25 Frugal Ways to Save Thousands of Dollars Every Year

Updated on March 18, 2018
Gregory DeVictor profile image

Gregory is a financial adviser and author. He writes e-books on consumer finance topics and specializes in the U.S. grocery industry.

Cutting the excess fat from your budget is not as challenging as you might think. Although you may have little control over your mortgage or property taxes, you can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars every year on groceries, utilities, cell phone charges, bank fees, insurance, dining out, clothing, electronics, a tank of gas, and much more. This article teaches you 25 frugal ways to save money on groceries, gasoline, taxes, tax preparation, insurance, and credit card bulls.

How to Save Money on Groceries

Did you know that food costs are still one of the most flexible areas in the family budget?

  1. Instead of buying pre-cut fruit such as watermelon or pineapple, buy the entire fruit and save money every time. Likewise, don't buy packaged coleslaw or salads. Why pay $2.19 for a 16-ounce package of coleslaw if you can buy a head of cabbage for as little as 49 cents a pound?

  2. Agree to a weekly or monthly grocery budget and stick to it no matter what.

  3. In addition to keeping a grocery budget, you should get into the habit of writing down every cent you spend on groceries. “Every cent” means the $13.99 that you spent on a pound of Brie cheese as well as the $1.77 that you spent on three pounds of bananas.

  4. Once or twice a week, go over your list of grocery expenses and decide which ones can be eliminated or reduced. You will have more money left over at the end of the month or between paychecks and will not have to struggle to make ends meet. When implemented properly, writing down every cent that you spend on groceries will become a winning strategy for your entire household.

  5. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat. Look for deals on broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, papayas, tangerines, and tangelos in January or February. Likewise, look for deals on apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, green beans, kiwi, lettuce, peaches, peppers, plums, raspberries, strawberries, summer squash, tomatoes, and watermelon in July and August.

  6. Combine manufacturer's coupons with advertised specials. If your supermarket doubles coupons up to 99 cents, combining them with weekly specials can save you even more money.

  7. If your supermarket is out of an advertised special, always get a rain check. Even if you have to wait for several minutes in the customer service line, you will feel better about doing it in the end.

  8. Less expensive grocery and household supplies are sometimes found on the top or bottom shelves. Stretch a little and save a few dollars.

  9. Get to the supermarket as early in the day as possible. You will find a better selection of advertised specials which lessens the need for rain checks. You might also spend less time in the checkout line.

  10. Never do your grocery shopping on an empty stomach or when you are tired. You are more likely to buy high-priced deli items and snack foods you don't need. You might also ignore your shopping list because you're in a hurry.

  11. Instead of buying expensive glass cleaner, buy windshield washer fluid.

  12. Buy bone-in and skin-on meat because it is usually cheaper per pound than the boneless and skinless varieties. You can always remove the skin and bones prior to freezing or cooking.

  13. Always buy paper towels and toilet tissue in bulk because it is much cheaper than buying them by the single roll. Why pay $1.19 for a single roll of paper towels when you can buy eight rolls of the same brand for $4.99?

  14. Don’t buy frozen dinner entrees that you microwave because you are paying extra for convenience.

  15. When buying dairy products, select items from the back. They are usually fresher.

How to Save Money at the Gas Pump

  1. Shop at supermarkets that have fuel perks programs. You can save 10-20 cents off a gallon of gas for every $100 you spend on groceries, prescriptions, and qualifying gift cards. Here are 10 supermarket chains that have fuel-perks programs: Acme, Dillions, Food City, Fred Meyer, Giant Eagle, Jewel-Osco, Kroger, Safeway, Shaw’s, and Weis Markets.
  2. Gas Price Watch lets you text your zip code to gas@fuelgo.com. They will respond with the names and addresses of the cheapest places to buy gas in your area. You can also use the AAA Triptik or GasBuddy apps on your smartphone to find the cheapest gas prices in your locale.
  3. According to GasBuddy.com, there is a 65% chance that you will find the best prices at the gas pump on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  4. Avoid gas stations near the highway because they tend to be pricey.
  5. Warm up your car for shorter lengths of time. Debra Atlas tells us that “If you wake up to a cold morning, don’t warm up the car for longer than 30 seconds (up to one minute if you must). If you idle the engine for more than a minute, you waste fuel and pump nasty greenhouse gas emissions into the air. Engines of modern cars do not require the extensive length of time that older models needed to warm up.”
  6. Purchase a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

How to Save Money on Taxes

Taxes are the biggest expense you will ever face. From your very first job, you've been writing checks to the government. In addition to paying income taxes, you also pay property taxes, sales taxes, consumptive taxes, inheritance taxes, and toll taxes.

Here’s one way to save hundreds and even thousands of dollars annually on your tax bill:

Contribute to your employer's 401(k). Your contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, thus lowering your taxable income for each year you contribute. In 2018, you can contribute up to $18,500 annually into your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. If you turn 50 at any time during 2018, you can contribute an additional $6,000 for a total contribution of $24,500.

