What Cutback Has Saved You the Most Money and Changed Your Life Least?
Readers share smart cutbacks and penny-pinching ideas that don't feel like sacrifices.
When I became a mom, in February 2010, I stopped highlighting my hair. Every time I think about the huge savings (about $860 annually!), I feel even better about going back to my natural color.
My family moved from Michigan to Texas two years ago. Before the move, we gave our television away and decided not to buy a new one. As a result, we no longer pay for cable. We’ve saved a lot of money—and now we play games or go for walks instead of spending that time sitting in front of the TV.
Earlier this year, my gym membership was setting me back $100 a month, so I traded the treadmill for the pavement. Pretty soon, when there’s two feet of snow on the ground, we’ll find out whether frugality or fitness wins out.
Brooklyn, New York
I gave up paper towels and napkins in 2006. Today I wonder why I ever used them in the first place. Cloth towels and napkins are durable, convenient, and better for the environment.
Maureen Smithe Brusznicki
To stay within our monthly food budget, I stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables instead of fresh. This change has cut down on prep time, too. No more washing, scrubbing, and chopping. I just throw thawed bags of produce into a pan, a casserole, or the blender.
In my city, taking public transit to and from work costs $5.50 a day. So I opt to ride my bike whenever I can. The commute takes the same amount of time, and for about half of the nine-mile stretch, I get to cycle on a scenic lakefront path.
When I want to buy CDs and DVDs, I usually go online and get them used instead of new. The products often cost half as much, and so far the quality has been comparable.
I used to buy a cup of tea almost every day, at $2 a pop (or $4 if I sprang for a chai latte). When money got tight, I started brewing my own tea every morning. It saves me a bundle.
In 2009, when my husband and I found out I was pregnant with triplets, we knew we had to pare down our expenses. Switching from name brands to generics for baby products, such as diapers and formula, has helped a lot, and I haven’t noticed any difference in quality.
Jennifer Dovidio Valentine
About four months ago, I started making my lunch at home instead of buying it on my work break. That was the easy part. Not forgetting the bag at home has been the real challenge. For the first few weeks, I had to leave my keys in the refrigerator to help me remember. But now I’m a pro at preparing a delicious to-go meal and bringing it with me.
We stopped buying wrapping paper, since it always ends up in the trash. Now we cover presents in whatever paper we need to get rid of anyway—like department-store bags and advertisements from the Sunday newspaper. The gifts look cute and cost us— and the environment—less.
Lindsay Meeker O’Connor
Professional manicures are a luxury that I used to indulge in every 10 days. Now I get them only on special occasions. The rest of the time, I paint my own nails—which is no hardship, since I get to keep the polish when I’m done!
New York, New York
Since rice, beans, and locally produced eggs and dairy products can meet my nutritional needs, I’ve stopped eating meat regularly. I have been pleasantly surprised by how little I miss it—and how much more cheaply (and sustainably) I can live my life without it.
Wilmington, North Carolina
A while ago, I was out of dryer sheets but needed to do some laundry, so I went ahead and dried a load without them. To my surprise, the clothing came out just as soft and fresh as it always does. I haven’t used dryer sheets since.
Takoma Park, Maryland
My husband and I decided to drive our teenage daughters to school instead of paying the $2,100 fee for the school bus. We have to get up earlier in the morning, but it’s definitely worth the money we save annually. Plus, it gives me a chance to chat with the girls, and I arrive at work a few minutes early.
Foster City, California
We’ve stopped eating at restaurants. When we feel like making dinner a special event, we light a fire in the fireplace, spread a blanket on the living-room floor, and have a faux picnic. Sometimes our 16-year-old takes out his guitar so we can have a sing-along, too.
Meeting my friends for a quick drink after work is one of my favorite ways to cap off the day, but in Manhattan this little indulgence can start adding up. I’ve saved money by ordering a $6 to $8 glass of wine instead of a more expensive cocktail. Chatting with my pals is fabulous whether or not I’m sipping a $12 martini.
South Norwalk, Connecticut
When my husband and I moved cross-country, we sold our second car with the intention of buying a new one when we were settled. But we’ve managed to get along without one by walking to work, the gym, and local shops. We’re saving money on gas and insurance while living a greener life.
Last New Year’s, my husband and I vowed not to buy any new clothing in 2011. It was difficult at first, but soon enough we learned how to wear just about every item in our jam-packed closets.
Raleigh, North Carolina
At the end of the last school year, I let go of our house cleaner after five years of weekly service. I wanted my three daughters to take on more active roles in the upkeep of the entire house, rather than just their bedrooms. The extra money has been a welcome bonus. And I think our house is tidier than it’s ever been!
We canceled our monthly cell-phone contract after the initial period and bought a prepaid plan, adding minutes as needed. This change has saved us hundreds of dollars over the past three years. It makes sense to pay for only the minutes you use.
Grants Pass, Oregon
Going to the movies. After all, it costs $10 a ticket, not to mention the pricey popcorn and candy. And I’ve discovered that I’m just as happy watching the films from the comfort of my couch.