Creative Ways to Save

Saving 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. Favorite restaurants, retailers, concerts and other special events crowd our social media feeds. Advertisements for everything from vitamins to clothing promise us a better life, if only we buy this product. It’s hard to resist.

So if you’re looking for money-saving strategies beyond “don’t spend as much,” consider the following ideas to keep more cash in your accounts.

— Barter.

— Shop on Wednesdays.

— Keep a spending file.

— Start a money-saving hobby.

— Join a Buy Nothing group.

— Try the $5 trick.

— Consider a classic coin-saving strategy.

— Embrace the envelope system.

— Find free events.

— Quit an expensive habit.

— Challenge yourself to reuse stuff.

— Buy clothes from thrift stores.

— Try a money saving challenge.

— Try a no-spend holiday.

— Hide your wallet.

— Fix problems before they become problems.

— Live like a pioneer

— Volunteer — strategically.

— Find a fun job — or a job that will help you save money.

— Create a free event.

[READ: What Is a Budget Calendar?]

1. Barter

Mary Kaarto, an author and retired editor in Missouri City, Texas, says that years ago when she was a single mom, she experienced two 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 someone she could trust to watch her newborn so she and her husband could have some date nights. Kaarto would get her hair styled and babysit in exchange. She says it was a win-win situation for her and her hairstylist.

If you aren’t so fortunate to have people nearby with whom you can barter, you may want to consider using or the TradeMade app, both of which specialize in helping people barter or donate goods.

2. 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 sometimes honor the previous week’s coupons. Best of all, you can maximize your savings while shopping during a less busy time of the week.

3. Keep a Spending File

Instead of buying anything 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 to make at some point. It may help you curb impulse shopping and keep you more organized with your budgeting.

Kaarto says she keeps such a file not just for herself but for family members, too. This helps her come up with gift ideas for birthdays and the holidays, so she buys her family things they actually want or need. This tactic also helps 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. Start a Money-Saving Hobby

If you learn to sew, you could repair holes and replace buttons and maintain your favorite clothing items longer. If you learn to cook or tried your hand at baking, you might spend less on takeout. Learn to fix or do things, and you’ll spend less by not having to hire someone to fix or do things.

Some hobbies require significant upfront costs, but then you could end up saving in the long run. If you get into camping, for instance, you’ll spend a lot on a tent and a sleeping bag. But if you enjoy it and find yourself choosing nature over hotels on future vacations, you’ll more than make up for the gear costs.

Other hobbies like gardening or birdwatching may or may not save you money, but they might replace other activities like shopping or happy hour that you typically rely on to cure boredom or other anxieties.

5. Join a Buy Nothing Group

So what’s a “Buy Nothing” group? It’s exactly what it sounds like — a group where people give away things they don’t need or want, and with any luck, it’ll be something you need or want. The Buy Nothing Project has been around since 2013. There are 7,000 Buy Nothing organizations across 44 countries. You can download the app, or you’ll be able to find a local group near you on Facebook.

Depending on the “Buy Nothing” group you join and how active it is, you may end up getting a lot of free stuff that you need, like diapers or bedding. Or you may save money by giving away things you don’t want or need — and might otherwise have to pay to have hauled away, like heavy furniture. You also might just feel good about giving stuff away to, hopefully, deserving people.

6. Try the $5 Trick

Detroit blogger Aimee Spencer Tiemann says that a few years ago, her best friend shared a trick to save money: “Every time she received a $5 bill, 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 bill, 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.

That said, if you don’t typically carry cash or encounter cash very often, you might consider Acorns, Chime or another app that will round up purchases made on your debit or credit card and divert it into a savings account. Some of these apps cost money, but if you use them, you should save far more than you spend buying the app. With Acorns, you’ll spend $3 to $5 a month; with Chime, a mobile bank app, you won’t pay any fees aside from possible out-of-network ATM fees.

7. Consider a Classic Coin-Saving Strategy

Granted, you’ll have to make a lot of cash transactions to save a lot of coins, but Tiemann says she’s seen a decent payoff by saving change in a container.

“Just taking the change from grocery stores and carry outs added up quickly,” Tiemann says, adding that saving coins has served her well. “If I added all of this up, it probably doubled my emergency fund.”

8. Embrace the Envelope System

With this approach, you 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 that early in her career, when she was starting her business and was cash-strapped, she and her boyfriend saved money by paying for everything in cash. She says they were even pulling out cash according to their monthly budget and putting the target 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.

Give it a try, though, and you may find that it helps you budget better, and in the long run, save money.

9. Find Free Events

You may actually spend some money at free events — at a festival, for instance, you may buy food. But most communities generally have free events, such as free concerts, nature walks or stargazing events in local parks. Libraries often have guest speakers and other events for kids. Also look out for free local art shows, parades and sometimes even sporting events.

10. Quit an Expensive Habit

This isn’t a fun way to save money, but it could add a lot of cash to your checking or savings account. Consider whether you drink a lot (either beer or soda), or if you smoke, eat a lot of junk food or regularly buy lottery tickets and how much that is costing you. Basically, if there’s a habit or behavior you feel you should give up, you could do so in the name of saving money.

