I wrote this article at the request of many friends and acquaintances who want to know we save so much money, but still have a great quality of life. This is a long article, so you may want to bookmark it or print it to read later. If you take the time to read it, and are open to the changes, it has the potential to save you some serious money. I’ve included some examples from my own life as suggestions and to provide inspiration. A few of themes that prevail throughout the article are consistency, organization, and finding good value.
Ways to save money…
1. Be a power saver. Anything that has a plug can use energy, even when it is off. I unplug anything non-essential and turn off power bars when not in use. Also consider motion sensor switches, CFL bulbs, and programmable thermostats.
2. Shop the flyers and make a plan (see my article on 10 Ways to Save on Groceries for more details). Plan your meals for the week or month based on what is in your cupboards, fridge, freezer, and what is on sale that week. When staples, condiments, or household products are on sale, buy them: This saves a lot of money compared to running out and having to pay a couple of dollars more to buy them in a pinch. I try to spread things out and buy a couple of these items a week.
3. Cooking at home instead of eating out. We used to eat out a lot. By cooking at home we are much healthier, and with some practice, the food will taste much better than many restaurants. Honestly, it has made me much fussier when deciding whether I like something at a restaurant. Making homemade dishes can also provide delicious, wholesome lunches for the next day, or freezing for another day when there are no leftovers. My husband is constantly getting asked at work if he is eating last night’s take out because it looks so good! Looking for new recipes? Do a web search, you’ll see so many options for one dish even.
4. Drive mindfully. Don’t make unnecessary trips, wait and run a few errands at once, or plan your route to do things on the way. When on the highway, decide on a speed and set the cruise control if the roads are good so you don’t burn all of the extra gas accelerating and decelerating. If you can leave just a few minutes earlier and drive a bit slower, you will use noticeably less gas. Also, make sure that your tire pressure is set at the recommended levels set my the manufacturer.
5. Keep everything in your home organized. Make sure you always know where scissors, tape, and other craft supplies are. If you buy gifts or items for your home ahead of time–keep them all in one place. If you know where things are, this avoids running out and buying duplicates at the last minute. Save gift bags, nice ribbon, and wrapping paper for later use. When these items are on clear-out, stock up.
6. Plan ahead when it comes to gifts. It’s much easier to save money when you think about things ahead of time. Start thinking about Christmas and birthday gifts earlier in the year. Always pay attention to “door crasher” sales or opening sales–they usually will put a flyer out ahead of time so you can decide at home. Don’t buy something just for the sake of a sale–make sure you have a person in mind, and commit to it. It often helps to get a friend or spouse’s advice on the purchase before making it.
7. Be organized, using a calendar with big boxes for each day helps. Just knowing ahead of time what you and your family will be doing, and when, will have you subconsciously thinking about it–and any costs associated with the activities like parties, school trips, weddings, etc. Also, think about planning trips when and around other people in the family’s activities.
8. When it works out–buy in bulk or vice-versa. At the price clubs, some things are a good deal and others are not. Costco often has a few things each week where they offer a coupon on top of their price, or an instant manufacturer’s rebate. On the other end, take advantage of the bulk food store for small quantities of expensive items like spices. For just pennies, you can add great flavours to your meals rather than spending a few dollars at the grocery store for one spice that will likely go stale before you finish using the package.
9. Have a vegetable garden. You won’t believe the difference in taste. At the end of the season, some of the vegetables and herbs can be frozen straight away, or blanched, then frozen. Also, take advantage of buying locally grown produce when you can. If you have a local farmer’s market, that is ideal. I have seen advertisements for small countertop hydroponic herb gardens that are ideal if you live in an apartment or don’t get great light in your home in the winter.
10. Always be on the look out for great recipes, deals, and money saving tips. Don’t be afraid to talk to anybody about this. By putting yourself out there, you can pick up a lot of great ideas. I once found out about a great midnight madness sale with rock bottom prices just by talking to one of my neighbours about kitchen appliances.
11. Invest in good pet food. Apparently one in two households has a pet. People sometimes think that the pet food at their veterinary clinic may seem too expensive, but there is often a huge difference in quality. You can’t judge a pet food by the percentages they put on the bag–the company can skew the information any way they want. The foods made by prescription food companies are often more concentrated than some of the less expensive ones. In other words, you can feed your pet less of them to get proper nutrition than scoopfuls of the cheap stuff which they will just pass as stool. In addition, these foods generally promote better overall health, a nicer coat, and better digestion. Please talk to your veterinarian about this–it’s very important. Even if you don’t want to buy from a vet clinic, your doctor can recommend diets available at the pet food store that are of a better quality.
12. Plan your wardrobe. Think about what look you like, and what looks good on you. Avoid spending money on expensive clothes that will not be the trend in a few months. Pick up just a few timeless signature pieces like a little black dress, crisp white shirt, knit sweaters, pencil skirt, and comfortable day wear. Once you know what you’d like, keep an eye out for sales, and scour the consignment stores until you find exactly what you want. Don’t settle for what doesn’t fit you perfectly–it will make you sad, and even worse, you’ll have wasted money.
13. Make friends that you have things in common with, and pool resources with your existing friends. Take turns hosting clothes and shoe trading evenings where everybody brings a few pieces they no longer want and everybody looks through their friend’s stuff. Pooling your resources with friends can also work for babysitting, making large batches of food such as cookies, or even sharing investment and literary knowledge.
