Cheap Tricks: Easy Ways to Save Money
Amazing Budget Hacks to Save Money
With the cost of everything increasing and salaries not expanding proportionately, it seems we’re all pinching pennies, all the time. If you’re still searching for ways to cut your budget, here’s how you can save hundreds of dollars a year without changing your lifestyle in dramatic ways.
- Weekday Lunches: If you eat out daily, it can cost almost $3,000 a year. Admittedly, I’m not one to pack my lunch regularly. I often have good intentions but little follow-through, and when I’m in an office all day, I really, really need a break. But I’ve found ways to make taking my lunch more palatable and to save many dollars when I do eat at restaurants. Here’s how you can save painlessly, and still get out of the office for a break.
- Picnic in the Park: This still involves packing a lunch, but bear with me. If your office building has a grassy area, or if you work near an urban park, consider packing a lunch one or two days a week and dining out under the trees. You won’t have quite the ‘Trapped with Tupperware’ feeling you get when eating at your desk. It will clear your head, and the food even tastes better. Take crackers and cheese or hummus, cherry tomatoes, veggie sticks, and fresh fruit. Grab a good book or your iPad (if there’s wireless) and enjoy a peaceful lunch without the restaurant rush and clatter of nearby diners. If you don’t want to dine alone, invite an office mate to join you. Figuring a minimum of $7 for lunch with tax and tip, you’ll save $364 a year.
How to Save Big Money at Restaurants
- Share Entrees: Restaurant entrees are usually huge, even at lunch. If you find yourself eating far more by dining out than you’d eat at home, consider splitting your meal with a friend. Most of us take lunch with a friend or two; chances are your dining partners are watching their waistlines and budgets, too. Ask the waitperson to split it ahead of time (but watch out if they charge for plating it twice!), or ask for an additional plate and divide it at the table. If you do this at least once a week, you can save around $5.00 or more a week, which $260 a year.
- Two-for-One Coupons: Watch for deals in your paper, or go online and search for coupon specials at places near where you work. You’re bound to have a coworker or two who would love the chance to enjoy a bargain meal with you. If you pay half the price for an $8 entrée once each week, you can save at least $208 per year.
- Skip the Drinks: The price of any restaurant drink (tea, lemonade, colas, whatever) has steadily crept up in recent years. Many menus don’t even list the prices where you can spot them, because restaurant owners know diners will automatically order a Coke or iced tea anyway. However, at $1.50 (low average) to $2.25 a hit, or more, you’re adding quite a bit to your monthly lunchtime expenses without realizing it. Get rid of pricey drinks altogether (get a plain glass of water instead) and you can save about $450 a year.
- Cut out Designer Coffee: Okay, maybe you can’t stand the thought of giving up your fancy latte altogether. At least cut back on it, if possible. A few years ago, the world would have laughed at the idea of $4 or more for a cup of coffee. Now, it’s become the norm. If this insidious habit has crept up on you, calculate how much you spend each week and consider cutting back at least one day out of five. Average savings, at least $200 a year, not counting tax or tips.
Budget-Saving Travel and Entertainment Tips
- Day Trips: If the family is bored to pieces, but you don’t have the funds to spend a weekend away, explore ideas for day trips rather than spending money on hotels. You’ll save food expenses, too, because you won’t need to buy breakfast the next morning (and often will be back in time for dinner at home). Look for quaint towns, or interesting historic sites to give the kids an educational experience. Study up on the destination and what makes it interesting and talk about it at dinnertime in the days before your trip. Ask each child to research and share some interesting facts about it, which will make for ‘family talk’ in the car rather than riding along with earbuds or watching the backseat DVD player. To save even further, take a picnic and eat at a park. Kids crave time with their parents; day trips can give you quality time as a family at a fraction of the cost of a weekend away. Figuring a modest $60 per night for a hotel or travel lodge and maybe $20 for breakfast, if you take one day trip every two months, you’ll save $480 in travel expenses.
