Spend Less - 111 Easy Ways
to Keep More of Your Money
My Dad always told me that one of the best ways to save money was to "spend less."
Somehow, that never held much appeal for me. But with the wisdom that comes with living life, I can confirm that, once again, "Father Knows Best."
We've compiled here a list of 111 Ways to Keep More of The Money You Make, in several categories. It was supposed to be 101 Ways, but we just couldn't stop there. We're sure you'll think of some more.
Food and Groceries
- Let's start with the most obvious: You'll spend less if you eat at home rather than in restaurants (or drive-thrus). Your family will be healthier, too!
- Never grocery shop when you're hungry. You'll invariably buy more if you're hungry.
- Plan to grocery shop once a week. Try to avoid extra trips during the week to pick up items you forgot.
- Keep a blank shopping list pad and pen or pencil on the refrigerator or somewhere handy in the kitchen. As you notice you're running low on a staple item, write it on the list so you don't forget. Then remember to take the list when you go shopping!
- Create a menu of meals for the entire week. Then create a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for those menus. Forget impulse shopping or just wandering the aisles, and you'll spend less! Check your pantry or cabinets and refrigerator before shopping to make sure you don't buy something you already have.
- Don't forget, you may use manufacturers' coupons in the commissary. And if you are stationed overseas, coupons will be honored by the commissary up to six months after the expiration date shown on the coupon.
- Organize your coupons in a way that makes sense for you, so that you can find the coupons you need quickly. You may choose to organize them alphabetically, by category, or in the order items are arranged in your usual store.
- Even if you have a coupon for an item, another brand or a different size may still be cheaper. Always compare prices so you'll spend less.
- Also, don't be tempted to buy an item you wouldn't otherwise buy just because you have a coupon for a few cents off. Buying things you don't need is not a good way to spend less!
- If you can't find some items at your local commissary, you'll still spend less if you shop at the commissary first, and buy everything you can there. Then, if you have to go to another grocery store for items not carried by your commissary, try to use one that offers price matching, so you aren't tempted to run around to all the stores to buy the items they have on special. For example, Wal-Mart will generally sell grocery items at the prices advertised by any competitor, if it's less than the Wal-Mart price. This gives you the best of both worlds, and you'll spend less on gas as well as groceries.
- Usually, warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club will also accept manufacturers' coupons for grocery items, and often offer their own coupons as well.
- Go through the store ads and note any specials on items you need. If an item is a particularly good value and is not likely to spoil, consider stocking up. On your shopping list, include items that are in season, and items for which you have coupons.
- Try house brands or generic brands. Their quality may surprise you. Sometimes they are the exact same product, just packaged differently (often in the same plant). You'll spend less.
- Always compare unit prices. Those little white stickers on the shelves will tell you how much the item costs per ounce or per each item. This will help you determine which brand or size is less expensive.
- As much as possible, cut out use of drive-thrus and convenience foods (frozen dinners, vegetables, entrees, etc.). Cooking from scratch is cheaper, and much healthier for your family. Do some online research on the health effects of processed foods. It'll scare you into cooking from scratch! Don't buy anything containing high fructose corn syrup or aspartame.
- Be creative and use leftovers. Don't waste anything. If you save the peelings and pieces you trim from vegetables in a container in the refrigerator, at the end of the week you can use them to make vegetable stock for soups and stews.
- Make sure your store checkout person is alert and accurate. Watch as they scan the items to make sure items are scanned properly and you're not accidentally charged twice for the same item. If in doubt about any item, be sure to check the register tape.
- Buy larger cuts and sizes. Divide them up into smaller packages when you get home and freeze them, preferably using a vacuum sealer to prevent freezer burn. If you have a small family and the giant sizes are too much for you to use before they spoil or get stale, find a friend or neighbor in the same situation, and shop together, or save time by taking turns doing the shopping. Then divide the items when you get home.
- Be creative with ingredients. Try turkey chili or vegetarian chili. If you're out of one ingredient for a recipe, try substituting a similar item, or leaving it out altogether, rather than spending the gas to make a special trip to the store. Or cook a meal that you have the ingredients for, and save that one until you can pick up the missing ingredient while you're out running other errands.
- Grow your own herbs -- all you need is a small garden. Even a flower pot in your kitchen window can be an herb garden.
- Beverages are usually less expensive by the case. For wine you're going to drink yourself at home, try "Chateau Box," the 5-liter boxes of wine sold under various brand names. If you're not concerned about impressing guests by pouring from the bottle, you can save quite a bit this way. And Wal-Mart now carries a label that offers different varieties of wine for just under $2 a bottle. Unless you're a very discriminating connoisseur, you're unlikely to notice the difference, especially after the first glass!
