With the current economic climate, everyone is trying their best to avoid unnecessary expenses. Being economical does not mean not enjoying life, not eating out once in a while or not taking vacations. But it does mean managing your financials intelligently and not paying through your nose for products or services you can get for free or for less. And that’s where the following list comes into play: Following these tips won’t make you cheap, but you will get financially wiser.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, which involves physical activity, healthy eating and generally being happy and stress free can pay financial dividends down the road. Avoid spending a fortune on treating heart diseases, diabetes and other diseases. Instead, do your best to avoid these troubles right upfront by keeping your body and mind in the best shape you can.
If there’s a kitchen at your workplace, bring your own lunch with you in a Tupperware. This will save you tons of money and your lunch will be healthier than the food you’ll buy at your workplace. Your productivity will also rise. I can’t overstate how much money I saved in my last job by bringing my own food. Even if there’s no microwave you can still bring cold food like sandwiches, fruits and salads. Just don’t cut corners and spend some time at home preparing rich, sustainable food.
If you’re going down town or anywhere else for a few hours, take a bottle of cold water with you. This will keep your body hydrated while saving you money on buying drinks. The same goes for food – why not prepare an irresistible chunky sandwich or take a Tupperware with salad and some fruits for your day out?
Are you going to a rock concert, a football match or any other place where food is pricy and usually of inferior quality? Eat a worthy meal at home before setting off. This will keep you going for a couple of hours so all you’ll need to buy are some snacks and drinks rather than an expensive greasy meal.
Here’s another way to overspend cash: Go to your nearest ATM; Get some cash. Spend it away; Rinse and repeat. By day 5 you will have easily spent a few hundred dollars like nobody’s business. My advice is to withdraw a large chunk of money once or twice a month, as much as you can afford to spend. Keep most of the cash at home and each day take as much as you need from it. This way you can keep track of how much you spend. And you also eliminate the ATM commissions. Win-win!
Getting a loyalty card is one thing. But getting another credit card is yet another thing altogether. Don’t get more credit cards than you can handle. Remember that even if your first year with the card is free, you will probably have monthly payments from then going forward. It’s hard enough to keep track of your expenses with one credit card. Do you really need another one?
Using credit or debit cards is convenient as you don’t need to carry too much cash and you get a record of your monthly expanses. One thing you must remember though is that you are spending your own money here. It’s very misleading as giving your credit card number or swiping it at the till feels effortless. So treat your plastic card as cash. Don’t max it out spending money you don’t really have. Don’t be tempted to break your payment down into gazillion monthly payments. Do that a couple of times and you’ll lose control over your expenses.
Monitoring your finances is not much fun but it’s a necessary evil. It does not mean you have to track down every dollar you spend. But it helps to keep your finger on the pulse and to check your bank account and credit card statements at least once a month. This way you’re in control and you know how much money you actually have at hand. Luckily there are excellent free apps like Mint, (currently US and Canada only) which will automate that process for you.
The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit global movement with nearly 10 million members. The idea here is to give and take stuff for free in your local town or community. It’s also a way to reduce landfills. And it’s free to join! If you like the Freecycle.org idea then why not hold a Freecycle style fair at your local university, school, club, etc.? I’ve seen such fairs held at my local university. They are very easy to put together – all you need are a few tables where people present their items. The rule is simple: If you find something you need, it’s yours. If you’ve got anything you don’t need, leave it on the table.
One of my female cousins is a few years older than my sister. When they were both children my aunt would send us bags of clothing every year or so. So as my cousin was growing up, my sister would get clothes that would fit her perfectly. Those same clothes were later passed on to other, younger relatives. By circulating clothes within the family you cut down your costs significantly. It makes sense because children and babies grow quickly so any garment you’d buy them would only fit for a short period of time. Now, you can do the same with other items like books, laptops, video games, whatever… Keep it in the family!
People often move houses, spring clean or just want to make some extra cash. So many of them would conduct a garage sale, a car boot sale etc. to get rid of stuff they don’t need. They often sell junk but you may also find real gems you need for a fraction of the price of new items. So if you need furniture, toys, clothes, music and more, look in your local newspaper, Craig’s List, Facebook and other outlets for the nearest sale in your area.
