How to Save Money: Top 10 Tips
You’ve heard the same old ideas about saving money: eat out less, quit expensive habits, and shop the sale racks. Once you’ve taken those basic cost cutting steps, you may be looking for more ways to save a few pennies. Check out these top ten ways to save money and cut your budget.
1. Choose restaurants with big portions
Eating out at restaurants is almost always more expensive than cooking for yourself, but once in a while, buying a meal is simply more convenient. When choosing a restaurant, look for one that offers big portions. Transforming a single restaurant dinner that costs $15 into two or three meals can save you five to ten dollars in weekly food costs.
2. Buy quality
Most consumer products come in a wide range of prices and quality. Although it can be cheaper in the short-term to buy the most inexpensive product on the shelf, choosing a higher-quality, more expensive item can often save money in the long run. For example, cheap plastic storage containers cost just a couple dollars but often warp after just a few uses. Quality also makes a difference in cotton clothing (choose thick cotton) and electronics (choose brands with good reputations). Use websites like Consumer Search, which has free product reviews, when researching brands. Go generic when buying over-the-counter medicine and cereal – these products are essentially the same as their brand name counterparts. Get even more bang for your buck by shopping at discount stores such as Nordstrom Rack or Loehmanns, which typically stock brand name items at steeply discounted prices.
3. Use all public library services
You know that checking out books from the library can save you as much as $30 per book, but check out your local library to see what other services are available. Many libraries have subscriptions to websites like Morningstar and The Wall Street Journal available for free to cardholders. Your local library may have free entertainment events, including concerts, author presentations, lectures on books, and movie screenings. Many libraries also have cds, dvds, and video games available for checkout.
4. Avoid paid subscriptions
Many companies offer services with monthly subscription fees that seem like a great deal, but remember that these services are only offered because they’re profitable. If you sign up for a DVD rental service but only watch one or two movies a month, you may not come out ahead. Other services that may not offer much bang for your buck include credit cards with monthly fees, discount clubs, and rewards programs. For example, if you join a rewards program that costs $25 for a one-year membership but gives you ten percent off all purchases, you need to spend $250 at that store to recoup the value of the membership. In the end, you may spend much more money than you save.
5. Use electronic bill pay
A stamp may only cost 44 cents, but if you stick a stamp on every bill, you’ll end up spending a lot of money. Consider switching to electronic bill pay, which is available at most banks, for most of your bills. In addition to paying your credit card bill online, check if you can set up automatic payments for your car, insurance, and utilities. You’ll not only save money on the stamp, but you’ll also eliminate the possibility of making a late payment. You’ll save $26.40 a year if you pay just five bills a month electronically instead of by mail.
6. Get more for your money at the grocery store
You probably spend more than you planned most times you visit the grocery store – even with a list, it can be difficult to keep food costs down. Save money at the grocery store by avoiding many prepared foods – buying a meal from the grocery store can be almost as expensive as going out to dinner. If you really want some prepared foods, find out when the foods are on special. For example, some stores sell discounted rotisserie chickens on the same day every week. For more savings at the grocery store, consider getting a subscription to the Sunday paper – Sunday papers normally have multiple coupon inserts. Only clip coupons for products you regularly buy – if you use a coupon to buy something you won’t use, you’re spending more than you’re saving. Also consider shopping at a few different grocery stores. Find out which stores in your area are known for cheap produce, meat, and pantry staples. You may find that one store has amazing produce prices while another has great specials on meat.
7. Find discounts online
Before you make a planned purchase, take a few minutes and search for online coupons. Start by browsing online discount sites. Sites like Wow Coupons, Retail Me Not, and Coupon Cabin offer online coupons to dozens of national retailers. You also can search for specific coupons by typing the name of the retail store that you’re going to and the word coupons into a search engine. For example, if you want coupons for Lowes, search for "Lowes coupons." Some coupon websites don’t update frequently, so double check the expiration date and conditions before using an online coupon. There are also tons of coupons available for online retailers – search for “site name promo codes” before making your purchase. You’ll often find free shipping or 10 to 15 percent off your total purchase from many of your favorite sites.
8. Use employer discounts
Many large corporations and professional organizations offer discounts to employees and members. For example, the National Education Association offers member discounts from national companies like Hertz and Jenny Craig. Call your HR representative to find out if your company has employee discounts for its products or partnerships with other companies. If you belong to a professional organization, check out the members’ page on the organization website for information about discounts and promotions. Most often, you’ll get discounts on car rentals, life insurance, cell phone service, and gym memberships, but some organizations also have discounts for everyday items like clothes and books.
9. Skip impulse purchases
Going to the store and coming home with twice as many things as you planned to buy can cost a lot of money in the long term. If you go to the grocery store once a week and spend just ten extra dollars on impulse purchases per visit, you’ll spend an extra $520 in one year. Make a list and stick to it when you go shopping. If you’re at the mall and see something you weren’t planning to buy, come back later instead of buying it right away.
10. Get free stuff
With a little digging, you can find a lot of free things available on the Internet and in stores. For example, instead of sending birthday or holiday cards, choose inexpensive or free e-cards from sites like Blue Mountain and Hallmark. Buy goods online from vendors like Amazon that offer free shipping for minimum orders, or join free customer rewards programs from stores like Borders Books and Music or Staples to get discounts and coupons.
By: Jessica Bayliss
Jessica Bayliss is a freelance writer specializing in finance and education. She has degrees from the University of Illinois and Texas A&M-Kingsville and is still learning all about what college forgot.