1. Cook at home
Most of us like to dine out occasionally. Someone waits on you, brings you what you want, and then cleans up after you. But, the price of eating out isn’t worth it if you’re trying to save money. Besides the fact that eating out can be expensive (per meal or cumulatively), you also can’t be assured of what is going into the food or even what happens to it between the kitchen and your table. Preparing your own food at home ensures that you know how the food was handled and prepared, what ingredients went into it, AND saves money. Having to clean up after yourself is a small price to pay!
2. Cook from scratch
Cooking from scratch, whether you eat raw or cooked foods, saves money because you aren’t paying for the prep work someone else did for you. For instance, have you ever noticed how much more expensive fruit is when it’s been cut, peeled and packaged? The price isn’t really for the fruit; it’s mainly for the labor expended to chop it up and package it. Buy it whole, chop it up yourself, and save money. If you feel you don’t have time to prepare food from scratch, try preparing it in batches when you do have time so that it’ll be ready for you when you don’t.
3. Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk has several benefits. Aside from saving money, you only buy what you need, and there’s no extra packaging to be thrown away, so you’re also helping the environment. It’s also good to stock up when non-perishable items you use normally go on sale, such as bath tissue. Items like these don’t go bad, so load up on them when the prices drop.
4. Take a list
Make sure you know what you need to restock before you head to the store. Keeping a running list during the week can help, especially if kept in a prominent place, like on the refrigerator. If you have a list of the items you need when you go shopping, you’re less likely to pick up items you don’t really need. Make a plan to stick to the list and don’t deviate. You’ll find your grocery bill is much lower.
5. Don’t shop hungry
This is a common mistake that I make. When you head to the grocery store feeling hunger, just about everything looks good and you’re more likely to throw items in the cart that would not normally have been appealing. Lots of junk food ends up coming home after a shopping spree on an empty stomach. Eat first, then shop. The reduced bill will positively reflect good planning.
6. Cut coupons
Coupons are great tools to save money, but only if they are for things you already buy or had planned on buying. I find that the problem with most coupons is that they are designed to entice me to try items I would not otherwise have purchased, and often are more expensive even at the discounted price than what I would have paid otherwise. Store circulars are great places to find coupons where you shop, and there are online coupon sites that can point to coupons for both in-store and on-line purchases. Sites such as Giveaway of the Day point out lots of steals and deals, and can save you money. (Of course, only if you find a deal on something you were already going to purchase!)
7. Grow your own
Organic seeds are a lot less expensive than organic produce. Find a plot in the yard and plant a garden! There’s nothing like picking your own tomato, carrot, cucumber, radishes and lettuce for a salad as fresh as they come. Fruits and vegetables lose nutritional value once they’re picked, so you’re ensuring maximum nutrients as well. Once you get your garden plot established, it only takes a few minutes each day to tend and there’s nothing like the feeling of growing your own food.
8. Pack a lunch
This goes along with not eating out, but it surprises me just how many people think “eating out” only applies to fancy dinners. Fast food restaurants and quick stops at the vending machine at work count, too. Brown-bag it to work, and make sure to take plenty of healthy snacks. You’ll save money AND avert temptation to eat unhealthy foods at work.
9. Carry your own water
Bottled water has a couple of issues I try to avoid. The top two that come to mind are that it usually comes in plastic and that it’s likely just plain ol’ tap water anyway. Filter and carry your own water in a stainless steel water bottle and you’ll avoid both. The stainless steel containers cost a bit up front, but they last forever, are easy to clean, and won’t leach dangerous chemicals into its contents. You’ll also be less likely to buy an unhealthy soda if you stay hydrated.
10. Buy second-hand
I’ve mentioned before that I love to buy my clothes from a favorite consignment shop. That is, when I do buy them. I try to limit shopping for new clothes to just a couple of times per year. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have room in your closet for more, then buying more isn’t really a good idea. I have definitely ignored that one. Talk to friends to find their favorites, or just check out the yellow pages and go on a second-hand store tour. You’ll be amazed at the designer clothes you can get in new or like-new condition for just a few dollars.
11. Buy basics
It’s best, when buying clothes, to stay away from the latest trends, whether it’s cut, style or color. Buying basics in neutral colors will give your clothes more use and life. Black, tan, navy blue and white are far easier to wear year-to-year than bright fuchsia, neon green, and blazing yellow. If you can mix and match several blazers, pants and blouses in neutral colors, you’ll have many more outfits from which to choose. If you do fall in love with the flavor-of-the-month fashion item, try to find a couple of things that can be paired with it.
12. Swap parties
If you’re lucky enough to have a large circle of friends who all love clothes, invite them to bring their cast-offs to a Swap Party. Each person brings a bag (or more) of the clothes they no longer wear, and everyone has fun chatting and catching up while trying on new-to-them clothes. Swap parties are great for all sorts of things — books, magazines, music, tools, plants. Just gather those friends together who have the same interests, and start swapping!
13. Take care of the clothes you have
One of the best ways to save money is to take care of the things you already have. I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s such an important point that I think it bears repeating. Taking good care of the clothes we have means we don’t have to replace them. At least, as often.
