100 Easy Ways to Save Money
Jim Wang Bargaineering.com
Need a few ideas on how to save some extra cash? When I first wrote this list, it was November and we were ramping up to the holiday spending binge that we all love so much, but these tips can help you save money at any time in the year. Why wait until our consumer driven society gets all whipped up into a fervor? We can save whenever! (I see nothing wrong with getting whipped up, to be honest!). This year, with the economy so weak and with so many people concerned about their financial future, it makes sense to cut back on the things that aren’t important so we can spend it on the things that are. Here are a hundred tips on how to save some quick money:
Eat, Drink, Being Merry
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Cook your own meals: The number one tip, echoed almost anywhere you look, is to cook your own meals. Cooking is a fun way to reduce your costs, provide entertainment, and eat healthier. Eat less meat: Veggies are cheap per pound compared to meat, so try going with a heavier vegetable diet. If you like meat, skip beef and go more often with chicken and pork. Pork isn’t as healthy as beef but chicken is a pretty good option. Meat as a side dish: If you don’t want to eat less meat, here’s a trick - use meat as a side dish and something else as the headliner. You still get your meat, but you eat less of it. We like eating eggplant and ground pork, the eggplant is the headliner and the ground pork makes up the supporting cast. Eat slower: The faster you eat, the more you eat. It takes time for your stomach to tell your brain you’re full. Bring your lunch: Brown bagging lunch is a great way to take a $5-$10 expense every day and bring it in under $2-3. Heck, if you’re a cold cut sub kind of person, your lunches could be under a dollar or two and still be jam-packed with goodness. If you like eating out, eat out for lunch and cook for dinner: Dinner at a restaurant is far more expensive than lunch at a restaurant, so always go with lunch if you’re deciding between the two
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Check for restaurant coupons: If you do eat out, check online or in the local circulars for coupons. At worst, you can always hit up Restaurant.com and get $25 gift certificates for $10 (or even less when they have deals). The only warning about Restaurant.com is that their selection is very limited around where I live, so it may also be the case for you. Skip the vending machine: If you really like an afternoon snack, bring your own. You can usually buy them for much much cheaper at the grocery store. Grow your own herbs: Herbs are really easy to grow, they just need some dirt, some light, and they’ll grow like crazy. Vegetables are a little tougher so start off with herbs and grow the ones you use the most. Fresh herbs will taste better and you won’t have to pay McCormick & Company $5 for a container of basil. Make one of those lunches a cold cut sandwich: I’m a fan of hot lunches but if you want to trim your expenses even more, make it a real budget lunch once a week for extra savings. Two slices of bread, a couple slices of your favorite cold cut, some lettuce, maybe a slice of tomato… that is some good eating with a great price. Cut one (or more) dining out meal a week (or month): Think of it as a reason to test drive recipes for any holiday dinners or potlucks you’ll be attending this year. You can save big money by cutting out dinners in restaurants and it will help your waistline too. Leftovers make great lunches. Make a grocery store list and stick to it: To help reduce impulse buying whenever you’re in the supermarket, make a list before you go in and stick with it. Ignore the pretty displays showing discounts on things you don’t need and go straight for what you have listed. Not only will you save money, but you’ll save time. Always buy generics: I can’t think of any instances where the generic brand of something is worse than the brand name. Many companies actually produce both the brand name and the generic, they just stick the product in a different box check the manufacturer, you’ll see what I mean. Bring your own reusable bag: Or any bag for that matter, many places now will give you a nickel off your grocery store bill if you bring your resusable bag. You save money, use fewer plastic bags, and save the world in the process! Water is cheaper than soda, beer, juice, coffee, tea, etc: Thirsty? Hit the water fountain. Let the cold water hit your lips and quench your thirst. Water is far cheaper than any other beverage and it has the least amount of calories. Brew your own coffee: You can either pay $5 for a cup at Starbucks or brew your own for pennies. Heck, you can even get a free coffeemaker if you sign up for Gevalia’s coffee club (sticking with the program won’t save you money though). Skip the after-work beer: It’s easy to fall into the habit of having a beer after work “just to take the edge off.” It’s extra calories consumed and extra dollars spent and you might not even enjoy it anymore. Stop smoking: Cigarettes are really expensive and can cost you big bucks down the road in medical costs. If you want a stress reliever, pick up a bottle of scotch instead.
