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There was a point in my life when I’d ask my college roommates to bring me back ketchup packets from their lunches out (#1). I wasn’t about to pay full price for the Heinz when they’re just giving that stuff away at some local establishments… I mean, C’mon.
I say the above to let you know that I’ve sat for hours contemplating different ways to save a buck here or earn a buck there. All in a combined frugal effort to fight the staggeringly large 6-figure student loan debt over our heads.
And now that I’ve been to the frugal mountaintop and we’re nearing the end of our student loan repayment, my personal finance nerd friends and I will occasionally search the web for frugal tips that we haven’t heard of or tried in a while.
But I haven’t found a comprehensive list that details all the things we’ve tried or seen our friends do. And with the student loan and general debt epidemic that is running rampant through our generation, we need an arsenal to fight back.
We need a cache of frugal tip weapons to aid us in fighting the approaching debt army.
This is our battle plan.
Here are 67 Great Frugal Tips to Make you Wealthier Today
Frugal tips to use as a general best practice
1- Write your financial goals on a piece of paper you’ll see every day
When the water heater, A/C, heat, roof, car, … breaks down, paying for a replacement with cash money saves you in stress, extra interest, and long-term financial progress. Dave Ramsey says $1,000 is a good amount but I’d argue for $2,500-7,500 depending on your financial situation.
Another great way to boost your emergency fund is to check out some great stay at home jobs and then save your extra income.
Frugal tips for food (I like to eat)
1- Grow your own veggies
Price per pound of tomatoes in the US (2017): $2.24 (that’s 2 large Roma tomatoes. You can find packets of 10 seeds for under $1. One seed could feed your home for a week, minimum. Extrapolate that across all veggies and you’ve got yourself some savings.
We sometimes make a game out of “How many lunches and dinners can we make with what we have in our pantry, freezer, and fridge.” Our record – 5.5 days for our family of 3.
3- Use new tech
Most major grocery stores have an app. Those apps have coupons and cash back programs. Additionally, apps like Ebates, APay, ibotta, etc., you just perform your normal shopping, scan your receipts, and earn cash back.
4- Couponing is not dead
In addition to the services above, many communities, stores, and online entities have and distribute coupons. All you need to do is look around. We’ll typically find ours online, in our mailbox, and in the local newspaper (yes, they still have that…).
First of all, I’ve saved 10-20% countless times just by asking. Secondly, I’ve heard Tim Ferriss discuss this exercise a few times on his uber-popular and well-respected podcast (he got the idea from Noah Kagan):
Go into a coffee shop anywhere in the world and order a coffee or muffin and ask for 10% off then wait for a response. Although you may be confident in your salesmanship abilities, Kagan and Ferriss confirm that everyone they’ve put through this challenge learns something new about themselves that was previously hidden. Savings and growth… What’s to lose?
7- Meal plan and stick to the list while at the store
For years we’d grocery shop without a list. That was a recipe for overspending. Then we made a list and that saved us 20%. But then we took it a step further and planned every meal for the week down to the starch.
I don’t care if you forgot to write something down. Going without it for a week will make you remember to put it on the list next week.
8- If you’re going out to eat pick places where your kids eat free
Applebee’s, Pizza Hut, Bennigan’s, Denny’s, TGI Fridays, IHOP (with or without the burgers… smh), and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit to name a few.
9- Batch Meal prep for the week over the weekend
Meal planning is one thing. Batch meal prepping is another. After we make the list and head to the store on Saturday’s, we’ll set 2 hours aside on Sunday’s and make all the food we’ll need for lunches the following week. And we’ll normally have enough left over for a dinner or two as well.
On this plan, we only need to cook once or twice – max – during the week. That saves us from going out for dinner and buying food at lunch.
10- Pack snacks rather than buy
Ever find yourself at the public library or free community event ? with a hungry kid or big kid(you)? Yeah, same here. After making that mistake more than a few times, we eventually started bringing our own snacks rather than paying $1.50 for an airplane-sized bag of chips or an incredibly unhealthy candy bar… Which ultimately provided a 10-minute sugar high followed by an exponentially higher desire to take a nap.
