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Weird and Obvious Ways to Save Money

Kierstin is a penny pinching mom/college student who treats money-saving like some kind of really nerdy, homeschooly video game.

Get some unusual tips for saving money.

Get some unusual tips for saving money.

This year has included some pretty exciting stuff (oh, and some major adulting) for our family, from purchasing our first home to getting our first dog. Life events that've meant making some obvious adjustments to our everyday, like cooking at home instead of eating out every other night, turning lights off when we leave a room, and switching to the cheap kitty litter brand (which has turned out to be totally awesome).

But it's also meant taking on a more conscious attitude towards our spending habits and exploring creative ways to save money that also aren't totally depressing (planning every meal around dry beans doesn't work for me...).

Here are the top ten things I do regularly to stay on top of our finances that I think you could try too without losing your mind.

1. Set a Timer While Showering

I started with this one because I know it seems kind of extreme and maybe even a little unrealistic to set a timer during the most relaxing part of your day. The thing is, especially for those of us who are home-based, it can be way too easy to steam until the hot water runs cold, which in my house takes about twenty minutes.

How it Saves Money

If I don't plan on shaving I can set the timer on my phone for 6 minutes (or a couple Taylor Swift tracks) and be all cleaned up and ready for the day without powering through my electricity and water for an indefinite amount of time.

2. Make a Weekly Meal Plan and (Mostly) Stick to It

I was kind of skeptical about meal planning at first. It seemed like some more mommy-blog quackery, but it turns out that it really is a great way to save time and money. Every weekend I plot out the upcoming week's meals, making sure to check my pantry before placing my order to make sure I'm not double-buying an ingredient I already have; that way, nothing expires before it gets used up.

How it Saves Money

Compared to when I was just winging it grocery shopping, I really do save hundreds each month, probably because the food I buy has a purpose, I know how I'm going to use it, it doesn't end up going bad and getting thrown out, and I don't end up having to buy a bunch of extra groceries two days later to make meals out of the random food I bought to begin with.

3. Avoid Shopping in Person

The reasoning here should be easy, but if you're not catching my drift, here's five words:

Kids. In. A. Grocery. Store.

Here are some more words: Kids throwing a $7 box of cereal with the faces of Olaf, Anna, and Elsa in your shopping cart. Kids eyeing King Sized Kit Kats in the checkout line. The makeup aisle. The best sellers endcap. Target.

How it Saves Money

A pleasant benefit of not shopping in stores is the ability to not only see my total before checking out, but to be extra choosy about what ends up in that cart in the first place. I can comparison shop quickly (just open a new tab) and read reviews on things I've never tried before instead of throwing caution to the wind. The time I would normally spend on the actual trip, wrangling my kids and getting everything in the door is spent making decisions that ultimately result in significant financial savings.

4. Use Cashback Sites Every Time You Shop

There are tons of cashback sites and apps out there but for me the easiest one to use has been Swagbucks.

How it Saves Money

Before you start a shopping trip to stores like Target or WalMart use the Swagbucks shopping program. You'll earn points on each qualifying dollar that you spend which you can then redeem for gift cards or just straight up cash into your PayPal. This isn't going to make you rich or anything, but I usually let the points accumulate for a few months then turn them in during the holidays to take the edge off.

I'm sorry I was so harsh to beans earlier, I really do like them. I buy the canned kind to add cheap protein to meals and even smoothies.

I'm sorry I was so harsh to beans earlier, I really do like them. I buy the canned kind to add cheap protein to meals and even smoothies.

5. Keep Your Promotions Box Clean as a Whistle

I am a sucker for children's clothing, expensive candles and skincare. And that's okay! But there's truly only so much space and money for those things. Whatever your weakness is, I'm sure there's at least a half dozen ads for it sitting in your inbox.

How it Saves Money

Keeping my promotions box clean keeps me from the temptation of making a $100 impulse purchase on leggings when I already have a pile in my drawer.

6. Stop Reading Mom Blogs About Sewing Your Socks and Eating 5-Day-Old Rice

I have two rules when it comes to saving money, and I think they're pretty good rules:

  1. Don't do something that's going to make you sick just to save a few bucks. If someone tells you to just keep on eating old food to stretch a dollar, ask yourself if the lost income of missing two days of work thanks to food poisoning is really worth the extra couple of dollars you saved annnnnd
  2. Stop wasting your time on time-consuming projects that result in little return for your time investment. I'm really into this concept right now. Your time is an investment. Before you go spending it on something that you don't enjoy, for the sake of saving money, ask yourself if your time could be better spent on something with a greater long-term reward. I would rather spend an afternoon working, knowing that that work will earn me passive income than save money in the short term spending a lot of time on a task like mending worn out clothing, making my own baby wipes and laundry soap or doing tricky DIY projects myself (like electrical work or mold removal).

7. Pay Your Bills Online and Keep Track with a Spreadsheet

This one is pretty simple. If you pay your bills online it's easy to sit down, pay them all quickly and use a spreadsheet to keep track of what your outgoing total for bills will be so you can make sure not to overdraw your checking.

