50 Ways to Save Money for the Cash Strapped Consumer

Times are tough. The stock market had its worst week ever last week and now is the time to make sure that you make it through the rough years bound to be ahead. Try to keep your job. Try not to lose your home. I know that like everyone I’ve been cutting back considerably recently for our family. I thought I’d pass along a list of 50 ways that you might want to consider saving money in this bad economic climate.

1. The little things matter. Wait one more week to get your haircut. Use a sponge to wipe up a spill instead of a paper towel. Do your own nails instead of going to the salon. Think about your daily activities and how you might be able to do things cheaper and cheaper.

2. Ditch your bank. Find a no fee brokerage account that pays you money market interest on your money and pays for your ATM fees. Charles Schwab has one here.

3. Cancel your cable or satellite service. Kevin Rose just did. You probably watch TV too much anyways. Buy a cheap HD OTA antenna and pick up your TV for free. If you have a Vista or Windows XP Media Center PC you can also use this to record your television and ditch the commercials instead of paying a monthly fee to TiVo. Check out Netflix. It’s a lot cheaper than cable or satellite and still provides you tons of great content.

4. Cancel any newspaper or magazine subscriptions. There is more than enough content for free online.

5. Cancel your gym membership. There are plenty of free ways to exercise. Walking or running make sense.

6. Maybe it’s finally time to get rid of your home phone. You have a cell phone and anyone who needs to reach you can get you on that.

7. Pack your lunch instead of buying lunch at school or work. Same goes for your kids and packing their lunches vs. buying them at school. You can eat more nutritiously this way and save money at the same time.

8. Quit smoking. If you haven’t already you should do this anyways.

9. Buy cheaper booze. Forget all the fancy Stoli, Sky, fruit infused, micro brewed Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Gilbey’s makes a great cheap vodka. Check for super cheap bottles of wine and discount beer at places like Trader Joe’s. Take a cue from Frank in Blue Velvet and ditch that Heineken, Pabst Blue Ribbon will do just fine.

10. Quit driving to work. You have to pay for gas, tolls, parking, etc. Instead consider walking, biking, taking casual carpool or public transportation.

11. If you have any credit card debt make sure that you are surfing the credit card companies to always keep your debt at the lowest possible finance charge (ideally zero) possible. Pay this debt off as quickly as you can and live a future life free from consumer debt.

12. Make sure that you are only using rewards cards (preferably no annual fee rewards cards) for any purchases you make with a credit card. I just ordered the BART no annual fee card. This card pays you cash back or credits for BART tickets and has no annual fee. Avoid using cash as much as possible whenever you have a choice. By using the rewards card (and paying it off monthly) you’ll get the rewards that you don’t get by spending cash. Link the card to auto pay with your checking account so that you don’t accidentally miss a payment and end up with a late fee.

13. Move as many of your bills as you can on direct debit against your checking account. It doesn’t make sense anymore to pay to buy stamps and mail bills in. By setting this up it also makes sure that your bills are paid on time and that you don’t get hit with late or penalty fees.

14. Drive the speed limit. You use less gas this way and you won’t have to pay for expensive tickets if you get one.

13. Replace the lightbulbs in your home with new energy efficient ones.

14. Recycle your cans and bottles. Check to see if there is a recycling center near where you live that might be on the way to and from someplace you are headed. Take your bottles and cans there for cash instead of putting them in the recycling bin for the garbage man.

15. Call your garbage provider. Is there a smaller can available for less monthly expense?

16. Have an EVDO card? Cancel it. You don’t really need the internet 100% of the time. There’s enough free wifi around and things can wait until you get home or to work if not.

17. Get your coffee, tea, etc. at the office instead of at Starbucks or home. Many employers offer coffee/tea, etc. at work. Skip the Starbucks or cup before you leave for work and get it here.

18. Stop eating at restaurants or look for cheap discount specials when you do go out.

19. Make sure that you are eating your food at home that will expire first. Don’t let food expire.

20. Practice only buying things that are on sale or discounted at the supermarket and consider Sam’s Club or Costco if they make sense. If you have a large family or can split items with other family members or friends Costco has good bargains on food. Beware of buying things at Costco that you don’t need though. Yes, Red Bull is cheaper when you buy it by the case at Costco, but you probably don’t need Red Bull at all.

