One of the things I've been working hard to accomplish since the move back to Colorado is to build up my savings again so I've got a cushion of spare cash, should I need it for whatever reason.
There are a myriad of suggestions and plans out there telling you how to save and they range from the simple -- "Put $20 every week into an envelope" -- to the complex -- "On January 1, put a penny into a jar. On January 2, put two pennies in the jar. On January 3, put three pennies..." -- and so forth.
While those are all fine and dandy -- and let me say up front that I've no quarrel with any such plans.. As long as you're saving *something*, I applaud your effort -- they don't really appeal to me. I wanted to find ways to spend less every day, as that seemed to me a bit more challenging. To that end, here are the things I've been doing to spend less and save more.
1. Get a coin jar. I am using a "Howler" glass jug, which is a 32 ounce jug from my local microbrewery, and every day I put what coins I have in my pocket into the jar. But here's the trick: I never take coins out. I don't care if I need two quarters to operate the car wash, I do not take coins out of the jar. If I need those two quarters, I'll pull a dollar from my wallet instead. This makes me think more about spending the money ("Do I really need the deluxe wash, or will a standard wash suffice?") than I would if I knew I had plenty of quarters sitting in a jar. When the jar is full, I roll the coins, take 'em to the bank, exchange them for cash, and put that cash into my fireproof safe at home. A full jar can be close to a hundred dollars or so, depending on your mixture of coins (pennies vs. quarters, etc.) Added up, it's roughly $400 a year saved.
Savings so far: $400.
2. I bought a smaller coffee pot. Since it's just me at home most of the time (the occasional visitor notwithstanding), I bought a small, 4 cup coffee maker. If I brew a full pot, I have just enough to fill my mug twice, which is sufficient to get me going in the morning and out the door to the office, without any waste (I typically drink more coffee when I get to work, but it's free there), which means I'm using fewer coffee grounds every morning. Looking at Amazon, a can of Folger's goes for about $7.00. Using half as much coffee with the small pot, I go through a can of coffee every couple weeks, instead of every week. In the end, instead of $400 or so a year in coffee, I spend half that, or around $200. Add that $200 in savings to the coin jar cash.
Savings so far: $600.
3. Buy in bulk. This one is kinda tricky when you live in a one bedroom apartment without a great deal of storage space, but it can still be done, at least to varying degrees. First, when I go to the store, I look for "Family Sized" packages of meat -- the 5 pound roll of ground beef, or the 12 pack of chicken breasts, for instance -- and then I partition those to smaller packages... one pound of ground beef into a zip lock bag, one chicken breast per bag, etc. This makes it easier for me to cook a meal, as I can remove a single chicken breast and the rest can stay in the freezer. I also look for the whole pork loin, rather than pre-sliced pork chops. Get the loin out on your cutting board, make sure your knife is sharp, and slice the chops yourself. Why pay for someone else to do what you can do, right? Beans and rice and such are other items that readily lend themselves to buying in bulk. The key here is to only buy items in bulk that you'll eat often enough that they won't go bad. You're not saving if you drop $20 on a 10 pound bag of organic sugar, but don't use sugar often enough and it eventually gets infested with ants. With some creative and savvy purchase decisions, it's easy to save $300 a year by buying bulk instead of smaller, pre-packaged sizes. But you do have to have storage space...
Savings so far: $900.
4. Canning your own food. Look, just do this, OK? Along with buying in bulk, you can save a not-insignificant amount of money if you can and preserve your own food. You'll need to spend a little bit of money up front, as you'll need jars, lids, rings, and a pressure cooker, but once you have those items, the rest is just a matter of time more than money. Canning a bushel of green beans will take you the better part of a Saturday, but in the end you'll have ~36 pint jars of green beans for around $12... Again, comparing prices to Amazon, that's a savings of about $2.70 per can, or around $98 over the total of 36 pints. Say you eat green beans twice a week -- we're talking $280 a year. Just in green beans. You can can pasta sauce, salsa, other vegetables (I made my own pickles, pickle relish, and beets), beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, or just about anything else. I would HIGHLY recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It is the gold standard for information and directions on canning food.
Savings so far: $1,180 - $1740 (depending on how many items you decide to can yourself.)
4a. Speaking of making your own broth, here's a tip I learned from someone that I've used many times: Save the "waste" of vegetables when you cook. You know, that bottom of the onion, the ends of the carrots that you chop off, the bottom of a stalk of celery, etc. Save those. Put 'em all into a large zipper closure bag, and into the freezer with them. When the bag is full, put the frozen veggies into your stock pot, add water and some salt and pepper (and maybe a bay leaf), and simmer for a few hours to make vegetable stock. Strain out the solids, and freeze or can the liquid. Use the next time you make soup.
5. Add bulk for cheap. When preparing your meals at home, give some thought to adding bulk to the meal without adding a lot of calories. One great way of doing this is to use rice. Potatoes can also work in this regard. For example, last night I warmed up a bowl of chili that I pulled from the freezer. To expand the meal to a quantity sufficient to slay my hunger, I boiled a couple New Potatoes, smashed them down a bit, and poured the chili on top. It nearly doubled the size of the serving, and potatoes are cheap. Don't really have a savings amount for this, but it's not zero. Consider adding rice to your chicken broth, and you've got chicken and rice soup. Add some barley to beef vegetable soup. And so forth.
At this point, I've got around $2000 a year in "extra" cash, just by saving my spare coins every day, canning food, drinking smaller pots of coffee, and buying in bulk.
A few other things that can help you spend less:
6. When shopping for food, don't just look at the price of an item. Look at the price per unit of food (i.e. per ounce). You'll often find that a generic brand is significantly cheaper per unit if bought in bulk, and you can usually freeze whatever you don't use right away.
7. Check out the offerings at your local Farmer's Market, if you have one. Coupled with canning it, this can be a significant savings -- every year, my sister will buy a bushel of tomatoes and can salsa and pasta sauce, and she'll also buy a bushel and a half of corn, blanch it and cut it off the cob, then freeze in 2 cup bag allotments. This gets her ~ 48 jars of salsa and pasta sauce, and 36+ bags of corn. The cost? A few bucks for the vegetables, an afternoon of making a mess in the kitchen, and $15 for the beer that she uses to bribe her brother and mom into helping.
8. Cut the cable. Seriously, if you're paying a monthly fee for cable television, consider dumping it. I've got internet service only into my apartment, and I use a combination of my Amazon Prime membership and Netflix to watch television shows or movies. I find the options sufficient for my desires, and it's $50 or more a month that I'm not spending. Besides, most television is crap these days, and it's no great loss overall. If there's a live event that I want to see (I am, after all, from Indiana, and thus I'm a fan of Indiana University Basketball), I'll go to the local pub if I can't find it streaming on-line somewhere.
9. Walk more, drive less. I'm fortunate that I live a 5 minute walk to my office, but even if it was twice that, I'd still walk in all but the worst weather. We're 10 days into the new year, and I've yet to add gas to the Heep, and I'm still over 3/4 tank... Besides, walking is good for you.
At any rate, those are the things I'm doing to save money. Feel free to add your own in the comments, if you wish.