How it Saves Money

We've all overdrawn with that autopay phone bill once or twice. Keeping better track of your bills allows you to prioritize by what's due first and avoid overdraw fees.

8. Stop Going to The Library If You're Forgetful

For seven years I worked at a library and for seven years I never, ever, ever returned my materials on time. Ever. But I didn't get fined because I worked there. It was maybe not ethical, it may have even been some fluke in the system (I'm pretty sure, actually) but for whatever reason, I never got a fine. If I had been I would have owed that place more than my paychecks would've covered.

How it Saves Money

Whether you're borrowing books from the library, money from a bank, or anything else that incurs interest or fees make sure that you stay on top of things to avoid paying more than you originally planned. If you're forever-late returning your books try digital books instead that just expire when your borrowing period is over.

Look, if your sewing supplies are this cute then fine, mend a pair of boxer briefs if it makes you feel better.

Look, if your sewing supplies are this cute then fine, mend a pair of boxer briefs if it makes you feel better.

9. Purge and Donate

It might seem counterintuitive to get rid of stuff for FREE to save money but sometimes it's easier to be ruthless when you're throwing stuff in the "don't save" pile if you're not trying to put a price tag on it. Either you love it, you use it, or you're going to use it soon and if not, it goes.

How it Saves Money

Once you've donated your haul you'll feel a lot lighter, your home will feel cleaner and you'll feel less compelled to spend money trying to spruce up a space that just needed a little decluttering.

10. Check Your Energy Insights

Most gas and electric company websites will provide you with personalized energy insights. I check mine a couple of times a week during my morning coffee to see how much money we've spent on electricity that week and what our projected bill is.

How it Saves Money

It helps keep me aware of, if nothing else, what I can expect for next month's bill and gives me a chance to correct any excessive usage by turning my washing machine settings back to cold or turning off Netflix and booting my kids outside for the afternoon.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Kierstin Gunsberg

Comments

John Dove on November 18, 2019:

I'm now looking even more seriously at ways to save money. Some of your "female" methods are of no use to me, but the others are helpful.

Fellow saver,

John Dove

Dina AH from United States on January 02, 2019:

Kierstin, you have such an honest and quirky writing voice (if that makes any sense). I am not a mommy and I am still learning about managing my life with my mental illness--and yet, this also clicked with me. I like the idea of frugality and using money wisely.

I do like your point about spending time wisely, too. I haven't really thought about it this much, but: time is currency. We could reevaluate how we spend our lives focusing on things that don't really matter in the long run.

I have not heard of Swagbucks and I am obviously going to check it out. When you mentioned Target, goodness. Why do you have to call me out like that, Kierstin?

I know this article is a couple years old. You, for sure, have a new subscriber on your hub page. Pleased to meet you!

Fin from Barstow on July 28, 2018:

well the part about reusing your feminine hygiene products or converting milk into cheese was not very appealing - you make some good remarks.

I've never heard of sawbucks but will investigate.

Using a library should save you money....i'm a former librarian myself.

And making a meal plan is always easier than it sounds....but you gave some good advice, the article is visually appealing and well organized.

I'll try and follow up on some of your suggestions.

Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on July 07, 2018:

Great article on how to save money Kierstin. Thank you for sharing your ways of saving money. You asked how do I save money. I save money by cutting or growing my own hair, growing my own vegetables and fruits and buying clothes and shoes from the charity shops or second hand stores. We also save money by cooking our own food and not buying takeaways which can turn out expensive. Ah so many more, I am like you if there's any way I could save a penny I will do it.

RedElf from Canada on May 09, 2018:

Saw your post in the forums and had to stop by. Great information.Love your style, too.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on April 20, 2018:

Kierstin, if you sign up to receive emails from DSW, they will give you $10 in credit toward a future purchase. I signed up for emails recently and used the credit to buy a new pair of shoes. Oh yes, the rewards program at DSW is one of the very best around. They even give you $5 or $10 in credit during your birthday month.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on April 20, 2018:

Brian, that's a really good idea! Even with having the ability to check my balance through my bank online now, some purchases still don't clear or show up pending right away and I have to mentally balance that they will come out within the week and I don't have as much money as I think!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 19, 2018:

Years ago, after paying checking account overdraft fees too often, I learned to add a cushion. When figuring my balance, I subtract uncleared checks and such to get the actual balance and then I subtract a $25 cushion to get my "spendable" balance. (The size to make the cushion will depend on individual circumstances.) Since starting that habit, I've very rarely had a checking account overdraft.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on December 21, 2017:

Wow, that's interesting. I actually buy most of my food products in small sizes because I'm really picky about how long something has been opened up for.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on December 21, 2017:

For those of you who are Aldi shoppers, here is a reminder: To maintain price stability, Aldi is known to systematically downsize the size of their grocery products. For example, Aldi recently reduced the number of ounces in their jars of spices and seasonings from 4.25 to 3.75, while maintaining the same price.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on December 20, 2017:

Eric, I think a less harsh version of this trick it to pick a song or two short songs you like and set those as your timer so it's less of a race against time!

