I have been a penny pincher for a very long time (click here to see how my wedding cost only $9k way back in 2004!).
My husband and I have been fortunate in recent years, but rather than succumbing to “lifestyle creep,” i.e. bumping up to a bigger house or trading in for a luxury car, we remain in our modestly-sized house and only buy moderately-priced cars. We also worked very hard to achieve freedom from debt, so we focus our efforts on remaining debt-free while saving for our daughter’s education and for our eventual retirement.
Since I try to live frugally regardless of my financial situation, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the ways I save money on a regular basis. I don’t expect anyone to do ALL of these things – I realize that it might seem a bit extreme – but I hope you’ll try adding one or two of these savings tactics to your arsenal.
1. What’s in my wallet?
Some financial experts will suggest that you pay for everything in cash. I get the approach, but if you pay in cash, you can’t take advantage of all the great benefits your credit cards can provide. So, I use credit cards for just about everything, but I only charge what I can pay off in full each month.
What credit cards I use and why:
- American Express Gold Card: This is my primary card. It has a $250 annual fee, but hear me out. I was carrying a travel rewards card until I realized I could earn significantly more by using this card instead ($250 fee aside). I’m very glad I switched – I get 4x points for all food purchases, $10 in UBER credits every month, a $10 monthly dining credit when I use the card at participating restaurants, 3x on travel booked through Amex, AND I got a whopping 60,000 membership points as a signup bonus. Use my referral link to receive up to 60,000 membership rewards points for yourself (I earn points too…thanks!)
- Amazon Prime Visa Card from Chase: I use this card for my Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. There is no annual fee, and some of the benefits include 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, no foreign transaction fees, and 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores. They also often have promotions where they offer a larger cashback percentage on gas. Use my referral link and receive a $150 gift card upon approval!
2. Pay twice. It’s nice.
When we had a mortgage, we paid half of our monthly payment every two weeks instead of once per month. By doing this, you can save thousands in interest this way without paying a penny extra. And you can really make traction when you pay extra towards the principal whenever you are financially able.
3. Buy only as big as you need
One reason we were able to pay off our home is that our home is fairly small (the other is that we benefited from the New York City housing bubble on our two previous residences). Our house has 3 bedrooms, one full bath and a tiny 1/2 bath in the basement. With just three of us and a bunny, do we really need more than that (although with a teenage daughter, sometimes we wish for another bathroom!)? My husband and I both work from home, and instead of buying a bigger house we’ve made investments like creating comfortable workspaces for us both and upgrading from window AC’s to ductless splits.
Speaking of ductless splits, if you are making any improvements that contribute to the energy efficiency of your home, contact your power provider to see if there are any programs you can take advantage of. Our power provider has a program where you can roll the expense of certain air conditioning systems into your month bill across 7 years, interest-free (we wouldn’t have known if our AC installer didn’t tell us, so be sure to ASK)! I also just learned that we may qualify for a tax break because of this investment.
4. Only drive the car you can afford
We don’t have any car debt, either. When money was really tight back in the day, we bought used instead of taking on more debt than we could manage. When our finances started improving a few years ago, we treated ourselves and bought a new car but one that was modestly priced. We just didn’t see any reason for a Jaguar F-Pace (starting at $45k), when a Mazda CX-5 (starting at $25k) is perfectly fine—plus it has an excellent MPG, Bluetooth, handles beautifully, etc.
5. Keep the change
In addition to contributing to a IRAs each year and adding to our daughter’s college fund, I also have an Acorns account. I connect Acorns to my debit and credit cards, and every time I use them, Acorns takes the “spare change” from each transaction and invests that money for me. When I’m financially able, I also set automatic withdrawals from my regular savings account for my Acorns account. Using an account like this is an easy – and relatively pain-free – way to save! Use my referral link for a bonus investment (it’s usually $5, but right now, it’s $20).
6. Diversify your savings
It’s also good to have some cash on hand, just in case. If you have trouble keeping your hand out of the savings account that’s linked to your checking account, consider moving your savings to another bank. There are several FDIC-insured online savings banks, like Bread Financial, CIT, Synchrony and Goldman Sachs Bank USA, that offer better interest rates than your traditional bank and require modest minimum balances. A Bread Financial savings account offers over 5% annual percentage yield (APY) and requires a $150 deposit. You should be able to easily transfer funds from your regular bank, so no excuses!
7. Find a new home for your credit card debt
I hope that you’re paying off your credit cards each month, but if you’re carrying balances, please take a few minutes and look for a new credit card that offers zero percent APR on balance transfers. These offers only last for a limited time, but if you’re carrying balances, you’ll be glad for a temporary break on those finance charges. As you pay down your credit cards, prioritize the one with the highest APR and move down the line from there.