I like to learn new skills. I can’t tell you how many courses I’ve bought, especially online, and haven’t used. There’s a simple rule to go by if you don’t want to do the same: Buy courses only if you can implement them immediately, or at least in the foreseeable future. It’s fun to buy courses and imagine how successful you’d be once you’ve mastered this technique or the other. But learning is worthless when it’s not implemented. Follow this rule and you’ll be golden. Once you’ve actually built something from what you’ve learnt, you will have made back your investment many times over.
Whatever industry you’re in, there are probably workshops and other offline events available to you. While networking and learning is important for advancing in your career, consider this: Offline events are costly. Even if the entrance is free, there are travel, hotel and food costs involved. I’m not even talking about the time and days off work it takes. You can often get a condensed version of at least some of the presentations in the form of books, online courses etc. Some offline events will even be broadcast live online. So travel to the events you really can’t miss and get the rest of the information from the comfort of your armchair.
Here’s another way to waste money: Starve yourself to death before hitting the supermarket. Then check your bill once you’re done and see how many unnecessary products you could have avoided. Shopping when hungry makes you feel on your nearest lunch rather than on what you actually need to buy. Lesson learnt: Eat before you shop.
Supermarkets are often huge. You get this feeling of being in a new world where you lose the sense of time. Seriously, have you ever seen a clock on the wall of a supermarket? And why do you have to walk through the soda and cornflakes shelves only to grab your bottle of milk? Well, it’s all meticulously planned by the retailers so you spend longer at their store and buy more. Now, having your own list of products keeps you focused so you get your shopping done faster without being tempted to buy unnecessary stuff. (Allow yourself a treat or 2 if you really feel deprived).
Collecting coupons can be pretty painstaking and time consuming. Therefore don’t get obsessed with it unless you’re really passionate about it. But if you can get a few bucks off products you’re buying anyway, then doing a bit of couponing may be worth your time. Some retailers like Walmart will display printable coupons on their websites and some retailers even have coupons at the store itself. When you’re buying products online, always search for the website’s name + ‘coupon’ (e.g. Amazon+coupon). It only takes a few seconds and you may get a sweet discount. After all, the retailers issue these coupons so why not use them? Check out Retailmenot.com for plenty of coupons and deals.
There’s a banned condoms commercial making the rounds on YouTube. It shows what happens when you bring your child to the supermarket. While it’s a bit, well, taken to the extreme, you get the idea. If you really want to spend quality time with your children, take them to a park or a nature reserve or to watch animals in the safari. But if they become your shopping companions, be prepared to shell out more than you’ve planned to…
No one likes to be rushed when grocery shopping and if you’re like me you really like taking your time. But for that very reason I try to hit the supermarket about an hour before closing. This forces me to be efficient and buy only the stuff I really need. More time in the supermarket means, in my case, more hanging around the shelves and buying stuff I don’t really need. How about you?
If all you want is to buy a few small items then avoid the shopping cart and get a basket if you can. This way you won’t feel the need to buy stuff you don’t need in order to fill the cart. You will also maneuver yourself quickly and easily between the aisles without bumping into others. The quicker you’re out of the supermarket, the less you’ll spend on products you don’t need.
When buying groceries, you will often see large packages of products like washing liquid, detergents, pet food and yogurt. Although the product price is higher, the price per ounce will usually be lower. It’s worth going that route if you know you’ll use up the product before it expires. Refill bags are sometimes available so you can also help the environment by not buying the same packaging over and over.
Next time you buy groceries, have a look in the central lanes in-between the aisles. This is where the discounted products are displayed. You may end up buying mainly products on offer and saving tons of money.
Sometimes there are great discounts on long lasting products such as razors, shampoos and even essential foods such as pasta and rice. If these are products you or any of your household will use before they expire then why not buy a bulk of them before their price goes up again?
