The only 'easy money' in this world, for working class people that is, is the money you save. Work is hard, but saving money isn't. I am admittedly lazy when it comes to budgeting. Also, I like spending money, so it's hard when I have to tell myself 'no'. But, since I'm not working outside the home right now, I like to feel like I'm contributing to the income (besides doing every single thing it takes to run a family primarily by myself AND working on remodeling projects!) by finding ways to save us money. So here goes: My top 20 list of the easiest ways to save your money starting now. Happy saving!
Step 1: Make a Budget
If you do, I promise you you'll be surprised at where some of your money is going. Budget out everything: you savings first, your house payment, your gas, miscellaneous expenses, all of it. I made my own spreadsheet for this years ago and I can see my whole month at once. After the initial time investment, you'll actually save time and money. Take care of your receipts at the end of each day for 15 minutes and you'll avoid doing it at the end of each week for over an hour. Having a budget can save you HUNDREDS of dollars every month.
Step 2: Stop Eating Out!
I know, you hear this all the time, but be honest, you ignore all the time too, don't you? We did. And then I got laid off and added up the HUNDREDS of dollars we were spending eating out every month, and I about choked. If you and your spouse are working full time, and you both buy lunch only three times a week, you are, on average, spending $120 a month!!! That's a cell phone bill! Add in a coffee every morning each, $80-$120 a month. What bill could you pay with that? Take out the kids twice a week to dinner, $200-$320/month. Add up even the lowest amount of all of these, and you're talking about at least $400 a month that could be paying down your credit, going into an emergency savings account, toward a vacation account, or, yes, eating out once in a while with a coupon or at a cheaper place.
Step 3: Save Money Grocery Shopping
Buy store brand, go to Aldi's (or whatever comparable store you have), hit multiple grocery stores for the savings. And while I'm on the subject, try going shopping only every two weeks. It saves time, and time is money. It also saves money, because you'll tend to spend a lot less overall. Use coupons, it takes 30 minutes a week to cut coupons and sort them, to got through your store circulars and make a list of each store's sales to match with your coupons. When I do this, I can save from $50 to $100 in a few hours. If I save 'only' $50, that's like earning over $16 an hour, tax free. Never think 'It's only a few dollars, it won't add up to much'. If you saw 'a few dollars' on the street, you'd stop to pick it up and think it was your lucky day, wouldn't you? This can save you, easily, $100 a month on your grocery bill, even more if you're really into it.
Step 4: Pack Your Kid's Lunches
They'll eat better, more nutritious foods, and you'll save a ton of money. Put water in their thermos, it's practically free and it's better for them than anything else they can drink. If you have two kids, and they both eat a school lunch, you're probably paying around $25 or more a week. If you make their lunch, you'll be taking that out of your groceries anyway, and it can cost, overall, as little as $10 a week, for a savings of $60 a month. That's a tank of gas, in this economy.
Step 5: Ease Up on the Gas
If you don't live in an area where it's easy to ride your bike everywhere, take the bus, or walk, and most of us don't, just ease up on the gas. I started doing this recently, about a month ago, and it's made a big difference. I am easing into my accelerations (gentle starts and keep it under 2000rpm), and keeping an eye on traffic lights and stop signs so that I can gauge my speed necessity better. That way if I see a stop sign in two blocks, for example, and I'm going 20mph, I'll take my foot off of the gas and coast to the sign, which raises my mpg and eases wear on my brakes. I coast a lot now, and my per tank mileage has gone from 200 miles to 260 miles. That's a 4mpg increase for me, and that adds up.
Step 6: Two Websites You Must Know About
Freecycle and Craigslist. Freecycle is a place you can offer things you want to be rid of and find things you need but can't afford. Craigslist is a free online classified, and when you go to your city, under 'for sale', there is a listing for free things where people are giving away everything from scrap metal (PS: it can pay well as a part time thing) to sign language lessons (recently saw on the Tampa Bay listings). It takes 10 minutes a day to check both sites. I am sitting at a $1200.00 oak computer hutch that I got for free from a couple with to much money on their hands who just wanted it gone. Enough said. Please note: don't use those sites to get things to sell, that defeats the purpose of the community there. Now, while your there on Craigslist, look in the 'barter' section. There you will find people offering their possessions and professional services in exchange for specific items or "whatever you've got". I've offered things and gotten offers for paint repairs on my car, brick paver fire pit and walkway, hanging siding on my house, etc. If you haven't gone on, you ARE missing out.
