Our Best-Ever Tips for Saving Money
From cutting down on utility costs to saving money on every purchase, here are our best-ever ways (more than 90!) to save money.
Learning how to save money—thus keeping more in your pocket or avoiding debt—is no small feat. One of the biggest actions you can take to improve your finances is to learn how to budget money. When you’re budgeting well and living within your means, tackling other financial goals, such as getting out of debt, saving for retirement, or buying a house, becomes more doable. Without a budget, saving money in small amounts will only help so much.
Finding the best ways to save money is important, but it doesn’t erase the fact that the cost of living in many places is quickly outpacing (or has already outpaced) minimum wage and median pay. When you’re not making a living wage, it’s difficult to afford the essentials, and no amount of penny-pinching can change that completely. The same is true if you’ve recently been laid off or furloughed because of the coronavirus crisis: When larger forces drastically decrease your income, major shifts—such as seeking unemployment benefits, forbearance, and leniency from lenders—are necessary.
If your finances are in relatively good shape or you’ve gotten larger-scale financial aid to see you through a rough path and you’re trying to save a few dollars where you can, these ways to save money quickly add up. Depending on your current lifestyle habits, you could use these ways to save money to put thousands of dollars back in your pockets every year. In a time when financial uncertainty is everywhere, padding your bank accounts while you can is never a bad idea.
Try these ways to save money, and you may be surprised by how much you can save over time. Editor’s tip: There are a lot of ways to save money here. To find tips about certain things—like how to save money on car repairs or how to save money shopping—hit Command and f on your Mac (Control and f on Windows); you’ll be able to search this article for your topic.
How to save money everywhere
Many people are paid over 26 pay periods, says Patrick B. Martinez, founder and CEO of 3/axis Wealth in Chicago. That means, twice a year, you could receive three paychecks a month instead of the typical two. Mark these extra paychecks on your calendar and arrange to put them in an investment, retirement, or high-interest savings account.
If you submit expenses that are later reimbursed, have the money sent to your savings account instead of your checking account. It feels like extra money, says Bola Sokunbi, founder of the website Clever Girl Finance.
For a workplace retirement savings account, many companies offer an auto-increase feature that lets you increase your per-paycheck contribution by 1 percent or more at regular intervals, according to Ellen O’Connell, CFP, financial consultant at Fidelity Investments. Set this to increase each quarter until you reach the recommended 15 percent contribution. You likely won’t even notice small increases, and you’ll be happy with the results.
If you have a splurge-type item in your budget (like eating lunch out) and find yourself overspending, buy a gift card at the beginning of the month for the allotted amount, suggests Anna Newell Jones, author of The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living: How A Spending Fast Helped Me Get From Broke to Badass in Record Time ($10; amazon.com). Once the gift card is spent, you’re cut off from shelling out any more.
Alternately, use cash instead of plastic. Keep a stash of cash with you for nights out or daytime outings so you don’t overspend. Handing over bills will encourage you to think critically about your spending—and may help you spend less.
If relatives or friends are inquiring about birthday or holiday gifts, ask for a membership to places like the zoo, aquarium, or children’s museum. A toy keeps your kids occupied one Saturday; a zoo pass can last for months, says Laura Vanderkam, author of Juliet’s School of Possibilities ($16; amazon.com) and All the Money in the World ($13; amazon.com).
If you have less than the recommended 20 percent equity on a home, the lender will charge you for private mortgage insurance (PMI), explains Carol Fabbri, CFP, principal at Fair Advisors and executive director at Fair Advisors Institute in Denver. In most cases, when you reach 22 percent equity, this insurance should be automatically canceled. However, when you reach 20 percent, you can request the lender end it. PMI usually costs 0.5 to 1 percent of your loan each year and can go up to 5 percent. A 1 percent fee on a $200,000 loan will cost you $2,000 a year! If you saved the same money for 20 years (earning 5 percent a year), you would have more than $68,000.
Make your IRA or SEP (simplified employee pension) contributions during the year rather than waiting until you file your taxes in April. Historically, the fourth quarter is the best-performing quarter for equities, and the first quarter is the second best. If you make the contribution in September instead of the following April, you get an additional six months for your investments to grow, during the two best-performing quarters. Forecast what your total income will be for the year to make sure you qualify for contributions, says Andrew Casteel, CFP, chief investment officer and financial planner at Acorn Financial Services.
