Was living through a worldwide pandemic not in your financial plan? If your bank account is feeling the strain this year, you’re not alone. An economic downturn of this scale might be a first for all of us, but Americans throughout history have managed to roll up their sleeves and ration, and so can we.
In this modern age, there are many ways to streamline and cut costs — whether it’s utilizing shopping apps, taking advantage of today’s low interest rates or going green. Looking at the key categories of food, finances and home, here’s your guide to saving money during tough times.
Food and shopping
Eat in and plan your meals.
It’s fairly common knowledge that when it comes to stretching your food budget, dining out is out — or should at least be kept to a minimum. But if you really want your kitchen to work for you financially, you must plan your meals. This forces you to take inventory of your pantry and refrigerator and focus your grocery shopping on a set list of necessary ingredients. Think of it like building a wardrobe: Once you have a foundation of key basics, it’s easy to mix and match, and then you can always throw in a pop of pork shoulder or some in-season butternut squash to spice things up!
Sign up for rewards programs and store apps.
When it comes to shopping, loyalty can really pay off. Whether you’re buying groceries, clothes or home essentials, always check to see if the stores you frequent offer a customer rewards program or phone app. You’ll be on your way to earning savings by buying the things you need, along with having access to digital coupons and weekly BOGO deals — perfect tools for that meal planning we mentioned. Websites such as Retailmenot.com and Coupons.com are also great resources to check for discounts before you go shopping or make an online purchase.
Let’s face it: Those marketing folks are really good at their jobs! But, aside from the shiny packaging and catch phrases, generic brands of many items — from food staples, such as rice, pasta and canned veggies, to medicines and cleaning supplies — work just as well as their flashy counterparts while costing a whole lot less. So go ahead and give the “fruit ring” cereal a try.
Try grocery pickup.
If you want to maximize efficiency and avoid tacking on costs from impulse buys (why do those bakery cookies always smell so good?), most major stores now offer curbside or in-store pickup as a free service. This is an excellent resource to ensure you’re only buying exactly what you need, and you can apply coupons at checkout just like you would in person.
Skip the coffee shop.
Yes, the neighborhood Starbucks is where everybody knows your name or, more likely, pronounces it wrong. But, at $5 a pop, those frappes and double macchiatos add up fast. You can save a small fortune by eliminating these drinks from your budget altogether. Buy a bag of beans from the local coffee shop, and get your coffee fix at home instead.
Drink more water.
Water isn’t just for your health; it also keeps money in the bank. Skip buying sodas, juices and sports drinks (along with the bottled spring and sparkling versions). Purchase a filter, and you can continuously tap into the ultimate thirst quencher — for free. When you’re treating yourself to dinner out, trade the alcohol for a glass of water, and you might even be able to upgrade your meal guilt-free.
Start a garden.
Not only can gardening supplement your grocery shopping, but it’s also an engaging hobby. Focus on herbs, such as basil, parsley and mint, or low-maintenance veggies and fruits, such as tomatoes and bell peppers. If your garden becomes plentiful enough, you can even learn to jar and store the excess. The next thing you know, you’ve got a side business.
Try Meatless Mondays.
Skipping the meat isn’t just for vegetarians anymore. In the midst of the Great Depression, cookbooks with recipes for lima bean loaf or a Boston roast formed from a puree of navy beans and bread became all the rage due to a simple fact: Meat is expensive. Commit at least a day or two of the week to meatless (and more affordable) dishes.
Finances and bills
Refinance your house or car.
Two of the largest expenses in any household are the mortgage and car payments. Interest rates are at historic lows, which means there’s a good chance a refinance could lower the interest rate on your current loan, possibly resulting in a lower monthly payment. Lenders say even a 1% savings can be enough of an incentive to refinance.
Shop for cheaper home and auto insurance.
There are several ways to reduce your home or auto insurance, and comparing prices from multiple providers is the first step. Next, take a look at raising your deductible; for instance, going from a $250 to a $500 deductible can significantly reduce your annual premium. If you own both a home and a car, bundling the two insurance plans together can often provide substantial savings as well.
Stem “subscription creep.”
Many people have already cut cable only to replace it with an increasingly long roster of subscription services. It’s time to cancel any subscriptions you don’t regularly use, and make sure to turn off the “auto-renew” feature in any trials or whenever you make a purchase. You can even consider membership-sharing with family or friends since many streaming services let you watch from two or more screens for a small upgrade.
Lower your cell phone bill.
Our cell phones are practically an extension of ourselves at this point, and with many people foregoing landlines, they are a necessary form of communication. However, an opportunity to reduce data usage and set boundaries exists here — especially when hours of costly data plans often go toward aimless scrolling. Also take a look at phone insurance and warranties you can eliminate, or explore combining multiple lines on one plan.
Use credit cards wisely.
The power of credit cards is astounding, but only if it can be used for good. This strategy only works if your credit cards are paid in full, which is not the case for many of us. However, if your credit is good, you can often find 0% transfer deals for 12 to 18 months, which can be an effective way to pay off higher-interest debt. The best credit cards also offer between 1% and 5% cash back on many categories, including dining, online purchases and gas, which can add up to a few hundred dollars over the year.
Around the house
Turn off the lights.
Many simple steps to reduce energy costs are within your control, and the most basic is to get in the habit of turning off the lights when you leave a room or the house. In addition to lights, be sure to turn off and unplug unused electronics, such as stereos, video-game consoles and old cable boxes, which will continually drain power, even when not in use.
Install a programmable thermostat.
Heating and cooling contributes to the majority of our electric usage, so investing in a programmable thermostat is a great way to take advantage of eco-friendly temperature settings while you’re not at home, which can significantly reduce your bill. While you’re at it, make sure you’re changing your air filters at least every three months to keep your system working efficiently.
Utilize power strips and timers.
To further harness energy savings, use power strips and timers to turn electrical devices on and off. When you plug multiple devices into a single power strip, turning off the switch on the strip blocks the phantom charge on all the devices. “Smart” power strips can even manage the flow of electricity based on a control device; for example, your stereo will only receive power if the TV is turned on first. Add a timer to a power strip and it can automatically turn off power to the strip and everything plugged into it at a certain time each night.
Shop for cheaper internet.
Home internet is a necessity, but if you need to cut costs, competing providers often offer specials and better rates for new customers. You might even be able to negotiate with your current provider; ask about options to switch to a lower-cost plan or reduce fees. If you still have cable, bundling it with your internet can often provide significant savings — just be sure you aren’t getting charged for any premium channels you don’t need.
Cancel the gym, and work out at home.
Don’t sit in traffic on your way to use a treadmill at the gym. Even if you don’t have any fancy workout equipment, you can find at-home cardio routines, resistance workouts, yoga classes and more for free online, or take your workout outside by walking or biking. You can even invite friends over to work out so you won’t miss out on the social aspect of the gym.
Keep the tires on your car properly inflated.
The same way you want to keep your home running efficiently also applies to your car. Regularly checking your tire pressure and keeping them inflated to the recommended pounds per square inch (psi) means you aren’t wasting valuable dollars at the pump. Every 2 psi of air you add to your tires can improve your gas mileage by 1%, which definitely adds up over time.
Maintain your appliances and systems.
Home appliance and system repairs are often expensive and come at the worst time. A Cinch home protection plan is an affordable and effective way to mitigate potentially wiping out hundreds of dollars in savings on an unexpected fridge or A/C breakdown. Contact us today to check rates and get some valuable peace of mind during tough times.