Big retailers such as Walmart, Trader’s Joe and Whole Foods Market have realized an important marketing concept over the last decade: They’ve got a supply chain in place, inventory, shelves, employees – whatever it takes to market a product successfully. So why not sell their own products? The result is a plethora of product lines bearing the retailers’ own brand. While these products will normally be cheaper than their competition, their quality is usually just as high. You may even get the very same product in a different packaging for less! Some retailers offer value product lines, which are even more affordable.
While preparing your own food takes longer than eating out or buying ready-to-eat food or (God forbid) TV dinners, it is financially rewarding and much healthier. I always enjoy comparing my cart to others’ while lining up for the till. My cart would have sustainable products like whole rice, whole bread, lentils, beans and vegetables – products you can use to prepare actual meals with. At the same time so many other shoppers would fill their carts with processed food like sugary cornflakes, premade salads, fruity yogurts, soda and other sweets. They may end up paying more but get more calories and preservatives rather than sustainable food.
When shopping, try to stick to local and national brands as much as you can. Not only will you do good to your local economy and society but you will also cut down freight expenses and other taxes imposed on imported goods.
You know these products, which are laid out nicely in small boxes and shelves just by the till? Chewing gums, candies, chocolate bars, magazines… These are aimed at the impulse buyer. They are an eye feast and when you come across them the supermarket barons want you to say: “Mmm… looks good. I might as well have that…” Yeah, you might as well have that chocolate bar, that glossy magazine you’ll never read or that bag of crisps that will only make you fatter. And just before you leave the cashier will offer you a host of other products you don’t need. Now I’m not saying to avoid impulse buying like the plague. Just be mindful of what you buy and ask yourself if you really need it.
Loyalty cards are offered today in almost any store. You may have grown tired of these plastic cards and paying an annual fee is the last thing you need right now. But why not simply do the math? See, if you’re buying $100 worth of clothing and the loyalty card gets a $10 discount then even with a $6 annual fee you’ve already saved $4. And if you buy more this year you’ll save even more!
If you bought oranges in the summer or cherries in the winter they will cost you more. If you even find them anywhere, that is. It makes sense when you think of it: Growing fruit and vegetables beyond their season requires more resources and technology, and as less people buy them their prices soar. Staying in rhythm with Mother Nature and buying fruit and vegetables in their season will prove cheaper and also healthier as you’re more likely to get fresh products.
Buying fruit and vegetables at outdoor markets rather than in supermarkets tends to be cheaper. You get to choose the best, freshest items and compare prices. Markets tend to get really busy upon closing time but prices can drop dramatically.
When it comes to grocery shopping, planning ahead can save you lots of time and money. Aim for periodical, weekly or monthly shopping raids where you get most of what you need. You can supplement that with a few visits to your local market for fresh fruit and vegetables. When you see guys in the 7-Eleven with bags full of groceries you’ll know they haven’t read this tip. And trust me, they pay through their nose.
If you are in this stage in life where you’re moving houses pretty often, you will find that buying DIY (do it yourself) furniture in stores like IKEA is not only economical but also very practical. This kind of furniture is easier to move around, assemble and disassemble when needed.
Purchasing a decent printer today is not that expensive. There’s a reason for that: Printer makers make most of their money from selling you ink cartridges down the road rather than the actual printer. If you could buy a gallon of ink it would cost you more than $4,000! So why not beat the printer makers at their own game? For any major printer you can easily get replacement ink cartridges or toner today for much less. It could easily cost about half of the manufacturer’s own cartridge and help the environment as ink companies often recycle used cartridges.
The rule of thumb is to get whatever you can get done online, as it will either be cheaper or free. Think about it: Calling abroad is free between 2 Skype users. Newspapers and magazines usually have free online editions. You can listen to free music via YouTube, SoundCloud, Pandora and plenty of other online services. Shopping on the Internet gives you a better chance of getting good deals – price and product comparison is much easier than in real life and retailers that cut down on staff, rental and inventory costs can pass these savings to you.
If you’re like me you’ve got a set of errands to run in town on a regular basis. Be it getting a haircut, buying groceries or visiting the drugstore – why not condense all of these town activities into one or 2 action-packed days or afternoons? You will save money and gas by traveling less and eating out less. You will also save some valuable time. Win-win!
