You have a decent job with a decent paycheck. You’re not rolling in riches, but you don’t have to “water the milk” either.
Sure, your bills are paid. The kids are clothed, everyone’s fed, you have a roof over your head. You might even have a small savings account for emergencies. And you’re disciplined enough to leave it alone. (Bravo for you — 58% of Americans don’t even have $1000 in savings.)
But as usual, there’s “more month at the end of your money.”
What about fun stuff? What about money for the extras?
Your winter boots are cracked and you need a new pair. You’re itching to get a new dress for this year’s holiday party because the 90’s are looking for the one you’ve been wearing since, well, the 90’s. And you’re desperate for a new laptop before your old one poops out. (It’s on its very last gasp.)
And then there are the gift-giving occasions: weddings, Christmas, birthdays…
You want to buy nice gifts this holiday season and not look like Scrooge. But you don’t want that nasty credit card bill biting you back in January (or June) to spoil your joy either.
You can’t just go out and get a new job — jobs don’t grow on trees. And you’ve frozen your credit card in a block of ice in a lame attempt to prevent its use. That’s what the gurus suggest anyway. (They’ve clearly never heard of microwaves.)
You need things, you want things, but you just don’t have them in your budget.
Happily, there are many ways to unearth some moolah. Some of them are quick and dirty, some take a little more time. And a few don’t generate actual cash, but you’re still saving by recycling or repurposing. However, all of these hacks are virtually painless, and some are even fun.
Here are 35 to try:
- Use fruit that’s gone soft to make smoothies, chunky sweet sauces (perfect over ice cream or pound cake), or stirred into quick breads. Bananas are the most common, but peaches, plums and apricots work just as well.
- Slice soft fruit to use in salads and sandwiches. I recently made a grilled turkey cheese sandwich and inserted slices of overripe pear before cooking. It was divine.
- Put the soft fruit in a blender with some olive oil, vinegar and seasonings for a bright, tangy salad dressing.
- Chop the fruit into small bits and stir it into chicken broth or balsamic vinegar to make a sweet, tangy sauce for meats.
2. For veggies that are slightly past their prime, make soups, or veggie smoothies (fruits don’t own the rights to smoothies — veggies make good ones too).
- Chop carrots fine and cook them in the liquid when you make rice.
- Make vegetable stock.
- Or if you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, make your own V8 juice using this recipe. Double the recipe to make the time spent worth it.
3. Pack your own lunch — put the weekly savings into a special account.
4. Make your own coffee to avoid high-priced coffee shops. Saving $2 to $5 per day equals $730 — $1825 a year. More than enough to buy a cute travel mug.
5. Use coupons for everything — local grocery stores, retail stores, etc. Coupons can slash up to 50% off your grocery bill. Just don’t be tempted to purchase products you normally wouldn’t buy in the interest of saving — you’ll add to your bill, defeating the purpose of using coupons in the first place.
6. Buy store brands or generic instead of national brands.
7. Check per unit price. This is important. Stores are sneaky and will often label name brands with a cheaper unit price than their store brand counterparts, rendering the name brands cheaper.
8. Sort your groceries. Put everything you want in one cart, then, at the end of the trip, remove the “wants” from the “needs,” add up their cost and bank those savings. (Putting them back takes a few extra minutes, but count it as additional exercise.) Your budget, and probably your waistline, will thank you.
9. If you live in the country and have chickens, feed them kitchen scraps or leftovers too old to consume. While the reduction to the cost of buying their food is microscopic at best, you can relax knowing you’re re-purposing food you would have otherwise thrown away. Plus it’s a special treat for them!
10. Cancel cable TV and switch to cheaper streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. The average cable bill is $100/month. This is instant end-of-month cash, totaling up to $1200 at the end of the year. And do you REALLY watch eleventeen channels?
I canceled mine when it occurred to me I only watched three. Not even every day.
11. If you shop online, subscribe to Amazon Prime. Shipping is free, as are many of the movies. Well worth the $12.99 monthly fee. ($119 if you pay annually, a savings of $36.88.)
