You don’t need anyone to tell you that you should be saving money — I think we’re all aware of that by now. In an economy where most people don’t have piles of extra cash just sitting around, waiting to be funneled off into a savings account, what you could use are some real tips for actually finding the extra cash to put away.
I might just lose my mind if I hear one more person recommend making your own coffee or bundling services. No one buys a $5 Mocha Chip Frappuccino every single morning and my mom is the only person I know who still has a landline.
So here are 31 ways to save money on common expenses — and in some cases, actually earn a little extra cash — for real people who don’t want to live like penny-pinching hermits. And we’re not just talking $2 here and $7 dollars there — you can save one extra Benjamin this month alone. In fact, there are enough tips here to save $100 a day for the entire month if you’re really ambitious.
31 Easy Ways to Save Money
1. Pack a lunch every other day. When most of my weeknight dinners consist of frozen pizzas or protein shakes, you can bet I don’t want to sit in the break room with a depressing sandwich at lunchtime. However, limiting lunches out to every other workday is a simple way to save $5 to $15 per meal — easily $100 over the course of a month.
2. Borrow a dress or suit. With friends’ weddings, corporate conferences, maybe even girls’ (or boys’) nights out, it can be easy to find an excuse to buy a dress or suit every month. But unless you plan to wear that garment several more times in the future, it’s not really worth the expense. If you have an event coming up, just borrow a nice outfit from a close friend or rent one for the day — yes, ladies, you can rent dresses.
3. Clean out your closet. You know you have clothes in the depths of your closet and dresser drawers that will never be worn again. Maybe they’re not your style or don’t fit anymore. If you have some fairly nice stuff, you can take it all to Buffalo Exchange or similar retailers for cash on the spot. Tip: Washing and hanging everything nicely will increase your chances of making a sale, as will bringing in items that are in season.
4. Let your roots show. Getting your hair professionally colored is ridiculously expensive, especially if you’re a brunette living as a platinum blond. If you dare, perform your own at-home touch up, or simply wait eight weeks instead of four. The ombre hair trend is in right now, anyway.
5. Add an automatic transfer. Here’s an easy way to save without cutting a single expense: Set up an automatic transfer of $25 per week from your checking account to your savings account. I guarantee you won’t miss the money.
6. Skip the bars this weekend. By the time you take a cab, grab a bite to eat, order a few rounds of drinks and cab back home, you’re looking at an expensive night out on the town. Pick a Friday or Saturday night to stay in, order take out and have some friends over, each bringing along their favorite refreshment.
7. Clean your own house. Some of us don’t have the luxury of employing household help, but there are plenty of people who spend at least $100 on a house cleaner every month. Try cleaning up after yourself just once — you’ll save a lot of cash and gain a greater appreciation for all your maid does for you.
8. Put a freeze on your gym membership. A number of personal finance experts always point to the gym membership as the first expense that should be cut. Sorry, I love my gym, as expensive as it is. If you’re in need of extra savings this month, freeze your membership instead of cancelling it. This will allow you to resume your fitness routine in the future without having to pay sign-up fees again.
9. Buy your plane tickets a month early. Booking last-minute travel is an easy way to pay an extra $100 or more. If you know you will be traveling for the holidays, buy your tickets now.
10. Refinance your mortgage. Mortgage rates keep falling to new lows, and those who financed their homes even just a few years ago can stand to cut a couple of percentage points off their interest rates by refinancing. That translates to big savings on monthly mortgage payments.
11. Go on a fiscal fast. Don’t spend any money for a week. You will save far more than $100.
12. Take on a freelance assignment. Whether you’re a great writer, designer, tailor or have another skill people pay for, lend your services to earn a quick $100 this month.
13. Make a list before heading to the grocery store. I’m guilty of heading to the store hungry and unprepared, wandering each aisle in search of what I “need.” It’s amazing how planning a list of purchases before each weekly shopping trip will prevent me from coming home with an extra bag filled with Kettle chips, Jones soda and frozen CPK pizzas.
