Marvelous Money: 26 Ways to Save Money

26 October 2017

One of my pet peeves about personal finance is when experts make blanket suggestions on how to save money. I think the way you spend (and save!) should be based on what you value. If you do this, you’ll not only find it easier to stick to your budget, but you’ll get greater pleasure out of the money you DO spend.

Though I dislike one-size-fits-all suggestions, I love being inspired by how others are finding ways to save. I asked six of my savviest friends for their favorite ways they shave their budgets, and added in a few myself — I hope they get your wheels turning!

ways to save money

Saving money on food:

I don’t eat meat during the week. I have a pretty consistent rotation of small and inexpensive meals that I eat for weekday lunches and dinners. Not only does it save me money, but I don’t get decision fatigue over deciding “what’s for dinner?” — Jess Metcalf, Content Manager and newly-engaged gal

We shop almost exclusively at Aldi, which cuts our grocery bill almost in half (compared to name-brand grocery stores). I make a dinner plan based on their weekly specials, which helps us eat in for the majority of the week with plenty of leftovers for lunches. — Samantha Ray, hair and makeup artist and blogger

Food spending has been a challenge for us (to put it lightly) but we’ve made significant progress by switching to getting vegetables from a CSA box and buying meat from Costco (organic meat at normal prices). We get the box twice a month and plan our meals based on what vegetables we receive. This has challenged us to think outside our recipe box/cookbooks and has significantly cut down on the number of ingredients we buy per recipe. — Dave Kirk, finance guy and husband

I can’t even imagine how much we’ve saved over the years by almost never buying alcohol. We don’t hate drinking, but it’s just not something that’s important to us, and therefore doesn’t make sense for us to spend money on! – Em

I use cash and a calculator at the grocery store! It’s our foolproof way to not blow the grocery budget. — Valerie Keinsley, stay at home mama and online stationery shop owner

Saving money on entertainment:

I solely order water at restaurants, unless I’m celebrating something, in which case I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine or a cocktail. My mother used to own a restaurant, so I know the markup on sodas and my beloved sweet tea, and I consistently choose water instead. Unless I’m at Merritt’s, in which case, a glass bottle Cheerwine is calling my name! — Jess

We haven’t had cable for a few years after switching to an HD antenna (works for football and the Bachelor franchise) and Netflix. We recently cut Netflix as well, because you can only re-watch The Office so many times. We’ve replaced watching TV with porch date nights and reading before bed. — Dave

I stopped buying books on Amazon, and I wait for library books now. It’s an exercise in patience, especially for popular titles, but I’m saving money and learning my bookshelves. — Jess

Saving money in your relationships:

We have gotten creative with ideas on how to spend quality time together without dropping so much dough – things such as trying out a new recipe at home, sitting on the porch swing with a bottle of wine, or going out for a beer at a new brewery. These all cost around $10, which enables us to have more date nights since we aren’t dropping $50+ on a dinner out. — Elizabeth Burns, eCommerce gal and house flipper

My love language is gift giving, and I save a ton of money by shopping at the Dollar Tree for all my wrapping paper, tissue paper, and extra giftable goodies like candy, small personal care items, cards, and balloons. — Samantha

Since having our son, we’ve realized how expensive getting a babysitter AND going out to eat is, so now, most of our “date nights” are on our porch with a bottle of wine. It gets us out of the house (if only to the outside of our house), and the only thing we’re buying is a $6 bottle of Trader Joe’s wine, rather than spending $25-30 on a bottle at a restaurant. But, my city-loving wife would be crushed if that’s all we did, so we also plan out special monthly date nights when we do hire a babysitter and actually head out. Scheduling them once a month gives us something really fun to look forward to, and keeps us from being tempted to go out on a whim and spend more than we had planned. — Dave

Since having June, we’ve been very open to borrowing, buying secondhand, or accepting hand-me-downs whenever possible. I think sometimes, especially if folks plan to have multiple kids, they justify buying everything new, but we’ve found it’s just as easy to swap back and forth with friends. We’ve borrowed clothes, a crib, a bathtub, a hiking pack, and so much more! – Em

Saving money on your home:

