How to save money is such a simple concept — don’t spend as much and put the excess funds in a savings account.
And yet saving money can be maddeningly difficult. After all, there are so many distractions vying for our attention and wallet. Streaming services promise enlightening entertainment. Restaurant ads insist that they’re now serving up the most delicious dish known to humankind. Advertisements for everything from vitamins to clothing promise you a much better life, if you only would be smart enough to buy the product. It’s hard to resist.
So if you’re looking for money-saving tips that are more creative than simply, “don’t spend as much,” then try some of these strategies.
— Shop on Wednesdays.
— Save advertisements.
— Put all unexpected income and financial gifts into a savings account.
— Try the $5 trick.
— Go with the classic coin saving strategy.
— Embrace the envelope system.
— Challenge yourself to reuse stuff.
— Buy clothes from thrift stores.
— Ask if an item will go on sale.
— Try a no-spend holiday.
— Audit your expenses.
— Fix problems before they become problems.
— Turn your thermostat down.
— Reassure your subscriptions.
1. Shop on Wednesdays.
What’s so special about a Wednesday? Many grocery stores launch new sales midweek, generally on Wednesdays, so shoppers who browse the aisles then often get first access to new promotions and discounts. Plus, stores will frequently honor the previous week’s coupons. Best of all, you can maximize your savings, while also shopping during a relatively less crowded time of week.
Mary Kaarto, an author and retired editor in Missouri City, Texas, says that years ago, when she was a single mom, she went through two separate layoffs — and had to stretch her dollars as far as possible. So she bartered. For instance, her hairstylist was a first-time mom. Kaarto wanted to look her best for job interviews, and the hairstylist wanted somebody she could trust to watch her newborn so she and her husband could go on some date nights. Kaarto would get her hair styled for free and babysit for free. She says it was a win-win situation for both her and her hairstylist.
3. Save advertisements.
Instead of buying things on the spot, you could save ads, or computer screenshots of items you want, or have a file of links to certain purchases you plan on making at some point.
Kaarto says she keeps a file of ads not just for herself but for family members too. What’s the fascination with advertisements?
Well, Kaarto’s ads give her gift ideas for birthdays and the holidays, so she buys her family things they actually want or need, and her own ads help her save money.
“What I have found through delayed gratification is one way or the other, I save money, either by deciding against the purchase, or patiently waiting until the best price comes around,” Kaarto says.
4. Put all unexpected income and financial gifts into a savings account.
Even if you’re past the age of receiving birthday money from relatives, unexpected cash can still come your way. Miguel Suro, a Miami-based attorney who runs the personal finance website RichMiser.com with his wife, Lily Rodriguez, says that if you open a separate savings account just for unexpected cash, you might be surprised at all of the extra money that could wind up there.
“Deposit all unexpected income there,” Suro advises. “I mean things like product recall refunds, class action settlements, refunds you get when you return an item or money someone gifts you. Just money that you weren’t expecting or counting on.”
He adds that you can use the unexpected income to splurge on something fun later, or you could use it as a second emergency fund.
5. Try the $5 trick.
Aimee Spencer Tiemann, a blogger based in Detroit, says that a few years ago her best friend shared a trick to save money: “Every time she received a $5, whether it be the change from a purchase or from her tips as a bartender, she put it away in a container in her house. She said, no matter what, if she got a $5, it went in the container. At the end of one year, she had $4,000 in there.”
Spencer Tiemann says she started doing the same thing, and within three months, she had $1,200. “It’s funny the psychological trigger in your brain when you do something as simple as putting a certain dollar amount away. You don’t think. You just do it. It’s almost a game,” she says.
With that said, if you don’t typically carry cash, you might want to look at Acorns, Chime or another app that will round up your purchases that you make on your debit or credit card — and then will divert them into a savings account. Some of these apps do cost money, but if you use them, you should save far more than you spend. With Acorns, you’ll spend $1 a year for accounts under $5,000; with Chime, a mobile bank app, you won’t pay any fees aside from a $2.50 out-of-network ATM fee.
[Read: Money Saving Challenges.]
6. Go with the classic coin saving strategy.
Granted, it’s been a little harder to save coins lately with a national coin shortage, but Spencer Tiemann says that she has been saving her change in the last year and putting it in a container. It’s been working out very well for her.
“Just taking the change from grocery stores and carry outs added up quickly. Of course, I don’t want to be blamed for the coin shortage in our country,” Spencer Tiemann says, adding that saving coins has served her well. “If I added all of this up, it probably doubled my emergency fund.”
As for the national coin shortage, it has eased up somewhat, and coins are certainly out there. The U.S. Mint typically produces at least a billion coins a month.
7. Embrace the envelope system.
With this approach, you can pay for everything in cash. “I’m not sure if this is creative or just old-school,” admits Kristine Thorndyke, the founder of Test Prep Nerds, which provides test prep resources for exams like the MCAT.