Money Saving Car Tips
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Carpool just one day a week: You don’t need to carpool every day, just carpool one day a week if that’s possible and you can save yourself some green and do something kind for Mother Earth. Buy the type of gas your car calls for: If your car says it needs regular unleaded, don’t go putting premium in the tank because it doesn’t improve your mileage. If your car calls for premium, don’t put in regular because the fuel will explode at the wrong pressure and thus cause that knock (and messes up timing, fuel efficiency). Drive the speed limit: Studied have shown that air drag above 55 reduces your fuel efficiency, take the highways at 80 and your fuel efficiency will suffer greatly. Keep your tires properly inflated: If your tires are over-inflated or underinflated, your car’s fuel efficiency, handling, and tire life are all worsened. Check the sidewall for the proper PSI and get your tires inflated to that range. Get routine maintenance done: Go to a trusted mechanic for your routine maintenance needs. The 30,000 mile one is regarded as almost unnecessary (but I would get it anyway) but the 60,000 is crucial as they replace worn parts that will likely improve performance. A trusted mechanic won’t BS you on replacing things you don’t need to have replaced, to find one like him or her, ask the people around you who have been there a while. Always try to find free parking: Sometimes you might need to walk a little farther to get where you want to be, but there should always be some free parking around somewhere. Shop around for auto insurance: It takes only a few minutes and could save you hundreds of dollars, consider shopping around for car insurance every year. Companies are constantly updating their actuarial tables so you might find yourself in a cheaper category (and it never hurts to look!). Consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage: If you have an older car, dropping collision and comprehensive coverage can save you a bit of
money. This means you are now responsible for your own car in the event of an accident where you are at fault. Anytime you shift risk from the insurer to yourself, you will see your premiums fall. When buying a car, review total cost of ownership: The sticker price isnâ€™t the only thing that matters with a car - review its total cost of ownership at a site like Edmunds.com. Itâ€™s the maintenance, fuel, and other costs that can get you.
Streamline Your Service Plans
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Shop around for a new cell phone plan, new cable television or internet plan, or new insurance policies: Every year, you should shop around to see if you can get the services you have now for less. Unless you’re on a contract, you will almost always be able to find a plan that’s cheaper as other companies try to win your business. Worst case, you get your existing service provider to match the newest offers and you still save money. Drop services you don’t really need: How much television do you really watch? Maybe you don’t need internet service at home? Consider dropping the services you think you need but you honestly don’t really use that often. Replace your landline with Skype: Skype is a popular VOIP plan that runs your phone through your computer’s internet connection. Plans are cheap, you can call other Skype users for free, and there are devices you can use that let you use your home’s existing telephone wiring too. One caveat, no 911 service. Consider a pay-as-you-go cell phone: How often do you really use your phone? Review your bills and you might find that of the 500 minutes you get, you use around 100. A pay as you go phone may be a more economical alternative. Put Netflix on hold: Did you know that you can put Netflix on hold for 90 day blocks? Why not put them on hold and save that money for gifts? Just restart it whenever the holidays end. Rent movies, don’t buy them: How many times have you watched a movie more than twice? There are very few movies in that list. How many times have you watched a movie in your “collection” more than twice? Again, probably even less. You can rent movies from Blockbuster or through a mail service like Netflix for far less than it costs to buy them, go that route instead. Rent video games, don’t buy them: The same rule applies for video games. Video games are usually $50-60 a piece (far more than movies), but think of how many games you play in a month. Services like GameFly are probably a better bet for you.
Money Saving Tips in Your Home
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Install a programmable thermostat: Installing one of these little guys can really help your utility bills and the earlier you get it installed, the more it saves! Estimates are that for every degree you lower the thermostat, that’s 5% off your bill (in the winter). I like to think of it this way - why spend money to heat or cool something that I’m not even going to be there (or awake) and enjoy? The power company has enough of my money! Lower the temperature on the thermostat: HVAC systems have two settings - off and on. By lowering the temperature of the thermostat, you leave it in the off state for longer periods and thus use less energy. Less energy, lower bill! Wash your clothes in cold water: Detergent technology has gotten so good that washing in hot water is no longer necessary, you can save lots of energy by washing with cold water rather than hot water. Line dry your clothes: Get a rack or clothesline and dry your clothes on that, instead of in your dryer. If that idea isn’t entirely appealing, consider drying larger items (towels, sheets) on the line and your regular clothes in the dryer to cut down on the time. Lower the temperature of your water heater: You can turn the temperature of your water heater down to conserve some extra energy, there’s no sense in making it really hot only to add cold water to it during showers. (the only caveat is that you should check your dishwasher for a booster, it’ll need the temps that high for cleaning purposes) Wrap your water heater with a water heater blanket: One of your biggest energy sucks in the house is your water heater, that tank that keeps your water nice and hot for your showers. Wrapping a blanket reduces the amount of heat it loses into the area around it.