Target is my budget Kryptonite. I go in for toothpaste and come out with a new duvet, kitchen canisters, boots, and no toothpaste. One thing that has helped me save money is that instead of going into a Target for basics like toiletries, cleaning supplies, pet products, and some food items, I signed up for Target subscriptions. I can have all of these everyday items delivered to my house regularly (free delivery!) and subscription items are discounted by an additional 5%. This way I can still get my favorite Target items without having to actually go into a store and potentially blow my budget on all of the cute stuff I don’t need. — Elizabeth

When our grocery store offers 4x the fuel points on gift cards, we buy gift cards for upcoming projects/gifts – i.e. if we’re planning a home project, we get a gift card to Lowe’s in the amount we budgeted for the project. That way we earn 4x the points, and often get up to $1 off per gallon of gas! It takes some planning, but is well worth it in the end. — Valerie

Many products come in a generic brand version, a refurbished version, or a lightly-used version that’s practically the same for a fraction of the cost. You can often buy floor models for a highly discounted price, too, which we’ve been doing a lot recently as we furnish our new home. And remember, almost everything in life is negotiable – you’ll never know if you don’t at least ask! :) — Robyn Van Dyke, photographer, blogger, and co-owner of a dental practice (with her husband!)

We utilize the Habitat Restore. Since flipping houses is one of our side hustles, we visit the Restore often for anything from exterior doors, shutters, furniture, lighting, and faucets. A lot of big box stores will give donations so you can buy new items for a fraction of the cost while contributing to a good cause. There are also neat antique finds like gorgeous vintage chandeliers and clawfoot tubs. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are sprucing up your home on a budget! – Elizabeth

Saving money on purchases:

Starting around the midpoint of the year, I begin hoarding planned purchases like a fevered squirrel until I unleash them all on Black Friday/Cyber Monday. I keep a list of things I’d like to buy and that might go sale (so far this year’s includes Winter Water Factory dresses for June, her Salt Water Sandals for next year, and Walk in Love tees for the family for next Valentine’s Day). I also, of course, include as many Christmas gifts as I can! To make so many purchases in one weekend is always a bit of a shock to my system, but it’s totally worth it for the savings. – Em

ReceiptPal! My husband found this app where you take photos of your receipts and earn cash back for them, redeemable as gift cards (including Amazon!). We’ve earned over $100 in Amazon gift cards, which we then use for household purchases to save money. He spends roughly 10 minutes a week putting in receipts. It’s slow going — you usually only earn a gift card every four months or so — but totally worth it. — Valerie

Whenever we need or want to buy anything, we wait. This does two things: it gives us time to consider if we really need or want it, and it gives us time to find the best deal. Almost everything has a sale or coupon — it’s just a matter of waiting until the sale, googling for coupons, or even buying a coupon on Ebay! Better yet, wait for the sale AND stack the coupon AND use Ebates! — Robyn

We use a credit card with 2% cash back for almost every purchase, and pay it off twice a month, every single month. I know this might be controversial to some, but for us it’s a no-brainer. We’ve earned hundreds of dollars over the years this way! – Em

Saving money on everything else:

This has been a hard lesson to come by this year, but we’ve learned there are no “sacred cows” in our budget. To accomplish our savings goals, we’ve had to take a hard look at every single budget line and readjust our perspective (and add a heaping dose of contentment and gratitude). We might not be traveling to an international destination every third year like we had hoped, for example, but we still get to spend a week with our beloved families on the beautiful Connecticut shoreline. – Em

We worked to get the “big three” — house, car, and education — right. If you choose to buy these three things below (or well below, or not at all) your means and be content, you’ll have so much more financial margin and freedom. Our first home was tiny and it was subsidized by a non-profit for $115K, and then we recently purchased our current fixer-upper home after lots of negotiation for $200K. Our first car was $5K, and we were a one-car family for a couple years until we bought two new Toyotas for a killer deal by negotiating in cash and utilizing the TrueCar App. Education is a bit harder since much of it is outside our control, but we both chose to go to an in-state university and applied for as many scholarships and grants as we could. — Robyn