Thorndyke says early in her career, when she was starting her business and cash-strapped, she and her boyfriend saved money by paying for everything in cash. She says that they were literally pulling out cash for their monthly budget and putting the determined amounts into envelopes labeled for each category, such as groceries, entertainment, apartment, gym and miscellaneous.
Sometimes, she says, they would find extra cash in the miscellaneous category and splurge on something fun that month. “This isn’t a strategy I’d suggest employing for forever, as the cash aspect is actually kind of a nuisance, but it was a great way to see how we spend money in a really literal sense and think about our budget differently,” Thorndyke says.
8. Challenge yourself to reuse stuff.
If you start challenging yourself to pause before you throw out trash, you might find that you can actually reuse some of your garbage. Seriously, think about the plastic sandwich bag that you put a sandwich in, and now the sandwich is gone and you’re about to throw away the bag. Sure, there are some crumbs, but otherwise? Maybe you can wash it out and use it the next day after it dries?
Yeah, it sounds incredibly cheap, and your family will probably start mocking you — but if you save money on things like plastic bags and aluminum foil (how much of that do you throw away when you could just wash it off, dry it off, smooth it out and use it again?) and do your part to help the environment, you may also get a few admiring looks.
9. Buy clothes from thrift stores.
Jodi O’Donnell-Ames, a Pennington, New Jersey-based founder of Hope Loves Company Inc., a nonprofit that offers education and emotional support to kids and young adults with family members who have ALS, says she stopped buying new clothes some time ago. Now, she only shops at consignment and thrift shops. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much money this simple task has saved me,” she says.
If you loathe the idea of buying used clothing, O’Donnell-Ames has some advice: “I buy items that are brand new with tags and that typically end up costing me one-eighth of the original price. Yet the clothes are brand new.”
10. Ask if an item will go on sale.
We forget about this tactic because we’re all focused on Googling deals, says Charles Thomas, a financial advisor and the founder of Intrepid Eagle Finance in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Sometimes the direct approach is best,” he says. “If you have an item at a store you want to buy, find an employee and pose a direct, but straightforward question: When does this go on sale?”
Sometimes employees don’t know when items will go on sale, but Thomas says that he and his clients have often had a lot of luck doing this. “Retail employees rarely get this question and by asking it you’ll be ahead of the pack on the time to buy,” he says.
[Read: How to Save Money for Your Kids.]
11. Try a no-spend holiday.
Pick a day or two — or a week if you can manage it — and vow to not spend any money aside from regular bills. It can be very easy to go overboard at the supermarket or impulse shop on Amazon. But if you start creating your own no-spend holidays, you might retrain your brain to spend less.
12. Audit your expenses.
Take a close look at everything you spend money on and ask yourself if there’s anything you can pare back. Maybe it’s time to look at your insurance policies and see if you’re overpaying for anything. Or maybe you divorced eight years ago and still have your ex-spouse on your life insurance. Or perhaps you’ve never noticed that you’re getting takeout at restaurants five times a week, and maybe it’s time to start grocery shopping more often. Examining how you spend money — and then taking action — can result in significant savings.
13. Fix problems before they become problems.
After you’ve finished auditing your expenses, you might want to audit your home and car by looking out for possible problems.
Poking your nose around for potential spending problems later might be the last thing you want to do now, if money is tight. But think about the last time your car broke down. Wasn’t it because you ignored a strange sound in the engine? Maybe you’ve been thinking that it’s time to clean out your gutters. If you don’t, one day you could find that there are so many leaves in the gutter that water has pooled on the roof of your house, and the next thing you know, you have a leak.
So while rooting around for potential problems may not save you money today, and you might even spend money (getting your brakes fixed, for instance), if you head off potential problems at the pass, it could save you much more money later.
14. Turn your thermostat down.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you could save as much as 10% a year on your electric bill by turning your thermostat down 7 degrees to 10 degrees for eight hours a day from its normal setting. You also might want to see if your electric company offers any free energy audits. If so, it will send somebody out to your house, and they’ll point out any appliances that are energy hogs and ways you can make your home more energy-efficient. Granted, you often have to spend money to save money on electric bills. But at least it won’t cost you a cent to turn down the thermostat.
15. Reassess your streaming services.
You should aim to do this at least once a year. Do you have four or five streaming services, and maybe you only use one or two with any regularity? Or maybe it’s time to get in the habit of keeping one or two favorites and just using a few others for a couple months out of the year when one of your favorite series is airing.
Personal finance experts used to berate consumers for spending too much on daily coffee; now it’s streaming. Still, there’s no question that with Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, NBC Peacock, CBS All Access and probably a few other streaming services we’ve neglected to mention, something’s gotta give. It can really add up to subscribe to all of them, especially if you also have cable. And, yes, if you don’t watch it much, you could always get rid of cable.
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Update 12/08/20: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.