April is Financial Literacy Month, an initiative spearheaded by Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Finance Literacy, and as such I wanted to publish a massive post on ways to save money. This post weighs in at over 5,500 words, contains 105 easy ways to save money, and I hope that not only will it open your eyes to some aspects of financial literacy but also save you some money in the process.
We tend to only think about saving money when there's a reason. An impetus.
Maybe it's the holidays, you're looking at all the folks you need to buy a gift and thinking where you can cut back. Maybe you want to go on a vacation this summer so you're looking for a few good places to spend less so you can go on this trip responsibly. Or maybe you just got your latest credit card bill and think it's a tad bit too high.
Whatever the reason, cutting back is a great way to give yourself a quick raise. I'm a big believer that earning more money is the best way to increase your wealth, but earning more is rarely a quick endeavor. You can save money today, earning money often takes a bit longer.
So, if you want a quick refresher on areas you can save cash now, you're in the right place.
Here are a hundred+ easy ways to save money:
Saving is good but you can also look at the “earn money” side of the equation – here are some good resources for how to make extra money.
- Cook for yourself: Going out to eat is a lot of fun – a professional cooks the meal, puts it on a plate, you eat it, they take it away, and you even get leftovers. It's also expensive to do it often. And it's really not that good for you, between the salt, sugar, fat, and portion sizes… eating out is bad for your pocket and your waistline. It's better to learn how to cook for yourself (and you will probably be bad at first) early on so you have a lot of time to be good at it!
- Reduce your meat consumption: Meat is expensive! Even the cheapest meat, chicken, costs a few dollars a pound and that's if you buy chicken that is factory farmed – not organic, pasture raised, or free range. Vegetables are cheaper per pound compared to most meat, tofu is a versatile protein that isn't expensive, and you can save quite a bit if you learn how to cook vegetables in a way you enjoy.
- Make meat a side dish: It's hard to cut out meat entirely, I wouldn't suggest that for long term savings, but you can take it from an entree to a side dish. Sometimes we just want a bit of that flavor and you can get that if you pack it in for a side dish.
- Eat slower: It takes a little bit of time for your stomach to tell your brain that it's full – eat slower to give your stomach a chance. Eating less will cost less.
- Brown bag your lunch once a week: If you buy lunch every day, quitting cold turkey will be tough. Adjust your schedule so you bring your lunch at least once a week. Back when I had an office job, I would try to bring in my lunch Monday – Thursday and treat myself to a meal with friends on Friday. It also gives you more time to work at your desk, which can pay off in the long run.
- Make one of those lunches a cold cut lunch: Keep it simple – make it a ham sandwich with some lettuce, tomato, mayo – mmmm. I'm a huge fan of hot meals, so most of my lunches are just warmed up leftovers… but keeping it simple for just one day will save you a few bucks and not feel like you're starving yourself.
- Scratch the dining out itch: You probably don't scratch when you don't itch, so don't get into the pattern of eating out simply because. Wait until you crave something specific – then treat yourself to a good meal. Don't go just because you have no better idea.
- Eat out for lunch, cook for dinner: Dinner is going to be more expensive than lunch, so if you want to eat out then do so for lunch. Then cook yourself dinner.
- Stock up on gift cards: You know where you enjoy eating, so stock up on gift cards to the places you enjoy. You can buy them on a secondary market like Raise and Gift Card Granny, or you can buy them directly from the stores during the holidays when they run promotions.
- Bring your own afternoon snacks: If you work in an office setting and find yourself snagging snacks at the vending machine, stop! You're overpaying for a snack you could easily bring from home and stash under your desk. You know yourself – I'm not telling you to skip the Cheetos, just be smarter about how you pay for them.
- Grow your own herbs: Once you start cooking a lot, you'll find yourself using quite a bit of herbs. And you'll find yourself cursing over the price of fresh herbs at the store. Here's the thing about herbs – they're freaking weeds! Find a little pot, some dirt, sun, and plant your own herbs. They will taste amazing and you won't buy a $5 pack each time (and you won't resort to dry herbs, which don't taste as good)
- When shopping, get a list and stick to it: A key to saving on spending at the grocery store is to maintain a list and stick with it when you're shopping. It can be hard but all those extra purchases can add up.
