Spending money can quickly turn into a spiral that becomes a little (or a lot) addicting. When you aren’t consciously tracking what’s coming in and out of your bank account or keeping in mind ways to save money, it’s easy for it to get out of control.
But on the flip side, saving can become addictive too. Seeing that number in your bank account grow makes saving easier, especially when you find new ways to save money. Some moves are obvious: budgets, CDs with high-yield interest rates, and whatnot. Others, however, I like to think of as sneaky money moves. Before you ask, no, I’m not hoarding money under any tables like I did during Monopoly games as a kid. Instead, I’m doing my research and figuring out under-the-radar techniques to pinch pennies wherever I can.
While these steps might not amount to huge savings, they do lessen living costs and, little by little, build up bank accounts. Every cent counts in the long haul, right?
1. Save pennies at the pump
We’re not exaggerating when I say pennies here. Depending on the day, sometimes all you’ll get are pennies back on your gas purchase. Other times, however, I can earn more than a dollar back at the pump. The secret? It’s all thanks to Checkout 51. If you’re not using the coupon app yet, I highly recommend downloading it. While the app is great for grocery shopping, it’s also a sneaky tool for lowering your gas receipts.
So what’s the catch? Checkout 51 cashback discounts aren’t available at every gas station. For instance, the pump closest to where I live doesn’t participate. The one on my way to work, however, does. Because of this, I’ve taken to planning my fill-ups to coincide with my drive to the office. Before I leave home, I upload the offer to my account (a required step), then fill’er up at the gas station. Later that day, I snap a picture of my receipt for the app, then wait for my cashback savings to apply to my account. Ba da bing! Money back.
2. Become a coupon queen
No, you don’t have to go all Extreme Couponing to save big at the grocery store. All it really takes are a few easy-to-use apps to score deals on the groceries you buy anyway.
First things first, take a minute to see if the grocery store near you has its own app. For example, I usually go to Stop & Shop, so I always use the store’s app to load discounts to my card (related: get a supermarket card!) and show the cashier my account barcode right on my phone. Through the Stop & Shop app, I also receive personalized coupons based on my frequent purchases (I get a lot of yogurt deals) and keep track of how many gas points I have for the Stop & Shop gas program (again, get a supermarket card!).
Beyond the basic supermarket app, other favorites include Checkout 51 and Fetch Rewards. While all are similar, they each have unique pros that make having them all worthwhile. With Checkout 51, the coupon selection isn’t huge, but it can pay off well.
3. Drop the gym membership
Toward the end of college, one of the first things I vowed to myself was that I’d never pay for a gym membership. Now, I’m not in any way saying gyms are bad or a waste of time, because they’re not. What they are, however, is expensive. Based on my lifestyle, I knew that I never actually needed to pay for a membership when I could easily take advantage of free resources instead. And I did.
When I worked abroad for a year after graduation, I relied exclusively upon running and Youtube fitness videos to stay in shape. I still do, although I’ve also added Shape’s fitness challenges to the mix. Is running not in the cards for you? Nowadays, Youtube has every type of workout under the sun, including my favorites by Fitness Blender and POPSUGAR. Not only do both channels offer routines with and without equipment, but they’re approachable for individuals of all fitness levels. And yes, I can say first-hand that they definitely do make you sweat.
4. Cook one new recipe per week
You might be reading this one and saying to yourself, “I already cook at home.” Nice! But when was the last time you cooked something new? On the flip side, when was the last time you ate out or ordered takeout? If the answer to the latter is anything along the lines of “way too often,” then it’s time to get cooking.
I know you probably know that cooking at home is less expensive than eating out all the time. The sneaky part of this tip is that it’s not just about saving a few bucks, but it’s also about creating a gradual lifestyle change. See, when you get in the habit of picking out a new recipe every week or two, you win twice. On the one hand, you get to try a new-to-you dish and improve your skills in the kitchen. On the other, you commit to regularly forgoing dinner out in order to save money and work your creative muscles. And who knows? You just may love it.