When out and about – depending on where you are – you will often find that buying your food in street stalls or simple, independent eateries are cheaper and healthier. When I lived in London I would often buy lovely, freshly made sandwiches in small cafes. Although the quality was far better, it would cost me much less than the sandwiches at the coffee chain stores. In the Middle East, for example, you can buy lovely traditional food like falafel or humous for less than most restaurants have to offer. And it is bound to fill you up.
When eating at restaurants and cafés you’ll normally receive your drink before your food order. By the time you finally get to eat you will have already finished your drink. And if it was a sweet drink you’re probably even thirstier than you were before. So what to do? Order another drink of course! Well, a healthier and more economical alternative is (I know waiters will hate me for this) to ask for tap water first and once you get your food order a drink if you’re still thirsty.
When you’re having a night out with friends, consider the sharing options on the menu. You can often share a jar of beer or juice between you. It will normally be cheaper than each one getting his/her own drink. The same works for food as well if 2 people (or more) fancy the same dish.
Alcohol is way overrated. I’m not saying you don’t need a bit of booze when you go out with your mates. But if you look at the prices of these fancy alcohol shakes and cocktails, I mean, they’re through the roof! I’m not even talking about the amount of sugar and calories they contain. A cool glass of wine or beer will often cost you about half as much while making you just as tipsy!
Going out sometimes is fun but you can diversify your nightlife by inviting a few friends home for dinner or throw a home party every now and then. This way you don’t need a babysitter if you have kids and you save on travel and eating out. If it’s a party, you can ask guests to bring snacks and drinks with them to keep your expenses to a minimum.
Rising early can make a man “healthy and wise” but it can also save you money. By becoming an early bird you enjoy more daylight hours so you’ll end up spending less on electricity.
If roof solar panels are available where you live, consider them as a worthy investment. Not only will they save you tons of money on energy bills and protect you from rising energy costs but they will also reduce your carbon footprint. For a one-time investment you can dramatically lower or even eliminate electricity bills. Some US states and local authorities offer tax incentives, rebates and financing options to ease down your upfront costs!
Even when it’s really cold you can save a lot on heating bills by dressing properly. The same goes for super-hot days. Do you really need the air conditioner on? Dress minimally and open the windows. If you’re lucky you may enjoy some cool breeze. It’s refreshing, chilling and it’s free.
Energy saving light bulbs are becoming the standard in the US and in many other countries. Even if you’re used to soft yellowish light at home you can achieve the same effect with energy saving bulbs. They cost more than the good old incandescent bulbs but you will make your investment many times over by reducing your future electricity bills.
Did you know that using a kettle is one of the most power consuming home activities you can do? If you don’t believe me, check your electric meter the next time you heat water for your coffee and see how it goes wild. So switching the kettle over and over is not going to do your electricity bill any favors. Be mindful with regards to other activities like washing clothes, using the dishwasher, the air conditioner, the water heater etc. It’s worth checking with your electricity provider if there are low fare periods during the day in low consumption hours.
Although they cost significantly more than their one-off counterparts, rechargeable batteries are not only more environmentally friendly but they also save you heaps of money during their life cycle. You will also avoid buying a bunch of batteries for onetime use only to see them leaking inside your flashlight after months of disuse. So use rechargeable batteries whenever you can: For your camera, flashlight, Nintendo. etc…
Every morning when I set the water heater on I set my timer for an hour ahead. I know how much time is needed for the water to heat up so an extra 20 minutes won’t make the water any warmer. But it will increase my electricity bill! And these numbers add up. So setting up timers for any activity with a predictable timeframe such as charging batteries, cooking or heating up water – can be a huge money and energy saver.
This may sound silly but we’re all guilty of it: Have you ever unplugged your phone from the charger once battery was full but left the charger plugged to the mains? Well, although the charger is not charging, it’s still consuming energy and wasting your money as long as it’s plugged in, so be sure to unplug it!
