I have read a lot of articles about how to save money that I feel are completely unreasonable. Most people aren’t going to cancel their cable, move back into their parent’s homes, get roommates or look for a second job. There are a lot of ways that you can save money without completely changing your lifestyle.
Of all things to save for, I think that a trip is one of the most fun things. The first step in saving is to determine how much you will need for your dream trip. Once you have that number add 25% additional to that number. I have found that most people underestimate how much things will actually cost. It would be terrible to be on your dream trip and have to cut out something that you really wanted to do because you didn’t save enough. As an added bonus, if you don’t spend it all, you have a start to your savings for the next trip!
1. Cut out coffee
While Andy and I don’t drink coffee, many of my friends do. It’s crazy to see how much that $3.50 coffee adds up over time. If you get a coffee every weekday, that’s $17.50 a week, $70 a month or $840 a year!
Most offices have a coffee pot that has free coffee for the office. If you don’t like the coffee that is brewed, brew your own coffee at home and bring it to work in a travel coffee mug. As an added bonus, you’re saving 240 cups a year from being thrown into a landfill.
2. Pre-drink before you go out to the bar
Bars typically mark up their cost of alcohol 3-5x their purchase price, plus you’re paying tax and tip on the inflated rate. Assuming that you buy a beer at a bar for $5 and can purchase the same beer for $1.50, you’re looking at a savings of $3.50 per drink. Without even factoring in a tip, if you have just 1 drink before you go out once a weekend, that saves you $14 a month or $168 a year. If you drink hard liquor or wine which are marked up even more at bars, your savings will be even higher.
Be smart when you’re saving money – never drink and drive.
3. Cook dinner at home
One of the ways that Andy and I save a lot of money is by making our own dinners at home. Not only do we save money but we end up eating healthier than dining out at restaurants which are notorious for adding a lot of salt, butter and oil to food.
A lot of my friends tell me that cooking their own food is too hard or would take too long. It is true that you have to spend a little bit of time planning out your menu, but after that it is very easy. I like to have 1 day a week that I spend some time getting things prepped for the week, typically my Sunday. I get as many things done ahead of time as I can which includes cutting up produce so I can easily cook it during the week for dinner. Cooking food can take a while, but it can also be very quick. If time is a concern, look for easy things to cook like pasta, grilled chicken or a 1 pot dish like a casserole.
Another benefit of making your own food is that It makes going out to eat more fun and special.
4. Bring leftovers to work for lunch
A benefit of making your own dinners is that you’ll often have leftovers. Once we’re done with dinner, we pack our leftovers into single serve tupperware containers. In Chicago, going out to lunch costs about $7. If you go out every work day you’re spending $35 a week, $140 a month or $1,680 a year.
When I first started working full time I didn’t have enough money to go out to to lunch. That got me into the habit of packing my lunch everyday. More than 10 years later, that habit has stuck and I have saved thousands of dollars.
5. Buy produce in season
In addition to tasting fresher and better, in season produce is usually less expensive as well. Wondering what fruits and vegetables are in season by month? Check out this handy chart.
Consider shopping at a farmer’s market which supports local farmers and is likely fresher than produce you would purchase at a traditional grocer.
6. Eat less meat
After watching Forks over Knives, a documentary about the American diet, Andy and I cut down our consumption of meat. Not only does this help the environment and our diet but we also noticed that it decreased our grocery bill.
We did not completely cut meat out of our diet, but when we do purchase we try and save as much as possible since it is quite expensive. Our best savings is by looking for discounted packages of meat. When the sell by date gets close, grocery stores will mark the meat down. Even if we aren’t going to use it soon, we purchase it and throw it in the freezer for a later date. You can also save by purchasing family packs of meat which you can easily break down into smaller portions and freeze.
7. Buy only groceries that are on sale
Grocery stores will often have great sales, but a lot of people don’t take advantage of it. Get online and check out the store’s weekly ad before you make your weekly shopping list. Use the list to build your shopping list – if chicken is on sale, consider making grilled chicken for dinner.
Some items go on sale the same time every year, for example expect really cheap baked beans, hot dogs, buns and ketchup around the 4th of July. If something that you like is on sale, pick up a few and store the extra in your pantry.
8. Cut down on pre-prepared food
Grocery stores know that people will pay for convenience. The number of convenience foods that stores sell seems to grow every year. These foods are not only typically loaded with sodium, but they are much more expensive than making fresh meals from scratch and don’t typically taste as good.
