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How to Save Money on Damn Near Everything

by Shawanda Greene

Coin Jar Photo by Matt Wakeman

The rough economy over the last couple years has attracted a whole new brood to the internets for advice on how to stretch a dollar. Of course there are those like me who love a good deal so much we’ll all but physically beat a discount out of a merchant.

The problem many people face is that by the time they’ve paid for all their necessities (and some other stuff they don’t need), there’s no money left.

Well, that’s gonna stop today.

Look. Saving money isn’t difficult. It’s just a matter of familiarizing yourself with a few simple concepts. Then, combining that basic level of knowledge with some ninja like savings techniques.

Whatever your reason for reading this, you’re sure to discover money saving strategies you never considered.

Take advantage of post-holiday sales

A day or three after a holiday, hit the stores for holiday items marked down anywhere from 50% to 90% off. You can rack up on next year’s Christmas, Halloween, or St. Patrick’s Day decorations. Personally, I don’t need to wait until next year because I’m not above using a paper towel with Santa Claus’ face plastered on it in January. And I don’t see nothing wrong wit’ using jack-o’-lanterned pot holders in November.

Save your pocket change

Drop your change in a jar or any type of container when you get home. Place your makeshift piggy bank where you can see it so that every time you break a bill, you’re reminded to set aside the change. You’ll be amazed at how quickly it adds up. When you’ve accumulated a substantial amount, take it to your bank, convert it to large bills, and then immediately blow it on some foolishness. I’m just kidding. :) You’re supposed to deposit it of course.

BYO* Anything You Can Get Away With

Alcohol, nuts, water, popcorn, pickles, whatever. Take it with you. Instead of spending your money on overpriced items at ballgames and movie theaters, arrive with your own stash of goodies. A little bit of preparation is a great way to save money. Just don’t embarrass yourself by getting caught violating the rules.

*BYO = Bring Your Own

Reuse

If your loved ones have accused you of being a hoarder, don’t use this tip to excuse your abnormal attachment to material things. Perhaps you should seek the help of a mental health professional. For everyone else, consider whether your items have a second life. For instance, I use empty Noxzema containers to store hair clips, pony tail holders, etc.

Additionally, when you shop, look for items that can be reused.  You could buy an artificial Christmas tree that’ll last years. Or Opt for reusable coffee filters instead of the disposable ones. The initial investment is a bit more, but you’ll save money in the long run.

Budget

Everyone should create a budget or spending plan or money map. Call it what you want. The formula is the same: Cash In – Cash Out = Cash Saved. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that. Knowing where your money is going is one of the best ways to save. Most people have no clue how they’re spending their money. Once you see it on paper, you’ll be surprised at how eager you become to change your spending habits.

Borrow from nature

Before running out and spending a bunch of money on mature plants you’re sure to kill, ask your neighbors if they’re willing to split their flowers with you or if they have any plants you could use as starters. My mother used to split plants placed in the lobbies of nice hotels. Is this stealing? *Kanye shrug*

Refuse to pay full price when dining out

Don’t misunderstand me. If you clean your plate at a restaurant and then complain to the server that your meal wasn’t up to par in hopes of a freebie or a discount, you’re a bum.

Eating out can be expensive. Rather than completely giving it up, limit your dining experiences to times when you can get a discount. I love daily deals. They’re a great way to knock 40% off your restaurant bill. You should also seek out happy hour specials. No. Happy hour isn’t just for lushes. For instance, Maté, a DC restaurant, has select half price sushi on weekdays between 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Outside of those hours, the sushi is ridiculously priced. Find what works in your area.

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Menu plan

Although it may take some time initially, after you plan a weekly menu once, it’ll become much easier. Best of all, it’ll save you money. You can plan meals around what’s already in the fridge or what’s currently on sale at the supermarket. A good menu plan will help you avoid impulse buying.

Learn the art of gratitude

Be thankful for life, family, health, and freedom. The next time you feel like doing a little recreational shopping, head to your local park or the beach where you can enjoy the warm sun, green grass, and towering trees without spending a dime.  Satisfaction with what you already have, material and non-material, is far better than seeking fulfillment in every new toy that comes along. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy the finer things in life, but I encourage you to look inwardly for happiness.

Live Within your Means

It’s natural to desire more than you have and can afford, but living beyond your means is unsustainable. The inability to refrain from spending money you don’t have will result in a financial disaster. Although you should live in the present, you shouldn’t live only for today. (I’m not totally sure how that works, but bear with me.) Your budget will help you identify the amount of money coming in compared to the amount that’s going out. If your expenses exceed your income, it’s time to get it together.

Always check receipts and statements

If you don’t watch the register like a hawk while the cashier is ringing up your items, review your receipt for errors and make sure all discounts were applied. Retailers make mistakes all the time and, in some cases, their oversight can amount to a decent chunk of cash. The same is true for credit card statements, bank statements, phone bills, etc. A few minutes on your part, could result in both short and long-term savings.

Quit smoking

Yeah. I know it’s hard. And for everyone who tells you to stop smoking, you have my permission to tell them to lose weight. Let ‘em see how that feels. Howeva, you really need to quit it. The price of cigarettes are exorbitantly expensive. Besides foregoing perpetual feelings of misery and sickness, you’ll save on long term health costs as a result of giving up this addiction. Now, I don’t want to encourage you to continue smoking, but if you must, at least learn how to roll your own cigarettes.

