75+ Sensible Ways to Reduce Spending and Save Money

There are probably thousands of websites/blogposts/etc. out here in the cloud purporting to provide easy solutions for reducing your spending.  Some of them are helpful, but a lot of them are just plain silly.  Extreme couponing? Fine ... if your family doesn't mind tomato soup and Hamburger Helper every day for three months.  Turn your heat down to 63F in winter?  Why not just leave the windows open?   Make your own glue?  It costs, like, 25 cents on sale - what a ridiculous waste of time!

Reducing expenses is a worthy goal, but not at the cost of robbing your life of joy and comfort.  The following list suggests strategies that won't appreciably alter your standard of living, but that could conceivably lower your yearly expenses by thousands of dollars.

Utilities, Bills & Other monthly expenses
  1. Housing costs.  Potentially the #1 way to save money is to take a practical look at how much you're paying for housing.  If you own your house, you need to immediately refinance so that you are paying the lowest amount of interest possible.  If you rent, check to make sure you're paying a competitive rate.  If you own/rent a condo, pick one that doesn't charge exorbitant condo fees.  You need to not be afraid to move if you're living in an area that's too expensive, too far away from your job, or too expensive to maintain.
  2. Banking Costs.  Make sure you've got the right bank account for your needs.  That .1% your bank is paying you in interest every month is laughably little compared to the fees they may be charging you in exchange for their paltry "generosity." Oh, and opt out of "overdraft protection" - otherwise you'll pay steep fees every time you overdraw your account.
  3. Internet. Whatever you do, do NOT give up your internet.  Why? Reason #1: it's going to provide all sorts of entertainment for a single price. Reason #2: It's going to save you money when shopping for goods & services.  Reason #3: In this day and age, internet is a mandatory utility - right up there with plumbing and HVAC. However, you need to look at your contract & make sure you're not paying for more than you need. Sure, it's sweet to be able to load movies in 10 seconds, but if you can save $20/mo by waiting 60 seconds for your movie to load, 50 seconds of your life is a pretty small price to pay for the huge savings that will eventually accrue
  4. Call phone. Also not advocating that you give up your cell phone, but do seriously consider whether you need all the features you are paying for.  Messaging is a want, not a need.  (Call or send email instead!)  Streaming youtube videos while you're bored is a want, not a need.  (Carry a book with you for emergencies.)  GPS is a want, not a need.  (Mapquest and maps still work just fine for this.)  Stripped down phones are fine for most people. 
  5. Wired phone.  There are some good reasons for keeping your wired service, but if you're paying for any premium features you're a fool; these days no one should be paying extra fees for lines, international calls, or voice mail.
  6. Television/cable.  Now that all the major networks offer real-time news online, now that Netflix offers streaming movies for $7/mo, now that sites like Hulu offer current television shows for free, and now that you can find at least one Redbox in practically every strip mall, there's simply no reason you should be paying for premium channels. You might even come to realize you don't need television at all.
  7. Credit Cards.  This is one area where most websites give good advice.  That advice being: 1) pick cards offering special low rates for the first year, then when the year is up switch your balance to another card offering a low introductory rate; 2) pay off all but a couple of the cards but don't close the accounts because credit scores give you credit for maintaining an unused balance; and 3) never use them for daily expenses - only for large purchases that you'll genuinely need to pay off over several months.
  8. Cash Machines.  This is a no-brainer, but I can't believe how many people willingly pay to get access to their own money!  You should NEVER be paying withdrawal fees.  If, however, you need to withdraw $$ from an ATM that charges a fee, better to borrow a big sum all at once than make a strong of small withdrawals over several days. Why? Better one $3 fee on a $100 withdrawal than a $6 fee for two $50 withdrawals.
  9. Electricity.  Lots of great recommendations out there for saving energy; all I'm going to do is reiterate that you need to focus on the equipment/activities that are especially major drains on your electricity - to whit:
    1. HVAC.  Most thermostats are programmable. If you're keeping the house cool/hot while you're at work, you're wasting $$.  You also should be lowering the temp at least by a few degrees at night; blankets are a whole lot cheaper than energy.  Use fans/space heaters judiciously - they can save money if you only need one room heated/cooled at a time.  Finally, weatherize your home to the extent possible: plug window leaks, hang curtains that block drafts from entering the house, and keep your curtains drawn on especially hot/cold days.