To purchase a frozen stir fry meal costs about $7 and really only has 2 meals in the bag regardless of what the serving size says. For the same amount, you can purchase everything that is inside the bag fresh and make twice the amount of food. While it takes a little bit of time to cut up vegetables and chicken, the difference in the way that it tastes is absolutely worth the effort.
9. Shop with a grocery list
The worst thing that you can do for your food budget is to go to the grocery store without a list. You’ll end up spending more money by purchasing a bunch of random things that you don’t need and can’t be used together to create meals.
Make a shopping list with everything that you need to make several meals during the week. Not only will you save money, you’ll also save time since you won’t have to run to the store more than once a week.
10. Shop at a basic grocery store
While I enjoy really nice new grocery stores like Whole Foods, they don’t make financial sense to shop at when you’re on a budget. Consider a store like Aldi where just about everything is store brand. The quality standards are very high and many of the foods are produced by the same companies that also produce name brand products.
Bring your own bags when you shop, not only is it eco-friendly, but some stores including Target will actually credit you 5 or 10 cents for bringing your own. While it doesn’t add up to a lot, every penny helps when you’re saving money!
11. Shop at ethnic grocery stores
I once read an article that said to get the best priced groceries, shop where immigrants shop. The article said if the store sells pre-paid international phone cards, you are likely in the right place. It’s also pretty fun to look at the packaging which is all in a foreign language. As a tip, make sure that if it is something you have to cook that there are cooking directions in English!
I am fortunate to live in Chicago where there are a lot of different ethnic grocery stores, my favorite being the Asian markets. Whenever I go to the Asian market, I pay a fraction of the cost for things like coconut milk, soy sauce, Sriracha and more.
The best part about shopping at ethnic grocery stores is that you can create food from the region that you are interested in visiting or previously have visited. I often pick up fresh rice noodles and create a Pad Thai that reminds me of our honeymoon in Southeast Asia.
12. Host dinner parties instead of going out
I have found that when I talk to friends about saving money, most of them are interested in saving as well but sometimes feel like they need to go out to see their friends. Since people are busy, it seems that grabbing dinner is a common time to meet up.
I prefer to cook dinner and have my friends over at my place instead of going out to eat. It’s a fun way to get together and not feel rushed to leave when the meal is done. Typically my friends will bring over wine to drink with dinner so the only real cost that I have is for the food ingredients.
When you compare cooking vs. going out to eat, you’re saving about 75% – your food and alcohol are at cost and you don’t have tax or tip.
13. If you do go out to eat, go local
While we cook most of our meals, we still do enjoy our meals out. We are not foodies and actually prefer small, family owned “hole in the wall” restaurants. Not only is the food authentic but it is usually much cheaper than a fancy restaurant. One of the best way to find these restaurants is a Yelp search, filtering down to $ and $$ restaurants.
To save extra money, consider getting your meal to go. This will save you about 20% since you don’t have to tip on carry out.
14. Order only water with your dinner
Next time you go to a restaurant and get any beverage other than water, take a look at your bill. You’ll be surprised that if you have an alcoholic beverage how much of your bill is spent on alcohol alone. While soda is not as expensive it still adds up.
Opt to get water instead. It’s free, better for you and gets you a step closer to your end goal.
15. Rent a movie instead of going out
Going to the movies has gotten prohibitively expensive, especially if you purchase snacks. Instead of going to the movies, we’ll often times make dinner and watch a movie at home. You can DVR movies on TV to watch at your leisure or rent a movie from Redbox. If you opt to receive Redbox text messages, you will occasionally get free movie codes – just make sure you return the next day or your free move isn’t free after all.
If there is a movie that is out in the theater that you just can’t wait to watch, use a site like Gift Card Granny to purchase discount movie theater gift cards. Also, consider sneaking in your own candy to eat during the movie.
16. Throw a party for your friends instead of going to the bar
We all know that going to a bar can be expensive, especially at the end of the night when you close out your tab and wonder how the bill got so high. I have found that having a get together with my friends is a great alternative. Not only do you all get together, but it’s quieter which is so much better than yelling across a loud bar.
Whenever I host a party, I find that my friends are always really excited to come because it’s a way to get together where nobody is spending a fortune. Typically people will bring whatever they want to drink and usually you’ll end up with extra booze.
17. Use Groupon
If you check Groupon often you’ll be surprised at the number of fun activities that you can get heavily discounted. I’ve gone skydiving, hang gliding, wine tasting, glass blowing, taken a painting class and have eaten many discounted meals.
As an added bonus, you can purchase your Groupon through a shopping portal to earn frequent flyer miles.