The average lunch out costs between $6-10. Five days per week for 49 weeks (I gave you 3 vacation weeks) and you’re looking at $1,470-2,450 for the year. By doubling recipes (which doesn’t double your grocery bill) and batch meal prepping, you can save a minimum of $1,000 for the year. Try telling me that pinching pennies doesn’t work…
13- Make your own trail mix
Buying trail mix in a grocery store or, Heavens To Betsy in a convenience store, could cost you $5-10 for a single serve pack. But, if you employ the “shop at Aldi” technique reference above, and buy the full containers of peanuts ($1.69), granola ($2-4), M&M’s ($2.50), and raisins ($1.69)… And your total is under $10 for at least 5-10 servings. That’s savings.
14- Order water if you’re out to eat
This is a simple one. If you’re eating out, skip the $4 soft drink and go with the healthier, free’er option instead.
15- If you’re going with fast food, use the value menu
I’m not a huge fan of most fast food chains but if you’re in a pinch, go with the value menu. There, you could easily get 2 sandwiches and a fry. Many restaurants are featuring healthier options at a value price. I see you, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Dairy Queen…
16- Buy in bulk (Costco, Sams Club, etc.)
Price per unit is the key term here. For example, if you buy a package of 150 widgets at Sam’s Club that runs $40, then compare that to a package of 48 of the same widgets for $17.00 at your local supermarket – your price per widget is $0.27 at Sam’s vs $0.35 at the local grocery.
So, it’s simple then. Sam’s is cheaper, right? Well, that depends. Are those perishable items and will you use them all? Do you have enough space to store them in your home? You can see how multiple variables come to play here, but the finances are clear. Buying in bulk can have it’s financial benefits.
17- Use Groupon if you’re going out to eat
A quick Groupon search just got me half off at a local pizza joint. I’ll be back… (No – I’m not paying the delivery fee. Oh, wait. It’s included in the Groupon? Even better!)
18- Try intermittent fasting
This may be a little out of bounds for some but we’ve been so conditioned to eat automatically at certain intervals throughout the day. What happens when you take a meal off?
I’ve written about my experiments with daily fasting in a recent post and (spoiler alert) – you can make it without lunch… You just need to have the right mindset. I use this practice when I’m in an airport, for example where all of the food is either incredibly expensive or unhealthy. I highly recommend giving this one a try, it can change your life – not only your finances.
When you’re differentiating between good and bad debts (yes, there is a difference), it is vitally important to actually make the distinction. One of the main factors separating the two is the interest rate. Most commonly, when you think of terrible interest rates, there are payday loans and credit cards.
But we had the example of student loans. There were a total of over a dozen different loans ranging anywhere from 4.8% – 7.9% interest, and when you start talking about six-figure sums of money at nearly 8% interest – you start talking about a ton of interest. We shopped different lenders and ended up refinancing all of our student loans into one that had a respectable 5.2% rate. Not perfect but much better than 8%.
If we look at a difference in total interest paid between the two on a hypothetical $100,000 loan over ten years, the interest saved is about $17,138!!!
3 – Literally freeze your credit card
One of those clients mentioned above who was told time after time to start her spending freeze just kept slipping up and using the plastic. It wasn’t devious planning, she just couldn’t resist the quick impulse buy after seeing a shiny object. And as she was insisting on not cutting the card up, I had to get creative.
With her and her husband’s permission (of course), I pulled out a Tupperware container from the cabinet, put the card in there, filled it up with water, and put it in their freezer. She was shocked, the husband was happy, and she quit making impulse purchases…
4- Improve your credit score
Having a good credit score can help you earn a lower interest rate, get a cheaper rent payment, buy a house, and even get a job. There are 5 main things you can do to improve this sacred number. Here they are:
Have a good payment history – The best practice here is to pay each bill in full when you receive it. A great rule to implement for yourself is to make sure that your mortgage, car loans, and other regular payments are accounted for in each month’s budget. And when it comes to the credit cards, do not buy an item with your card unless you already have the money in your checking account.
