12 Easy Ways to Save Money

Looking for quick and easy ways to boost your budget? Get practical advice on everything from buying birthday presents to shopping at big box stores.

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12 Easy Ways to Save Money

One of my favorite observations is that people spend 95% of their time and money on things they only use 5% of the time. Taking small steps to save money is one way to help change those percentages for the better.

You don’t have to give up all your fun or spend hours tracking expenses on an Excel spreadsheet. Instead, with a little planning, you can save money and even create memories in the process. Is it really possible to enjoy life on a budget? To that, I would say a resounding "Yes!" If you think about it, it’s a lot more fun than drowning in debt.

Here's how:

1. Practice contentment. My dear friend Dixie owned a home furnishings store but she was the first to admit that part of a shopkeeper's job is to create perpetual discontent. If you feel discontent, you’re more likely to buy something. She also loved to say that contentment isn't having what you want but rather wanting what you have.

Keep a journal of five simple things each day that truly delighted you. When you revisit your words, it will be like you lived twice. Another way to practice contentment is to peruse magazines for inspiration only. Imagine how what you see there can spur you on a creative venture that doesn't have to be costly at all (maybe you’ll reorganize a room or bake for a friend.). To the contrary, limited funds can even enhance your creative spirit.

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2. Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s good for your budget. You might think anything you buy at a thrift store or in a sale bin is a bargain, but sometimes low prices can coax you into buying things you don't really need. Before spending anything anywhere, ask yourself:  Do I have a real purpose for this object in the near future?  Do I already have something similar? Your answers will guide you to do smarter shopping. It's never a bargain if you don't need it.

3. Don’t overuse bulk products. Wholesale clubs have increased in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. But sometimes having 24 rolls of paper towels on the shelf can lead one to waste resources. Do you really need 5 paper towels for a small spill? Could you use a trusty cloth towel to dry dishes? It’s a more frugal and lint-free choice than drying those dishes with a paper product. Use your bulk products wisely.

4. Plan your errands. You may calculate the cost of gas before you take a long road trip, but those short trips around town can make a big dent in your gas budget too. Plan your errands, so you don't backtrack and waste expensive fuel.

5. Don’t let birthdays catch you by surprise. Designate a gifts closet or drawer and organize it all with a calendar of loved ones' special days. That way, when you spot something appropriate through the year at a good price, you can snatch it up and store it for later on.  

6. Patience is your friend. Watch a coveted object until it goes on sale. At estate sales, wait until half-price day to make your purchase. Remember, time is a frugal shopper's best friend. Also, by the time half-price day or a store sale rolls around, you may find the object of your desire has lost its luster and you don't even need it at all!

7. Plan your food shopping. Stop dashing into the store daily for last minute items. Make a list and scan advertisements before you go (and look at the circular in the store.) Then purchase the special features of the week, using coupons to your best advantage. If beef roasts are on sale, buy enough so you can serve your family more than one meal from it. Leftover meat can be put to use for delicious barbecues and stew.

8. Form a babysitting club with other parents on your block. Such a strategy will enable everyone to have a night out without spending a dime.

9. The best bargain around is a postage stamp. At 55 cents, a letter is a great way to connect with faraway friends and family without running up your cell phone bill. In these fast-paced days of e-mail and smart phones, folks adore getting something handwritten (and heartfelt) in the day's snail mail. It’s also a great way to show you care.

One of my most memorable expressions of caring came from a penniless friend. Knowing of my love of writing, she sent me the advertisement for a new leather briefcase, pencil case, and fountain pen from an expensive catalog. "This is what I would be sending you if I had the money," Catherine scribbled on a separate scrap of paper. It was a kind gesture that I treasured.

10. Don't waste energy. Mother really did know best: Turn off the lights when you leave the room. And get drafty doors and windows fixed. The short term expense of tools or a handyman will be offset by lower energy bills.

11. Buy secondhand books. Shop garage sales, Goodwill, and used book stores for the written word. The savings you realize will be enormous—often used books are even cheaper than the electronic version. Or better yet, borrow the book from your local library—that doesn't cost a cent! If you must have a new release that isn't yet available at the library (or the waiting list is too long), share the book (and the expense) with like-minded friends; if several of you go in on the purchase together, the savings will add up, and you'll have a group to discuss the book with once you've all read it.

12. Save for a dream. My sister Rebekkah dreamed of owning a place of her own from the time she cleaned houses as a child. Despite years of low-paying jobs, three decades later, the magic of compound interest made it all a reality. One thrifty decision at a time, multiplied by years of determined consistency, brought an impossible dream into joyous focus. You can do it too!

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