Even if you just cut back, you’ll save money. If you eliminate an expensive habit, well, you may save a small fortune.

[SEE: Best Money-Saving Apps]

11. Challenge Yourself to Reuse Stuff

If you pause before you throw out trash, you might find that you can actually reuse some of your garbage. Think about the plastic sandwich bag you used for one sandwich and are about to throw away. Sure, there are some crumbs, but otherwise you can wash it out and use it again and again.

It may sound incredibly cheap, but if you save money on things like plastic bags, food containers and aluminum foil and do your part to help the environment, you may save money and feel better at the same time.

12. Buy Clothes From Thrift Stores

Jodi O’Donnell-Ames, a Pennington, New Jersey-based wellness and empowerment coach, speaker and founder of of the nonprofit Hope Loves Company Inc., 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.”

If you want to put a fun spin on thrift store shopping, some thrift stores suggest doing a thrift store challenge. Now, on one hand, if you have too much fun with this, you may not save money — you’ll just spend too much at thrift stores. But, for instance, you could have a scavenger hunt and make a shopping list of things you would like to buy — and then go look for them at a thrift store or consignment store. After all, you can find some pretty unusual items at thrift stores and consignment stores.

13. Try a Money Saving Challenge

With a money saving challenge or a “no spend challenge,” you tell yourself that you’re going to go a week without spending money on anything except your bills. If you succeed, maybe as a reward and incentive to participate in the challenge you buy some $20 gift that you’ve been waiting to purchase for yourself. Or if you live in a household, maybe you hold a challenge with the family, and whoever spends the least in a week wins $20.

14. 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. Mark it on a calendar as if it were actually a holiday. 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 train your brain to spend less.

15. Hide Your Wallet

If you’re really serious about saving money, you could play the “hide the wallet” game. You either give your wallet with your credit cards and debit cards to a trusted friend or family member and ask them to hide your wallet in your home — with strict instructions to not tell you where it is unless there’s an emergency.

Or you could hide it yourself, which, yes, doesn’t sound quite right. But you could try to put your wallet in a place that’s hard to reach, so that if you have to get to it, you at least have to work at it — and hopefully give you time to think about whether you really need to spend money. In some extreme iterations of this game, you could put your wallet in a waterproof container on your roof, or you could bury it deep into your yard (but make sure you remember where you buried it). Some people have frozen their credit cards in blocks of ice, and then they put them in the freezer.

Of course, technology has ruined a lot of this, since many of us have our credit cards on our phones. But if the game does have appeal to you, you could remove your credit and debit card from your phone — and any information from your computer or device’s shopping carts — and then play the “hide the wallet” game.

16. Fix Problems Before They Become Problems

After you’ve audited 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 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 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), it could save you much more money later.

[See: 12 Ways to Save Money Without Trying.]

17. Live Like a Pioneer

We pay for a lot. If you really think about it, part of the reason we’re all so broke is that we have so much more stuff than our ancestors did. We subscribe to streaming services. We may subscribe to companies that send us everything from makeup to toys and various foods. We may pay for storage on our phones, so we can keep more photos in the cloud, something pioneers — or maybe even people 10 or 20 years ago — couldn’t have imagined doing.

So you could borrow some strategies from pioneers and take it as far as you and your household want to go. You could, for instance, start growing vegetables to save on your grocery bill. There are websites that will teach you how to make your own soap. Recipe websites offer step by step solutions on how to make your own butter, without a churn. You could get in the habit of baking your own bread or making homemade ice cream.

True, if you decide to raise your own chickens to get eggs regularly, you’ll have to spend a lot to get that started — and you’re really going to want to love eggs. But certainly adopting some pioneer thinking and making your own stuff might save you some money — and you may have fun in the process.

18. Volunteer Strategically

If you volunteer at a zoo, art museum or local theater, for example, you may be able to enjoy exhibits or plays and concerts for free. Yes, you’re working, answering questions or showing people to their seats. But if it means you’re seeing a lot of something you’d rather not spend money to see, it may be worth it.

19. Find a Fun Job — or a Job That Will Help You Save Money

Even better, you may be able to find a side gig working and getting paid to do something fun. This writer’s daughter spent part of last summer working part-time at a concert venue. She worked — but she was working while Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, the Backstreet Boys, Chicago and Jimmy Buffett were performing, saving her potentially hundreds of dollars on concert tickets.

A side gig that offers an employee discount may save you money if you frequent the store or retailer. If you work at a grocery or clothing store, for example, you could use your employee discount to get things you need more cheaply.

20. Create a Free Event

Consider a neighborhood swap meet, or a swap meet with friends or family members. You could even do a potluck dinner or picnic.

But think about it. If everyone brings food, the group can enjoy a great meal for not too much money. And if you hold a neighborhood swap meet, you could all agree to bring gently used clothing, school supplies or whatever you think people will want to trade. As a bonus, maybe you’ll strengthen some bonds by hanging out with your neighbors, family members and friends.

More from U.S. News

20 Things You Should Never Buy Used

Things to Do When You’re Deep in Debt

12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget

Creative Ways to Save originally appeared on

Update 08/31/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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