Five Pain-Free Ways to Save Money Immediately
There are plenty of ways to save money - some big, some small. The trick is that big changes can net you big returns, but the effort required can be daunting, to the point you can never quite get started.
While small changes may not lead to massive swings in your financial outlook, they have the advantage of being fairly easy to put in place. What's more, you can stack these little changes over time to gradually and painlessly increasing savings.
There's really no end to all the simple, money-saving changes you can make, but here are five of our favorites. Individually, they may not make you rich overnight, but they can make a substantial difference, especially if you can do all five.
Pull the plug
Your TV never sleeps. Neither does your microwave. Or your coffee maker, for that matter. If your electronics are still plugged in – even if they’re off – they’re using electricity and costing you money. It’s referred to as “standby energy” and it accounts for about 5% of all residential electricity consumed every year, which can add up to hundreds of dollars every year.
Thankfully the solution is terrifically easy – if you aren’t using it, unplug it. Alternately, you can use a power strip and close the circuit on the strip when you don’t need any of the attached appliances.
For slightly bigger savings, turn off lights when you're not in the room. Then turn off your computer when it's not in use. In fact, if it doesn't need to be on, turn it off. You might be surprised by how much electricity you're pouring into empty rooms and unused appliances.
Say no to premium
Your car is one of the biggest investments you’ll make (behind your house, your children and all the repairs you’ll have to make to your house after you have your children). So it makes sense that you’d want to protect that investment with further investments. In that regard, buying the most expensive gasoline for your car might seem like a good idea.
The truth is, you should really only use the fuel grade recommended by the manufacturer (which is almost always regular). According to the FTC, higher octane fuels are really only useful for high compression engines (found in luxury vehicles and high-end sports cars). Your car’s performance and lifespan will generally not be improved by buying more expensive gas.
Similarly, consider the other "premium" options you choose on a regular basis. Are there ways you can stepdown your spending without fundamentally changing your habits?
Take a minute at the virtual checkout
Buying items online is a way of life at this point. There are even times when shopping online is cheaper than buying items in the store. However, it could always be even cheaper than that.
Before you buy anything online, make sure you take a brief moment to do three things: check competitors, look for coupon codes, and make sure you actually want what you're about to buy. The convenience of online shopping can often work against us. If you've bought something within five minutes of the thought entering your head, you may be moving a little too fast for your wallet's liking.
And remember that one of the benefits of shopping online is the ability to comparison shop quickly and easily, so don’t give up that perk. Look around. You may be able to find what you want cheaper somewhere else.
And even if your chosen vendor already has the best deal, make sure you take a minute to see if there are any coupons out there that can save you even more money. At the very least, Google the name of the website and the word "coupon" see what comes up. You might be leaving some potential savings on the table.
Never shop without a list
We all give in to impulse sometimes, especially when we're out shopping. Most stores (and especially grocery stores) are purposefully designed to get you to buy particular things. These aren't things you need, and they're usually not things you wanted until the precise moment when you laid eyes on them, but they end up in your bag of purchases all the same.
One of the best ways to avoid temptation and stay on the path of smart money decisions, is to always shop with a goal and a list. Know what you will buy before you hit the store and buy only that.
And that extends beyond the grocery store. Online shopping for some Christmas presents? Make. A. List. (You can check it as many times as you like, although twice is the suggested amount.) As much as you can, avoid freestyling it in any and all stores, virtual or brick and mortar.
Get a library card
First of all, the library is awesome. They have books and magazines and movies and CDs (some people still use those) and pretty much everything you’d ever need to be entertained.
Do you buy a lot of books? Do you rent a lot of movies?
Don’t even worry about replacing your old entertainment habits. Just go get a library card and then once a week or once a month or however often you’d like go to the library. Take out some books. Take out some movies. And over time – without even meaning to – you’ll find yourself spending less money on entertainment. Guaranteed.
Saving money can be a challenge, especially when it feels like you have need to make major changes to your habits and lifestyle. So start small! Pick a minor change and make it a habit. Then find another little tweak. It'll add up faster than you think.
Need a little more help creating a balanced budget? Connect with a budgeting counselor! Counseling is free and available 24/7.
Article updated November 2020