We’ve all been there. Whether it’s the holiday season or you’re facing an unexpected career change or you’re hit with a sudden expense you just hadn’t planned for, sometimes the money pile’s a little shorter than you’re used to, and making ends meet means making a few important changes in your lifestyle. The good news is, there are plenty of pain-free ways to reduce your spending right now, without feeling that pesky pinch too much.
1. Make a menu and stick to it
Studies show that American families, on average, waste hundreds of dollars on food a year, and one easy way to avoid that slow bank account bleed is to come to the grocery store prepared with a firm list of exactly what you’re going to buy and when you’re going to eat it. Grocery items are designed to entice an impulse buy, so if you steer clear of those aisles that aren’t on your list, chances are you’ll save a ton at the checkout aisle and not have to clean out your refrigerator of its unused and expired items later on in the week. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the ever-annoying decision of what to make each evening -- family meals will be already all mapped out.
2. Unplug unused electronics
How often do you really use that blender or can opener? Once a week, if that? Take a look around the house at your outlets and see what’s currently plugged in that doesn’t always need to be. Yes, even your cell phone charger. It might make the tiniest of differences, but then again you might just notice a decrease on your next utility bill (and have a slightly smaller carbon footprint to boot).
3. Coupon it up
You don’t have to be extreme about it to take advantage of the savings opportunities stores have to offer. A lot of supermarkets now even allow customers to upload digital coupons to their customer loyalty cards, which means you don’t even have to have a paper coupon to see the price of items drop on the spot.
4. Carpool (or use public transportation)
Even with fuel prices dipping in recent years, American families are still spending close to $2,000 a year on gasoline for their automobiles, so think about how much kicking off a company ride-share program might do to reduce that financial (and environmental) impact.
5. Bring your lunch to work
Yes, your mornings and daytime hours might already be hectic enough, but packing a lunch for school or work can save you big loot in the long run … and it might be that extra nudge towards maintaining a good diet you’ve been looking for. A good system might mean packing lunches up at night and stowing them in the fridge ‘til morning or even prepping meals over the weekend to have them ready for the work week, but either way you slice it, a brown bag lunch is probably going to be cheaper and healthier than eating out.
6. Make your own coffee
Delicious as those iced lattes and warm caramel macchiatos might be, the price point per volume is exponentially higher than what you’d pay to brew your own batch before heading out the door. Invest in a thermal to-go mug that’s large enough to carry you through the morning and let the coffeemaker do the brewing instead of hitting up the barista. Your wallet will thank you.
7. Check out free local events
Going to the movies, concerts, and restaurants can be very, very fun, but those activities can also come with a pretty price tag. If you live in a city that hosts public events, give ‘em a whirl. There might be more going on than you expect, and chances are, your time will be just as well spent enjoying the town’s totally free splendors as it would reaching into your extracurricular funds.
8. Hit the library
Local libraries have all kinds of awesome to offer, if you’re willing to give them a chance. Not only are there swarms of books available for the (free) reading, but they also might have a music and film collection to strike your entertainment fancy (also free), and a lot of them host events that are totally family-friendly (did we mention free?).
9. Eat more produce
Being a carnivore, or even an omnivore, might mean that your grocery bill will look a little larger than those who stick to a plant diet. Why? Well, meat is expensive. Cutting back your consumption of meat can do wonders to reduce your supermarket spending, and there are other benefits, too, like increasing your vegetable- and fruit-based vitamin intake.
10. Use cash for spending
It might sound simple, and that’s because it is. Spending is a little more mindless when you’re using a card, which makes money seem more abstract a concept than it really is, but whipping out actual dollars to make that next purchase might give you pause to consider just what you’re shelling out at any given moment. You might surprise yourself by being a little more thrifty at the register when you’re counting that paper than when you’re handing over a piece of plastic.
11. Give the kids craft projects
Kids’ toys and activities can be incredibly expensive, but there are tons of ways to keep the little ones busy and happy without breaking the bank. Craft projects -- even something as simple as building a knick knack box out of popsicle sticks and glue -- can be fun, challenging, and rewarding for the kiddos, and it’ll give you a low-cost option for some quality family time.
12. Turn the thermostat while you’re away
In the months of harsher weather, be they sweltering or frigid, your electricity bill is likely going to run unusually high due to your air conditioning and heating costs. However, reducing the brunt of it might be as easy as clicking the thermostat up or down a few notches, depending on the season, while you’re out of the house and then changing it back when you’re home for the night. The energy you’re saving throughout the off-time will add up, count on that.