I enjoy living a simple, minimalist lifestyle so that I can focus on the things that really matter in life.
It’s amazing how much we can cut expenses when we set our minds to it.
Whether you're on a shoestring budget or simply desire to live more frugally, here are some practical ways to pinch pennies. I have applied all of these tips and as a result, I currently live debt-freed, have been able to set aside a six-month emergency fund, and have a much higher quality of life than I ever had before.
Once you realize how easy it is to economize by applying some of these tips, you'll likely be motivated to apply more of them!
1. Don't Pre-rinse Your Dishes Before Using the Dishwasher
According to Consumer Reports, pre-rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher wastes more than 6,000 gallons of water per household each year. This means a lot of money goes down the drain (no pun intended). Most newer dishwashers are made to handle some food on them, so relax and let them do the hard work.
On the other hand, if you have an older dishwasher, it may be worth it to wash your dishes by hand.
2. Adjust Your Thermostat
Setting your thermostat a few degrees lower in the winter and few degrees higher in the summer can reduce your energy bills significantly. Throw on a sweater or turn on the fan to help you stay comfortable and before long, you won't even notice the difference.
3. Sell Items You Don’t Need
Take advantage of sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, ebay, and Amazon to sell things you no longer use. Consignment stores are also excellent options for selling clothing and household items. If you have enough stuff, plan a big yard sale! Get your neighbors involved to draw a larger crowd.
4. Stop Paying Retail Prices
These days, there are so many options that allow you to pay a fraction of what you might pay in retail stores for most products. Shop in consignment stores, thrift shops, and online. I have found lovely, high quality clothing in upscale consignment stores for less than half of what I would have paid at the mall. The Dollar Store is a great place to buy school supplies and some other basic household products.
5. Borrow Instead of Buy
Stop buying things you can easily borrow or get for free. Go to the library for books and music rather than purchase them. Check out craigslist for free items. Many people are desperate to get rid of items fast when they move. They’re usually left on the curb and up for grabs.
6. Create a Budget
While there are plenty of apps out there to help with this, a good old fashioned self-made chart or electronic spreadsheet is a great start and frankly, all I've ever used. (I don't need an app to tell me where I'm overspending.) Keeping track of your monthly expenses helps you see where you are overspending and where you can cut corners to increase your savings.
7. Ask About Special Rates
Whether you join a gym, make a hotel reservation or deal with any other service provider, ask about discounts. Being a government employee, AAA member, student and senior citizen are some of the most common ways to qualify for reduced rates. By the way, being a teacher qualifies you as a government employee (on the state level).
8. Don't Be Afraid to Negotiate
Many businesses will lower prices and fees if you ask. For example, if you find a slightly flawed home decoration in a store, ask the manager for a 10% discount. If you have an unusually high phone or medical bill, talk to the billing department to see if they'll work with you to reduce your balance or, at the very least, to pay in installments. A long-standing history of paying your bills on time can help.
If you're a renter, don't hesitate to ask your landlord if he's willing to not raise the rent when your lease expires. Many are willing to do this for responsible and reliable tenants.
9. Stop Buying New Cars
What is up with the average American trading their car in for a new one every five years? The value of a new vehicle depreciates 10-20% the moment you drive it off the dealer's lot. Buy a used reliable vehicle with low mileage. Ask for a history of repair and maintenance invoices. A used vehicle also means lower insurance rates, lower registration renewal fees, and lower property taxes!
10. Make Your Own Coffee
Kick the habit of picking up coffee through drive-throughs. Even if you order just regular coffee, you are paying mutiple times what you would pay for java brewed at home.
I buy my coffee beans at Dunkin Donuts, grind them at home, and enjoy delicious coffee at about 15 cents per cup.
11. Hang Your Clothes to Dry
Instead of using the dryer for all of your clothes, hang some of them to dry. Shirts and pants are the easiest to hang dry. Not only will this significantly reduce your energy bill, it will also make your clothes last longer.
12. Take Good Care of Your Clothes and Shoes
Spray your shoes with several layers of weather protector each winter. Remove the lint from your sweaters regularly. The better you care for your clothes and shoes, the longer they will last and the less often you’ll need to buy new ones.
13. Dry Clean Never
Don’t ever buy anything that requires dry cleaning. This includes not just clothing, but also blankets and quilts. If it’s not machine washable, don’t get it!
14. DIY (Do It Yourself)
Stop paying for some services you can do or learn to do yourself such as manicures, pedicures, oil changes, coloring your hair, washing your car, and cleaning your house. Even if you begin to do one or two of these things yourself, you will save money.
15. Have Fun in Town
Save on gas and mileage expenses by enjoying fun activities in town. Have a picnic in the park. Make popcorn and watch movies at home. Visit residents in a nursing home or volunteer in a soup kitchen. Learn to enjoy the simple things in life and save a ton of money along the way!
16. Become an Amazon Prime Member
With all the online deals you can get for basic necessities and household items, the Amazon Prime membership fee pays for itself. As a member, you can find not only thousands of items at bargain prices, but also streamline hundreds of videos and TV shows at no additional cost.
