Here at Dough Roller, we talk a lot about getting into the habit of spending less than you make.
You may be looking at your budgeting and thinking, That’s impossible! But the fact is that even the savviest spenders can often find unexpected ways to save.
And here’s the deal: this doesn’t have to hurt. You don’t have to go without TV or eat beans and rice for every meal to save money. Instead, start with just a few of these easy tips and tricks. Incorporate more of them into your spending plan every month. You could soon find yourself saving hundreds--or even thousands!--of dollars per month.
Have questions about these tips? Feel free to email me! Or continue the discussion in the comments at the bottom of this post.
Rebates, Coupons, and More
- Earn cash back on every online purchase: Rakuten is free to join and easy to use. You can earn up to 10% cash back or more on every online purchase. Cash back is available from retailers as diverse as Amazon, JC Penney, Rite Aid, and even Walmart and Kohls.
- Get cash back every time you shop online: Swagbucks is a free site that enables you to earn gift cards whenever you shop online. It’s similar to Ebates, but you can also earn cash by watching videos, surfing the net, or taking surveys.
- Track your money effortlessly: Most of us hate to budget. I know I do. Now there are free online budget tools that can track everything from your monthly spending to your retirement accounts. You might be surprised how much you can save when you just keep a closer eye on your spending. Personal Capital has a free version and upgrade options and is our preferred platform for tracking your finances and investments.
- Send away for and follow up on rebates. After you buy a product with a rebate, send in the form that day. If you can, file the rebate online for easier processing. Then set a reminder on your calendar to follow up with the company if you haven’t received the rebate in a reasonable amount of time.
- Try haggling. It’s amazing what you can get discounted if you’ll just press the point. Sometimes, if you cant get a lower price on a service or item, you can ask for additional perks for the same price. You’re still saving money!
- Save your change. It adds up surprisingly quickly. Apps like Digit analyze your spending and automatically save the small amounts you won’t miss without you even noticing. It adds up surprisingly quickly. Apps like Digit analyze your spending and automatically save the small amounts you won’t miss without you even noticing. Digit analyzes your spending and automatically saves the small amounts you won’t miss without you even noticing. It adds up surprisingly quickly. Apps like Digit analyze your spending and automatically save the small amounts you won’t miss without you even noticing.
- Price check. If you’re shopping for larger-ticket items, price checking comes naturally. But there are some great apps that let you do this in just a few seconds for everyday items, too. That way you can be sure to always get the best price.
Disclosure - Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the Capital One Shopping extension using the links provided.Open in new window
Capital One Shopping is a great price check app that can save you money in a couple of different ways. Whenever you’re looking to buy something online, Capital One Shopping will quickly scour the web and will comparison shop for you. They’ll also look to apply any coupon codes that have been successful for other Capital One Shopping users.
As an added perk, Capital One Shopping offers credits when you make purchases with select merchants that you can then use to purchase gift cards. Three excellent ways to save/earn.
Related: 6 Games and Apps That Pay Real Money
Save Through Good Management
- Improve your credit score. A good credit score can save you thousands of dollars in interest on everything from a home loan to a car loan to credit cards. If you’ve never focused on your credit score before, the place to start is to get your free FICO score. Once you improve your credit score, you can refinance your debts to save big money.
- Request a reduction in the interest rate for your home equity line of credit. I did, and my mortgage company agreed to reduce the rate by more than 0.50%. That doesn’t sound like much, but on a large loan, that can make a big difference in your monthly payment. And if you are looking for a home equity loan, Quicken Loans is a great place to check out available options.
- Transfer your credit card balances to 0% APR cards. Even if your credit score isn’t incredibly high, you may qualify for one of these 0% interest credit cards. Transferring your balances can save you a ton of money as you pay off debt. Another option is to ask your current credit card company for an interest rate reduction. As with a HELOC, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
- Refinance your mortgage. If you can reduce your interest rate by 1% or more, it is often beneficial to refinance. This is particularly true if you have a high rate because your credit score wasn’t great when you took out the mortgage. If your score has improved, you may qualify for a better rate. Start by asking your current mortgage lender about lower rates.