Step 7: Do It Yourself
Not all home projects have to be done by professionals. If you're used to going out and spending money with your friends or significant other on the weekend, use that time to work together making your home 'homier' and getting to know each other that much better. Example: We had a fire a few years ago, and we did a lot of the repair work ourselves and got over $5,000 back from the construction company. We would have gotten cheap laminate countertops, so I went online and learned how to do concrete, and we did them for our own labor and about $300. We would have gotten nice looking but cheap particle board cupboards, but I made them save my old oak ones, we refigured them, had a carpenter friend trade favors with my mechanic husband for a couple of newly built ones to fill in some space, and did a little work on them for a kitchen that looks twice as big and is twice as efficient. Since we were in a hotel anyway, we gutted our old, small bathroom and redid the entire thing, from copper plumbing to clawfoot tub, for under $3,000. There were many other things we did ourselves, and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and can save you thousands of dollars.
Step 8: Be Informed
What? Be informed? Yes, you heard me right. Don't tell me you've never done something impulsively or without all the information and ended up regretting it financially. Something small like driving 30 minutes to a place that ended up being closed when you could have 'phoned first' (remember, time is money, and so is gas!), or, something big like buying a new couch, and you later find out that it was on sale somewhere else, and the store won't match the price, and you can't cancel the order without losing your deposit, and it comes and it doesn't fit through any opening in your house, and you have to pay a re-stocking fee for the store to take it back, and THEN you have to take MORE TIME to find something else you like that fits through your door or window and make sure it isn't cheaper somewhere else!!!! Your phone and your computer are your friends when used correctly; BE INFORMED = SAVE MONEY.
Step 9: Rethink Your Entertainment
Do you HAVE to see that movie in a first-run theater? If it's, say, a Star Wars movie, then obviously YES, but if it's just a movie that 'looks good', save it for the second run theaters and pay $1.50 to get in instead of $8. And skip the popcorn and drinks. A family of four will easily spend $20 on snacks alone. Eat before you go, and get the kids a $1 cone at McD's after, if you must. Better yet, join an online video club, at the cheapest rate you'll get 2 videos a month for 4.95 plus a free bonus coupon for in-store rental, and you'll be in the privacy of your own home with no babies crying and no rude people talking on their cell phones. If you're like most families I know, you already own so many movies anyway you could watch one every week and not rent a single thing. We're so glutted with it we don't even appreciate it or how much it costs. Sick of the movies you own? Join peerflix and exchange them for others, don't go out and buy more. Best and cheapest choice; skip the movie and go to a park and play with your kids. Or walk on the trails, where you will find your kids suddenly remember how to talk with you. Ride your bikes together. Play a board game. Volunteer together. Have a picnic. Pitch a tent in your yard and go 'camping' for the weekend. Worship together. If your kids are younger, read to them. I read out loud to my kids until they were 13! They loved it, and we looked forward to the book we would read next. They read a lot they wouldn't have read otherwise on their own, and they are smarter for having read more. Need a book? Go to the library. It's free. You can also check out movies and CD's, and use the computer; for free. Sometimes you can get free classes, free kids activities, and my library is now offering, with the state, free passes to art and science museums for checking out a book. Four people, free, into the museum for checking out a free book. AND those museums often have free family nights with entertainment and crafts.
Quality time with your kids is priceless, they'll leave us soon enough. How do you put a 'savings' on free quality time?
