Tired of wondering where your hard-earned money disappears to all the time? Sometimes, paying yourself first doesn’t work if you are still broke by the end of the month. Combine several of the life hacks below and you’ll save $100s every month.
1. Switch to a free checking account
You might be paying anywhere from $5 to $20 a month just for having a checking account. Find out what your minimum balance should be so you can negate this fee, or if setting up a monthly direct deposit will also allow you to skip the maintenance fee. If you can’t get out of a monthly service fee at your bank, well, it’s time to switch banks.
Think it’s time to change up your bank? Here are the best and worst banks in America!
2. Carpool to work, or better still, take the bus
Not only can you rest up to your aching driver’s knee, but you can also save a lot on gas, toll fees, and wear and auto repairs when you team up with coworkers for the daily commute. It’s also more fun to yell at the traffic together than to indulge in your road rage solo. According to Citi’s ThankYou Premier Commuter index, the average worker spends $2,600 a year on their daily commute. Gas is the highest cost, with 77% of respondents using their car to drive to work. Share your commute costs with four coworkers and you could save up to $2,000 a year, or $167 a month.
3. Eat Less and Exercise Regularly
It’s a sad fact that Americans spend about 90 percent of their waking hours indoors, either in the office, at home or in the car. Even worse, we spend it sitting. Make a conscious effort to break out of this unhealthy habit, and instead of randomly spending money at the mall on weekends, “get out.” Go running, take a walk, or play with your kids in the park. After all, being outside is not only good for you, it’s free. The financial benefits of regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are huge. Take obesity, for example. According to a 2006 Harvard study, obese individuals pay an extra $1,429 every year on medical bills than individuals of normal weight.
4. Wash and wax your car
An average automatic car wash price varies from $5 to $30 depending on the car and type of wash. If you wash it every week, that could add up to more than $1,500 a year. Invest in the few basic supplies you need or borrow them from a neighbor. Make it a family activity for something fun to do outside together.
5. Don’t eat out so much
You always pay for convenience. Each time you order dinner a la delivery, you usually pay a delivery fee (and/or your order must add up to a minimum amount). On top of that, you’ll need to tip your delivery person. If you have to order takeout, opting to pick it up will save you tons of cash in the long run. Eating at a restaurant is even more expensive. In 2015, Americans spent more on dining out than on groceries. The average family eats out 18 times a month. If a family only saved $10 a meal by cooking at home, it would still represent $180 a month in savings.
6. Skip the movie theater
Not only are theater prices going up, but you’ll usually end up spending more money on the overpriced concessions stand. According to Statista.com, the average movie theater ticket in 2015 was $8.43. Use a service like Redbox for one dollar movies, borrow one from your local library, or make that Netflix account worth your money. Otherwise, there’s always the option of streaming movies for free online. If you’re into documentaries and foreign films, those are widely available online for free on sites like MUBI and Aeon magazine.
7. Always use coupons and shop the sales
Always use coupons and adjust your grocery list to buy items only when they are on sale. Once you start getting into the habit of shopping the sales, you won’t turn back! According to Coupons.com, the average grocery shopper can save $75 a month by clipping coupons. Check your Sunday newspaper for the best coupons, and get yourself some of these money-saving apps.
8. Cancel at least one magazine subscription
While you’re at it, cancel the newspaper subscription too. Maybe it’s been awhile since you had the time or interest to flip through an issue of Homemade Hammocks, so cut those useless expenses out of your monthly budget. The average magazine subscription costs $30 a year.
9. Switch to cash when possible
Surely you don’t need to carry 7 credit cards, some of which are store cards you never even use. Losing track of payments can lead to all sorts of late fees, increased interest rates, and, eventually, a bad credit score. Don’t close the credit card accounts, unless you can’t afford the annual fee. Closing accounts will hurt your credit score. Keep them open but cut up the cards, so you aren’t tempted to spend all that unused credit. Instead, start using cash. Studies show that paying for things with cash leads to more mindful spending. For example, a Dunn & Bradstreet study found that people using credit cards spent 12% to 18% more when using credit cards than when using cash.
10. Borrow books from the library
Just because you’re no longer in middle school doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of your local library’s free books and magazines. Try replacing your family’s regular trip to the movies with a trip to the library, a day spent perusing the shelves and reading in corners. The average hardback book in 2016 was $18.