Otherwise watch your supermarket. Try to make sure that everything that you purchase to eat is on sale. Especially look for generic supermarket brands which are oftentimes just as good as premium brands but less expensive. Look at the supermarket circulars for coupons and specials. Pay attention to the price per ounce that many of the supermarkets share with you or bring a calculator to figure it out if not.

21. If you like to read books, consider checking out a book at the library instead of buying. You can also get DVDs and CDs (to rip at home for your music) at libraries as well. Make sure you return your items to the library on time to avoid paying fines.

22. Have a one week purchase rule for any large purchases. Buying a new camera? A new TV? A new car? Anything that is above and beyond the bare necessity, force yourself to wait at least one week before buying it. You very well may talk yourself out of it during this time or find it cheaper elsewhere.

23. Turn your heater off. Wear sweats and sweaters around the house instead. Don’t use air conditioning. Open your windows and use a fan if you must.

24. Unplug appliances part of the time when not in use. Also unscrew lightbulbs in some places instead of just turning the light off. This especially will help with young children who are not always so good at turning lights off when they are done.

25. Don’t buy soda. Soda isn’t good for you and is especially overpriced at restaurants. Drink free ice water instead. And don’t buy bottled water. Tap water is perfectly fine in most places in the developed world. If you must, simply get a bottle of water and keep refilling the same bottle with tap water to carry around with you.

26. Go paperless with your greeting cards or make your own. Stop wasting money on overpriced greeting cards. Hand make a simple one or consider sending someone a free email based electronic one. It will mean just as much if not more.

27. Consider tax loss selling in your investment accounts. The Govt. gives you up to a $3,000 income tax deduction each year for tax losses. Anything over $3,000 can be used to offset realized capital gains or pushed forward into future years. Do you still hold that S&P; 500 index fund that you bought 2 years ago and now is a big loser? Sell it and replace it with the S&P; 500 ETF. You effec
tively stay invested (for the long haul) but realize a loss that can provide you some tax relief (note that this only applies to taxable accounts and not IRAs or retirement plan monies) while not substantially changing your long-term investment strategy.

28. Consider free days at museums. Many museums have one day a month that is free to the public. Find out when that day is and put it on your calendar if you want to visit a museum. Look for other free activities that you might be able to do. Walks around the lake. Consider the beach instead of an amusement park, etc.

29. Only run your dishwasher or washing machine when you have a full load.

30. Don’t pay to have your clothes pressed at the dry cleaners. Only dry clean what is absolutely necessary. Try not to buy clothes that need to be dry cleaned in the first place.

31. Hold a garage sale or go through your home and try to sell unneeded things on eBay. Do you really need that rare first edition book or that Joe Montana signed football?

32. Buy your clothes used at thrift stores or consider discount retailers like Target or Old Navy.

33. Want to buy some new music? Turn in your old CDs at the used CD store for credit to buy new ones instead of paying cash. You’ve probably already ripped them all anyways right? Some CD stores will also give you up to 75% credit on CDs if you turn them back in less than one week.

34. After you ditch your land line phone, check your cell phone plan to make sure you really need all of the services. Do you really need to pay for unlimited text messaging, call forwarding, three way calling, etc. See what you can cut from your cell phone bill.

35. Look for special travel deals online when you have to travel. Always book any travel 14 days in advance. Try not to travel as this gets very expensive.

36. Going on a road trip? Skip the hotel motel and sleep in a tent or in your car instead.

37. Watch where gas is the cheapest in your neighborhood. Be aware of what gas prices are lowest. I’ve seen some gas stations in SF that charge 40 cents more per gallon than the cheaper ones. Never use full service gas and pump the cheaper lower octane gasoline.

38. Shop your auto insurance. Call four or five low priced insurers for new quotes. Also make sure that if you are driving less (ie. walking, biking, public transporting more) that you make sure that you mention the reduced miles per year on your auto to your current provider or your new one.

39. Try to find free things to do. Watch a kids baseball game (this also reduces stress, watching them play). Go hear a free lecture at a bookstore by an author. Feed the ducks with old bread at the lake. Have a picnic. Play chess or other board games that you pick up for cheap at a local garage sale. Go to a gallery opening for an artist (oftentimes there is free wine and food there too).