I get my hair cut twice a year, and I just get it cut – no dyeing, no fancy treatments. I LOVE my stylist, but she is quite expensive, so I compromise by extending my cut as much as I can. – Em

We keep our recurring bills low and cut where possible. We’ve never had a car payment and we’ve also never had cable. We also have never had an individual phone plan, because it’s so much more cost effective to add lines to an existing plan with a sibling, parent, cousin, or friend. You all save, so it’s a win-win! — Robyn

One big way we save money is by make a monthly budget and using cash only for things like groceries, gas, and household items. It is totally worth the extra time, intentional conversation, and planning – I’d say it has improved our marriage as much as our savings! — Samantha

We intentionally fill our evenings and weekends with everyday adventures so that we’re not tempted to mindlessly browse – either in a brick and mortar or online. I only go to a mall with a specific mission, and being outdoors and together helps keep us grateful, content, and in awe of the world around us. – Em

Friends, please join the conversation: I would LOVE to hear your favorite ways to save money! And thanks to all of the folks above for sharing their wisdom! :)

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October 26, 2017 8:59 am

Oh my goodness I love these posts! Especially with the holidays coming and the budget starting to feel the squeeze. Can’t wait to use some of these tips! :) Thank you for continuing to share sweet wisdom from your community.

October 26, 2017 11:01 am

We should do this all the time, ha! LOVE this! Amen to eating in, hardly ever ordering alcohol, Costco!, getting water at restaurants(!), creative + inexpensive date nights and everyday adventures! I too only get my hair cut twice a year – long hair for the win! ;) Oh! And we also use the 2% back credit cards and pay it off every month. I believe it’s worth the savings, safer, and so much more convenient than cash if you have the discipline to to stick to your budget. (AND you’re building credit!)

Also, I’m SO grateful to have learned about Target subscriptions (!) especially since we don’t have a Target in our town!! Totally doing a happy dance over here! :) And in our current season of home renovations, I’m definitely going to need to check out a Habitat Restore!

Lastly, I so admire the sacrifices y’all are making to reach your savings goals, especially in such a mindful, balanced way! And while we don’t have kids, I think it’s genius to be open to borrowing, buying second-hand, etc! They grow out of everything so fast, and most of those items probably needs to go through 10 kids first to even show any signs of wear! Ha! :)

October 26, 2017 11:17 am

My biggest tips are:

1. If you still have student loans, research refinancing. It doesn’t make sense for everyone, but I was able to reduce my monthly payment by $200 and my loan term by 3 months! All that extra is still going straight to the loans though :)
2. Costco for certain things- OTC medication and vitamins are a FRACTION of the cost (if you take Zyrtec just get a Costco membership, it will pay for itself!!), organic meat (as mentioned above), paper towels and toilet paper.
3. Carpool if you can! We have two cars but drive together to work when we can, to save the gas. We probably do this about half of the time, and I think it saves us each a fill up per month.

October 26, 2017 12:00 pm

This is an amazing post (thank you for including me)! I have so many new takeaways to implement in our lives. Yay for low-maintenance hair, ladies! I used to go to a salon 1-2 times a year for a cut, but I recently stumbled upon a YouTube tutorial that I can do decently well at home so I cut out that expense too, haha. I love that there are budget-minded people out there to connect with in the online community. <3

October 26, 2017 1:36 pm

Yes, yes, yes! I love this. Thank you so much for sharing. This post covers most of our money saving tips, though it’s worth repeating that we both pack our breakfasts and lunches every day, without question. We also take our pets to a local non-profit for routine shots / vaccines (for deep discounts compared to our usual vet), and buy their food and medication at Costco.

My husband also has a near-photographic memory when it comes to prices at grocery stores. (I joke that he would either be the World Champion of Price is Right, or fail miserably because he would only be able to cite the cheapest price for each item. :) We ONLY get items wherever they are cheapest — Costco, our local grocery store (Harris Teeter), Trader Joe’s, Aldi, or even Whole Foods for some items! We just rotate our weekly shopping trip, based on what we’ve depleted.

