When times are tight, and that seems to be just about all of the time these days, it’s important to search for ways to stretch your dollars. While everyone seems to know the obvious money-saving strategies, like clipping coupons or online shopping instead of spending extra for gas and driving everywhere, there are plenty of other options to cut your costs. Some of you may have heard some ideas whispered in a back room at the office, but you may have never even imagined that people spend a lot of their time looking for new and even extreme ways to save their money!
1. Go dark
Cut your electric bill by going turning off the lights, television, and all other electronic devices once a week. Think it’s impossible for you to do? Well, then consider doing it for a designated timeframe—even just for a few hours once a week. Say, no electricity for 2 hours every day when you come home. Spend that time reading a book or doing a puzzle, even washing your car or taking a bath by candle light!
The average American family spends over $1,500 a year on electricity. Knocking out one full day a week could save as much as 1/7th ($215 annually) of your bill if you light a candle and enjoy some old-fashioned family time with your loved ones by playing board games, listening to a battery operated radio, or telling some ghost stories.
If you’re really an adventurer, do what my family did by creating a “Wattless Wednesday” each week during the summertime. We spent time sitting out in the backyard/patio having a “time with nature” and if you have a fireplace you can even enjoy gathering around it in winter! Any combination and variation of these will save you money.
2. Stockpile free condiments
You know it’s done all the time. Don’t spend money on ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, soy sauce, sweeteners and sugar, or any other condiments. Instead, collect packets when visiting at fast food restaurants. If you think it’s being dishonest, think again. They leave most of this stuff right out there for you to use. Do you see any sign saying just take one or two please? Grabbing just a few extra packets may not seem like you’re saving much but it really adds up over the course of a year. I estimate you can save over $50.
3. Flush using less water
Save a few dollars by flushing using less water in your toilet. Simply place a capped plastic jug filled and sealed tightly with some sand or rocks in the back of their toilet tank, making sure it doesn’t interfere with the flap in the center of the tank. It will displace enough water in the tank to save 10 or more gallons per day. Over an entire year that can mean savings of $100 on your annual water bill.
4. Buy used and second hand
Old is new again as that saying goes and “retro” looks are pretty hip these days. eBay and craigslist come quickly to mind but there are plenty of neighborhood thrift shops around too. You can even try the Salvation Army and Good Will who have some super bargains too. You can save up to 90% on clothing easily. Gently used or worn saves you $250 a year!
5. Loose and lost change
Check soda machines for loose change. I’m not kidding. Even the area around vending machines often reveals dropped coins or some forgotten change. You can also check the parking lot and car wash vacuum areas for dropped coins. I always find a few without any effort. It only requires you to look down for a few seconds! Those “free” pennies, dimes, nickels, and quarters can add up over time. If you just look down, you will find some.
Some folks have great success searching beaches and recreation areas with metal detectors to find valuables like coins, rings, and other jewelry. You can invest in a decent detector for under $100 and it will pay for itself with your findings.
6. Skip a meal once or twice a week
Yes, eating healthy is very important, but you must admit that sometimes you eat when you aren’t really hungry, more of a social thing with friends or family. If you try, you can eat 20 meals a week instead of 21 by simply eating a little later at night and then skipping breakfast one time and having lunch just a little early the next day. Whatever way you can do it, skipping one meal a week will save you 5-10% on your annual food costs. For us, that means a savings of about $300 a year from skipping just one meal per week!
7. Plan your driving to save on gas
Don’t run errands randomly anymore. Plan them out so you can make the best use of time and money. You will find that what took you all week to accomplish can be done in just a few days and save on car expenses too! Saving even ½ gallon of gas per week is over $75 a year.
8. Stop paying for your trash bags
Trash bags are pretty expensive and—wait for it—you just throw them in the trash, don’t you?
We use the plastic bags from all our shopping trips to line every trash can we have. They are free and as long as we have that option we will keep on using them to save. They fit perfectly and cost nada. Savings here can run as much as $50 a year.
