Everyone reading this probably wouldn’t complain about having a little more green stuff. You know, the stuff we wish grew on trees—cold, hard cash. True, money doesn’t buy happiness, but having a steady cash flow and managing it well does offer security (and on occasion, a nifty new techno-gadget or a chic pair of shoes).
You don’t need great tides of cash to be in charge of your money. Little changes here and there can add up quickly. Here are 55 ways to deepen your pockets:
1. Save singles. Whenever you’re handed single dollar bills for change, stash them in a special envelope reserved for rainy days or entertainment.
2. Make a budget and stick to it.
3. Pack a lunch. Meals served via the drive-thru may be hurting your wallet more than even your waistline. Limit lunch out to once a week, and you’ll save $5 to $15 per meal—and plenty of calories, too.
4. DIY. No, you don’t have to carve your own bed to save money, but there are plenty of everyday items you can easily make on your own. “I make my own laundry detergent,” says mom of three and pastry chef Miranda Whitaker. “It takes about $15 to make at least a six-months supply. I also make my own body scrubs, tomato sauces, jam, dessert toppings (like caramel and chocolate syrup), and coffee creamer. Check out DIYnatural.com for recipes. It’s a great way to live frugally.” (Find a recipe for laundry detergent below.)
5. Meal plan—in reverse. Many frugal folks agree that having a plan when hitting the grocery store cuts costs. Creating grocery lists from weekly or monthly meal plans helps curb impulse buys, but Kris Chatfield has a creative approach to putting the most economical meals on the table. “I buy whatever meat and produce is on sale that week and then plan my meals around what I have in the house,” the mom of five says.
6. Hit Aldi. Many readers, including mother and pro-life advocate Leticia Velasquez, recommend hitting Aldi for weekly groceries if there’s one in your area. “I save at least $30 a week,” Leticia says.
7. Initiate a fiscal fast. Try not to spend any money (besides automated bills) for a few days or even a week. It’s a dollar per day for a movie rental versus $10 (plus pricey popcorn) for one movie ticket.
8. Comparison shop. “I created a spreadsheet of items I buy regularly—weekly or at least monthly. I then went to Aldi, Kroger, and Costco and actually went around and wrote down the prices,” says Chatfield. “Now I feel confident that I know where to get which items at the best price, and what is considered a ‘good’ price versus a really great sale price.”
9. Use and abuse the library, advises Misti Yang, a young professional living in Las Vegas. From DVDs to magazines and of course books, the public library is an endless (and free) source of entertainment.
10. Start a babysitting co-op. Babysit for your friends and have them return the favor in the future.
11. Barter. My hairdresser gets free dog-sitting services by cutting the hair of the owners of a pet-boarding business for free. Maybe you sew or can edit resumes in return for some other service for which you’d typically have to shell out money.
12. Don’t be a food snob. Kathy DiNovis Vestermark shared on Facebook that day-old bread at the grocery story is typically half-price and makes great croutons and homemade bread crumbs. You can store the bread or the finished croutons in the freezer to have on hand.
13. “Shop” your friends’ closets for special occasion wear. I borrowed a friend’s dress for a recent vacation. In return, I invited her to “shop” my closet for an evening formal she was attending with her husband.
14. Keep your freezer full; it uses less energy than when it’s empty. For maximum savings, consider filling your freezer with gallon containers of water.
15. Stick to your bank’s ATM. If you use another bank’s ATM as your cash machine, you’ll be losing around two to three dollars per transaction.
16. Get rid of the landline. Do you really need your home phone, or can your cell phone suffice? Leah Townsend, an at-home mom of four, loves Ooma (Ooma.com) phone service. “It’s free after you buy the $99 device. I pay three dollars each month for taxes,” she says.
17. Shop around for the best cell phone plan. “Sienna Communications’ phone service has month-to-month cell phone plans for as little as $15 a month, and they are a Catholic service that doesn’t give money to Planned Parenthood,” says Velasquez.
18. Make your own pizza. Pizza delivery will cost you at least $10. Whip up your own fresh pie, which probably scores more nutritional points as well, and will, on average, cost closer to $5 per pizza.