Call your insurance agent and ask if you’re being charged a fee for paying your bill monthly. If so, you can save on insurance costs by opting to pay for six months or one year at a time (if you can afford to do so)—whatever is necessary to stop paying the monthly fee, says Amanda Grossman, founder of the financial education platform Frugal Confessions.
There are lots of discounts available, and you can become a member at 18, contrary to popular belief. “I joined at age 35, and I more than offset the $16 annual fee with a discount on a hotel,” says Roger Ma, CFP, founder of the financial planning firm lifelaidout in New York City.
“Snacks and drinks are so expensive at events like sporting games and concerts. Do a little research and see if you can bring your own. Our family recently saved about $30 at the baseball stadium this way,” says Brooke Napiwocki, CFP, financial planner at Crescendo Wealth Management in Grafton, Wisc.
When you buy a toiletry item (especially makeup and skin-care products), write the date and price on it. Once you’re ready to purchase it again, you can see the price and quickly search for the best deal. You’ll also determine how quickly you go through it and can decide if it’s worth buying again, says Brianna Firestone, money coach in Denver and founder of the financial and lifestyle platform The School of Betty.
“Whether for a month, a week, or just a few days, it’s beneficial to reset and find a way to recommit to your savings goals. Our clients save up to $50 a day. Some have saved more than $3,000 a month with this trick,” says Shannon McLay, CEO and founder of The Financial Gym in New York City.
There are plenty of gyms that offer super-affordable childcare while you’re on the premises. “For us, it’s only $30 a month,” says Lina Kristjansen, blogger at Five Year FIRE Escape. “We’d spend hundreds on babysitting for those hours. This trick has saved our family thousands of dollars, gotten me fit, and best of all given me the energy I need with two kids in tow.”
If you finish paying off a car, home, or student loan, keep making those payments toward another goal. For example, put them in a high-interest savings account to build an emergency fund, or transition student loan payments into your kids’ 529 plans, suggests Napiwocki.
Researching state and federal tax credits or rebates when you’re remodeling (or buying items like solar panels) can be really valuable, Fabbri says. Check out DSIRE (a resource on renewables and energy efficiency incentives and policies in the U.S. operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University) for a list of possible savings.
After you hit the maximum $19,000 yearly pretax contribution to your traditional 401(k), you may still be able to contribute up to $37,000 more on an after-tax basis. Some plans let you move your after-tax contributions into a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA. With these accounts, you can withdraw money tax-free at retirement. Check your plan for allowable contributions and limits, Ma says.
If you set up biweekly payments instead of monthly ones, you’ll make the equivalent of 13 payments a year instead of 12, Fabbri says. Less interest will add up, and you’ll pay off more of your principal balance. Ask your loan servicer if they can process your payments this way.
That free wellness-coach trial you signed up for (and forgot to cancel). The credit-monitoring service you keep meaning to ditch. The gym membership gathering dust. Sure, no single subscription or membership is going to break your monthly budget, but in sum those commitments can quickly hit triple digits each month. These “gray charges” (as they’re known in the industry) may collectively be costing us $14 billion a year. “Companies know how to bank on people’s apathy,” says Emily Guy Birken, a personal-finance expert and the author of End Financial Stress Now ($10; amazon.com).
You can zap those recurring charges by periodically reviewing your financial statements or outsourcing the task to a free, AI-powered app, like Trim or Truebill. Both securely sync to your bank and credit card accounts; Trim sends you a text message listing your recurring charges each month, then cancels any unwanted subscriptions on your behalf.
“I’ve been guilty of this myself,” says Annie Logue, an investing and money expert. But most late payments are met with a fee. And if you’re significantly overdue, your late payment could also ding your credit score. That means that in the future you might pay a higher interest rate on, say, an auto loan. To avoid this, Logue suggests putting everything on automatic payments. Nervous about hitting a cash-flow crunch? Auto-charge bills to one credit card and then put a reminder on your calendar for that one due date each month.