14. Make a plan to get out of peripheral debt. Work hard to get rid of credit card debt first, then stop using the cards. Good people to look up advice from are David Chilton, David Bach, and Suzy Orman. Buy not paying astronomical rates for your loans, you are saving hundreds. I will write more about debt repayment in the future.
15. Get creative! Find fun, free/inexpensive things to do with your significant other, family, or friends. Doing things like going hiking together, or for a picnic. This will not only save you money, but it will bring you closer together as a family. You are all more likely to save money and get out of debt of you are on the same team.
16. Make things personal. If you don’t have a lot of money, or just have a lot of people to buy for–find a way to personalize things–that’s what really matters. For friends that are far away, we take the time to hand write a personalized letter to them. If you want to send a purchased gift to someone far away, consider giving magazine subscriptions, gift cards, or ordering the gift through a chain of stores that they have in their area–this way you don’t have to spend the extra money shipping a parcel. This year I got lucky and even saved 10% on all of my stamps when they went on sale!
17. This is my favourite tip! Shop around before making a big purchase. Once you’ve decided exactly what you want, call around or go online and get all of the prices from the comfort of your own home. For example, my husband and I saved over $1000 on our Tempurpedic mattress by letting the salesperson know that we were in no rush, and have been looking around. He was motivated to make the sale, so he immediately called the head office and found out that we could have a floor model at that discount. The store’s policy is that floor models are not used for more than 30 days, and they professionally clean all of the mattresses before delivery. They even removed our old mattress to donate. My friend saved hundreds on her new Honda just by calling 20 different dealership in our province and getting them to fax quotes to her. I could go on and on….in the future, I will write a series on how I saved over $8000 on my wedding!
18. Automate your savings. There are many plans to save money, high interest savings accounts, and mutual funds that allow you to contribute as little a $25 a month into and RRSP or whatever registered retirement savings plan you have in your country. By automating, you are doing two things: 1) Paying yourself first, and 2) Seeing that you can live just as well with a little bit less disposable income. It is suggested that you save 10% of your income. If this sounds daunting, start with less, and increase incrementally. You’ll see that by automating it, you don’t miss the money like you though you would. This tip saves you money, because the sooner you start contributing to your retirement–the less you have to spend total thanks to the power of compounding interest.
19. Develop some expertise in an area of interest. For example, decide to find out more about managing your home finances and ways to stretch your dollar further. Developing an area of interest by spending just a few minutes a day or a couple of hours a week reading web, magazine, or book articles/chapters on the subject. Your local public library is a great free resource. I’m always amazed at the selection of magazines that they have.
20. Stop cold air leaks in your home. If you don’t live in a cold climate, this can still be helpful. First go around to all of your outside doors–if there’s a draft, replace the weather stripping, or adjust it to stop the leak. Putting those those clear plastic sheets that you seal with a hair dryer over inefficient windows works really well too. During our first winter in our new home, we discovered that although they installed a gas fireplace with the house, they did not install a fan to blow the hot air into the room, or insulate behind the fireplace. As a result, it felt like an Arctic wind was coming into our living room–even the dogs wouldn’t lie on the floor! Our solution was to turn the pilot light off, and tape off the whole thing with plastic and duct tape until we got to the bottom of it.
21. When buying appliances, buy the highest efficiency possible. Look for the energy star symbol. Sometimes depending on where you live, rebates are available to encourage their use. Even if you are buying used, do some research into the model and model number to find out if it’s high efficiency–double savings!
22. Donate your time. I put this tip into a money saving article because it is very, very important to me. Depending on how you look at it, your time is valuable, and worth a lot of money. Giving your time to a cause that’s important to you is far more useful than whatever small financial donation you might make, and won’t get eaten up in administration fees. I have almost always volunteered my time instead of money, part of the reason was our limited financial resources when we were students, but also because it made us feel good. Some ideas include taking a turn volunteering at your local food bank, soup kitchen, walk dogs for the humane society, or more involved commitments like Big Brothers/Sisters. When I was in university, a bunch of us would take our dogs to a local retirement home on the weekends for pet visits–I have some great memories from this time in my life.
23. Re-evaluate your big expenses at least once a year. Check out what other companies are currently offering for car and home insurance, telephone and long distance, Internet, and cell phone services. Often, if you call your company and tell them you’ve found a better deal, they may match it to not lose your business.
24. Look for member discounts. When traveling or looking for services, by doing a bit of leg work, you could save money on things you planned on doing anyway. This is especially helpful when traveling. For example, if you’re a AAA/CAA member, Costco member, government employee, teacher, or service person, you may get a better rate. It never hurts to ask–specially in a tourist area.
25. Make your payments and do regular maintenance on time. Try really hard to make all payments on time to avoid unnecessary late penalties and interest charges–since they can really add up over the course of a year. Doing regular maintenance things like oil changes for your car, or dentist visits are a good idea. Like with many things in life, investing a bit of money up front and regularly often avoids some major costs downs the road. I used to pay the bills right before they were due to help with cash flow, but realized that if I had a really busy or stressful week, I would sometimes forget and have to pay a couple of days late. The other advantage of paying the bills right away, is that you have less money burning a hole in your bank account just itching to be spent!
Well, I’m sure that’s enough for now. I think it’s safe to say that if you’ve read this far in the article, you may have found a couple of tips that you can try. May the savings begin!