- Plan your meals in advance: Meal planning is crucial because without a plan you're left to figuring out what to eat at the last moment, which rarely results in the best decisions. You can't possibly make a good dinner based on the random things in your fridge when it's 5:45pm, right?
- Consider a meal plan service: A meal plan service is one where you get mailed a meal plan each week and are responsible for buying the groceries, preparing them, and cooking the meals. $5 Meal Plan is one that focuses on inexpensive meals (I co-founded it too).
- Consider a meal service: If buying groceries isn't on your list of favorite activities, you can turn to a meal service. These are companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. They send you the groceries, recipes, and you cook the meals. Not as cheap as buying the groceries yourself but you won't have any waste and the recipes are easy to make. And it's cheaper than dining out.
- Bring a reusable bag for shopping: First, it's better for the environment. Second, it might be cheaper for you. Many municipalities charge you a nickel per bag so why spend it on the bag? Some places will even give you a nickel for using a reusable bag – seems like a no brainer to me!
- Generics are often just as good: In a regulated product category, like medication, generics have the same active ingredients as the more expensive name brand products. In an unrelated product category, they may be different but sometimes produced by the same company. At Costco, the generic Kirkland brand is just as good as the name brand company that produces it.
- Drink more water: It's good for you. It's cheaper than any other beverage. Use the water fountain.
- Brew your own coffee: The latte factor is real. I used my Upgrade and Save Strategy and got a Nespresso machine. It's pricey, the pods are pricey, but it's still half as cheap as buying coffee at Starbucks.
- Skip the after work beer: After a day of work, it's easy to turn to a friend and see if they want to snag a beer at happy hour. Find a different way to unwind that doesn't involve imbibing and your body will thank you.
- Make cooking an event: Do your friends enjoy going out but you want to cut back? Start thinking about replacement ideas – what about a meal in which you all hang out, make something together, and enjoy each other's company without the loudness of a bar? Taco night? Dumplings? Anything festive will do.
- Hit up the happy hour: If you want to go to the bar, at least go during happy hour. It's probably going to be sometime between 3-7pm and you'll get a buck or two off beers, food, and maybe something else – just check the bar's website and go when the deals are flowing.
- Turn a bar visit into a home party: Instead of going to the bar and getting beers at $6 a piece (adjust to your local pricing), why not go to someone's house or apartment and have yourself a mini-party? You can get a six pack for $12, bust out some party games, and skip one of the bar visits and save big.
- Carpool just one day a week: Carpooling isn't convenient but it's instant savings. Carpool one day a week and cut your fuel expenses by 20% – it's math! OK, well, it's not exactly 20% because you'll have to pick up the other person too. Coordinate more carpools and now you're talking bigger savings. Plus you help the Earth and you live here.
- Buy the right gas: If your car needs regular, getting premium doesn't “make it better.” If your car needs premium, do not get regular because then it'll start knocking. The octane has to do with how much you can compress the gas before it explodes – get the right stuff so your engine runs efficiently.
- Don't speed: Driving the speed limit is important for three reasons. The most important has to do with safety – the speed limit is what the road has been rated for. Second, you won't get a speeding ticket ever if you drive the speed limit. Lastly, driving too quickly increases air drag and lowers fuel efficiency. And you probably won't get where you're going any sooner.
- Keep your tires properly inflated: If your tires aren't inflated to the recommended PSI, they will wear down faster and you'll need to replace them more often. Your car will also not be as fuel efficient, handling will suffer, and everything will cost more.
- Keep getting that routine maintenance: Those regular oil changes are important for maintaining efficiency and engine life. Those 30,000 and 60,000 checkups are important because you replace certain things that might break during operation. The 30,000 mile one isn't as critical as the 60,000 – but both are good to get done. Find a mechanic you trust too.
- Shop around for auto insurance every 3 years: Insurance is one of those necessary evils that we have to pay for and hope to never use. Comparison shop around at least every three years, sooner if your situation changes (get married, move, etc).
- Consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage: Depending on your situation, it might make sense to self-insure your own car by dropping collision and comprehensive insurance. Check to see how much you can save, compare it with the value of your car (especially if it's older), and decide for yourself.
- Always remember total cost of ownership: I had a friend who loved his BMW but hated getting the oil change (premium gasoline hurt too!), because it cost an arm and a leg. If you switch cars, remember that you have to consider not only the purchase price but how much it'll cost to own the whole thing.
- Get a programmable thermostat: There's a popular claim that for every degree you lower your thermostat in the winter, it's 3-5% in savings on your bill. I don't know if that's true but I do know that not having it on when I'm not home will save you 100% on my bill when I'm not home!
- Lower the temperature on your thermostat: OK, back to that popular statistic – lower the temp in the winter (or raise it in the summer) means the system won't kick on as often. HVACs are either on or off, there's no high or low type of setting. When you adjust the temperature, it just kicks on less frequently and so you use it less.
- Replace your HVAC's air filter: Your HVAC system pushes air through an air filter to ensure you don't breath in a lot of junk. Remember to change these on a regular basis because they will get clogged with dust, dirt, bugs, etc. It's best to change them once a quarter but you can get away with it less often if your air quality is better, just check the filter.
- Get your furnace tuned regularly: There are all sorts of replaceable parts, from nozzles to filters, in any furnace and those things need to be replaced if you want to run at maximum efficiency.
- Wash your clothes in cold water: Many many years ago, detergents needed hot water to work well. As a result of regulations, and since 90% of the energy a washing machine uses is in the hot water, detergents work just as well in cold water because they use different soaps and surfactants. The end result is that for most applications you do not need hot water anymore.
- Line dry your clothes: Line drying means you don't use a dryer and thus use no electricity to dry your clothes. If you are the type who loves the feeling of clothes in a dryer, consider just doing your clothes and line drying things that don't matter as much – towels, sheets, etc. Line drying can also extend the life of your clothes.
- Lower your hot water heater set temperature: Your hot water heater might be too hot – 120 degrees F is the ideal temperature for most folks and sometimes yours might set a little higher. You probably don't need it that high and keeping it lower is cheaper.
- Wrap your hot water heater in a blanket: If your heater is old, and warm to the touch, it's possible it's losing heat. Newer models have insulation but older ones might need a little help.
- Clean out your fridge's coils: Your fridge uses those coils to cool off the refrigerant and when the coils are dusty, they're less efficient. Dusting them off makes them work as well as possible and takes just a few minutes.
- Find and plug drafts: You'd be surprised how open your house is to the outside world. Whether it's cold air coming in during the winter or escaping during the summer, plugging these is crucial because who wants to cool/heat the neighborhood!
- Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs: CFL and LED bulbs are more expensive but they last longer and are less expensive to run. I like to use LED bulbs, especially in hard to reach places, because they can last many years before failing. That means I don't need to bust out the ladder ever few months to replace a stupid bulb.
- Unplug unused electronic devices: There's something known as phantom electricity load, or what a device will use even when it's turned off. We are an “instant on” society so many of our devices are actually still on, even when they look like they're turned off. You can mitigate this by plugging devices into a power strip and turning that off, rather than each item.
- Consider a home energy audit from your utility: Many utility companies will give you a home energy audit for cheap, pointing out places you could improve as well as giving you items that can help efficiency.
- Shop for reliability over price with appliances: It's very easy to fall into the trap of trying to find the most affordable appliances, but sometimes you want reliability over price. This is especially true if you own your home and intend to live there for a while.
- Comparison shop your electricity supplier: If you live in a state where you can pick who supplies your electricity, you can comparison shop for the best price per kilowatt / hour. Be sure to get on them though because promotional pricing will expire and much higher rates will be instituted if you don't pay attention! (but they will play the negotiation game and give you rebates to stay on)
- Shop around for homeowner's/renter's insurance: Like any other insurance, shop around every three years or when your situation changes.