The average cable bill is now more than $100 a month, according to the Leichtman Research Group, but you can cut the cord—and still watch sports and live news—for far less. We all know about binge-watching fave shows on Netflix and HBO Max, but fans of live TV are flocking to Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV. Find the services that offer what you want to watch and pay for those instead of cable; just make sure your streaming subscriptions don’t add up to more than your cable bill was. If you simply must have everything, cable might offer your household the most value.
If you installed smoke detectors and an alarm system to keep your house and loved ones safe, your insurance company might pat you on the back by lowering your premiums by up to 15 percent. Allstate, State Farm, and Nationwide all offer home-protection discounts.
For times when you don’t have a particular label you love, opting for a no-name product can keep 25 percent more of your grocery budget in your wallet, according to Consumer Reports’ research. Many name-brand foods and drugstore products contain the exact same ingredients as their generic counterparts, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch.
“Many people have no idea if their bank is nickel-and-diming them each month,” says Erin Lowry, founder of Broke Millennial. Some banks can charge checking-account holders $12 in service fees each month. Signing up for direct deposit and maintaining minimum balances are usually enough to get the fees waived. And some banks charge more when you use an out-of-network ATM. The average ATM surcharge hit $3.09 last year, according to Bankrate, and in some big cities consumers pay more than $5. Use your bank’s app to find an in-network ATM or swing through a convenience or grocery store and opt for cash back (for free!) at checkout.
The average household with debt pays nearly $904 in interest a year, according to personal-finance site NerdWallet. And, like a snail eating its tail, paying that interest can make it harder to chip away at the principal, which means, well, more interest. A no-fee balance transfer can give you an annual percentage rate of 0 percent for up to 18 months, so you can make headway on your debt—and save money while doing so. If you’re not confident you can pay off the balance within the introductory period, research the APR after the promotional period ends to ensure you’re getting a good deal.
You may be saving for your emergency fund, but tucking at least a couple hundred dollars into savings as soon as you can—even before you pay down high-interest debt—can help you out if (and when) your car needs urgent repairs or your pet gets sick. This small sum—your rainy day fund—can help you stay afloat when disaster strikes, even if it’s not the recommend three to six months of your expenses.
For drivers, heading out on a different errand every day of the week can burn up your gas. (Think about how long it is from your home to the nearest store or shopping center, and how much time you spend going back and forth.) Save gas, money, and the environment by bunching errands together one or two days of the week; you’ll be using your fuel more efficiently, and during the coronavirus crisis, you’ll limit your potential exposure to the virus.
Even if you’re not actively using them, electronics and device chargers use electricity, increasing your electric bill. Turn off lights and electronics when not in use and unplug what you can to save on utilities.
Frequent online shoppers may have their credit card number stored on their device or on certain shop’s websites. When it’s time to check out, charging your purchase is seamless—and can lead to you making more impulse buys. Un-store your information so every time you want to order something online, you have to go find your credit card and type in the info; this might be enough of a speed bump for you to slow down and think about whether you really need this item. If you’ve memorized your credit card number, do your best to forget it.
Instead of visiting bars and restaurants for celebrations and gatherings, offer to host at home. (You may not have a choice during coronavirus—if you do plan to host, try to keep the gathering outdoors, limit the size of the group, and encourage everyone to practice social distancing and diligent hand-washing.) Ask everyone to contribute to the expense of hosting, either by bringing food and drink items or sending you a few dollars. Purchasing food and beverages at the store and then enjoying them together is still less expensive than ordering at a restaurant.
Your local library has more than hardcover books: Most now offer an e-book service, so you can download and read anything, any time, and many offer DVDs for borrowing. Commit to getting everything you read or watch (outside streaming) from the library: You’ll be surprised at how the savings stack up. Plus, library card holders can sometimes get discounts around town.
You don’t have to give up your morning latte habit, but you should try to get the most value out of your order (or any other regular splurge). If one is offered, sign up for a free rewards program: Starbucks’ is simple to use and offers rewards after you’ve spent just a few dollars at the store; download the app to get started. For local shops, see if they offer a punch-card system.