    2. Appliances.  Make sure you're running full loads before starting your dishwasher, clothes washer, or dryer.
    3. Turn It Off.  Didn't your mom/dad always tell you to turn off lights, ceiling fans, computers, televisions, etc. when you're not actually using them?  That's because they're right.
  10. Water.  All of us, without exception, use more water than we need to.  While turning off the water while brushing your teeth may seem thrifty, tiny gestures like that aren't going to make noticeable differences in your water bill.  Instead, look at those activities in your house that consume huge quantities of water at once and figure out how to make them more efficient.  For example, if you're washing your car for purely aesthetic purposes, stop it. If you're running your dishwasher or laundry at less than capacity, cut it out.  And if your lawn needs frequent watering, then you're living somewhere where you probably shouldn't have one - consider replacing your water-sucking plantings with drought resistant alternatives.
  11. Life Insurance.  Way too many people erroneously suppose that this is a necessary expense.  Read carefully: the ONLY purpose of life insurance is to replace the income (or income equivalent) of a person in the event they pass.  That means you should NEVER be paying for life insurance on a dependent child or elderly relative, and you shouldn't be insuring someone for more than their monetary replacement value.  Repeat after me: life insurance is NOT an investment (whatever the insurance brokers would have you think), and it is definitely NOT a lottery/windfall!
  12. Retirement Savings.  If your employer offers to match your retirement savings in whole or part, take advantage of it! It's not often someone offers you free money.
  13. Health Insurance.  Take the time to consider your health care needs thoroughly and honestly, then pick a health plan that will meet those needs.  For some families (those with pre-existing, extensive medical requirements, for example) the best plan may be something with a higher monthly fee but lower deductibles.  For other families (those that are relatively healthy), it may be smarter to pick a plan with a higher deductible but lower monthly payments.
  14. Car.  Lots of advice out there on how not to spend more than you need to on a car.  I merely reiterate the three most obvious: 1) When choosing which model to buy, factor in life-cycle reliability, insurance, and mileage; 2) plan on keeping your car until it dies; and 3) pick whatever financing option that results in the lowest total added interest.
  15. Car Insurance.   First, pick a legitimate company, because the money you save on a dubious company you'll eventually end up paying in claim costs they refuse to cover.  Second, choose a policy with the highest deductible you can handle, because this will lower your monthly bill.  Third, take advantage of any discounts they offer: good drivers discounts, good student discounts, etc.
  16. Commuting costs.  Look honestly at your commute and trim expenses where you can.  Carpooling, buses, metro, & working from home may all be viable options.  You may also wish to examine how you run errands: a little efficiency may end up saving you lots of gas.
  17. Investments.  Many investors end up paying 2% to 3% off the top each year for investing costs. Lower-cost mutual funds and index funds can save you a lot of money over time.
  18. Household Maintenance.  You'd be surprised what you can do yourself!  The friendly folks at your local hardware store are almost always glad to help, or borrow "how to" books/DVD from the library, or check out "how to" videos on sites like This Old House.  If you must consult a professional, however, check for coupons/discounts first; these are often available through mailers, your local newspaper, the yellow pages, or online.  And pick a firm that has been personally recommended by someone you trust, because an inexpensive paint/repair job isn't inexpensive if you end up having to have it redone.
  19. Gym Membership.  If you're a professional athlete or live in an urban area where outside recreation opportunities are scarce, then I suppose gym membership may be necessary. But let's be frank: if you belong to a gym, it's probably either because you enjoy the social aspect or it helps keep you disciplined - neither of which  honestly justify a big monthly fee.  Consider substituting jogging, biking, climbing your own stairs, and/or renting exercise tapes from the library.  Alternatively, trade in your expensive monthly contract for a discount gym or rec facility.
  20. Dry cleaning.  A couple of tips to reduce dry cleaning expenses: 1) dry clean your items less frequently; most clothes can survive multiple wearings before needing cleaning; 2) comparison shop to make sure the dry cleaner you use offers competitive rates; and 3) clean non dry-clean-only objects at home.
  21. Monthly subscriptions.  Ditch any newspaper, magazine, or online subscriptions you're not actually using on a monthly basis.

Non-food shopping
  1. Electronics.   It's way too easy to see electronics as "toys" - a category where, conveniently, "return on investment" becomes a fungible concept.  But before you spend money on the latest new device, an upgrade for your phone, a faster data plan, or a new iphone case, ask yourself: "is this a NEED or a WANT?"  Making cuts in just this one category could potentially save your family thousands of dollars a year.