- Don’t pay interest on credit cards. This is obvious, but as soon as you fail to pay off the credit card in full, the high-interest payments start to eat away at your monthly budget. If the temptation to spend more than you can pay on a credit card is too great, get rid of the credit card (and ignore the previous tip!).
- Get organized to avoid missed payments. I’ve missed a payment or two because the bill got buried beneath a stack of papers. Get organized, and avoid those late payment penalties. Check out our picks for the 13 best money management apps. Some even have a feature to pay your bills straight from the app! If you do miss a payment, call your creditor, and ask to have the penalty removed. They’ll usually accommodate the request, at least the first time.
- Budget for regular maintenance of your vehicle, home, and appliances. When you’re on a tight budget, it’s easy to ignore long-term expenses like car repairs and appliance maintenance. But it’s much cheaper to pay for an annual tune-up of your HVAC system than to deal with major problems down the road. Likewise, keeping your car in good shape is much cheaper, in the long run, than dealing with big repairs that could have been prevented.
- Learn some DIY skills. Doing some things yourself--whether it’s growing veggies in your backyard, making cookies from scratch, or doing basic home repairs--can save you tons of money over time. Plus, some DIY skills can become a fun hobby or even a money-making side gig.
- Pay your mortgage payments bi-weekly, rather than monthly. This lets you painlessly make an extra payment each year, which can add up quickly in the form of home equity!
- Try to avoid the ATM. Or, at least, avoid other banks’ ATMs, which can charge you significant fees to access cash.
- Pay your bills online. Auto-payment helps you avoid late fees, and you save on envelopes and postage!
- Consider shopping in cash. You could take cash only to the grocery store, or use only cash for other specific purposes. Some people find that sticking to a 100% cash budget is a good way to control overall spending.
- Limit your spending with an allowance. It’s fine to spend some money on random indulgences. But you can keep it from getting out of hand by using an allowance system where you get a certain amount of money to spend on a weekly or monthly basis.
- Keep your home organized. Sometimes you have to pay a bit upfront to keep your home organized. But keeping things in proper places keeps you from buying more than you need.
- Automate your finances. Sometimes you spend money just because it happens to be in your checking account. Avoid this issue by automating your savings and putting a certain percentage of your paycheck into savings every payday.
Save on Health
- Get healthy. Your health will directly impact the cost of life insurance. Healthier people are likely to spend less on actual healthcare, too. And, in some cases, becoming healthier may reduce your health insurance premiums.
- Stop smoking. Check out your estimated costs of smoking with this calculator. Need I say more?
- Buy generic over-the-counter medicines. They are exactly the same as their branded counterparts and cost less.
- Shop around for healthcare procedures. It’s surprising how much variance there is in the costs of basic procedures like dental cleanings and optometry appointments. Even the cost of major surgery can vary depending on where you go. If possible, shop around before you have these procedures done.
Save on Services
- Slow down your internet service. I went to the slower internet service option with my cable company and saved $15 per month. And I haven’t noticed a difference when surfing the internet. Unless you’re constantly streaming or playing high-definition video games, you probably won’t either.
- Request a discount on trash service. For some reason, this is a highly competitive business. If you get a better offer in the mail for trash service, call your current trash company and ask them to beat the offer. My trash service has reduced its rates twice in six months to match competing offers.
- Never pay checking account fees. I hate bank fees. With so many free checking account plans available, there's no reason to pay a fee. And if the bank happens to charge you one, ask them to reverse the fee or take your business to another bank.
- Get a rewards card. Many reward cards that payout in cash or points that you can redeem for travel or products. Many of these cards don’t have an annual fee. I recently traveled to my college reunion for free using points earned from a credit card. My favorite rewards card is Chase Freedom Unlimited®. It does NOT have an annual fee. You can also check out my review of several travel reward credit cards.
- Get rid of your home telephone. This is a great way to save money. Many don't do it because of the 911 service, and that's understandable. But if you're comfortable relying on a cell phone, there's no reason to keep a landline. If you do, consider reducing your service to the minimum, and only use the phone in an emergency.