They’re not just for kids: Giving yourself a weekly or monthly spending allowance allows you to splurge a little without overdoing it and blowing your budget. Calculate how much you can spare, then commit to spending no more than that until your next pay day.
Aggressive driving guzzles up to 33 percent more gas on the highway and 5 percent more around town, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Pretend there’s an egg under the gas pedal, suggests Christie Hyde, a spokesperson for AAA. “You don’t want to hit the pedal so hard that it will break the egg.”
The shortest way isn’t always the most fuel-efficient. Sometimes it can take more gas to drive 3 miles riddled with stop signs and clogged with traffic than it does to drive 4 or 5 miles on empty roads.
If your car has a low resale value, you may want to opt out of collision coverage. Check Kelley Blue Book to determine your ride’s current value. Then take your comprehensive and collision premium and multiply that figure by 10. If your car is worth less than that, drop the coverage, says Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer-advocacy group.
Pay a couple of hundred dollars for class cards (packages of 5, 10, or more classes) at your favorite yoga or Pilates studio and see big discounts over a pay-as-you-go plan.
Protect family pets with insurance. They’ll be covered for emergencies that can cost thousands.
Line drawers and closets with cedar sachets to keep moths (and holes) at bay, and splurge on pretty padded hangers so clothes stay in store-bought shape.
Seek out a good tailor (or a family member or friend who’s good with a needle and thread). After a few nips and tucks, even inexpensive clothes can look custom-made.
Rather than shelling out for a new pair when your shoes begin to fade, have your favorite pair repaired regularly.
Upgrade air conditioners in winter and heating units in summer. You’ll be charged peak prices if you try to get your A/C unit repaired in summer, so get maintenance done on it when it’s cool out.
Many stores will give you a 10 percent discount, says Bob Luskin, proprietor, Bell Wine & Spirits, in Washington, D.C. You may not want 12 bottles of the same Chablis, of course, so ask the manager if you can mix different wines in a discounted case.
Reserve a car for a midweek pickup and you’ll often get a better price—rates can spike during the weekend rush. Also, consider pre-paying. If you pay in full when you make a booking, you can slice as much as 35 percent off the total cost.
Don’t buy tickets at a busy park entrance. Save up to 25 percent by nabbing them beforehand at a supermarket or a discount bulk store, like Sam’s Club or Costco (membership required). Some companies even offer their employees discount tickets to popular parks; check with HR to see what work perks you qualify for.
It may sound crazy, but we sometimes forget that coins carry value. If you have loose change in your wallet or purse, you’re more likely to spend it—or lose it in the depths of your car or couch cushions. By putting your excess daily change into a jar, you’re preventing frivolous spending. And once you have a healthy stash, you can take your coins to the bank and deposit them.
The average household receives about 15 bills a month. With stamps now at 55 cents each, you spend almost $100 year just on postage to pay your bills―and don’t forget the late fees if your checks get lost in the mail. Save time and money by going paperless: Nearly all utility services, cable and phone companies, and medical offices offer paperless statements. (Some companies are even going as far as to charge people for receiving paper statements.) Go online to create an account with your recurring services and request paperless billing; you’ll get an email with your bill every month, with the option to pay online.
Sign up for an electronic toll device, such as E-ZPass, which is now good on a number of toll roads, bridges, and tunnels in 16 states from Illinois to Maine; FasTrak in California; SunPass in Florida; Peach Pass in Georgia; or PikePass in Oklahoma. You’ll save time and fuel by not idling in toll lanes, and some toll roads offer regular commuters discounts of as much as 50 percent.
Turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving―every minute the water flows wastes up to 2½ gallons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Run full loads in washing machines and dishwashers. Water plants in the early morning to ensure that the water goes into the ground instead of evaporating. And use a bucket to wash the car, hosing it off for a quick rinse, to save 90 gallons of water per wash. You could save hundreds on your annual water bill.
Many employers offer pre-tax benefits on commuting costs, including parking fees and public transportation fares. The money will be taken from your paycheck, pre-tax, and put into a special account; you will be issued a card or can file for reimbursement for commuting expenses. Depending on where you live, the tax savings can save you hundreds of dollars every year. Check with your HR department to see what options you have.
