give you a month of tightwad tactics.
1. Pay your bills online. You save a stamp each time, plus some lenders will knock off up to a point of interest for automatically debited payments.
2. Re-wear your clothes. Unless you’re out sweating in the sun, don’t wash your clothes after every wear. Try to do laundry just twice a month.
3. Grab leftovers. Whether from work, family, or dinners with friends, most left-over food goes to waste; unless you take it for lunch tomorrow!
4. Use the library. We read most books only once, so why buy them? Libraries often have movies to borrow and free internet, too.
5. Use cash. Withdraw the exact amount you will allow yourself to spend every week, and just pay cash! This tip is 3-for-1. You’ll save on credit card interest, ATM fees, and you can put the cash you don’t spend back into savings.
6. Carry only what you’ll spend. Now that you have taken out your weekly allowance, leave the house with only the money you want to spend. Whether it’s $5 for lunch or $50 for dinner and drinks, you will preempt the chance to overspend.
7. Never spend one dollar bills. Have you ever thrown all of your loose change into a jar and six months later found you had $50 or $100 saved up? Try paying for everything with a five or higher, and put those singles aside. When you hit $100, take it back to the bank!
8. Drive slower. How fast you drive, not just what you drive, can improve fuel economy. Drive slower, more smoothly, and brake less often. My father proved this on his mega-long daily commute. By maintaining 65 MPH or below he squeezed a couple extra gallons out of each tank at the cost of only a few minutes each way.
9. Drive less. Tough if you live outside a city, but possible. Plan to do errands just once a week instead of driving out every time you think of something, hitch a ride with a friend (or your honey) when able, or pick up a cheap bike!
10. Kill the coffee… Or make it yourself. You can even learn to make your own iced lattes.
11. …and the fast food. Now that you can swipe your Visa at the drive-thrus, those burgers are dangerous to your waist and your wallet.
12. Limit the climate control. If you’re like me, you spend most of your time in a very small area in your home. Only use AC (if you must) in a small room. You can even save money in the colder months by turning down the heat and using a space heater where you work or sleep.
13. Limit cleaning supplies. Bleach or a simple antibacterial cleanser can clean almost anything in the house. No need for five different products. Plus, save on paper towels by using old newspapers to clean windows and surfaces.
14. Shop with a list. Never leave for the grocery store (or any store) without a list. Stick to it, and know how much the total should run. Impulse buys can wreck your budget!
15. Unplug it! Disconnecting household items as small as your cell phone charger can save you electricity dollars and reduce your use of unneeded energy. What else can you take off the grid? Computers, toasters, coffee pots, and other appliances all draw some power, even when not turned on.
16. Look for freebies. I hate clutter, so I rarely take “free stuff” unless I can actually use it. But some things I do use: little hotel shampoo bottles, sugar packets, pens and napkins.
17. Tax yourself. Sales taxes make money for the government and, sometimes, discourage consumption of certain resources (i.e. oil). Why not tax on yourself? When you buy something, contribute 5% of the cost to savings. You’ll save more and spend less as you ponder that 5% tax!
18. Eliminate subscriptions. Pay for what you use, not for monthly subscriptions and contracts. Cancel magazines, newspapers, even gym memberships and cell phone contracts unless you absolutely need them.
19. Give homemade gifts. Don’t buy other people crap they don’t need! Give a useful gift card for a birthday, a framed photo for the holidays, or a homemade cookbook as a wedding gift.
20. Decorate on a dime. When decorating your pad, skip the chain furniture and design stores in lieu of dollar stores and yard sales. With a little creativity, you will be the only one who knows where your decorations came from.
21. Plan an off-peak vacation. Want to get your next vacation for half price? It all depends on when you go, and when you book. Head to Europe in the winter, Florida in the spring or fall, and enjoy your local sights during the summer. Book six months out and avoid weekend flying, and save a bundle.
22. Don’t buy bottled water. If your tap water tastes funky, invest in a good filter and refill your water bottle. Prefer a sweeter drink? Buy bulk Gatorade or lemonade mix. You’ll save tons over grabbing individual bottles at the seven-eleven. Need some other reasons to give up bottled water?
23. Make your credit card work for you. Play the credit card game to find 0% balance transfer offers if you have outstanding debts. Once you’re out of debt, cut up all but one credit card that has a grace period and cash-back rewards program. Then, pay off your balance in full every month and save your rewards. (Any rewards but cash will just get you stuff you don’t need!)
25. Buy quality. Even when shopping second-hand, pick products that score well with ratings groups like Consumer Reports. If something you buy wears out in a year and you need to replace it, you wind up paying more than you would have for a quality model.
26. Learn to love your freezer. Try not to waste food. You can freeze almost anything, even bread and milk. Invest in some airtight freezer containers and a label maker and portion out leftovers when you cook. You could have a week of meals for less than $2 each versus spending between $5 and $10 on lunches out.
27. Turn off the TV. Marketing is everywhere, and it’s subliminal. Limit your TV time and train yourself to question every marketing message you see. Even sales and special pricing at the grocery store may not be as good as they appear. Most likely they’re just trying to get you to buy more than you need.
28. Stop junk mail. Reduce your waste and eliminate the tempting marketing messages (especially for credit cards) pouring through your mail slot. Get off marketers’ direct mail lists. Write to them asking to be taken off, or get a service like www.greendimes.com to do it for you.
29. Find multi-purpose tools. Simple, time-proven household items will substitute for many more expensive single-function gizmos. Use clothespins to hold food items closed or organize stacks of paper. Learn to cook with nothing but a knife, a skillet, and a pot.
30. Plan your month. At the end of the month, make a plan for next month. Make a budget, but also plan a menu so you can go to the store fewer times and save on impulse purchases. To some extent, plan how you’ll spend your money on entertainment. If you know you’ll have a weekend away at the end of the month, think of how you can save some extra cash until then.
31. Learn to enjoy “zero-sum” moments. It occurred to me the other day that we spend most of our time either making or spending money. During much of the past two years when I have worked two jobs, it seemed like the only time I wasn’t working for money or spending some was when I was asleep.
Yet with all this money flying around, my happiest moments are free. Walking in the woods, lying on a beach, reading a good book, or doing something I love like painting or playing the guitar.
Make more time for free activities like these, remember how much you enjoy them, and remember that they’re free.