11. Drop the phone contract
When was the last time you made a phone call? Instead of endless, costly contracts for your phone, try a pay per minute cell phone plan and get a Skype account. You can even get a local Skype number for $6 a month, so anyone can call you while your Skype app is open on your computer or smartphone. What’s awesome is that they don’t need a Skype account, and you won’t use up any minutes or airtime even if they call you on your phone. According to a ConsumerReports study, dropping the phone contract for a pay-as-you-go plan could save you $30 or more a month.
12. Prepare your snacks and meals
Bake bread, grow herbs and veggies, make yogurt. If 4-year-old-kids at schools like Montessori and Waldorf are making their whole-grain bread for snack time every day, then you can learn too. Making your snacks is also a great way to save money. On average, eating out costs $13 per meal versus $4 when you cook it yourself.
Want to learn how to grow your food? Become a Farmer!
13. Spring clean your home and sell your junk
Spring or Summer, it’s always a good time to clean your house. You never know what long lost gems you may uncover as you untangle the mess in your attic. There could be beautiful pieces of furniture or artwork you forgot about –ready for upcycling and selling online for extra cash. According to a Nielsen survey, the average American household has $3,100 worth of unused items. That’s a chunk of change.
14. Cancel the salon and spa appointments
You may be high maintenance, but most salon treatments are things you can do yourself. Fancy spa appointments and massages can run from $75 to $125 an hour. Not sure if you can handle your own mani/pedi? We’ve put together a list of things you should go to a pro for, and what you can save money on.
15. Minimize your cable plan
The average cable bill in 2015 was $99, according to a Leichtman Research study. How much TV do you watch? Cut out those expensive channels and get down to basics. It’s not a new concept to cut the cord entirely, especially if you already have Netflix, Hulu, and/or Amazon Prime. Don’t you like watching TV shows on your laptop or smartphone? If you’ve got kids, you probably have a gaming system attached to your flat screen that can connect to these services at no extra cost.
Related: Lowering Your Cable Bill
16. Buy energy-efficient appliances
Simple changes like switching to LED light bulbs and low flow showerheads can reduce those unwieldy utility bills. Did you know that aside from the US, almost no other countries in the world use a clothes dryer, but instead dry their clothes on a drying rack indoors or hang the laundry out in the sun to dry? Dryers suck up a lot of energy, which translates to higher utility bills for you. Directly buying ENERGY STAR appliances will save you $11 to $24 a month for the life of the appliance, according to a study by National Grid.
17. Find a new way to party
Instead of going out for dinner and/or drinks whenever the weekend rolls around, invite your friends over for a potluck barbecue. Everyone pitches in, and everyone saves money. And if you want to save some significant cash, reduce your alcohol consumption. Add up your beer and wine costs for the week, whether you’re going out for drinks or buying a few bottles from the grocery store. What fraction of your monthly income are you drinking away? The average “night out” will set you back $81, according to a study by Eventbrite.
18. Learn how to plan your meals
Do you throw out spoiled and expired food every week? Are there things in your pantry that you forgot even existed? According to a study by market research firm YouGov, a typical family will throw away $43 a month in wasted food. One of the best ways to save money is by using what you already have. Try eating out of your pantry for a week, or joining a meal planning group. More often than not, you’ll find yourself with free meals galore and not a speck of food wasted.
19. Buy staples in bulk
Costco and Sam’s Club can save you money in the long run. According to one survey of Sam’s club prices and the lowest sales prices at grocery chains, Sam’s Club shoppers saved an average of 22% on their shopping bill. Of course, these “savings” can be deceiving if all they are doing is pushing you to buy more than you need.
Also, if you shop at Costco, be sure to check out Costco’s Anywhere VISA Credit Card. If you’re a Costco member, the card may be the right fit for you.
20. Use your credit card price protection
Credit card price protection is one of the most underutilized credit card benefits available. Isn’t it annoying when you buy an item and find it 20% cheaper at another shop? Your credit card’s price protection feature can reimburse you for the difference. Apps like Paribus can connect directly to your credit card and file price drops automatically. According to one survey that tracked 5,000 items purchased with a Chase Sapphire credit card, the average user could have saved 14.7% in cashback by using the price protection feature.
As you can see, there are many, easily fixable ways that your money goes to waste each month. Don’t let this happen anymore—pick a free of these 20 ways to save and start saving money now!
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Suchi Rudra is an avid traveler and freelance writer from Texas who covers personal finance, travel, green building, tech, and entrepreneurship. Her work can be found in VICE, The Guardian, Vice, American Way, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Transitions Abroad, PlanetEye.com, TravelStart.com, Expats.cz, The Writer and India Currents and many other publications.