How to save money on your cell phone bill
Some providers will knock off a few bucks just for being a loyal customer and paying your bills on time. When you call customer service, Kimberly Palmer, the personal finance expert at NerdWallet, says it’s best to be polite and keep things simple. Ask if there’s a better deal available and if it’s possible to negotiate a discount. If there’s not, and you’re considering a different provider, mention that you’re looking to switch.
You might get transferred to a different customer service rep who’s skilled at customer retention at some point in the call, but stay on the line. “If you have seen a better deal elsewhere, then mention it,” says Palmer. “Ask if they will match that other offer. There’s no harm in asking.” Not into haggling? NerdWallet and other companies like BillAdvisor and BillCutterz offer a service where a team of negotiators will do the work for you, splitting the savings if they’re successful in lowering your bill.
You can see your usage right on your device or by signing into your provider account. If you’re an iPhone user, open up Settings, click Cellular, and scroll to read your used data and available data. If you’ve got an Android, open Settings and click Data Usage.
From there you can view monthly totals. You can even break this down by app to see which of your programs is sucking up the most bytes. If you’re using a lot less data than what you’re paying for, it might be time to downgrade, especially if you’re paying for unlimited data. Just remember that traveling can use more data, so if you’re planning a big trip (or you travel regularly), think carefully before you switch your plan, Palmer says.
Splitting the bill on a family plan—whether it’s with your beau, your siblings, or Mom and Dad—lowers your individual cost in the long run. “Even though it’s more overall, you’re splitting it up,” says Palmer. “That can save you up to 10 percent a month, and that adds up.” If you don’t have to have a family of five to reap the benefits, just pair up with someone in your family tree who’s looking to save—and make sure they’re people you can trust to reimburse you.
This one could go both ways, but Palmer says folks who move out of state can save. “The taxes and fees added to your bill are based on the state you live in, so if you’ve moved recently, you may be able to save money by updating your address,” she says. Of course, you might find yourself paying more for your new state’s fees; do a little research on tax rates first.
Most service providers lock you in these days with two-year contracts. Expect hefty penalties for breaking them—if you’re able to get out. You’re better off waiting until your current contract ends to go shopping for a better deal. “That’s when the power switches back to you,” Palmer says. Some cell phone providers do offer to buy you out of your current contract, including Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile. But make sure to ask before you switch if they will cover all of the early termination fees.
How to save money on cleaning supplies and household goods
Using reusable containers—water bottles, lunch bags, sandwich holders, etc.—instead of plastic or single-use versions saves you money over the long-term, even if it takes an initial investment. (It is also better for the environment.) Bringing your own food or drink—or having a container you can refill—also discourages you from buying soda, coffee, lunch, and more while not at home.
Whether you’re buying dish soap, hand soap, or laundry detergent, the more concentrated formula will always cost more upfront, but because you can use less of these powerful products, they’ll last much longer. If you go through bottle after bottle of laundry detergent in the blink of an eye, try switching to a concentrated formula, such as Method Concentrated Laundry Detergent ($12, amazon.com) so you can use less per load (and stop lugging around that bulky bottle of detergent). If you have a high-efficiency washing machine, just double check that the detergent is compatible with the machine and be mindful of the amount you use to avoid oversudsing.
Want to avoid the markups that come with trendy cleaning companies’ packaging and advertisements? Make your own DIY cleaning solutions at home. Instead of buying expensive scented multi-purpose cleaning sprays, combine rubbing alcohol, dish soap, and essential oils following this formula. Common ingredients like vinegar and dish soap are very affordable, and if you buy them in bulk, they’re even cheaper.
Decant the solutions into reusable glass spray bottles so they’re portable and easy to use. (The 30 seconds it takes to mix up a customized cleaning spray is also much quicker than a trip to the store.)
Disposable cleaning supplies that your family tends to use up quickly (we’re looking at you, paper towel roll) can really rack up your grocery store expenses. If your family goes through multiple rolls of paper towels per week, consider switching to washable cleaning cloths, which can be thrown in the washing machine whenever they need a refresh.