14. Quit smoking already. You don’t need me to explain the financial benefits of quitting.
15. Buy a water filter. Bottled water is one of the most wasteful products you can spend money on — get a filter and reuse an aluminum water bottle. This is environmentally conscious, as well.
16. Cancel your PMI. If you purchased your home with less than a 20 percent down payment, you might have enough equity now to cancel your expensive private mortgage insurance.
17. Have a yard sale. I’ll be the first one to admit that putting together a yard sale is a giant pain, but it’s really worth the trouble once you clear your house of clutter and have extra cash in your pocket.
18. Transfer your credit card balance. Expensive credit card interest will eat up the money that could be going toward savings. Seek out a credit card company offering a promotional 0% balance transfer and move your existing balance to the new card. The catch: You have to pay off your debt during the introductory period or you’ll be back at square one.
19. Go meatless. Have you ever compared the price between a pound of ground beef and a can of beans? There’s a huge difference. You don’t have to live off tofu to save money, but swapping two meat-based meals a week to vegetarian options will save a ton on food costs.
20. Buy your jeans at a discount retailer. I wholeheartedly admit that I’m a denim snob. You will not see me wearing anything other than Paige, Joe’s or True Religion. You also won’t see me pay anything close to retail price for my designer denim. If you’re just as picky about your jeans, buy them from stores like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and Loehmann’s, where denim is usually discounted by at least $100.
21. Use an HSA. If medical expenses are eating up your monthly budget, look into opening a health savings account (HSA). These accounts allow you to deposit pretax money, much like a 401(k), to be used to cover out-of-pocket medical costs. Restrictions apply, so find out if you qualify.
22. Start an Amazon store. Man Vs. Debt community manager, Joan Otto, writes that she began selling old books and DVDs through an Amazon store and now brings in $180 a month on average.
23. Collect your debts. Someone probably owes you money. Time for them to pay up.
24. Try bartering. Yes, bartering. People really do exchange goods and services instead of cash, and they are saving a ton of money on everything from haircuts to child care.
25. Sell your unused gift cards. It’s essentially cash just sitting around untouched — sell gift cards you haven’t used and put the money in your savings account.
26. Trade in video games. Whether you’re an avid gamer or have kids with Xbox controllers surgically attached to their hands, we all know the $60 game that was the hottest thing you could own last month has all but been forgotten in favor of the next. Game Stop will buy used games in store, or you can try listing them on Half.com.
27. Have movie night with Redbox. Date night at the movies is easily $40 if you buy two tickets, popcorn and drinks. Go out a couple of times and throw in one DVD purchase, and you’ve spent about $100 just to watch a few movies. Redbox lets you rent movies for $1 per day — enough said.
28. Switch to generic prescriptions. Kiplinger.com reports that making the switch from name-brand to generic prescriptions can save you thousands per year on the cost of medication, as well as co-pays.
29. In fact, go generic on food and cosmetics, too. You know there’s no real difference between Cheerios and Safeway Toasted Oats, so why pay an extra $4 per box? Same goes for most drugstore makeup — my favorite brand NYX is just as good as Mac at a fraction of the cost. Sure, a few products are hit or miss, but overall, switching to generic brands when shopping can save 20 percent or more.
30. Drop cable for Hulu or Netflix. How many hours a day do you waste sitting in front of the TV? Better yet, how much money are you wasting paying for premium cable? Hulu Plus and Netflix are only about $8 a month, and you’ll become much more productive once you no longer have 1,200 channels to flip through all day.
31. Order your glasses online. There’s no law that says you have to buy your frames from your optometrist’s office. After an eye exam, take your prescription and shop online for a deeply discounted pair of frames. There won’t be a friendly assistant to ensure they fit just right, but hey, you’re saving serious dough!
Photo credit: 401(K) 2012