These days it seems everyone is exploring new and novel ways to save more money. But sometimes in our quest for fresh ideas, we tend to forget the basics that served us so well in the past. When that happens, it helps to take a step back and brush up on those tried-and-true methods that we may be neglecting.
If you’re in need a frugal refresher, here are seven classic money-saving tips that are worth another look:
1. Buy used
Let someone else take depreciation on the chin. Buying used cars, secondhand appliances in good working order, even gently used clothes and books is one of the single best money-saving moves a person can make.
But buying used takes some forethought and strategy. Don’t wait until you need an item to buy it; instead plan ahead. Ask yourself, “What will my family need three months or six months down the road? What should I keep an eye out for now so I don’t have to pay retail when it’s crunch time?” Scour thrift stores for great winter clothing bargains during the dog days of summer. Pick up a used patio set from the classifieds in autumn. Understanding what your future needs will be makes buying used a whole lot easier.
2. Lighten up on the utilities
I’m a child of the ’70s and I distinctly remember the first energy crisis. It seemed like overnight the country developed an energy conscience, and stickers started appearing around every light switch in my school — “Conserve! Lights Out!” Those little labels made a big impression on me back then (as did my parents’ own long-standing house rules).
I still watch the utilities closely today — turning off lights when I leave a room, using dimmer switches, and keeping the thermostat set at reasonable temperatures as the seasons change. It’s an easy thing to forget in the mad dash of modern life, but keeping utility costs in check is an immediate way to save money and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time.
3. Skip the latte (sometimes)
A dear friend of mine has an interesting habit. Even though he considers himself frugal, he likes to treat himself to small pleasures every now and then. Trouble is, “every now and then” has recently turned into every day. It goes something like this: On his way to work he’ll tell me, “I think I’ll treat myself to a latte this morning,” and $4.35 later, he’ll stroll out of the coffee shop, treat in hand.
Now, don’t get me wrong: What fun would life be without a little indulgence? But for the frugal-minded, a treat that happens every day is no longer a treat — it’s overhead. Would the treat be any less delicious if he made it at home and skipped the retail markup and the long lines? We all have our own “latte factor” in life, and remembering to keep our treats in line with our budget is always a good thing.
4. Buy in bulk
It’s easy to forget just how much savings can be gained through buying in bulk. Rather than focusing on sale prices for individual items, compare prices per ounce or per unit. Just keep three things in mind when buying in bulk:
- Buy what you have room enough to store (or share).
- Buy only those products you’re sure you’ll use.
- For perishable items, make sure you’re not buying so much that you won’t have time to use it before it goes bad.
5. Ride a bike or carpool
It might sound like a cliché, but getting in the habit of commuting to work by bike a few times a week or using a bike for local errands is a great money-saver. Besides avoiding the expense of fuel, wear and tear on your car, and parking, biking is a free cardio workout. Over time, you’ll build stamina and muscle, work off stress, rest better, and maybe even make fewer trips to the doctor’s office.
Though carpooling isn’t necessarily heart-healthy, it can be budget-friendly. Explore joining or setting up a carpool program where you work and sharing commuting expenses with co-workers who have similar schedules. Sharing the cost of fuel, parking, tolls, and other expenses helps everyone and helps the planet a little bit too.
6. Learn a money-saving skill
What if everyone decided to learn one money-saving skill every six months? How much money could we save individually and collectively? If you’re focused on frugal living, explore hobbies and activities that can help your bottom line and be enjoyable too. Learn to plant a vegetable or herb garden, try your hand at basic car and home repair projects, or learn to refinish furniture. Over time, your portfolio of skills will not only add to your Renaissance appeal, it’ll help save you some serious cash.
7. Save the raise
Believe it or not, raises still happen from time to time. If you can make ends meet on your pre-raise salary, consider pocketing the extra and putting it toward your retirement savings or another interest-bearing investment. Remembering to not let each salary increase carry a commensurate standard-of-living bump is a relatively painless way to save. Try the same approach with your tax refund or quarterly bonus.
What do all of these money-saving tips have in common? What’s the universal theme? That the details matter. Small expenditures are easy to overlook as we focus on big expenses like mortgage payments, student loan debt, or credit card bills, but it all adds up.
It’s worth remembering: Being vigilant in all areas of our financial lives — from the big stuff to the small stuff — can make a real impact on our bottom lines.