Takeout. Monthly subscriptions. Daily lattes and pricey groceries. Chances are you’re spending more than you’d like without even realizing it.
If this sounds like you, take heart. Some small modifications to your spending habits can make a big difference in your budget. From the grocery store to the gas pump, saving money can be as easy as downloading an app or choosing a different product. Here are some pain-free suggestions to cut back spending and start saving.
Streamline your subscriptions
Between video and music streaming, cloud services and news sites, we’re all subscribing to something these days. But how many are you actually using? If your Netflix is going unwatched or you’re not reading those magazines you thought you would, unsubscribe, then start pocketing what you’d normally be spending. (While we’re talking about subscriptions, beware of the free trial trap. Set an alert on your calendar when it’s ending, then be sure to cancel before you’re charged.)
Take advantage of discount apps
When it comes to quick, easy savings, there’s nothing like discount apps. User-friendly and free, you can rack up major savings (or even cash back) on the go or online. Here are some of our favorites:
- RetailMeNot – In-store and online discount codes
- Groupon – Dining out, activities and products
- ibotta – Cash back for groceries
- ShopSavvy – Scan barcodes to comparison shop
- Coupon Sherpa – Digital and printable coupons
- Coupons.com – Search digital and printable coupons by brand and store
Buy generic groceries
Another easy way to save? Buying generic groceries. Before you turn your nose up, consider that you could be saving up to 30% by buying lesser-known or store brand groceries.1 And, just like your deal-loving mom probably already told you, most don’t taste different than their big-name counterparts.2 Remember that the higher price tag on name-brand groceries pays for advertising, not better taste. So, stock up on generics and reel in the savings.
Make a grocery list
Speaking of groceries, if you don’t do so already, start making grocery lists. Yes, it’s old school (and yes, speaking of your mom, chances are she does it, too), but it will help keep you from unnecessary – and potentially pricey – impulse buying, not to mention help you remember what you actually came to buy. And if you’re tired of forgetting your paper lists at home, a number of grocery shopping list apps can help with that, too.
Make food (and coffee) at home
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times: You can save a lot of money by cooking and making coffee at home. But just how much can you save? More than you think! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends just over $3,000 a year eating out,3 which includes weekday lunches, takeout and delivery. Expensive coffee drinks add up, too. (Over $20 every month, according to recent statistics.4) So start cooking and brewing up some Joe at home. If you need a place to start, these budget-friendly meal ideas will help.
Skip the premium gas
It’s estimated that Americans waste over $2 billion every year on premium-grade gasoline.5 Since only 18% of new cars need premium gas – which typically costs about 50 cents more a gallon than regular-grade gas6 – if you’re buying high-octane gas, chances are you’re spending a lot more money than you need to. The best way to determine the right gas for your car is to check the owner’s manual. It’s quick research, and an easy switch, that will save you major cash.
Reevaluate your gym membership
The average monthly cost of a gym membership is $55,7 which adds up to $660 per year. If you’re not going to the gym, that’s almost $700 that could be going into a savings account instead. Even if you’re a fan of hitting the gym, consider working out at home, or outside in your neighborhood, with a free fitness app. Still on the fence? Answer these questions to see if a gym membership is really worth your money.
Automate your savings
Sometimes the idea of saving money – in an actual savings account – can seem out of reach, especially if you don’t have much money to save. Enter “round-up” apps, which essentially just take “spare change” from your daily debit card purchases and deposit it into a savings account. You can also check to see if your employer can take a small percentage of your paycheck and automatically deposit the amount in a savings account. Easy peasy!
A little goes a long way
You don’t need to overhaul your entire life to save money. Take some time to audit your spending, then start making small changes. With some dedication – not to mention an app or two (and maybe a grocery list!) – your savings will start piling up and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.
* This article has been updated from its original posting in 2014.
1. Tuttle, Brad. “Brand Names Just Don’t Mean as Much Anymore.” Time.com. (Accessed Aug. 31, 2020) https://business.time.com/2012/11/01/brand-names-just-dont-mean-as-much-anymore
2. Consumer Reports. “Store-brand vs. Name-brand taste-off.” ConsumerReports.org. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/10/store-brand-vs-name-brand-taste-off (Accessed Aug. 31, 2020)
3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Expenditures in 2015.” BLS.gov. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/consumer-expenditures/2015/pdf/home.pdf (Accessed Sept. 2, 2020)
4. Backman, Maurie. “You don't need that: Average American spends almost $18,000 a year on nonessentials.” USAToday.com. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/05/07/americans-spend-thousands-on-nonessentials/39450207/ (Accessed Sept. 2, 2020)
5. American Automobile Association. “U.S. Drivers Waste $2.1 Billion Annually on Premium Gasoline.” AAA.com. https://newsroom.aaa.com/2016/09/u-s-drivers-waste-2-1-billion-annually-premium-gasoline/ (Accessed Sept. 3, 2020)
6. Mayersohn, Norman. “Putting Premium Gas in an Engine That Requires Regular? Stop It Now.” NYTimes.com. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/smarter-living/premium-gas-worth-it-octane-summer-ethanol.html (Accessed Sept. 4, 2020)
7. Schuler, Lou. “The 10 Best National Gym Chains to Join in 2020.” MensHealth.com. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/g19536009/best-gyms/ (Accessed Sept. 4, 2020)