- Make your own baby food. All you need is a blender or food processor. It will also be healthier since it cuts down on salt and preservatives. And you know exactly what your baby is eating, without any extra chemicals you can't pronounce.
- Remember that the commissary, by federal law, must sell items for exactly 5% more than they paid for them. So if you need personal care or beauty items such as deodorant or shampoo, and those items are carried in your commissary, so you'll spend less if you buy them in the commissary instead of the exchange.
- Shop quickly. Shop alone. The more time you take, the more you'll spend. Bringing children and spouse along on the trip will add impulse items to the cart.
- Do your own yard work and landscaping.
- Do your own routine maintenance: painting, minor roofing, putting up the TV antenna, etc. "How to" books in the library and online have lots of tips on minor repairs.
- If you don't know how to do a particular repair, but you have a neighbor who does, make a trade with the neighbor in exchange for making the repair for you. Maybe you could offer to babysit for an afternoon. It's called barter, and nobody pays anything.
- Get some of your household needs at garage/lawn/porch/stoop sales if you can.
- Buy good quality paint. You can use less, and it'll probably last longer.
- If you're re-painting a room in a shade of white or off-white, go to your local home improvement store and ask to see their "reject" paint. This is paint that was custom-mixed for someone, who then didn't want it or returned it. If there is not enough paint of the same color to do your job, buy several different cans of paint in the white/off-white family (eggshell, ecru, navajo white, etc.). Then pour them all into a plastic garbage can, stir with a broom handle to mix well (or use the paint stirrer attachment for your electric drill), and proceed with your paint job. Just be sure to pour the leftover paint back into one of the cans and save it for touch-up jobs. "Reject" paint can usually be bought for half-price or less, and I know a millionaire real estate investor who saves money on painting his rental property by using this technique.
- Never paint outside (or inside) when it's under 55 degrees. The wood may not be dry, and the paint will crack later.
- Use water with ammonia or white vinegar for cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. You'll obviously spend less than those expensive household cleaners.
- For cleaning windows and mirrors, use old newspapers instead of paper towels. You'll spend less, and you won't have the streaks that paper towels can leave.
Furniture and Appliances
- Always buy energy-efficient appliances. You'll spend less in the long run.
- Give charity outlets and secondhand stores (on-base thrift shop) a try. You might find a cast-off treasure.
- Buy furniture from families that are being transferred out of the duty station you're transferring into. It's a win-win.
- Buy carpets and rugs on sale or at discount outlets. Those are generally not urgent items that can't wait till they go on sale. And you'll definitely spend less.
- Compare appliance service terms as well as price. A slightly more expensive item may have a better warranty (be sure to check this out). Be careful when purchasing service contracts, though. Many times, they aren't worth it. If you do purchase one, be sure you save the item receipt and warranty paperwork together.
- Evaluate major and minor appliances by reading reports from unbiased testing services such as Consumer Reports.
Regular appliance maintenance can make your appliances last much longer. For some, all some need is a drop of oil in the right place once a year. Do it yourself and spend less.
- Postpone purchase of major furniture and appliances until they go on sale. Watch the papers and the season (January-February for bedding, April-May for carpets, furniture at the start of summer).
- All other things being equal, you'll spend less for unpainted furniture.
- Read the classifieds. Don't be too proud to find a large-item bargain for sale by a desperate mover. Again, check the model number with the opinions of unbiased testing services like Consumer Reports, if possible.
- Save all your sales slips and always know what the warranty terms are. You never know when you'll need to return faulty merchandise.
- Use less expensive fabric for slip covers or drapes when you know you'll probably be moving or redecorating soon.
- Don't pay for more features than you need in an appliance. Most of us don't use all the "bells and whistles" on our appliances. For example, how many of us know how to use the advanced programming functions on our VCR/DVD Player or TiVo, or even our cell phones?
- Add insulation to uninsulated spaces like attics, and use storm windows and weatherproofing materials to reduce heat loss. You'll spend less on heating AND cooling costs.
- Set the thermostat for 68 degrees and lower it to 65 when you go to bed. Never set it below 55 degrees, especially when you're gone. The pipes might freeze.
- Keep air conditioner use to a minimum. Fans are cheaper to operate. Try my Granny's air conditioning: Set a 10-pound block of ice (assuming you can find one) in a plastic dishpan in front of the fan. The ice will cool the air that passes over it.
- Wear extra layers of clothing in the winter. Don't just turn up the heat if you're cold!