Step 10: Don't Be a Snob
Listen, we all want to look good, and we all want people to think we can afford the best. But we can't, or we wouldn't have threads like this. Need your hair done? Go to a beauty school and get it for less than half the regular cost. Dental work with no insurance? Dental school. These people are supervised during the process by their instructors. You'll be fine. PS: You can also get mani/pedi's and massages that way for half the price or less of a 'regular' place. Also, most clothing and accessories can be bought second hand. Never mind learning to sew. It's cheaper to buy second hand (unless you're getting the fabric and patterns for free online). You can go at the end of the season and get clothes in a 'regular' store up to 80% off, in the second hand store, up to 70% off, which means even outdoor jackets and coats as little as $1-$10. Shoes should always be new for kids, but even then you can shop at the end of season sales for the next year and save, collectively, over a hundred dollars a year. Boots can be gently used. Babies grow so quickly it's practically a sin to buy new for them when you can buy like-new for 20% of the cost. You can also buy toys and books and other baby needs (just makes sure that any equipment hasn't been recalled- computer comes in handy here). Don't forget the Salvation Army, the American Council for the Blind, and other thrift stores. I would try these places before I would try E-bay, because you'll pay less. You can shop this way for yourselves and your kids. I recently got two pair of very nice shoes at a nice department store for $7.95 a pair, down from $40 a pair because they were end of season markdowns, and an outfit that would have cost me $80 for $20 at a ladies consignment store (where I also take thing and sell on consignment). You should hit the yard/garage/estate sales too. To save money this way, you need to a) go on a day of a 'city-wide' sale; b) map out your route; c)make sure you're using your budgeted money; d) have in mind the things you need and avoid buying things you simply want (unless you have budgeted for that purpose) e) let something at home go for everything you bring in; clutter costs money. Which reminds me.....
Step 11: Get Rid of the Clutter
Everything you own needs a place. Many people mistakenly believe that as they get more 'stuff' they need more space, and therefore buy a bigger home. Or they live in the clutter where things get lost, broken, or just make them depressed so that they are useless to do anything about improving other aspects of thier lives. I don't even know where to start on how much money this is costing you if you live like this. Pick a day, and use it to tackle one room at a time, one closet, one cupboard, the garage, something! Get some boxes, mark them with "toss", "donate", "keep", and get on it. If you itemized your taxes, you can write off any donations you make. (make sure you have a detailed receipt for this; the IRS has tightened the rules on that) So not only are you gaining space and peace of mind, you're getting a much needed tax break. Don't want to take the time? Don't donate it. Put it on the curb and get on craigslist to tell everyone. They'll come get it, they always do. If you feel it's worth something but admit you'll never use it, plan a garage sale, or barter it, or put it on ebay, you'll make some money. If you know you'll never get around to it (let's be honest with ourselves) then get rid of it. The things you keep can now be organized and you will not only feel like you can breath again, you will have that much less to be stressed about and that much less stuff to move around, take care of, dig through, repair, and clean. Say it with me: 'time is money'.
Step 12: Regarding Your Landscaping....
Buy perennials. Annuals have to be bought and planted every year. Perennials come back year after year. Then you can divide them and you have that many more plants for your yard. You can trade the divided perennials at swaps, which do take place in most areas. Use annuals sparingly for 'fill-in' color. If you're really industrious, you can start your own from seed indoors in Winter and they'll be ready to put out in Spring, but I recommend you know what you're doing first. (be informed) If you have a crew come in to mow your lawn or rake or whatever, consider letting a neighborhood kid do it for $10 or $15 bucks, but it would be better to do it yourself. If you really don't have time, and you have kids, shouldn't they be helping? (Assuming they're old enough and have had proper supervision while being taught to do it) If you don't have kids, is whatever else you're doing worth the extra $120-$150 a month to have someone else do it for you? If it takes you an hour to mow your own lawn, it's free exercise, and you saved at least $35 on a crew, so you 'earned' $35 an hour. Is whatever else you're doing worth that much? Gardening is sometimes labor intensive, but I'm here to tell you that pulling weeds or staking tomatoes can give you the same satisfied feeling as many things that cost you money to do. Not to mention that when you're done you get to enjoy your beautiful yard or your home grown, organic vegetables.
