Waste not, want not. Oh- the joys of being scolded with that idiom from a young age. It was mostly deployed when having left cooked carrots on one’s plate, but it’s a ideology that has stood the test of time. Being thoughtful about waste, what we need versus what we want, is a mental exercise we face daily. Sometimes necessity demands the outcome. You can’t make numbers lie or money stretch, as much as ever expanding credit card limits would like us to believe (STEP AWAY from the veryverypretty but expensive pair of shoes). But regardless. Even if you have all the money in the world, being thoughtful about saving is always a worthy consideration.
The ways to save are numerous, and usually related to monetary means, directly or indirectly. Saving energy, be it turning off lights or carpooling, is saving money. Recycling discarded materials into new uses is saving landfills, and keeping dollars in your pocket. Money NOT spent is money saved, and money spent can reflect money saved. And of course there’s the more philosophical approach to “saving”: saving lives, saving a friendship, saving one’s energy, saving time- but those would take us down a different path.
So left us reflect on more practical considerations- what habits can I employ to save more? What money saving tips are worth my time?
Time vs. Earning Potential: The first thing to consider is what is right for you. Take extreme couponers- not everyone has the time in a day to clip coupons and do the research required to cash in. And if you have the earning potential to make more than you can save, then to each their own. Earnings and savings is a net value.
1) Couponing: All you need to know is that coupons exist for a reason and there is no shame is using them. Manufacturer’s make them for a reason. But don’t be fooled into using a coupon just because “it’s a great deal” if you don’t actually need the item (especially those highly processed, GMO-ridden goodies). But hey- why not try to “beat the man” and see if you can get that 10 pack of toilet paper for more than 1/2 off? Grocery stores often double coupons under 99 cents, and when used on a sale item, can really make the whole endeavor worthwhile, if not downright addictive.
- Most Sunday newspapers include coupon packets. Find your paper here.
- Print coupons online at coupons.com, (most comprehensive) or other sources like redplum, smartsource, etc. Stores like Target and CVS also offer coupons directly on their websites. (Many of these sites will be redundant, but Target does allow you to combine their own coupons with manufactures’.)
- Visit blogs and websites that flag “deals” like southern savers and coupon divas, which can help you match coupons to sales.
Tips: Keep your coupons organized in a small booklet/file organizer. Beware of expiration dates. And know that sometimes to get a good deal, you have to buy an item when you don’t need it, but as a non-perishable, will need it in the foreseeable future.
2) Store Cards: As long as enrolling is free, make sure you’re a member of the store’s rewards program. DO NOT confuse this with a store credit card, or membership program where you pay an annual fee. Store cards (or loyalty programs) grant sale prices and sometimes offer exclusive deals or cash back programs.
Tip: Have too many cards in your wallet or on your keychain? Try downloading the Key Ring app and store all your card account information on your smart phone.
3) Credit Card Cash Back Programs: No doubt credit cards are a modern affliction, encouraging debt more often than responsible spending. Pitfalls aside, however, savings are to be had. On top of paying off your full bill monthly, know what cards offer the best “cash back” or rewards programs.
Tip: This website compares all the latest credit cards and finds the one that best suits your personal finances. I use a card that offers 6% back on groceries and 3% back on gas, year-round.
4) Price Matching: Big stores like Best Buy, Staples, and Walmart offer “price matching.” If you can find an item they offer for less at another store (via weekly ad etc- must show proof but can use your phone) they’ll match the price at the register. Many stores don’t blatantly advertise the fact, but it’s there for the taking, minus the occasional fine print. It’s certainly quite a bit of extra work to have to prove a lower price to a store employee, but with bigger ticket items like electronics, it can be worth the effort.
Tip: Also with big ticket items, be sure to give Amazon and Google a quick run-through before buying. Often Amazon has the most competitive prices, or coupon codes for stores will be posted on sites like retail me not. And price matching doesn’t end there. Make sure your monthly bills like cable/internet and cell phone are still the most competitive deals. Did you know that using a digital antenna for around $10, gives your free basic cable?
5) Fuel Efficiency: So you’re looking for a new car. It’s easy to “go with the prettiest” and you’ve worked hard to deserve that (albeit fickle) consideration, but with CAFE and other fuel standards looming in the future, fuel economy should be a key decision making factor. Toyota released an affordable version of its Prius (the Prius C) in 2012 that starts for around $20k and gets about 50mpg. Volkswagen is also making some pretty competitive hybrids. If only we all could afford the fully electric and stunningly beautiful and smart and funny (well maybe not funny) Tesla for $70k. She’s a real beaut.
Tip: Click here to see the top-rated hybrids of 2014.
6) “Treasure” Hunting: Yes, it can be as exciting as it sounds. Visit your local thrift stores, stop by the occasional garage sale, or watch for those elusive church attic sales! It can be like antiquing for amateurs, and there’s always something interesting to be found. So instead of marching on down to Ikea or Crate and Barrel when you need a new side table or chair, consider first casting a wider net and finding something with character. Wood and other classic materials can hold up well over time, and can be far superior than modern materials. (Ikea is fantastic, but I swear they source 99% of the world’s particle board/MDF, plastic and cardboard.)
Tip: Search Google for local flea markets. Most fancy antique places source their own wares from these markets, or buy during estate auctions- which are harder to access. Craigslist can also yield some interesting finds but ALWAYS be wary about meeting someone at an unknown private residence.
7) Get Crafty!: Many things we find we want, you would be surprised to learn that you can make. From art for your walls, to homemade toothpaste, ask yourself: Can I make it? Not only is the creation process extremely rewarding, (take the time to bake a loaf of bread and you’ll swear something never tasted so good) but it’s often money saving, since you only pay for raw materials. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration, recipes, and DIY projects. Of course, set moderate expectations- we’re not all Martha Stewarts (see funny Pinterest fails here).
8) Track Your Finances: It’s easy to swipe a card and have direct deposit paychecks. Such automations distance us from the raw math of our personal finances. Thankfully there’s easy to use FREE software like Mint that tracks, catalogues, and charts your spending, making budgets easier to manage and credit card fraud easier to spot.
Ways to save are endless and evolve daily, particularly with new technologies. There’s lots of little tricks (Like did you know Staples will give you a $2 credit when you recycle your ink cartridge? Or that if you recycle your own plastic/glass/cans at the grocery store, you get your deposit back? Or that stores like Bed Bath and Beyond are constantly offering a 20% off coupon?) and it can take awhile to pick-up on and adapt into our daily spending habits. But knowledge- and awareness- are key, and when you work hard to earn your money, you should work hard to save it.
And once you develop the art of saving with physical goods, that “muscle” you’ve developed can be applied to all the other arts of saving. DO NOT throw out those plastic grocery bags (bring back to the store to recycle, and use reusable bags- most stores give money per bag- Trader Joes even enters you into a weekly raffle for free groceries!) Use energy efficient light bulbs (such as Cree). Unplug your electronic devices when not in use. Use a water filter and don’t buy plastic bottles. Don’t let food spoil and go un-used. Grow a garden, not an unnaturally manicured lawn.
It would take a saint to immediately employ all of these suggestions. I’ll be the first to admit that I try to live with these values, but don’t always succeed. But starting with just one change, one idea, is already progress. Be deliberate and thoughtful, not for your own good, but for the good of all. For when we save and reduce consumption, we’re saving the future and living just a little bit more in the present.