  2. Furniture/large purchases. Before you go shopping for furniture, etc., first check online to see what gently used items may be available at steep discounts from sites like Craig's List, or even FREE from sites such as Freecycle. If you need to buy expensive items new, however, ALWAYS wait for a sale (often associated with holidays).
  3. Comparison shopping.  Thanks to the dozens of websites that allow you to enter the product you're looking for and then return a list of retailers & the prices they are offering, comparison shopping has never been easier.   Don't buy anything major until you've checked to verify the range of prices available!
  4. Smaller purchases.  Again, you may be surprised what your neighbors are giving away via Freecycle - everything from living room sets to kitchen supplies, tools, toys, books, clothing and more.  Goodwill and thrift stores are also good places to check for ordinary household items.
  5. Shopping at department stores.  ABSOLUTELY use coupons for department store purchases! In fact, given the current ruthless state of competition between retailers, you shouldn't be buying anything from a department store unless you have a coupon AND it's on sale.  Patience, self-discipline and a little cunning could save you hundreds of $$s a month.
  6. Shopping at discount warehouse stores.  If you have a huge family, then these stores may be worth the yearly fee.  But if you're shopping for just 2-3 and you're watching for sales, chances are that you're barely saving enough to cover the yearly fee.
  7. Shopping online.   Hold out for free shipping, often offered right before Christmas.
  8. Cleaning products.  I think people who make all their own cleaning products are a little crazy. Who has that kind of time? But I applaud the general idea of not paying premium prices for little bottles of specialized cleaners.  No matter what your cleaning need, it can probably be met with a combination of much less expensive alternatives: bleach, dish soap, vinegar, baking soda and/or carbonated water.  (Google your specific cleaning need for scores of websites suggesting cheaper alternatives.)
  9. Cosmetics.  Study after study has shown almost no correlation between price and effectiveness when it comes to most cosmetics.  (I include in this category not just makeup but also shampoos/conditioners, body washes, mani/pedi supplies, etc.)  So experiment with less expensive brands until you find acceptable substitutes for what you're using now & make the switch.   Depending on your needs, this could save you a bucket-load of money in and of itself.
  10. Baby stuff.  It's human nature to want to go out & buy gobs of stuff for your baby-to-be (diaper genie! wipe warmer! snuggie!), but take it from parents that have already been there - a lot of the stuff the stores & books say you'll need, you really don't need.  Consider buying just the essentials and then waiting until after the baby is born to figure out what you really need. A couple of correllaries to this: 1) cloth diapers aren't appreciably less expensive than purchased because of the energy costs associated with laundering them; 2) NO ONE needs an expensive diaper bag! A backpack or gymbag is really all you need; and 3) chances are you have at least one acquaintance with children older than yours who would be delighted to pass on their baby accessories to you if you just ask.
  11. Toys.  Kids really don't need expensive toys to keep them entertained.  You'd be surprised how much fun they can get out of old cardboard boxes, excess office supplies, and old clothes they can repurpose as costumes.  More expensive items can often be picked up for a song at garage sales, offered at a steep discount by families whose kids have outgrown them. 
  12. Gas.  Obviously, try not to buy your gas at the most expensive station in town. But don't go crazy comparison shopping either.  If your tank holds 15 gallons & gas is 5 cents more expensive at the station closest to your house, we're only talking a difference of 75 cents, for gosh sakes. Do, however, make sure you're using the lowest octane your vehicle will accept.
  13. Eschew extended warranties.  Almost never justified.  Your chances of needing an extended warranty are extremely low, and even then there's an even chance your warranty won't actually cover what needs doing.  Almost always more cost-efficient to take your chances.
  14. Clothes.  Three tips: 1) buy out of season for the best prices; 2) shop clothing consolidators (stores that resell remainders from department stores) for good brands at great prices; 3) don't count out Goodwill stores - people donate high quality, expensive items all the time.  By the way, don't buy clothes you don't need!  If you've got more clothes than fit in your closet, then you shouldn't even be shopping.
  15. Shoes/Shoes/Accessories.  Again, these are too often "wants" rather than "needs."  Many people I know swear by the 14-day rule: if you really want something, wait 14 days before actually purchasing it, to give your emotions a chance to cool & your logic/reason a chance to assert itself as appropriate.  
  16. Customer Reward Programs. Almost every retailer offers some sort of reward program for frequent shoppers.  The rewards may take the form of money back (ex: Target), special savings coupons (ex: most department stores), and/or access to special sales.  If you're turning down free money, then you need more help than this list can give you.
