I’ve been writing about saving for an emergency fund and towards retirement, but what if we don’t have any extra money leftover after paying for expenses?
Having a written budget is a great way to find leaks in our finances – by finding where our money is going, we can eliminate unnecessary spending and hopefully save money. If you have a written budget and still can’t find where to cut some expenses or if you simply want to save more, here are a few simple ideas that will help you save money.
These are obviously not going to work for everybody and I’m not saying you HAVE to do them all – these are just a few suggestions on ways I save money. You can pick and choose from these easy and simple ways to save money.
Ways To Save Money
1. Save Money on Food
- Cook at home – This is by far one of the best ways to save money. Cooking your own meals will save you money and will push you into eating healthier by knowing exactly what goes into your body. You also won’t have to pay double or triple the amount it would cost you if you just made it yourself. A plate of pasta at any Italian Restaurant goes from $10-$20 when you can spend under $2 per serving if you make it at home.
- Bring your lunch to work – Socializing with coworkers during lunch is something everybody should do – we all need a break from work – but you don’t have to go out to a restaurant everyday to do so. Just bring your lunch and hangout in the break room or cafeteria with the other savers. I used to go out to lunch all the time, now I only go once or twice a week and have been able to save money that way.
- Eat leftovers – Okay I know there are some out there that don’t eat leftovers but leftovers can save you a lot of money in the long run. I’m not suggesting eating the same thing four days in a row, but there’s nothing wrong with eating the same thing twice. And you don’t even have to eat the exact same thing twice, just jazz up your leftovers a little or freeze them to eat later instead of ordering take-out.
- Brew your own coffee – I’m not a coffee drinker and maybe this is why I don’t understand people who pay $5 for a cup of coffee, but that’s not the point. The point is you could get coffee exactly how you want it by making it yourself. You can get an inexpensive Percolator and a Milk Frother and make a delicious cup of coffee the way you want it.
- Drink water – Water is not only good for you, but it is also free – or at least cheaper than soda, juice, beer, coffee, etc. But please don’t buy bottled water. I understand that bottled water might be a necessity in some under-developed countries were the water is not regulated, but in the U.S. tap water is strictly regulated and is perfectly safe to drink. Most bottled water is tap water anyways. There are countless studies and documentaries about bottled water and about how it’s not better than tap water or healthier for you. You can always get a Brita Filter if you want to feel safer.
2. Save Money on Groceries
- Make a list and stick to it – Pre-planning your meals before going to the supermarket will save you from wandering around the store looking for things to eat. Having a list will save you time and money and since time = money then you’ll save double the money… I think. Also, don’t go to the supermarket hungry or you’ll end up buying the entire store – I’ve made that mistake way too many times.
- Shop around the perimeter of supermarket – This I got from my friend Christian – he mentioned it as a way to eat healthier but it also helps you save money. Everything you need is on the perimeter of the supermarket – vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, juice, cheese, etc. Only go into the aisles when you need something specific – rice, pasta, soap, etc. This is when having a list pays off.
- Use coupons – Okay I’m not a coupon clipper – I find it’s too much work for me to go through the Sunday paper to find coupons for things that I don’t need, but I do browse the flyers to see what’s there. If I find a coupon for something I need, I sure use it. There are also websites that help you get the most out of couponing (Coupon Mom and The Krazy Coupon Lady for example).
3. Save Money Eating Out
- Find deals – Eating out can get very expensive and that’s why we should cook at home more often, but we also need to treat ourselves every once in a while. You can join services like Groupon or Livingsocial and you can find great deals on pretty much everything, especially restaurants. I use Groupon or LivingSocial almost everywhere I go. These services not only save you money but give you ideas and encourage you to try new things. It makes planning dates a lot easier. Just this past weekend we went to the city – for those who are wondering New York City is THE city – and ate $34 worth of food at Wafels & Dinges for $15. The food there was delicious and I probably wouldn’t have tried this place if it wasn’t for LivingSocial.
- Eat lunch instead of dinner – If you like a particular restaurant, going there for lunch could save you a lot of money. Most restaurants have lunch specials and ramp up their prices for dinner. This is especially true for some fancy restaurants – we went to Restaurant August in New Orleans and had a four course meal for less than the cost of one dinner plate. Consider having a lunch date and eating dinner at home.
4. Save Money on TV
- Drop cable/satellite – You can watch almost anything online. With services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime you can watch thousands of shows and movies whenever you want. I didn’t really find the need to spend over $100 a month for channels I never watched. If you like to watch the local news, just get the basic cable package, which includes all network and local channels, and watch everything else online. Just connect your computer to your TV and that’s it.
- Get a Roku, Apple TV or Google Chromecast – If you don’t want to connect your computer to your TV, then consider getting one of these devices. They are all under or around $100 (Google Chromecast is $35) and you can connect them to your TV to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, etc. By the way Amazon Prime just added HBO series to their collection.
