When you’re on a budget, or you’d rather be saving your money for a rainy day, there are lots of things you can do to help cut costs. For the most part, you probably know all the no-brainer money-saving tips, such as turning off lights when you leave the room, switching your bulbs out to CFL bulbs, unplugging appliances, and electronics when not in use, etc… But what about using Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office Suite? Or that July 11th is free Slurpee day at 7/11? How about getting movie tickets for free?
Money Saving Tips
Make a Budget. A must for any military family. You can’t start saving money until you know where that money is going. See How To Make A Budget.
Use money management software such as Microsoft Money or Quicken. Both programs allow you to set up your monthly bills and keep track of your spending through a register. Even if you use cash, you can set up an “account” and call it your cash account. Record every purchase you make and make sure every purchase is put into the proper spending category. It is worth the investment.
Turn off all lights when not in use. Make a habit of teaching not only yourself, but your children to turn off all lights when not in use or upon leaving a room.
Unplug items when not in use. This includes computers, fax machines, TVs, DVD players, CD players, cable boxes, cell phone chargers, hair dryers, stereos, lamps, small appliances, etc… If it plugs in and can be easily unplugged when not in use, unplug it. Even when these items are “off” they still use electricity. They are what is known as “vampire electronics” because of the electricity they suck down even when they are turned off. Or plug them into a power strip that you can easily turn off.
Use Freecycle. If you have been around this site long enough you know we talk about Freecycle, a lot. Before you go to purchase a new item, see if someone on your local Freecycle or even Craigslist might be giving the item away. Read my article about freecycle here.
Wash Clothes on Cold and Dry on Low. Most clothes will clean up just fine in cold water. They even make cold water detergents just for cold water. Most clothes (except jeans and large loads of towels) will dry on the low heat setting in the same amount of time as they would on high heat. Using low heat and cold water will save you some money on your electricity bill.
Lower the temp on your water heater. If you have children, it should be lowered anyway (don’t want them getting burned). Move your water heaters temp down to 120. That is still hot enough to wash dishes and yourself, and it will save you money on your electricity bill.
Drain a quart from your water heater. Every couple of months drain a quart of water from your water heater to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers its efficiency.
Make a list before you shop. I’m not just talking about the grocery store here. Anytime you need to shop, always have a list before heading out, and stick to that list!
Shop when you’re in a rush. Shopping while you’re in a hurry or have other prior engagements limits the chance that you will veer off your list or browse around for something you may not need, therefore saving you money. Trust me and just try it once.
Shop at your local dollar store. If you have a Dollar Tree or even a dollar store around you, shop there first for cleaning supplies, school supplies, and other household items. Make sure you take a list of what you need. DO NOT GO IN WITHOUT A LIST, and stick to your list. If you don’t then you are bound to spend money on stuff you don’t need and it will have defeated the purpose of shopping there.
Shop at consignment shops for clothes. Check consignment shops for clothes before buying brand new. Most consignment shops have “almost new” clothing at great prices.
Use Coupons. When grocery shopping, use coupons for items you need. Don’t, however, use a coupon just to use it or because you have it. Always check to see if the generic version is cheaper as well. The generic version may be cheaper than the brand name version even with a coupon.
Buy in bulk. Buy things you know you will use in bulk such as toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, soap, etc…
Plan meals in advance. Planning meals in advance will give you a definite grocery list when it comes time to do grocery shopping. Stick to your list and you will avoid impulse buying as well as buying duplicate items.
Stock up on sale items. No, I don’t mean go hog-wild at your nearest sale. But if an item is on sale that you regularly use, stock up on it (if you can afford to do so).
Shop high & low at the grocery store. What the heck does that mean? It means that usually the lowest priced items are kept on the bottom shelves as well as the higher shelves and the most expensive items tend to be at eye level. Go figure.
Buy generic. Granted some things are better left to the brand names, most generic brands taste or work just as well as their brand-name counterparts but cost much less.
Make your own small-portion snacks. Instead of buying those individually packaged snacks, make your own by buying the family size and dividing it up among ziplock bags. Save the ziplock bags and use them again.
Ask for a to-go box BEFORE your meal arrives. Yes, your waiter may look at you like you lost your mind, but that’s ok. When your meal gets to you, put half in the to-go box. Not only will you be helping your waistline, but you will also have another ready-to-eat meal for the next day.
Set your thermostat to 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer. This will help lower your heating and cooling bill (whether it be electric or gas).
Weatherize your home. You can buy kits at your local Wal-Mart from “shrink wrapping” your windows, to weather strips, and more.
Make sure that gaps in doors are filled with weather strips. This will help ensure that the air outside stays there.
