When you’re living on a budget, the little things count. This is a list of things that I do to save money. Should everyone have the exact same list? Of course not. Everybody values various things differently. I’m sure there are things that you do to save money that I’d much rather pay more for (like oil changes), and there will be things on my list that you’d rather not do. But hopefully there will be a few things that do inspire you. And feel free to share things that you do as well! Note- for comparison’s sake, I’ve tried my best to figure all costs as for a single person.
Making Coffee at Home
Occasionally I’ll splurge on a really good cup of coffee, but most of the time brewing Maxwell House at home is good enough for me.
The alternative: Starbucks tall brewed coffee, $1.85. My cost: $.10. Savings: $1.75 per morning, $638.75/year
Making Breakfast at Home
Every morning, I take a little time to make a fried egg or two and a couple of slices of toast. Sure, not the full breakfast spread some are used to, but enough to get me going for the day. Skipping breakfast altogether would be even worse, since that would leave me vulnerable to endless snacking.
The alternative: Egg McMuffin, $2.79. My cost: $0.30. Savings: $2.49/weekday morning, $647.40/year
Sandwiches for Lunch
Peanut butter or cheese sandwiches for lunch, regardless of whether I sack them and bring them with me or if I’m home for lunch. I don’t mind the monotony at all- I get variety for supper.
The alternative: 6 inch sub, $4, My cost: $.50. Savings: $3.50/weekday, $910/year
Cooking Supper at Home (Mostly From Scratch)
Other than the occasional restaurant- less than once a month, all our suppers are at home. It takes a little more effort, but for us it’s worth the cost savings and knowing what is in your food.
The alternative: Pizza delivery or takeout, $7. My cost: $2.50. Savings: $4.50/day, $1,642/year
Buying Store Brand Products
I make a point of at least trying the store brand version of anything I buy. I’ve found a few duds, but for the most part, I stick with the store brand product.
The savings here really varies, but let’s assume that store brand saves me a measly 2% on my grocery bill. My portion of the grocery bill: $30/week. Savings: $0.60/week, $31.2/year
Skipping on Soda
Don’t really care for it. Figure it’s bad for me.
The alternative: a pop a day, $0.30. Savings $109.50
Drinking Beer in Extreme Moderation
I enjoy the occasional craft beer, and by occasional I mean about 2-5 per month. I also don’t buy drinks when I’m out to eat.
The alternative: a $1 beer a day, $30/month. My cost: $4/month. Savings: $24/month, $288/year
Using LED Light Bulbs
As the incandescent light bulbs in our house burn out one by one, I’m replacing them with 60-watt equivalent LED bulbs. Same brightness, lower electric usage, longer life. Clear win.
The alternative: Incandescent bulbs, $0.36/month per bulb assuming average of 2 hours of use per day. Cost: Since the higher cost of the LED bulb is more than covered by the longer life, assume no cost. Savings: 20 bulbs at $0.36/month each, $86.4/year
Biking to Work
In the summer months, when it’s not raining, I’ll ride my bike to work. It takes about 7 minutes longer for the 3-mile-one-way commute, but I enjoy the exercise and it saves a lot of in-town wear and tear on my car.
The alternative: Driving, $0.10/mile. My cost: 0. Savings: $0.60/morning, $50/summer
Driving a Small Car
This is not a new car vs used car issue to me- we bought one of our vehicles new and the other very used. Rather this is not buying a bigger, more luxurious car than I need. I wouldn’t get much more enjoyment out of driving a Lamborghini than my Hyundai Accent. And I don’t need both my vehicles to be the size of a Yukon. What we’ve settled for is a Hyundai Accent as a commuter car and a Dodge Caravan as a kid hauler. The comparisons could be endless here, so to keep it realistic, I’ll just compare our 2016 Hyundai Accent to the larger 2016 Hyundai Sonata.
The alternative to my 2016 Hundai Accent: 2016 Hyundai Sonata, $28,797 5 year True Cost to Own. My cost: $24,082 5 year True Cost to Own. Savings: $4,715/5-year, $943/year
For fun, check out the TCO on the Hyundai Equus- my savings would work out to $8,637/year.