Monitor your credit utilization – This number simply represents the percentage of debt that you’re currently using compared with all debt that is available to you. Anything over 30% is a negative that can drag down your credit score. Borrowers in this category are seen to be a higher risk because they may be overextended. To improve, you can ask for a credit limit increase (increases the total debt available and reduces your percentage), pay your cards off every week (ending balance is a fraction of what was actually spent), or just use your card less.
Have older cards – Rather than canceling old accounts, just cut that card up (so that you won’t use it and it can’t be stolen from you) and keep the account active. This is especially helpful if that card represents your oldest line of credit. If you opened that account 10 years ago and your other most used card is only 5 years old, by closing that older account you will effectively be cutting your length of credit history in half.
Don’t run your credit unless absolutely necessary – Safeguard your Social Security Number so that you are less likely to be a victim of identity theft. One of the easiest ways to torpedo a credit score (and your overall finances) is to have lines of credit opened in your name by identity thieves. Now that we have security accounted for, make sure you do your research before opening any new accounts. Is this the perfect credit card for your current needs? Are you sure that the payment terms are acceptable for that new car? And make sure to shop prices before the seller checks your credit.
Reduce the Outstanding Debt Ratio (ODR) or Debt to Income Ratio – When it comes to Outstanding Debt Ratio, the lower the better. But if you’re like most Americans with a mortgage, car payment(s), student loans, and other liabilities, reducing this ratio can be tough if you have a short amount of time. Lucky for us consumers, though, ODR is one of the least impactful factors on your credit score.
5- Pay off your credit card every Friday
I got this tip from a friend of mine who with his wife paid off $89,000 in 15 months. Want to know what else they did to achieve that goal? No worries, I wrote all about it here!
But back to the point. By getting into the habit of paying off the card every Friday, you’re never left wondering… “Did I make that payment?” No. Now it’s simple. I pay it on Friday.
6- Automate your debt payments and adjust the timing
This one was vital to our family when we bought our business. At first, I was writing checks for the mortgage, student loans, the business loan, the loan we took to move our business… So many checks. And they were all drawing out of our account right around the first of the month.
So I called up all of our lenders and worked to set up automatic withdrawals at different times throughout the month. Now we’re still spending the same “minimum” payments, but they’re spread out over 30 days instead of 5. Big difference.
Frugal tips for reducing expenses
1- Ask to spend less on monthly “fixed” expenses
Call up your cable provider, cell phone company, or internet provider to see if there’s anything they’re willing to do to keep you as a customer. This was part of my strategy that helped us cut over $200 of spending one month.
2- Remove collision insurance on older and paid off cars
We made a long-term gamble based on statistics, driving record, and ultimate probability. We’re saving in monthly premiums on our remaining car, but with the one that was wrecked: we did lose that bet.
3- Subscribe as a family – apple music, Netflix, Prime
I don’t advocate breaking policy rules here, but if you are within the service’s guidelines – it’s smart to subscribe 1 time for multiple people in the family. Or… For example, we have 2 Netflix accounts for our dental office’s7 TVs. When we set those two accounts up, we canceled our home subscription because when we’re not in the office, we can have access at home.
Cell phone service isn’t limited exclusively to the big few companies. There are many MVNO’s that offer highly competitive rates when compared with the Verizon’s of the world. On top of that – many MVNO’s have access to the cell towers that those big companies use… It’s like buying the off-brand cereal that was made in the same factory and at the same time as those Cheerio’s we love – they were just put into a different box.
5- Walk or Ride to work (if possible)
A friend of mine has been walking to work for over 4 years. He detailed the cost savings, physical benefits, and general improvements this walking has had on his life here. And I followed up with some additional questions about the logistics of walking for all of those days in this post. If walking or riding more often is an option for you, there’s no doubt about the financial benefits available.