19. Unplug all those iPod and iPhone battery chargers when the batteries are fully charged or the chargers are not in use. Many chargers drain power continuously, even when the device is not plugged into the charger.
20. Drink water. Good, old-fashioned water sans the plastic bottle or fancy fizz is a healthier and cheaper alternative to ordering drinks at restaurants or guzzling down soda or juice.
21. Always wash laundry with cold water. You’ll save about 40 cents per load.
22. Use cash for entertainment. Take out cash at the beginning of the week, and that amount is all you have to spend on fun things.
23. Consolidate trips to save gas, offers The Sweet Deal (@Sweetdl) on Twitter.
24. Rabbit ears, anyone? “We bought a $40 antennae to watch most sporting events—it saves at least $40 per month on cable,” says Michelle Reitemeyer, a homeschooling mom of seven.
25. Create a maternity clothes swap. “One doctor I work with keeps a bag of professional maternity clothes in her office. Everyone donates when they’re done having kids, and anyone can take from the bag. It saves a lot of money, and there are so many people in our department that it works out pretty well. Any moms’ group could do this as well,” says Lili Banan, a pediatrician and mom of two.
26. Pay attention. A lot of people don’t realize just how much they’re spending on more frivolous things until they start tracking their cash flow. Be mindful, but don’t be so cheap that you don’t enjoy life or you become impervious to the needs of others and forgo charitable donations. @FranciscanMom tweeted, “A small ‘splurge allowance’ keeps you from feeling deprived.”
27. Keep your AC turned off while you’re away. When you return home, crank it up. The energy required to cool a room is less than what is needed to keep a space cool.
28. When the weather turns chilly, raise the thermostat temperature slowly to keep your bill lower. Quickly raising your heat pump’s temperature activates the heat strip, which uses a lot of energy.
29. BOGO wisely. “I use BOGO sales to stock up on commonly used items, especially pasta and spaghetti sauce,” says Reitemeyer.
30. Coupon—or not. Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon.
31. Go generic. Not just with ketchup, cereal, and cosmetics (which saves you roughly 20 percent per item), but consider switching to generic prescriptions, too. This can save you thousands of dollars every year in the cost of medications.
32. Get a prescription refill for 90 days, not 30 days. Most pharmacies offer discounts on a three-month supply.
33. Say no to designer coffee. If you can’t kick your latte habit, then at least consider making your own. “My recipe for a pumpkin spice latte makes enough for four ‘talls’ at Starbucks,” says Reitemeyer. Whipping up four of her own lattes (see recipe below) saves about $20.
34. Shop online sales. Rachel Irwin, a mom of two who works from home in the pharmaceutical industry, likes Sierra Trading Post, Zappos, Overstock, and Amazon to purchase items marked at a steep discount. Search sites like RetailMeNot.com for free shipping or other promo codes to enter at checkout. Katie Ryan, a teacher and mom of two, always checks BradsDeals.com for online promotions.
35. Make vinegar your friend. “Try vinegar and water for a cleaning agent,” says Irwin. “It’s usually good enough for most household cleaning.” Check out VinegarTips.com for 1,001 uses for vinegar.
36. Skip the errands. “Just stepping foot into a grocery store or a Target usually leads to spending on extras. Just don’t go,” says Misty Nagel, an at-home mom of three boys.
37. Leggo the Eggos. “I saved lots of money by making pancakes and waffles from scratch rather than buying the frozen ones. They taste so much better and are healthier,” says Lori Lynn Hadorn-Disselkamp, a mom, theology teacher, and motivational speaker.
38. Put a freeze on your gym membership. Sometimes life gets busy and the treadmill at the gym is consigned to oblivion. If you know you’re approaching a hectic season, consider freezing your membership. Many gyms will allow you to do this for free without paying a cancellation fee.
39. Replace standard bulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs. CFLs are more energy-efficient than regular bulbs, but they give off the same amount of light.
40. Hit consignment shops or Goodwill. “My oldest son needed five pairs of khaki shorts for a camp he attended this summer at West Point. I was able to find five great pairs in his size at Goodwill for about $3 to $5 per pair,” Chatfield says.
41. “Abandon disposable cleaning items, such as paper towels, Swifters, and disinfectant wipes,” says Yang. “We use dish towels for all our cleaning and try to avoid paper products as much as possible.”
