Little tricks so simple you won’t even feel them
Pamela S. Kramer
Lately money has been flying out of my wallet. It seems as if my husband and I can’t make it fast enough—or hold on to it long enough—to keep up with the ever-expanding expenses for our family of four. From groceries to doctor visits to movies, you name it, we spend money on it.
Recently I decided to get serious about stemming the flow of cash. I began searching for ways to cut back and spend less without giving up the things my family needs and wants. This collection of 50 virtually painless suggestions will help you save on practically everything.
While You’re Cutting Corners
1. Love the taste of gourmet coffee but hate the expense? Combine one part of your favorite ground coffee with one part of the store brand.
2. Budget how much you can afford to spend at your favorite coffee shop each month and buy yourself a gift card in that amount. When the card runs out, you’ll know you’ve reached your limit.
3. Buy coffee, tea, hot chocolate, creamer and packets of sugar at a large discount office supply store.
4. Instead of ordering dessert after your meal, pick up a treat from the bakery on your way home. “You’ll get a lot more for your money,” says Nancy Twigg, author of Celebrate Simply and owner of CountingTheCost.com.
5. Do grocery shopping late in the evening for discounts on bakery products, deli items and prepared foods.
6. Keep your eye on the register to make sure your purchases ring up at the correct price. Some stores will give you the item if they charge you an incorrect amount. Ellie Kay, author of A Woman’s Guide to Family Finances, got a $16 double bag of diapers for free when a local grocer overcharged her.
7. Have your children pack a lunch for school two to three days a week instead of buying a hot lunch every day. (Ditto for Mom and Dad.) Increase their allowance by $1 as a reward for saving money.
8. If your pet is on a special prescription diet, ask a large discount pet store if it can order the products for you for less than what your vet charges.
While You’re Getting Gorgeous
9. For an inexpensive concealer, use the foundation that has settled into the cap. “It has a thicker consistency and is the perfect color match,” says Diane Irons, author of Bargain Beauty Secrets.
10. Wash your hair with a color-enhancing shampoo to go longer between touchups, she adds.
11. Schedule haircuts at the end of the day. “Skip the blow-dry and do it yourself when you get home,” says Joyce Cavanagh, Ph.D., an expert in family and consumer economics in College Station, Texas.
12. Make your own hair detangler by mixing one part regular conditioner to five parts water. Spray directly on wet hair before combing.
13. Transfer shampoo and conditioner into large pump bottles to avoid pouring out more product than you need, suggests Twigg.
14. Refill your foaming soap dispenser with one part hand soap and three parts water. You’ll get a thick foam that cleans just as well as the full concentration.
While You’re Bargain Hunting
15. After the holidays, look for sales on wrapping paper. Choose solid colors or patterns that can double as all-season wrap.
16. Shop the dollar store for the best prices on ribbons and bows for birthday presents and gift bags, dog and cat treats, and trinkets and toys for kids.
17. You know your children are going to have school projects that require supplies, such as posterboard, graph paper and colored pencils, so stock up on these items during back-to-school sales.
18. Select greeting cards from the lowest two or three rows on the rack, or purchase a box of all-occasion cards from a discount retailer or stationery store.
19. Quit driving all over town looking for the lowest price on the latest DVD or new cordless phone. Use price-comparison web sites, such as Shopping.com, to find the best deals.
21. Borrow unlimited paperbacks for $7.99 a month or books on CD for $24.99 at Booksfree.com.
22. Can’t wait to get the latest bestsellers from the library? Split the cost with a friend and take turns being first to read each one.
24. Find out if your local newspaper offers a discount if you pay your subscription for a full year in advance. Or simply read the newspaper online for free.
25. Need a gift for a child? Order a fan mail package from his favorite sports team. It’s inexpensive and often contains decals, caps, team photos and more.
26. To send flowers to an out-of-town friend or relative, skip the expensive floral services and call a local florist yourself. You can find one by visiting Locate-A-Flower-Shop.com.
27. Get low-cost scratch pads and free calendars from some local copy shops. You can also get free calendars at some banks, insurance agencies or local stationery stores or card shops.
28. Take your pet to a local animal shelter or veterinary college to save on vaccinations and procedures such as neutering.
While You’re On the Road
29. Visit GasBuddy.com to find the gas stations with the lowest prices located near you.
30. Fill up on Wednesdays or Thursdays. “Many gas stations raise their prices for the weekend, when demand is greatest,” explains Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA.
31. Whenever possible, steer clear of lone gas stations located along the interstate and look for ones at busy intersections where multiple outlets are competing for your business, says Sundstrom.
32. Take advantage of free or reduced-price car washes when you fill up, suggests Kay.
33. Find a lube center that offers a multi-car or early-bird discount. “I get my oil changed before 10 a.m. for $19.99 and receive a coupon for free bagels,” says Rebecca Huff of St. Paul, Minnesota.
While You’re Out
34. Keep coupons for takeout and fast-food restaurants in the car so you’re more likely to use them.
35. Rather than ordering the usual large popcorn and soda at the movies, opt for a kid’s tray. “You get a small soda, enough popcorn to avoid damaging your waistline and candy for half the price,” says Pam Little, editor at WomensWallStreet.com.
36. Form a babysitting co-op with other parents in your neighborhood. “We haven’t paid a sitter in years,” says Elizabeth Johnson of Lansing, Michigan.
37. When booking a hotel room, try asking for a discount. Some places will give you a special rate, even if you aren’t a member of an automobile club such as AAA, or if you’re willing to pay for your room in advance.
38. Check out warehouse club web sites, such as Costco.com, for deals on cruises, vacation packages and car rentals.
39. Print coupons for long-term airport parking by going to LongTermParking.com and clicking on the state you’re departing from.
While You’re at Home
40. Instead of using disposable dusting cloths, buy a lambswool duster, which contains lanolin that attracts and traps dirt, and only costs about $10, says cleaning expert Linda Cobb, author of Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean: New and Improved.
41. For a sluggish drain, pour 2 cups of baking soda and 2 cups of salt down the drain, and follow with a teakettle full of boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Flush with cool water.
42. Why spend $3 to $4 on a bottle of dishwasher rinse aid? Simply pour white vinegar into the dispenser. Your dishes will sparkle like new.
43. Make your own reusable ice pack: Mix one part rubbing alcohol and two parts water in a ziptop plastic bag. Store in the freezer until needed.
44. If possible, buy the same white socks for all your children. “If one sock gets lost, there are others to match it,” says Vicky Mlyniec of Los Gatos, California.
45. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, which provide as much light as incandescent bulbs but use about one-fourth the energy and last up to 10 times longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
46. Plant bulbs and perennials that bloom once during the spring or summer instead of buying annuals year after year.
47. Set your printer to the draft or the lowest quality setting to extend the life of your ink or toner cartridge.
48. Buy a prepaid card for cell phone use. “If I go for 30 days without buying more minutes, the local service provider for Verizon sends me a ‘buy 1, get 1 free’ coupon,” says Linda Sherwood of Merritt, Michigan.
49. Use e-mail instead of phone or fax for long-distance communication.
50. Want business cards? Log on to VistaPrint.com to order a box of 250 for free (you pay as little as $5.25 for shipping and handling). Choose from 30 designs.