Get organized

You’re probably wondering what being organized has to do with saving money but in reality, it has a lot to do with it. Think about it. How many times have you purchased a product knowing full well you had the exact same thing at home? You just couldn’t find it?! I rest my case.

Repair instead of replace

You don’t have to spend gobs of money to solve a problem. If something rips, breaks, tears, etc., stop and think whether it’s salvageable. Instead of spending $2,000 on a brand new couch, you might consider one of two options. If your couch frame is still good, you could spend a few hundred dollars to have it recovered, or you could purchase a quality slipcover for about a hundred bucks. You can revive your old couch for much less than it’d cost to replace. Research the repair cost of an old possession, particularly big ticket items, before shelling out dough for the purchase of a replacement.

Remember. It takes time to build up savings. Mindful spending is a habit you’ll have to integrate with your daily life if you’re to accomplish your financial goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your bank account won’t be either.

What are some other habits you’ve developed that allow you to painlessly save money?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen @ SheBloggs May 4, 2011 at 12:03 PM

I've had the most success with menu planning. Saving on groceries has been a challenge that I haven't been able to win for months.

I started planning the week's menu around what was on sale and so far it's been working like a charm.

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TheyCallMeCheap May 5, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Menu planning is one of my favorite ways to save money. When I get ready to prepare my menu plan, I just head to the fridge to see what's in there that I can whip up quickly. Having a plan also helps me figure out what I need to grab from the grocery store in terms of staples and spices I may be out of.

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Pamela May 5, 2011 at 9:22 AM

Another one: don't window shop. Don't go out to the store unless you actually, truly need something.

Doing that saved me a ton. It also reduced a lot of stress since fighting through crowds to look at stuff I can't afford didn't make for a pleasant afternoon anyway. ;)

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TheyCallMeCheap May 5, 2011 at 8:53 PM

Great idea. There are so many other things to do besides shop and spend money, shop and wish you had money to spend, or shop and feel guilty about spending money you don't have.

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Romeo May 5, 2011 at 9:52 AM

Nice, Shawanda!

I think I am guilty of each one of your suggestions. You would be amazed at how much I've learned just so I wouldn't have to spend money by paying someone to do my repairs. I've learned how to paint, change brakes on cars, re-image computers, how to create a website and "SEO" it, how to publish and market a book, and so on, and so on.

Between the Internet's "search and tell capabilities" and the local library, there is little that one can't learn how to do these days.

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kim May 5, 2011 at 11:30 AM

I do a great deal of trading services. What talents do you have that someone else does not? I have wallpapered for a root canal. I have made drapes for dental work. I have fixed prom dresses for the Roto Rooter man. ( his daughters) Made bridesmaid dresses for a new kitchen floor. If you have a skill trade. It will save you money.

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Jaye May 16, 2011 at 1:14 PM

I keep and change jar… I always have and it can be a life saver!

I use Coinstar machines for all of my pennies and most of my nickels. But I organize my dimes and use them to buy items under $5. Quarters are needed for parking, but I usually park farther away and walk to avoid the fee. I usually use my quarters to buy a bottle of vitamins.

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Financial Independen June 9, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Great stuff. Where would you draw a delicate balance on your way to financial independence?

Where is living and surviving? As somebody could say – eating out, going to games and events it is a big drain. Yes you are pinching pennies somewhere, but spending in a big way elsewhere.

I took our family budget and analysed it over last three years and compare it. Where interesting where the money go : -)

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Sarchi July 29, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Very good article to learn how save money.

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Mark Anthony August 9, 2011 at 12:55 PM

This is so very true! I have been trying to save my money everywhere I go.

Now instead of eating out for lunch (which I love eating out) I pack my own lunch, I used to spend about 10-15 dollars each day on lunch. I save over 80 dollars just on not eating out for lunch!

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Payday Loans December 3, 2011 at 4:25 AM

Whole post is revealing good options to save but I liked most the get away option.In this way bad habits can also be ignored.

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12 month loans March 5, 2012 at 9:52 AM

When considering save money it’s always worth looking at …, as a lot of people find that it can save them a lot of time and even money when things are tight…

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AmericanDebtProject May 3, 2012 at 4:27 PM

This list is extensive and awesome. Once I committed to getting out of debt, a few key things changed for me. First: I stopped going to drive-thru's. No more $2 cheeseburgers. OK, this might be more for my health, but I've eaten way less fast food in the past year than ever before in my life. That added up. Second, we stopped ordering delivery. I used to live in DC and the delivery options were pretty awesome. But here in LA, we were mostly ordering Chinese and pizza for $30/meal plus tip. Damn!! We haven't been doing that anymore and our food bill has gone down a lot. In general, I make more food at home, rarely go out for lunch at work and limit my impulse food. Another way to save money is to drive less. There is almost always a public transportation option. If you are lucky enough to find a carpool buddy, you can save on gas and wear and tear on your car. On the weekends, look for things that are close by as much as possible. It might sound extreme, but I usually don't drive on the weekends at all and if I do meet up, I make it within 5 miles of my house. It keeps me a lot more relaxed too!

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