Wearing Clothes Until They Wear Out
It helps that I hate shopping for new clothes, but I will wear my clothes until they have holes in them. As they progressively wear out, they get downgraded from ‘good clothes’ to ‘around the house’ clothes to ‘working in the yard’ clothes to ‘washing the car’ rags. That’s right- I’m too cheap to toss them until they’ve been used as rags. This is also why I’m trying to learn to buy clothes that last.
The alternative: frequent clothes shopping, $infinity. My cost: $less-than-infinity. Savings: $infinity
Washing Clothes Only When They Need It
I’m a huge fan of the ‘smell test’. Or, since I have small kids, the ‘is-there-unknown-substances-stuck-on’ test. My shirts get washed after each wear, but my jeans can easily go several days. Not only do more frequent loads of laundry cost more, but they also wear clothes out faster, meaning I need to go clothes shopping more often.
The alternative: more laundry, more frequent clothes shopping. Savings: I-have-no-clue.
Shopping Garage Sales
With garage sales, we’ve had much more luck with finding gently used kids clothes than adult clothes, partly because adults come in so many shapes and sizes. Probably also partly because kids outgrow clothes so fast.
The alternative: brand new clothes that the kids will outgrow in less than a year, $10/outfit. Our cost: $1 per outfit. Savings: $9 per outfit, 10 per year, $90 per kid/year
Keeping our House Warmer in the Summer and Cooler in the Winter
I try and keep the heater and the air conditioner off as long as possible, but eventually I cave. In the summer, our thermostat gets set at 78, and in the winter it stays at 64 daytime, 60 nightime. I know there are some of you out there that go more extreme than this!
The alternative: 72 year round. Savings: guesswork here, but a rule of thumb is that you save 3% of your heating or cooling bill per degree moved. Since I’m heating 8-12 degrees below 72, that means my $200/winter heating bill is 30% lower than it could have been. That’s a savings of $85/year just on heating. The guesswork gets even more guess-ier when it comes to the air conditioning since the air conditioning is part of my overall electric bill. I won’t even go there…
Skipping on Cable
We don’t have a TV, so therefore no cable bill.
The alternative: 2015’s average cable bill of $99/month. Savings: $1,188/year
Skipping on Home Phone
Since we both carry cell phones, there’s no reason to spend on a home phone too.
The alternative: $20/month home phone bill. Savings: $240/year
Using a Low Cost Cell Carrier
Our cell service is with Total Wireless, a carrier that ‘rents’ coverage from Verizon. We get the same service for a much lower price.
The alternative: $110/month plan from Verizon. Our Cost: $60/month. Savings $50/month, $600/year, or $300/year per person
I Still Spend Money On Things…
While it’s important to not spend money mindlessly, you should still make sure you fit the things you do value to you into your budget.
I get told a lot that doing my own oil changes would save me tons. But I’d much rather not. I’m not that much of a car guy (see my comment above regarding my indifference between a Hyundai and a Lamborghini). I’ve got a mechanic that I completely trust. Having him do the oil changes saves me time and hassle, and allows him to do his routine inspection and catch any other maintenance that I need to do on my car. I’m convinced that these routine inspections are the reason that we’ve yet to be stranded roadside, even when we’ve taken our aging caravan on 4,000 mile road trips (knock on wood).
The alternative: buying my own filter and oil, $12. My cost: $30 oil change. Splurge: $18/4 months/2 vehicles, $108/year
We lived completely without internet for 2 years, and then another 2 years with just the internet on our smartphones. With frequent trips to the library, it’s definitely doable, but we finally splurged on the convenience of being online at home.
Splurge: $38/month, $456/year
And So Much More…
My list of things that I do spend money on could go on. Even the list of how I save money is still loaded with hidden splurges- the occasional Starbucks coffee, the fact that we have smartphones, owning two cars. I enjoy my Time magazine subscription. We treat ourselves to a zoo and science center membership. Every once in a while I take my wife out to dinner (and maybe even a movie). So while I like to find areas in my life to save money on, there are still things that I think are worth spending money on. Again, your list will be different from mine.
What are your favorite ways to save? Leave them in the comments and inspire other readers!