- Consider VOiP telephone service. We use Internet phone service and have saved substantial money over Verizon service. The phone service has been very reliable, and you'd never even know the signal was being carried over the Internet. Phone Power is a great option for internet telephone service. It costs as little as $8.33 a month.
- Eliminate some cable service. Note that I’m not recommending getting rid of cable completely, although that’s certainly a way to save money. If you must have cable, take a look at all the charges on your cable bill, and consider getting rid of some of the services. Try it for a month and see if you really miss those last 500 channels.
- Cancel the gym membership. This seems to contradict the previous tip, but evaluate how much you really use your health club. Less expensive options may include a gym at your work or a gym at your local parks and recreation center. Some offer pay-as-you-go options rather than monthly fees, which can be helpful. Or you can save altogether by working out at home.
- Pass on extended warranties. A $129 two-year warranty extension on a $300 product is just not worth it. Warranties are insurance, and we rarely need to insure something worth that little.
- Buy term life insurance. In the vast majority of cases, any other life insurance product is just not worth the extra cost.
- Consider MythTV PVR in replace of TiVo type service I just ran across MythTV and am still investigating it. I pay $15 a month to my cable company for a DVR box and would love to save the money. If you've used MythTV, let us know how well it works.
- Use open-source software when possible. I use GIMP instead of Photoshop. GIMP is free; Photoshop isn’t.
Save on Insurance
- Double-check your insurance policies. Don’t pay for more insurance coverage than you need.
- Shop your insurance policies around, and consider combining them. You can often save automatically by insuring your home and vehicles with the same insurer. But every year at renewal time, you should call your agent to see if they can offer you a lower price. If not, it’s time to shop around.
- Suspend your insurance coverage when you’re out of town. Are you going to be leaving your car to sit in the garage for a couple of weeks while you go on vacation? Ask your insurance company about downgrading your coverage for that time. You can drop your liability coverage and reduce your premiums for a short time.
- Pay your life insurance annually. Insurance companies charge you more if you pay monthly, quarterly or semi-annually. Pay once a year, and you'll pay less in premiums.
- Pay car insurance semi-annually. At least with my car insurance, the company offers quarterly and semi-annual payment options. It costs more to pay quarterly, and twice a year is more convenient anyway.
- Increase insurance deductibles. Most of us don't need to be insured for all losses over $100 on our car, for example. Although we wouldn't want to pay a $250 or even $500 deductible, we could. If that's you, find out how much you'd save from raising your deductible. I've raised my deductibles on my auto insurance and homeowner's insurance and saved a considerable amount. Just be sure you always have enough money in savings to cover the deductible!
- Think twice before submitting an insurance claim. My rule of thumb is that I won’t submit a claim on a loss that is less than twice my deductible. So for a $250 deductible on an auto loss, I’ll pay out of pocket any loss up to $500. Why? The $250 I’d receive from my insurance company is not worth the increased premiums I’m likely to pay. You may want to call your insurance agent to find out how a claim will impact your premiums before filing the claim.
Save at Home
- Get rid of Private Mortgage Insurance. If the down payment on your home was less than 20%, you are probably paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) as part of your monthly mortgage payment. Once you have 20% equity in your home, though, you should contact your lender to get your PMI removed. You can build up this equity either by paying down debt or if your home appreciates. If you have a newer FHA mortgage, you may need to refinance to get rid of PMI.
- Convert to a gas water heater. They are more efficient and will save you money in the long run, especially if electricity rates are increasing in your area. Plus, gas water heaters can still work during a power outage!
- Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. These bulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer. They do take some getting used to, and they won’t work in every light fixture. But use them where it makes sense, and you’ll save energy and money.
- Have an energy efficiency checkup on your home. Many local utility companies will do this for free. They’ll check out your home’s insulation and let you know where you can make improvements to save energy (and money!)
- Add additional insulation. Even without an energy efficiency checkup, you can probably tell if your home needs more insulation. The most likely spot to need it is your attic. Additional insulation can pay for itself within a year or two, and then save you money every year after.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances. Look for the Energy Star on appliances and consider the annual energy cost before buying. More efficient appliances cost more, but you make up the extra cost and then some over the life of the product. You can enhance this tip’s impact with super-efficient options like induction cooktops and high-efficiency washing machines, as well.
