23 ways to save money—even if you're bad at it
It ain't always easy saving green.
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You don’t necessarily have to itemize the dinner bill, skimp on lattes, clip coupons, or make drastic changes to your spending habits to save more money—though those all would put some change in your pocket. The little things, as they say, add up, and that definitely applies to growing your bank account.
Whether you want to pay down your student loans or focus on other short- or long-term financial goals, here are simple tips to start saving money on everything from banking fees to utilities and your grocery tab.
1. Automate your savings
Change a couple settings, and you won’t even have to think about growing your emergency fund. For instance, automatically round up your transactions every time you swipe your card, and you’ll save a little bit in one simple step. (Or, if you use cash, chuck the change into a jar.)
You can also set up an automatic transfer from your checking to savings account. Put away $20 every biweekly paycheck, and that’s $520 you’ve set aside at the end of the year.
2. Stop paying ATM fees
A few dollars here, a few dollars there—it adds up. And if you feel like it’s been adding up more quickly in recent years, you’re not imagining it.
Consider opening an account with an online bank like Chime or Simple. These companies don’t simply forgo ATM fees, but expenses charged for things like overdrafting, withdrawing cash abroad, and misplacing your debit card.
3. Open a high-yield savings account
Low interest rates may be good for borrowers, but they’re not so great for savers. You’re probably getting a fraction of a percent with your traditional bank account, and maybe you don’t think you can do any better.
We found that Varo offers one of the highest interest rates around, though you will have to jump through a few hoops every month, like using your debit card five times.
But there are plenty of low-maintenance options out there, too. Once the account is open, you’ll just sit back and earn more money.
4. Bump up your 401k contribution by 1%
Some of us tend to spend money if we see it sitting there in our checking account. So, if you’re already saving for retirement, do yourself a favor and squirrel it away before you even get the chance to splurge.
Plus, there’s this little thing called compound interest. Say you’re 35 years old and bring home $50,000 every year. If you stashed an extra $10 each week it might not seem like a drastic increase. But come retirement, that has the potential to turn into $70,000.
5. Consider a category credit card
Log into your bank account and look at your spending chart. Do you spend heavily in one area compared to others?
Let’s say your highest monthly expense is stocking your refrigerator, and you’re currently getting 2% back on groceries. If you’re like the average American family, which according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics drops around $375 every month, that means you’re earning $90 in rewards by the end of the year.
That’s nothing to sneeze at. But if you had our favorite card for groceries, you’d bump your rewards rate up to 6%, and earn an additional $180 in that same time period.
Of course, you’ll need to account for annual fees, and figure out if adding another card to your wallet is the right move for you. But doing the math could put some extra cash in your pocket.
6. Consider a balance transfer
Crunch the numbers, because you could be saving a lot in interest if you consolidate your debt on a credit card with an introductory APR (and, very importantly, stick to your repayment plan before the promotion ends).
You’ll have to look at how much interest you’ll pay, and if any fees eat into those savings. To figure out if this is the right move to make, ask yourself these four questions.
7. Cancel one of your credit cards
If credit cards tempt you to spend money you don’t have, consider cancelling one of your accounts. This will lower your credit limit, decrease the average length of your credit history, and affect your utilization ratio—all of which can temporarily ding your credit score. But if this will curb your spending, there are a few steps you can take to mitigate the effects.
8. Program your thermostat
You can set the hours and temperatures on most thermostats—even if they’re not otherwise fancy. Despite this, the majority of us are manually adjusting them. This may mean you forget once or twice (or more often than not) to turn down the temp before you head to the office for the day or pull back the sheets at night. (Besides lending a hand with your energy expenses, cooler temps induce sleep, and can lead to better shut-eye.)
If you’re in the market for a new one, you might even consider a smart thermostat, which will do the work for you. The Nest learns your schedule for you, and the company says it shaves about $140 off your bill every year. Our top pick goes to the Emerson Sensi, which is a breeze to install, and compatible with Alexa, Siri, and Google.
9. Set your thermostat one degree lower
The human body is fascinating, and it does a pretty good job adapting to cold temperatures. If you expose yourself to cooler temps, whether by getting outdoors, shedding layers of clothing, turning down the thermostat, or—brrrr—cold showers, you’ll get more comfortable with the chill in about a week.
And that may encourage you to turn down the heat. For every eight hours the thermostat is one degree lower, you can save 1% on your bill that year, per the U.S. Energy Department.
10. Wash your clothes in cold water
Washers and dryers are the one of the biggest energy suckers in our homes, and that’s largely because of the power it takes to heat ’em up.
While there are instances when you want to opt for hot water, the cold setting will generally do the trick. In fact, a lot of laundry detergents are formulated to work in cold water, including our top pick for sensitive skin, and turning down the temp can save you $60 a year.