Eric Farmer from Rockford Illinois on December 19, 2017:

The using a timer and saving money on water is something I need to consider myself. I use cash rebate applications when I can I love them. There are several things on mobile phones I also like.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on December 02, 2017:

Kierstin, free shipping is always a big plus!

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on December 02, 2017:

Gregory, that's good to know! I have two store credits cards and I especially love my Old Navy one. I can use it there, or any of the sister brands (including the factory outlets) and earn points. I also get free shipping with every order!

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on December 02, 2017:

I need to clarify something about the West Elm Rewards Program. If you use a West Elm credit card to make a purchase at West Elm online or at a brick-and-mortar store, you cannot participate in the West Elm Rewards Program simultaneously. It is either one or the other. From experience as a West Elm customer, the credit card option has better benefits. For example, for every $250 that I spend at West Elm using their credit card, I receive $25 in rewards dollars that can be applied to a future purchase.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on November 22, 2017:

Nice, Gregory! Thanks for putting that together! I'm totally checking out the West Elm Program because I love that and Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on November 22, 2017:

Here is a more comprehensive list of some of the best customer rewards programs. In alphabetical order:

CVS

California Pizza Kitchen

DSW

Dick’s Sporting Goods

Dunkin’ Donuts

JCPeney

Jamba Juice

Jersey Mike’s

Kroger

Moe’s Southwest Grill

Rita’s Italian Ice

Safeway

Starbucks

Target

Walgreens

West Elm - This loyalty program gives rewards on seven brands including Mark and Graham, PBteen, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, West Elm, Williams-Sonoma, and Williams-Sonoma Home.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on November 21, 2017:

I have always preferred Walgreens over CVS probably because I grew up with them on the West Coast. There is a CVS store in my neighborhood but I only shop there when the store-brand of cayenne pepper goes on sale. Generally, I find CVS’s sale prices higher than Target’s regular prices.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on November 21, 2017:

Gregory, that's a really good reminder! My husband was just talking about how awesome the rewards deals are at Walgreens.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on November 21, 2017:

As I mentioned in one of my hubs, be sure to join every customer rewards program that comes your way. Some of the better rewards programs include Target, CVS, Walgreens, DSW, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on November 21, 2017:

Hey, Rochelle, thanks for reading! Yes, I have been able to get great deals on pantry items online. I especially love ThriveMarket for healthier snack options (my kids like these funky dried bean crisps, go figure!) and shopping my local Sam's Club online for stuff my kids go through fast like goldfish crackers and chewy bars then having my husband go pick it up :)

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on November 21, 2017:

I already do a lot of online shopping, but think I'm going to try for more pantry and household products. I have noticed some pretty good sales and BOGOs on certain sites, so it makes sense. Glad to find your articles.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 11, 2017:

You are very clever, Dorothy!! :) I wish I could manage with no dishes, yet there seems to be a constant stream over here...

Dorothy McSorley on October 11, 2017:

Time I've got. Eating lunch at the senior center for 3 bucks. I eat so much at the salad bar that I take the main course home and have it for supper. No cooking, no stove electricity, no dishes, no soap. Must have microwave.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on October 09, 2017:

Regarding how I donate books:

The Friends Program at the Squirrel Hill Carnegie Library has a special drop-off section in the back of the library for books, DVDs, etc. There are times during the year when they don’t accept donations such as between October 1 and October 19 because the volunteers are on vacation.

On Northumberland Street in my neighborhood, there is a “little free library box” in front of one of the houses that I pass every day. Generally, I just put the books that I am donating on one of the shelves. If the shelves are full, there are two other "free libraries" on Forbes Avenue which is about three blocks away.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 09, 2017:

Gregory, thank you for reminding me about the Little Free Library! We have many of them in my town and I was just going to go through our books this week. How do you donate them - do you just stick them in or is there a more formal way of going about it?

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on October 08, 2017:

Feel free to look them up. You won't regret it ;)

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 08, 2017:

Thanks for sharing those, Angel! Of all of those, I've only ever tried Swagbucks so I'll have to look into the other five.

Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on October 07, 2017:

What caught my attention was your “Purge and Donate” section because I can identify with it. I’ve been downsizing my house for about a year and have donated over 50 books to the Squirrel Hill Library’s Friends Program as well as to a “free library” that I pass on my daily speed walk. It’s a win-win situation because my house seems emptier and I know that others might be able to use the books. Oh yes, I’ve been tempted many times to throw the books into my recycle bags instead.

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on October 07, 2017:

Viggle, Mobile Performance Meter, Swagbucks, Checkout 51, Shopkick, Check Points

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 07, 2017:

Thanks for reading, Angel! What apps do you use?

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on October 07, 2017:

Good tips. I use 6 Apps myself.

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 06, 2017:

Thanks for reading, Linda :) If you have any tips to add, I'd love to hear them!

Linda Robinson from Cicero, New York on October 06, 2017:

Hello Kierstin I really enjoyed your hub, terrific, it is filled with so much information helpful ways to save money and you are right ones that you won't really think about. Well done, interesting and amazing writer. Linda

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