What if you could find an extra $1,000 or more in your budget this year without giving anything up? Sounds crazy, we know, especially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
But even small changes can add up to big savings. These five simple spending tweaks will hardly make a dent in your lifestyle, but they could add up to hundreds of dollars in your bank account by the time December rolls around.
1. Bulk up on essentials.
Buying non-perishables—like toilet paper, detergent, and canned foods—in bulk is one of the simplest ways to save. That’s because the more units you purchase together, the lower the price drops.
Shoppers have a lot of options for sourcing deals, including membership-only warehouse clubs, like BJ’s or Costco, as well as online retailers, like Amazon and newcomer Jet.com, which offer savings plus free shipping.
What you’ll save: With some advance planning, bulking can save you 50 to 75 percent off regular prices. Seriously. Just remember to pass on perishables that might go bad before you can get to them.
2. Make (just a few!) more meals at home.
Nobody’s a fan of brown-bagging it every day, and, let’s face it, there are days when you just want your food delivered to your desk (hello, seamless). We won’t even ask you to give up your $12 gluten-free lunch from the organic deli if you love it.
But even back in 2013, Zagat estimated the average restaurant dinner cost $40—and closer to $50 in cities like New York or San Francisco—so scaling back by just a handful of meals could make a meaningful difference to your bottom line.
If you’re not much of a chef, but don’t mind a few minutes of morning prep, frugal living expert Lauren Greutman suggests cooking crock pot meals because you can use the same ingredients in multiple dinners. “My family uses a lot of chuck roast. It’s cheap, and it’s practically designed for slow cooking,” she says.
Feeling more ambitious? You can whip up restaurant-quality meals at home for just $9.99 per person through services like Blue Apron.
What you’ll save: Replacing even three restaurant meals a month with Blue Apron deliveries equals an extra $90 in your pocket. Multiply that by 12 months and that’s an easy $1,080. One note: If you only want a week’s worth of meals at a time, you’ll have to ask Blue Apron to skip the following week(s) or cancel, as it auto-renews every week.
Slow cook your meals and you can save even more–even with the cost of a crock pot factored in. You can get one for less than $40.
3. Stack your savings.
Americans redeemed $319 billion worth of coupons in 2014. Want to get in on that savings? The trick is to layer them from multiple sources.
First, download your supermarket’s app. (Bonus points for anyone who knew their grocery store had an app!) There, you can view weekly sales, build a shopping list, and add special offers to your rewards card. Before you head to the store, check out a site like shopathome.com for manufacturer’s coupons.
Harrine Freeman, owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a financial services firm in Maryland, likes shopping at chains like A&P, GIANT or ShopRite, that double coupons, and then going to coupons.com and thegrocerygame.com for additional savings.
What you’ll save: You don’t have to go to extremes to use coupons to shave off 25 percent or more of your monthly food bill. Example: If CVS sells Ricola cough drops for $1.99, say, and you get a CVS ExtraCare coupon for $.99 then find a manufacturer’s coupon on smartsource.com for $.99 off, you’re getting a bag of cough drops for a penny, saving nearly $2. Use the same tactic for other food and pharmacy items, and you can save $20 or more each trip.
4. Say bye-bye to bank fees.
A 2015 Bankrate survey found checking account holders are paying record-high fees for everything from withdrawing money from an ATM outside their bank’s network to overdrawing their account. How much? People who’ve opted into overdraft or “non-sufficient funds” programs pay, on average, more than $250 a year in fees, according to a 2014 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report. And using an out-of-network ATM will cost you a record $4.52 per transaction, on average, says Bankrate.
One option is to move your money into a no-fee or low-fee checking account. Just be aware that many have minimum balance requirements. Other easy fixes: Many banks allow you to set up text alerts when your balance falls below a certain amount. That can help keep you from overdrafting your account. To avoid out-of-network ATM fees, use your bank’s app or Google Maps to search for in-network ATMs or get cash back at your local drugstore or supermarket when you’re shopping (there’s typically no charge, but ask to be sure).
What you’ll save: Avoiding annoying fees—including the maintenance charge on your checking account—could save you a couple hundred bucks a year.
5. Say hello to the retentions department.
Companies hate to lose business to competitors, so folks in the retentions department of your favorite service providers—think cable, cell phone, and credit card companies—try to entice you to stick around.
If it’s a reduced TV bill you’re after, call up the company, and tell them you’re eyeing a package from, say, DirecTV, for $19.99 for three months, plus a free DVR upgrade. Ask, “Can you match that price?”
“There’s a fifty percent chance of them saying yes, but you can improve the odds by talking to a decision-maker,” says Greutman.
What you’ll save: If you’re on a basic plan like the Optimum Triple Play for $85 per month, getting the green light could mean a savings of $65 a month, or $780 a year.
Now that’s worth a call.
January 4, 2016