November 1, 2017 2:39 pm
Reply to  Em

I am so with you on this, Emily! I used to drive all over to get he best deals, but as a working mom of two kids I’ve also started just going to Publix for ease and accessibility. Honestly, if I shop the sales and BOGO’s I don’t spend that much more money, and it just makes life easier!

October 26, 2017 2:21 pm

I love this post! It is always so helpful to know how other people manage their budgets. I love learning new ideas, tips, and tricks that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to try. We don’t have a TV, and therefore, don’t have cable, which saves us a lot of money each month. We also bought the cheapest internet package available when we first got married, knowing that we could always bump it up to the next level if we wanted to, and that it would be easier to go up than cut back to a lower level. After three years, we still haven’t upgraded! I also only get two haircuts a year and JUST a haircut each time (it can be so expensive already!). I’m coming up on my second haircut of the year now and can tell, but it’s worth the savings.

Like Jess, we don’t buy meat unless we are having guests over and have been amazed at how much we save by doing that. While the Aldi experience isn’t always as great as other grocery stores (looking at you, Trader Joe’s), we love the money savings. We also keep track of which groceries are cheapest at different stores (ie. gummy vitamins are often on sale at Target, kale is usually cheapest at Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s has the best price on unsweetened dried fruit, nuts are best at Costco, etc), and keep a running grocery list throughout the week so that when we make the grocery rounds on Sunday, or are near one of those stores during the week, we know what to grab without having to figure it out each time.

Our dates often consist of a run, walk, or bike ride together, sometimes ending at a coffee shop for a small pick-me-up. A cup of coffee or tea is much cheaper than dinner together, and we can often have some of our best conversations while getting some exercise together.

I can’t wait to implement some of these tips and see what is next in your wonderful Marvelous Money series! :)

October 26, 2017 10:06 pm

Yes on the ReStore! I wish I could show you the tuxedo sofa I got at the 15-101 store here. Just crazy good. My husband converted me to “vintage” furniture. His philosophy: if you have budgeted just a few hundred to spend on a piece of furniture, always start with vintage! Chances are you can get something incredible for a few hundred that is built to last and made of real wood, as opposed to getting something new from a box store (a few hundred doesn’t go far there) that isn’t real and probably won’t last. And yes to the library! Which reminds me, I’m currently reading something that you might like…Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s so sad but it’s a 2017 must read! Cheers!

Molly Dansby
October 31, 2017 12:17 am
Reply to  Em

Of the two I say YES read When Breath Becomes Air! I balled through the end, but I promise you won’t regret! As hard as it is it’s also so tender and worthwhile. He was an AMAZING writer.

Christian Howell
October 26, 2017 10:37 pm

These are awesome! I’m looking up ReceiptPal as soon as I’m done writing this. A few of the things we have found helpful…

Like Emily said, planning ahead, especially for Christmas! We set our Christmas budget (down to a per person level) in July and started squirreling money away. It’s been wonderful because we’ve hit some really good sales or been able to buy souvenirs along the way because the money was already put aside in savings. It’s also been helpful to not overspend on certain people. We know what we can afford and when we hit the limit, we’re done.

We’ve just started using a new free service called Pay with Gas Buddy and it gives a minimum savings of 5 cents per gallon at a lot of gas stations. The best part is that it stacks on top of other gas rewards programs.

Lastly, we got a Food Saver as a wedding present, although I would’ve bought it anyway if it wasn’t a gift. This has changed the way I meal plan and shop for food. I feel like I can fit twice as much in the freezer now, which means I can take advantage of more sales and my Costco membership and have room to double or triple recipes when I cook them. It also helps to extend the life of items that normally go bad before I can eat them all (I.e. arugula, cheeses, bread).

Can’t wait to see others ideas!

October 27, 2017 8:52 am

I’m a twice a year haircut person as well! My extra tip on top of this is going to a school to get my haircut. I’ve previously gone to Paul Mitchell and go to Aveda now. It’s less than $20 with a tip and always looks great! I’ve found that because the people cutting your hair are students they really want you to be happy with the result and spend extra time styling or blowing out hair. The students sign off with an instructor throughout the process, who makes sure you are 100% happy before you leave.