- Shop around all your subscription plans: Whether it's your cell phone, cable television, internet package, or something else – comparison shop around whenever your contract is up for renewal. This guide for negotiating your cable bill applies to nearly everything.
- Cancel whatever you don't use often: Whether it's the gym or cable television, you probably don't use some of those subscriptions as often as you once did. If that's the cancel, don't be afraid to cancel it. If in a couple months you realize you miss it, sign back up again.
- Switch from cable to a cheaper alternative: How much do you pay for cable? How often do you watch it? Is it worth the $80 or so you're paying? If not, consider a great alternative to cable via streaming options. One of our favorites is SlingTV, which gives you a slew of cables for not a lot per month (and they have a 7-day trial to see if it's for you).
- Consider a pay-as-you-go or other budget cell phone service: Republic Wireless is a popular option for those who are always on wi-fi and would prefer to pay just $15/mo for cell phone service. Do you really need that $150/mo plan? (answer: probably not!)
- Pause Netflix: Yes, you can pause Netflix! See this and other Netflix hacks for more savings.
- Don't buy another movie again: Very few people buy movies nowadays but if you're one of them, stop! Just rent them from Redbox or buy them on demand for much cheaper – plus you won't need to store them anywhere.
- You can rent video games too: Are you one of those “play a game through then put it on the shelf forever” types? If so, you can rent video games too. It's best for those that you play once and not as good for those games you can play for hundreds of hours. GameFly is the most popular video game rental service.
- Always check the unit price: The unit price is king. Many tags will have the unit price so you can quickly comparison shop, never overpaying simply because no human being can divide a prize by 16 to get $/ounce. Sometimes they will do something stupid like one price being in grams, one being in ounces – but most of the time this quick comparison works.
- If a sale item isn't available, get an IOU/raincheck: Sometimes items sell out, especially on the last day, but you can always ask for an IOU/raincheck that will give you that sale price for an extra week.
- X for $Y sales don't always require you to buy X man: I frequently see 2 for $5 sales and then check the tag to see if I need to actually buy 2. I usually don't. And I usually only need 1 of that thing anyway! So just buy 1. Let the store be your storeroom.
- Check the last minute sales of meat and seafood: Sometimes the butcher puts out more packs than they need and a few of the older ones are on their Sell By date. The meat is still good for a few days but the store can't sell them, so they mark them down for quick sale – a few bucks off each pack. You can save a TON by buying these and cooking them tonight (or freeze them tonight).
- Join the customer loyalty club: You only have to do it once and tie it to your phone number, so you never need to carry around the stupid plastic tab. Instant savings plus sometimes they mail you coupons!
- Join Ibotta: Ibotta is a great little app that gives you rebates on things you buy. I'm a big fan because you link up your grocery store loyalty cards for quicker verification and because they give you free money to start. Give Ibotta a try.
- Use self-checkout: When you check out your own purchases, you're less likely to buy the candies and magazines left in the aisle. It may be a smidge slower, depending on how fast you are at ringing things up, but you won't buy that candy bar.
- Shop at cheaper stores: In the supermarket world, there are tiers. Everyone knows that Whole Foods, sometimes called Whole Paycheck (which isn't all that clever), is expensive because of their product selection. Below that, various other stores have strata too. Locally, we have a Wegmans, Harris Teeter, and then a few other below that. Aldi's is a very popular low cost grocer too. The cheaper stores often have similar things, perhaps less selection, but why pay more when you don't have to?
- Buy non-perishables in bulk: Buying in bulk makes sense in many cases but I only recommend it for items you know 100% beyond a doubt! that you will use… or non-perishables like toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Perishable items in bulk may result in savings… if you use them and they don't spoil!
- Buy used when possible: I love scouring sites like Craigslist for high quality used products. People move and a lot of times they are looking to shed themselves of the materially possessions they've accumulated – that's when I can pick up something I need on the cheap. Craigslist, garage sales, and estate sales are great places to find high quality stuff for low prices.
- Goodwill and Salvation Army are great too: It's a little hit or miss with Goodwill and Salvation Army, since they're relatively high traffic, but you can find some gems if you go when new (used) product is being put out for sale. Ask someone working there for their schedule.