5. Make coffee at home
This one’s for you, Starbucks lovers (also, I’m sorry, but you’ll thank me later). Depending on where you live, a standard cup of drip coffee can run anywhere from an affordable $1.50 to a cringeworthy $5 and above. I don’t know about you, but $3 a day—and $15 per workweek—is a gut punch to my wallet. To avoid the temptation of stopping into any of the two Starbucks or four Dunkins on my way to work (yes, I counted), I’ve made a commitment to only brew coffee at home. I can’t operate without java in the morning, so this is actually instant gratification for me since it means I don’t have to suffer through getting ready sans caffeine. Three scoops and eight minutes after hitting the start button, I’m happily sipping on my preferred medium roast, hazelnut blend.
Want to make coffee at home even easier? With auto-timers, you can set your coffee to brew at a certain hour every day. In the warmer months, you could also brew a huge pot on Sunday and turn it into iced coffee to sip during the week.
6. Get a library card—and actually use it
Unlike platinum highlights and Tamagotchis, library cards are one childhood memento you want to keep with you into adulthood. In case it’s been a minute since you last stepped foot into your local library, consider the fact that library cards grant access to so much more than books. Depending on the library closest to you, signing up for a member card might mean just getting access to hundreds, if not thousands, of new-to-you reads (which sounds pretty wonderful, tbh). On the other hand, it might also mean gaining admittance to everything from career prep programs and language courses to movies and music. And did I mention it’s all free?
P.S. Your local library isn’t the only place to sign up for a card. For college alums, many universities offer library access to books and databases for graduates and students alike. Check with your school’s alumni services to confirm.
7. Carpool with friends or take public transportation at least one day a week
Depending on where you live or what your work setup is like, commuting solo might be the path of least resistance. If you want to get serious about saving, though, carpooling and public transportation are the way to go. Make either option more doable by introducing one or the other to your routine on a set day per week. Perhaps you know your cubicle buddy lives in the next town over from you and drives by your place on the way to work. Why not ask him or her to alternate driving duty with you every Friday? Not only will carpooling save you gas money in the short term, but it can also extend the life of your ride and decrease pollution.
If carpooling is not feasible or realistic (in other words, if you live in a big city), public transportation is a saving grace. Instead of relying upon your own car or an Uber to get you to the office, consider taking the local bus or subway to work instead. For the price of a single ride, you may have to sacrifice a few minutes of your morning routine, but you’ll score big on gas or Lyft fee savings.
8. Shop for makeup at the drugstore
As much as it pains me to say it, sometimes skipping that Sephora order is a good idea. If you think about it, many “must-have” makeup items aren’t really essential at all. Case in point: mascara. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been suckered into purchasing a prestige mascara just because I was a fan of the brand or I fell for the packaging. Yet when it came down to testing each tube, I found I loved them about as much as I loved the versions from the drugstore.
All in all, for frequent repurchases like mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick, it’s much more affordable to pick them up at the drugstore instead. With cheaper prices and membership discounts, drugstores offer all the go-to products for a fraction of the prices found at department store counters. And if we’re being honest, we all know any CoverGirl mascara is never not a good thing to have in your makeup stash.
9. Look at leftovers like gold (because they are)
If you’re trying to save dough and you’re not all aboard the leftover bandwagon, it’s time to hop on and never look back. You see, leftovers are, if not a full meal in and of themselves, the start of something delicious. To make leftovers work for me, I love purposefully making extra of whatever I’m cooking for dinner so that I can pack it up in my container of choice for lunch the next day.
While this is a major boon when it comes to lunch prep in the morning (simply grab the container and go), it’s also a sneaky way for me to curb my takeout expenses. If I know I already have a perfectly scrumptious portion of food waiting for me in the office fridge, I’m far less likely to place a pickup order than I would be if I threw together a sad desk lunch that morning. (Let me tell you, a can of microwaveable soup gets old real fast.)