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Clean out your refrigerator coils: Dust off the coils on the refrigerator and you can improve its efficiency, thus lowering the electricity bill of the one thing in your house that’s always on. Find and plug drafts: You don’t need the cold air from the outside to infiltrate your home (or your warm air blowing out), so try to find all the drafty windows and doors in your home and seal them up. Your energy bill will thank you. Change your air filter: The more you run your HVAC system, the more that air filter will catch. The more it catches, the more it clogs. Yep, you guessed it, the dirtier it gets, the harder your HVAC needs to work to push air. Swap that baby out and improve your system’s operating efficiency. Get your furnace tuned: I had no idea but you’re supposed to get your furnaced “tuned” every few years, it could increase your efficiency considerably. Swap out regular light bulbs with CFLs: The technology in CFLs now is so good that most people can’t even tell the difference (other than by looking at them). Swapping them out reduces your energy use and are best used in areas where the lights are on most often. They’re more expensive but they last longer and use less power. Institute a one light, one person rule: Leaving the lights on in your house is a great way to spend money, so try reducing your electricity usage by instituting a one light, one person rule. Each person in the house can only have one light on at a time. Reduce phantom electricity use: Phantom electricity is the electricity your appliances use when they’re “off.” This happens because we love our instant on appliances! To help reduce this, you can plug them all into a surge protector and turn that off to ensure you aren’t losing power to something you’re not even using. When buying appliances, reliability trumps price: When you’re buying new appliances, be sure to read reliability reports because you don’t want to spend less only to find out you bought an inferior product that won’t last. Shop around for homeowner’s or renter’s insurance: Renter’s insurance is already pretty cheap so you might not get much savings there but homeowner’s can vary greatly. Consider a home energy audit: These aren’t cheap but they can identify things you can do to make your home more efficient and thus save you more money. Remember to return those cans and bottles for deposits: If you live in a state that collects a deposit on cans and bottles, remember to redeem them! Unfortunately in Maryland we don’t do that (but that also means we don’t pay it), but I’d love to see it instituted here so that we could entice more recycling.
Three Tips to Beat the Tax Man
Adjust your tax withholding: Adjust the withholding on your W-4 so you don’t give the government an interest free loan. I recommend using theIRS’s tax withholding calculator to figure out what you should put down. Accelerate deductions: If you can sneak those deductions in before December 31st, you can claim them on your taxes and get paid whenever you file. If you wait until January 1st, they won’t come until 2010. You’ll have to balance this with the tax brackets but in general it works out. Delay income: Likewise, if you delay payments until after January 1st, you won’t have to pay the tax man until the next year. Again, you’ll have to balance this with the tax brackets but in general it works out.
