Whether you’re saving for something specific, trying to get yourself out of debt, making ends meet or simply fed up with wasting money you could put to better use, there are always ways to get better control over your hard-earned cash. And since frugal living often goes hand in hand with environmental responsibility and certainly does not equal abject misery, everyone’s a winner.
We’ve structured this article into general recommendations and then sorted the actual tips into areas that often present the biggest unnecessary drains on our finances. We’d be happy to hear from you if you wish to share your tried and tested strategies, and wish you the best of luck on your way!
- Take a look at your account statements – last three? Last six? You be the judge of what represents a good average. What’s the biggest drain on your money? Sort your spendings into categories and asses them proportionately. The most common areas are Energies (water, gas, electricity etc.), Household running (cleaning items, repairs/repair fund, equipment etc.), Household food, Eating out, Entertainment, Health, Education, etc.
- Do the planning and set up a tracking system – for instance weekly expenses graphs for selected (tricky) categories, whatever works for you. Look at the necessities and set up a budget for each category of your expenses. Give yourself a goal, monthly and weekly targets – and if you work that way, create a system of rewards that will be aligned with your financial strategy. Follow yourself up – have a weekly “board meeting” with your finances to see where you’re at – is everything going swimmingly? Or is an intervention needed?
- Find a bank with no or minimal fees and switch if you aren’t with them already. Set up a separate house account (for energies, rent, repair fund etc.) and a shopping account where you’ll send your monthly (or weekly) allotment. If your bank offers that possibility, you can alternatively go for an “envelope” system – separate “sub-accounts” where you allocate money for whatever purposes you select, it gives you a better overview and organization of your finances.
- Set up automatic money forwarding for fixed payments (rent, school fees, gas advance payments, health insurance etc.) so you don’t have to bother remembering and potentially face late fees if you forget.
- Put up a visual representation of your goal and how you’re reaching it.
- Eat right and keep fit, even if it appears a little bit more expensive. This is a good idea especially if you’re an American. American health care system is notoriously costly and the healthier you are, the less you’ll bleed out financially. Also, well-nourished people tend to have more energy and be more productive. Win-win.
- Don’t ignore your bills! If you have a bill you must pay and you cannot do it within the due date, communicate! It may seem unpleasant, but it’s worth it – you may get the possibility to pay in installments or they may just give you a break and wait a little. But if you don’t communicate and avoid all their attempts to contact you and discuss the situation, you’re not giving them many other options, they have to charge you extra fines. You will be surprised to find that most of the people on the “other side” aren’t really keen to ruin you, they just want to find a solution and are very often very helpful.
- If you’ve already been fined, check and petition if they can waive the penalty partly or in full. Often, they can.
- Do you have a mortgage? See if going to another bank wouldn’t significantly cut your monthly expenses. If you’ve chosen the best option, check again every few years – the situation changes in this market.
- Set up a savings account and contribute regularly.
- Say yes to store discount cards and coupons. The savings are worth the occasional promotional mail.
- Do you still smoke? Here’s an article on how you can stop painlessly – and save lots of money.
- If you have loans, consolidate them if you haven’t already.
- Get a side job. It’s a good idea to go do something quite different from your regular job, so you get a bit of a change. If you’re sitting in an office, liaising mostly with your computer screen, some manual work like cleaning houses or offices, or working somewhere with lots of customers might be a good idea – or whatever you think you’ll enjoy doing and do well, really. You can set up a blog, shoot videos, follow your secret passion of becoming a writer.
Saving Tips by Categories
- Give yourself 24 cool-off hours before actually pushing the “Buy” button on an online purchase. You might be surprised with the change of perspective.
- When you’re buying something that’s supposed to last a long time, ALWAYS look at online reviews and don’t just go for the cheapest. If it will last and do its job for longer, it’s probably worth the extra money. The cost-per-single-use will be less.
- Look beyond the social media sites. Nobody is as happy or has such perfect lives as they try to persuade everyone on these PR outlets. Keeping up with the Joneses is a waste of time and money.
- Many people buy themselves things to cheer up. It’s very understandable. But confronting the problem and forcing oneself to do something about it – and something can always be done about it, whether we’re talking about a full-blown crisis or a looong, creeping energy drain.
- Don’t go shopping without a list.
Food and Eating Out
- Subscribe to cookery sites and plan your meals beforehand. If you know you’re short on time during the week, have a cooking Sunday afternoon and freeze some grub for later. The recipes will tempt you and cooking at home definitely beats eating out financially. Plus it’s probably healthier.
- When planning your weekly meals, coordinate with your favorite store’s weekly discounts. Not only does it save money, it’s also a good inspiration when you’re running out of ideas.
- Do not go shopping hungry.
- Take your home-made lunches to work.
- Spend 5 bucks on a milk frother for that fancy feeling and 15 bucks on a nice travel mug and start making your coffee (or tea) at home to take with you. It’s cheaper and – let’s face it – more often than not, tastier, too.
- If you own a house, take up gardening! You’ll be shocked at how much tastier home-grown fruits and veggies are, and considerably cheaper.