Movies are a fun way to escape the humdrum of everyday life, but they can be awfully expensive if your idea of taking in a movie means visiting the cinema, especially if it includes a grossly overpriced tub of popcorn and a soda. Save movie viewing for home and you save money, get to pause the movie anytime you need for bathroom breaks, and can snack on healthier and less expensive fare.
Speaking of watching movies at home, there’s no need to spend money at the rental place or buy DVDs. Your local library likely has a good stock of popular movies, whole seasons of television shows and great documentaries. And if the library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, do a movie swap with friends. Just be sure to return what you borrowed in good time, or your friends won’t want to swap with you in the future!
Once again, we’re back to the library. Isn’t it amazing how wonderful the library is? You can check out books, music, movies, and magazines - all for free! The only requirement is that you return what you borrowed when they ask you to, and they are usually quite generous with the amount of time you get to keep it. If you can’t find it at the library, buy it used. Even online retail book sellers now have used sections for their books, and you can often find a perfect copy for pennies, plus shipping. And don’t forget your friends, again! Have a book swapping party!
Another place people can spend unnecessary money, myself included, is by purchasing magazines at full price. If you really truly want that magazine, buy a subscription. You’ll save money and have the added convenience of having it delivered right to your door. If you only want to read a few articles in one issue, head back to the library. They likely carry it, and you can read the entire magazine without spending a dime. You can also request sample issues of the magazine for the cost of a stamp. If you love it, subscribe. If you can live without it (and, believe me, you can), cancel. And magazines are another good swap item for parties with friends!
There’s no need to purchase a newspaper these days. Every article you can pick up in a hard-copy paper can be found online for free. Get your news online and you save the money that went to the paper delivery and trees, too.
19. Cut the cable
Cable television is one of the biggest wastes of money I know. Most of the time, you’re not using it. When you are using it, you’re not using all of it. And what you ARE using, probably wasn’t worth the time you spent. This is especially true for those high-priced extra channels. I love my television, so I’m not likely to recommend ditching it altogether, but cable television is completely unnecessary. Use the television to watch favorite movies, the latest documentary, or as part of a Scene-It party. These things do not require a monthly cable bill.
Now that you’re not watching so much television, there is more time to get outdoors for some fresh air and exercise! Instead of driving to the corner store, take a walk there. You’ll be in shape in no time, as long as you’re not walking to pick up a pack of cigarrettes. *wink* (And if you ARE, you’ll save a LOT of money by quitting!)
If the corner store is too far away to walk, ride a bike. If you can, ride your bike to work, too. Biking will get in that all-important exercise, get you out in the sunshine for vitamin D, and is easy on the planet.
22. Bus or Train
Public transportation is another option to consider. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has great public transport, like Chicago, take advantage of it!
23. Car pool
If taking a car is the only option, see if there aren’t others going to the same place so you can all go together. Car-pooling to work is a great way for everyone to save money, and reduces the number of polluting cars on the road. If there isn’t a car pool already going where you work, let people know you’re interested in starting one. You might be surprised at just how many people had been thinking about the same thing!
24. Maintain your car
Here again, one of the best ways to save money is to take care of what you have. If you own a car (and in this day and age, who doesn’t?), keep it properly serviced and you’ll extend its life by years. Make sure the oil is changed regularly, tire pressure is set to recommended standards, and it receives a tune-up and a bath as often as it needs. It’s especially important to keep it washed in the winter when road salts can cause irreparable corrosion underneath your car.
25. Buy used
If you have to buy a car, don’t buy new. We’ve all heard before that a car depreciates in value the second it’s driven off the lot, and it’s true. Be smart about the used car you buy by having it thoroughly checked over by a mechanic, and doing your homework. It will take a little more research on your part to get a good deal and a good buy, but the amount of money you’ll save will make it worth the extra effort.
Now let’s talk about buying things in general…
26. Ask yourself, “Do I really need it?”
We, of course, have to be able to discern our needs from our wants. A good way to determine this is to write down the thing you think you need to buy and put the piece of paper away for a week. If after a week you still think you need this item, you probably do. That is, if you even remember the paper on which you wrote it down! Waiting is always the best way to know if you really need something and a good way to avoid impulse purchases.
27. Do the research
If you have decided you do, indeed, really need whatever it is, make sure you thoroughly research it. Especially if the item is something like a new appliance, check online for reviews and recommendations, ask friends and family about their experiences, and then be sure to price shop so you can find the best deal.
28. Borrow it
Before you make the purchase, it is possible that you can just borrow whatever it is? Or does someone you know actually own the item and no longer wants or needs it themselves, so you can either buy it used or receive it for free? Ask around before you spend your money. You might just be amazed at how many people have things stored away that they don’t use but don’t want to just throw away.
29. Buy it used
If friends or family don’t have it to sell or give you, check online auction sites. For just about everything you might want to buy, there’s someone who doesn’t want theirs anymore. Just be sure to check their rating and read all the fine print.
30. Rent it
Ask yourself if you really need to own it? Is it possible that you only need this item for a short time - like a pressure washer? If you only really need it for a one-time use, consider renting it instead. Most home improvement and hardware stores have equipment rentals and it’s a lot less expensive than buying the item outright.
If you have more tips and suggestions for saving money, please share them! I’m always interested!