- Close off any unused rooms in the winter and close their heat ducts so you're heating only the rooms you use.
- Try reducing your water heater temperature, especially if you have young children, so they can't get scalded in the bath tub. Just be sure to keep it hot enough to get dishes clean in the dishwasher.
- Install water-saving shower heads. You don't have to give up water pressure. Some of the new water-saver shower heads have suprisingly good water pressure, and you'll spend less on water.
- Cut back on watering the lawn and/or refilling (above-ground) backyard swimming pools. If you have an in-ground pool, it has to stay filled to keep the concrete from drying out and cracking.
- Turn off lights when not in use. How simple is that? Yet you'd be surprised at how many people simply forget to turn off the lights (TV, stereo, etc.) when they leave a room.
- If you use a cell phone (and today, who doesn't?), look for a carrier who offers military discounts.
- Also insist on a carrier with free long distance included.
- Spend less by taking advantage of cell phone family plans. We have 5 phones and numbers on our plan -- the first three are free, and it's an extra $10 per month for each of the other two. Adding my phone to my husband's plan instead of having a separate plan saves me about $65 a month. All the phones on the plan share the minutes, and your calls to each other don't count against your minutes. Then if extended family also has cell service with the same carrier, your calls to them don't count against your minutes either, meaning you can pay for far fewer minutes and still talk all you like to family members.
- If you need to make overseas calls with your cell phone, call your carrier to work out a discount plan to the areas you call most. The prices have really come down, and if you ask, the carrier will usually work out a good discount program for you. For example, our calls to Europe (to a land line) are only 8 cents a minute. It may end up just as cheap to make those calls with your cell phone -- compare rates and see.
- For your home phone, check with your long-distance carrier about discount programs that best fit your geographic calling pattern. If they don't have one, ask them to create a custom plan for you, or switch to a different carrier and spend less.
- Consider switching to a cheaper long-distance carrier. This can be confusing, so before you sign up for the "deal of the minute" (or other deal of the moment), compare the offered rate per minute with your actual average over the past few bills. If this checks out, ask about additional available financial switching incentives, if they haven't been offered. BE SURE TO READ THE FINE PRINT.
- Here's an old one: Use a food timer to help limit the length of your calls.
- Eliminate any add-on services you can do without that carry extra charges (such as call waiting, automatic messaging, automatic redial, etc).
- Plan the topics you want to cover to avoid needing to call back again.
- Consolidate your errands, doing as many as you can on the same day, and plan your route efficiently so you're not backtracking unnecessarily. You'll spend less on gas.
- Don't even use the car for close-by errands. Walking is great exercise.
- Shopping for the best vehicle insurance rates is a must. You can do this from home online. When you compare insurance rates, remember to compare "apples with apples." If you're military, you won't find a better deal on insurance than USAA, or better claims service. If you haven't joined already, do it today!
- Choose a higher deductible on collision insurance IF you can afford to pay the cost of repairs up to a certain amount. You will spend less on your insurance premium with a higher deductible, but if doing so means you couldn't afford to have your car repaired if you were in an accident, it may not be a good idea.
- Drop your collision insurance if your car is older, especially if you wouldn't bother to make repairs caused by a fender-bender.
- You must have liability insurance, but it's also a good idea, for your own protection, to carry insurance for uninsured and underinsured motorists.
- Drive sanely and smoothly -- no sudden stops or starts. You'll spend less on gas as a result.
- Always change your oil and perform maintenance service at recommended intervals. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Read your owner's manual for other regular things you need to do. And do them!
- Make sure you subscribe to an emergency road service, like AAA, if that is not a feature of your auto insurance, or ask if it can be added to your auto policy. It's inexpensive, and the first time you need it, you'll be happy you have it, especially if hubby is deployed at the time.
- Public transportation will also get you there (sometimes), and you'll generally spend less. Plus, you have less stress because while the driver is worrying about the traffic, you can be reading a newspaper, magazine, or book. You'll arrive at work much less frazzled and much better prepared to tackle the challenges there.
- Buying a car? You'll always spend less (a LOT less) by buying a two-year-old used car than a brand new car, since most cars incur about 50 percent of their depreciation during the first two years. A good deal? Buy a car with low mileage that's just been returned to the dealer after a two-year executive lease. Generally, if the car is on an executive lease, and the company is paying the bills, the maintenance will have been done on time and by the dealer, who will know if there are any problems with the car. If you're stationed overseas, try to buy a car from someone who is leaving as you are arriving. Another win-win.
- Buying a used car? Have it thoroughly checked out by a trusted mechanic first. Caveat emptor (buyer beware).
