Do you want to save money this year? Of course you do!
While this blog focuses on budget travel, I realize that not everyone is working on a travel goal right now. But I bet pretty much everyone has a money goal, whether that’s to get out of debt, stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, or save for retirement. Here are 20 things I’m doing this year to save money. I hope you get inspired and figure out a few ways that you can improve your savings, too.
- Changing Up My Retirement Savings I try to max out my Roth IRA each year. In 2019, I was allowed to deposit $6000. So I set up an automatic transfer of $500 to this retirement account each month. But when I realized that $6000 would make more in a CD Time Account than in the Roth account, I decided to put a lump sum $6000 into a CD. It was a much bigger upfront investment, but when it matures towards the end of the year, I can put that $6000 into my IRA just as I had before. I’ll still be earning interest with what’s already in my IRA, plus I’ll get interest from the CD that I can use for whatever I want- no need to wait for retirement!
- Downsizing My Belongings True, this is mostly spurred by the fact that I’m moving and don’t want to deal too much with storage while I travel. It’s also true that used items won’t sell for as much as the cost to buy new. But when I do need to buy furniture and appliances again, you can bet I’ll be buying them used. Here’s an example of how buying and selling used items can save you big: nearly two years ago, I bought my washing machine off of Facebook Marketplace for $150. Now I’m selling it for $150. That’s basically like renting a washing machine for free all this time!
- Taking Care of What I Have This will be even easier to do once I’ve downsized everything. If clothing gets a tear, it’s better to sew it up than to completely replace it. Even though my car will just sit in a driveway when I’m in Europe, I’m taking it in for an oil change and tune-up before I leave so that I can drive it in top condition when I return. Just using things gently can make a big difference in how long they last.
- Doing Everything Digitally I think I still have the same book of stamps that I bought five years ago! Living in the digital age can save you on postage as well as the gasoline that it could cost to do some tasks in person. Most things can be done online. I correspond, pay bills, sell stuff, buy stuff, fill out applications, and sign contracts online. You don’t even need that much equipment anymore. If your phone or computer has a camera, that eliminates the need for a scanner in most cases. As a bonus for buying online, it’s easy to compare prices. Most stores post their prices online, so if going to a brick-and-mortar store really is a better deal, you can find out before making that trip.
- Loving the Library My local library did away with late fees, so it truly is a free resource. But it’s more than books. I love borrowing TV shows on DVD instead of having a streaming subscription. My library also loans out ukuleles, sewing machines, e-readers, and more- find out what’s available at your branch. I also go to some of the free community events at the library.
- Being a Free Trial Queen While ordering Christmas presents on Amazon, I got an offer for a free month of Amazon Prime. I accepted the offer and got free shipping on my Christmas gifts. I haven’t bought anything from Amazon since, so I decided to cancel my membership when my free trial ended. But until then, I enjoyed a month of free movie and show streaming and free exclusive coupons. A lot of services offer free trials to new members or former members. I’ll probably take advantage of a few more free trials over the next year. (Tip: Only do one trial at a time. It’s easier to keep track that way, and you’ll be able to take better advantage of what the service offers when you’re only focused on one.)
- Getting Rewarded Recently, I signed up for a new credit card. I just got my $150 bonus, in addition to the 1.5% cashback I get with every purchase. Is it time for you to get a new credit card? You can get even more rewards, with or without a credit card, when you shop through certain portals. Right now, as I’m making reservations for my time in Europe, I booked many of my hostel stays through Hotels.com. Users of this site get a free night for every 10 nights booked, plus a percentage back through Swagbucks. Yes, I still use Swagbucks since they partner with so many companies for extra cashback opportunities!
- Buying in Bulk Creatively Despite living alone, I love my Costco membership. No, I don’t buy the 10-pound bags of produce since over half of it is guaranteed to go bad. But I still have half the toilet paper that I bought there two years ago. Buy nonperishables in bulk, or create a coop with a couple other people so you can share the savings of a bulk purchase. You can even group things together to try to create bulk savings of your own! I had to make reservations for 11 different bus trips, and each reservation required a $2 fee on top of the bus fare. Instead of paying for each trip separately, I lumped all 11 reservations together at once and saved $20!
- Saving “Last Chance” Food I’ve never been dumpster diving. I’ve found a (legal!) way to get fresher food inside the store for half price or less. A lot of grocery stores will discount their food within a couple days of its expiration date. It could also be discounted if the packaging is damaged, or if they just have too much of an item that isn’t selling as well as anticipated. I usually see these foods with a brightly-colored 50%-off sticker, but sometimes they’re discounted to just pennies per item. It’s a great chance to stock up and maybe try some foods you’ve never tasted before. (Bonus tip: A lot of non-food items go on clearance too. Some stores leave items on their original shelves to make a scavenger hunt of finding them, but a lot of stores have a clearance shelf- find the ones at all the stores near you and check them with each shopping trip!)