- Always search for a coupon when buying online: Before you buy anything from a vendor online, look for coupons or promotion codes. If they're online then you know they're going to try to stay as competitive as possible with these deals.
- Buy online and avoid sales tax: If a store doesn't have a nexus (physical location) in your state, they don't collect sales tax. Technically, you're supposed to pay “use tax” on your state tax return.
- Keep an eye on after holiday sales: You can get a lot of seasonal items for cheap at the very last minute or immediately after an event. Stores are getting savvier now, making sure they don't hold much through the date, so even last minute can yield savings.
- Spend cash online: Going with cash only is a great way to save money because spending cash is much harder than charging it to credit. There's something about handing over greenbacks that arrests the spending function in your brain. Give it a try, go cash only for a few days and see how it affects your spending.
- When using credit, be aware of your card protections: Your credit card has a lot of perks you might not even know, like insurance and damage protections. My friend recently used the extended warranty perk on her American Express to replace an appliance that failed a year after she bought it. They are perks you don't have to pay for and many people forget they have them!
- Borrow movies from your local library: Your library has a lot more than books – they have movies. They usually have good movies too as well as the classics, stuff you probably can't find on Netflix. Go to your local biblioteca and see what they have in stock!
- Hit up a matinée: There's something magical about the movie theater and there's a good chance it's in whatever addicting substance they put in the movie theater popcorn butter… but you can enjoy it for less by catching an early showing. The same movie, the same comfy seats, and all for less.
- Keep an eye out on Visa Signature 2-for-1 deals: Every once and a while, Visa Signature cardholders can get 2-for-1 tickets via Fandango. It's a great perk that shows up every once and a while, I'm thrilled my Southwest Rapid Rewards Card is a Visa Signature card.
- Join swap groups, online and off: You can swap books, movies, games, music – anything you and your friends like but don't want a bazillion copies. Heck, children's clothing especially when they're young and grow out of clothes quickly.
- Volunteer as entertainment: Volunteering your time and talents to a worthy cause can be a very rewarding and fulfilling use of time. You can meet people who care about what you care about, learn new skills, and have a fantastic time that won't cost you much, if anything. You can also get a small tax deduction for your travel!
- Go outside! Being outside and breathing in the fresh air can do wonders for your mood and it often doesn't cost anything. If you fancy visiting a national park, many are free. Or you can go during one of the free entrance days.
- Don't buy magazines, subscribe to them: Or borrow from the library. Don't pay $5 for a magazine when the subscription costs only $10.
- Don't play the lottery. Sure it's fun, the allure of maybe winning a million dollars… but you probably won't. Until then, invest it in yourself!
- Be flexible in your travel times: The worst position to be in when booking a flight is having to leave on a specific day. Being flexible means you can pick which day you leave, preferably mid-week, for maximum savings. If all the days are the same, then you have the freedom to choose the most affordable option.
- The train and the bus are good alternatives to flying: Check the options for buses and trains in your area. In the Northeast, there are a lot of bus services competing for your business so they often are the most affordable. The train can work too but it's often not that much cheaper than a flight… but you avoid the annoying security precautions and waiting.
- Car rental companies always offer discounts: Check to see if your employer has a car rental discount offer, they probably do. If not there, a variety of membership groups like Costco and AAA will have discounts too.
- Join car rental loyalty programs: Some offer minor perks and upgrades to even the lowest tier of traveler.
- Get a bike: If you live in an area where a bicycle can get around fairly easily, get one! Or participate in a bike share program – it's healthier for you and costs way less. Many people I know who live in cities don't even own a car since it makes no sense.
- Try a stay-cation: A stay-cation is when you vacation where you live – enjoying the local sites and activities you probably don't get to see all that often because you're too busy with life. There are probably a few places you can go see right now, within an hour or two drive, that would be a lot of fun and not cost a ton.
- When was the last time you went camping: Camping can be fun, as long as you're not completely against the idea of sleeping in a tent in the woods. It's not for everyone but it's fun to sit around a campfire at night with your family and friends.