Most 401(k) plans also include a matching contribution from your employer (a.k.a. free money). If you cannot contribute the max to your 401(k), contribute enough to receive your employer's matching contribution. According to the 401k Help Center, “The average company contribution in 401k plans is 2.7% of pay. Numerous formulas are used to determine company contributions. The most common type of fixed match, reported by 40% of employer's, is $.50 per $1.00 up to a specified percentage of pay (commonly 6%).

Let’s say that you earn $50,000 a year, contribute 10% to a 401(k), and receive a 50% match from your employer of up to 6% of your salary. Here is how your annual contribution and match break down:

  • $50,000 – annual income
  • $5,000 – 10% contribution to 401(k)
  • $1,500 – 50% matching contribution (free money) from your employer of up to 6% of your salary
  • $6,500 - Total yearly contribution to a retirement account

Remember, your 401k contribution is tax-deferred.

Where to Get Free Tax Preparation

Here are three places where you can file your federal and state income taxes for free:

  1. Credit Karma: There are no income limitations for federal and state returns.

  2. The IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs: FoxBusiness.com tells us that “VITA provides free tax help to people who earn less than $54,000, or who have disabilities or limited English speaking abilities. Elderly filers can get help through the TCE program, which is specifically designed for people who are 60 years of age or older. TCE specializes in tax issues related to retirement, pensions, Social Security, or other retirement-age tax concerns, making it a great resource for new and longtime retirees.” In 2015, over 3.7 million tax returns were filed through these programs.

  3. TurboTax: Their Federal Free Edition is available only for 1040EZ or 1040A, which are simplified tax returns.

How to Save Money on Insurance

Here are 15 kinds of insurance that you probably don't need:

  1. Accidental death insurance

  2. Auto collision insurance

  3. Cancer insurance

  4. Cell phone insurance

  5. Child life insurance

  6. Down payment insurance

  7. Extended warranties for cars

  8. Flight insurance

  9. Home warranty insurance

  10. Involuntary unemployment insurance

  11. Mortgage insurance

  12. Payment protection on your credit card

  13. Pet insurance

  14. Rental car insurance

  15. Water line insurance

How to Save Money on Credit Card Bills

Instead of enrolling in a debt consolidation or debt settlement program, why not ask your bank for a lower interest rate and also increase your monthly credit card payment(s).

First, did you know that a five-minute phone call to your credit card issuer could save you hundreds or even thousands, of dollars in interest charges? Courtesy of PBS.org, here is an example of how well this approach can work:

When was the last time you called your credit card company and asked them to reverse a late fee or lower your interest rate?

If ‘never’ is your answer, you’re in the majority. Only one in five respondents to a new survey by CreditCards.com said they had ever made such a request. And yet, 89 percent of those who had bothered to call about a late fee succeeded in having it reversed, and 78 percent were able to get a lower APR.

‘Most people don’t ask for breaks for one reason,’ CreditCards.com lead analyst Matt Schulz said. ‘They don’t think it will work. But people have more bargaining power than they realize. They just need to be willing to use it.’

It’s a buyer’s market. Credit card companies are competing with one another to gain and retain customers. And, adds Schulz, it’s a lot less expensive to retain customers you already have.

Business.HighBeam.com adds that rising delinquencies and default rates have made credit card issuers more inclined to cut deals with their cardholders. You might be able to lower your interest rate or monthly payment, get penalties waived, or even reach a settlement for substantially less than what you now owe.

Even if your bank lowers a credit card’s APR by only a percentage point, you could potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest over the long-term and get out of debt faster.

Here is an example of how well this strategy works:

Let’s say you have $25,000 of credit card debt with a 21.5% APR. Assuming that you make no additional charges or cash advances, it will take you 128 months to become debt free if you make a fixed monthly payment of $500. You will pay $38,890.29 in interest and a grand total of $63,890.29 (principal + interest). Summarizing:

Fixed monthly payment: $500

Number of months to become debt free: 128

Total principal paid: $25,000

Total interest paid: $38,890.29

Total amount paid (principal + interest): $63,890.29

First, suppose that your credit card company lowers your interest rate from 21.5% to 20.5%, a difference of one percentage point. Assuming that you continue to make a fixed monthly payment of $500, you will get out of debt 14 months sooner and save $6,923.13 in interest charges. Summing everything up:

Fixed monthly payment: $500

Number of months to become debt free: 114 (14 months sooner)

Total principal paid: $25,000

Total interest paid: $31,967.16

Total amount paid (principal + interest): $56,967.16

Total amount of interest saved: $6,923.13

MoneyChimp.com tells us that "Even a small monthly sacrifice--buy a little less, reduce your debt a little more--can make a big difference." They add:

The ultimate is to become a deadbeat, which is what credit card companies call people who pay off their balance every month, avoiding finance charges completely. If you're a deadbeat, credit cards are a beautiful deal - in fact, they're a short term interest-free loan. Life is sweet, for deadbeats.

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    © 2018 Gregory DeVictor

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