Clever ways to chip away at the costs of living―and stash away the savings for little surprises.

By Real Simple
Updated January 20, 2005
Jennifer Causey

Quick Change

The small change I made was to save my small change. I always use bills when I buy things, then save the coins. At the end of the month, I roll them in wrappers and deposit them in a rainy-day bank account that earns interest.
Lori Bessenhoffer
Baltimore, Maryland

Every week I take a set amount of money out of the ATM for lunches, groceries, etc., and place whatever’s left at the end of the week in a jar. I empty my wallet of change at night and put that into the jar as well. Last year my savings from all this “small change” added up to more than $750.
Lucinda Wehrkamp
Ventura, California

Cash Management

I have $100 from every paycheck moved automatically from my checking account to an ING Direct savings account. When the ING account hits $1,000, I transfer $500 into a two-year CD so I can’t access it easily. Having the ING account is good because it’s not in our usual bank―out of sight, out of mind. There are no ATMs, so the money’s harder to get at. Plus, it takes three days for ING to transfer money to my checking, which delays or forestalls impulse buys.
Eric McLaughlin
delphia, Pennsylvania

I have my bank automatically transfer $50 from my checking account to a special savings account on the first of every month. That savings account is off-limits except for emergencies. I pretend it’s not even there.
Lisa Kraiza
Oak Park, Michigan

I’m a teacher, so my salary increases slightly each year. However, I “pay” myself only what I was making my first year and put the rest in a separate savings account.
Nicole Curry
Allen Park, Michigan

After five years of paying off my car, I now deposit the amount of that monthly payment directly into my savings account. Having gotten used to living without those dollars each month, I don’t feel deprived now, and my savings are growing rapidly.
Lori Rochford
Cincinnati, Ohio

I don’t carry cash. When I have it in my pocket, I am more likely to stop while passing a soda machine, a coffee shop, a fast-food restaurant, or an ice cream parlor. Everything I really need to buy can be paid for with a credit card, which I pay off each month.
Amy Pyle
Mission, Texas

I’ve had the same two best friends since we were five. When we turned 45, we came up with the idea of celebrating our 50th birthdays with a special vacation, and we each immediately started saving $5 a week toward the trip. In 2006 we’ll celebrate our 50ths with most of the expenses paid, thanks to our five-year plan.
Heather Lovell
Muskegon, Michigan

One of the most important things I’ve done for myself is to get money-management software. Inputting my income and expense data, then seeing it all in chart and graph form, has given me a wonderful visual of how much I am getting, investing, and spending. I can now see that I spend too much in certain areas and too little in others.
Mary Job
Jackson Heights, New York

That’s Entertainment

Book Club by Mail
To save money on books (and have fun), five friends and I started a book-exchange club. Since we are spread out across several states, each month we exchange three books by mail, using the post office’s Media Mail service. (I shipped a three-pound box to New York for about $2.25, and it got there in less than a week.) This way, each of us gets three new books ― along with little reviews from the previous readers ― every month.
Shae Quiette
Jacksonville, Florida

I canceled my cable-TV service. It took a while to get used to it, but now I don’t miss it at all. I have more time to read, paint, and cook, and I’m shocked to think of how much time I spent sitting in front of the TV.
Alia Breyer
Altamonte Springs, Florida

Smart Shopping

Instead of running out to the store to purchase items, I check several retailer websites first to find the lowest price. Also, sites such as,, and Smart sometimes offer merchandise much more cheaply than the stores do.
Roxanne Benton
Rochester Hills, Michigan

To help me rein in my spending, I set a long-term goal. When I’m tempted to make an impulse purchase, I remind myself that I want to fly to Ireland for a family reunion in 2006, then spend a month traveling in Great Britain. It’s easy to walk away from a decoration or a piece of jewelry when I picture myself strolling the Yorkshire Dales with my son.
Robin Killoran
West Bend, Wisconsin

I started using coupons and watching store sales, and I now save upwards of $50 on most shopping trips. I go directly to my ATM with my receipt, which usually says how much I saved, and transfer that amount from checking to savings. It has become a game to see how much I can save on each trip.
Evelina Snell
Stevenson Ranch, California

To decrease impulse buys, I have a 24-hour rule for any purchase over $50: I force myself to wait a full 24 hours before deciding on, say, that great $75 blouse. Most often I find I can live without it.
Dana Kanoa
San Diego, California