40. Consider refinancing your home. The Treasury is injecting $250 billion into the largest banks in the U.S. in the short term. Hopefully this will help with lending. Make sure that you are paying the lowest fixed rate mortgage rate that you can. Consider moving your mortgage to an even lower 15 year rate if you can swing it.

41. Use Skype or other free voice services for international and long distance phone calls.

42. Always ask for generic prescription drugs instead of the name brand when you fill your prescription.

43. Make sure that you (or your parents) have a living trust in place. This saves money on probate costs and potential estate taxes in the event of death. You don’t necessarily need to go to a lawyer to put a cheap living trust together for the time being.

44. Insulate your water heater and turn it down.

45. Check the air pressure on your cars tires and make sure that you are checking the oil. Proper air pressure will help you get more miles to the gallon. Making sure that you have oil will avoid costly repairs.

46. If you must go out to eat consider going out for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner it’s cheaper. Ask for a doggy bag for any uneaten food to take home.

47. Track every expense for a month. Write down or save receipts for literally everything, even the $2 frozen yogurt that you bought last Tuesday. Sit down and review all of these expenses at the end of the month and try to figure out what you can cut out.

48. Don’t turn the air conditioner on in your car, save gas.

49. Compare prices online. Is there something that you found that you really want to buy? Check online first to see if you can buy it cheaper (remember to factor in shipping and tax costs).

50. Cut your own lawn. Get rid of the gardener and save some money doing this work yourself. Good exercise as well.

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13 Comments

  1. Brian Hoyt says:

    Regarding 13 you may also be able to have the bills charged to your credit card and earn you points. If you pay off your credit card it is just as good as direct debit from bank except you get the bonus points.

  2. Mark says:

    4) Aren’t magazines usually pre-paid?
    12) This is a good idea as long as you have the will power to not abuse the credit card. This is where cash is handy. If you don’t have the cash, you can’t spend it.
    22) I’d say, the bigger the purchase the longer you should wait (within reason).
    32) I use this all the time! I’ve found some great Hollister cargoes for $4 at the Salvation Army. Since the clothes are used they may not last as long, but for that kind of price, I could buy a new pair of pants every week.

  3. toneroo says:

    Great ideas here, nice job. However, I have to be a party pooper and point out that for #21 and #33 you can’t legally copy a CD unless you own it. That means no to ripping CD’s borrowed from the library and technically if you sell a CD you have to delete the MP3’s too. Of course this doesn’t stop most people however I wouldn’t be recommending it on a public weblog. My advice for cheap music would be to visit your local CD store as they very often have “2 for… and “3 for…” deals that are way cheaper than buying songs from iTunes or Amazon.

  4. Interesting list and some great ideas for saving money. Perhaps another way to look at it is to suggest that the economy links up with everyone – if everyone in the world (ok maybe just the countries with market economies) followed the above list, then the economy would grind to a halt. If there are no consumers, there are no people to sell to. One of the biggest problems faced by governments when trying to pull an economy out of recession is to stimulate consumption (on all levels) as without consumption you can’t sell your products and that has a knock on effect everywhere. So I’d think you would find that the last thing a government wants to do is to get people of the streets spending money as that hurts the economy more.

    Of course it does demand having money in the first place and even before this crisis, many people never had any money of theirs anyway. Anyone who uses credit of any kind is in debt – house, car, credit card, store card… So get rid of the debts that are just nice-to-haves and focus on reducing the debts that you must have. You’ll be able to get more money in the pocket and while you’ll still be ‘in the red’, you’ll be on your way to zero debt and actual wealth. No matter which way you look at it, if the money that you owe someone else is more than you physically own, then you are in debt.

    Reduce your debts and live within your means. This global crisis was brought about largely because of loans being sold to people who could not afford to repay them.

  5. Interesting list and some great ideas for saving money. Perhaps another way to look at it is to suggest that the economy links up with everyone – if everyone in the world (ok maybe just the countries with market economies) followed the above list, then the economy would grind to a halt. If there are no consumers, there are no people to sell to. One of the biggest problems faced by governments when trying to pull an economy out of recession is to stimulate consumption (on all levels) as without consumption you can’t sell your products and that has a knock on effect everywhere. So I’d think you would find that the last thing a government wants to do is to get people of the streets spending money as that hurts the economy more.