6- Shop at second-hand stores
When our first child was born we became fed-up with big store prices pretty quickly. Then we found out about Once Upon A Child, where second-hand items are sold at a fraction of the price. Most of our daughter’s clothes and many of the toys she played with were from stores just like this one.
7- Use local community parks for dates or play dates
Who doesn’t love a good walk in the park? Many times all you need to do is look around for great parks or other community attractions to spend some quality time with the little ones or with your loved one. These are free options and tend to be worth their weight in gold, regarding fun had. Just watch out for the low-hanging bridges…
9- Use the public library over bookstores or Amazon
The library doesn’t just have books. Although the books they do have are free for you to rent out. No, you can also use the library for movie and TV series rentals. Our library also has awesome events for kids. Did someone say Saturday morning babysitter…?
10- Practice self-discipline and say no
How many times did you make an impulse purchase last week? I’m at 3. And although they were a Dairy Queen Blizzard, a beer at volleyball, and a new charging cord for my phone, those little purchases add up throughout the year. Did I need the Blizzard or beer? No.
11- Take advantage of Netflix (or other services) free trial periods
With Netflix specifically, you can sign up and immediately cancel your service and you will still be granted the 30 free days. This can be especially helpful if there’s a new series that was recently released. And with this process, you won’t forget about the subscription you don’t really want then pay. Next season, use your spouse’s email.
12- Wash your clothes in cold water and hang them up to dry
This is an old standby to ultimately reduce utility costs. There’s energy (probably gas) to heat warm water and a lot of juice to run your dryer.
Our HVAC went down last week in the office. It just so happened to be 90 degrees outside with 90% humidity. Tough to do dental work in those conditions. And although it was vital to get someone in to fix the issue right away, I still shopped around to 3 different companies.
By making the 2 extra phone calls I was able to save an estimated $500. Well worth the warm extra 30 minutes.
14- Use less toothpaste per brush
If you are flossing regularly and brushing well, you don’t need heaps of toothpaste on the brush. Not only are you saving money, 1 out of 1 dentist says you’re clinically good (my wife).
Another idea is to ask your hygienist for an extra freebie during your next visit.
15- Be your own handyman
You can save so much money by doing things on your own (fixing a leak, changing the oil, or snaking a drain). If you’re not “handy,” then you can either ask a friend to help or hire some help once and ask them to teach you how to do it yourself next time.
16- Clean with vinegar
Got this one from Mom. For years we’d buy the name-brand cleaners then during one visit she suggested we use vinegar. I gave it a try the following week then called to tell her thanks! She said, “No problem. Glad it worked! You should’ve listened to me sooner.” She was claiming to have told me years ago… A child not take a parent’s advice??? Doubtful.
The best part – I can buy liters of vinegar for a fraction of the price of the cleaning items. And it’s chemically safer than many others. Win-win.
17- Use a Nalgene or other washable bottle
I bought 3 Nalgene bottles for that Costa Rican trip referenced above. That was 10 years ago and I still use those same three bottles to this day. Do you know how they illustrate the whole, “That amount of plastic bottles would wrap around the globe X times.” Well, I have to be in the 4-digits of globe-wraps saved by this point. Not to mention the actual dollar cost.
18- Audit your monthly subscriptions
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, Spotify, Blue Apron, etc. How many do you have and how many do you actually need? The former is probably > the latter.
19- Cut the proverbial cord
Speaking of monthly subscriptions, TV is one that we have struggled with for quite some time. I am happy to say that I’ve reached the, “He’s threatened to quit over the maximum threshold number of times,” level so that we’ve been awarded superb pricing. It’s like beating the video game and then getting the cheat codes. We pay $62/month for DirecTV and Internet. That’s pretty good from what I’ve seen.
But to some that don’t value having TV hooked up to all the live channels, that $31 for TV is still way too much. There are many streaming options out there, but just be careful not to stack so many of those on top of each other that you’re right back to where you started.
