Saving money is crucial. Maybe you’re trying to buy a home or move to a new place. Maybe you have a big purchase in mind, or need extra cash for holiday gifts. For many people, it’s not that they don’t want to save money, but that they don’t know where to begin.
When it comes to savings, experts say that a good rule of thumb is having the equivalent of six-to-eight months of expenses set aside in an emergency fund. However, many Americans simply aren’t making it happen — a 2018 Bankrate survey showed that only 29% of Americans had at least six months of expenses saved, and according to the Economic Policy Institute, almost half of American families have nothing in retirement savings.
Our money-saving tips — from finding discounts to simple changes to your daily habits — can come in handy whether you have a specific savings goal, want to stash away cash for retirement, or just want to pinch pennies. It’s never too late to be more financially savvy.
1. Try cash-back rebate websites and apps
What’s a rebate site? Services like Wikibuy, Rakuten, and Paribus have affiliate links and when you make purchases through those links, they get a small percentage of the sale. As an incentive, they’ll pay back some percentage to the buyer — that’s you — in cash, gift card points, or other rewards.
2. Use coupon plug-ins
If you shop a lot online, check out coupon plug-ins. These applications run in the background and, when you go to make a purchase, will search to make sure you aren’t missing out on any coupons, deals, or sale codes. Honey and WikiBuy are among two of the more popular services.
3. Consider using a certificate of deposit
If you deposit your money into a certificate of deposit (CD) for a fixed period, the bank will pay a higher-than-usual interest rate. When the term is up, snag your money, plus the interest it earned. The risk is relatively low, as CDs are insured up to $250,000, and there are options for CDs that don’t incur a penalty for pulling out money early.
4. Turn off the lights, switch off the power strip
If you’re not using it, don’t keep it powered on. A lot goes into calculating exactly how much money is saved by turning off a light bulb. But it never hurts your wallet, or the environment, to flip off a switch if you don’t need the light, and the same goes for power strips providing energy to devices that aren’t in use.
5. Eat at home and pack food to go
Restaurants price food at about three times the actual cost of making it. That $15 salad you’re eating for lunch could cost $5 to put together at home. To take it a step further, invest in some sturdy plastic food containers to carry food for lunch and snacks.
6. Cut cable and get an antenna
Cable or satellite TV can be pricey. If you mostly watch streaming services and rarely flip channels, consider canceling your subscription and setting up a TV antenna. TVs have built-in tuners and, with the addition of an inexpensive antenna, you can catch the local signal. Here’s Trent Hamm on 12 Ways to Watch TV After Cutting Cable.
7. Cancel unused subscriptions
Are magazines and newspapers piling up? Call in and cancel the subscriptions, see if you can read some of it for free through your library, or consolidate it with a single subscription for a news service like Apple News or Scribd. Likewise, scrub your monthly payments for any digital subscriptions you forgot to cancel. And yes, there are apps for that, like Truebill.
8. Buy used
Buying secondhand clothes, dishware, furniture, and more can save a bundle. You’ll be surprised—many supposedly “used” goods are nearly new. Cars might be the best value in this department. Not only do used cars average $14,000 less than new ones, insurance rates are also lower.
9. Borrow instead of buy
Do you go camping just once a year and need a new tent? Need a tree trimmer, but only for a one-time gardening project? Or maybe you’re doing some unusual handiwork around the house and need a specialized tool? Instead of buying these items, consider borrowing. Ask family or friends if they have the item you need, check out a tool lending library, or use a lending app like Mooch.
10. … or, Buy Nothing
The Buy Nothing Project started among the small community on Bainbridge Island, Washington. People who wanted to declutter could offer free stuff, and people who wanted to save money lucked out. Since then, the project has expanded throughout the United States, with chapters congregating on Facebook and other social media platforms to offer all sorts of free goods.
11. Sell your stuff online
Downsizing? If there are items you don’t want to give away, consider selling them online. Internet marketplaces have made it easy to have your own virtual garage sale. You could post a classified-style ad on Facebook or Craigslist, sell handmade goods on Etsy, or post your trendy clothes on Poshmark.
