The winter months can wreak havoc on your finances. From holiday spending to high heating bills, there are plenty of ways your expenses can spiral out of control.
Fortunately, there are money saving tips that can help you keep down costs and actually boost your savings. Use these strategies to save money during the winter months.
1. Make a List, Check It Twice
“Knowing your total budget is one thing, but you also need to set spending maximums for specific items on your list,” said Carla Dearing, an investor at Portfolia. Figure out the biggest expenses first for your personal lifestyle.
Also, make sure everyone close to you is aware of your budget. “Share your thinking with your family beforehand so that you have support for the decisions and choices you’ll be making,” Dearing said.
2. Add Financial Goals to Your List
You also can save money by making your financial well-being a priority. “Make a list of good personal finance things you can do,” said Tim Hong, chief product officer of MoneyLion, a personal finance app. For example, paying down debt with higher interest rates.
3. Use Apps for Planning and Budgeting
Technology can help you stick to your budget and ensure that you save money. If you’re not already using a personal finance app such as Mint, it can help you keep track of spending year-round. “You can ask Mint to send you a notification if you’re nearing your budget in a certain category, such as shopping,” said Jon Lal, CEO of cash-back shopping website BeFrugal.com.
4. Automate Your Savings
One of the easiest money-saving tips to implement is to automate savings. If you want to make sure you continue to set aside money in savings, set up automatic transfers from your checking account to a savings account. “If automate it, you don’t have to think about it,” Hong said.
If you’re not sure how much you can afford to save each month, you could let an app do the work for you. For example, if you link your credit or debit card to the Acorns app, it will round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically invest your spare change. And MoneyLion Plus analyzes members’ cash flow to determine when to set aside money from their checking account into an investment account. Membership costs $19 per month, but you can get reimbursed $1 for each day you log into the MoneyLion app.
5. Resist the Urge To Raid Your Emergency Fund
If you’ve made the smart financial move to save money in an emergency fund, remember what it’s there for: emergencies. However, it’s easy to forget this at times. Be careful, though, not to deplete your stash of cash. “Tap your emergency fund for…spending only to the extent that you know you will be able to replenish it right away,” Dearing said. “Remember, this is your cushion for unexpected expenses and should be six months’ worth of expenses.”
6. Use Cash
If you want to save money use cash rather than credit. Consumers tend to spend more when using credit cards than cash because there’s not a feeling of loss, the New York Times reports.
Set aside a specified amount of cash you need to get through each week. When the cash runs out, you’re done spending.
7. Cash In Credit Card Rewards
If you’ve been stockpiling credit card reward points, now is a great time to redeem them for cash or gift cards to help cover spending.
8. Schedule a Home Energy Audit
Before it gets too cold, have a professional energy engineer review your house and make specific recommendations to improve its energy efficiency. “In many locations, this may be available for free,” said Ari Green, cofounder of Zone1Energy, a third-party energy supplier. “But even where it is not, if the energy professional finds even one problem, it may pay for the cost of the analysis many times over.”
9. Lower Your Thermostat at Night
“While we may like to fall asleep in a nice toasty bed, we do not need to maintain that temperature while we are sleeping,” Green said. By lowering your thermostat 7 degrees to 10 degrees eight hours a day, you can save up to 10% a year on heating and cooling, according to Energy.gov.
“Program your thermostat to lower the temperature 30 minutes after you expect to fall asleep, and then raise it again 15 minutes before you plan on waking up,” Green said. “Your body will never know the difference, but your wallet will.”
10. Get a Side Gig
If you can’t devote several hours a week to a part-time seasonal job, you still can bring in extra cash with a side gig. Here are some sites where you can find work on the side:
TaskRabbit: Lists chores for hire such as cleaning, running errands, packing boxes and assembling furniture.
Rover: Connects dog walkers and sitters to pet owners.
Fiverr: Lists creative side jobs, such as graphic design, writing and digital marketing.
These money-making opportunities are usually flexible and don’t require a ton of effort. Plus, you’ll have more money to spend — or even better, to save — this winter season.
11. Recycle Your Gadgets
You can help fund or cover bills in the winter months by selling your unwanted tech gadgets. Websites such as Gazelle make it easy to get an offer for a smartphone, tablet or computer, ship it for free and get paid.
Or you can trade in your old video games, consoles, phone, tablets and electronic accessories to a GameStop location for cash or a store credit.
12. Always Get Free Shipping
“There are more ways than ever to get your online order shipped for free,” Lal of BeFrugal said. For example, you can do your online shopping at stores that offer free shipping, or Lal said you can take advantage of retailers such as Walmart that will ship online purchases to their stores for free, and you can pick them up.
Also, check for free shipping coupon code offers on coupon sites such as BeFrugal and RetailMeNot.
13. Get a Free Amazon Prime Membership
If you’re enrolled in Amazon Prime, you can get free two-day shipping on many purchases. But you have to pay a $139 annual fee for that benefit.