20- Free local festivals or parties
My household loves weekend activities. We hike, go to the parks, hit up the splash pad, and attend local festivals for the great community, free handouts, and mostly rockin’ music. We’re normally walking or biking, but we’re always packing heat… In the form of deli sandwiches, trail mix, and protein bars (hot because they’ve been in my backpack on a warm summer day). We don’t typically take cash and even if we do, it rarely leaves our pockets.
21- Ask for “wants” during the holidays or on your birthday
Rather than buying that cool thing you’d love to have, ask for it during the holiday months or around your birthday. You save on cost and grandma gets what she wants: the opportunity to buy you something that you’ll actually enjoy.
22- Collect soaps from any hotel stays
This isn’t limited to the income challenged folk among us. I have a set of relatives that do very well financially and every time they visit a hotel – they always come away with handfuls of soaps and toiletry items. They use them to set out in the guest bathroom at their house… A phenomenal idea, am I right?
23- No new makeup purchases until you’ve used all of those free samples
I got this one from my sister-in-law and although I can confirm to never having used makeup, I wouldn’t mind being a TV actor some day. (For the record, this is not a statement I have ever said to my wife…)
24- Use the carpool lane
My day-job office is 30 minutes from our town. It just so happens that many of us live within 5 miles of each other. A great cost-savings approach is to carpool to work. Save on cost and indulge on community.
25- Negotiate the ability to work 4 10-hour days
This may not be an option for everyone but if you’ve built up some negotiating goodwill, it can’t hurt to ask. That’s 49 Friday’s without the round trip, gas, and emotional energy spent gearing up for the office. (I gave you 3 weeks off)
26- Search for different utility providers in your area
Competition breeds excellence. And that holds true for utility providers. Especially when it comes to price competition. If you do have multiple providers, pit them against one another to see who earns your business.
Frugal tips for using taxes to your benefit
1- Open a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
The most popular version uses pre-tax income (from your paycheck) for healthcare expenses. We also take advantage of the version that can be used for dependent care expenses (daycare). Check with your employer!
Depending on your experience and skill level with taxes, hiring an accountant may pay for herself in multiples. Personally, knowing that I have a professional whom I trust and that has my best interests in mind, frees me up to do things in our business that I otherwise wouldn’t have the time to. Another huge benefit is a dramatic reduction in the likelihood of not taking full advantage of the tax code or filing incorrectly then paying penalties down the road.
4- Utilize credit card rewards
I am not a travel hacking guru but I literally make every purchase possible on our credit cards. Doing so allows us to take full advantage of the tax-free benefit that is: cash back in the form of a credit card reward. It’s free, untaxed money. Go get some!
5- Donate unused clothes and household items – then claim the deduction come tax time
Not only are you helping someone in need, but also you’re claiming the deduction come April.
Frugal tips for earning or saving more
1- Ask for a raise at work
So many times people get caught up in spending less money or saving what they have coming in (which are both great) but forget about the option of opening up that income faucet. Unemployment is at a historic low right now and has recently crossed the threshold of there are more jobs available than qualified workers to fill them.
Traditional savings accounts tout a paltry 0.06% average interest rate (that’s sarcastic…). Currently, high yield savings accounts range near the 1.7% – 2.1% range. No, 2% is not a phenomenal investment opportunity. But when it comes to an emergency fund or some liquid amount of money, it’s about 33(X) better than a traditional savings account.
If you purchase an item for $_.75 (using a linked card), Acorns rounds up to the nearest dollar and automatically deposits the remaining $0.25 into your investment account. This is a great way to automate investing if you lack the time, ability, or general desire to do so.
6- Use an actual change jar
I have a colleague that puts her spare change (anything $1 and under) into her “vacation jar” at the end of each day. Come December, she takes a vacation using the funds in the jar. Some of the pictures from those vacations are featured on this blog. It’s fair to say that I, too, love the savings jar.
Well, there you have it! 67 Great Frugal Tips to Make you Wealthier Today. What did I miss, what sounds ridiculous, and what have you tried in the past??? I want all the juicy details below in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
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