42. The next time you’re in the market for a new television, look for ENERGY STAR-qualified models, which are up to 30 percent more efficient than non-certified models.
43. Forage from the freezer and pantry first. “This eliminates fast-food outings or food shopping for a few days,” says Nagel.
44. Have breakfast for dinner or lunch. Eggs are an incredibly cheap protein source, and there’s no reason they need to only be served in the morning.
45. Plug electronics into a power strip. Turn off the strip when not in use to save on energy costs.
46. eBay isn’t just for designer jeans or collectible bobble heads. Darice Jones, a mom of three, buys her dog’s flea-and-tick medicine on the site for a considerable cost savings.
47. Waste not, want not. “Don’t throw out food just because it is past the ‘Use By’ date,” says Yang. According to a recent Harvard Law and National Resources Defense Council report, Americans throw away 40 percent of the food they buy, often because of misleading expiration dates that have nothing to do with edibility or safety. If a food smells or looks suspicious, toss it, but just because it reaches a certain date doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat.
48. Dine out wisely. “Hunt around your town for any local ‘kids eat free’ deals at your favorite local restaurants,” says Irwin. Or stick to the dollar menu like the Reitemeyer clan does on a rushed, drive-thru kind of night.
49. Use motion-detector lights for all your outdoor lighting to reduce energy costs.
50. Buy cheaper, in-season produce.
51. Veg out. “We eat vegetarian meals with beans as the main protein source two to three times per week,” Irwin says. “I find this to be much cheaper, especially if you buy dry beans or bulk items.”
52. Look for ways to reduce costs for kids’ activities. Split the cost of private swim lessons with a friend. Carpool to soccer games with other families to save on gas. “I have looked for ways to work for organizations in exchange for reduced or free enrollment,” says Chatfield. “I have been the administrative person for the flag football league at our parochial school for the past three years, and my boys don’t pay to play. That’s a $240 ‘salary’ for me.”
53. Walk or ride whenever possible to reduce gas costs.
54. Beware of energy vampires. Home electronics in “standby” mode use energy to power features like clock displays even when they’re turned off.
Miranda Whitaker’s liquid detergent
1 cup Borax
1 cup Super Washing Soda
1/4 to 1/3 bar of grated soap (Whitaker uses Ivory*)
2 gallons water
empty milk jugs or detergent containers
1. Add grated soap and one gallon of water to a large boiling pot (use at least a three-gallon pot), and bring to rolling boil until soap dissolves, stirring occasionally. Add borax and washing soda and mix thoroughly until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour into containers. Use about 1/2 cup per load. Whitaker keeps her detergent in an old laundry detergent bottle, and she uses the cap to measure.
“The detergent has very little or no scent,” says Miranda. “I don’t recommend adding essential oils or scented washing beads like Purex. It changes the consistency of the mix.”
*Do not add more than 1/3 of the bar. This will make for a very thick consistency, and you won’t be able to determine the consistency until it’s cooking.
Michelle Reitemeyer’s pumpkin spice latte
2 heaping Tablespoons of canned pumpkin
2 Tablespoons of brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup strong coffee
2 cups milk
whipped cream and nutmeg
Combine the first four ingredients in a pot and heat. Serve into cups; garnish with whipped cream and nutmeg.
Creating a Budget
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many people are a lot like Uncle Sam and deal with a lofty debt ceiling. And that add a lot of stress to life. “I’ve found that when expenses pile up, I lose a sense of control in my life,” says Misty Nagel. The best way to regain control of your finances is to make a budget. To do so, start by tracking your income and spending for a month. Subtract all of your essentials (rent/mortgage, food, tithing—but not happy-hour martinis) from your income to see what you have left to save and to spend on incidentals. Then budget accordingly. Consider using a free online tool like Mint.com. Signup for the site takes less than five minutes, and Mint automatically pulls all of your financial information together in one place and divides it into spending categories like groceries and entertainment. Mint then creates a starting budget based on your financial data.
Once you have established a budget, it serves as a mental record of how much you should be spending. Budgets will evolve as your financial situation changes. You may get an unexpected bonus, or you may lose a source of income, but the ultimate goal is to always spend less than you make and save a little every month.