17. Always Price Shop
Make it habit to price shop online for products and services. Most brick and mortar stores will price match another retailer's lower price for the same item because they don’t want to lose a sale. If a store won’t price match, buy the item online where you found the better deal, as long as it’s a reputable site.
Some stores, like Petco, offer lower prices on their own website for some items, but they will price match their online prices at the register if you ask.
18. Use Grocery Points for Gas
Always fill your tank at gas stations that offer fuel rewards from your local grocery store. You can earn as much as thirty cents off per gallon!
19. Opt for a Cash Back Credit Card With No Annual Fees
If you use a credit card, make sure it's one that offers you cash back. This means that at the end of your billing cycle, you get back a percentage of all eligible purchases—the most common ones being groceries and gas. Be sure to select a cash back card with no annual fees and to pay off your balance in full at the end of each month.
20. Limit Your Use of Paper Products
Stop buying paper products (they are crazy expensive) except for toilet paper and tissues. Always use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. To clean up spills, use terry towels and then wash them and reuse them.
21. Try Not to Use a Home Printer
Unless you use your home printer regularly, stop buying ink cartridges. Use the printer at your local library—you often get a certain number of free printed pages per day, or you pay only a few cents per page.
22. Drop Your Gym Membership
Unless you really use the gym regularly (many gym members don't), drop your membership and start jogging, walking, or riding your bike. Purchase dumbbells and a bench for a home gym. Consider buying a used exercise machine at Play It Again Sports or online.
23. Plan Your Itinerary
Do all your errands on the same day and plan your itinerary so that you drive from one location to the next in the most efficient manner, in order to consume the least gas possible. Another option is to do your errands throughout the week, as long as they’re on your way to or from work.
24. Take Care of Your Vehicle
Stay up to date with regular oil changes and overall car maintenance so you avoid sudden surprises resulting in high expenses later.
25. Keep Up to Date With Dental and Medical Appointments
Schedule regular dental cleanings and preventative medical screenings to help avoid serious dental and medical problems later which may cost you thousands of dollars.
26. Take Care of Your Pet
Keep your pet up to date with yearly vet appointments and vaccinations. Make sure he has a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Avoid overfeeding, as obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease and other conditions which are not only dangerous but require expensive medication.
27. Eat In More Often
Preparing your own meals can save you tons of money while also potentially help keep you at a healthier weight, which will help reduce medical expenses down the road. The internet is loaded with healthy and easy recipes.
Rather than eat out with friends, consider hosting a buffet. Ask your guests to bring a dish or dessert. Allow everyone to take home leftovers.
28. Create a Meal Plan
A surefire way to overspend on groceries is to walk into the grocery store without a list or meal plan for the week. Planning ahead will help ensure you stay within your budget and only buy food you need.
29. Live a Healthy Lifestyle
One of the most underrated ways to save towards your retirement is to live a healthy lifestyle. Eating more wholesome foods, exercising regularly, getting enough rest and trying to keep stress at bay will greatly reduce your likelihood of becoming incapacitated due to illness, resulting in unemployment and loss of income.
30. Go Green to Clean
Clean your house with natural products. Do you know that you can use distilled white vinegar and baking soda to clean just about everything in your house? Not only will you avoid toxic chemicals found in most cleaning products, you'll also save a ton of money!
31. Use Organic Skin Products
Use organic products for your skin care. Several years ago, I gave up Oil of Olay face products for coconut oil, mango butter, and shea butter oil, and my skin has never looked or felt healthier.
32. Drop the Land Line
If you have a cell or smart phone and haven’t already given up the land line, do it today.
33. Buy In Bulk
Buy food such as oatmeal, nuts, and rice, in bulk. It’s always much less expensive than buying it prepackaged.
34. Recycle What You Can
Reuse tin foil, plastic bags, and anything else you can in your home. Why pay twice or thrice for items you can use again and again?
35. Pack Your Meals
Always pack your lunch and drinks for work. Prep your meals for the week over the weekend so they are ready to go on Monday.
36. Grow Your Greens
Grow some of your own vegetables, fruit and herbs. Start small, such as by growing tomatoes (super easy to grow) and garlic (or another herb you like). If you don’t have a yard, use your balcony or windowsill. Gradually add another vegetable, fruit or herb, then another. You will soon see your grocery store bill plummet.
37. Bundle Your Home and Auto Insurance
Getting a package deal on your homeowners (or renters) and auto insurance with the same company can save you up to 30% of what you may pay using separate companies. If your current insurance company doesn't offer bundle deals, it may be worth it to switch to a company that does.
38. Increase Your Auto Insurance Deductible
If you don't drive much or your history of auto accidents is few and far between, consider raising your auto insurance deductible. This will reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage but could signifcantly reduce your premium, which is the amount you pay each month to maintain your coverage. For somebody with an excellent driving history, this could save hundreds of dollars per year.