- Caring for the Environment My home state of Oregon implemented a bag ban this year. Many are groaning at having to pay for shopping bags, but I celebrated it. I’ve been bringing my own bags for a while, and now it’s benefitting more than just the environment. A few of the other examples and tips I’ve mentioned, such as taking the bus instead of a plane, going digital, borrowing from the library, and buying/selling used items, are environmental as well as economical.
- Taking Finance and Business Courses I’ve been out of school for quite a few years now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. In fact, since there are a lot of free adult education courses out there, this is a great way to learn how to save money without spending any money at all. I’ve been to some courses I’ve found through the chamber of commerce in the past. This week I attended a webinar about breaking bad money habits. I’m even listening to a financial YouTube video as I type this! Keep educated so you can learn to grow your money.
- Questioning the “Necessities” You need a roof over your head, right? Probably, but I decided to get rid of my apartment anyway. Since I’ll be traveling for a significant amount of time this year, it didn’t make sense to pay monthly rent for an empty apartment, plus pay for accommodations where I am. In fact, my hostel costs will be about the same as my current monthly rent when I’m in Europe! Of course, this exact option isn’t available to everyone. I’m grateful that I can store some of my belongings in my parents’ barn until I find a new place to rent. But think about what “necessities” you don’t actually need in your situation. Do you need to buy lunch if your workplace offers free meals? Do you need a car if you live in an area with excellent public transportation? Find out what works for you, no matter how unconventional it may be.
- Not Doing it for the ‘Gram I’m not opposed to Instagram, and I’ll definitely be using it to document my adventures this coming year. But so far this year, I haven’t posted anything. I considered posting about a camping trip, a family trip to the coast, or even just a post to greet the new year with what I want to do, but ultimately decided not to. When we “do it for the ‘gram” or otherwise do things mainly to impress other people, it can get expensive! Furthermore, you may not like paying for those things as much as you thought when it doesn’t garner attention. My time off of Instagram has allowed me to define my own goals without the influence of an audience.
- Reducing Sugar Intake This is the third January in a row that I’ve kicked off the year with 21 days of no sugar. Sugar is addicting and I love it. But this fast allows me to reset after a holiday season filled with cookies and cakes and all kinds of deliciousness. I didn’t start this to save money, but it turns out that it saves in multiple ways. Long-term, it saves on health costs since I’m eating more nutritious foods. And short term, I’m not buying junk!
- DIYing I got a bottle of clay mask facial for Christmas. Since I didn’t buy it, I’m not sure how much it cost, but I bet you it cost more than my activated charcoal powder and bentonite clay. Plus, I like making my own facial so I can fine-tune it to the needs of my skin at the time. After comparing the two, my homemade mask really does work better, plus the ingredients are multipurpose.
- Comparing and Price Matching I briefly mentioned in #3 that you can compare prices online, but I want to emphasize how important this is both online and in-store. Oftentimes, two nearly-identical items have a several-dollar price difference. Or, the same item in different sizes can have a significant difference in value. (Check the price-per-unit label that many stores now display.) A lot of stores and websites have a price match policy, so take advantage of that if you find a better deal elsewhere. The only thing I’ve really been shopping for lately is hostels, which I’ve been doing mainly on Hotels.com. I still check other websites (especially Hostelz.com and the hostel’s own website) because they sometimes offer rooms not available through Hotels.com. But Hotels.com is often the best deal, and in the few cases I’ve found that it isn’t, it’s easy to price match. I even found a lower rate for a hostel in Fuessen, Germany on Hotels.com a couple weeks after I booked it, and upon my request, the website offered to refund the difference.
- Buying Discount Gift Cards Hopefully you’re making use of any gift cards you got for Christmas. But lots of people out there got gift cards that they don’t want or need, and they’re selling them at a loss! Take advantage of this by buying gift cards from places like GiftCardGranny or GiftCardSpread. (Make sure you’re only buying gift cards for places you know you’ll shop anyway, such as grocery stores and gas stations.) I know I’ve already mentioned a few ways I’m saving by using Hotels.com, but I’m saving even more since I bought a discounted Hotels.com gift card!
- Driving Less Obviously, I’m not taking my car to Europe. I’ll be walking within cities and taking busses between destinations, so I don’t have a reason to rent one there. Even at home, I’m not going out as much by combining trips and having no-drive days. For the times I do drive, check out how I get super-discounted gas.
- Enjoying Money-Saving and Money-Making Hobbies Right now, my main downtime activity is planning my trip to Europe, and how I can save money on it while still doing the things that I’m interested in. This includes researching hostels, looking up discount codes, and scheduling admissions and other activities. And you probably know that I am a writer who started publishing books last year. I’m continuing to write so that I can sell even more books very soon. If you can find a hobby that can make you some extra money (especially if it could eventually turn into a career), great! For other hobbies, try to find ways to cut costs or do them for free.
- Giving Generously It may seem counterintuitive, but I wanted to save the best tip for last. Instead of wasting too much time trying to sell insignificant items or looking for online moneymakers, it’s often more valuable to give those times and possessions. I’m giving away a lot of my items, and have given some of my money as well. It allows you to refocus your mindset and appreciate what you already have.
How are you saving money this year? Share with everyone in the comments!