Step 13: Overhaul Your Utilities
By this I mean to look at your bills and figure out where you can save money. Are you paying $40 for cable internet? These days you can get service that's just as fast for $12 a month. Do you have a land line and cell phones? We got rid of our land line (savings-$55 a month) and changed our cell package to include a third phone for home (kept our number) for more minutes at a cheaper cost than we were paying for our previous cell package. Can you take shorter showers? Turn down your water heater? Hang your clothes to dry? Don't buy fabric softener, just put 1/2 cup vinegar in your rinse water and it does the same thing without leaving buildup or using costly chemicals. No, your clothes will not smell like vinegar, but, man, will they be soft! Can you unplug what you're not using? Turn off things that don't need to be on? Do you really need cable? We cancelled our cable years ago and got a really good high-def outdoor antennae (which we actually put in the attic). My dad gave us his old high-def receiver. We can watch high-def now, since most stations already come that way, and PBS has three high-def stations (which is often as good as cable), ABC has two (one of them is old sitcoms and shows from the 70's and 80's); or we can just watch TV regularly, as the antennae works that way, too. If you're so busy that you don't have time to mow your lawn, then do you really have time to watch the cable your spending a fortune on? Trust me, after the second week, we were already over it. There are enough things on regular TV to keep you busy enough. My kids are so much more active than they were before, and we put more time into more important things. But, if you're in an area where you "must" have cable, here's a secret. Many of the major cable companies have a basic-basic package that they won't voluntarily tell you about. I know many people who pay $13 a month for cable and it's every station you'd really want anyway. My own sister had to practically force a customer service rep to tell her it exists, but she got it. I personally would save the $13 for something else.
Step 14: Maintain Your Appliances
Your refrigerator, furnace, sump pump, water heater, computer, and many other things need to be maintained on a regular basis. You can save a lot of money on repair people, or worse, replacing the item, by regular maintenance. Change your furnace filter every year. Get it cleaned, along with the ductwork. You won't pay as much doing this as you will by not doing it and therefore shortening its life-span, risking your family's health and incurring doctor bills because of it, not to mention the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Your water heater may need to be flushed once a year. Your computer can last for many years if you know how to properly maintain it. Clean out your stove vent and dryer vent so that the air moves freely and doesn't cause a risk for fire. You may need to vacuum the coils on your refrigerator or change the filters for the ice maker (which are cheaper online, by the way). Don't forget outdoor maintenance; lawnmowers, weed wackers, lawn furniture, grill, etc. If you're unsure as to whether an appliance requires yearly maintenance, check the owner's manual. Then write it on your calendar so that you don't forget when the time comes. If you do it all around the same time every year, you're less likely to forget. And while you're at it, change your lightbulbs to high efficiency bulbs.
Step 15: Keep Your House Clean
Clean things last longer. Wood floors need to be refinished less frequently when they're cleaned regularly. Dirt scratches the finish and wears it off faster than a clean floor wears. Carpet lasts longer, too. Fabric wears faster when dirt is rubbing the surface of it. Wood needs to be conditioned. A leather sofa will wear and crack much faster if you don't clean and condition it once or twice a year. These things go for the car, too. When your desk is disorganized, you risk forgetting about that credit card bill or insurance payment, which means late fees, credit score risks, and even worse if you have an accident and your insurance lapsed without you realizing it. Ceiling fans throw dust and dirt around when they're not cleaned. Computers run hot when there are dust bunnies in the vents. If the dishes aren't done, you're more likely to eat out than to do the dishes at the last minute so that you can cook and eat at home. A clean house also means finding things when you need them, which saves time, and not forgetting that you already have something that you then go out and buy only to find the original a week later while looking for something else. Not to mention it just feels better to be in a clean house, and what price can you put on that?
Step 16: Flip Your Mattress
Every six months. First, around end to end, next time over, then around again, then over again, and on and on. It will last years longer and if you don't do it your warranty is voided by the company. Yes, they will measure it corner to corner and if there's a noticeable dip in only one place they will void your warranty for lack of 'maintenance'. The same goes for stains. Use a good mattress cover. It may cost a little more up front, but if you eat or drink in bed, or your child wets the bed, and it wets the mattress, your warranty is void, and your mattress will break down faster. A cover will also save you the hassle of vacuuming your mattress. Even clean houses have dust mites, and they can make a person with allergies very sick, which means more doctor's bills. Which reminds me, put a cover on your pillow, too. They make nice cloth ones that don't feel unnatural like the vinyl ones do.