“Shrinkwrap” your windows in the colder months to keep the cold air from seeping in through the glass and the heat from inside seeping outside.
Keep access to your attic and other unheated/uncooled areas of your home closed, weather-stripped, and insulated.
Caulk around windows and doors to stop air leaks and check caulk annually to make sure it is in good condition.
Install draft protectors on the electrical outlets and switch plates on outside walls. Remember to turn off the electricity before you do this.
Use compact fluorescent bulbs. They give off just as much light as regular incandescent bulbs, but they use up to 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer.
Take a shower instead of a bath. Showers on average use 50% less water, therefore saving you money on your water bill and electricity.
Shorten your shower to 10 minutes max. Sure it feels great to stand there under the running hot water for 10 minutes, but it’s also a waste of water and electricity. Shorten your shower and you will save on your water bill and electric bill.
Only run the dishwasher when it’s full. This will save on electricity and water. Also, use the air-dry option for more savings.
Only run the washer when its full. This again will save on water and electricity.
Drink tap water. Did you know that most bottled water isn’t actual Spring water straight from a Spring? A good filter on your faucet will closely produce the same results at a fraction of the price. Not only will you be saving money, you will also help save mother Earth.
Lower your cable package. Do you really watch all 250 channels? Chances are a big ole heck no. Figure out what channels you really watch and go from there on which package you should choose. And don’t keep the expensive premium channels such as HBO etc…, if your anything like me, you “may” watch that channel only once a month if even that, and honestly I think we only turn it to that channel once or twice a year. Add up the dough and each movie is costing me around $120/each. YIKES! Or…
Ask the Cable company to lower your bill. Talk to the retention department of your cable company. Their entire job is to keep you as a customer so they will be able to offer you deals and specials that the regular service rep can’t. Or…
Cancel Cable. Yikes! What!? After looking at our usage, my family realized that the only shows we really watched were on local channels (CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC) and we can get those for free with a digital house antenna. To make up for the other stuff we have a subscription to Netflix and Amazon which monthly only cost about $15 compared to the $80 we were spending on the cheapest package of Direct TV.
Use cloth napkins instead of paper towels Yes this may mean a tad bit more laundry but in the end, it’s cheaper to toss those napkins in with the load of towels that you are already washing instead of buying paper towels every week.
Boil water in a closed pot. It will boil faster, therefore causing you to use less energy. Hey, small things really do add up!
Use plastic grocery store bags to line trash cans. Instead of buying those expensive trash bags for your smaller trash cans, use the plastic grocery store bags as trash bags instead. My grandmother did this (of course this woman also grew up during the great depression) and so did my Mom. In fact, my grandmother also used them in her kitchen trash can. Of course she rarely ever threw anything away, to begin with.
Use plastic grocery store bags as dog poop baggies. Yep, I said poop. Instead of buying those expensive poop bags, use plastic grocery store bags instead.
Consolidate debt to a lower-interest loan. Take a look at all your credit cards and loans. See if you qualify to consolidate them into a lower-interest loan. This could save you lots of money in the long run. If not, always try to pay off the higher-interest loan first.
Ask creditors to lower your interest rate. You mean I can do that? Well of course. What’s the worst they will say? No. Especially if you have always paid on time, they may be willing to lower your interest rate for you. It doesn’t hurt to ask, so ask!
Put your credit cards in a safe. You will be less likely to make impulse buys if they are kept under lock and key. Notice I said in a safe, not in ice. Although you are more than welcome to freeze the living bejeezus out of your card, what happens if there is a true emergency and you need it? That’s right you have to wait for it to thaw out. Not so cool after all.
Pay bills on time to avoid late fees and penalties. This seems like a no-brainer, but pay your bills on time! Avoid unnecessary late fees. All you are doing is handing the companies free money.
Ask your cell phone carrier for a Military Discount. Most offer a military discount even if they don’t advertise it, and if they don’t offer one, maybe it’s time to start looking for another carrier.
Combine your cable, internet, and home phone. Combining your services into one bundle will usually save you a good chunk of change every month.
Get rid of your landline. Almost everyone has a cell phone now that they use way more than they ever use their landline. So get rid of it and save some money. If you must have one but rarely use it, try Voipo (which I personally use and love for both my home phone and an extra line which is my fax line), magicJack (you no longer have to have it plugged into your computer to use it, I have used them as well when it had to be plugged into the computer and the service was a hit or miss sometimes) or another low-cost VoIP company.
Switch to free checking. Are you paying service fees for your checking? Switch your bank to one that offers free checking. It may not seem like a lot, but those fees do add up in the end.
