Savvy shoppers might be the masters of coupon cutting and buying on a budget, but those aren’t the only ways to save money. If you don’t take advantage of all the life hacks available to you, you’re essentially leaving free cash on the table.
With a little effort and creativity, you can cut hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year from your budget. Plus, if you handle a few small items on your to-do list that you’ve been putting off, you can even find ways to earn more money without working more.
Last updated: March. 13, 2020
1. Scan Grocery Receipts for Cash Back
You can save money on groceries by using smartphone apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51, which give you cash back on grocery store purchases. All you have to do is scan the receipts after you shop. You could easily earn $5 or more a week for just a couple minutes of your time.
2. Buy Prescription Drugs at Costco Without a Membership
Membership warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco have good prices on prescription drugs — and you don’t have to be a member to buy them. So, take advantage of Costco’s low prices on doctor-prescribed meds without shelling out $60 or more a year to join the club.
3. Consolidate Your Debt
If you’ve racked up high-interest credit card debt or were hit with pricey medical bills after an unexpected emergency, you don’t have to keep suffering. An easy way to cut costs and potentially save big is by consolidating these high-interest debts through a personal loan.
For example, if you apply for a personal loan through PenFed, you could be looking at an annual percentage rate as low as 6.49%¹, whereas the average APR across all credit card accounts was 14.87% in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the Federal Reserve. Depending on how much you owe, that could add up to big savings over the term of the loan.
4. Get More Ink Out of Your Printer
If your printer is out of black ink or toner, change the text color to dark blue — you’ll be able to print a couple more times before purchasing a refill. Additionally, avoid thick, ink-wasting fonts in favor of slimmer ones like Arial and Courier New.
5. Ditch Your Low-Interest Savings Account
If you’re still using your first savings account, chances are you’re getting a low interest rate. The national average savings account interest rate is 0.09% APY, as of Feb. 21, 2020, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. With a rate like that you’d only earn about $22 on a $25,000 balance … which isn’t much. Meanwhile, some high-yield savings accounts offer rates of 1.70% APY and higher. With that APY, if you deposit the same $25,000 and leave it there for a year, you’ll earn an extra $425 for doing nothing. Failing to open a high-interest savings account means you’re saying “no thanks” to free money — and why would you do that?
6. Shop With Discount Gift Cards
Want to get cheap or even free gift cards? Gift card exchange websites sell discounted gift cards for all your favorite retailers — and for less than their remaining value. Stock up and use them instead of cash for your future purchases.
7. Carry Cash
Research shows that if you pay in cash rather than with a credit card, you’ll spend less. Take this tip one step further and only carry large bills like $50s or $100s, which are hard to break — it’ll keep you from making impulse purchases.
8. Skip the Rental Car Insurance
A lot of private auto insurance policies and many major credit cards provide coverage for rental cars, particularly when rented for personal use instead of business. Check the policies to make sure, but chances are good that you can save money on your car rental and skip the expensive insurance coverage the company offers.
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9. Make a DIY Cleaner
You can make an inexpensive, all-purpose household cleaner by loosely filling a heat-resistant glass container with leftover citrus peels and adding equal parts boiling water and white vinegar. Cover the mixture and let it sit for a week before straining it into spray bottles.
10. Find Alternative Payment Methods for Big Events
When big life events like a wedding, moving or a special vacation pop up, it can be hard to find the funds to pay for them. And when it’s hard to find the funds, it can be really tempting to use a credit card. But you might want to think twice before charging a big expense because that can come with big interest rates.
Instead, consider paying in a different way, like with a personal loan. A personal loan, such as one through PenFed, allows you to apply for funds of up to $25,000, which would be enough for many major life events. And if you choose to go this way instead of with a credit card, you can potentially save on the APR and set a repayment term that works best for you.
11. Save by Using a Clothesline
Go back in time and dry your clothes on an old-fashioned clothesline. According to The Simple Dollar, you would save almost $10 for every hour you spend hanging up your laundry — plus you’ll save on the cost of dryer sheets and your clothes will last much longer. If you need to buy a new dryer, wait until Labor Day to get the best deals.
12. Opt For the Thriftier Swiffer
Has your Swiffer WetJet run dry? Remove the cap from the fluid canister and fill it with a cheaper, concentrated cleaner mixed with water, rather than buying another Swiffer-branded bottle. You can also save by using dryer sheets — new or even used — instead of Swiffer sheets for your Sweeper.
13. Get an Extra Potato for Free
When buying prebagged produce — like a 10-pound bag of potatoes, onions or apples — always weigh the bags before selecting the one you want to purchase. The weight marked on the bag is the minimum required by law, and some bags will likely weigh in higher, even though they cost the same.
14. Pour Kool-Aid in Your Toilet
Pour a package of dark-colored Kool-Aid, like grape or strawberry, in the tank of your toilet and don’t flush it for an hour. Then, check your toilet bowl. If the water changes color, you know you have a slow leak that’s wasting water — and money. Fortunately, you can usually fix these leaks easily and cheaply.
15. Skip the Shopping Cart
When you run into the grocery store to “pick up a few items,” carry them in your arms instead of using a cart or shopping basket. By forcing yourself to hold your purchases, you’ll be less likely to buy things you didn’t intend to buy and don’t truly need.
16. Ask For Free Upgrades — Don’t Book Them in Advance
Use this trick to upgrade your vacation for free: Reserve a standard rental car or hotel room and then politely ask for a free upgrade when you arrive. If one is available, it’s usually a pretty easy score.
