When it comes to saving cash and living within your means as best as possible, my mantra has become this:
“It’s about making a choice”
Since I left home at 18, I have had to find ways of penny pinching and making smarter decisions when buying groceries, furniture, and other goods. Without getting into details – if I didn’t learn to be somewhat frugal, I would have ended up in severe debt, and – if it weren’t for a free home provided by the military (yay barracks!) I would likely have been homeless. I will admit, I did benefit greatly from being in Financial Management career field, and that the fact that the AF really pushes airmen to be financially sound and develop good financial habits. So, in a way, I HAD to learn – for me, it seemed like the ONLY choice.
To the people and programs that helped me get to where I am today – thank you thank you TY!
Below is a list of ‘choices’ I have had to consciously make and put effort into making a normal part of my routine. Some may gross you out, some may sound extreme, but really, I don’t think I’ve sacrificed my livelihood all that much at all.
**Keep in mind that prices vary depending on where you live**
1. No more fancy shampoo!
NOOOOO! ……….. hehe!
This is one of the first things I had to change. One day I decided to compare ingredients of different shampoos in the grocery store. To my shock, I saw that many of these shared the SAME ingredients, save for fragrance, moisturizer, and thickening agent differences (some shampoos are harsher/gentler than others, but when on a budget, those things become luxuries).
I was like – are you f*****g serious? I felt ripped off.
But then I thought, holy crap – Suave is 99cents compared to Pantene at 3.99, and looked even better when compared to the oh so wonderful Rusk and Biolage Shampoo that my salon would use ($15 – $23 at the time). I loved these shampoos, and even loved my Pantene, which I thought was a good compromise. But at the time, I was dead broke, with no money in my account, and couldn’t afford much more than food.
This was the choice I felt like I HAD to make so it would stick: “Food or Pretty Hair” – I chose food and never looked back.
Extreme? Meh, to each their own. 🙂
2. Use less shampoo and make it last!
Now that I had my 99cent Suave, I knew I was going to have to make it last. For me, this was easy, because I grew up having to share shampoo and stretch it as long as possible (anywhere from 6-9 people living in the house over the years).
Most of the time, shampoo bottle instructions say to “Wash, Rinse, AND Repeat”.
Unless you are really grimy, muddy, etc, skip the REPEAT part.
Use about 25% less than what the product recommends (use even less if really trying to stretch it).
I know this is hard to do if you have long hair – to get more mileage out of it, do NOT shampoo every day – your hair doesn’t need it, and you are stripping important oils and nutrients from your hair and scalp anyway. OR – Keep your hair shorter (cut yourself of go to the cheaper salons, use salon coupons for discounts, groupon, etc).
Once you have about a 1/4 or less of a bottle left, turn it upside down, or on it’s side so it’s easy to squeeze out.
Down to that last bit piling around the cap but hard to get out? Get a little bit of shower or bath water in the bottle, close the cap, shake like a mad man, then use to wash hair. Yes, it will be more runny, depending on how much you put in, but it will get you enough suds to lather up 1-3 more times.
I’ve done it – seems to work just fine 🙂
3. No more vending machine binges!
A soda bottle in a vending machine where I worked cost $1.25. A can of Dr. Pepper was 75c.
A 12-pack of Dr. Pepper costs 3.99. Divided out and you’ve Dr. Pepper galore for 33.25cents a can! Take 2 to work if you really need the caffeine and you are still at just 66 cents!
Scrumptious Cheezits were $1.00 at the vending machine. You get 1.5 oz of cheesy goodness.
Buy a 13.7 ounce or larger box at the grocery store. It’ll likely cost you about 3.50. Divide ounces into 1.5 oz portions and you’ll have 9 sets of cheezits to satisfy your snacking at just 38.8 cents each.
Even better: if you have no club card, go with a friend to Sams or Costco and bring cash to give to said friend. Buy a 3 lb box at about $12.00. That’s 48 oz/1.5oz= 32 servings; putting your cost at 37.5 cents per 1.5 ounces.
*The trick being that you can’t just pop open the box at home and eat the whole thing in one day – defeats the purpose of savings otherwise (sigh – I learned this the hard way lol!)
I was a notorious vending machine lunch put together-er. Working 12-14 hours a day, running around like crazy, I did not have the energy to put together a nice lunch and snacks to get me through. Not to mention, I was getting fast food every other day anyways.