- Hostels are very affordable: Hostels are great if you're traveling on a budget and like meeting new people.
- AirBnB is a great lodging option too: AirBnB is quickly becoming a better option than staying at a hotel, especially if you want to get a better taste of the local flavor. Use my referral and get $40 to use there.
- Check with a travel agent: A travel agent can get access to better deals on vacation bundles, where you book hotel, flight, and perhaps the attraction itself. It's worth it to ask around since nothing will stop you from booking directly anyway. This works especially well internationally, when online options don't have as much coverage.
- Get yourself free checking with a low minimum: Free checking is getting harder and harder to find, but it's still out there. Online banks are the best option, many of them offer no fee ATM withdrawals out of network (or at least a generous reimbursement), but there are some local ones too if you look hard enough. Do not pay that fee!
- Always use your bank's ATM: Don't pay that ATM fee, stick with your own ATMs or switch to a bank that offers ATM reimbursements. When you use another ATM, not only will that ATM's bank charge you but yours will ding you too!
- Give your local credit union a look: They're not as sexy, not as big, but they have great rates and seem to care a lot more about the local community. You can often find fantastic car and mortgage rates once you become a member.
- Always try to negotiate a fee away: Mistakes happen and so do fees. If you do get charged one, it doesn't hurt to ask if you can get the fee waived or reimbursed. If you're a long time customer, there's a good chance they'll do it.
- Get a credit card without an annual fee: If your current credit card charges you an annual fee, switch unless you have a very good reason to keep it.
- If you do pay an annual fee, you can ask to waive it too. If you've been a cardholder for a few years and use the card regularly, ask to have the annual fee waived. It sounds like it would be impossible but it's very possible.
- If you carry a balance, request an interest rate reduction: If you've been paying on-time, ask if they will give you a break on the interest rate. It never hurts to ask!
- Use billpay or electronic payments: Mailing in a bill is risky because all the information someone needs to steal your bank information is on a paper check. Plus it costs you a stamp to mail something. Plus you're more likely to forget. Set up bill pay and skip all those shenanigans.
- Use Your FSA: A Flexible Spending Account is a great way to save money on qualified medical expenses. You make pre-tax contributions so that's an instant percentage off, you just need to make sure you use it all up each year. You set this up through your employer.
- Bundle up! (insurances): If you have multiple insurance policies from different carriers, look into bundling because you can often save a lot by consolidating.
- Increase your insurance deductibles: Similar to removing collision and comprehensive insurance, increasing your deductible pulls some risk away from your insurer onto you. It will also lower your bill, so check the options and decide whether you're comfortable assuming that risk.
- Pre-pay for savings: Are there things you can pre-pay in order to save? Try to take advantage if you have the up front funds to do so.
- Check your investing fees: Whether it's in a taxable broker account, a 401(k), or IRA, check the fees you're paying. Check the account fees, sales commissions, and expense ratios of your mutual funds. You could be overpaying by a significant margin for absolutely nothing. You can't control how your investment perform but you can control the fees!
- Adjust your withholding so you don't get a massive tax refund: A big tax refund is a big loan to the United States Government. Good for me if you give them an interest free loan but bad for you. Adjust your withholding via your W-4 (ask someone in HR if you need help) so you don't have as much held back.
- Accelerate deductions: Any deduction get claim in this calendar year will apply for this tax year, whether you take it on January 1st or December 31st. If you can slide it from the start of next year to the end of this year, it's worth making the shift.
- Delay income: The same applies for income. If you earn it on December 31st, you pay for it immediately. If you earn it on January 1st, you can wait a whole year.
- Do your taxes for free: If you have a simple tax situation, you can often do it for free with one of the big providers (Credit Karma Tax, TurboTax, TaxAct) so don't pay a tax preparer hundreds of dollars to do it for you. See our list of free or almost free tax preparation services.
On Food, Drink, and Merriment
On Your Ride
In Your Home
Slash Your Subscriptions
Save on Shopping Trips
On Entertaining Yourself
On Personal Finance
Beat the Tax Man
I hope you find at least one tip in there that'll put a little bit of coinage in your pocket today. 🙂