    Of course it does demand having money in the first place and even before this crisis, many people never had any money of theirs anyway. Anyone who uses credit of any kind is in debt – house, car, credit card, store card… So get rid of the debts that are just nice-to-haves and focus on reducing the debts that you must have. You’ll be able to get more money in the pocket and while you’ll still be ‘in the red’, you’ll be on your way to zero debt and actual wealth. No matter which way you look at it, if the money that you owe someone else is more than you physically own, then you are in debt.

    Reduce your debts and live within your means. This global crisis was brought about largely because of loans being sold to people who could not afford to repay them.

  6. Greg says:

    If you’re a die hard media junkie, and you’re paying a fortune for cable, ditch it.

    Instead, get a dry-loop DSL connection (that’s a DSL connection with no telephone service added on). It’s fast and you’re not paying for a phone line you don’t need (get a decent cell plan with lots of free minutes instead).

    Then, select a few shows to get a season pass on iTunes (or alternately, watch ’em on Hulu.com and network sites) or ahem “other means.”

    Once I did that, I was way more selective about what I watched, watched less TV in general, and only paid for what I actually used. I also have Netflix but the great thing about Netflix is you can “suspend” your account if you’re too busy to use it.

    You don’t lose your account – but you also do NOT pay for what you don’t use – and you don’t pay again until the designated restart time comes up.

    doing this has saved me a fortune in endless fees and taxes, and I’m getting pretty much everything legally via iTunes, hulu and the networks. And I watch only good TV and movies and not just “whatever’s on cable.”

  7. Tim says:

    4. Do not cancel your local newspaper or magazines. There are people who work in this industry and create the content you read online. If you want to continue to receive your local news then continue to support it. I is short sited people who think that you shouldn’t have to pay for content in some way.

    13. And don’t kill the world with mercury and other problems that come with the new CFL light bulbs. Just turn off your lights when you leave the room and unplug your devices when you don’t need or use them.

    21. Support the musicians and authors who create the content you want and don’t steal from them or the companies who help put their content out. If you like the cd’s you get from the library buy the files from amazon or apple. Buy the book and pass it to a friend or sell it at a local book store. (or back on amazon as a used book)

    44. Don’t turn down your water heater too low though cause you want to keep the hot hot enough to kill germs when you need it. Think about buying a tankless water heater.

    48. Turn on the air conditioner in the car all you want. Mythbusters proved you get less gas mileage by opening the windows compared to running the airconditioner. (Although it was really close. Your mileage may vary.)

    Extra: Tell bloggers who post over written articles to shorten their content, learn to edit themselves and research topics better. Ignore the bloggers who write too much and put out content you disagree wtih. Don’t go to their sites. They are just wasting your electricity and time. This goes for the commenters to.

  8. Craig says:

    Here is an inspiring story about extreme frugality. Concerning music, I would advise Pandora. Also here are two personal finance blogs I like: Get Rich Slowly and One Frugal Girl.

  9. redslime says:

    great ideas, but if we all do them the economy will tank!

  10. TranceMist says:

    I would love to cancel my %^$^@#@*# Comcast Basic Cable.

    The problem is that I can't get Internet service without it. #&$*(#%^ Legislators.

    DSL sucks worse than cable.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know that the author is suggesting we do ALL of these things, but rather making suggestions as to where we might cut back. While I don’t agree with everything Thomas wrote, I do greatly appreciate his efforts during our current economic situation. -Patrick

  12. Joey G says:

    Wow. A LOT of really great advice here. You should consider getting a book published on this subject. You easily have enough content for one.

  13. phanatic says:

    Pabst Blue Ribbon? Okay, it’s not a big step down from Heineken, but the general message is “Stop worrying about quality, just buy some cheap stuff to stuff your gob with!” and that’s crap.

    Take the money you’re saving by turning off your landline and your cable and buy stuff that’s actually worth swallowing. If the only reason you eat is to satiate hunger and the only reason you drink is to get shitfaced, okay, fine, stock up on ramen and MGD, but life is more than that.