When it comes to saving money, you should start with the fundamentals: make a budget, track your spending, build an emergency fund, etc. But once your fundamentals are in place, it’s time to move on to the hacks – little tricks that add up to save your hard-earned dollars. Here are 8 of our favorites.
1. Pay for everyday expenses with cash only
If you’re having trouble sticking to a budget or tracking your spending, one simple trick is to pay for your everyday expenses in cash.
Here’s how to do it. At the beginning of the week, head to the ATM and withdraw the amount of money you’ve budgeted for everyday expenses that week. Then, pay for everything that isn’t a recurring bill – dining out, coffee, booze, movies, etc. – with cash.
By sticking to physical bills, you remove a layer of abstraction to the value of money – in other words, it’s easier to understand money when you can see it, hold it and smell it. (Don’t smell it though, that’d be weird.) In turn, that makes you more likely to (1) be aware of how much you spend, since you’ll see your wallet shrinking, and (2) think twice before parting with your money, since you’ll have to watch it go bye-bye.
2. Use promo codes and coupons
When you make your next online purchase, look around for promo codes and coupons before you check out. If you’re buying a new pair of Ray Bans, you can search for “Ray Bans promo code” and see if any offers apply. You can also try a new site called Honey (no affiliation to us, Honeyfi). It automates the coupon process for you by searching for promo codes and applying them at checkout.
Other websites, like Groupon, can be helpful too. But be careful – these sites often tempt you to buy stuff you don’t need. So, if you’re trying to save money, we suggest opting out of any daily or weekly discount emails. Instead, search for coupons only when you already have a purchase in mind.
3. Call and ask for discounts
One easy way to save money is by asking. Many monthly expenses – like cable, Internet, and phone – are more negotiable than you realize.
Start by calling a couple of your provider’s competitors and ask for their best offers. Then, give your provider a jingle, explain that you received a better offer, and ask if they can beat it. Often times, after a quick chat with a supervisor, the representative can give you a discount. Remember that calling is often better than emails or chat because phone representatives are often authorized to issue sweeteners that aren’t available online.
If you don’t have time to make the calls yourself, try using a company to do it for you. BillShark, for example, calls up your providers, negotiates a lower price on your behalf, and then splits the savings with you. Not bad.
4. Finish most of your food before buying more
The average U.S. household throws away $640 worth of food every year. That’s a waste of food and money. It also sucks for the environment.
To save money and the planet, try waiting until your cabinets and fridge are low before buying more grub. If you’re stuck with random ingredients that don’t seem to fit together, search online for “recipe using [name the ingredients]” and see if there are any hits.
5. Automate your savings
One of the easiest ways to save more is by automating the process. By automating savings, you not only make it simpler to save, but you also get into the habit of spending less and make it harder to dip into your savings when you shouldn’t.
If your income is regular, the easiest way to automate savings is to schedule monthly transfers from your checking into a separate savings account. Schedule the transfers on your payday, if possible, so you don’t even see the extra money. For bonus points, use a high-yield savings account.
If your income isn’t set, you still have options. You could, for example, schedule automatic transfers every few months or for a small amount each month. Or maybe your bank offers a debit card that automatically moves money into your savings account every time you make a purchase, like Wells Fargo’s Save As You Go program.
6. Save smarter
Not all savings are created equal. For instance, driving 15 minutes out of your way to save 3 cents per gallon isn’t as valuable as spending 15 minutes making your lunch in the morning. Nor is searching 3 stores for the cheapest pasta sauce as beneficial as skipping Starbucks for your own brew.
Of course, these options aren’t always mutually exclusive. But your time and energy are limited and it’s easy to exhaust yourself on the tiny savings. So before you spend an hour trying to save a few cents, ask yourself how much you’ll save and how long it will take you. In other words, save smarter.
7. Find specific and attainable short-term goals
Rather than focusing only on long-term goals, you should set specific and attainable short-term goals. They will encourage you to stick with your budget and feel good about your progress.
Maybe it’s a trip to Disneyland, a smart watch, or new kicks. Whatever your goal, make sure it excites you and is reachable within the next year. Once you have a goal in mind, create a timeline for saving each month. And give yourself regular reminders along the way to stay motivated – maybe by adding a photo of your goal as the background on your phone or creating a calendar notice that the big day’s almost here.
8. Focus on one or two improvements at a time
The science is clear. Juggling too many things at once doesn’t work. So unless you’re in dire straits, don’t try to stop all of your small indulgences at once. Otherwise, you’ll probably miss your mark, get discouraged, and not improve anything in the long run.
Instead, focus on one or two changes at a time. Studies suggest that forming a new habit takes more than a week or two, so don’t change your routine every week. Instead, give each new habit at least a month or two to become automatic before you start adding others.