- Change your furnace filters. Keeping your furnace filters clean is important for maintaining your home’s air quality. It also saves money by keeping your system running efficiently. If you always forget to refresh your filters, consider having them automatically delivered by a service like FilterEasy.
- Wash your clothes on cold. Today’s detergents typically do just as good a job cleaning on the cold cycle as a warmer cycle. And, in fact, this might make your clothes last longer.
- Get a rooftop solar water heater. These aren’t very expensive and can pay for themselves in energy savings fairly quickly.
- Replace your paper towels. You can get super-cheap white towels for next to nothing from kitchen supply stores. In fact, many industrial kitchens don’t use paper products because they’d spend a fortune on them. Replacing paper towels in the kitchen and for cleaning can really add up.
Save on Food
- Prepare easy meals for just $5. I would have thought this was impossible until I met Erin. She’s the genius behind $5 Meal Plans. She’s been on the Today Show and Fox & Friends showing how families can eat good, healthy meals for a fraction of the cost.
- Take your lunch to work one more day a week than you do now. Eating out at lunch is fun, so I wouldn't eliminate it completely. But taking lunch just one more day a week will keep money in your pocket.
- Drink less alcohol. It costs money and adds calories. When you do want a drink, learn to mix your own drinks at home to save big.
- Limit how often you grocery shop. Grocery shopping less often will typically lead to savings. Try to shop only once a week. If you often shop at warehouse stores, you can hit those up once a month and then just stop for your fresh items once a week.
- Buy the off-brand. Many items are nearly exactly the same in off-brand as in brand name. You can save a fortune by sticking with the off brands available at your local grocery store. You could save even more with options like Costco’s Kirkland brand or Aldis off-brands.
- Skip the bottled water. Instead of buying a bottle of water every time you go to work, the gym, or wherever, buy a water filter and take your own water. You can save even more by making your own coffee to take along with you on the go!
- Use powders or concentrates for your favorite drinks. You can make tea or juice a lot cheaper at home.
- Cook from scratch. If you’re really busy, consider using your crockpot to cook from scratch but save a ton of time.
- Use a grocery couponing app. Instead of printing and clipping coupons, use an app that does the work for you. This gives you the benefits of coupons without all the time to organize them. Also, read our Fetch Review to find out how to earn rewards for grocery shopping.
- Check out bulk stores for more savings. Many foods can be bought in bulk for way less. For instance, you can buy frozen vegetables really cheaply in large quantities. Or buy your paper goods from a bulk store to save.
- Shop your pantry and freezer. It’s really easy to forget about food stockpiled in your pantry or freezer. So before you go to the grocery store and wind up buying more of what you already have, dig around your kitchen and make a list of what you’ve got.
Save on Shopping
- Buy your next cell phone from Amazon: It may seem odd to buy a cell phone from Amazon, but they offer some of the newest phones from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Amazon offers free 2-day shipping and low prices without the hassle of mail-in rebate forms.
- Buy a refurbished Mac: I’ve written about this before because it is a great way to buy not only computers, but iPods and iPhones as well. You can check out the details on how to buy a refurbished iPhone. Just be sure you’re getting the product from a reputable company.
- Get your books from the library. I love books and read every day. While I buy some of the books I read, most come from the library. Simply put, it’s hard to beat free. Amazon makes it easy to get ebooks from a library directly onto your reader.
- Stream movies for cheap or for free. Make the most of your subscriptions. Instead of paying for a movie ticket, stream one from your Amazon, Netflix or Hulu accounts. You can also stream movies on demand with Redbox, some for as little as $1.99. Many libraries now have movies on DVD and Bluray that patrons can check out. If your library offers this service, it sure beats paying for a movie ticket.
- Subscribe to magazines or read digital copies. If you must have a certain magazine each month, subscribe. Subscriptions offer substantial savings over the cost at the newsstand. Amazon also offers some great deals on personal finance magazines and Prime members get access to a few magazines per month as part of the membership.