If you have the storage space, buying cleaning supplies in bulk can save you hundreds of dollars over time. Paper products are the safest bet to buy in bulk because they won’t expire or start leaking before you have a chance to use them. An added bonus: If your basement or cleaning closet is fully stocked, there’s no chance you’ll accidentally run out of toilet paper.
If you end up refilling the hand soap almost every time you step into the bathroom, think about switching to a foaming formula instead. Because it’s already pre-lathered, most people end up using less, so the product lasts longer.
While this is the most cost-effective solution, liquid soap has been shown to kill more germs than the foaming variety. Want to stick with liquid hand soap? Be sure to buy the replacement soap in bulk and refill your dispenser so you’re not paying for a new soap pump every week.
Shopping discounted cleaning products is an easy way to score the best price. If you don’t want to hunt through the newspaper, search for printable coupons on Coupons.com, which often has deals on brands like Mrs. Meyers and Clorox. If you’re a frequent shopper at Target, be sure to download the latest Target app (formerly called Cartwheel) to make sure you’re not missing out on any coupons.
While most of us are used to shelling out hundreds of dollars every year on cleaning supplies, never underestimate the cleaning power of a couple pantry basics. Vinegar can be used to clean everything from floors to clogged pipes. Likewise, baking soda can scrub and deodorize everything from shower grout to your gym shoes.
How to save money on healthcare and prescriptions
Warehouse stores typically have good prices on prescription drugs—and you don’t have to be a member to buy them. Stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco don’t require membership for customers to use their pharmacies, says Bill Kampine, cofounder of Healthcare Bluebook.
“Depending on your insurance, it may be cheaper to pay for MRIs, ultrasounds, lab work, and CT scans in cash and out of pocket. I know of a patient quoted $550 for an MRI through her insurance, but when she went self-pay, it was $300. Also, consider getting blood tests directly at the lab rather than your doctor’s. You may slash your bill by 50 percent,” Kampine says.
Workers with flexible spending accounts (FSAs) lose an average of $172 a year because they don’t spend those pretax dollars before their company’s deadline of December 31 or March 15. Set a calendar reminder to stock up on staples, like bandages, or buy a spare pair of glasses. FSAstore.com stocks thousands of items guaranteed to be covered, so you can shop without spending a bunch of time researching the rules. Check your FSA’s policies, since some plans may allow you to carry money over or give you a grace period to spend it.
If you have a serious but not life-threatening malady, such as a rash or a sore throat, consider heading to a medical clinic at a nearby pharmacy (like Walgreens or CVS), rather than your doctor, an urgent-care center, or the emergency room. Staffed by nurse-practitioners or physician’s assistants, they can treat minor conditions for less.
Visit one of these clinics if you need a routine Pap smear, a new birth-control prescription, or even a flu shot. Call your local office to find out what services it offers and its fees (which vary from state to state but are often less than a private doctor’s). Most locations accept insurance.
Companies like Warby Parker have made purchasing glasses online easy, affordable, and—dare we say it—fun, even if you don’t have insurance. If you have eye insurance, check which online retailers your insurance provider works with for prescription glasses and contact lenses; common ones are 1-800-Contacts and ContactsDirect.
How to save money on beauty treatments
Spread out the time between visits by taking extra good care of your hair. Cut back on using hot tools and only wash your hair 3-4 times per week so that you don’t strip strands of their natural oils. By taking good care of your tresses, you’ll be able to stretch the time between salon visits tremendously, paying less over the course of a year.
How to save money eating out
To save on drinks when dining with a group, order individual sodas or cocktails rather than a pitcher. The large container appears to be cheaper, but it’s often filled with more ice than liquid and is therefore not a bargain, an anonymous restaurant worker tells Real Simple.
For entrées, avoid chicken and pasta, our anonymous restaurant worker says. These are the cheapest items to purchase, so restaurants often mark them up more than other dishes. Seafood, beef, and pork are better values for the price.
At restaurants, see if you can bring your own wine and pay a corkage fee (anywhere from $10 and up). A good host won’t flinch.
How to save money shopping
Say you want a $100 pair of jeans. Make it a rule that, if you buy the jeans, you’ll put $100 into savings. This could help curb your spending. Even if you give in to the impulse, you’re still doing something good for your finances, says Kristin Wong, author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford ($11; amazon.com).