9. Buy generics
This is really a no-brainer. Generic products are often the same as the brand names, even made in the same factories. Buying generic can save you as much as 50% on things like canned veggies or shampoos or aspirin. Be willing to at least try some and you will find that with most you can’t tell any differences from those “expensive” brands. If you find even just a few items, you can save numbers like $5 a week on just veggies alone which adds up to over $100 a year!
10. Cancel your subscriptions
Besides the expense of magazines and newspapers, there’s also the storage and trash/recycling issues. With access to just about everything online, why do you need to have magazines all over the house? If you must read them, your local library has plenty of those to look at, any time you choose. Cancelling a newspaper delivery alone can save you $100 a year easily.
11. Stop smoking
Smoking is very unhealthy, but besides that, it is outrageously expensive. Giving it up is being very smart. If you smoke just one pack a day (average cost per pack in the U.S. is over $7), quitting will save you over $2,500 per year. Use the same approach to alcohol and/or illegal drugs to be safe and save both your money and your health.
12. Have a “no spend” day
A no spend day is exactly what it sounds like. Pick a day and just spend no money. Typically, on average about $5 a day is spent on things that can be avoided with a little discipline. That means no bagel and coffee, no newspapers, and no candy from the machine down in the breakroom. Get a little creative, use some discipline, and save as much as $200 per year when you implement this strategy.
13. Reuse things
Plastic zip bags, paper bags and tin foil are all reusable with just a little effort. You may have to rinse them off, but it is well worth it. Those things sometimes are really lightly used and just get tossed without thought. Saving just one zip bag item a day means that you can save over 30 boxes of 10 per year, on average $2 each or $60 annually. Besides, it’s good for the planet.
14. Use energy efficient lightbulbs
Energy efficient bulbs have been around for years now but many people are such creatures of habit they are missing this opportunity to save some long-term money. Although they cost more initially than traditional bulbs, replacing just 5 old filament ones with these new ones will save you $75 a year. You may as well join the trend now and start saving sooner rather than later!
15. Leave your credit cards at home
When you are out for a walk downtown, riding your bike, taking the kids to soccer practice or watching the game, don’t carry your credit cards with you. If you simply carry a few dollars for an emergency, you won’t be tempted to spend money needlessly on things you come across in your outdoor adventures. Take a water bottle filled with cold tap water from home and you’ll save as much as $1-$2 every time you do or $50 a year!
16. Meatless Mondays
The biggest expense in your food budget is typically the meat as your source of protein. Try making one day “meatless” by using beans, eggs, nuts, and fruits in your meals to save. It’s healthy and offers a pleasant change of pace too. Pasta easily does it for us (sans meatballs of course!) and will save you about $250 per year.
17. Buy a reuseable water bottle
I wish I had been the guy who thought of selling water in a plastic bottle! Imagine how many bottles are sold each year and—wait for it—it’s water! FYI, I looked it up and sales last year just in the U.S. were over $2.5 billion!
If you spend $1, $2 or even up to $4 on a bottle for water, I have some land to sell you in the Sahara desert! Simply buy a decent reuseable water bottle and fill it at home with tap water and you will save hundreds (as much as $200 a year). If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, try a filter.
Being creative and thinking outside of the box is not just a good idea, but it’s become a requirement in a world where things just keep getting more expensive every day. Some people go even further in altering their lifestyle to make ends meet, from “dumpster dives” to skipping on hygiene like bathing every other day and not washing your hair regularly. I hope that it doesn’t come to that with you and me and that my tips on “extreme” crazy ways to save won’t cause you total embarrassment! It may, however cause you to have an eyebrow raised when you try them!
Besides using coupons and budgeting as well as using money saving apps, what are you doing to go above and beyond to save money? Does the thought of taking sugar packs from McDonalds make you feel cheap or even like a thief? Do you see bargains and freebies around every corner and are you willing to look like a “cheapskate” if you do? What are some other weird and wacky ways you can think of to save?