17. Get a Closer, Cheaper Shave
When your multitrack disposable razor gets dull, try pushing the blade a dozen or so times against your thigh while wearing a pair of blue jeans. This will realign and sharpen the blades, giving you more shaves for your buck.
18. Skip the Shaving Cream
Skip the expensive shaving cream and lather up with a bar of bath soap instead. Invest in an old-fashioned bristle brush, and you’ll get the cleanest and cheapest shave available, sans cream.
19. Install a Faucet Filter
Spend a few bucks to install a faucet water filtration system and reap the rewards all year. These easy-to-use filters trap sediment and reduce chlorine and other contaminants, so the water tastes fresher. As an added bonus, cutting out plastic water bottles is good for your budget and the environment.
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20. Zip Pants Before Washing
Always remember to zip up your jeans and other garments that have metal zippers before laundering them. Those little metal teeth are like miniature chainsaws, tearing up and ruining other expensive clothing in the washer and dryer.
21. Save Rainwater
Installing a rain barrel to provide water for your lawn and garden can save you a barrel of money on your water bills. Conserving water is also eco-friendly, and many municipal governments now offer tax and other incentives to encourage homeowners to reduce stormwater runoff.
22. Sync Your Sleep Schedule With Daylight
Adjusting your sleep schedule to better coincide with daylight hours will allow you to save on daily electrical usage. Plus, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
23. Save on a Gym Membership
Some health insurance plans offer reimbursements or discounts on gym memberships. Benefits vary by provider, so check with your insurance provider to see if you’re eligible.
24. Be Prepared With Options for Unexpected Expenses
Pretty much everyone faces unexpected expenses, whether you have a medical emergency or need repairs done to your car. If you’re lucky, you’ll have enough money saved up to pay for these expenses, but not everyone is lucky. That’s why it’s important to plan now for what you would do if you were hit with an expense you couldn’t afford. Because if you aren’t ready, you might have to skip getting the necessary work done or you could face fees and more on an unpaid bill.
One option you have is taking out a personal loan to pay off the unexpected expense now. By using a personal loan, you’ll be able to gain immediate access to your funds once approved, which can help you to pay off these unplanned bills as soon as possible. Then to handle the debt of the bills, you’ll be able to pay the personal loan off over time, which you could possibly do in 36, 48 or 60 months.
25. Insulate Your Outlets
Stop heat loss and drafts with inexpensive, easy-to-install foam insulating gaskets on the back of electrical wall switches and outlets.
26. Make a Slow Cooker Humidifier
Cooking more meals at home in a slow cooker will save you some major bucks. But you can also use a slow cooker in the winter to add humidity to the air and stretch the heat in your home. Just keep it filled with water, with the lid off and the temperature set to low. It won’t cost much to operate, and house guests will be really curious about the steaming slow cooker in your bedroom.
27. Buy Granny’s Electric Teapot
You might make fun of your grandma for her electric tea kettle, but the fact is granny knows best. When boiling just a small amount of water, an electric teapot is the most economical method, compared to the microwave or stove-top — plus it’s quick.
28. Use Wool Balls in the Dryer
Skip the fabric softener and dryer sheets by making your own “wool balls” out of old woolen yarn and a pair of worn-out pantyhose — just Google “wool balls” for DIY instructions. They’ll help your clothes dry faster and keep garments soft, all without the use of chemicals.
29. Bubble-Wrap Your Windows
In the fall, lightly mist the insides of uninsulated windows with water. Then, apply a sheet of bubble wrap, bubble side facing the pane. The bubble wrap will cling to the window all winter long, boosting the insulating value, and it’ll come off neat and clean in spring.
30. Stay Away From Extended Service Plans
Those extended service plans that appliance stores tend to push on their customers are a great deal — for the stores selling them. While they do provide some additional protection for most products, the vast majority are never used, since many problems are covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. What’s more, people often forget they bought the extended coverage plan in the first place.
31. Choose the Store Brand
Everyone knows that generic or store-brand products are cheaper than name brands, but maybe you don’t know just how much cheaper. According to Consumer Reports, you’ll save about 25% when you buy store brands.
32. Grow Food, Not Lawns
The movement to replace costly, high-maintenance lawns with veggie-producing garden space is growing in popularity. Google “grow food, not lawns” for tips on how to supplement your grocery budget and reduce lawn care costs by starting an eco-friendly yard or neighborhood garden.
33. Check Your Refrigerator Seals
The seals around refrigerator and freezer doors need to be replaced periodically to avoid energy loss. Test for a tight seal by closing the door on a dollar bill; if you can pull the dollar out, the seal needs replacing, and your money is being wasted on an inflated energy bill.
34. Kill the Dust Bunnies
After you check the seals on your fridge, take a few minutes to vacuum out the dust bunnies living underneath it and clean the coils. Keeping the coils clean can increase the energy efficiency of a refrigerator, saving you money on your utility bills.
35. Plant Some Trees
Trees not only increase your home’s value, but if carefully positioned to shade the house and act as windbreaks, they can also reduce your home energy costs by about 25%. Talk about a growing investment.
36. Clear That Dryer Vent
Keep your dryer vent clean and free from blockage at all times. A clogged dryer vent reduces the appliance’s energy efficiency and can cause a fire.
37. Trick Yourself Out of Online Impulse Shopping
When shopping for an item on an e-commerce site, search for the specific product (such as “DVD player”) instead of surfing the general product category (“electronics”). One study showed that online shoppers who searched by category were three times more likely to keep browsing after they found the items they wanted.
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Laira Martin contributed to the reporting for this article.
To receive any advertised product, you must become a member of PenFed Credit Union.
¹Annual Percentage Rate (APR) effective March 1, 2020, and subject to change.
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