When we were in the process of paying off our debts as quickly as possible, there were many things we did and didn’t do to save money to make the most out of our budget. We loosened up our spending a little once we became debt-free, and then we started saving up for some other important things.
Now that our priorities have shifted somewhat, I don’t dedicate as much time to saving money using extreme-couponing like I did years ago; but I have a few favorite ways I like to save a few bucks here and there that makes our dollars stretch and doesn’t take up much time.
There’s different types of “saving money” phrases we use — saving money in one lump sum for planning a future purchase or for putting aside into a savings fund, and saving money on purchases.
Both are useful, but many times, our savings on purchases don’t add up to savings in a savings fund, which is usually our goal.
Whenever we save money on a purchase, we do it because one, we like saving money and getting a “good deal,” and two, it makes our budgeted dollars stretch further. In turn, that leads to more leftover at the end of the month to put towards other important things. If we’re saving money on purchases, but not doing anything with those savings, it’s pretty pointless if you think about it.
I used to do this all the time. I’d get some good deals and hit some good sales, but there was no plan for that money. I felt really good about “saving” money on purchases, but I still felt like our bank account wasn’t benefiting from all those “savings.”
I figured out that in order to put money aside for important things, I had to put it aside in our budget first – that’s when we really started to see our savings grow.
Saving money had to become more important than the impulsive, useless purchases of things just because they were “on sale.” It had to become less about saving money on purchases just to save money and more about saving money for emergencies, for giving purposes, for paying off debt, for vacation, or for [fill in the blank].
It’s the WHY behind the savings that makes the most difference. Why are we saving, and what are we doing with it? If we’re saving money just to save it, there’s no real meaning behind it.
With that said, I’ve put together a list of my FAVORITE ways to earn/save a few extra dollars a month that can really add up, and they don’t take a lot of time or energy.
#1 – Getting water/water-with-lemon instead of soda when dining out saves us $15 to $20 on our total bill.
I’d like to think this is a pretty creative way to save money when dining out. When our oldest son was younger and we were teaching him about money, I drew it out on a piece of paper for him to understand. I’m a little bit of an artist, so I drew a 12 pack of soda with the price next to it. Then, I drew a glass of soda at a restaurant with the price next to it. We did some math together and multiplied the number of restaurant drinks for our family, plus tax.
I didn’t have to tell him which one was the better deal – it was pretty obvious. Water is FREE!
Does that mean that we never have a treat every now and then? Of course not. They get treated more often than many people think. It’s not always our doing, but they have lots of grandparents, family members, teachers, and friends who give them all the candy and treats they need. I couldn’t imagine how much sugar they’d be getting if gave it to them also.
Getting water is easy for us, but the hardest part was training the kids. All kids like to have a flavored drink, right? It really got on my nerves to eat out with other families whenever we decided not to order soda at a restaurant because our kids knew what the other kids had, and plus the other kids would show them (you know how kids are). To hear the whining and complaining from the little ones at first was daunting, but eventually I had to have pep talks with them in the car ride on the way to the restaurant.
“Listen up. Remember, we get water to drink at the restaurant because it saves us a lot of money. You still get to have soda at other places – birthday parties, grandma’s house, Chick-fil-a (sometimes), etc. – so don’t act like you never get soda. I know that the people at dinner sitting right next to you might order soda or tea, but I don’t care about what they order. We get to save money to use on more important things right now, and plus it’s not even good for you and can make you too full and give you a stomach ache.”
So instead of our bill being $79.05 with tax, that makes it $59.32 with tax. Again, this is a rough number, depending upon where we go, what we order, and if we order an appetizer. We like to leave a decent tip, so that’s the bill without a tip. It’s roughly $75-80 for us to dine out with a tip. This is at regular restaurants like Texas Roadhouse or Olive Garden, nothing super fancy. If we order soda, we’re looking at close to $90-100. Hibachi costs us $120-140. Ouch. [stomach ache]
You might think, geez, it’s only $20. But $20 once per month adds up. And what about $20 here and $20 there? Before you know it, you’re twenty-dollaring yourself to death by a thousand cuts. Sodas are just an easy place to sacrifice, plus it’s good for you anyway 🙂
When we were in the process of paying off debt, we ate out even less than we do now (maybe once every two to three months). Our kids didn’t play travel sports yet or many other activities (by our choice), so we also didn’t have to eat out on-a-whim a lot either. We kept our extra expenses down to the bare minimum.
Eating out for us has become a treat, not a weekly occurrence.
We like to keep things as simple as possible because it makes the little things in life so much bigger 🙂
As you can see, the bill can get really high really quick, so the best way for us to save money in general is to eat out less. Then, when we do, it’s appreciated so much more! The kids love dining out because it’s not something we do often! Additionally, it’s not something that’s taken for granted.
