11 Painless Ways to Save That You Probably Haven’t Tried Yet
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"Shopping with too much time on your hands can be just as dangerous as food shopping while hungry."

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Whether it’s paying off debt, building an emergency fund or saving for a dream home, every dollar counts. And while tracking our spending, reducing regular expenses and investing wisely are the keys to achieving big goals like these, tacking on a few out-of-the-box savings hacks—like these 11 vouched-for strategies—can help us cross the finish line even faster.

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1. Shop with discounted gift cards.

Clara Meth, a Miami-based marketing analyst, saves roughly $600 per year simply by buying resold gift cards (which you can do on sites like GiftCards.com and GiftCardGranny) for restaurants and retailers she’s already planning to visit during the month. “One of the best deals I ever got was a $200 Express gift card for $160,” she says.

2. Book haircuts at your local cosmetology school.

I've gotten plenty of haircuts at my local cosmetology school, which charges just $18 for a haircut and style. (Compare that to a more typical $50 at a regular salon.) Sure, you're at the hands of student stylists, but I’ve found that it's pretty hard to botch a basic trim.

3. Go big for freebies.

About 10 years ago, Eric Sztanyo, a Realtor in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, found a creative way to snag free food and a lot of savings: camp out at Chick-fil-A grand openings to be among the first 100 customers and receive 52 free-meal vouchers. "With the coupons being valued at about $300 per opening, I figure my family has saved over $6,000 in free chicken sandwich meals over the years!" he says.

Not sure camping for fried chicken is quite your style? Take advantage of complimentary birthday or holiday freebies at your favorite spots. You can also sign up for free trial memberships, then cancel before the fee kicks in. I recently did this with Fabletics and stocked up on high-quality yoga gear on the cheap. Just make sure to remember to cancel!

4. Rethink storage.

The average cost of a 10x15, climate-controlled storage unit costs anywhere from $115 to $150 per month—and that adds up quickly. For years, I shelled out what probably amounted to more than $4,000 on a tiny unit in NYC, filled with old photos, books and baby clothes my daughters outgrew. It wasn't until I moved away and took stock of everything that I realized it was mostly junk, and I could’ve funneled that money into our emergency fund instead.

Bonus: Decluttering is a good way to net some quick cash. Platforms like thredUP, Poshmark and Glyde can help you easily monetize old clothes and electronics.

Related: 7 Low-Effort Ways Simplifying Your Life Can Save You Time and Money

5. Eat breakfast for dinner once a week.

When groceries are dwindling, it's tempting to order takeout and call it a day. So a few times a month, I’ll whip up breakfast for dinner—“brinner,” if you will—using whatever ingredients we already have: Almost-stale bread and half a basket of strawberries becomes French toast with fruit; last night's veggie leftovers and eggs work great for omelets.

In our house, this typically works out to a free meal. But even if you don’t have breakfast items on hand already, it’s a cost-effective strategy. At less than $3, instant pancake mix, for instance, is a lot cheaper than what’s required for an average dinner—and lasts a while.

Related: 8 Simple, Tasty Meals You Can Make With Ingredients You Already Have

6. Explore entertainment subscriptions.

If money’s tight, spending $500 a year on a Bacon of the Month club probably isn't the best move (though it sounds delicious), but some subscriptions can save you money. For example, the average monthly spend for pay-TV service is about $107, according to Leichtman Research Group; meanwhile, Hulu’s live streaming package costs just $40.

Lorena Tomasini, 32, who owns a life and health insurance agency in Miami, uses MoviePass to bring down her entertainment spending. “I've seen 32 movies this year, saving about $350 a year after taking out the $10 monthly subscription fee,” she says. (Note that MoviePass is expected to change its plans and prices in January.)

7. Comparison-shop for utility providers.

While some areas are tied to just one utility servicer, plenty have multiple—and it pays to shop around. That’s all Jonathan Faccone, owner of a real estate company in Horsham, Pa., did to cut his electricity bill by 33 percent.

If you're already locked into the lowest rate, tweak your energy usage to maximize your savings. Pacific Gas and Electric Company says that keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees or below in the winter is most cost-effective.

8. Grocery shop on Wednesdays.

Saturday is America's busiest grocery shopping day, according to research from the Time Use Institute. But Wednesday is a different story, drawing in roughly 11 million fewer shoppers. What's more, many stores kick off their weekly promo specials on Wednesdays. Coupons + thinner crowds (i.e., more inventory) = bigger savings.

While you’re at it...

9. Shop on a deadline. 

Shopping with too much time on your hands can be just as dangerous as food shopping while hungry. That’s why one blogger confines her shopping trips to her lunch break—intentionally removing the temptation to casually peruse and add more than she needs to her cart.

10. Remember your reusable bags and containers.

Eco-friendly stores like Target and Whole Foods extend discounts to shoppers who use their own reusable bags (5 cents per bag at Target; a 10-cent rebate at Whole Foods). The same goes for Starbucks, which takes 10 cents off your order if you bring your own cup. It’s not much each time, but spare change can go a long way if you know what to do with it.

Just Salad takes it a step further, offering free toppings with every visit if you use one of their $1 reusable bowls.

11. Reward yourself for making smart money moves.

It’s kind of like a “swear jar,” but instead of adding money whenever you drop an F-bomb, pay yourself when you rein in wasteful spending. When you feel the urge to spend $5 on a skinny vanilla latte—sugar-free syrup, please—for example, brew a cup of joe at home or at the office and move that cash into your savings account instead. 

Related: How I Turned My Vices Into $35,000 of Savings

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