One day, after giving a briefing to young airmen new to the base about financial management tips and how to read their pay stubs, etc, I realized that I was kind of hypocrite. I practiced some good sensibility with my pay, but there really wasn’t any way I could back up what I was teaching them except for some ‘really great websites’. I thought about my own fears about not having enough to live on or for basic necessities, and spent a lot of time being pissed at my own family for their financial idiocy. But the dumbfoundedness came when I realized this hypocracy, and all that talk and thought about not having time was really just allowing me to be lazy.
4. Change how you wash your clothes
When I was growing up, I did the family laundry, and learned some meticulous clothes washing habits. Perhaps primarily ladies know what I mean, but I know many guys wash laundry this way too.
So, in all (if I can remember), I had a lights pile, whites pile, darks pile, denim, towels/bedding, socks and underwear pile, red/maroons pile, colors/brights, and delicates.
All this means we had laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, and bleach.
Though a HUGE pain in the ass and incredibly boring, I came to accept this as normal until I moved out. I suppose if you have 6 or more people living with you, you can get away with separating clothes since you will have the same amount of loads anyways, but for just one or two people – this level of commitment and expense to clean, fresh smelling laundry is ridiculous, and is sucking way to much money out of your wallet.
Here’s what I learned about laundry, and how I have saved money over the years, especially now:
A: Pick one smell or the other:
By this I mean, you either use a scented detergent OR dryer sheets. I cut out fabric softener as I feel that it’s largely unnecessary.
I typically use an unscented detergent in bulk (if i can find it), and store brand dryer sheets (same stuff, cheaper usually, and work just as well). I then use half a dryer sheet for a medium, full sheet for large load or blankets, and nothing for small loads or single items. I don’t use them all the time though, as I find that I like my clothes to not have a smell at all. Bonus: you can then use a bit of dryer sheet to absorb the smell from shoes, remove static from clothes, in your suitecase, drawers, of for other uses. This will also save you from having to buy fragrance sprays like Febreeze because they absorb odor just as well for many things for a fraction of the price.
B. Use less or NO detergent at all:
It’s kinda funny how the cap on many detergents is so large, but the fill line for a large load does even reach halfway up the cap. It seems almost psychological that we fill the cap up to the top, but using so much detergent, even the recommended amount is not necessary.
In fact, in many cases, I have found that I could wash my clothes with very little to NO detergent and still get clean, fresh clothing.
On a budget, that means I don’t have to buy detergent as often, and truth be told, no one has ever questioned clothing’s ‘cleanliness’.
I read online that a detergent stays in a lot of the clothing after the wash, which contributes to the idea that you don’t always need to use detergent. Don’t know if it’s true, but it seems to be the case.
C. If using liquid, follow same steps as the shampoo example:
Same idea – as it gets closer to empty, turn upside-down or on its side so it’s easier to pour, then use water from the wash machine, shake it up, then pour the remaining contents into the wash.
D. Use cold water!
Not only will your clothes bleed less, but you Gas bill will thank you immensely! I have been able to save between $20-$30 every month by washing less often, and washing in cold water.
E. Skip the Bleach.
If you do this, it does imply you’ll want to be more careful about stains, start wearing darker clothing, or have fun just saying f-u to societal expectations. I really don’t think most people are going to notice if your socks aren’t as white as the day they came out of the package.
Although, there are other alternatives for stain fighting that are great, but I don’t take the time to research ’em. Instead I have my dingy old “home clothes” that I don’t mind getting dirty to minimize ruining work or formal attire (i.e. hairspray is a decent one btw).
One thing I noticed while experimenting was that if I was new clothes separately the first 2-3 times, and color that would be have bled comes off in that time, and when I introduce them to the rest of my laundry, I don’t see any changes to the clothes or further bleeding or stretching/shrinking.
Works fabulous for a 1-2 loads gal who only does laundry once every one-two weeks – try it! 🙂
F. If it says lay flat to dry – go for it!
Not only will you save on electricity, but the time investment to pull out those items to lay flat or hang dry is worth the longevity I have gotten from my clothes.
I still have shirts and bras that look new and feel just as soft as when I bought them years and years ago.
Jeans will fade less by washing and drying less, work pants last longer and don’t get the balled up lint look on your butt.
I will admit, it took me a while to get used to this and take the time to do it – but it was worth it.
5. A few last soap tips:
A: Buy bar soap: It’s cheaper; there are great soaps today that don’t harm your skin.
If you are like me, you LOVE body wash and don’t want to let go. They also offer more in terms of mosturization and vitamins, but the cost may land you in the 4.99 – 8.99 range, whereas a bar of soap can be found as cheap as 99 cents.