#2 – Using Swagbucks & Kasasa Checking/Saving Accounts
Not long ago, I was talking with someone about their credit card points and how they seemed to really rack them up. Since we’ve become much more responsible with our money and our spending, I was seriously considering getting one of those. I talked to Ernie about it, and he responds, “Jenn, that’s using a credit card. Even if we pay it off every month, it’s still using debt.”
Okay, then. He was right. We said NO to using debt (for these reasons), even if we pay it off every month.
Swagbucks is a great way to replace that credit card point system if you’d like to get away from credit cards and debt but still rack up points and cash-back bonuses. I’m not a heavy user, and I first started using it about six months ago. So far, I’ve collected $60 in Swagbucks just from buying things I already buy. It’s basically a reward system set up on your desktop computer or through their app, and everytime you do certain things through their system, you get points. Those points equal cash. For example, 6423 points equals $64.23.
You can take surveys to earn points, search through their search engine, or just SHOP through their website. You can also buy discounted gift cards and earn a percentage back in points on the things you purchase, earning anywhere from 1% to 20% back on purchases. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
So far this year on Swagbucks, I bought Lowe’s gift cards, booked hotel rooms through Expedia, and bought school uniforms to earn some extra cash back. I took maybe one survey and used the search engine a few times (I forget about the search engine). Downloading the Swagbutton on your internet browser can also earn you some extra points.
Don’t worry, I wouldn’t be using it if it wasn’t safe. And I certainly wouldn’t be sharing this with you if I didn’t think it was worth it. It’s just an extra little way to save a few dollars. It’s a neat little effortless way to earn extra spending money when your budget it tight, if you’re trying to save money for something else, or pay off debt.
**To sign up for Swagbucks, use this link to get an extra 300 bonus points when you earn 300 bonus points in the first 30 days. Just a warning: Once you get a Swagbucks account, they will email you daily with lots of “deals.” I delete the ones that don’t pertain to me, but you can also unsubscribe from their emails. MAKE SURE you are logged in whenever making purchases through Swagbucks, or your points will not get counted. I had trouble with that one time, and they were super helpful by granting me my points. If you have any questions about it, I’d be happy to help you.
Just a little inside story: Years ago when we were trying to pay off our debt quickly, I got a Discover Cash-Back card because I saw the commercials and thought, ‘I’m just going to use it on everything we use anyways, and then pay it off every month.’ We did use it for everything we buy anyways, and yes we did pay it off every month. But I seriously got tired of trying to track all that. It was a lot – trying to budget and track the checking account and spending categories and the spending we did on the credit card. I also felt like we were overspending. We got nowhere – all for a measly $25 a month. Pennies. It WAS NOT worth the $25/ month back in cash-back points we were getting and overspending. I felt like I could save more money on my own, rather than dealing with a credit card to rack up a hard-earned $25 a month – not to mention a headache for me. Now, we make about $30-40 a month just by letting our emergency fund sit in our Kasasa savings account.
A Kasasa checking account is usually offered through your local bank. If you search Kasasa Checking in your area, you should be able to find it. In our area as of now, Synergy Bank and Coastal Commerce Bank offer Kasasa Checking/Savings accounts. There are certain requirements, such as making 1 direct deposit per month and having at least 5 debit/credit card transactions/withdrawals from your account. I don’t remember exactly what the requirements are, I just know that we have no problem meeting them every month. The account is free as long as you meet those requirements.
All ATM charges are refunded back to us into our checking account once per month, as well as any interest earned on that checking account. That total amount is then automatically deposited into our Kasasa Savings Account the next day. Our Savings account also earns a small amount of interest on top of that. This is NOT what makes people a millionaire, so let’s get that straight! It’s just another small, effortless way to earn/save a few extra bucks every month.
It generates an average of about $30 per month on it’s own. So if we need an extra $30 for something, I just transfer the money from the savings to the checking, and I leave our savings account alone.
The only issue I’ve had with using a local bank is when I tried to connect my account to my favorite budgeting app. It’s not on the list of banks that can be connected.
#3 – Shopping Clearance & Thrift Stores the Right Way
We all know about shopping clearance racks and shelves, but there’s something important to be said about it. While we think we may be saving a lot of money by shopping clearance, it’s still important to stick to your budget. Well, duhhhh… of course you know that, right?
What’s not cool is when you’ve bought a bunch of stuff on clearance and you saved $50, but you still spent $120 when your budget was only $70.
Buying stuff ONLY because it’s on clearance is NOT a good deal if you still overspend. Buying stuff you don’t need ONLY because it’s on clearance is also not a good deal if you never use what you bought.
Typical scenario: Wife gets home and lays out all the stuff she got “on sale.” She’s super excited and tells her husband (who probably doesn’t care) how much money she saved. He only wants to know how much she spent. He’s on to something here.