- Buy online when it saves you money. Services like Amazon’s Prime Pantry and Subscribe and Save services could save you tons of money on everyday essentials. There are tons of other newer services available, too, including Boxed, where you can buy in bulk online. Plus, there are plenty of great websites to buy clothes, toys, gifts, and more online at a steep discount.
- Go thrifting. Thrift store buys don’t have to look used, but they’ll be a lot cheaper. Stores like Goodwill and local thrift stores are great for finding kids’ clothes, adult clothes, home decor, and household goods like dishes and flatware.
- Use coupon searching add-ons. If you’re a frequent online shopper, you can save a fortune with coupon-finding extensions for your browser. Extensions like Honey will automatically try out coupon codes until they find you the most savings possible before you check out online.
- Shop outlet stores. Instead of back-to-school or holiday shopping in your typical retail stores, shop at your local outlets. You can get the same looks for way less.
- Use the 24-hour rule. Before you make any impulse buy, make yourself wait for at least one day. You’ll likely find that by the end of that waiting period, you don’t want the item anymore.
Save on Gifts
- Agree to limit gift-giving. At Christmas, we tend to go overboard when it comes to gift-giving. To cut back, we agreed in advance with extended family about gift limits, which really helps save money for everyone.
- Save ahead for the holidays. If you have to pay for Christmas gifts on a credit card, you’re much more likely to over-spend. Start saving ahead of time, and then commit to spending only what you’ve set aside.
- Buy gifts throughout the year. You can often get nice gifts for next Christmas right at the first of the year. Buying throughout the year can help you feel less pressure during the holiday season and can save you a fortune.
Save on Transportation
- Get tires from Costco or other wholesale clubs. Simply put, they cost a lot less than buying them at the dealer or even a chain tire store.
- Keep tires properly inflated. It keeps you safe and means your car is more fuel-efficient. Make a habit of checking the air in your tires on a weekly basis.
- Drive your car longer. The buy new versus used debate often overlooks the most important factor--how long you own your car. Drive it as long as you safely can for substantial savings.
- Buy your car online. Search the internet for information on the car you want, and then send e-mail requests to dealers for the best price. Even if the dealer is located in another state, the cost to have the car delivered may still be worth it. I paid $500 to have a Honda Odyssey shipped 500 miles and still saved $1,000 over the best local price available.
- Ride your bike when you can. If you live nearby to your workplace or other places you frequent, consider investing in a bike. Riding even some of the time can save you serious cash on transportation.
- Learn to drive a manual transmission car. They tend to have lower-cost maintenance and use less gas.
- Use cruise control. Cruise control helps reduce wear and tear on your vehicle and can boost your fuel efficiency.
- Consider fuel efficiency when you buy a new car. This is especially true if you put a lot of miles on your vehicle, or if you are in consistent stop-and-go traffic. Saving a mile per gallon or more can really add up!
Save on Investments
- Learn about investing. The more you know about investing, the better choices you’ll make. This means you could make more from your investments and save money on fees.
- Buy low-cost mutual funds. This is easy to miss because the money doesn't come out of your pocket each month. But keep an eye on the cost of the mutual funds in your 401(k) and other investments. My rule of thumb is that no fund should cost more than 1%. And the combined cost for all your funds should be less than 0.50%.
- Take advantage of employer 401(k) matches. If your employer matches 401(k) contributions, do everything you can to take full advantage of that match. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table!
- Use flexible spending accounts. FSAs allow you to pay certain medical, dental and childcare expenses using pre-tax dollars. If you’re not taking advantage of these accounts, you’re wasting money. Check with your HR department about enrolling in an FSA during your employer’s open enrollment period.
- Use a health savings account. If you have a qualifying high-deductible health plan, you can save even more with an HSA. These accounts set aside pre-tax dollars for health-related expenses. Find out more here.
Bonus Tip: Start tracking your investments. It’s easy to do with a free online financial dashboard offered by Personal Capital. I’ve used it for years, and it even comes with a recently added free retirement checkup calculator.