Food Shopping
  1. Eschew restaurants.  They're horribly expensive & you aren't even getting entertainment for your $$ - at least if you spend $11 on a movie ticket (vs. a lasagna entre), you get a lasting memory.  Save restaurants for special occasions or when absolutely necessary & use the money you save to pay a little extra for stuff you can make at home.
  2. Eshcew snacks.  Cups of coffee, drive through sodas, and purchases from snack machines end up running to a shockingly large amount of money over the course of a month.  Substitute your own coffee/soda and bring snacks from home.
  3. Pick your grocery store carefully.  Make a list of items your family consumes in a typical month and then check out your local stores to see who offers these items at the lowest collective price. You may be surprised to find that different grocery stores have different strategies for what they most frequently put on sale. In my neighborhood, a store with relatively high prices nevertheless consistently discounts the items my family happens to use, so we save money even though we don't use a cut-rate grocer.
  4. Use coupons. Go ahead and use them, but only very sparingly.  The purpose of coupons is to make you buy something you wouldn't already buy - or, alternatively, to buy a larger quantity than you might ordinarily do.  Don't let them suck you in. Stick to coupons for items you need and that will genuinely reduce the cost to less than you would pay for a comparable item.
  5. Exploit Sales.  Do, however, monitor grocery store sales and pick your meals to take advantage of items on sale. The first page of the circular with almost always include some "loss leaders" - items the store is deliberately selling for less than their value just to get you into the store
  6. Eat what you buy.  Most households throw away 30% or more of the food they buy. An obvious way to cut waste is to do your shopping weekly and ONLY buy what you'll use that week. 
  7. Shop sensibly.  Resist impulse purchases by sticking to your list and NEVER shopping when you're hungry.  If you're plan is to visit 3-4 grocery stores a week in order to shop the sales, be sure you're factoring in gas costs and opportunity costs.
  8. Drink sensibly.  Stop spending money on expensive coffees, sodas and bottled water!  When possible, substitute tap water for other alternatives.  (If you don't care for the taste of tap water, cost-efficient alternatives include installing a filter, brewing it into tea/iced tea, or adding a shot of liquid or powdered flavoring.)  If you must have coffee, then brew your own at home rather than frequenting the local coffee house.  If you must have alcohol, then purchase your alcohol straight from the store, not from your local innkeeper (where markups can be as high as 2000%).  You may be shocked at how much $$ this may save your family over time.
  9. Add inexpensive meals to your rotation.  Soups, omelets, pancakes - all of these are examples of relatively inexpensive yet wholly satisfying meals.  Consider adding at least 1-2 less expensive meals to your rotation every week.
Personal Costs
  1. Medical costs.  Take advantage of advice nurses, minute clinics and other low-cost health care alternatives before heading to the emergency room or making an appt.  Make sure the providers you do visit are covered by your insurance plan.  Do make sure you take advantage of covered "wellness" doctors visits to prevent expensive complications later.  Finally, buy generic versions of medications. 
  2. Dental costs.  Brush & floss your teeth.  Dental work is about ten million times more expensive than a tooth brush and dental floss. 
  3. Hair cutting/styling.  Make sure your salon is charging a fair price for these services; if not, ask your friends for recommendations and consider switching.  Also consider whether you can cut down on your # of visits per year.
  4. Smoking/Drinking/Drugs.  Now may be the right time to finally give up those expensive indulgences that you know are bad for you anyway.
  5. Manis/pedis.  Do your own.
  1. Gifting.  Of course you shouldn't give up giving gifts. But a few thoughtful gifts will always make a bigger impact than a mound of expensive junk.  Make sure what you buy is worth the price, and consider substituting homemade items or services when practicable.
  2. Greeting cards & wrapping paper. Hallmark-type cards cost $3-$5 a pop these days! Make your own or send an e-card.  Wrapping paper is another place where it's easy to save money if you're creative: consider using newspaper, coloring book pages, comics pages, or kraft paper from grocery bags instead. 
  3. Books.  Have you bothered to visit your local library recently? Most of them carry a huge selection of not just books, but also a large selection of books on tape, periodicals, and ebooks.   Yet another free option is to download full-text copies of works that are no longer protected under copyright from one of the many websites that now exist for this purpose.