- Family Night at Home: Plan one evening a week of family entertainment at home, in lieu of going out someplace. This will strengthen your family’s bonds and save money as well; children crave time with their parents, and these nights of fun or learning will become treasured memories. Your kids will love watching a favorite movie with mom and dad (homemade popcorn), or baking cookies together, or playing a board game. Make this a tradition and your expenses for commercial entertainment will likely drop, because there’s less of a ‘boredom’ factor in your weekly schedule. If you typically spend $30 for a chain restaurant meal with the kids (and that’s cheap), you’ll save $1,560 by creating your entertainment at home.
- Invent a Game: Our kids are learning more things than we ever imagined as kids. Challenge your kids to "invent" a board game or activity game. They’ll spend hours creating ideas for the rules (maybe they’ll even design a board and playing pieces), then spend family night playing it together. Your kids will feel like they’re in the spotlight, and you’ll have an evening of entertainment at a very low cost. Compared to a movie out (four people) with popcorn, you’ll save at least $25, but the value of building family togetherness? Priceless.
- Timeshare “Sales” Trips: Have you been contacted by a ‘resort’ firm offering you six days and five nights, dirt cheap, just to hear their 90-minute presentation? These offers are generally for-real. I spent a very affordable week on Hawaii's Kauai island at a beautiful hotel, with full use of a rental car (free), and a $50 certificate for dining, for less than $800. Yes, I had to pay for the flight, but since the hotel would have been about $350 a night, and the car came to around $150 or more, the trip was a bargain. I’ve had offers for stays in Aruba (only $199 for five-night), Mexico, and a ton of destinations in the United States. I travel with friends, so we share the cost of the stay and we all save. Based on the trade-off for the Hawaii trip, the saving can be around $1200, counting the rental car included in the package.
Budget Tips for Young Families
Save Around the House
- Electricity: Invest in energy-saving light bulbs. They cost a bit more, but you’ll notice an immediate drop in electricity if you swap out the bulbs you use most often. Aside from the lower cost to use them, they do not heat up the room the way incandescent bulbs do. I swapped out all bulbs I normally keep on for many hours a day, and my bill indeed dropped. It’s difficult to estimate an ‘average’ savings per household, with our different needs, but the next time you buy light bulbs, switch to these and you’ll see some savings.
- Use Less Soap and Detergent: You can generally reduce the amount you use with anything that’s pre-packaged and comes out of a box or bottle. This is especially true with laundry detergent and dishwasher powder or liquid. You don’t need to fill up the entire dispenser; you’ll get good results by using only half the amount the machine takes (or even less—I use about one third or one-quarter of what I used before). Some people recommend using no soap at all for clothes that are basically clean, or dishes that have been pre-washed at the sink. If you’re able to use only half the soap for laundry and dishes, you’ll buy only half the amount each month. This could save you $200 or more a year, depending on the size of your family and the loads each week and month. You’re also reducing your impact on the environment.
- Tweak the Thermostat: Gradually lower your thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer. If you do it one degree at a time, you’ll adapt to the feel of the new temperature more easily than going for a dramatic change all at once. You can reduce your heating bill by 5 to 10 percent, and possibly save even more in the summer when rates skyrocket. Naturally, you’ll want to adopt the habit of turning things way down (or way up, in the summer) when you leave the house for even a few hours. Even if your bill is only $100 a month currently, at 10 percent a month, you’ve saved $120 a year.
- Buy Energy Star: Don’t get rid of a perfectly good washer or dryer prematurely, but when you do need to replace appliances or electronics, buy only Energy Star rated items. These ratings are not just idle hype, they truly do save energy, and they will save you a ton of money on your utility bills. I replaced my washer and dryer and a few other things (notably light bulbs) and watch my bill plummet. This is another place where individual household savings can vary greatly, but I promise you, if you gradually swap your worn-out appliances, printers, computers and other energy vampires for Energy Star replacements, you will see a savings.
- These are only a few ways to save painlessly; once you get on the frugal bandwagon, you’ll come up with even more ideas for reducing your outflow of cash!