Unless you’re downloading a large movie file to your PC or performing other maintenance tasks, your computer does not need to be left on during the night. So put it to sleep or better yet, turn it off. The same goes for your desktop’s screen and other peripherals. Not only will you reduce energy costs, you’ll also sleep better without the constant buzzing noises.
Are you paying your cable/satellite company through the nose for an overkill entertainment package? If there are only a handful of shows you and your family watch every week, there’s no reason to pay extra for dozens of channels you don’t need. Cut the cables and get the shows and movies you actually watch on demand or for a low monthly fee via online providers like Apple’s iTunes, Amazon, Showtime and Hulu. Your TV costs will shrink and you’ll be part of the rapidly growing online entertainment revolution.
Tired of paying through the teeth for popcorn and Coke? Going to the cinema as a family has become a significant expense. Driving to the theater and back, getting tickets, popcorn and drinks for everyone – that really adds up. Well, if you have a TV at home, there are various ways you can watch some of the latest movies at home for a fraction of the cinema price. The experience may not be as compelling but you will enjoy great family time without the need to hush a chatty viewer sitting next to you. Services like Netflix and Apple’s iTunes enable you to instantly download or rent recent movies in HD quality.
Every now and then go through your monthly credit card statements. Look for magazine or newspaper (or any other) subscriptions. Do you really need them? Do you really find the time to read them? Most magazines and papers have websites today where you can read at least part of the articles. Maybe that’s all you need? If you don’t really read these papers, ruthlessly unsubscribe to them. They will probably go out of print soon anyway…
If you like to read, it might be worth checking out your local library. Depending on where you reside, using the library will either be free or cost you an affordable yearly fee. But even then it will cost less than buying a new book each time. At some libraries you even get the option to order books you fancy if they’re not available on the shelf.
Before you make your next phone call, stop and think: Do you really need to make this phone call? If you’re going to see that person in real life tomorrow anyway then maybe you can save time and money by sending him/her a text message instead. Text messages are also great for small, practical bits of information like “Do you need me to buy milk and eggs today?” or “What time will you be home today?”
If you need to call abroad, whether from your landline or mobile phone, don’t simply dial the number as you normally would. This will cost you a lot. Depending on where you live, you can get a much better deal by either joining an overseas calling plan with your phone operator or through a different operator. Alternatively you can use services like Skype or Google Voice to call abroad for low prices.
Here’s a mistake you must never make, unless you want to be unpleasantly surprised once your phone bill arrives: When you’re abroad, don’t just use your handset to call home. Try to avoid making calls whatsoever unless you have an affordable roaming plan ahead of time, or you will pay through your nose. Either get a local pay-as-you-go SIM card and buy an international calling code (you can also find a cheap international operator online) or find a Wi-Fi hotspot and use an affordable service like Skype or Google Voice to call home.
If you get a call from your home country when you’re abroad, the person on the other side will only pay the normal fair, depending on his/her calling plan. You will pay for the international fair, which is significantly higher. The reason being that the person who calls your mobile phone dials a local number, not knowing you’re abroad. The easiest way around this is to leave a voice message saying that you’re abroad and asking people to text you instead of calling you. I don’t recommend blocking incoming calls altogether as airline carriers may need to get hold of you in case of flight changes.
Today’s phones are not only pricier than older models. They also do so much more than just phone calls. They are our diaries, calendars, we store our media on them and other important data. So we don’t want to lose them! Mobile carriers know that and play out on this fear. When buying a phone you might be offered insurance, sometimes for high prices. Be smart and compare insurance prices (if you need it at all). You might find a better deal at an independent insurance company.
Owning a car can cost a lot. I’m not even talking about the gas. There’s insurance, maintenance, repairs and other taxes, depending on where you live. If all you need is to have a car once in a blue moon, you may want to join a car club. These clubs are becoming more and more prevalent in big cities across the world. The idea is that you reserve a car for exactly when you need it, even if just for a few hours and you’ll know in advance where to pick it up. Rates vary but normally gas and insurance are included. Check out zipcar for some club cars around the world.