  4. Movies/TV.  So many options for replacing those expensive premium channel options!  For current movies, Redbox is an excellent, low-cost alternative. For older movies, try Netflix's less expensive streaming video subscription.  For TV, check out online sites like Hulu or visit a specific show's website, as many shows will stream for free for a week or two after they air.  Also, many people are not aware that there are TONS of documentaries available for free online.  If you must go to a theater, choose matinees and smuggle in your own food.
  5. Concerts/Performances/Shows.  Check your local newpaper for free/low cost events around your community and take advantage of them - that's what they're there for!  If you've got your heart set on a pricy show/concert, buy tickets for a less expensive matinee or check to see if they open their dress rehearsals to the public. 
  6. Socializing.  Consider low-cost alternatives for getting together with friends.  Alternatives include pot-luck/progressive dinners, game nights, sports viewing parties, and/or gatherings at local free concerts/events.
  7. Travel. 
    1. Travel during the offseason.  Because *everything's* cheaper in the off-season: air fares, hotel costs, attractions, car rentals, etc.
    2. Comparison shop for rates.  Dozens of online sites allow you to compare rates & book the cheapest.
    3. Look for discounts
      1. Child/student/senior/AAA discounts.  Ask if you think you might qualify for any of these.
      2. Coupons.  Hotel and venue coupons can be found online, in stores, or in those coupon books that you can pick up at visitors centers along major interstates. 
      3. Combination cards.  Some large cities offer "passports" - for one fee you get admission to a number of different attractions.
    4. Car rentals.  Never pay for the extra insurance. 
    5. Limit your food expenses.  This is easier than ever to do now that most hotels offer complimentary breakfast.  Consider limiting yourself to one restaurant a day and picking up your other meals at the local grocery store.  A bag or cooler full of snacks can also end up saving a surprising amount of money over the course of an extended vacation.
  8. Sports.  Here's one of the few areas where you may actually have to consider whether a life style change is advisable.  The money you spend on sports equipment, facility rentals, and transportation can quickly become exorbitant.  Options include picking less expensive sports (ex: jogging) that might also meet your exercising/recreating/socializing/de-stressing purposes, cutting back on your equipment purchases, picking less expensive facilities/leagues, and/or cutting back on the frequency with which you play.
  9. Hobbies/crafts/collections.  These are, by definition, "wants" rather than "needs," so prime targets for cutting back.  Don't give them up, but do try to evaluate all new purchases practically and unemotionally.  Yes, that new tool/game/motor is AWESOME, but do you really need it? If so, can you get it on sale or substitute something less expensive?
  1. Education.  Any number of studies have shown that there is little correlation between the expense of the college you attend and the salary you eventually earn. So for gosh sakes pick up your foundational classes at your local community college, which typically cost  50% less than the cost of a 4yr institution, and then - if necessary - transfer to the most affordable in-state college that meets your basic needs. 
  2. Employee Perks.  Check to see if your employer, union or any other professional affiliations entitle you to discounts or reductions.  If you're a teacher, for instance, almost all businesses offer some sort of discount; if they don't actively advertise the discount, then ask for it. 
  3. Holiday Spending.   By all means decorate your house, but utilize what you have (combined with a little creativity) rather than buying more.  By all means prepare that special meal, but eschew the temptation to invest in special holiday dishware/accessories that you'll only use once a year.  By all means entertain and give gifts, but be deliberate, organized, creative, and frugal in how you go about it.  (See "Socializing" and "Gifting" for more detailed recommendations.)
  4. Online Merchant Sites.  Retailers often offer special internet deals for customers who sign up to receive their emails.  Create a free throw-away email account (don't use your main account or you'll be flooded with junk!) & start registering with your favorite merchants now.
  5. Fake Retail Holidays.  Retailers have invested millions of $$s into convincing us that presents are de rigour for mothers/fathers day (most parents will be happy with breakfast in bed and a day off), that you need to buy an expensive costume for Halloween (often the best/funniest costumes are the ones you invent yourself), and that kids need all-new wardrobes before each new school year (only if they've changed sizes; and that doesn't require an all-new wardrobe, just a couple of strategic purchases). 
  6. Donations. Consider donating time rather than $$.
  7. Taxes.  Do your own taxes - either on your own or buy a tax program on sale, unless you have especially complicated curcumstances that justify hiring a tax consultant.
  8. Fines & Fees.  Be fine-conscious: don't speed, don't park in no-parking zones, don't bounce checks, pay your credit cards on time, and don't return your books late.

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