Shower at the gym. If you go to the gym, take your shower there instead of at home. It will save you money on your water and electricity bill because you will be using theirs not yours.
Use the base/post gym. Instead of paying for a gym membership, use the base/post gym which is free!
Do your own taxes. Save the fee and do your own taxes online for free. Your typical service member has no need for a tax accountant or any reason to use one of those big tax guys. There are however exceptions to that of course in which you would be better off using a CPA to do your taxes. One place that offers free filing online that is simple to use is TaxSlayer.com.
Look over your W-4. Are you giving Uncle Sam a tax-free loan? If you get a refund back every year then yes you are. How nice of you! How about checking your W-4? The more dependents you claim the less that will be taken out every month. Yes, this means you may not get as much back at the end of the year, but you could use that extra money to pay off higher-interest loans sooner which will save you even more money. Of course, this is a personal preference and only you can decide which is best for you and your family.
Sleep on it. Before making a big purchase of an item that is $100 or more, sleep on it. Chances are the next day you will no longer want it or have found a reason not to want it, thus saving you some major dough!
Have a Garage Sale. If you are a military family, you are no stranger to garage sales. So twice a year get rid of the old in your life and rake in some cash.
Try and buy in the off-season. In other words, buy your summer clothes for next year this year at the end of the season when they go on clearance.
Create a weekly no-spend day. What a whole day of no spending!? Yes, a whole entire day of not spending one dime. That means not even 5 cents for a piece of gum. If you’re really good, create a weekly spend day where that is the only day you spend money and all other days are no spend days. Hey, it’s very possible to do!
Borrow books from the library or swap them with friends. Instead of buying books, head on over to your local library. You remember that place don’t you? You know that place where you have to be quiet or get smacked on the hand with a ruler? If you are not into libraries, join a swap group/site such as paperbackswap.com
Stop Smoking/Vaping. I know, I know. I hated hearing someone tell me that as well, but as of Jan 4, 2010, I have been smoke-free and have saved $5,110.00 in just 2 years. That’s a lot of money. Speaking of quitting smoking, a really cool site to join is quitnet.com
Free & Discounted Microsoft Office – Did you know that you can purchase Microsoft Office through Army AKO for dirt cheap ($20 at last check)? Also, if you are looking for free, try Google Docs, Sheets, & Slides – With tools that mirror that of Microsoft office like excel, word, and PowerPoint, it also has the ability to allow you to access those documents anywhere. The cost is FREE.
File Storage – DropBox is an awesome free online storage site (great for backups or if you need more than one person working on the same file). I use it to create backups for my backups and also for when I need to share large files with others since most email providers will not allow you to send or receive large files as attachments. Or Google Drive, works just like dropbox. I actually use both. One I use to keep backups of photos, the other documents.
Free Movie Tickets – AdvancedScreenings.com – Check for upcoming movies that are offering free advanced screenings.
Free Accommodations – HomeExchange.com – Want to take a vacation without paying for a hotel? If you don’t mind someone staying in your home (or vacation home) swap some time with others who are looking for the same thing.
Free e-books – Copyrights expire and there are many books that have been converted digitally and are available on the internet for you to download. Check out Free-eBooks.net, hundredzeros.com, manybooks.net, and openlibrary.org
Shopping Online – If you do a lot of your shopping online, sign up for MyPoints and EBates. They both work relatively the same way. You shop through them, and by doing so you earn points (MyPoints) that you can redeem for gift cards or cash (EBates). With MyPoints, however, you also get the opportunity to earn extra points (which you can convert into gift cards and items, I usually cash them in for hotel vouchers for when we go on vacation) by simply clicking on links within the emails they send you (5 points). With MyPoints, I typically cash out twice a year for a total of $800 in gift cards (to either Walmart or for hotel vouchers) and most of the points I earn by just clicking on the link in the emails they send.
Eating Out – If you eat out a lot check out Restaurant.com where you can find great deals at local area restaurants It allows you to purchase gift certificates for much less than they are worth.
Stop Eating Out – If at all possible stop eating out. Not only does it cost more, but it’s also typically not good for your health or waistline either!
Recycle Old Phones – Ok so this is less about saving and more about getting money back. See if your carrier has a cell phone recycling program. Most will give you a little cash back for sending in your old phones. Even if they don’t, at least you decluttered a little!
How much electricity do household items use? (external site)
Debt Reduction Snowball Calculator (external site)
What Are Your Money Saving Tips?
I hope this helps you think outside of the box when it comes to saving money, and if you have any suggestions to add, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
Disclaimer: As with any company, you should always check them out before giving out any personal information.