There’s a trick that dieters know: Cut calories in places where you’re unlikely to even notice them. Put less sugar in your coffee or less butter on your toast. Or replace colas with water.
That same trick works for budgeters. If you save money in small ways without feeling the pinch, you’re inclined to keep it up.
Savings may be small at first, but over, say, 12 months, they add up, leading to a nice nest egg one year later.
Following is a look at some of those items you can easily cut out to keep more cash in the bank.
1. Gym membership
During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all learned that working out in a gym — which on its face seems like a good thing — comes with a few risks. Not only is it difficult to remain socially distanced, but you are in an atmosphere where people are breathing hard and potentially spreading germs.
That means now might be the perfect time to give up your gym membership and find other ways to stay fit. Maybe working out at home, with inexpensive weights or yoga DVDs, is a cheaper (and safer) option.
Or if you dream of pro-style gym equipment at home, check for-sale sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. You may find that other exercisers have abandoned their fitness plans and are trying to sell (or give away) the very equipment you pay to use at the gym.
2. Warehouse club membership
Warehouse clubs are so tempting, and at various times in your life, they may make sense. If you regularly throw massive parties, then buying ketchup by the gallon might be saving you big bucks.
But many people acquire a Costco or similar warehouse store membership and never use it, thus handing over money and not enjoying a benefit. If you’re one of those people, it may be time to cancel this membership and move on. Plus, there are ways to shop at Costco without being a member.
3. Bottled water
Sometimes I buy bottled water, and I always hear my late dad’s voice in my head, asking me, “Why are you paying for something you can get at home?”
Dad grew up in the Great Depression, and he was always amused at the many ways people found to squander hard-earned money. The craze for bottled water came after his time, but I can assure you he’d have keeled over from thirst before he paid a company for something that came out of the tap.
That’s a bit extreme, but Dad had a point. Carry a good-quality, leakproof reusable water bottle with you whenever possible, and you can usually find a place to refill it at no charge.
4. Rental car insurance
Driving a rental car often means you’re on strange streets and freeways, heading to places where you don’t regularly go. Accidents can happen. So when you pick up the rental car, should you spring for the extra insurance that the clerk will try to sell you?
First of all, that “insurance” isn’t really insurance — it’s a collision damage waiver. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says he personally doesn’t buy it, and if you have adequate insurance on your car at home, you likely don’t need it. But you may need to research the coverage you have before you decide. Stacy explains in detail in this story.
In addition, your credit card also may already have you covered.
5. Gift wrap
Did you find yourself spending money on gift wrap paper, bows and tags during December? For the next holiday season, give yourself all that cash back. People still will enjoy your thoughtful presents, and I can assure you that almost no one will miss the fancy wrapping paper.
You can wrap gifts in plenty of creative, no-cost items, from newspaper to magazine pages and even old maps and wallpaper. (I used a roll of unneeded shelf contact paper this holiday season — it had the bonus of a neat blue-and-tan pattern that definitely stood out among all the red wrap and green wrap.)
Check out our article listing seven creative ways to get gift wrap free.
6. Magazine subscriptions
From Vogue to National Geographic, magazines offer a form of storytelling that can’t be replicated. However, you may not realize that there might be ways to read the latest issues for free.
You almost certainly know that your public library subscribes to dozens of magazines, from the mainstream (like Entertainment Weekly) to the obscure (School Library Journal, for instance).
You can read the print editions, of course, but the library may also allow you to download e-versions. Get to know your library’s website to find out.
And do you subscribe to Amazon Prime or Apple News+? If you do, free online magazines are a perk of your subscription.
7. Auto-club membership
A membership in AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, can be a lifesaver for some drivers. Need a tow in the middle of nowhere? Pulling out that AAA card and calling for help can feel like a huge relief.
But there may be other ways you can enjoy those benefits offered by AAA. Your car insurance may include free tows under certain circumstances. When I bought a new Honda Accord, it came with three years of 24-hour emergency service. You may have a similar deal with your car.
AAA has other benefits. I appreciate their hotel and travel discounts, and I travel enough to make that worth my membership. Take a look at your own needs and at other organizations you may belong to that could offer similar deals. AARP, for example, has travel discounts.
8. Cable TV
Cable TV is beginning to flicker out in many households. There are so many streaming services and other ways to get video entertainment that a $100-plus monthly cable bill might be something you can ditch. I had cable for years, and I assure you, I never intentionally turned on the Golf Channel.
Many viewers have held off on cutting cable for one reason: live TV programming. That’s become easier to get these days. With live streaming TV, you may be able to ditch cable and save money.
Several services are likely to be more affordable than your current cable choice. They include:
9. Late fees
Few things are more frustrating than being slapped with a late fee on a monthly utility bill you simply forgot to pay. Yet, it’s easy to misplace or forget a particular bill, whether it’s sent to you via regular U.S. mail or you’re notified via email.
Solve the problem by pulling together all your monthly recurring charges and putting them on autopay.