HOWEVER: If you are going to buy body wash, skip the lotion afterward – a good body wash will put enough moisture in your skin that you shouldn’t have to lotion as much. If so, use less, and if you need a lotion – compare products and go for the inexpensive off brand, which usually contains the same ingredients and is sometimes made by the SAME manufacturer that makes the popular name brand (ikr!?).
At the end of the day, if it’s about saving money – bar soap is the best bang for you buck, and I have been converted into a bar soap user.
B: Buy off brand dish soap: and use less (same idea as all the other soaps talked about here).
6. Ditch the cable! (Oh the horror!)
Alrighty :::deep breath::: – Although I had basic cable, ditching it last October was really hard for me. Mentally, I was ready to let it go – it made financial sense, but emotionally, I felt like I had given up most other forms of expensive entertainment, that I thought I would go nuts without cable.
So, I said goodbye to cable, and hello to $50 back in my pocket – which eased the pain. In addition, we decided to downgrade our internet a little bit, and that kept and extra $20 from going to the cable company.
We added Netflix at $8 a month, so that we could still watch movies and our shows (Star Trek ftw!).
Then, I searched online to see what current shows are available to stream for free or without memberships, and to my surprise (and joy!), ABC, NBC, CBS, Lifetime, MTV, E!, CW, and other channels all let you watch most (if not all) of their current shows. The only criticism one might have is that sometimes they don’t post the most recent episode until a week later, but I have not found this to be a problem.
Going from $100 out of our wallets to $38 has been a great switch, and still allows us the luxury of watching TV.
7. No more drinks from restaurants or coffee/smoothie joints unless FREE!
Drinks are expensive. However, I often hear people say thinks like “it’s only 1.29 – no big deal”, but for how often many of us eat out, it very quickly becomes a big deal as your wallet is sucked dry more and more. Water is just as tasty, and you already stocked up on beverages from Sams/Costco. 😉
8. Still craving fast food? Order off the dollar menu!
Let’s face it, if you are used to eating out, it can be hard to cut cold turkey. If it helps, wesn yourself from fast food first by ordering just a few items from the dollar menu (no drink).
Then reduce number of trips to ff restaurants to once a week or less (if you don’t eat ff – no problem!).
Here’s a few mental tricks and new habits that helped me cut the FF:
A. Cost! At about $6 (or more) per meal, I was eating out as much as 4 times a week! Over a month, that’s $96 a month plus tax! If you can cut to once a week or less, and order only from the dollar menu – let’s say $4 total spent on one meal, you’ll spend only $16 a month or less! Use those free coupons you get in the mail to save even more. No shame in that! 🙂
B. Save gas money by not driving as much or not leaving your car running in long lines. If you still go, ride a bike or walk, or carpool with someone else.
C. Ask about student, veteran, or senior citizen discounts and always keep these IDs on you. Often times you can get discounts or free items, which will help you save moolah. Example: Most Qdobas give students a free drink if you ask them and show your ID. I do this every time I go, to satiate my beverage craving. On top of that, sign up for a Qdoba card – you’ll get some great coupons (like buy 1 get 1 entree free) and earn points toward getting a free meal, chips and queso, etc. Otherwise, Qdoba can really bust the wallet! ^_^
D. Learn to say no to friends and family. Most will understand, but in case a few don’t (as I have experienced) – you’ll have to learn to stand firm and not budge from your position.
9. Stop buying clothes!
*If you have been taking care of your clothing per any other the tips above, your clothes will look nicer and should last a long time. It’s hard to separate need from want sometimes, and you might have to take a hiatus from your best shopping buddies to help curb your own shopping appetite. Your wallet will thank you!
Exception: Your size has fluctuated enough that your professional clothes don’t fit. If you are unemployed like myself, you know that if you are going to get the job, you have to look the part – in this case, shop within reason!
Ways to acquire what you need:
Borrow It: If you absolutely NEED clothes, try asking the people around you if they have some clothes they would be willing to donate/borrow, even if just for one interview.
Garage Sales: Look to garage/yard/estate sales to find some hidden gems for super cheap – inspect them to make sure they are in good condition, and barter for the best deal when you can. Sometimes, if the seller hasn’t sold everything by the end of the day, he/she will start giving away items for free (this is how I got a free solid wood bookcase). This is especially true if a family member has passed on and the seller is trying to downsize. I know, a little morbid to think about, but it IS an option.
