If you see penny on the sidewalk, do you pick it up? If you’re trying to save money, the effort to save money versus how much you can afford to save, is a constant balancing act. The key is finding a balance that allows you take advantage of ways to save money without feeling deprived while you do it. And without scanning the sidewalk constantly for extra pennies.
One penny here and there may not make a big difference, but what if it were a nickel, a quarter or a dollar bill? Would that change your perspective and your savings account balance?
How to Save Money Fast
The first step to saving money is diving right in. Come up with a painless way to save even a little cash every week. Pick an amount you won’t notice, invest or miss. For argument’s sake, let’s use $25 a week as an example. Choose a higher or lower number as you put this into practice for yourself. Simply choose an amount you can work with.
The simplest money-saving tip is to pinch pennies however you can—skip your morning coffee out, carpool, buy lower-grade gas or pick cheaper cuts of meat at the grocery store—whatever works for you. Just stick to not spending that money each week.
Ways to Save Money Even on a Tight Budget
While there’s no major belt-tightening involved, to make saving painless, choose ways to save and cut back that won’t bother you at all or much. Money-saving tips can include making the choice to make your coffee at home instead of buying it at the coffee shop. Consider a $13 bag of coffee compared to a $3 cup each morning for five days. That’s a potential $8 saved each week. Eat lunch in one day instead of out and that’s another $10 or $12 savings.
One way to give yourself added resolve is to set some simple savings goals. One of your simple goals can be to start saving a little regularly. You can inspire yourself by committing to allocate savings for both long- and short-term goals that are constructive and rewarding. Maybe your short-term goals include having three months of budget in your savings account to give you an emergency fund. While your long-term goal is to get completely out of credit-card debt or to save more for retirement. Consider that if you save $25 every week, in 20 years you can accumulate $29,516, at just a 2% interest rate. That’s extra money in your pocket. And, as your savings grow, you can move your money into a high-yield savings account and net even more profit.
To prime your “frugality pump,” here are some painless ways to pinch pennies by spending a little less and without depriving yourself of the things you enjoy.
Brew your own coffee. You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating. Whether at work or home, making your own coffee–even using the choicest beans and the best coffee-maker—is one of the best ways to save money. That’s especially true if you compare home brewing to buying cup after cup of the highest-priced java. We’ll drink to that!
Cut out soda. If you’re not a coffee drinker or not, cutting out some or all soda is another easy way to save a little in the short-term, and a lot in the long-term. A can of soda can cost between 70 and 90 cents. Spending that on just one can a day, can cost from $273 to $328 annually. Shave a can or two out of your daily expenses and you can save up to $1,642 in five years. Start with $328 in savings at just a 2% interest rate compounded monthly and at the end of those five years, you have $2,088 in your savings account—a $445 profit.
Bring your own lunch. Brown-bagging saves a lot of money over eating out. It’s a piece of cake to save $25 a week just one or two lunches. There’s a bonus beyond saving money too. Talking a walk every day at lunch time is cheaper than a gym membership or medical costs down the road.
Buy in bulk. It can pay stock up at the supermarket, drug store, warehouse club, or health food store, especially when your favorites are on sale. If your favorite cereal normally costs $2.29 but is on sale for $1.50, buy all you can and save 34%. The “yield” is actually more than 52%. Where else can you get a 52% return on a $1.50 investment?
Weigh your fruits and veggies. Spend an extra few minutes in the produce aisle of your grocery store, and walk away with plenty of healthy savings. I’m not suggesting you sample the grapes. But the next time you buy prepackaged fruits or vegetables, weigh a few bags before tossing one into your shopping cart. While a five-pound bag of onions, potatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, etc. must weigh at least five pounds, the packers can’t get the perfect weight into every bag. So they invariably put in extra. It’s a piece of cake to get a bonus half pound or more for free. Savings of 25% are routine. Try it!
Skip bottled water. Prefer “prinstine” bottled water to what comes out of your tap? Install a water filter or just choose the tap and save a bundle. According to a CBS News report, more than half of all bottled water is just tap water anyway, but can cost up to 3,000 times more than tap water.
