Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission when you click through and make a purchase. Thanks for supporting the brands that support this blog.
Like many families, we made the choice to live — at least currently— on a single income so my husband is able to stay home with our fifteen-month-old son. Our income, after taxes and health insurance, manages to covers our monthly tithes, bills, and routine expenses. Sometimes we even have a little left over for savings. (Praise the Lord, what a blessing!)
Unfortunately, the last few months of 2017 were a little harder on our budget than we had planned for. We had a few unexpected car maintenance issues in September and October that depleted our Vehicle Maintenance Fund and forced us to use part of our Emergency Fund. (I am certain many of you can relate to that!) There was also an eight-day family vacation in November and special events for family and friends (birthdays, baby showers, holidays, etc).
Needless to say, it is not always easy to stay in budget when emergencies happen. We completely understand and empathize with the need for individuals and families to find creative ways to save. So I have put together 15 simple ways to save a little money on the side. You might just be surprised how a few dollars here and there does add up!
1. Make and take your lunch
Whether you work outside the home or not, it is too easy to slip into a pattern of buying lunch. An average meal can cost between $5 and $14 depending on the quality of the restaurant you go to. You also have to be careful of extra expenses for utilizing “convenience” stores and/or vending machines. The cost of microwave-ready meals adds up, too. Making and taking your lunch can save you a lot of money each month.
The lunches you make do not have to be fancy. This is a great way to get rid of leftovers, eat more salads, and help with your health/fitness goals. Invest in a nice microwave dish or mini-crockpot warmer (like this one), a water bottle, and a lunch bag and you will be on your way to saving!
2. Avoid frequent dining out
In the same vein as the previous tip, avoid dining out as much as possible. Yes, dining out can be a lot of fun if you enjoy trying new foods, going to new places, or have a few favorites you enjoy visiting. However, dining out is an expensive hobby! A family of four can easily spend over $60 plus 15-20% in tip at just one meal. Even if you opt for cheaper fast food instead of a finer dining experience, you will find yourself wasting money on poor quality food that will leave you hungry just a little while later.
Save the dining out experience for special occasions, limit the number of times per month you allow yourself to go out to dining (for example: twice a month), or give yourself a very strict dining out budget per week (for example: $10 or $20 a week).
You will be amazed with how much you can save just from eating at home. In many cases — since restaurants and fast food relay so heavily on extra salt and fats to give food flavor — you will also end up make healthier meal choices at home and feeling better.
3. Find cheap or free events/activities for social gatherings with family and friends
Food is often how we interact with family and friends, but it does not have to be the go-to social activity. Check out your local newspaper for free or cheap community events and/or activities you can go to instead. Have a family fun day and picnic at a local city park, take a walk through a nature preserve, go for a hike at a nearby state park, ride bikes around the neighborhood. Look into free movie tickets or discount days at local museums. Take classes, borrow books, rent movies, and more at your public library.
There are so many fun options out there that have nothing to do with food but will make wonderful memories!
4. Drink more water!
Did you know that most American adults are chronically dehydrated? (Source) It may be surprising when you consider how much liquid we tend to consume on a daily basis between all the coffee, tea, soda, juices, etc. Think of all of the money you can save if you cut back on these other, more expensive beverages that are not properly hydrating you anyway and, instead, drink more water. Our bodies function best with good old H2O, which is often free from your tap!
I highly encourage you to have your tap water tested to ensure its quality. It may be worth the initial cost to invest in a water filter or filtration system, as you will be saving money in the long run by not having to buy bottled water.
Or, if you are like us, find a family member or friend who does have a great water filtration system already and see if you can use their water. We visit my parents once or twice a week anyway, so we take empty water jugs with us and fill them up with their delicious, filtered water to use for drinking and cooking. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
5. Shop at dollar stores and discount grocery stores
Have you checked out the dollar stores and discount grocers near you? What about farmers’ markets and ethnic shops? These stores can save you quite a bit each month on your regular staples: breads, cereals, rice, beans, and sometimes even fruits and vegetables. There are some items that you will have to get at the bigger stores no matter what, but look at the local flyers that come in the mail for sales and discounts to know when and where to shop.
If you have a favorite grocery store, see if they have a rewards program that can save you a couple of dollars each trip, send you coupons on items you actually buy regularly, and maybe even give you a discount at the gas pump. I love that our main grocery store, Fry’s (aka Krogers), does all three!
As an individual who has food allergies and sensitivities, I highly recommend reading ingredients carefully and making wise food purchases. In my experience, it is often better to go without something then to risk a handful of sick and miserable days.
6. Make shopping lists and stick to them
This is something we struggle with so I definitely need to take my own advice here! When we make a shopping list — whether for groceries or regular shopping — we do a much better job of buying items we actually need and avoiding the impulse purchases that tend to cause the bill to jump up.
A bonus tip: try not to go grocery shopping when hungry! Your hunger may influence you into splurging on pre-packaged snacks and more items than you really need.
7. Buy used or secondhand
Buying used or secondhand is a great way to save a little money. We like to buy temporary clothes secondhand; for example, almost all of my maternity clothes were gently used from a secondhand store since I only need these clothes for a short amount of time. Likewise, we get most of our son’s clothes secondhand because he is growing so fast!
We also keep an eye out for toys that do not have small parts, are not broken, and can be easily sanitized. Why spend $30-$60 on a set of megablocks when you can get the same number of blocks (or more) in a bag at a thrift store for $2-$5?
8. Cancel unused memberships and subscriptions
Do you belong to a gym but never (or hardly ever) go? Are you paying for magazines that you never read and just end up cluttering your house? Do you have an annual membership to any online sites that you no longer regularly visit? Take a moment to really consider if these and other memberships/subscriptions you might have are truly worth the money you are paying for them.