Buying a new car feels great, doesn’t it? The seats are still wrapped in plastic, that smell of new… and the peace of mind, knowing you’re covered for the next 3 years and that you’re the first to drive it. The benefits are many but is it a worthy investment? Nope. In fact, many popular car models lose a third of their value during the first year. After 3 years most models won’t even be worth half of the price of a similar new car… which presents a great opportunity to you, if you buy a used car! There is risk involved here but with a bit of research and due diligence you can get a great deal on a used or nearly new car, which will serve you just as well as a new motor.
When buying a car, choose a model that fits your needs. If, for example, most of your trips are in town, a small car could be a good fit, make parking easier and consume much less energy. Get a hybrid or an electric car if you can, as you will enjoy lower operational costs and more reliability. And you’ll also do your bit for the planet!
If your car is still under warranty you are normally required to service it at the dealer’s garage. However once the warranty expires, or if you buy a used car, there’s no reason to stick to the dealer’s garage. Get some recommendations from friends and automobile forums online and find a trustworthy independent garage. Unless your model is really unique, you can get the same level of care from a good independent garage for a much more affordable price.
If you drive your kids to school and back every weekday, now is the time to check if a few of your trustworthy neighbors do the same. Maybe you can team up and do car pools – each day another parent will be in charge of ferrying a group of children to school and back. This will save you money on gas as well as valuable time. The same can be done with your neighboring work colleagues: You can form carpools for your journey to work and back.
If you drive to work and back then you’re probably no stranger to traffic jams. Not only does congestion eat up your time, but it also means you’ll pay more for gas. Fuel efficiency is significantly lower when you drive at around 20 MPH and constantly braking and accelerating. Sometimes hitting the road even 15 minutes earlier in the morning means clearer roads and much better fuel efficiency. Free mobile traffic and navigation apps such as Waze can help you find the quickest route to your destination and even find the cheapest gas stations along your way.
Want to save on gas, parking fees and tickets? Walk! It’s one of the healthiest activities you can perform and it’s completely free. Of course you can’t walk everywhere but do that whenever you can. As for long hauls, using public transport – especially if you’re alone – will probably cost you less than driving.
Whether by airplane, train, bus or any other method, if you travel long distances then normally the earlier you book your journey, the cheaper the fare will be. Price differences can be huge so plan ahead and reap the financial benefits.
If you’re used to going on vacations in the summer, try a winter vacation instead. As long as you don’t hit the holiday season you can save immensely on travel and stay during low season. You may not get as much fun-in-the-sun but some destinations like New York or London are exciting all year round. The chances are you’ll have a quieter holiday as hotels and touristic venues will be less full and with less noisy children.
When traveling, especially by airplane, try to travel as light as you can. Take into account that you may be shopping around, so maxing out your luggage allowance is not a good start. Traveling light not only saves you from paying costly overweight penalties and extra fairs on taxis but it also makes moving around so much easier. Imagine getting to a new town with a 50 pound suitcase and a bulky backpack. Now start looking around for a place to stay… Not fun, is it?
While CouchSurfing will not suit everyone, it is not only a cheaper way to see the world but also a great way to meet interesting people and explore exciting new places through local eyes. By joining the free CouchSurfing.org travel community you get access to millions of people all over the world who would offer their couch or even a tour around their town for free. You can offer your own couch to others but you don’t have to. There is a feedback mechanism and other security measures in place to minimize the risk of staying with the wrong person.
Upon traveling do your research and find inexpensive and free attractions that pique your interest. This will save you from falling into common tourist traps once at your destination. Some attractions are highly overrated and overpriced. You may find that taking a stroll around town is much more rewarding than paying for yet another exhibition, guided tour or amusement fair. When walking on your own you are free to explore the venue at your own pace and you’re more likely to find new exciting places and get more of a local experience.
Malls and shopping centers have become one of the favorite leisure activities for families with (or without) children in recent years. It’s pretty clear why: Although they are often noisy and overcrowded, there are activities, food and entertainment to keep kids happy. But convenience doesn’t come without a price tag, as you end up buying a lot and resorting to overpriced food. Why not take your loved ones to see nature instead? Have an alfresco meal in the park, relax on the beach… It’s free and fun and your kids will thank you.