8. Save any extra money
I know… It’s exciting to receive a tax refund, a commission check, or a bonus and go on a shopping spree or take a pricey trip! Instead, treat yourself a little bit with that extra cash and then sock the rest away. You won’t miss it for long and those savings will come in handy in a time of need.
9. Ditch the little luxuries
No matter how little or how much money you have, you are probably treating yourself to something that you could do without for a while. You may have heard of the “Latte Factor,” which has become an unpopular cliché in the personal finance community. The Latte Factor essentially means that you bring coffee from home and save the money you would have spent on pricey coffees.
Unpopular as it may be, I actually like this approach. My husband and I tried a more aggressive version of this several years ago, bringing our own coffee – or tea, in his case – and lunches for a year, which bought us a scuba diving trip to Honduras, And if $3.75 lattes or $8/pound salad bars aren’t your weakness, maybe manicures or car washes are. And you don’t have to give up your little luxuries all the time, but maybe get one fewer manicure a month and save that money instead.
10. Dial back the vacations
We work hard. We deserve vacations. But, if money is tight, those flights to exotic places and 5-star hotel rooms (or Disney, which is a fortune) should be added to the bucket list.
That’s not to say you can’t take trips with your family. For those of us living in the States, did you forget how big and beautiful our country is? When my family and I are trying to watch our spending, we’ll take road trips with some camping or clean-but-unfancy hotels. Bottom line, if you can’t pay off your entire trip when your credit card bill arrives, you’ve spent too much.
11. Pay your kids instead of the pros
My husband and I hate to pay other people to do anything, which is why we’ve learned how to paint, plaster, re-finish, etc. This alone has saved us a lot of money. We also have a 17-year old who needs spending money, so we “hire” her to do things that you could pay someone to do, like cleaning the car, weeding, raking leaves, and cleaning the windows. I even hire her to design my bi-monthly newsletter (sign up here!). She’s much less expensive and it allows her the opportunity to earn her own money.
12. Spend what you can
Try not to get caught up in what other people are spending. Everyone’s financial situation—and spending tolerance–is different, so do what works for you. Just because your great aunt spent over $200 on a beautiful sweater for your birthday, doesn’t mean you have to reciprocate on her gift.
13. Save on online shopping
Before I buy anything online, I always do some digging to get a sense of pricing at different retailers. I find that the easiest way to do this is simply Googling the item, but I also like to use browser extensions, which help me save money and earn cashback as I shop. A few of my favorites are CouponCabin.com (use my referral link to get $9!), PayPal Honey, and Slickdeals, because they are partnered with so many etailers and offer generous cash back. As I shop, I receive a pop-up notification if there are cash back offers. I click to accept and keep on shopping! After a time, I receive a payout in the form of a gift card or a PayPal payment.
14. Buy used
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love to buy secondhand. There are so many ways to do so – from carefully curated secondhand boutiques to vast Salvation Army warehouses, to online thrift sites, like ThredUp and Poshmark (get $10 with these referral links!).
Now, my quirky vintage style is not for everyone, but most thrift stores have clothes from ALL the recent decades, so there’s really something for everyone. Give thrifting a try!
A nice way to save long-term is to buy washable clothes so you don’t have to pay for dry cleaning. Obviously, if you wear a suit every day this is not the hack for you, but for the rest of us, there are so many beautiful styles available in washable fabrics. Imagine how much you could save if you weren’t dragging a pile of clothes to the dry cleaner every couple of weeks?
Another good category for secondhand shopping is tech. Several retailers, including Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and even Apple, sell refurbished tech (only do this if there is a warranty) at a fraction of the price of a new gadget. There are also sites that specialize in used tech, like MPB (specifically for camera equipment), Decluttr, and Swappa (general tech, like smartphones, laptops, and tablets).
15. DIY foods
Are there certain prepared foods that your family eats a lot of? Could you make these things instead of buying them? I realized a couple of years ago that my family goes through hummus and granola like water, and it so happens that those two foods can be pricey. It also so happens that they’re pretty easy to make and for a lot less than purchasing them.
BONUS – Extra money-savers
- I work out at home using free YouTube videos. All the weights, kettlebells, yoga straps and mats I needed cost less than a couple of months of a gym membership.
- Our Christmas tree is artificial. Rather than spending $150+ on a tree every year, I bought a beautiful artificial one on clearance for about $80 a couple of years ago.
- I refuse to buy my daughter designer clothes or shoes (unless they’re reasonably priced). She is welcome to use her own spending money for things like that or add them to her Christmas or birthday lists, but she’s very much my daughter, so she doesn’t. 😉
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