Trying to save money can suck.
It’s hard, sometimes you just forget/get sidetracked, and sometimes it feels like you just literally don’t have anything extra to save. Believe me, I’ve been there, man – it’s horrible.
Using a few unconventional tactics, I managed to trick myself into saving a lot of the time. Fake it till you make it, right? Think of it like a game.
1. Invest in yourself. Immediately.
If you’re going to spend $5 on coffee, take the $5 and spend it…on yourself. Put it in an envelope, transfer it to a special bank account – whatever – so that it’s “spent”, but set aside toward your goal. Same goes for $10 on pizza or $2 at the gas station for snacks. You might be surprised how quickly the money seems to pile up.
2. Pay attention to your pennies.
Okay, not literally the pennies (though I do know someone who does that), but pay attention to how much you’re spending. It’s easy to just swipe your card and occasionally check your balance to see where you are-ish. When you go to the grocery store and normally spend around $50 for the week, try to make it $45, or $40…or whatever number you want to set as your goal. You can save whatever the difference in the average is.
I use Mint.com to track my money across multiple accounts. I admit, it can be a little slow to update and its kind of hard to manage cash. However, it does a good job of at least giving you a good idea of where you stand.
3a. Cut back your grocery bill:
- Look for coupons and compare different stores.
- Only buy items that are on sale (this helps with variety too!).
- Cook something that will last as a main course (a roast, lasagna, soup etc).
- If something is super cheap, make it the star of the week (a banana a day can keep the doctor away, too…apples get all the glory).
- Only buy 1 serving – one handful of mushrooms, 1 grapefruit, two kiwis, 1 can of soup…you get the idea. This cuts down on waste and decreases your shopping total!
- Sharing meals with friends and your roommate. Offer to make pasta and have them bring sides and/or booze. Another friend is in charge of dessert. Rule of Acquisition #110, “Exploitation Begins at Home“.
- Make affordable ingredients shine – like cauliflower (which can be cooked like 23 different ways), rice, beans, and eggs.
- Drink water. You knew I was going to say this at some point on this list.
3b. Cut your entertainment and social bill:
- Find joy in the simpler things – like going to the park and people-watching. Go on a scavenger hunt. Hang out and talk with friends – you could play “this or that”.
- Share Netflix with your folks – can’t hurt to ask! I don’t mind having my mom’s Hallmark movies all over my feed, so it’s fine. I pretty much just watch Star Trek. At least I didn’t say “Get rid of Netflix”, right?
- Invest in things that keep you at home – games are great for this. Board games, video games, card games … plus games are good for social interaction!
- Spend some time alone – don’t go out every night. Take a night or two to yourself and read a book, play a game, or do a hobby. This is also good practice for traveling solo!
- Here it comes: cut back on the booze. If you must partake, do it during happy hour when it’s cheap. Never pay full price for a drink (take the difference and save it).
- Find free things to do in your city. Lots of towns have free museum days for locals, park events when the weather is nice, and lots of live music at bars during the winter.
4. Save on travel costs too!
Just like losing weight, I think a culmination of all the little things add up to big changes.
- Switch to a bank that has no foreign transaction fees (I switched to Capital One 360), reimburses ATM fees (if you’re military check out USAA), or has a killer rewards program.
- Sign up for the rewards program. When I first started flying with Southwest Airlines (my favorite, they are so nice!), I signed up for their points program not thinking it would ever lead to anything. When I get back to the states in August, the points I’ve been saving are flying me from Nevada to Ohio. That’s like $400 in savings!
- Shop around! This is a good rule in general, but make sure when you’re booking things to check a few different sites – including booking directly through the company. Flights, hotels, rentals – all those things.
- Ask for free things! I managed to get a better room while staying at the Extended Stay America while traveling last summer because they were slow and I asked. “Are there any free upgrades available?”
- Kick it with the locals. This can be CouchSurfing, doing a workaway, or simply making it a point to avoid the touristy areas. Tourist stuff is always overpriced. I’m a Chicagoan, I’ve seen it.
5. Look at your numbers.
When you face your numbers it can sometimes be a bit shocking. At one point in my life I realized I was spending over $200/week eating out. HOLY EFF. I was putting it on my credit card, paying it off, then racking it back up…not good, guys, not good. I’ve worked crazy hard on my credit score over the last few years and was just shooting myself in the foot. I finally broke the cycle and started paying attention to my spending habits. I mentioned Mint.com earlier, but you could also look at You Need a Budget.
You’ll have a savings account before you know it!
I hope this list has helped you! I’ll be updating it as I continue to learn tricks. If you have anything that you’d like to see added here, share it with the class in the comments!