Step 17: Take Care of Your Pets
If you don't think your animal needs a heartworm preventative, have your vet show you a heart full of them. It's sad, disgusting, and unnecessary. Plus, heartworm treatment costs a fortune and may come too late to save your pet. Don't want to fork out for the better brand of flea and tick medicine? The store varieties can make your pet very sick and not work as well. You can save tons on this on ebay or 1800petmeds. Without that protection, your putting your pet at risk for things like tapeworm and putting your family at risk of catching not only the tapeworms, but lyme disease, if they happen to bring a tick into the house with them. How much money do you think lyme disease would cost you? No rabies shots for your 'indoor' animal? If they happen to get out or you're walking the dog and they startle an animal and get bit, at the very least you're looking at a 10 day quarantine at the vet ($$$), and at the worst, you're pet may show the signs of it and have to be put down. I have a vet who's wonderful, and for possibly serious matters I am willing to pay a little more to have my pets taken care of. But for vaccines, I go to a good but cheap vet clinic where I pay a ton less for the shots. I don't feel guilty. I need to save the money, and I need my pets protected. Also, if you can't afford a big vet bill (i.e. no savings) and you really love your pet, and you know that if anything big happened you'd go into hock before you'd have them put down, you need to look into pet insurance.
Step 18: Maintain Your Automobiles
My husband is a mechanic, and I can't tell you how many times he's come home and told me about the engine he took apart and the bill that the customer is about to receive. Change your oil, people! And get receipts, because if you don't keep your receipts and your engine goes while under warranty, they will not cover the repairs. You may be facing a $1200 and up bill or replacing your car. Keep the tire pressure in check and get them rotated and balanced at a reputable place (preferably the dealership). Uneven wear on your tires means replacing them a lot sooner, not to mention decreasing your gas mileage. Change filters regularly, and don't forget, many newer cars have an in-cabin filter for the recycled air. We didn't know we had one for a couple of years. The most important thing about this is, BE INFORMED. If you go somewhere to get these things done and you are not informed, you will most likely pay too much for services you may not even need. Of course there's going to be an up-sell, but are you informed enough to know what that is that they're saying you need and how much it should really cost? Our friends all call my husband before they allow anything to be done to their cars, and most of them don't need what the people are trying to sell them, or my husband does it for half or less of what they were trying to charge. I'm not saying all mechanics are dishonest (I wouldn't have married my husband if he was, and he was my mechanic), but my own mechanic husband would tell you that most of them are. Lesson: get to know a mechanic that you can trust, use your instinct, get a second opinion if it's expensive, and maintain your car to avoid more costly repairs in the long run.
Step 19: Take Your Meds
If you take presctiption meds regularly, this can be a good one for you. My family takes, collectively, 7 meds. You're probably familiar with the coupons that give you gift cards for their store if you transfer your prescription. Most stores will honor the coupons from any other store. So here's what I do: Every new prescription goes to the SAME pharmacy so that if there's any chance of an interaction they will have record of EVERY med we're taking. THAT IS VERY IMPORTANT! Then, for the refills, I use the transfer coupons that I've saved out of circulars and take them where I need them. You should call first and make sure they will honor the coupon and what the restrictions are. For example, yesterday I refilled one brand name prescription at a 'super store' (their stipulation being that the cost of the prescription had to exceed the coupon value), got a $30 gift card and bought groceries. Then I took my other Rx to a pharmacy store and used that $30 to buy all of our toiletries. You know how fast they add up! So for filling Rx's that I had to fill anyway, I got $60 free. It's worth keeping track of for as long as stores are willing to do it.
Step 20: Use Your Common Sense
I couldn't possibly write down all of the things that can happen because of lack of common sense. I can tell you that they all end in losing money. Do you really need that thing you're buying? Do you know how to use it properly? Are you insured for that? If you do that, could it end in a hospital trip? Do you HAVE to do it? How's your driving? Are you one speeding tailgate away from a ticket/accident/death? It's always the "one time" someone didn't use the seat belt, safety gear, follow directions, or drove after drinking that they lose an eye/limb/life or cause someone else to lose their's. Do you have life insurance and AD&D insurance? Do you have a will? Are you aware that you don't know/can't do everything? Hopefully; and that's OK, we're all in that boat. And, yes, we all do stupid things sometimes. But are you willing to become self-educated in order to avoid the many things that can take our money or worse, our life or someone else's? A little common sense goes a long way.