The average American household will nearly deplete their annual income with their spending habits. This could be your wake-up call to get your expenses in check.
When it comes to money management, there is no one-size-fits-all plan or formula. Since our lives are fluid, we have to prepare for the unexpected—like medical emergencies or needing a new furnace in the dead of winter.
Whether you watch your spending like a hawk or spend way too much on luxury cars and vacations, everyone can benefit from some discipline when it comes to saving for the future.
Here are 20 easy, sneaky ways that won’t mess with your routine but will help you save more throughout the year, and it all adds up. Remember, it’s not what you make, but what you keep that makes a difference.
1. Use Cash.
Try committing to a cash-only week this month. Track your spending and see how your paper habits differ from plastic. Yes, this includes your Starbucks mobile order and Uber rides! People spend significantly more when they don’t have to count dollars.
2. Become Your Own Barista.
Out of 3,403 people ages 18-44, 40 percent reported spending more on coffee last year than investing in retirement. Sound familiar? Stop throwing away money and make your cup of joe before heading out the door.
Pro tip: When treating yourself to a drink at the local coffee shop, skip the fancy latte or flavored beverage and try a simple coffee drink. You can always use the free add-ins for extra flavor without the added calories!
3. Shop Online for Specs.
When walking out of the eye doctor with a fresh prescription, it can be tempting to look through the high-end brands and pick a trendy pair from the display. Walk away and shop online. You can save hundreds on the same quality frame shipped straight to your door. Popular online shops include Warby Parker, which has five retail locations in Illinois; Zenni Optical, with frames starting at $6.95; and Fetch Eyewear, which donates 100 percent of net proceeds to support animal welfare in partnership with The Pixie Project.
Pro tip: Discount apparel stores like T.J.Maxx often have outstanding deals on designer frames (both glasses and sunglasses).
4. Get Cash Back for Shopping Online.
Utilize websites like Ebates to earn cash back on your online purchases.
5. BYOF: Bring Your Own Food.
We’ve heard it a thousand times—bring your lunch! Not only will it save you a significant sum of money and time, but it’s also the healthiest option. A quick lunch on average costs $10. Whether you eat out twice a week or every day, it adds up. Challenge yourself to “brown bagging it” at least half the days you normally eat out. On weekends, pack a lunch and stash snacks in your bag before a day of errands (we all get hangry after a long day at the mall). Avoid overspending on $8 froyo by coming armed with the goods!
6. Ditch the Label.
Stop filling your cart with only brand-name products. I get it, we all have our must-haves, but try something new; you may be surprised that the off-brand label tastes just like your favorite LaCroix or SkinnyPop.
Take Trader Joe’s for example. The hip grocer revolves almost solely around private label manufacturing. The company orders most of its inventory from third-party manufacturers who slap the Trader Joe’s label on goods. A major benefit to this practice is low operating costs, allowing companies to order in high volumes.
Remember, taste and price don’t have to go hand in hand!
7. Go Generic at the Pharmacy.
Buy generic prescriptions whenever possible! Generics can cost up to 95 percent less than brand-name drugs, mainly due to patents and advertising expenses associated with brand names.
8. Do a Digital Declutter.
Weed through your subscriptions, apps, services, and memberships. Unsubscribe from anything you haven’t touched in the past two months.
9. Go Communal with Your Streaming Services.
Remember the grand ole phrase “sharing is caring.” Phone a friend or family member and split the cost of your streaming account. For example, Netflix allows five individual profiles per account.
10. Take a Staycation.
Skip the airfare and plan a weekend getaway in your own city. Home to 77 vibrant neighborhoods, Chicago oozes with history and culture, music and dance, food and adventure.
Learn about the history of your own backyard. Chicago is home to some of the greatest museums and cultural institutions in the world. From the Chicago Architecture Center to the U.S. Pizza Museum, there’s something to excite the whole family.