One note on grocery stores. There’s a Harris Teeter and a Safeway near me, both have a spend $50 save $10 mailer. When this comes out it’s free grocery money and I make 2-3 purchase at once to save that money. I go at a slow grocery time and let the cashier know what I’m doing and have then saved $20-$30.

Megan H
October 27, 2017 2:12 pm

Em! I’m playing catch up. First, so very sorry about Jack. We are keeping yall in our prayers! How heartbreaking. She seemed like a wonderful companion.

2nd- I have a tip for those who have kids and pine over children’s clothes as much as I do (it’s my weakness, for sure.)-host a trunk show with a brand you love! I earned an insane amount of credit to shrimp & grits kids this season (that carries over to next), so LS is set! All I had to do was open my home for a couple of days, place orders (through the easy app) all season, and do a little sharing. I totally enjoyed it! Other than that, we mostly always consign. I definitely joke that one day after the next kiddo, I’ll probably fund a Disney trip by selling children’s clothes! Luckily many things hold a ton of value!

Another tip?- Barter! I’m starting to use this one any way I can in getting started with e-design and decorating. We had a sitter request decorating help and we made a trade so we got some free date nights and I recently had a friend who owns a cheesecake business (they are seriously the best), so she offered to pay me in cheesecake so we made a barter as well. I’ve got Thanksgiving dessert for the whole family covered! Win Win! Definitely considering approaching my hair stylist and a web guru soon, as I have hit a snag on wordpress, and well, my hair needs major help more often than twice a year!

Definitely going to look at Target Market delivery!

October 27, 2017 5:23 pm

Thanks for this post, Em! I love all of these wonderful tip. My new husband and I just started Financial Peace University and are looking for all sorts of ways to cut and save money. Thank you!

October 28, 2017 9:37 am

This sounds a bit silly, but other than milk, tea bags and coffee beans, we don’t keep any kind of drink in our house stocked (alcohol included!). This gives us the opportunity when hosting guests to give them something useful to bring when we cook, and has saved us at least $100 a month. It also makes it an easy mini date to sometimes run to the grocery store or a coffee shop for a “tasty drink” — something for $5 all in we get really excited about!

Emily Frost
October 30, 2017 12:38 pm

As usual, a fabulous and thorough post! I’d love to know where you think the best black friday sales are… so I can think about what to purchase that day. I think this is an excellent strategy.

Emily Frost
October 31, 2017 8:10 am
Reply to  Em

Very smart – so it’s a whole mindset shift really. I will give it a try (if I can be patient!) ;)

October 30, 2017 8:57 pm

These are my favorite types of posts to read these days! Meal planning and sticking to a CSA and Aldi for shopping have helped so much. Like spending the least amount in our marriage these past two months (well giving up restaurants has been a big help too!). I have also saved tons by swapping baby clothes and maternity clothes with friends! I also now use a more capsule type wardrobe for myself and am trying to replace items as I actually need them, using credits from selling through sites like thredup and Poshmark.

November 1, 2017 9:26 am

I love this! Already started using ReceiptPal and making a Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping list.

I’m a huge library user (perhaps even an abuser …). You can ask your library to purchase books you want! I think I’ve suggested about 10 titles to the Durham County library, and they’ve bought all of them so far. :) I also use the Hoopla and Overdrive apps to listen to audibooks with my library card. (Think Audible, but free!) I also use a Chrome plugin called Library Extension. When you search for a book on Amazon, it checks to see if it’s at your library and lets you put a hold on it right then. Game changer.

I’ve also been a thrift store shopper my whole life. If you have patience, you can find some great stuff at Goodwill. My best find ever: not one, but TWO Longchamp bags. My mom once found Thinsulate-lined Bean Boots! Stores like Clothes Mentor are also great if Goodwill gives you the heebie jeebies. Their stores are cleaner and their clothes are newer, but their prices are still great — I got a brand-new Loft dress there a few months ago for $10. You can also sell your old clothes to them!

Alison Clarke
November 2, 2017 9:18 am

Have you tried Earny? It’s an app that monitors purchases you’ve made and if the price is lower over 90 days, Earny submits a price protection claim on your behalf. Since May, I’ve earned back $88!