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By Claire Hegstrom
If you’ve ever set up a personal finance budget, it becomes clear very quickly where all your money seems to “disappear” to. Most finance experts will agree that “avoiding designer coffee on the way to work” or “choosing ride-share options to save on gas” are quick ways to save a couple bucks.
But what if you belong to the subset of peoples who don’t have wild discretionary spending habits? It’s a little more difficult to come up with creative ways to save even more money when you’ve already cut out a lot of “fun money” spending.
Give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve already found a budget that works for you, and a huge kudos if you’ve worked in additional ways to save every month. If you’re looking to take savings a step further, we’ve curated five super simple ideas to make an even bigger impact on your monthly savings. The best part? You can start all of these changes as soon as today!
Hear me out: For the most part, generic food brands taste exactly the same as branded ones, and can cost up to 30% less! While you won’t save much on fresh produce which tend to be brand-less by nature, you can save tons of money on staples like dairy, grains, spices, and condiments.
One of the most astounding price discrepancies when comparing name brand and generic products can be noticed in medicines. Ibuprofen is the same ingredient and strength whether it has a fancy label or not. To switch to the off-brand staples in your medicine cabinet, simply check the “active ingredient” label—as well as the dosage—and make sure you’re purchasing the same thing. You can always check with the pharmacist if you have any questions.
On the topic of grocery store runs, try to avoid shopping while you’re hungry. Make sure your stomach is full before you head to store, and write out a shopping list before you go. A list keeps you on track while you’re cruising through aisles, lowers the chance of hunger-driven impulse buys, and will lead to less gas spending due to extra trips for forgotten items.
Cable and internet companies thrive off the hike in your bill after your contract expires. They know that many people won’t have the time—or remember—to call and negotiate the price after their yearly contract is up. If negotiating your internet and cable bills gives you anxiety, write a script so that you know exactly what you’ll say if they start playing hardball.
If you’re ready to cut the cord on cable all together, opt for television streaming services that are cheaper and don’t require a contract. The average American’s cable bill costs $217 per month, while many streaming services cost under $15 a month.
After you’ve conquered one bill, use that savings power to fuel a few more phone calls to your car and home insurance companies, cell phone carrier, and call your city works hotlines to ask for ways you can lower or regulate your utility bills.
One of my favorite personal finance experts, Suze Orman, always preaches “health is wealth.” And it’s so true. When we’re physically and mentally healthy, we spend less on medical bills, take fewer sick days, and can focus our savings funds on crushing our goals. While working out and staying fit is an important part of the health equation, gym memberships and fees can be taxing on your budget.
If you find yourself making excuses to skip the gym, might I suggest cancelling membership and opting for at-home options instead? If you’re anything like me, half the hurdle of working out is getting to the gym. When you download free (or incredibly affordable) fitness apps, you can cut out the trip and sweat it out in the comfort of your home.
Does your company have a wellness benefit where they’ll pay a portion of your monthly gym membership? Check with your human resources team to see if those funds can be used to buy your own at-home workout equipment. You may be able to purchase a treadmill upfront, and submit your receipt to be paid back monthly by your work! While this requires shelfing out some cash, in the long run you’ll be saving gas money, gym membership costs, and you’ll have a piece of equipment for a long time to come.
This one’s so simple, you won’t believe you haven’t implemented it before! No-spend days are just that: Regularly scheduled days where you commit to not spending a single dollar. Try picking one day a week where you don’t spend money on food, entertainment, transportation, etc.
Feeling competitive? Make it a game with your family or friends to see who can successfully complete the most no-spend days per month. If you’re really looking to challenge yourself, go window shopping on your no-spend days for the fun items you’ve had your eye on. If you’re still thinking about it the next day, you’ll know it’s a worthwhile purchase.
Pro tip: On days where you do spend, make sure you’re getting rewarded for it! Shop with a rewards credit card or rewards app where you can get cash for taking pictures of your receipts!
The average American spends about $230 dollars per month on going out to eat! That’s $2,760 a year, and if you’re coupled up you can double that to over $5,500 a year you could be stashing in a high-rate savings account!
What’s scary is the math above doesn’t include the price of alcohol, which can very easily double the average spend—normally about $12 per meal. Limiting yourself to specific days of the week to purchase an alcoholic beverage with your meal can be an additional way to save money.
Do your friends and family usually order drinks, appetizers and dessert with your meals? Stick to choosing just one to accompany your meal, and you’ll be shocked how much you save.
To stretch your wallet even further, scope out the best happy hour deals in town. You can save a pretty penny by heading to dinner right after work and ordering before happy hour cut-off times.
Looking for more spending tips? Check out these other blog posts:
Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.
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