If you find you do not use the gym, read the magazines, or visit the websites often, then it is time to cancel! While some subscriptions may only be $10 or so a year, others could be as much as $10-20 a month. That is a lot of savings when you do the math. Every little bit saved adds up.
9. Fix things yourself when possible
The toilet is running, a faucet is leaking, the car’s fluids need checked and refilled, the tires are a bit low on air, your favorite shirt lost a button, your socks have a hole in the toe… There are plenty of ways you can save a few dollars when you decide to try your hand at doing small projects yourself.
If you really put your mind to it, many things you can do without having to be a super handy or crafty person. When something breaks, I highly recommend doing a little research online with your favorite search engine or YouTube first to see if it is something you can fix yourself. (Like we did with our $3 Faucet fix!) If you can, great! If you cannot, then at least you tried.
10. Cut your own hair
Ok, so this may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is worth a try. According to the Professional Beauty Assocation, the average cost nationally for a man’s hair cut is about $28 and $43 for a woman’s hair cut; however, the price may be lower or significantly higher depending upon where you live and the salon you visit. If you are not fussy about your hair nor have a complex style to maintain, you could save a little money by cutting your own hair.
For men, it might be as simple as investing in a razor/clipper set like this Adjustable Fast Feed Clipper from Oster. For ladies, a pair of hair cutting scissors and a virtual trip to YouTube can provide you with guidance on trimming bangs or fast and easy ways to do your own layers!
I have been trimming my own bangs and cutting my own hair for about two years now. As long as I am not in a rush, it turns out fine. (Thanks, YouTube!) We did try trimming my husband’s hair at home. Unfortunately, his hair is soooooo thick that even professionals have a hard time getting it right. After two different attempts, we decided it was better for him to get it cut professionally by the one stylist who knows how to do it well.
11. Turn off lights and electronics when not in use
Anyone else feeling a little nostalgic for those childhood days when your mom would constantly remind you: “Turn off the light in the bathroom/closet/bedroom/hall if you’re not in there!” Well, your mom had an excellent point. Turning off lights and also electronics when not in use will save you a little on your electric bill. You can unplug kitchen appliances like toasters and coffee makers to prevent phantom power usage, and also cellphone and tablet chargers in the living room or bedroom.
Always use surge protectors for those electronics that need to stay plugged in, especially your more expensive ones like televisions, computers, etc. There are now such things as smartstrips, like this one from Amtake, that will help you save even more by designing a specific device (like your television) that is a “master”. When it is turned off, all of the other devices associated with it are also powered down (blu-ray player, stereo, etc.).
12. Hang clothes to dry
If you have both a washing machine and a dryer in your home, you may have already wondered how energy efficient these machines are. Depending upon how often you need to do laundry each week, these conveniences may be causing your monthly electric bill to be higher than necessary.
If you want to save a few dollars on your electric bill, hang your clothes to dry instead of using the dryer. Our machines are in a small “laundry closet” in our main hallway. The closet does not have doors so we hung curtains so we can hide the closet when we have visitors. The curtain rod provides a perfect place to hang shirts to dry. We also have a collapsible drying rack we got from a second-hand store that we can easily pop up in any room to dry pants, socks, unmentionables, etc. Ours is much, much older, but here is a similar one. If you can, use a clothes line outdoors to let your clothes to also get that amazing fresh air smell.
13. Run AC/Heater only when necessary
If you live in an older house like we do, then your AC/heater may not be energy efficient either. We never use the heater in the winter, but instead have two space heaters that we use to heat the front and back parts of our house. The space heaters allow us to set temperatures, time limits, and really control where the heat is going to limit the drain on our electricity.
For safety, never let a space heater run unattended. I also recommend buying a new heater, not used, and preferably one with an automatic shut-off if it is tipped or falls over. Use a surge protector. Never place a heater near anything flammable, such as curtains or bedsheets. Watch children and pets around the heater, both to prevent burns and tipping.
In the summer, we wait as long as possible before turning on the AC (and we live in the desert of Arizona where summer temperatures often top 115 degrees). Open doors and windows to air out the house. Fresh air is so important! While my husband and I could probably go longer without the AC, we do have an elderly dog and a young child to taken into consideration.
14. Have a change jar for corralling lose coins
Loose coins. We may not give a lot of thought to these little circular pieces of currency, but quarters, dimes, nickels and, yes, even pennies, do add up over time. Instead of dropping those coins on the kitchen counter or bedside table or letting them accumulate under couch cushions, grab a large jar and deposit the coins in there.
Personally, I like clear jars so I can watch it fill up over time. When it is full, take it to your local bank to have your money deposited in your savings. The last time we took a huge jar to the bank, we ended up with almost $60 worth of coins! What a savings!
15. Pop your own popcorn
This last tip is more for fun, but it could also save you a few dollars. Next time you want to enjoy some fresh popcorn, make it yourself instead of using the more expensive microwaveable kind. A bag of kernels, oil, and salt is a lot cheaper and will last a good deal longer. You can use an air popper, pot with a lid on the stove, or even a brown paper bag in the microwave!
Last year on a camping trip with the youth club my husband and I volunteer with, I experimented with popcorn over a campfire and it was not only delicious but a hilarious experience. The first batch popped everywhere and the kids were very amused. The second batch stayed (mostly) in the pan. Since then, I have cooked popcorn on the stove at home twice. It is a lot of fun and we still have not used the entire bag of kernels yet!
So here are 15 simple ways to save a little money on the side. There are so many more ways that I did not even touch on. I would love to hear from you! What are some little ways you save money?
Disclosure: The links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission for purchases. Learn more. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.