- Car pools are good for the environment. If possible, start one and share the expense instead of paying 100 percent. You'll all pay less, and you'll probably made some good friends.
- Always buy at a discount. It doesn't matter if it's at factory outlets; garage, lawn or porch sales; the PX or BX; retail sales or wherever. Just make an effort never to buy at full retail price! Don't be afraid to negotiate for a better price. (I know a woman whose husband is a millionaire many times over. Whenever and wherever she shops, she asks for a 20% discount, telling them her husband won't allow her to buy anything that's not on sale for at least 20% off. Most of the time, they say yes!) Visit the charity and consignment shops for bargains.
- Wash certain items at home and avoid professionally dry cleaning them IF the fabric can be washed. Read care tags carefully! Many items that say dry clean or hand wash can be carefully washed at home and dried on a drying rack. In fact, if you have beaded sweaters with sequins, etc., they will look better if hand washed, because often the dry cleaning solution will discolor sequins. Of course, you won't find that out until it's too late!
- Wash "delicates" in the washing machine by placing them in a lingerie bag to protect them. These can be bought in the laundry good section of places like Wal-Mart. I have some beautiful lace ones that I bought in a department store many years ago, and I wish I could find more like them. Also, General Electric makes a washing machine with a "mini-basket" that is great for washing delicates. It fits over the agitator and your clothes go inside. It keeps them from being beat up by the agitator.
- If your washing machine has these options, choose gentle wash, normal spin. This will make your clothes last longer because the agitator won't beat them up as much. The "normal spin" will get more water out of the clothes so they don't take as much time in the dryer.
- One washing machine manufacturer used to make a tub with a removable agitator, to make it easier to wash bulky items like pillows, bedspreads, etc. My neighbor had one. Unfortunately, I don't remember which maker it was, but you can ask when you're shopping for a new washer. That will save you $40 or more, every time your bedspread needs to be cleaned!
- Store your clothes properly. Moth-proof your woolens when you pack them away for summer. Hang out-of-season clothes in the closet in another room, or fold them neatly to store in boxes in the attic. Swap them out when the seasons change. Having only that season's clothes in your closet will give you more room so the clothes aren't wrinkled by being crowded, and will also make it easier to find the clothes you want to wear.
- If you have talent, sew your own things. Start with Halloween costumes and work up from there! If you didn't take home economics in high school (do they still teach that?), take a sewing class at a local crafts store or local community college.
- Participate in or start a swap program. Trade your two-year-old's duds for some infant wear when baby #2 arrives. No doubt there are lots of moms on base (or in housing) who would welcome this idea.
- Don't buy cheap junk--check the seams and the buttons beforehand. If things look cheap, they probably won't last through many washings. That means they are no bargain. On the other hand, if you're buying play clothes for quickly-growing toddlers and youngsters, cheaper may be better!
- Plan your shopping and watch for sales. Never, never buy clothes on impulse, or you've lost the chance to buy it on sale.
- When buying expensive items, such as prom gowns, ball gowns, or cocktail dresses, avoid the latest trends and shop for classic items that will never be out of style. You can change the look with a change of accessories. And the people you meet at the next duty station won't know you've already worn it 4 times! To help you remember which dress you wore for which occasion, take a 3x5 index card, punch a hole in the corner so it will slip over the hangar, and each time you wear the dress, make a note of the date and the occasion so you'll know whether you've worn that dress in front of the same group before.
- Don't buy more clothing than you really need in a season. Kids have a way of outgrowing things, and it's a lot cheaper to wash more and buy less. Often, kids will outgrow clothes before they wear them out. This makes garage sales and the Thrift Shop on base or other second-hand store great places to shop for kids' clothes.
- Coordinate your clothes. This is easy with uniforms. With civilian gear, stick to a few basic color combinations. This makes packing for travel much more efficient, too.
- Wear work clothes when you work, sports gear for play and more expensive dress clothes only for special events. Many a good shirt has been ruined by gardening, painting, working on the car, or cooking in it. Sometimes the trick to this is remembering to change clothes when you change activities. When you finish your errands and start to do chores around the house, change into "chore clothes" and save the "errand clothes" for next time.
- If it's not quite right, always return or exchange it. If you'll never wear it because it just doesn't look right to you, it wasn't a bargain. Get your money back to spend on something you feel confident in.
- When you're shopping at a sale, don't buy an item one size too small because they don't have your size, thinking you'll lose weight to make it fit. That rarely works, and you've wasted your money. Buy only what fits now. Then, when you lose the weight, reward yourself with something new (on sale, of course).
