What do you do to save money?
It seems like we are always focused on staying away from purchasing big ticket items to save money. For those of us on a budget, we know we shouldn’t be buying that big screen TV, or that new car … or even that cute purse we’ve been drooling over for the past month at that great store on the way to work. But what are some ways we can save money on things we need on a day to day basis?
It dawned on me this evening as I was rinsing out plastic zip-lock bags from my lunch box, that there are a lot of things I do in my every day life to save a few cents here or there. Sure, it may not seem like I’m saving much, but by doing things like rinsing out plastic bags, I’m not only saving myself money, but I’m helping out the environment too. And I got to thinking, what other things have I picked up over the last year or so that have saved me money?
- Selling my car – like I’ve said before, this is the #1 money saver move for me. I sold my 1989 Mazda 323 hatchback for $1,600 (originally bought it 3.5 years ago for $1,800), and bought a brand new scooter for $2,200. Even though the scooter was $600 more than the value of my car, the cost of owning a scooter ended up being cheaper than buying a monthly bus pass! $5 gets me almost 200km on my scooter, and it’s only $15/month to insure. Cars are a luxury, and for most people, aren’t truly necessary. If you take the bus, ride a bicycle, or even buy a scooter, it’s not only going to save a ton of money, but it’s also way better for the environment.
- Bringing my own cloth grocery bags – at our local grocery store, they give you a 3 cent credit for every plastic bag you don’t take out of the store. So if your groceries would have fit into 2 plastic bags, they deduct 6 cents from your bill.
- Using a cloth to remove my make-up – I used to use those round cotton pads to wipe away my make-up before I washed my face every night, but now I’m using an old face cloth instead to do the job. It saves me $3 every month.
- Buying the generic store brand – this is pretty much a given for anybody doing the frugal thing out there. I used to be completely against the store brand stuff, especially when it came to lotions, body wash, feminine products – basically anything skin-related. But when I see a huge bottle of name-brand body lotion on for $10, and the generic brand right beside it for $3.50, I always take the store brand.
- Use skin products sparingly – you’d be surprised how long your face creams and moisturizers will last if you just use a little less. I used to work as a beauty advisor when I was in college, and I would have customers come back every month to buy another pot of their favourite cream. And that stuff ain’t cheap! Face cream is something I don’t scrimp on, but I can make a 50 mL (1.7 fl. oz) tube of face cream last me an entire year.
- Using the back of recycled paper for taking notes – instead of using post-it notes, every few months I take some paper from the recycling bin to work, cut them into quarters, and then use the industrial stapler to staple them together. A perfectly good note pad! So what if the back doesn’t stick to things? It’s FREE!
- Using coupons – I’ve been using coupons for a while now, and I wonder why I didn’t start sooner. 50 cents here, 35 cents there, and it all adds up after a while. I know some people just don’t have the time to clip coupons, but seriously, 15-20 minutes every Sunday looking through the paper for those valuable coupons really makes a difference.
- Buying groceries on sale – the BF and I have made it a rule to never buy anything unless it’s on sale. So if we’re out of tea, or bread, or cheese, or lettuce, and it’s not on sale that week, we don’t buy it. It has saved us a fortune compared to when we just bought whatever we considered “the usuals” every week. We’ve learned to create our meals around the ingredients that are on sale by looking at the store flyers online before we head out, and then figuring out what we can make with those items. We spend between $20-$50/week on groceries for the two of us, and that includes buying lunch stuff for the week since we always pack our lunches. Which brings me to …
- Bringing my own lunch – in the 6.5 months since I’ve been at this job, I’ve only eaten out once. I always pack my lunch the night before, because I’m always in a rush during the mornings and never have time to throw anything together. That saves at least $5/day.
- The Entertainment Book – seriously, one of the best purchases I make every year. That thing pays for itself after using just 2 or 3 coupons! Aside from having the coupons for the places you know and love, it’s also a great way to try out new places you might otherwise have never gone to. The EB is one of the main reasons I was able to stay on my $30/month dining out budget for so long.
- Re-using shoe boxes – I love shoes, but I also love shoe boxes (but to a much, much lesser extent). They’re great for storing things, and if you spend the time to dress the boxes up nicely (wrap them with thick decorative paper or something), they look really good stacked on top of each other. I have everything in shoe boxes – first aid supplies, yarn/needles/cross stitching, old journals, electronics, old floppy disks, etc.
- Re-using retail shopping bags – I re-use the retail shopping bags I get from Jacob, Esprit, etc. Not only do they make good garbage liners, but most of the time they’re sturdy enough to hold our recycling when we take it out to the curb every other week. And the recycling guys always leave us the bag so we can use it again the next time. And as for garbage liners, when we’re collecting our garbage for the week, we just dump the contents from every waste bin into one big bag, and leave the bag liners in their original waste bins. That way we’re only throwing away one bag.
- Borrow from the library – gosh, I don’t even know when I bought my last book. The library has all the best-sellers, and as long as you’re willing to wait a few weeks (or months in my case, for Shopaholic & Baby), you’ll get to read it for free! Books are so expensive nowadays, it’s not even worth it to buy it brand new. And if you absolutely can’t wait to wait and borrow the book from the library, at least ask around to see if you can borrow anyone else’s copy, and also check out used book stores for people who trade books. I had a friend who read a lot – and every time he finished a book, he’d take it to the used book store and just trade it for another one. While I was buying the books new from the store, he was saving $20 each time by borrowing it for free. Besides, is it really a big deal that the spine has a crease in it, or some of the pages are folded over?
- Quit drinking alcohol – not that I was an alcoholic before, but I can probably count the number of drinks I have in a year on my two hands. That’s how little I drink. I never go to the bars or clubs with my friends anymore because it costs too much money, and I always feel really weird being surrounded by drunks. And I certainly never order alcohol with my meals if I do end up going out for dinner. If you are in a situation where you must order an alcoholic beverage, at least take a look at their drink specials for that day.
- Always order water – while on the subject of beverages, it’s really really rare that I’ll ever order anything besides water with a lemon to drink at a meal.
- Order the daily special – It’s so much cheaper than ordering something regular priced off the menu! I’ll always order the daily special unless it’s completely disgusting. Like if it has cucumbers, olives, or the worst, if it has raw/fresh tomatoes in it. YUCK. Also, anything Greek? No thank you. And if you have left-overs, for gosh sakes, pack it up and bring it home!
- Drink tea instead of coffee – coffee dates with the gals can be pricey when the cost of a fancy beverage is like $5! Tea is so much cheaper, and if you’re being really frugal, you can ask for a cup of hot water and bring your own tea bag.
So I’m putting it out there: what do you do to watch your pennies?
Author: Krystal Yee
I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.