One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to spend less money. Let’s make 2017 the year we all cut unnecessary costs, find cheaper alternatives and in so doing, pave our way to financial freedom. That doesn’t mean we need to live like monks or give up all our pleasures. We simply need to cut back a bit each day. It adds up. Here are some helpful ideas to get you started:
- Make your own coffee. Don’t waste your money on buying that $3 cup of Starbucks every morning. You can drink the same (or better) coffee every day without having to invest in a thousand dollar espresso machine. The equipment: AeroPress. Around $30, it presses water and coffee grounds through a filter in one minute to make a gourmet-quality cup of coffee. Coffee connoisseurs rave about it. Or invest in a French press, they run under $30. You can then buy your Starbucks beans or ground bagged coffee for $10. (Or even splurge on the fancier stuff because with what you’re saving, you can afford it). One bag lasts about two weeks, so the savings really adds up.
- Spend less on gas. Go to GasBuddy.com or use the app iGasUp to find the lowest gas prices in your area. If you’re a member of Costco or Sam’s Club, take advantage of the even steeper discounts they offer. If you drive a lot and are considering a credit card that offers cash back for money spent at gas stations, Nerdwallet compares gas cards for 2017.
- Keep your car tires inflated. While you’re at the gas station, check your tire pressure to insure they’re inflated to the right levels. If you keep it at the recommended level for your car, you can improve your gas mileage. It costs next to nothing to fill up your car tires, and if you check every time you fill up at the gas station and keep it at the recommended level, you can save money, especially if you’re a heavy driver.
- Buy in bulk. Think about the staples in your life, the stuff you buy all the time. Toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, lotion, dish detergent, shampoo, conditioner, rice… you get the idea. These items don’t spoil so they shouldn’t be purchased in small quantities, where the price per unit is much higher. Instead, buy these in bulk. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pay for a membership at a warehouse retailer like Costco or Sam’s Club. Look for discounts on Groupon or even split a warehouse membership with a family member or close friend and schedule your bulk-buy dates once a month or every other month.
- Be mindful of what you have. How many times have you purchased something out of habit only to realize that you already have it at home? (Raising my hand.) It’s especially frustrating when it’s a perishable item, and now you’re tasked with finishing both before they expire. Save yourself the hassle by checking your refrigerator and cupboards before you go shopping. Even better, design your next meals around what you already have in stock. This will keep your grocery list shorter and your wallet fatter.
- Exercise. Help your health in the short term and long term. On a day-to-day basis, exercising boosts your energy (which may allow you cut back on that afternoon coffee you buy every day) and helps you sleep better and gives you more mental alertness. Long term, it boosts your metabolism and benefits your overall health, which can help cut back on your medical costs over a lifetime. Best thing about exercise? So much of it is free. Take a daily walk around the block. Go for a jog in the neighborhood. Do calisthenics, which doesn’t require equipment.
- Look into your job benefits. Check out your employee manual or human resources site for employer discounts available. Many employers partner with other companies to offer you discounts on cell phone service, amusement parks, restaurants and travel. They can also offer health savings accounts, which can lead to significant tax benefits.
- Take advantage of your local library. Your library is a treasure trove of free stuff, which translates to money you don’t have to spend. Not only can you find all of your favorite books and magazines, you can also rent movies. Goodbye cable bill! They also offer audiobooks, which are pricey if you buy them yourself. And if you do a search at your public library or ask a librarian about other offerings, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised. Many offer free passes to museums, access to expensive research tools like Consumer Reports, author events, lectures and a litany of free classes, such as computer skills, financial literacy and more. And if you want a sense of just how beyond-books these library offerings get: some libraries in Chicago offer fishing pole rentals!
- Host a garage sale. Use this as an opportunity to purge your home of items you no longer use. Whatever you don’t sell, give away. Think of this not as losing stuff, but gaining space. Put whatever money you made toward offsetting some daily expenses.
- Direct any windfalls into savings. Don’t think of a tax return or a bonus as free money, or an excuse to elevate your spending habits. Often, people receive a windfall and make spending decisions that leave them worse off in the long run. They make impulse purchases without calculating the long-term cost. For example, they might buy a car and not realize until it’s too late that they can’t afford the cumulative monthly payments, gas, maintenance and insurance costs. Keep living within your means, put the extra money toward paying off debt or building your savings.
One common theme in all these tips: you’re not giving up on anything significant, you’re simply finding cheaper alternatives and freeing up your money for the things that really matter. Here’s to a 2017 of saving money every day and living a fuller life because of it!
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