It feels almost Sisyphean sometimes -- the struggle to spend less, save more, and still live a good life. Kristie and I wrestle with it on a daily basis. The traditional version of the American dream -- you know, the one where hard work = financial security -- is more often than not a punchline instead of a plan these days. Most recently, Kristie and I decided to put off a few goals and dreams for another year while we continue to work hard and save. (I don't mean to make that sound overly casual -- it was a very emotional and difficult conversation, but an important one.)
And hope is not lost! We just have to get creative -- something I think we (as a generation) are getting pretty good at. In particular, I'm beginning to realize more and more how much the little steps matter. Even if it's saving just an extra $30 a month here and there, it adds up fast and can make a big change -- and can make next year a very good year.
So here are the things that Kristie and I do (and a lot that we try to do and plan to do) to save money and even make a little extra. This post has been in the works for awhile, so it's pretty long. Hang in there, and please share your tips and tricks for saving money and living a good life in the comments section -- I'll add them to this post!
- Cook at home more often, and make enough so that you can have leftovers for lunch.
- Get a good reusable to-go mug and try making your own coffee in the morning instead of swinging by Dunkies -- a good excuse to try new trends like cold-brew or butter coffee!
- Grow your own produce or buy it when it's in season (i.e., fresh, local, cheap) and learn how to preserve it by canning or freezing. Bonus: In-season produce usually tastes better!
- Plan your meals a week ahead of time. Try to use the pricier ingredients you might not buy very often (bacon, for us) in more than one recipe so nothing gets wasted.
- Invest in what you have. Learn how to mend your own clothes, and shell out for a dry cleaner on more expensive pieces rather than risk ruining them in the wash.
- Got a big event coming up? Rather than purchase an expensive dress you might only wear once (guilty!), try a dress rental service like Rent the Runway for a fraction of the cost. I've been a dedicated customer since they opened, and have always had great success -- my sister even rented a prom dress or two when she was in high school, saving hundreds! It's also better for the environment.
- If you do a lot of shopping online (or even just a little), sign up for Ebates. It's free, easy, and they often post discount codes for your favorite stores. I don't do that much shopping online (I've made 56 cents in two weeks using Ebates), but one of my coworkers has accrued more than $400.
- Ever since I put a personal moratorium on brand-new clothes as a New Year's resolution (you should try it!), thredUp has become my best friend. It's basically an online consignment store with brand-name clothes that start at just $3.99. I've also sent in two bags of my own clothes, and the good news is thredUp will pay you outright in either store credit or cash; you don't have to wait for your items to sell.
- If a brand-new item is a must, sign up for Hukkster. Install and use their button (similar to Pinterest's Pin-It button) when you spot something you like online. Hukkster will then notify you when the item goes on sale. The average savings is 30%. For my fellow perennial Christmas elves, this would be a great tool for early holiday shopping!
- Find discount codes and coupons. My favorite coupon app is SnipSnap (it always works at Michaels), and I just started using Target's Cartwheel app -- so far, so good.
- Plan a clothing swap with friends to exchange styles you don't wear anymore.
- Thrift, thrift, thrift!
- Check with your insurance provider to see if they offer rebates you can use toward a gym membership.
- Earn money every time you go to the gym (and make healthy eating choices) by using Pact, one of my new favorite apps. Pledge to work out a certain number of times a week or eat a certain number of fruits and vegetables -- if you miss one of your commitments, you have to pay a fee of $5. That money then goes to people who complete their pacts every week. I've been using it for about three weeks, and made around $6. It's not a huge amount, but you can earn more by pledging to do more, and really it's the threat of having to pay out that keeps me in the gym three times a week (and my body's grateful).
- Do yoga at home along with free videos from websites like DoYogaWithMe.com.
- Go for runs (or bike rides) around your town. Bring your dog, he'll thank you!
- Handmade gifts can be the very best kind. Challenge yourself to a Christmas -- or a whole year -- of giving just handmade presents.
- Wait for a good fabric sale, find a free pattern online, and give sewing your own clothes a try.
- The options for making your own household products (like laundry detergent) are endless. Find ideas and instructions on Pinterest.
- Ditto for beauty products. Last weekend I made my own makeup remover (that actually works)! Bonus: These often have fewer unpronounceable chemicals as ingredients and are better for the environment.
- Try tackling simple home repairs yourself, too. Home Depot stores offer free weekend classes like Lighting & Electrical Updates and How to Install Hardwood & Laminate Flooring.
