Saving money must always be a priority. And we all do it in big ways — for college, retirement, and that possible house project. But now it’s as important to do it in small ways because inflation is here and everything is more expensive. We feel if we eat out. It especially hits us when we pull up to the pump. Over the last year, a 14-gallon fill-up has jumped from $43 to $67.
You know the basics. Make a budget. Stick to the budget. Set goals and track spending. But whether big or small, saving money starts with having a clear reason, the more positive the better — the vacation, the basketball hoop — because “saving more” is too vague and won’t motivate you enough.
“The more concrete, the easier it is to call on that reserve of willpower,” says Dayana Yochim, senior writer and editor at Investor.com.
But nothing is easier with kids. They regularly need stuff but they also regularly ask for stuff they don’t need. It doesn’t help that kids don’t understand long-term planning. That’s where shoring up your resolve comes in and realizing that there’s a payoff for weathering the initial discomfort.
“You can fight today or give in and fight the battle tomorrow and the next day and the next,” says Robert Brokamp, senior adviser at The Motley Fool and certified financial planner. “If they get an 80-percent yes rate, they’ll keep asking. If they get 10 percent, it might be less often.”
That’s all great for the mindset, but it’s important to know those small places where you’re leaking money so you can plug them up. Here then, are 17 small ways to save money right now.
Focus on food. It’s a major family cost and 30 percent of it gets wasted. With an average household spending 12 percent, “Almost four percent of a household budget is going in the trash,” Brokamp says. One staple still holds: Look for coupons. They’re all about saving you money on something you need. Just make sure it’s something you need.
Plan out the week’s meal. And, in the second Hall of Fame shopping tip, go into the store with a list to keep you from wandering. “I came in for 31 objects. I’ll leave with 31,” says Jennifer Bethel, professor of finance at Babson College and co-founder of The Babson Financial Literacy Project.
Have a plan for leftovers. It could be it’s tomorrow’s lunch or Tuesday is Whatever’s Remaining Night. Otherwise, don’t cook or serve more than your kids will eat, or the remains will sit in the fridge and eventually be tossed, Brokamp says.
Put one item back. A list will reduce your bill, but inevitably you’ll go off-script. So before you check out, look in your cart and pick one thing that could wait until next time or you realize will just sit in your pantry. “That will save you $5 each time, but if you do that every week that would save you $250 a year,” says Bernadette Joy, money expert and founder of Crush Your Money Goals.
Increase your car insurance deductible. Think about how safe you are and how often you make a claim, which people often avoid doing to keep their premium down. If it makes sense, you can save from four to 28 percent on your monthly bill, the average being eight and a half.
The same goes for home owner’s insurance. If the likelihood of a flood or a tree falling on your roof is low, you might not need to pay extra for peace of mind. Depending on where you live, you can average $260 in yearly savings from increasing your deductible from $500 to $2,500.
Pare down your streaming services. How many shows do you really watch? Right, not that many. Keep two channels. (Give the kids a vote for theirs.) And remember that it’s easy to sign up for a free trial, binge, cancel, then repeat, Brokamp says. But it’s also easy to forget every subscription you have. Need help? The finance app Truebill will track your payments, cancel the subscriptions you’re done with, and, for a percentage, negotiate down certain bills.
Cancel unwanted subscriptions (But see what they offer to stay) You might have liked an online magazine at the initiation rate, but now the fee isn’t so attractive. Log onto the site to cancel and when asked, select cost as the reason. The next screen will most likely be a lower offer, Yochim says.
Ask for a better offer. No company is going to give you one With your credit card, if you carry a balance but have good credit, call and say, “My interest rate doesn’t reflect my score. Can you lower it?” It costs money to find new customers. They’d prefer to keep you, Bethel says.
Use the $1 Rule for kids' clothes. Buy something for them only if it works out to $1 per wear. If a shirt costs $30 but your kids will easily use it 30 times, get it. But if the math doesn’t work, regardless of how much the sale price is, it’s wasted money. “Kids grow out of clothes so fast,” Joy says.
Put up barriers. Unsubscribe from weekly promo emails to get temptations out of sight. Force yourself to enter in your credit card information and address to get off autopilot. Institute a 24-hour waiting period on non-essentials. Each of these puts space between you and the purchase. “You’re giving the brain a much-needed timeout,” Yochim says.
Find used equipment for kids. There’s no need to buy new, especially if you’re unsure of their commitment. When you’re standing around other parents, ask, “Where do you get used stuff?” You might find a local place or something besides Facebook, Freecycle, or Craigslist, but you also might hear that someone has extra gloves for free. “Don’t make the investment until you know it’ll pay off,” Brokamp says.
Look to offload your old stuff. It’s not saving money, but it can offset what you have to spend. If the kids can handle it, let them organize the sale with a promise of a cut of the proceeds. That carrot will nudge them to reconsider what truly needs to be kept. “It changes the whole dynamic,” Brokamp says. “It gets junk out of the house.”
Find cheap tickets at the library. Chances are they offer discounted tickets for museums, zoos, and aquariums.
And speaking of the library. It has kid classes, scavenger hunts, and read-alongs, movies, music comic books, and oh yeah, books for you. And they’re all free. The Libby app also lets you e-check out whatever your library has, and will automatically do returns before late fees hit.
Install smart thermostats. You can program them to turn down the heat when it’s not needed, like when you’re not home or asleep; then turn it back up at the optimal times, Bethel says. Or you can do it manually. Adjusting by 7-10 degrees for eight hours a day can help you save 10 percent a year on your bill.
Set a house spending limit for the week or month. Yes, it’s akin to sticking to a budget, but turn this into a family challenge. When you hit your goal, have ice cream for breakfast, rent a movie or whatever else you picked. Again, saving just to save can turn things into a grind and that holds no charm. “It’s not about complete and absolute denial,” Yochim says. “You did something good for your finances and you get to celebrate it.”