Saving money does not have to be painful.
- Tweaking the way you do things may be enough to keep hundreds of dollars in your checking account.
- If you want to save big bucks, start in the kitchen.
I don’t know about you, but I go on kicks. I’ll spend months eating clean, only to fall off the wagon and polish off a box of Toasty Cheez-Its. I can spend years watching my budget like a golden retriever watching her newborn puppies, then fall off the wagon as life gets busy. And it’s when life gets messy or I get busy that I burn through money that could have been saved and invested.
Fortunately, I recognize when I’m not being as careful as I should be and I’m able to take steps to correct myself. Here are three ways to save serious money without depriving yourself one bit.
1. Take inventory
Heading out to the grocery store is about as much fun for me as getting patted down at the airport. My trips are often made out of desperation. For example, I’ll decide to make Mexican for dinner, only to realize I don’t have any tortillas in the house. While I’m at the grocery store, I pick up a few other things so I won’t have to return anytime soon.
Here’s the problem: I often buy things I already have at home. If I’d only taken the time to look through my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, I’d have a better idea of what I ought to be spending money on.
An estimated 30% to 40% of food in the US goes to waste each year. That’s wrong on so many different levels it’s difficult to parse out. For example, how many people could be fed with the food we toss out, and how much money could we save if we only bought what we need and what we’ll use?
I’ve been struggling with this issue for a while now, and here’s what I’ve come up with. I joined Walmart+. It’s free for me because my American Express card reimburses me the $12.95 monthly fee. The primary benefit of being a Walmart+ member is that I don’t have to pay a fee to have groceries delivered. I leave a tip for the driver, but the amount of money I’m saving by not buying things I don’t need more than makes up for it.
Before I place an order, I make a list of meals we’ll be eating at home. And as much as it pains me, I check through the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to make sure I don’t already have any of the ingredients. Only when I’m sure, I place the order.
Having someone else shop for me means not buying junk I don’t need (including the delicious, aforementioned Toasty Cheez-Its). The less junk I have in the house, the more likely I am to eat fruits and vegetables. When it comes to which foods Americans throw away most often, fruits and vegetables top the list.
2. Chill out on the cleaning products
When I was a kid, I promised myself that my home would be spotless when I grew up. And for the most part, I’ve been true to that promise. That said, I have a thing for cleaning products. I’ll try just about anything new on the market. Since moving into our new house four weeks ago, my favorite purchase has been an O’Cedar EasyWring Mop and Bucket. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it may be the best mop I’ve ever used.
The problem is, I can waste hundreds of dollars each year on cleaning supplies I don’t need. I have to ask myself why. Vinegar and water kills things like salmonella and E. coli. And if I follow that with a store-bought disinfectant, 99.9% of lingering germs will be gone.
And if you haven’t discovered the joy of Murphy’s Oil Soap, allow me to tell you what it can do. A few drops in a bucket (or sink) of water cleans all the things you wouldn’t think of using oil soap on. Murphy’s cleans everything from countertops and windows to bloodstains (don’t ask). It makes old furniture look great and that new mop I mentioned? I honestly did not know our wood floors could look so good until adding a couple of oil soap drops to the bucket of water and giving the room a spin. Murphy’s is also great for cleaning toilets, sinks, showers, and bathroom floors.
In my area, 128 fluid ounces of white vinegar costs $3, 128 fluid ounces of Murphy’s runs $14, and 32 fluid ounces of all-purpose disinfecting cleaner costs $4. I figure that the vinegar and Murphy’s would last me four or five months with the disinfectant would last about six weeks. I’d still want to buy laundry detergent and dish soap, but keeping it simple would save hundreds each year.
3. Dump your insurer
Do you recall anyone ever telling you how much they love shopping for auto insurance? Me either. It’s hard to know where to start, how much coverage you need, and how to find the best rates. And yet, the average driver saves nearly $400 a year when they switch auto insurers. And that’s just auto insurance. If you also own a home, you can bundle coverage and save even more.
If your driving record is a bit of a mess or you have a very low credit score, you may want to give your record time to recover and take steps to boost your credit score before shopping for new coverage. Both will allow you to score a lower rate when it’s time.
The great thing about each of these tips is that none of them feel like being on a financial diet. You don’t have to do without anything, but you can still enjoy the payoff.
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