18. Go to the library
You’re funding the public library with your taxes so you might as well take advantage of it. Besides books you can also check out DVDs and audio books. Personally, I love to get audio books for road trips because after a while it’s annoying to continually tune the radio and keep listening to the ads.
19. Free museum days
Did you know that there are days where there is free museum admission for residents? In addition to those public programs, if you have a Bank of America card, you get free access to certain museums the first weekend of every month.
20. Learn to say no
I know it is hard for people to say no when they are asked to do something by their friends. While I can’t speak for everyone, I think that most people are pretty understanding about the financial limitations of their friends, especially if they are vocal about their savings goals. Instead of saying yes to going out to dinner with a friend, consider suggesting that they come over and you cook dinner together.
Sometimes it is harder to say no. I have had to turn down invitations to weddings and destination bachelorette parties that I truly wanted to attend because they were too expensive for me. I know that my friends understood but it sometimes can be really awkward to have a conversation about finances since it is such a taboo topic for most people.
21. Shop at secondhand stores
I shopped at Goodwill for the first time when I was in high school. My friends and I were looking for funky vintage clothing. As I was going through all of the racks of clothing, I started to notice that there were quite a few nice clothes mixed in.
When I got my first job, I was in serious need of some more professional clothing but had a very limited budget. I had remembered the nice clothing that I had seen a few years back and paid a visit. I was able to get a ton of clothing for a fraction of the price of what I would have paid even at a discount retailer like TJ Maxx.
I am totally spoiled by living in Chicago. There are a lot people with high incomes in my size that donate extremely nice clothing to Salvation Army. I gladly purchase these used clothes at a small fraction of retail price. The best part – when I don’t want the clothes anymore, I can donate them back to Salvation Army and get a tax write off.
22. Do a clothing swap with friends
I feel like the desire to purchase new clothes often stems from being bored with the clothing that you currently have, not the actual need for additional clothing.
If you have friends that are about the same size with similar fashion sense, organize a clothing swap. One of my friends organizes one every spring. It’s a great incentive to clean out your closet and replace it with “new” clothes. As an added bonus, everything that doesn’t get a new home is donated to charity.
23. Purchase wash and wear clothes
Dry cleaning is really expensive when you factor in the pricing is for a single piece of clothing. Even if you find an inexpensive dry cleaner, it’s going to be at least $3 to clean a piece of clothing. If you dry clean just 1 item per week you’re spending $12 a month or $144 a year.
Ironing is a pain so many men get their dress shirts laundered. Even at $2 each, assuming that you wear dress shirts 4 days a week, you’re spending $8 a week, $32 a month or $384 a year on something that you can do yourself.
Ways to Trick Yourself into Saving
24. Track your savings
My favorite part of looking at my 401K is seeing the chart showing the growth of my money. Take a playbook from the financial services industry and create your own charts showing your savings over the course of the month or quarterly. You can easily do this directly through your savings account or plugging numbers into excel where you can create a chart.
The best part of tracking is that you’ll see the results of all of the savings that you have done. It will also show you times that you did really well or not so well. Print out a copy to hang somewhere that you look often if you need a visual incentive to continue saving.
25. Transfer money to an online savings account
If you have a savings account directly through your bank, it’s almost too easy to get access to your money when you feel that you need it. If it takes a few days to transfer money to your checking account, it might help you more easily resist the urge. As an added benefit, online savings accounts usually over a higher savings rate than those offered through your bank.
26. Whenever you choose to save by not buying something, transfer that money to savings
Say you used to buy coffee every day but now you’re only buying it once a week. Take money that you would have spent on 4 days worth of coffee and transfer it to savings. Since you used to spend that money anyway, you probably won’t even notice the difference in your bank account.
Some people may argue that it isn’t worth transferring just a few bucks to savings but I completely disagree. With a few dollars here and there you’ll be surprised how quickly your account will grow.
27. Wait 24 hours before making a big purchase
If you want to make a big purchase, make yourself wait 24 hours first. There is a reason that the government has a waiting period before it allows anyone to buy a gun, it forces people to not act on impulse.
28. Weigh if you want to buy something more than you want a vacation
Whenever you see anything that you really want to buy, ask yourself if you want that item more than you want to go on your vacation. You’ll be surprised given the choice how many times you realize that you would rather save up for your goal.
29. Auto transfer money from your paycheck to savings
Just about every payroll system is set up to auto transfer money directly to your checking account. Did you know that you can split the money between several accounts? Consider re-allocating your paycheck to have a portion going directly into your savings account. If the money doesn’t hit your account, you won’t miss it at all.