12. Move bank accounts
Take advantage of bank perks, make your money work for you, and earn more interest. There are many ways to do this. If you open a new account with a bank, it often offers promotional bonuses in the form of a one-time cash perk. Alternatively, there may be better account options at your current bank that offer better interest rates. Consult with an advisor to talk through your options.
13. Make a budget
Saving money and curbing spending starts with making a budget. Budgets allow you to plan for financial goals and to see where you may be spending more than you think. Keep a spreadsheet to track your goals and spending, or download a budgeting app. These apps connect with your financial institutions to automatically track spending.
Instead of splurging on new items, consider what you can make at home, what home improvements you can do yourself, and what older items you can repair. Learn to sew or patch clothes, watch YouTube tutorials for a household fix, or even learn how to paint walls or build outdoor fixtures. Only make repairs within reason, of course — electrical work or car repair can be dangerous, so practice caution — but this can be a big money-saver.
15. Check out the local library
Bored? Go to the library. Not only is it a great alternative to buying books, but libraries often offer digital copies of e-books, audiobooks, and movies. Plus, some libraries offer no-cost events and book groups. You can’t beat free!
16. Get a smart thermostat
Yes, you’ll have to spend upfront for a smart thermostat. However, this installation can bring savings down the line. Smart thermostats keep your home temperature as low as possible, and fluctuate with your needs and with the season, working automatically to conserve energy. And users can fiddle with the settings to reduce power as much as possible. Savings will depend on the size of your house, whether you live in an area with extreme temperatures, and how often you use it.
17. Attend free online events
With many people observing social-distancing guidelines and foregoing travel plans, there are plenty of opportunities to attend free virtual events online. Since March, dozens of museums, Broadway theater companies, opera houses, and performers have made cultural events free to the public across hundreds of websites. Taking a free virtual tour of a museum, catching a replay of an iconic Broadway performance, or even hopping into a free cooking class are all ways to expand your horizons without spending a dime.
18. Start a garden
Even a simple garden requires an investment of labor and money upfront. However, if you’re willing to put in the work to build your own containers and haul in soil, it can be an inexpensive way to have delicious, healthy food. And, while you can buy seedlings from a store, you can also get seeds for free or a small fee from a seed library.
19. Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk is typically far cheaper than buying one-off products. However, make sure that, if you’re buying a membership to a warehouse club, you’ll go there frequently enough for it to pay off. This is where budgeting is helpful. If you don’t have a huge household, buy supplies that won’t quickly expire. Some great items to buy in bulk include diapers, toiletries, rice or dry beans and canned goods.
20. Pay your bills
Don’t waste money on interest or late fees. Paying off bills and debt should be the priority for your budget. Set up autopay, or, if you fear risking overdraft fees, set calendar reminders to make sure you pay on time. As a bonus, paying off bills in a timely fashion can improve your credit score.
21. Take advantage of discounts
Are you a student, a senior, or a veteran? Always check to see if you can get a discount at the movies, theater performances, retailers, or even small grocers. There are also membership services, such as The American Legion or AARP, which provide even more discounts to hotels, insurance, auto rentals, and more.
22. Work from home
While this isn’t a possibility for everyone, working from home can result in big savings. According to FlexJobs, the average person saves $4,000 per year by working from home because of cash saved on commuting, work clothes, lunches, and more. Even if full-time remote working isn’t possible, working from home one or two days a week can make a big difference.
23. Buy generic
Many generic products are almost identical to their name brand counterparts. Consumer Reports’ research shows that generic products typically save 25% and, according to a taste test conducted with 19 products, are very similar to the more expensive name brands. Decides food, you can buy generic brands of allergy medicine, paper products, sunscreen, and more.
24. Curb impulse buys
Remember that age-old trick of freezing a credit card in a block of ice? While that’s a little extreme, there are mental tactics you can learn to stop impulse purchases. Create a system to slow down before you hit the “purchase” button online. Wipe any saved credit card information from your internet browser, so you have to input it manually. Before you make your purchase, ask why you’re buying it and how often you’ll use it. Consider waiting a week before making the purchase to see if you want it or if the itch subsides.
25. Shop big-ticket items at holiday time
Need a new car, mattress, television, or another major purchase? Wait until the holidays. Retailers often offer big savings over Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day weekend, and, of course, Black Friday or Cyber Monday.