Buy herbs and spices elsewhere. Herbs and spices are often cheaper at a health food store or drugstore. If you love cumin, curry or coriander, see how much money you can save by not buying them at the supermarket.
Eat in. Food is often cited as the top budget buster for many Americans. If a dinner for two costs you $50 on average, cutting your date nights back to just one a week instead of two can save you $200 a month.
Don’t fall for the stores’ tricks. Watch out for fast, processed and convenience foods that stores often place right in your line of sight. Take advantage of store sales. And keep your eyes out for temptations that are designed and placed to appeal to you and your kids.
Use unit prices. You might think that the largest box is always the best buy, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, two smaller boxes are cheaper. The key is to check the unit prices, especially on items you use regularly. These can be found on the price sticker on the shelf. In my supermarket, it seems like two smaller containers of baking soda are always cheaper than one larger size box. It makes no sense, but once you start looking, the savings are automatic.
Repair instead of replace. There are significant savings to be had in repairing items instead of replacing them. Have a blind with a wand that won’t open or close the slats, consider repairing the tilting mechanism before you buy a whole new set of blinds. Is the handle on your fridge falling off, consider replacing the handle before the entire fridge. There are many places to buy replacement parts and online tutorials on how to fix items yourself.
Negotiate. OK, this one isn’t totally pain-free, especially if you don’t like haggling. But by taking advantage of your consumer power and asking for a discount or threatening to walk, you could save thousands of dollars on a new car or cut credit card annual fees out of your life.
The more you can do on your own, the less it can cost whatever the “it” is. You can save money every time you fix a leaky faucet, repair instead of replace a broken lamp, cut your own veggies up, make your own baby food, become the family’s barber or sew a work outfit.
To help maximize the return on your do-it-yourself (DIY) tasks:
- Do learn how to tackle the projects you want to get done. The more new skills you learn, the more you can save. There are free courses all over including the big box stores and sewing centers, as well as videos on youtube.com. And there’s no shortage of how-to books and websites where you can get clear instructions on how to do pretty much anything. Give it a try!
- Don’t’ be afraid. What’s the worst thing that can happen if your DIY attempt fails? The lamp is still be broken or you have to buy a dress. If things don’t work out, you’ll be exactly where you started, so the risks are small.
- Do choose to do-it-yourself in areas that appeal to you. If you hate the smell and filth that accompany car repairs, don’t tackle DIY car repairs. Stay away from oil, gas and grease and focus on projects you want to do.
- Do start small. Replacing an entire roof can be a huge, dangerous and pricey undertaking. Especially if you’ve never tried roof repair, begin with a small, low roof—maybe a piece of your garage or the dog house that’s showing more wear and tear than it should to see how it goes.
- Do look at the various bills you pay on a regular basis. For example, do you pay for lawn care? If you or the kids mow the lawn yourselves instead, you can save money and get some valuable exercise as an added bonus.
Walk Away as a Way to Save Money
Do you or other members of your family make impulse purchases? Try walking away and waiting before making the purchase. An informal survey by AARP columnist Jeff Yeager found that more than half of the people who can do this, don’t make the purchase. So, instead of getting whatever you pick up, consider simply moving on. If you really want the item(s), you can always go back.
Paul Richard, executive director of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education, recommends a smart strategy to try before you buy: Take the time to visualize three other ways you could spend the money. Make this a habit and you may just find yourself stopping impulse purchases dead in their tracks.
Of course, the absolute best way to deal with impulse purchases is to avoid temptation. If you know you’re likely to be tempted to buy things you don’t need, stay out of malls and put those mail order catalogs directly into the trash. Better yet, ask the company to take you off the mailing list altogether.
Ask for a Better Deal
It pays to ask for a better deal for services your regularly pay for. For example, consider your long-distance carrier or mobile phone service. Even if you never do anything else to save money on your phone bill, ring up your current phone company and ask if you’re on the plan that will cost you the least. Despite all those ads trumpeting their great deals, most folks still pay top dollar. Why pay your carrier’s highest rates when simply asking for a better price can save you money?