5. Save Money on Auto Insurance
- Shop for quotes – Whatever you do, don’t drop your auto insurance. One, it’s illegal. Two, if you get into an accident without insurance, they can still sue you and take your assets. But having auto insurance doesn’t mean you should pay more than you have to. Go online and get quotes from different auto insurance companies and more often than not you will find a company that is cheaper than the one you have. I don’t want to use anybody’s slogan but it will probably take you 14.9 minutes and it might save you hundreds. Check at least three or four – Progressive, Geico, AllState, etc. I spent some time shopping around and switched to one that’s saving me $600 a year for more coverage than I had before.
- Get discounts – Learn about the many different discounts that are available and see if you qualify for any. You can take a defensive driving course online that could save you money. You can bundle your home and auto insurance and get a discount. You can see if paying your premium in full will give you a discount over paying monthly. So look into all discounts available.
6. Save Money on Communication
- Consider changing cellphone plans – Some cellphone plans are extremely expensive but you can get the same service for cheaper. I’ve always had Sprint because it was the cheapest of the three major providers and it has always worked fine for me. There have been times where I don’t have internet when I’m camping or hiking but I’m not sure having internet while camping is worth $50 more every month. I recently switched to Ting Wireless, which uses the Sprint network for half the price. With Sprint I was paying $127 a month (including 25% company discount) for two phones, now with Ting I’m going to pay about $55 (based on my typical usage). I’ve been using Ting for over a week now and haven’t noticed any difference in service. I even watched two episodes of House of Cards on Netflix while at the gym. I can’t fully recommend Ting yet because I haven’t received my first bill, but based on the reviews I shouldn’t have any problems with it. I’ll have a full review after a month.
7. Save Money on Vacations
- Use home-sharing services – With home-sharing services like AirBnB or VRBO you can rent someone’s house or just a room in their house for less than a hotel. Some people find staying at a stranger’s house weird or potentially dangerous but I’ve used AirBnB in New Orleans, Portugal (3-different places), and Spain and have never felt unsafe or weird. On the contrary, I’ve found a much better traveling experience by staying at someone’s home. The owners usually have pointers on where to go and where to eat and how to travel safely in their city. They’ve also had great suggestions on where the locals go for entertainment.
- Discounts on hotels – If home-sharing services are not for you, then consider using websites such as hotels.com to try to find discounts.
- Find deals – Groupon and Livingsocial are also great for vacation deals. We went to Costa Rica for 7 nights, airfare, car rental, canopy tour, and most meals included for very cheap through Groupon.
8. Save Money Banking
- Get a bank that pays you – If your bank is not giving you any money, then it’s time to switch banks. There’s no need to stay loyal to a bank that only charges you fees and doesn’t give you anything in return. I switched to Santander, which pays me $20 a month for having direct deposit, and paying two bills online (read all the fine print and conditions before signing up). I’m also a member of the credit union at work, which pays almost 0.9% interest on my savings. We’re not talking about big money here but I would rather have my bank pay me something for using their services.
- Avoid fees – A lot of banks have checking fees, overdraft fees, and/or ATM fees. By avoiding all those fees, you can potentially save hundreds a year.
9. Save Money on Interest
- Pay off debt – If you carry a balance on your credit cards from month to month then you are making credit card companies rich. The average american household has a credit card balance of $7,087. Assuming a 14% interest rate, that household is paying $82.68 in interest per month ($7,087 x 0.14 / 12-months). By paying off their credit card debt, the average american household would save almost $1,000 a year.
10. Save More Money
- Cancel unused memberships – One of the things you shouldn’t cut back is the money you spend on your health. If you have a gym membership and you use it, don’t cancel it to save money because your health is more important than the few bucks you will save. However, if you’re paying for a gym membership and are not going to the gym – like most people – then you should cancel it. And going once a month is not considered going to the gym. Also, I’m a proponent of canceling cable and getting Netflix, but if you’re not using Netflix then cancel it as well. There’s really no point of paying for stuff you don’t need just to have it. You can also put Netflix on hold for 90 days if you want.
As you can see there are more than ten ways to save money so pick a few and start saving. Some of you might think these are not enough savings but remember that every bit counts. To put it in perspective, check out the following table.
These are my actual savings per year from spending a few minutes of my day getting a car insurance quote, switching banks, getting rid of cable, and changing cell phone plans. I probably spent maybe one to two total hours doing this. And this is not including savings from credit card interest that I don’t have to pay anymore so the potential savings could be even greater. Just imagine the potential growth of our savings by investing it on our retirement account and reaping the benefits of compound interest.
The beauty about these saving ideas is that we still get to do the things we love. We get to go on vacations, eat out, have a cellphone, watch the shows we love, drive our cars, and eat the food we love – we just get to find ways to save money on those things. Why pay more than you have to?