- The joy of drinking water! If you really find drinking plain water boring, fancy it up a bit with some ice, a leaf of mint you nip from your garden or a slice of (well washed) lemon. Tap water for preference, but for extra safety buy a simple carbon-based filtering jug.
Entertainment and Socializing
- Get creative. Movie night? Invite friends over, you make the popcorn, they bring the Coke, you provide the Netflix and the sofa. Make it fancy – come in in-style costumes! Party-up your place! Send out fun invitations/home cinema tickets. When you really look at it, it’s an all-out win. Bathroom breaks? No problem. You can comment anytime you like (or at least until your friends start hitting you), and spare yourself the comments/body odor/stampede of others. And you save lots of money.
- Discover the joy of a library – loads of free books and DVDs! Also – did you know you can borrow e-books from Kindle, too?!
- If you’re that way inclined, try switching to home spa days instead of beauty salons. It can be very relaxing and fun – especially if you pair up with a friend.
- When joining a gym, try a multiple entry packet rather than a monthly subscription – only after you see how often you actually do go will you be able to judge if it’s really better for you.
- Do you need to shop for a gift? Sometimes it will be more appreciated if you give the gift of your time and effort. For instance babysitting for an evening – or for a day – for your friends.
- Do your next year’s Christmas shopping in the week after this year’s Christmas. This goes for other holidays, too – right after Christmas / Valentine’s Day, / Mother’s Day etc. etc., seasonal items go down in price dramatically. There’s your chance to save money AND be nicely organize without needless hassle.
- Do you often pay for babysitting? Try asking a friend you trust – a fellow parent from kindergarten or school – and team up, sometimes you babysit for them, sometimes they babysit for you.
- Try not to save in a way that isn’t really saving but something a bit worse. This includes downloading copyrighted music and films. It’s such a totally standard practice these days, most people don’t even think twice about it, but really, the three dollars for a monthly Netflix subscription or a small fee for your favorite song means you can enjoy the feeling of having supported the artist that brought you joy, and in turn enable you to free the inflow channels from others towards you.
- Did you know you can clean almost anything perfectly (really) with just water and vinegar? No real need to buy expensive specialized liquids that are just unnecessary burden on the environment and your wallet. Try it out, you’ll be surprised. If you miss the fragrance, a scented candle will do just as well.
- Consider using Skype, Whatsapp and other free means of texting or calling people.
- Check out your cell provider – do they have a better plan that could save you money?
- Do you have free space in your house? Consider Airbnb.
- Collect stuff you haven’t been using or wearing in the past few months and you probably won’t again – and sell it on eBay.
- Try out store or generic brands. Very often they’re just as good as the ones with better marketing and cost less.
- Try looking around online for a how-to video before you call a repairman for the simpler things.
- Move somewhere cheaper – provided you get a well-paid job/work there.
- Carpool or use public transport. In frequently gridlocked cities, public transportation is often a much faster way to get to and from work anyway, and need we say cheaper?
- Buy non-perishables in bulk. The cost per unit is much better, plus you’re saving yourself quite some hassle. We’ve probably all had that awkward moment when you’re in the bathroom and suddenly realize – well, you know.
- Stock up if your store has a good offer on something you buy regularly anyways – but use common sense. You don’t want to end up peddling untouched expired food to local strays, happy though they’d be.
- When buying a car (used), take a mechanic (friend, ideally) to go with you and help you see if it’s a good buy or just a pimped up money trap.
- Get a surge protector for your electronics to protect them from possible damage.
- If you’re already on the best car insurance, check every few years if things haven’t changed in the market.
- Discover the charm of thrift shops. You will often find great labels of very high quality which not only look great, but will serve you longer than a mall brand which often looks like a rag after a few washes.
- Take care of things so they last longer.
- If you’re a clothes addict and love the change and thrill of new things, reorganize your wardrobe – bring the stuff from the back to the front, think about how you could jazz up the old pieces – get creative.
- Do not believe those tips that tell you to just wash your whites with colors to save money. Your whites WILL turn greyish and you’ll be forced to stop wearing an otherwise perfectly fine item of clothing. Separate into colors/whites (light blues are usually OK with whites), but wash only when you have enough to fill the washing machine.
- Do you pay a lot for your A/C? Plant shady trees around your house, consider insulating – and/or putting solar panels on the roof. It is an investment, but if you have the means, it should pay off after a time.
- Watch for lights on that should be lights off.
- Consider getting a SmartStrip – it’s like an extension cord which powers down all dependent devices once you switch off the main device, e.g. when you switch off your TV, then your DVD, satellite receiver etc. are also cut from power and you avoid phantom electricity consumption.
- Train yourself to be comfortable in lower temperatures in the winter and higher in the summer. You don’t have to shiver. Just go bit by bit – it’s healthier, too.
- Close the tap when brushing your teeth or putting on shampoo and body wash in the shower.
- Consider whether it’s really A/C temperature, or whether a fan wouldn’t do the job just as well.
- Do you or could you have a well, even when the water isn’t safe for drinking? You can get a plumber over and have two separate systems with drinking water for the kitchen and well water for the bathroom – flushing the toilet, showers, washing your clothes etc.
We wish you lots of success – and money!
Featured photo by Thananit Suntiviriyann (tzido) through 123rf.com.