GoodWill or Salvation Army: You might be surprised to find some amazing, good quality, clean, damage free clothing for a great price there. I know because I have donated clothes myself that were brand new, worn seldom, or never worn items, such as dresses, shoes, work pants, nice tops, etc. Most of the time, I ended up donating them because they were too small, or because they were the kind of clothes that were stylish – but not my style. So by donating, you can get a bump up on the tax return and feel good about giving to others, and then you can shop at the same place for what you need! Win/Win right? 🙂
Consignment: A lot of people try to sell their clothes at consignment shops on commission, and you can find some really excellent quality stuff at a discount. However – do some research to make sure you are not buying something that is overpriced.
Ebay/Craigslist: If you have got your size and style down pat, check online sites like these for some good deals. You may get charged shipping though, so do the math to see if you are getting a good deal in the end. I have looked at both sites for clothes before, but have still not made a purchase because I can usually find stuff cheaper or for free elsewhere.
It took me some time to add up how much I was spending on clothing throughout the years. Though it may not have been exorbitant by some standards, it was still way too much for the lifestyle that I was living, and the lifestyle I live now. Sometimes I still get tempted to shop, but have gotten into a better mental habit of not putting myself in as many temptation-inducing places. However, when I NEED something, I now take time to research exactly what I am looking online in terms of style and what place has the best deal if I can get it from someone else or the other places listed above. This way, I can plan for a sale, research and print coupons from home, and look for the exact brand, color, and sizes that I think I might need to try. I then go to the store for just that item, trying them on quickly, and making the decision to purchase or not on the spot. If I am not satisfied with the fit (for something I would wear to an interview), I leave the store empty handed and continue with the research at home. It probably sounds like a weird process, but it’s one that helps me to stay focused on just that item without feeling bad that I can’t go on a shopping spree with friends. But, the nice thing is that time spent practicing good buying habits makes this a lot easier today, and makes me chuckle at how I used to think and behave.
10. Money saving quickies for common expenses you might not have thought about
A. Buy off brand versions of over the counter medicines and vitamins. All you need to do is check the ingredient list to be sure they are the same – this can save you $2-$5 a bottle! (especially helpful if you buy acetamaniophen or other pain relievers)
B. Buy Vinegar in bulk. Vinegar is fantastic for cleaning bathtubs, shower heads, toilets, and floors. It’s much cheaper in comparison to the hundreds of varieties of cleaners out there – many for insane prices! It’s going to be stinky, but definitely worth it.
C. At the end of your 2-year phone contract? If you are eligible for an upgrade, look at your carriers website for deals – for years I have been able to upgrade with FREE phones. The catch – you are getting a last season or not as popular phone, and it is DEFINITELY NOT a smartphone. I’m sure eventually smartphones will be up there on the FREE tab with 2-year upgrade, but for now, the free flip phone is your friend, and your cell bill may be cheaper without having to have texting or data plans (true for some carriers, not all). Pineapple Tidbit: don’t buy accessories at the phone stores – they charge an arm and a leg for accessories that you can buy elsewhere, or get from a friend who isn’t using theirs (check ports to make sure they fit).
D. Reduce car insurance. Good grades in HS and College can help reduce this – send in a report card or transcript to your insurance provider for an easy discount! Ask about other ways of reducing your car insurance while making sure you have enough coverage for accidents. Might take a little research on your part, but the savings is worth it imo.
E. Starving? Shop on sample days – some places have enough sample stands to really get a good meal out of it, since you have to shop for groceries anyway. Maybe this will shave off a craving for Burger King eh? 🙂
F. Cut beef, pork, or other meats from your diet. Not saying you have to turn into a vegetarian, but compare the cost of beef, pork, chicken, and fish sometime. These items can get really be very expensive. However, if you can get in on the cheap, buy it in bulk, and portion off to freeze. This way, you can still save money without wasting food.
G. **For the ladies: Buy Tampons/Pads in bulk when there’s a sale and stock for months – heck up to one year if you can. It’s a crime that fancy cotton, plastic, and cardboard is as expensive as it is, regardless of the brand. This is a personal thing. You know what you like – search for coupons, sales/deals, and stock up. Then there is always product under the sink and never an emergency trip to get more. Kudos to the ladies that really go all out on the reusable/washable products – I’ll admit it though, I’m just not ready for that step.
Whew – started to sound like a broken record. Sorry about that! Thanks for reading and I hope that some of these tips are helpful to you as they have been helpful to me. If not, that’s ok too! 🙂
It’s clear though, that I need to get better at editing and being concise and to-the-point. ^_^
Any one else have some great recommendations for saving $$$?
Thanks and best wishes to you all! ❤