After I received a threatening letter once about a forgotten bill just as we were heading out of town, I jumped on the auto-pay bandwagon and haven’t regretted it.
10. Streaming services
Yes, I just suggested that streaming services might be cheaper than cable. That may be true but be judicious about which streaming services you are paying for.
Do your research and know which programs your family considers worthy of shelling out cash. HBO has its own eclectic lineup, as do Hulu, British-themed services like Acorn TV and BritBox, Apple TV+ and many more. You may enjoy more than one service and still beat the cost of cable, but you probably don’t want all of them. Cut out the ones that don’t earn their keep.
11. Checked bags
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson lists baggage fees on his list of most annoying fees, and he suggests some ways to avoid them.
One top tip is simply to avoid airlines with the worst fees, especially those that charge for carry-on bags. If you travel often on the same airline, a branded credit card with that carrier may offer you free bags in addition to helping you pile up miles to exchange for free flights.
12. Food delivery
It’s easy to understand why so many tired, hungry Americans fall back on food-delivery services. That’s especially true during the pandemic, when we’ve tried to bring our favorite restaurants to our homes rather than risking infection at the restaurant itself.
Multi-restaurant delivery apps such as Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub make it easy to essentially enjoy the charms of hotel room service in your home.
But chew on this: Delivery fees and driver tips can really add up. So, maybe your family can cut back on or eliminate food delivery fees. Resolve to cook at home as much as you can, which is healthier and cheaper anyway.
13. New books
I’m a devoted reader and also an author, so there’s no way I’ll tell you to never buy a brand new book. My favorite Christmas presents are always new-to-me books.
But I also love saving money, and getting free books helps me save my money for buying new ones. My library has a program called Peak Picks, where the hottest new titles are reserved for display on tables in the library. That’s right, you have to physically mosey on into your branch. Some of my librarian friends in other cities say they have similar programs.
If you want e-books, here are “9 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.”
14. Landline phones
In this era of ubiquitous cellphones, are you still clinging to a landline? Rethink whether that’s really a necessity. It could be when cell reception in some areas can still be iffy, or if you have children who are occasionally home alone without a mobile phone.
But many reasons once touted by landline lovers are no longer valid. We detail a number of them in this article, “5 Reasons You Should Stop Paying for a Landline.” Two that may be especially relevant: Cell plans often offer free international calls, and many smartphones screen your calls better than ye olde answering machine.
15. Brand-name products
One of the greatest marketing tricks ever has been convincing shoppers to buy a product simply because of the advertised brand name on the label. This is obvious at warehouse stores like Costco, where the company’s Kirkland paper products are stacked next to more colorfully wrapped famous brands.
The paper towels and bathroom tissue look the same, but the Kirkland prices are almost always cheaper. Ignore brand names where you can, and you’ll almost always save big. (Here are my seven favorite products at Costco.)
Manicures and pedicures are a luxury that some people just will never give up. It’s good to have such little rewards in life. But if mani-pedis are constantly snipping away at your budget, think about nailing some savings by splurging less frequently.
A good-quality manicure kit can be had inexpensively. And YouTube is full of tutorials on how to do your nails yourself, safely and beautifully.
No butts about it: If you smoke, you’ve likely tried to quit and come up against that wall of cravings.
In this tech age, an app might help. Non-smoking apps include MyQuit Coach and QuitNow! A benefit to such quitting apps: Most provide an updated tally of how much money you’ve saved, and some translate that into the hours of life they say you’ve regained.
18. Cleaning products
Everyone (except Pig-Pen from “Peanuts”) has to clean, but buying brand-name cleaning sprays and wipes isn’t cheap.
Let’s come clean: The do-it-yourself route for cleaning products is much easier than you may think. You could even save thousands of dollars. This article tells how to make a four-ingredient dishwasher detergent option and includes plenty of ways to use baking soda and vinegar as cleaning products.
You can even make your own cleaning wipes, which can come in handy in the event of another pandemic-related shortage at your local store.
19. Car washes
Sometimes, a professional car wash is the way to go. If your toddler gets sick in her car seat or the pitcher of Kool-Aid you were bringing to the beach sloshes all over the floor, take it to the pros.
But for regular cleaning, you may save big by just washing your car in your own driveway. These tips from the car-repair chain Meineke make it clear just how simple a home car wash can be. You might even find a neighborhood teen to do it for half the price of a fancy drive-thru wash.
20. Paper towels
I’ll likely never give up paper towels entirely. With pets and kids, they’re just too handy, and a roll stashed in my car trunk has saved me in many sticky situations.
But when you’re at home, using cloth rags instead is like having eternally reusable paper towels, saving you big. Learn how to make one roll of paper towels last a whole year.
21. Premium gas
Even though electric vehicles are becoming more widely available, many of us have a car that requires gasoline. But be careful at the pump.
If your car doesn’t require premium gas, choosing that option is just pouring money down the drain with no benefit to your vehicle.