12. Go to the dollar theater instead of the full-priced one. The movies are almost current, and the savings are huge. Many theaters offer even steeper discounts. My dollar theater charges from $1.75 to $2.75 depending on which day of the week I go, with $1.25 being the Tuesday discount. Split a popcorn with family members and drink water. Your health will benefit as will your bank account.
13. If you prefer new releases, go to the matinee at your regular theater, though ticket prices are rising. Still, most theaters offer various discounts, including for seniors, military, students and families.
14. Cancel subscriptions, online and paper — use Truebill, a convenient website that lets you find all of your subscriptions. Odds are you’ll have some you’ve totally forgotten about. Cha ching!
15. Switch to a cheaper prepaid phone option.
16. Bundle insurance policies through same provider for discounted rates. Use Gabi, a service which helps you compare rates quickly. I use USAA for auto, homeowners, landlord and renters insurance.
17. Increase insurance deductibles to lower monthly bills (will mean more out-of-pocket should a claim need to be filed).
18. Save on fueling up your vehicle — use the GasBuddy app on your smartphone to find the cheapest fuel in your area. They also let you earn additional free gas automatically.
19. Set up auto bill pay to avoid late fees.
20. Stop loaning your money to Uncle Sam — adjust your tax withholding to take home more every month. Put the extra in a savings account (see Tip # 21).
21. Set up a special savings account which auto transfer from checking every paycheck. Even $25 saved twice a month adds up fast. Give your savings account a special name, like “Summer Vacation Account” or “Holiday Spending Account.” Watching the balance grow.
“Found” money (or fast cash)
22. Save loose change in a container that doesn’t give it up easily. I use a 5-gal. water cooler jug. The first coins make a pretty big racket when dropped in, but later on the sound turns to a satisfying “thunk!”
23. Don’t spend one-dollar bills. Store them in a small box in a difficult-to-access space, then bring them out in November for holiday spending.
24. Pop on over to Budgets are $exy and have a little fun saving with J. Money’s Money-Saving Chart. This is a fun project — a challenge+chart+printout all in one.
25. Get paid to take surveys. Here’s a list with a baker’s dozen of cool surveys you can get paid to take.
26. Sell your old and unused stuff online. Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, or Etsy (for vintage or handcrafted items, or craft supplies). Time the sales according to upcoming holidays — usually about 2 months in advance.
27. Put money saved from using grocery reward cards into your special savings account, even if it’s only a couple of dollars. Do this immediately after each shopping trip.
28. Put away the plastic and spend only cash for one week (work up to one month) and notice how little you spend. Suddenly those little extras don’t seem so important. Put the money you would have spent on non-necessities in the savings account.
29. Save one dollar every day using Forum Credit Unions’ The 52-Week Money Challenge . You’ll have $1378 at the end of the year.
30. Photograph your receipts. Use The Receipt Hog to earn cash, either through PayPal or as an Amazon Gift Card, by filling out surveys and taking photos of your receipts.
31. Match your treats with savings. If you treat yourself while running errands, put the same amount into your savings account. For example, if you buy yourself an ice cream after a day running errands, put the same amount into your SS. If you can’t afford to match, you can’t afford the treat.
32. Find cheaper parking, even if it means walking a few blocks to work (free exercise!) Bank the savings in your special account (Tip #21).
33. Resell unused gift cards. GiftCards.com shares five sources for offloading gift cards taking up space in a desk drawer. You might not get full value for them, but you’ll get more than letting them gather dust.
34. If you absolutely must use a credit card, use one which gives cash back. USAA and Capital One are two to consider. MoneyCrashers has a comprehensive list of the 14 best, listed by reviews and comparisons.
35. And last, but not least, start a side hustle. Here’s a great list to get you started, from Budgets are $exy.
Some of these savings will add up slowly over time. Others will put bigger chunks of cash in your wallet (er, special savings account).
Keep track of your savings. Check out the Challenge Everything blog post on Budgets are $exy. It’s a real eye opener and will help you pinpoint your monthly expenses to see where you’re bleeding money and where you can painlessly cut back.
Because that’s the whole point here — putting cash in your pocket without feeling cheated or pinched.