For food-lovers, there are more than 5,195 restaurants in the city with a strong chef-driven presence. Make sure to stop by a brewery on the way (Chicago holds the title for more breweries than any other city in the United States.).
Lake Michigan is of course the undisputed crown jewel of the Windy City. With 26 miles of lakefront and an 18.5-mile lakefront path, how can you not grab your gym shoes, rollerblades, a paddle board, or camera and enjoy the outdoors along our beautiful stretches of beach?
Take advantage of Chicago’s public transportation system. Rated the second-largest transit system in the country, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) serves both the city and suburbs, by bus and rail (‘L’). The Metra commuter train provides service to outside suburbs, to and from the city.
There’s plenty to look forward to this summer, so start planning your staycation now:
- Citywide music, neighborhood, and food festivals, including Winnetka Music Festival.
- Stop by a neighborhood farmers market.
- Enjoy the free activities at Millennium Park: Summer Film Series, Outdoor Fitness, Summer Music Series, and more. Additionally, the Night Out in the Parks program features more than 2,000 events in neighborhoods throughout the city, all year long.
- Go to a concert: The city is full of countless historic venues offering shows nightly. Be spontaneous and discover new music at a Sofar Sounds show or enjoy a picnic at Ravinia.
- Go to the Lincoln Park Zoo.
- Catch a game: With many teams in the city and surrounding neighborhoods, cheer on your favorite team or experience a new sport.
11. Boost Your Home’s Energy Efficiency.
Understand the whole story to your home’s energy usage with an energy audit. ComEd offers customers a free home energy assessment with energy efficiency programs that have saved customers over $2 billion in electric bills since 2008.
12. Install Exterior Storm Windows.
Low-emissivity (low-e) storm windows are coated with an ultra-thin, invisible layer of metal that reflect infrared heat back into the home. The simple home repair project can save you, on average, 12-33 percent in heating and cooling costs annually.
13. Chill Out.
Program your thermostat to automatically turn down 7-10 degrees when you leave for the day and save 10 percent on your heating and cooling bill this year.
14. Opt Out of an Extended Warranty.
Most electronics and appliances today are built to last. In fact, the manufacturer will typically have at least a one-year warranty on their product already. Paying extra is usually money down the drain. Repairs can even cost less than the warranty itself. Stand your ground and steer clear of all extra sales gimmicks.
15. Quit Smoking.
Smoke a pack a day and you’ll spend approximately $207 a week on cigarettes, amounting to over $10,800 each year.
16. Use a Flexible Spending Account.
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are a great tool for saving money. Learn your options and take advantage of FSAs for healthcare, transportation, and childcare.
17. Save at the Gym.
18. Get Crafty with Your Greeting Cards.
Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, gratitude, and grief—so many reasons to send a handwritten note. A walk through the card aisle today will typically cost you anywhere from $2.99-$9.95. Save some cash and get creative. Handmade cards are 10 times more thoughtful than a store-bought card anyway. Make it a date: buy a blank set of cards to decorate for all occasions and invite your friends for a day of arts and crafts.
Pro tip: Walgreens Photo and other printing services offer quick turnaround times for an easier option to personalized DIY greeting cards—just submit a photo and pick it up in an hour! They usually have coupon codes to save you even more too.
19. Try Meatless Mondays.
By making the simple swap, you not only add years to your life and cash to your wallet, but also directly impact the environment and sustainable food practices. Omitting meat from the diet once a week can save a family of four nearly $420 a year. Get inspired by meatless recipes your family will love.
20. Chop Your Own Produce.
As tempting as it may seem, pre-cut produce is a trap. Take onions for example: a pound of whole onions costs about 99 cents, while precut onions have a 392 percent markup, costing you a whopping $4.65 a pound. Trust us, it’s 10 times fresher, cheaper, and won’t cost you the entire evening. Save yourself the trouble and plan ahead for the week by doing your chopping all at once.
Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.