- Personal Finance
How to Save Money on Daily Expenses
Times are tight and budgets are tough, but it’s easy to save money on your daily expenses. All tips won’t work for all people, so pick and choose from the tips below based on what works for you and your family.
Make It Yourself
Prepackaged meals can cost a bundle. For example, the freezer section is loaded with meals for two and other prepackaged family-sized meals. These tend to retail for $6-$12, but you could reproduce the meals yourself for half the price. As an advantage, you control the quality of ingredients, which means you not only get a cheaper product, you get a better quality product.
Coffee is much cheaper if you make it at home instead of buying it at Starbucks or some other coffee place. It’s also cheaper to bring a can of pop with you for in the car instead of stopping for a fountain pop or a bottle. However, if you’re one of the people who, like my husband, think fountain pop has some special quality to it (I think it’s the same as from the can), try buying a SodaStream. You can make the your own pop at home, which, after the cost of the machine, costs about 1/3 of the cost of cans, and far less than the cost of my husband’s former fountain-pop-a-day habit.
Freezer cooking saves time and money
Try Freezer Cooking
If the idea of cooking everyday is daunting or, based on your schedule, just unrealistic, consider freezer cooking. There are two common methods for freezer cooking. One option (the one I prefer) is to spend one long day preparing meals for a set period of time, usually ranging from a week to the month. Another option is to just double or triple batches when you do cook something and put the extra batches in the freezer. Making three batches is typically not much more extra work than making one, and you only have to clean up once! Instead of having to make something each night, pull something from the freezer and just heat it up.
Create a Stockpile (AKA Nevery Pay Full Price!)
Stores tend to cycle sales, so if pasta is on sale this week, the next really good sale tends to be about three months later. Instead of buying items whether or not they’re on sale, try buying items your family uses only when on sale (this works best for frozen and dry goods, not so much for things like milk). For example, if I can get cereal for a great price, I’m not going to just buy the one or two boxes my family will eat for the week. I’m going to buy enough to last the next few months. If an average box of cereal costs $3.50, and I can get cereal for $1, I’ll buy 20 boxes, which will cost me $20, a savings of $50! Initially, stockpiling can cost a bit more ($20 for 20 boxes is more out of pocket at the moment than $7 for two boxes), but you’ll quickly notice the savings after a couple months—basically once you’ve gone through one store “cycle.” Be aware of expiration dates, and don't buy more than your family can reasonably use, otherwise you're not saving money.
While you might not want to stockpile clothes (that might lead to hoarding, so unless you want an A&E special, try to avoid that), just like with food items, it’s best to not pay full price for clothes. Stores like JC Penny’s and Kohls have sales all the time. Better yet, wait until the end of season clearances and pay just a fraction of the original price. Buy classic items that will always be in style to make your items last longer.
Coupons can save you lots of money. People tend to think couponing takes tons of time, which it can, but if you do it right, you can save money with very little work. I follow blogs, like Money Saving Mom, Deal Seeking Mom, and Saving Addiction, which track the sales for me. They tell me what coupons to use and where to find the coupons (either what newspaper insert or where online). They do all the hard work. All you have to do is make sure you get the coupons by either buying the paper (I buy multiple papers when it’s a coupon-heavy week), or, if you don’t want to do the cutting, you can even order your coupons online at TheCouponClippers.com. They’ll send you the coupons you plan to use for a small fee to cover their time and shipping expenses.
Coupons aren’t just for groceries and health and beauty items, either. You can use coupons at restaurants, bookstores, car repair places, and many other locations.
Play the "Drugstore Game"
The drugstore game involves shopping at drugstores like Walgreens, CVS, and RiteAid, all of which issue coupons that you can use on future purchases. For example, at Walgreens you can buy an item, we’ll use toothpaste as an example, for $2, and they’ll give you a $1.50 coupon (called Register Rewards at Walgreens) to use on a future purchase. Couple that with a coupon, and you could end up getting the item for free or even making money on it! Playing the drugstore game makes it so that I don’t ever pay for things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, deodorant, or men’s razors, in addition to getting other items free or next to free. (Note: This step couples very well with using coupons, though you could still get a substantial savings if you don’t use coupons as long as you do use your Register Rewards or other store coupons.)
Mastering the Drugstore Game at CVS (these tips work for Walgreens, too)
Mystery shopping is a great way to save money on items. Many mystery shopping services provide opportunities for you to go out to eat. Where I live, Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Texas Roadhouse are common options. Fast food options like McDonalds are also available. In larger cities, better quality restaurants are also available, as well as other opportunities, like nice hotels. Another common shop we do is for the movie theater. Restaurant shops tend to just reimburse you for your meal (up to a certain dollar amount), and we pay tip. We usually can make a bit of money going to the movie theater. Mystery shopping helps us to fund our date nights.
Buy Used and Save the Difference
Instead of buying something new and paying a small fortune for it, consider buying used, where you can save a considerable amount of money. Cars are a classic example of how much an item depreciates once it leaves the lot, but so many other items lose value, too, as soon as they “leave the lot.” Furniture and other household items, as well as clothes, can be purchased used at a significant discount. Try shopping thrift or consignment stores or yard sales. You can check out websites like ebay, too. Craigslist is another great option. You can both post items you want to buy for sellers to contact you, and you can buy items from people who have posted their items for sale. You can also try live auctions if you have any in your area.
Take Advantage of Rebates
Companies offer rebates on all sorts of items—everything from cereal to make up to household items. Rebates can allow you to try new items or get items you need for free or very little money. This week alone I’ve been able to purchase concealer make up, frozen pizza, two boxes of cereal, chicken, lotion, and crackers, and all will be free or close to free because of rebates. My main cost is a stamp and sales tax, both of which I’m more than willing to pay for more than $30 in savings.
Some stores offer rebates in the form of merchandise checks (meaning the rebate must be used there at the store instead of giving you cash back). Menards is a great example. Each week they have numerous items you can get for free or at a big discount after rebate. Staples does this as well. You can get a merchandise check for rebate-specific items, but they also reward you for your total store spending over the quarter. These store rebates can be great if they are at stores you consistently visit.
If it’s not something you need on a regular basis, consider borrowing it. If a friend of yours has a tool you need for just this one project, ask to borrow it instead of spending money on something you won’t be using again. Likewise, if you don’t reread books, a library is a great alternative to the bookstore. You can also borrow movies, audio books, and cds from the library.
Try trading items you don’t need for items you do need (or just want). You could trade clothes with a friend or swap children’s toys. Sites like Paperbackswap.com allow you to trade books with others from around the country. You just pay shipping, which is much cheaper than paying full price for the book.
Don't Spend Money
The best way to save money is to not spend it. Now, of course, there are some things you must spend money on—I’m not advocating that you not pay your bills or gas up your vehicle to get to work, but don’t spend money on any non-essentials. Try going a week without shopping at all. No new clothes. No nights out for drinks. No grocery shopping (because really, most families could make do with what’s in the freezer, fridge, and cupboards for a week). Try doing this once every month or so, and the savings will add up.
Frugal Living Links
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- The Drugstore Game: Saving Money at Walgreens
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