- Take advantage of sales to stock up on items you need on a continuing basis. This applies to "staples" like socks, sneakers, underwear, sleepwear, etc., not fashion goods.
- When is a sale really a sale? Because of the high mark-up on consumer goods, you should demand a minimum of 25 - 30% off. Personally, I don't get interested until items are at least 40 - 50% off. Of course, that means the selection isn't as great, and it may take more time to find all the pieces you need to complete the outfit, so you have to shop carefully. But if you follow the suggestions above about classic styles and coordinating colors, you may already have pieces in your wardrobe that can be worn with the item on sale. If you buy an item thinking it will match something you have at home, and discover that it doesn't, don't be embarrassed to return it, but do so in a reasonable time. I've never had a salesperson give me a hard time for saying, "Sorry, it just didn't match the piece I bought it to go with."
- Some of the best things around may be free or close to it. Visit civic assets in or near your own town or city -- state and national parks, museums, galleries, memorials, zoos, aquariums, libraries, stations, waterfronts, etc. The list goes on! Also, check on base for discount tickets to local attractions.
- When eating out, it is always cheaper to "lunch" than to "dinner." Not the same effect maybe, but definitely cheaper. This is a good thing to remember if you have your own business and want to take a potential client out for a business meal. Don't be embarrassed to take home what you don't eat, as long as you're eating with friends and family. At a business dinner, it's probably not a good idea. Restaurant portions these days are so large that you can usually get at least two meals from one restaurant meal.
- For the smaller appetite, ask if the restaurant has child portions or half portions, or split an entree with your spouse. Even if there is a small charge, it's still cheaper than paying for two entrees and having leftovers from both.
- Vacation rule #1: Go off-season and save big time.
- Make money from work you love. Skills that grow from hobbies like furniture refinishing or repair are always in demand, and can provide a good source of second income.
- Leave the driving to them. Going to grandma's via bus or train instead of plane isn't as fast, but it can be about half the price. Check train prices -- sometimes, depending on the route, they're not a lot cheaper but will add days to your traveling time if it's a cross-country trip.
- Don't assume you can find the best plane fare if you must fly. Use a travel agent to get you through the tangle of competing airfares. Or use a good Internet travel site with "intelligent agents" that update you regularly about fares on routes you choose.
- Travel as a group on vacation. The rates are much cheaper. If that's not possible, take a tour. You'll meet interesting people and save $$$ because the tour operators can negotiate better discounts.
- Giving a dinner party? Make it a "pot luck special" and ask every guest to bring a dish. It's more fun and less money. A fun twist is to ask each cook to bring enough copies of the recipe for each family to take one home. If you have a guest who insists it's an old family recipe that she can't share, just accept that she's a party pooper and don't let it bother you. Some people just have to be more "special" than everyone else.
- Kids in tow when you're on the road? Don't stop anywhere for the night where you can't put the kids in your room at no extra charge. There are plenty of hotels and motels that offer this.
- Use your public library liberally. Why buy a book you'll never refer to again? Plus, you can use a library outing as a fun trip for the kids, and teach them how much information is out there. You can work on manners, too.
- Want to try a cheap, fun family vacation? Try camping. People are catching on, so make your campground reservations well in advance, especially over main holidays. Most base MWR offices have camping gear for rent.
- Give homemade cookies, pies, cakes, breads, etc. You'll be remembered, and you'll save. We make grape jelly and fig preserves from fruit grown in our own back yard, and we have friends and family members who can't wait for the next year's crop!
- Give of yourself. IOUs for services such as child-sitting or yard care are unexpected and always welcome. Trade baby-sitting services with a friend so each couple can have a date night!
- Shop for next year's gift wrap and holiday cards after the December holidays are over. You'll usually find them for 50 - 75% off, sometimes more.
- Give hand-crafted or sewn gifts. They often mean more than store-bought items.
- When shopping for gifts of any kind, be sure to do so only if items are on sale or discounted. Set aside some space in one closet in your house for a "goodie locker." During the year, as you find items on sale that would make nice, and inexpensive, gifts, buy them and stash them in the goodie locker. Then, when you need a last-minute hostess gift, or realize you almost forgot someone's birthday, you can shop the goodie locker and know you have a nice gift that didn't break the budget. I carry this idea through to my Christmas shopping, too. All year long, as I see a gift I think would be perfect for a friend or family member, I buy it and stash it in the goodie locker till Christmas. Makes Christmas shopping much easier (I don't have to try to remember where I saw it!) and spreads the cost throughout the year.
Save by shopping with merchants that offer military discounts.
Get a better handle on your family finances by budgeting.