Whether it’s to get a better credit card interest rate, lower insurance premiums, or cheaper heating bill, sometimes all you need to do is ask. It also pays to ask and ask again, at least once a year. Knowing what the competition offers will put you in a much better position to negotiate with the companies you currently do business with as well as with others who will happily compete for your business. So make a few calls. The money you save will be your own. And many businesses realize that it’s a cheaper to keep current customers happy than to prospect for new ones.
As you comparison shop whether for insurance, a car, a contractor, an attorney, plane tickets, a refrigerator, new lawn chairs or anything else, let the provider know you’re getting multiple estimates.
Also consider shopping late. While the early bird may get the worm, the late shopper may get the better deal. Sales people need to fill end-of-month quotas, vendors on the last day of a season market, stores at the end of a season or the day after a holiday are likely to negotiate, sell low, and offer discounts.
Get Free Advice
In addition to the free courses you can take, you can get expert advice—for free—in many cases. For example, contact your utility company. Many will send someone to audit your house and show you how to reduce your power consumption and bills. The first step is easy. Call and ask if you can schedule an appointment with someone who can show you some easy ways to save money on your electric bill.
Many of the recommendations you’re likely to hear—like caulking around doors and windows, insulating switches and outlets on outside walls, or covering the air conditioner in winter—won’t cost much. Others won’t even get your hands dirty, like resetting the timer on your thermostat or lowering the water heater temperature. Some utility companies even offer grants, rebates, no or low interest loans, or partial payment for energy saving improvements, so ask about these types of deals. The money you save will be your own, month after month. Your lifestyle won’t have to change, and you’ll be doing your part for the environment.
You can also likely get free assistance researching a variety of topics at your local library, including free DVDs, music and books.
Barter Instead of Buying
Opportunities to trade or barter for goods or services can also help you save money. When you see or need something you’d like, try to trade something you already have or a skill of yours for it. Some examples: “I’ll cut your grass this summer if you’ll paint a portrait of my family.” “I’ll watch your kids Saturday night if you watch mine next Friday.”
If you have more time than money, trading your expertise instead of money can be a great way to pay for things. And, who knows? Maybe you can trade your talent to add some luxuries to your life—things you couldn’t otherwise afford to buy. Be imaginative. Home renovations, car repairs and vacations are just a few of the pricey items that can be bartered for.
There are barter exchanges and clubs around the country that create opportunities for a broader range of trades by letting people accumulate credit for their products and services. So you can paint a real estate office, but use your credits to buy a computer, assuming the real estate agent and the computer store belong to the same barter club as you do.
Exchanges publish member directories and report the transactions to the IRS. Unless you’re swapping two objects or services of identical value. For example, “If you babysit Tuesday, I’ll watch your kids on Thursday,” a trade is taxable.
What Would Ben Franklin Would Say?
Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Today, he probably would talk about dollars instead of pennies. Today, he’d say, “A dollar earned leaves 67 cents after taxes, whereas a dollar saved is $1.49 you’ll never have to earn, assuming you pay the national average of 33% of your income in assorted taxes.” (Statistic courtesy of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tax Foundation.)
It’s not as pithy, but since 1913, when income was first taxed, the gap between earned and saved money has widened. Ben would be amazed to discover that a penny saved today is worth over twice as much as a penny earned. That’s because we pay for most of what we buy with our take-home pay or “after-tax dollars,” which is the 67 cents out of every dollar that we can actually spend on something other than taxes.
The key to absolutely safe, tax-free investing today is saving money. This doesn’t mean doing without. Penny pinching is one of the best ways to realize double-digit returns on your money, risk-free and guaranteed. Even seasoned investors are hard-pressed to find similar returns, especially on small sums.
Ben Franklin might want to revise another of his well-known sayings: “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Now that you know some penny-pinching strategies, start saving yourself a bundle over the long term today.
And remember to pick up those pennies!
This article was originally published February, 14, 2017, and has been updated by a different author.