Throughout the year, I buy gifts when they’re on sale (school supplies, for example, are reduced after school starts). I keep a container in my basement filled with presents for all ages, so when a special event comes up, I have a handy selection of things purchased at great prices.
Amy M. Stephenson
Okemos, Michigan

Since I was laid off last year and had to take a job at half my regular wage, my family and I have made a lot of cutbacks. One find has been Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette books, with hundreds of ideas for saving money―whether you’re mildly interested, you’re a hard-core scrimper, or you just need help making it through a “rainy year,” like the one I’ve just had.
Paula O'Kray
Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Making Allowances

While following a strict budget to save for a down payment on a house, I give myself a $75 allowance each week. That’s my frivolous cash, for a latte, a manicure, whatever. Not only have I stopped making impulse buys with my debit card but I also feel as if I’m rewarding myself each time I make a purchase with my allowance, and I never have to feel guilty as long as I stick to the cash in my wallet.
Caroline Riordan
Brooklyn, New York

My husband was the only-child spoiled boy, used to name-brand clothes and salon haircuts. I was a last child, always fighting to get one new sweater every year. Compromise? Weekly allowances―the same for each of us. If he wanted a designer shirt, he could buy it if he saved up. After a year, when I had hundreds of dollars saved and he had nothing left, he realized how silly it was to buy only for status. Ten years later, we still get allowances.
Kirsten Miley
Cincinnati, Ohio

Eat, Drink, and Be Frugal

Packing lunches for my family and me saves money. It also gives us all extra time to enjoy our meal during lunch hour instead of waiting in line in the school cafeteria or heading out in bad weather to pick something up.
Monica Yoder
Granger, Indiana

I love my fancy coffee as much as the next city girl, but those $3.35 cups add up: Five days a week means $871 a year! By getting my premium coffee twice a week instead of five times, I’ll save $522.60 this year (a bit less if I make coffee at home the other three days).
Jen Prince
Studio City, California

My boyfriend and I love to cook, so we have friends over for dinner instead of eating out. Everyone contributes (the wine or dessert, an appetizer), it costs less than the two of us eating out would, and we can all hang out and talk as long as we want.
Cheri Voisine
San Francisco, California

I buy healthy snacks in bulk, put them in Baggies and canisters, and stash them in my car, purse, and desk drawer. Instead of wasting money on chips, candy, and energy bars when I’m craving a snack, I always have nuts, dried fruits, and cereal handy to fend off the low-blood-sugar grouchies.
Chauncy Fiddes
Houston, Texas

Instead of lunching out every day, I make extra for dinner and store the leftovers in serving-size containers for quick, easy lunches.
Margie Bolton
Mobile, Alabama

I freeze meals to be ready when the “I’m too tired―let’s eat out” excuse comes up.
Lindsay Bradburn
San Francisco, California

I’ve started making a weekly menu for our dinners. For me, 75 percent of the battle of getting dinner on the table is figuring out what to make. We’d get so hungry sitting and thinking of what to have that we’d end up ordering takeout once or twice a week. The menu makes it a no-brainer. We still get takeout on occasion, but by choice―not because we’ve let our hunger control our spending.
Erica Ledrowski
Elk Grove Village, Illinois

Doing Without

My husband and I walk to as many places as we can, saving on gas and vehicle wear and tear while keeping trim and fit. We may plan a trip that includes, say, the grocery store, the drugstore, the post office, and a stop at a friend’s house along the way.
Cheryl Fiddis
Burnaby, British Columbia

I gave up my cell phone. I realized I was using it frivolously, and it seems so many places are not cell-phone–friendly, anyway. The money I’ve saved has been stashed away to pay for a four-day anniversary getaway.
Debbie Tretsven
Falcon Heights, Minnesota

I have a $15-a-month cell-phone plan that gives me 30 minutes of use for emergencies only. Otherwise I don’t turn it on.
Denise Onyskiw
Lakewood, Colorado

I save $4-a-day parking charges by riding my bike to work. The morning ride wakes me up, and I don’t feel guilty if I can’t make it to the gym.
Samantha Freed
Baltimore, Maryland

And Finally...

I married my frugal husband.
Kahty Waetjen
Annandale, Virginia