39. Consider Commuting
If you live in a city with high housing costs, consider moving to the outskirts of your city where housing is likely more affordable. The cost of additional gas will more than pay for itself in light of what you'll save in mortgage payments or rent. Commutes are not always terrible; explore and test drive some routes to areas on the outskirts of where you currently live and you may be pleasantly surprised.
40. Move Into a Smaller Home
How many of the rooms in your home are used regularly? Keeping them full of clutter doesn’t count! Think of how much money you could save on your rent or mortgage—not to mention utility bills—just by living in a smaller place.
41. Rent Out a Room
Consider temporarily renting a room out in your home or getting a housemate. Word of mouth is the best way to find somebody who might be a good match. You could literally cut your living expenses in half.
42. Spray Your Roots
If, like me, you prefer to have your hair colored professionally, consider spreading out your trips to the salon and doing your own roots in between visits. (We all know how expensive those salon visits are.) I use Magic Root Cover Up by L'Oreal in between visits to my hairdresser and it works wonderfully.
43. Skip the Blowout
Ask your hairdresser if she charges less for skipping the blowout. This means she won't use a blow dryer or style your hair after she cuts it. You'll walk out of the salon with wet locks, but with more money in your pocket. Don't feel bad about asking about this. If your hairdresser spends less time on your hair, she has more time to see other clients. Remember to tip her!
44. Think Twice Before Every Purchase
Before you buy anything, and I literally mean anything, ask yourself if it's something you need or something you want. Don't fool yourself by confusing wants with needs. That's exactly how most of us get into debt and then spend the next few years trying to dig ourselves out. If you don't need it, don't get it.
45. Keep a Close Eye on Your Balances
Do you check your credit card and bank account balances regularly? It's a good idea to check them daily or every other day for suspicious activity. The longer you wait, the harder it is to catch unauthorized transactions, especially when these transactions are made at places we frequent, such as gas stations and grocery stores. Keep your receipts on all purchases to verify accuracy on all of your balances.
46. Check Your Receipts
Keep an eye on the register as you're being charged for merchandise at check-out. Likewise, check your receipts before you head out the door to ensure you weren't overcharged. If you pay with cash, watch the amount of change you get, too.
47. Say No
You don't have to attend every out-of-state bridal shower, wedding and baby shower you are invited to, and don't feel pressured to purchase super expensive gifts either. Stick to your budget and be selective as to which special occasions you attend. Sending a thoughtful gift with a hearfelt card will be appreciated.
48. Shop at the End of the Season
Many stores reduce their prices significantly at the end of the season because they need to make room for new merchandise. This is the best time to look for a winter coat, summer sandals, Christmas decorations, and many other items. Keep your eyes open both in-store and online for these end-of-season markdowns. Depending on what you buy, you can save hundreds of dollars or more every year.
49. Stop Beating Yourself Up
We've all made stupid mistakes with our finances, but it's important to not dwell on them. How does this help you save money? Being stuck in the past will discourage you and keep you from moving forward. Focus on what you can do today to save money. Forgive yourself and move on.
50. Put Money Aside Each Month
Decide how much money you’re going to set aside per month and where it's going to go (IRS savings account, etc.). Then treat that amount of money as a monthly bill. In other words, you must pay yourself, just as you must pay your utility bills.
Dave Ramsey's book, Total Money Makeover, was a total game-changer for me. It provided me with a smart and doable plan of action for getting myself out of debt and saving money. I was also very motivated by the personal stories of real people in the book who were able to turn their lives around by applying the author's financial advice. I thought to myself, "If they can do it, I can do it!"
When you set your mind to it, you can save money. Sometimes it's hard to start new habits when we're used to doing things a certain way for a long time. Start with small changes and then incorporate additional ones. Watching your monthly living expenses gradually decrease will serve as its own reward and fuel you to continue your journey in saving money. Don't allow previous mistakes or setbacks to discourage you. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.
© 2019 Madeleine Clays
Madeleine Clays (author) on January 07, 2019:
Thanks for stopping by, Jonah. Your additonal tips are very helpful. I have been wanting to get chickens, but don't have a yard. Once I do have a yard, I'll still have to reconsider because I'm afraid my dog would bark at them and frighten them. But I do love the thought of having an ongoing egg supply in my own backyard.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 06, 2019:
Great advice, Madeleine. I do a lot of these already e.g. don't have a dishwasher, never have and only use a clothes dryer if it is raining. Investing in solar power or hot water is also a good money saver over time.If you have enough room a regulations allow get chickens. Hens will provide you with a regular egg supply and more than pay for the cost of feed.
Madeleine Clays (author) on January 06, 2019:
Thanks for your comments, Jeff. Those are great additional tips for saving money!
Jeff Zod from Nairobi on January 06, 2019:
I have really enjoyed reading your article on frugal living. This tips are very pragmatic and useful for students and people living on shoestring budgets. I use some of the tips e.g. borrowing books.
There are many more tips that can be added to your list:
1. Paying credit card debt earlier and making more payments than required.
2. Swapping items with friends.
3. Using vouchers when shopping.
4. Sharing rides with neighbors and co-workers.