If you don’t want to shell out for the membership but want to get free shipping, you can sign up for the Amazon Prime free trial. As a Prime member, you’ll also get early access to Amazon’s “Lightning Deals” and deals of the day. And you can stream videos from the Amazon Prime library to keep you entertained on cold winter nights.
14. Get Compensated for Late Deliveries
The last thing you want is for online purchases to arrive late — especially if you’ve paid for shipping. But it does happen.
However, if you use the free Paribus app, its delivery monitoring feature will track the delivery of purchases made at Amazon and Walmart. If packages are delivered late, the app will help customers get compensated with refunds on shipping costs or even free months of Amazon Prime.
15. Get Cash Back When You Shop Online
You can put money back into your wallet as you shop online if you use cash-back sites such as Ebates or BeFrugal. You can earn up to 40% cash back by shopping through these portals at the thousands of retailers they partner with.
For example, you can earn 6% cash back on purchases at Macy’s when you click through BeFrugal, Lal said. “Click ‘shop now’ and then complete your purchase at Macys.com like you normally would,” he said. “You’ll see your shopping activity in a free account at the cash-back website, and you can request payment via PayPal, check or gift card. It’s essentially free money, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can accumulate savings.”
16. Stack Savings
To get the best price on gifts or other purchases you make this winter, take advantage of all the discounts that are available. “Combine a great deal with a coupon code for free shipping or a percentage off your total purchase, or stack a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon,” Lal said.
You can stack even further when you shop online through a cash-back website, he said. You also could use a discounted gift card to get additional savings.
16. Get Refunds for Price Drops
Several retailers offer price adjustments if an item you buy at full price is marked down within a certain number of days from the purchase date. Macy’s, for example, guarantees that customers get the best price on their purchase if it changes within 10 days, Glyman said.
“That means if you buy an item from Macy’s for $100, and it goes on sale 10 days later for $50, you are entitled to a $50 refund,” he said. But you have to bring it to the retailer’s attention and show your receipt. However, you can avoid that hassle by using the free Paribus app, which tracks your purchases and files price-adjustment claims for you to get you a refund.
17. Know the Best Day To Shop for Deals
You can save money by knowing the best days to shop, which depend less on the retailer and more on the category of goods, Glyman said. Check out this roundup by day to know when to score the best price:
Monday: Electronics, sunglasses and dress pants
Tuesday: Men’s clothing, movie tickets, and plane tickets
Wednesday: Jewelry, shoes, children’s clothing, and groceries
Thursday: Handbags and clothing
Friday: Accessories like belts and scarves
Saturday: Books, outerwear and underwear
Sunday: Appliances, swimwear and personal care items
“If you don’t want to plan your week around the whims of your favorite stores, your best bet is Monday, the overall winner for the lowest prices,” Glyman said. This is the day when retailers blast out coupon codes and discounts to get your attention for the coming week.
18. Use Browser Extensions To Save
You don’t need to do a ton of online research to find the best prices. There are several browser extensions that automatically do the searching for you.
Glyman recommends using the Invisible Hand browser extension that notifies you if there are lower prices available on the product, flight, hotel or rental car you’re shopping for online and provides a link to the lowest price. Honey is another browser extension that automatically finds and applies coupon codes for you at checkout with a single click.
19. Go Incognito
Private browsing — also known as “incognito mode” — is available in browsers such as Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox. You can use this feature to browse the internet anonymously and uncover coupons you’ve already used, or coupons only available to new visitors. For example, some sites will show pop-ups offering 10% to 15% off for first-time visitors.
You can also use this trick to do price comparisons on Amazon. Sometimes, Amazon shows different prices to new users and Prime members.
20. Donate To Charity
Donations to charity improve the lives of people, animals and the world. They help you avoid spending money on junk and offer tax savings when you file your tax return.
Not every charitable donation is tax-deductible, though. The organization generally must fall under the 501(c)(3) section of the law, and the donation must be made by Dec. 31 to count for the tax year. Plus, you must itemize on your tax return to write off your charitable contribution.
21. Hit Up Thrift Stores
Thrift stores are full of hidden treasures. If you’re hosting dinner guests, pick up inexpensive china and flatware. You’ll also find secondhand clothing, and unique gifts, such as vintage records or old books.
22. Stay Busy
Boredom can lead to overspending, so keep your winter schedule full enough to leave little time for shopping. Keep a list of activities you can do when you get the urge to splurge:
1. Clean out the fridge
2. Listen to a podcast
3. Call a friend
4. Walk the dog
5. Write someone a letter
6. Organize your files
7. Clear out your inbox
All of these activities can distract you long enough for the urge to shop to pass.
23. Drive Rather Than Fly
Driving makes it easier to avoid peak pricing and baggage fees, which can easily push up the cost of air travel. You can use apps such as Fuel Log to estimate and budget your gas costs. GasBuddy can help you find the cheapest price per gallon while you’re on the road.
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Morgan Quinn contributed to the reporting for this article.
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