- Visit blogs like Ana White's for free plans you can use to build your own furniture.
- Plan a craft swap with friends to exchange craft supplies you no longer use.
- Turn off the AC in the summer (don't worry, there are alternatives) and eschew turning up the heat for lots of layers -- and cuddling -- in the winter!
- Unplug small appliances, like toasters, microwaves, and coffee makers when you're not using them. I do this whenever I spot something plugged in around the house. It drives Kristie nuts, but saves almost $30 a month in electricity.
- Host a potluck dinner for your friends, asking everyone to bring one dish (or booze). Have a few musically-inclined friends bring their instruments, and you have a recipe for the perfect casual dinner party.
- Your local library can be a tremendous resource. Visit their website to learn about their upcoming events. Ours often screens free movies! And here's a big benefit: They also lend free passes to local museums to library members. (Oh yeah, and rent books and movies there too instead of buying! Duh.)
- Many museums and zoos also offer free or discount days (especially during the summer). Check their websites to see when they're coming up. Some major museums (like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City) are donation-based year-round, making it easy to get some culture on the cheap.
- Pack a little picnic and go on a hike! Great views and fresh air are free.
- Cut the cord. Kristie and I are getting (emotionally) ready to cancel cable. We have Netflix and Hulu subscriptions that we use a lot more than regular channels, and we're planning to purchase a Roku to ease the transition a little. The TV is often on only to provide some sort of background noise. We'll be better off without it.
- Have a game night with your friends every once in awhile instead of going out. Stock up on affordable alcohol and whip out Cards Against Humanity.
- If you're a responsible credit user, give travel-hacking a try. Visit a website like Mile Value (our fave) for a free personalized recommendation of which credit cards you should use and exactly how to use them to accrue the most airline miles. We've been using ours for about nine months and already have enough points for one round-trip ticket to Europe!
- Try camping instead of booking a hotel for a weekend getaway (campsites are a fraction of hotel costs!). Borrow a tent from friends and fill it with pillows and blankets.
- Use a free app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gasoline prices near you before heading to the pump.
- Book accommodations through Airbnb. I'm a huge fan of this service, which lets you book private homes or apartments. They're usually more affordable than hotel rooms, have more space, come with a full kitchen (hellooo saving money by cooking and eating in!), and more often than not your host can provide you with customized recommendations for things to do and see ahead of time.
- Go on a roadtrip with friends! You can carpool, split gas money, and share accommodations.
- Download the CityMapper app. It's incredibly useful when exploring a city (and they're adding new ones all the time) and it helps boost my confidence enough to use public transportation rather than pay for a cab every time I want to get around.
- And now my favorite travel tip: "ABS." Always. Bring. Snacks. Planning ahead food-wise is especially important if you're gluten-free or have another dietary restriction. I always have a spare granola bar in my purse, but it's easy to pack sandwiches, snacks, and even whole meals for road trips and flights.
Okay, it's your turn! Post your favorite money-saving tips in the comments (visible after approval), and I'll add them here.
- "We unplug our appliances too when we're not using them, it really is a money saver! I also want to get rid of cable but Mike is still attached so I'm still working on that. :) When we take our little weekend trips to NYC, we stay at my parents' (free) and spend most of our time going to galleries (free) and parks (free). The only thing we really spend money on is dining out and even then it's only between $30-40 because we don't drink. It's the only guilty pleasure we have." - Marilyn, Pulp Sushi
- "I love making my own deodorant, and hair and beauty products just because I know they're natural, but the cost reduction is great too. My big tip, possibly because I live in the world's most multicultural city, is buying products, especially foods, at stores run by people from the same place as the product. Rice? Indian store. Rosewater? Iranian shop. Matcha? Chinese or Japanese grocery. Regular grocery stores and healthfood stores mark their products up like crazy." - Arlie
- "I know it's super small, but I have a couple cute ceramic banks that I fill with loose change. Every six months or so, I take it to the bank and I end up having between $30 - $50. With regards to food, I'm currently splitting a CSA with four other friends. We each paid $80 for the summer, which is less than I'd spend on produce at the grocery store. In order to use it all up and not waste my money, I like to pretend I'm on 'Chopped' and challenge myself to find new ways to consume the produce." - Carolyne
PS - A roundup of the best travel tips.
*Some of the links included in this post are affiliate links, meaning I may make a small commission if you sign up. This is NOT a sponsored post; these are the tricks and tools I love, rely upon, and use often. Photo: Death to the Stock Photo