Big-ticket items have designated (often multiple) sale periods throughout the year. In September, you can often find deals on kitchen appliances, lawn mowers, mattresses, grills, and bicycles. Keep a list on your phone of the big purchases that might be coming up and include the brand you like and the price. Then, if you can, wait for sale periods, Firestone says. Start by learning the best time to buy appliances and the best time to buy a car; for other large purchases, research the best time to buy.
“The app ShopSavvy is really useful when you’re out shopping in stores because you can scan the barcode on items and see if there is a better deal elsewhere,” says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at Nerdwallet. Andrea Woroch, the money-saving expert, is also a fan of ShopSavvy, as well as Flipp. which provides circulars all in one place so you can quickly compare to plan your shopping trip strategically.
Swagbucks, another one of Woroch’s go-tos, provides cash back for all your shopping. It puts cash back in your wallet by allotting you points every time you shop online or search the web. Once you gain enough points, you can redeem them for gift cards to your favorite retailers, like Amazon or Walmart.
Think carefully about which credit card you’re using to do your shopping to maximize your cash back or rewards, says Palmer. “If you are shopping at Amazon, you can earn 5 percent cash back using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature, for example,” she says.
“Companies like CardCash and Raise offer gift cards up to 50 percent off, so a $100 gift card could be purchased for only $50,” says Regina Conway, the vice president of PR and events at Slickdeals. “Some gift cards to popular merchants may be a lesser savings, but every dollar counts, especially if you’re making a larger purchase.”
Tools like Honey hang out quietly while you shop, combing the web for the lowest price on whatever you’re buying. “One tool that saves Honey members time and money is Droplist,” says Honey’s vice president of communications, Kelly Parisi. “Droplist watches selected items, notifying shoppers when the price of an item drops below the amount initially chosen. Droplist monitors the price of the item for 30, 60, or 90 days and will automatically send an email when the price drops to the amount that was set.”
Sites such as Promo Codes for You collect promotional codes for discounts, free shipping, and more from top online retailers. You can check the site regularly to see if anything you’d like to use pops up, or you can sign up for regular email newsletters that will update you on the latest and greatest codes. (Promo Codes for You is owned by Meredith Corporation, Real Simple’s parent company.)
Most retailers get new deliveries of clothing at least every two weeks (if not more often) and are under constant pressure to turn over their merchandise. This means that season-specific items—summer shorts and sandals, winter hats and gloves—hit the shelves a month or so early and are likely to be deeply discounted halfway through the season, despite still being the latest trends. Resist the urge to stock up on the new pieces you want for the coming season—snag them when they’re marked down, but still wearable for months instead.
When it comes to wardrobe staples (a white buttoned shirt, black trousers, a go-to tee), the options are endless, seemingly similar, and available at every price point, from Forever 21 to Fendi. But when it comes to these pieces—the ones you’ll wear over and over again, year after year—it makes more sense to invest in quality items. The cheap black pencil skirt and the more expensive one might not look so different on the rack, but paying a little more now will prevent you from having to constantly replace the lower-priced version (which will show telltale signs of wearing and washing much sooner), saving you money in the long run.
Do you have Black Friday marked on your calendar? Are you on the mailing list for all of your favorite stores because they offer insider deals and discounts? You may think you’re being a savvy consumer by always scoring new things at lower-than-retail value, but you’re really just playing into well-known consumer psychology retailers use to get their customers to buy more—and more often. Do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from all of those email lists. The next time you’re tempted by a sale item, first ask yourself, “Is this something I would pay full value for? Or am I just tempted to buy it because it’s on sale?”
Prevent your laundry bills from racking up by checking care tags before you walk out of the store. If you have any items that are “dry clean only,” keep in mind that the purchase price of that item isn’t the final amount that it will ultimately cost your bank account—you need to factor in the cost of dry cleaning for every wear. Keeping your closet stocked with pieces you can launder yourself will keep the cost of caring for your wardrobe down considerably.
