Painless Ways to Save Money

Painless Ways to Save MoneyLast week you learned that I stayed in debt because I was too scared of all the sacrifices we would have to make in order to pay off our debt early. Then I realized that the daily sacrifices in our budget are minuscule compared to the big-picture sacrifices we were forced to make because of our overwhelming student loan debt. When I compare the two types of sacrifices — dining out three times a month versus having a career I love — the choice was clear. That’s when we got serious about slashing the budget and paying down the student loans.
What I discovered is that many of these cuts didn’t feel like sacrifices. And when we translated these savings into a big payment on a student loan, the feeling was Ah-Mazing! Here are the painless ways that we started to save money month after month after month:
  • Cut food budget by 15%. Anyone can do this, using any ONE of these techniques:
    • If you don’t already shop strategically with coupons, learn! There are zillions of resources out there these days. I name my sources here, and shared some of my most successful strategies over at Making Lemonade.
    • Plan your meals a week in advance: Each week buy only what you need for those meals.
    • Shop the sales cycles: Try buying only what’s on sale for a month.
    • Skip grocery shopping one week per mont
      You will be surprised at how inventive you can get with what’s in your cupboards, freezer, and fridge.
    • Cut out dining out. We were already doing all of the above, so we decided that we could only dine out if we were under budget on our groceries for the month. In order to be successful with this one, I packed away some freezer meals so I wouldn’t be tempted to order take out on the nights that I don’t feel like cooking.
  • Changed thermostat by 1 degree. It was summer when we made the change, so I turned the air conditioner down by two degrees. That was too much, so we moved it back one degree and found that we didn’t even notice the difference. (We already have a programmable thermostat, so we didn’t need to make the change. If you don’t already have a programmable thermostat, get one!)
  • Turned down our water heater. I turned it to the lowest setting to see what we could tolerate, and aside from turning the shower faucet further toward “hot,” we haven’t noticed any difference. It also gives me peace of mind that my son won’t scald himself if he uses hot water to wash his hands.
  • Signed up for cable. What?! That’s right, we didn’t have cable, and signing up for it saved us money. We had an internet service that was cheap when we signed up but seemed to increase its prices each month. We shopped around for a better deal, which happened to include cable. It was a bit of a pain to set up, because we had to have someone home for the installation. But now that we’re set up with a low rate for two years, the initial two hours of hassle is a distant memory.
  • Dropped Hulu Plus. Now that we have cable DVR for less than our internet price, we could drop the $8 monthly charge for Hulu Plus, which was annoying me anyway because Hulu Plus plays the same ads over and over again, and there’s no way to fast forward through them.
  • Used Tweezers Instead of the Salon. Using tweezers is never exactly painfree, but it’s no more painful than getting tweezed / waxed / zapped at the salon. In fact, it stings even less — because I never have to pay the bill. (I already own the tweezers!)
  • Changed our Commuting Pattern. Without getting into the boring details, I pay to park at a commuter train station, but I have a few options as to where I can park. The options range from $2 – $4 daily, but I had been parking at the $4/day lot for convenience. So, I sought ways to save on parking — by finding free parking spaces when they are available and modifying my schedule on certain days to save money at least once a week on parking.
  • Cut our gift spending by half. This is not painful, but it is tricky because everyone has different emotional attachments to gift-giving and gift-receiving. The key to cutting down gift-giving amounts is to put some thought into it ahead of time. For younger kids, less expensive toys are still fun and there are lots of opportunities to get toys for really good deals. If you don’t already have a gift closet, check out Hip2Save’s How To video on gift closeting. Also, finding an inexpensive way to celebrate can bring more joy than blindly spending money to do what everyone else is doing. This year, instead of going out for dinner out for Father’s Day, we had a really wonderful picnic together, which went to the heart of why we celebrate Father’s Day in the first place, and it didn’t cost us a dime.

All told, these cuts saved us $200 or more each month, and it didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. We did notice a subtle difference, though. The longer we kept our expenses low the more ingrained it became to be more thoughtful about spending money on anything, even if it wasn’t on this list. In addition to pondering how to achieve the same purpose with a less expensive gift and searching the freezer for a more nutritious meal than takeout pizza, I think more about whether I can DIY my car repair or find an item used before buying it new. I look at each new spending temptation as a challenge to myself and sometimes an opportunity to learn something new. It’s a subtle and awesome shift, to see the value in my own abilities and trying to make it work with what we already have.

I am always looking for more ways to save money, especially on recurring expenses. What did I miss? Share your painless money-saving tips!

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10 thoughts on “Painless Ways to Save Money

  1. We tend to do most of the above (although haven’t yet tried altering the thermostat by 1 degree – will do now!) We plan lots of free things to do like trips to the park or picnics with our daughter and shop secondhand for most things if we do need to spend money. We also try to increase our income by selling stuff on ebay, any profit made goes towards the debts! 🙂

    • Great! I hope you don’t notice the difference in temperature. I plan to post soon on what we did on the other side of the equation — generating income.

  2. These are some great tips! One of my favorites that I ever learned was “Every time you get a $5 bill, put it away somewhere safe.” The theory was, you probably won’t REALLY notice a $5 difference in your wallet, but, if you gather up all the ones you really did receive in a year, you could have a quite a stash of cash! Doing that helped me pay for a plane ticket one year!

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