How much we save on a sale item has absolutely no effect on our budget unless we’re actually sticking to the budget. So if I have only $50 left to spend on groceries, and I spent $100 because I got a bunch of stuff on sale, I didn’t save anything. I overspent $50. Does that make sense?
The only way this could work out is if you overspent $50 this time, so on the next time you under-spend $50, right? But, how often do we do that? Believe me, the $50 that I was supposed to “not spend” the next time – it would still end up getting spent. Then I’m wondering what really happened to the extra $50 I saved right? So the best thing for me to do is to get the best deals AND stay within budget.
I could totally go crazy on the Target clearance shelf… I need this… and this… and this… and $50 later, I’m overspent. Oops
The same thing goes for thrift stores. When we were clawing and scratching and penny-pinching our way out of debt, I bought “new” clothes at the thrift store. One of my favorite dressy dresses came from a local thrift store, and I get compliments on it every time I wear it! Who knew? Among clothing, it’s amazing what else you can find there – dishes, books, toys, purses, etc. You may not find something you like every time you go, but if you keep going, you will eventually come across a gem.
Just remember to use self-control when trying to stick to the budget, and if you don’t really need something, don’t buy it. Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap. It’s a good idea to not even bring anything into your house that you may not use – even if it’s FREE! If you won’t use it, don’t bring it in! It creates clutter.
Here’s an idea: on your budget, make “clearance shopping” a line item on your budget. Take only $2-10 every pay period from one of your other categories that you tend to shop for clearance (clothing, shopping, food, etc.). Then, when you hit up the clearance items, you won’t be disturbing the rest of your budget! You can save up $20-50 and go clearance shopping!
#4 – Shop grocery sales instead of using Member stores
I personally started saving more money when I cancelled our Samsclub membership and used meal-planning and sale-shopping instead. I wasn’t making up for the membership cost that I spent, when I could save more money by buying the same things at Wal-Mart as I need them for the month (or bi-weekly), or by shopping local grocery store ads.
This isn’t true for everyone, though. Some people say that they save money by shopping there, especially if they don’t have to pay for their membership (through their work benefits). The only way to truly find out for yourself is to compare prices and the actual amount you’re spending all year long or monthly. I shop once per week for groceries. Our refrigerator and freezer only holds so much, and I don’t like clutter. Every family is different with different needs.
Even if I don’t shop the sales, making a meal plan for the week will save me more money than buying a ton of “sale” food that I have no plan for.
If you’re shopping once per month or every two weeks in bulk, you’re still having to go to the store to get the smaller items you may need. Again, the only way to tell if you’re truly saving money is to add it all up every month or every quarter. When calculating that amount, don’t forget to calculate in the membership fee with that amount spent. That counts as part of your spending. So if you spend $40-100 per year on a membership, that’s an extra $3.30-8.30 per month you’re spending. Amazon Prime membership comes out to about the same price (about $9/month). We do use Amazon, but we stopped using other member stores.
Take a look at how many membership services you may have, and add up the total monthly costs for all. You might be surprised to see that you may not be “saving” as much as you think. If we had a Samsclub card and Amazon Prime, that would total about $15-$20 per month. Am I really saving that much by shopping there?
#5 – We stopped buying household cleaners for every little thing
Many of us have cleaners for dishes, fabric, bathroom, mopping, dusting, glass, car, etc. I’m living proof that there’s no need for all this! It not only creates unsightly clutter under the cabinets or on the shelves they sit, but there’s a lot of money to be spent on all these different cleaners. Also, many of them are laden with toxic chemicals that create long-term effects on our health.
If you open the cabinet under my kitchen sink, you’ll find one cleaner for the entire house. If you look in each bathroom cabinet, you’ll find the same cleaner, but also with a toilet and bathtub cleaner. That’s it.
We use this homemade all-purpose cleaner (w/o vinegar) for all things – spills, kitchen, glass, upholstery, mopping, general wipe downs, outside of the toilet, mirrors, the entire bathroom except the bathtub and the inside of the toilet, stove top, kitchen table, dusting, inside of the car, etc. Literally, the only thing we don’t use it for is the inside of the toilets and the bathtubs. I do put a little tiny bit of vinegar in the mopping solution, but other than that I use the same ingredients for mopping.
It takes maybe five minutes to make, no toxic chemicals, no smelly vinegar, and no clutter involved… oh, and money saved on the shopping list!
Again, these things are not extreme ways to make you instantly wealthy or anything like that (no such thing), but they are easy and simple things that can make a big difference in your budget over time. All these little savings combined can equal up to about $85-$100 per month! That’s something worth talking about 🙂
All extras aside, the most effective way of all to save money is to simply stick to your budget!
I know that ‘s a hard thing to do, so I’m hosting a money masterclass soon to talk about the ways we got on top of our financial struggle and paid off debt quickly. Sign up so you don’t miss out!