If avoiding “dry clean only” items is a maxim you already live by, take it one step further and ensure you’re taking proper care of the clothing you have—just because you don’t need to dry-clean a piece doesn’t mean it won’t need special care. Check the care tag and always launder according to the manufacturer’s specifications, whether that’s with cold water only, laying flat to dry, or hand-washing. It will greatly extend the lifespan of your wardrobe.
Have you ever spotted a could-be perfect piece in store, reached for it, and realized, sadly, that it’s been damaged? Usually, the issue is minor—a small (removable) stain, a ripped seam, or a missing button—nothing you can’t fix at home for the cost of a small emergency sewing kit. Instead of putting the item back on the rack in defeat, recognize it as an opportunity to inquire about the retailer’s damage discount policy; they usually have one in place that will knock about 10 percent off of the price, even if it’s already on sale.
Mass retailers aren’t the only options out there to keep your closet well-stocked. Try hosting a clothing swap with friends, scouring eBay for coveted investment pieces, and keeping an eye on the offerings at your local thrift, consignment, and off-price stores.
How to save money on car repairs
“I’ve learned how to change a tire, add air to my tires, and replace my windshield wipers and air filters—all take less than an hour and save me hundreds every year. I also only get my oil changed once a year; I called my car company and was told that’s fine for the type of engine I have and the amount I drive,” says Kara Perez, founder of the financial platform Bravely Go.
“It’s really like going to the doctor,” says Amy Mattinat, shop owner and president of Auto Craftsmen Ltd. “A mechanic is your car doctor and everybody out there is different.” Mattinat recommends looking for auto shops that have been certified by AAA or the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
“If a customer is looking for somewhere they’ll be taken care of, those techs have experience, skills, and pride in their work,” Mattinat says. AAA-approved shops are subject to regular inspections and must pay dues to be a part of the association. ASE certifications are awarded to technicians with specialties in engine repair, transmissions, or heating and air conditioning.
If you have yet to find a regular mechanic, Mattinat says it’s fine to shop around. When you get a repair estimate, make sure to get the cost breakdown for parts and labor in writing. Then, bring that estimate with you so the next mechanic can review it before evaluating your car and delivering a second opinion, Mattinat says. It’s not always as easy as looking at a sheet of paper because each car requires different parts based on its make, model, and manufacture year. Allowing a new mechanic to lay eyes on the car will ensure you’re truly getting a fair opinion. And if it turns out the second opinion is cheaper, you saved some money.
Once you’ve agreed to go forward with a repair, ask about getting used parts. “Once in a while, a headlight gets bashed up and gets water in it, or you break a side-view mirror,” Mattinat says. “Sometimes we can replace those parts with used parts, and that definitely saves a lot of money.” As with any used product, make sure you aren’t choosing the cheapest option; look for the best quality. Paying for a used part that will break soon after you buy it will end up costing you more money down the line.
Car repair headaches are usually associated with unexpected costs. Saving for eventual repairs will ensure you’re always ready for an emergency. “That way when your car needs, say, a new battery, it’s not such a big deal,” Mattinat says. Once you’ve paid your vehicle off, start setting aside half of what you would have paid toward your loan on a monthly basis. Don’t use the money for gas. Instead, use it for things like new windshield wipers or tires. “Parts wear out, they just do,” Mattinat says. “And a car will never stop costing you money.”
The best way to save on costly repairs is to have it serviced regularly, including having your oil changed and your brake line checked, says Mattinat. And make sure to follow your owner’s manual when it comes to the type of oil your car needs, as well as how often you should get it changed. If you live in Vermont or another place where the winters are harsh, you might need to service your vehicle more frequently than recommended in generic owner’s manuals. But spending $50 on an oil change now can possibly save you hundreds down the road.
Don’t follow the number printed on the tire’s sidewall when adding air. Instead, fill the tires to the pressure that is printed on the sticker on the driver’s-side door jamb or in the glove box and get 3 percent better fuel efficiency. Different vehicles weigh different amounts, and the number on the tire isn’t based on your car; you want your PSI to be suited to your car (just don’t overfill your tires).
Additional reporting from Stephanie Taylor Christensen, Rebecca Daly, Kristine Gill, Katie Holdefehr, Elizabeth Razzi, and Rachel Sylvester.