Plus, it’s better for your clothes’ fibers—the dryer isn’t the only thing causing them to shrink—which means you can take your favorite sweater around the block a little longer.
11. Replace your showerhead
After the washing machine, showertime accounts for a large chunk of our indoor water use. Switching to a low-flow fixture could save you $70 in energy and water costs in a year. The Hydroluxe performed best out of the showerheads we tested, and at $30, the price ain’t so bad either.
12. Turn on a fan
If it’s below 90 degrees and not too humid, opt for a fan over an air conditioner unit, which uses 100 times more energy. You could even increase the temperature on the AC a few degrees while using a fan to help circulate the air. Just remember to turn a fan off if you’re not nearby—they’re built for cooling us humans, and don’t actually reduce the temperature of rooms.
13. Clean or replace your AC filter
Not only is it disgusting to think about all the dust—and possibly mold and mildew—that’s jammed in there, it’s actually running up your electric bill. A dirty appliance uses up to 15% more energy to force air out, but luckily, it’s an easy fix. Get it running more efficiently with inexpensive cleaning supplies like vinegar and baking soda. We recommend caring for your units at least at the beginning and end of the season.
14. Stop renting your router
Your service provider likely charges you anywhere from $5 to $10 a month for using their device—scan your statement to find the exact figure. We’ve run some tests to find the best routers out there, so you could pocket that monthly fee to buy your own. One of our favorite picks will pay for itself in about 18 months.
15. Cut the cord
How many of your hundreds of TV channels do you watch? Or are you queuing up West Wing reruns again? Turns out, the average consumer tunes into 17 channels, a fraction of what they’re paying for.
16. Ditch your cell phone contract
You may not need to keep handing your money over to the big carriers. There’s plenty of other companies that offer similar plans—on the exact same networks. Take Visible, for instance, which is owned by Verizon, and offers unlimited data, but comes with no strings attached. One line costs $40 per month, and you can add three more for another $60.
Intrigued? We’ve got some more ideas for no-contract phone plans.
17. Download an app
There’s a whole lot of tools out there that can help cut down costs—and we’re not just talking budget apps here. We've got a bunch you can check out, including Tally, which helps you manage multiple credit card accounts in one place. You make a single monthly payment, and the app pays your bills in a way that costs you the least amount of interest.
18. Flex your library card
And not just for physical books. You can instantly download e-books and audiobooks straight to your devices without a trip to your local branch—and they’ll automatically return on the due date, meaning no late fees ever. Don’t have a card? You might be able to sign up for one online.
If you haven’t visited in a while, you may not know that the public institutions also lend out a whole lot more these days: tablets, museum passes, artwork, gardening gear, and home improvement tools.
19. Browse Amazon Warehouse
Once an item is returned to Amazon, the retailer resells certain products at a discount. (Note: This is different from Amazon Renewed, which includes pre-owned and refurbished items.) The e-commerce giant inspects returns and adds labels like “Opened Box/Like New” and “Used: Like New” so you have an idea of what you’ll be getting in the mail.
For instance, our favorite pressure cooker, which retails for around $150, is currently available through Amazon Warehouse for $96, $116, and $123. You’ll never know what’s in stock, but before you add something to your cart, it’s worth a look.
Plus, you can click confidently. These purchases are covered by the 30-day return policy and, in some instances, qualify for Prime shipping. Sounds like a deal.
20. Plan your big purchases
In the market for a new mattress? Hold off till a holiday weekend, like Labor Day or Memorial Day, when you’ll get the steepest discounts. When it’s time to upgrade your outdated appliances, it’s best to wait until the brand-new models hit the floor in October and there’s markdowns galore. With a little planning, you can save on everything from linens to TVs and other big-ticket purchases.
21. Shop the men’s section
Shampoo and conditioner marketed for women are nearly twice as expensive, and that markup affects everything from running shoes to dry cleaning. One solution is to simply stroll down a different aisle in the pharmacy. Here are five men’s products one beauty pro swears by. We’re also fans of razor company Billie, which nixes the 11% pink tax women’s shaving products often face.
22. Don’t shop on an empty stomach
This science-backed wisdom doesn’t exclusively apply to groceries. We’re just as likely to spend more on any type of purchase when we’re hungry. So, whether you’re trying to cut down your grocery bill or deter your online shopping habit, have a snack nearby.
23. Shred your own cheese
Instead of reaching for the grated tub of cheese at the grocery store, swing your arm a few inches over to grab a block of the stuff.
Do the job yourself and the cheese will melt easier, won’t have any of the packaged options’ additives, and it’ll save you up to 50 cents per ounce, too. If you love cheese as much as me, that’s a whole lot of savings.