Save on Shopping
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Unit price is king (or queen): Whenever you buy anything, compare the unit price. Many stores now calculate this for you as a service so take advantage. In a world of substitutes, the cheaper unit price wins. (the only exception is when you’re comparing sizes of the same item, you may not want a 50 lb. container of yams) Join customer loyalty clubs: If your supermarket has a program, sign up. If your favorite store has a program, sign up. Don’t let the program entice you into more spending but let it get you discounts on the spending you already do. You have to give up a little information on your spending habits but that allows them to offer you more targeted offers, a fair trade I think. Find cheaper stores to shop at: Around here, the most convenient grocery store is our local Giant Foods. It’s about middle of the pack in terms of prices, with Food Lion and Shoppers below it (or on par) and Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s above it. I go to Giant Foods because I can walk there, but a Food Lion would probably be a little bit cheaper. Buy in bulk: This makes the most sense on non-perishable items but always try to buy in bulk when you can. If necessary, get some friends in on the deal so you can split the item(s) afterwards. Buy used: Depending on what the item is, consider buying a gently used one before a new one. Sites like eBay and Craigslist are great places to find gently used items at a fraction of the price of a brand new one. Hit up Goodwill or the Salvation Army: Some people may look down on this suggestion but think about it, perfectly good items are donated to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army and they need to sell them as much as the next store. You can find great vintage stuff there! Buy a substitute: All products have substitutes, consider buying something that offers the same thing but at a cheaper price. iPods are hot but there are a million other music player alternatives that cost less. Buy online: Online vendors often have better prices than traditional stores because they have lower overhead. Many places offer free shipping and no sales tax
(unless you live in the state they have their warehouse) so that increases your savings. Always look for coupons: If you see something you like, checkRetailMeNot.com for a coupon. Chances are something will be available. Scour the Black Friday deals: This year’s retail sales are expected to be atrocious so Black Friday deals will likely be plentiful. In fact, even if you don’t feel like being a doorbuster, you probably can find incredible deals all throughout the holiday season. Take advantage of after-holiday sales: You’ll see a lot of decorations on sale after the holidays, take advantage by buying these things off the clearance rack. Chances are you’ll see a lot of stuff for sale. Take advantage of credit card promotions: Discover is running a holiday promotion where you get $20 gift cards for $200 of spending at eligible malls. While I recommend going online, if you do opt to hit the mall with the crowds, it’s better to do it with a 10% cashback offer in your back pocket. Fix it before you replace it: It’s amazing the number of perfectly repairable items that are relegated to the landfill, try fixing something before you toss it. Check online for troubleshooting tips and you may find a whole community of enthusiasts willing to help you out. Go cash only: Ditch your credit cards and live entirely cash based. Many people who have tried this report spending far less because they are so much closer to the money. Something about pulling out a card makes spending so easy, it’s much harder to pull out bills.
Saving Money While Having Fun
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Check out movies from your library: Want to catch a movie? Why not visit your local library and see what they have in the stacks? You could find some oldies but goodies in there as well as recent releases that you may have missed in the theaters. A free movie watched in the comfort of your own home sure beats $10 a ticket and some guy kicking your seat. Game nights: You probably have some board games in your house somewhere right? Chances are your friends do too, invite them over for inexpensive game nights rather than nights on the town. Movie nights: The same logic can be applied for movie nights too, scour your archives for a goodie (or rent one from the local store) and entertain a bunch of people for a mere $4 (or free!). Go to movies during matinée showing: Some movies are best enjoyed in the theater and the cheapest way to do that is to go during the matinée showing (or go as a student, military, etc.). Same movie, earlier in the day, much cheaper. Participate in swaps, online and offline: Swap books, movies, music, games, anything with your friends to get something new. You can’t play two games at once right? So rather than have your copy of Scrabble sit in your bookshelf while you play your newly purchased copy of Risk, trade it with a friend that invariably already has Risk! Volunteer: Volunteering your time is a wonderful way to spend your time and you can get a tax deduction for your travel. You can meet new people, learn new skills, and otherwise have a great time. Ask some of your friends and you can do it together!.
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Take advantage of the outdoors: It’s a little cold out but you can always bundle up and enjoy the outdoors anyway. Look for local parks you can walk through or any trails you can hike. Never buy magazines from the newsstand: If you find yourself buying the same magazines from the newsstand, stop! You can subscribe to a magazine for far less. Stop playing the lottery: Yep, this is under entertainment because that’s what the lottery provides - entertainment. You’d have more fun at a casino and better odds, save your money for that.