If your employer can’t split your paycheck into several accounts, you can also set up an auto transfer from your checking account to your savings account. The only downfall is that you’ll see the money in your account first.
30. Tell your family and friends your savings goals
It is a proven fact that when you tell others your goals it helps you stay accountable. Having everyone that you love behind you, encouraging you, it will help make the whole process easier. It is possible that they may even come up with frugal things that you can do together and will probably be inspired to save money too.
31. Put a picture of the destination that you want to go to as a reminder of your goal
If your dream is to visit the beaches of Fiji, get a picture of a beach in Fiji and put it as a reminder of what you are saving for. You can save it as your computer or cell phone background, printed and hung on your fridge, by your bed so it’s the first/last thing that you see – whatever will work for you.
That constant reminder will serve as motivation for you to keep saving. Once you are back from your vacation, print a picture of your trip to remind you of where you went and how all of the saving was worth it.
32. Auto transfer money every week or month
One of the ways that Andy has been successful at saving is by setting up an auto transfer from his checking account to his savings account. When the money is automatically transferred, it makes it so you don’t have to think about the transfer and will continue to grow your account. Even if you’re only transferring $25 a week, you’re saving $100 a month or $1200 a year.
33. Whenever you get a windfall, put it immediately into savings
One of the things that people who get paid every other week don’t realize is that 2 months out of the year they get a 3rd paycheck. This is beneficial as you’re living off of 2 paychecks the other 10 months out of the year so it is not really money that you truly need.
Any money that I receive outside of my ordinary paychecks is considered a windfall to me and seen as “free money”. Whether it is a bonus, tax return or the exciting 3rd paycheck in a month, I put it away before I realize it is there… and never even miss it.
34. Consider cancelling your gym membership
Be honest with yourself and how frequently you go to the gym. If you’re going just once a week or less, it may be worth cancelling your membership and saving the money instead. If you go regularly, make sure that you keep it up and get your money worth.
35. If you have a car try and use it less
I live in Chicago and haven’t had a car in 10 years so it’s easy for me to talk about saving money on transportation but I know that it is not feasible in most cities in the US.
If you live in a more rural environment that requires a car, do anything that you can to drive your car less. From planning out the most efficient order to run your errands, carpooling with friends or any trick you can think of to use your car less.
36. Cut down/out taxis and Uber
Living in the city, I have friends who often tell me to stop walking out of my way to take the bus or train and just grab a taxi. While I have to admit it can be tempting to spend just $10 to get me home, especially in the cold Chicago winter, if I do that just once a week I’m spending $40 a month or $480 a year. If you use Uber often, take a look at your credit card statement and see how quickly all of those charges add up – it will probably surprise you.
My transit pass is $100 a month pre-tax and valid for as many rides as I take during the month, whether it is 1 or 1,000,000. The way I see it, any time that I spend money taking a taxi, I am foregoing the “free” option and taking away money that I should be saving.
37. Ride your bike instead of driving
As much as I feel smart for taking public transportation as much as possible, Andy does one up by riding his bike as much as possible. The $100 pre-tax that I am spending on my bus/train pass seems expensive to his totally free option. An added benefit, it is better for the environment and his health.
Just make sure that when you’re biking that you are wearing a helmet, following all of the rules of the roads and not being one of the reckless cyclists that gives all other cyclists a bad name.
38. Purge stuff you don’t need and sell it on Craigslist
Odds are that you have stuff sitting around your apartment that you don’t need. If it is just collecting dust, consider listing it on Craigslist and getting a few extra bucks for it. While it isn’t going to make you rich, it will clean up your apartment and get you some extra cash in the process.
39. Never pay ATM fees
One of the reasons that Andy and I changed to a Charles Schwab checking account is because we never want to have to pay an ATM fee ever and love the added bonus of no foreign transaction fees. Before we had our Schwab account, we would actively plan out when we would need cash and ensure that we hit one of our bank’s ATMs.
40. Comparison shop for anything that you’re buying online
The internet has made is so easy to save money. Any time that you are purchasing something that you can buy online, do a quick search to see what the item costs on several different online stores.
Between free shipping, no taxes and earning miles from shopping portals you’ll be able to spend the same amount or less, have everything delivered right to your door (saving you time and the cost to drive to the store). Plus with all the miles that you’ll be earning, you will be on your way to your next trip.
Do you have any more tips that have helped you save money? Please share them in the comments below.