Travel & Vacations Money Saving Tips
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Book early: It’s already late November but book your trips ahead of time through easy to use services like Kayak.com. Consider bus or train: Chinatown buses are remarkably cheap and the train isn’t too shabby either, consider buses or trains as alternates to airlines if you want to save more. Be flexible in your travel times: Check the times and days around your target travel dates to see if you can get a cheaper fare by going on an off-peak time. Sometimes I check Monday morning flights (when I fly from home) because I’m flexible and the fares are cheaper. Use car rental discounts: Check to see if your employer has any car rental discount codes and check to see if they would offer a cheaper price. Costco members have access to Costco’s code and many other organizations have partnerships with major rental agencies. Compare that with the standard rate (which may be cheaper because of promotions) too, you can’t assume the code always gets you the cheaper rate. Skip car rental insurances: Between your regular auto insurance and credit card insurances (call them to confirm), you should be all set. Only use transit in areas you can’t otherwise walk: By this I mean, you can get off the train, bus or taxi a couple blocks or stops early and walk the rest to save
on fares. This is especially true in taxis if you’re stuck in awful traffic. There’s no sense paying to just sit there! Get a bicycle: Bikes aren’t cheap but they cost less to operate, and are better for you, than cars. If you are lucky enough to have a commute that can be traversed on bike, take advantage! Check with your travel agent: Travel agents sometimes can get better deals on vacation bundles because they work directly with the providers. Online is great but sometimes a travel agent can do better, especially on international trips where websites have worse coverage. Hostels are nice and cheap: If you’re visiting somewhere and don’t mind living like a college kid again, consider a hostel. They’re cheap, communal, and be a lot of fun. You can meet all sorts of travelers while staying at a hostel. Cancel the trip: It sounds harsh but one option is to cancel a particularly expensive trip given the changing economic circumstances. If you’ve booked it already, this may not be a great option but if you’re still mulling it over then backing out may not be a bad idea. Try a stay-cation: A stay-cation is where you take a vacation where you are! Check out the local sites and activities you may have overlooked since you live there. It’s fast becoming a popular option for people to rediscover their own home. Camping is always fun: Camping, despite the cooler temperatures, is always a fun time because you get to spend that time with friends and family. Campsites are usually pretty cheap to rent for the night (since they’re just open areas).
Saving On Your Personal Finances
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Always get free checking: You want free checking with no minimum balance and no account maintenance fees. These are plentiful so don’t settle for less. A free checking with a minimum balance is interest you’re not getting from someplace better. Always use your bank’s ATM: ATM access fees are going up every year, don’t use another bank’s ATM. When you do, your bank will charge you a fee and the other bank will charge you a fee. Double whammy. Get a credit union account too: They usually offer better rates on loans so it’s always good to have a relationship with one. Negotiate away fees: Were you recently dinged a fee from your bank or credit card? Try asking them nicely if they will consider waiving your indiscretion. If they refuse, threaten to take your business elsewhere. If they still refuse, take your business elsewhere. Don’t use a card with an annual fee: There isn’t really much of a reason for you to have a card with an annual fee unless it’s a secured card and you’re rebuilding your credit. For everyone else, ditch the $60 or $90 a year card and go with something that’s free. Request rate reductions from your credit cards: If you’re carrying a balance, ask for a rate reduction. Many companies are agreeing to these requests because they know the credit market is tight, they’d rather take a little less now than risk defaults. Use billpay or electronic payments: It sounds silly but mailing in your payments costs you 42 cents each time, 42 cents you can use somewhere else. For a less silly reason, an identity thief could easily nab your payment, open the envelope, and steal your check. It contains a ton of information on it (bank
account numbers, name, address, your signature) and is one of the most insecure methods of payment. 97. Take advantage of your FSA: A flexible spending account lets you set aside funds on a pre-tax basis for qualified medical expenses. It’s offered by your employer as a health benefit, take advantage of it. 98. Bundle insurances: Ask your insurers if they offer discounts for bundling insurances, many of them do. You could save more by shifting your auto insurance over to your homeowner’s or life insurance company (and you deal with only one company). 99. Increase insurance deductibles: The easiest way to reduce your premiums is to increase your deductibles, the amount of out of pocket expenses you need to foot before insurance kicks in. It shifts risks from the insurance companies to you, so be sure to boost your emergency funds to cover it in the event of an accident. 100. Take advantage of high yield savings accounts: High yield savings accounts offer much better interest rates for your savings, often beating traditional banks by a significant margin. 101. Pay ahead of time if it offers savings: My auto insurance offers a discount if I pay ahead of time, a discount that trumps any interest I’d earn on the money. Check for anything that lets you pay ahead of time in return for a discount. I gave you a little bonus one in there just for good measure.
(Photo Credits: Top Shelf by e.t., Mini Car Show by baldheretic, Cell Phone Stack byscallop_holden, Rustic Home by bill barber, Tax Forms by 427, Top Shop Shopping by cristiano_betta, Holiday Party by erikbenson, Opera House bysacharules, Stack of credit cards by Andres Rueda)