It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of school, summer will always be vacation time. Whether it’s nostalgia or the weather, as soon as May rolls into June we want to clock out, pack up, and stop thinking about work until after Labor Day.
Most of us don’t have the flexibility to skip town for three months, but everyone should at least have the option of a little summer getaway. Unfortunately, even when you have the vacation days piling up, it still feels like you can’t afford the escape. No one’s pretending vacations are cheap; committing to the airfare, lodging and meals makes a lot of people gun-shy.
But that’s why we budget and save! If you need more money to do something fun, you have to come up with ways to save that extra cash. Increasing your earnings at a moment’s notice might present a problem, but spending less never ceases to be an option. It won’t always be easy, but it’s almost always doable.
Here are 8 ways you can start saving money tomorrow. Some might save you a lot, others just a few dollars, but a few dollars saved every week for a few months can equal a plane ticket. Never scoff at a little bit of savings - the money really does add up.
It’s the easiest way to save, yet it’s the easiest way to spend. I’m pretty sure everyone in the universe eats out too often, and every meal out punches your wallet right in the mouth.
There are a million non-financial reasons to go out for lunch or dinner. Someone else prepares the food, you don’t have to clean up, the meals taste better, it’s much faster than cooking, you don’t have to grocery shop, and the list goes on and on. For all these reasons, people who otherwise live very frugally still hit the drive-thru or have a weekly dinner out with the family.
The other problem with dining out comes from an erroneous comparison. People go to the “cheap” restaurant and get a value meal that “only” costs $10. Sure, that’s much cheaper than going to a steakhouse, but you haven’t saved money. You can make sandwiches at home for a week with $10, so don’t pat yourself on the back when you drop that on one meal.
You want to save money. You also want a burger from your favorite restaurant. It all comes down to which one you want more.
In order to stop eating out, you have to plan meals accordingly and give yourself the alternative. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, but strategic grocery shopping can be the main catalyst for getting you to that beach in the Carribean.
Every week, grocery stores send out mailings to announce their biggest bargains. If you aren’t doing much shopping, these small catalogs clog your mailbox and drive you crazy. If you’re trying to avoid restaurants and save money on food, these booklets make all the difference in the world.
With so many foods to choose from, you can easily get overwhelmed as you think about meal prep. When you narrow the possibilities to whatever’s on sale, you get to save both money and brain space. Find all the Manager’s Specials and 2-for-1 deals and let those items dictate your menu for the week. I’m not kidding, if you go from dining out once or twice a week to bargain shopping at grocery stores, you can easily save $500 a month. You won’t love the transition at first, but if the goal is a week in Hawaii, your efforts will be very rewarding.
Next time that “Sweet Deals!” mailing arrives, don’t throw it out right away. Give it a look and see what you can save.
We all spend on credit. As long as you aren’t racking up debt, I encourage people to take advantage of credit cards (as I’ll talk about in this very post). However, you have to admit that credit cards make spending very, very easy. The ease of use makes it hard to avoid seemingly innocent purchases, but those extra card swipes pile up and do some real damage to your savings.
You can still make bigger purchases like gas and groceries on your cards so you earn those rewards points, but setting a cash limit for everything else might help you tighten the purse strings a bit. Put a cap on what you can spend on lunches, coffees and movies in a week, or whatever you frequently buy, and then pull that amount in cash. As that money leaves your wallet, so do your opportunities to spend. When that cash is gone, your week goes on a spending freeze.
Budgeting gets tricky for people. We feel compelled to buy things even when we’ve tried to establish limits. Gimmicks like this one - letting a certain dollar amount dictate how you spend your week - can serve as useful crutches. As you watch the number of bills in your wallet dwindle, you might start thinking twice about each purchase.
That’s right. As you try to spend less and save more, I want you to exercise. It’s an indirect connection, but I guarantee it works.
Two major reasons why exercising more leads to saving more:
What’s the hardest part about exercising? Getting yourself to do it. Since everyone’s workouts are relative to their own health, we can all benefit from some form of physical activity. The trouble is, we have to work and drive the kids around and cook and clean and work some more. Finding time for fitness always proves challenging, and it takes some serious discipline to make it part of your routine.
The great thing about discipline is that it’s addictive. When you hold yourself to something and consequently get the results you want, you feel awesome. You start looking for more ways to get that sense of accomplishment, and being smart with your money is a very similar sensation. Pretty soon you’ll be running on the treadmill while you talk with your financial advisor and you’ll love every second of it.
The second monetary benefit of exercise comes by way of how you use your time. If you’re jogging or swimming or playing soccer, you’re busying yourself with free recreation. The best way to save is to not spend. Bargain shopping is great, but it’s still spending. Going for a hike, treacherous as it may sound, doesn’t cost a dime.
The more you exercise, the better you’ll feel about exercising. The better you feel about exercising, the more confident you become in your ability to take on challenges. And all the while, you’re improving your life without spending money.
While you spend cash on the smaller things, you can still use credit cards to your savings advantage. With cash-back rewards or airline miles, a month’s worth of obligatory expenses might translate very directly into that summer getaway.
This one is pretty simple: don’t spend more than you can afford and pay off each card every month. You shouldn’t expect to get rich while spending responsibly, but any kickback from your creditors is a good thing. Most of all, you need to fight the temptation to overspend in an attempt to get more rewards. That’s the game of it, and credit card companies plan on people losing.
Try to skip the annual fee and make sure you earn travel points you can actually use - you don’t want to rack up miles on an airline that doesn’t fly where you need to go. Not all rewards programs are created equal, so be strategic with your choice and you should find a way to get a net positive from your credit card spending.
I’m not talking about a career change… not full time, anyway. I’m mostly talking about general savings, though there’s a lot of side hustle potential for those who get a little crafty.
You might not have the time or skillset to build a grandma unit behind your house, but shelves and storage boxes and tables are projects you can likely tackle on your own. With the help of YouTube and Etsy, you have endless access to how-to videos and instructions. It’s easy to buy new things, but it’s very rewarding to start and finish the project on your own.
Better still, once you develop a knack for building and restoring furniture, you have the means to earn while you save. Spend $20 on supplies and a couple hours on labor and you can turn a roadside dresser into a 100 bucks in your pocket. There’s a very long list of people who have started as hobbyists and eventually turned into full-time creators.
Like exercise, repurposing items lets you spend time without spending much money, and if you get good enough at it you can earn a decent amount of cash. Woodwork and refurbishing aren’t for everyone, but these activities offer a worthy use of time for anyone looking to cut spending.
Remember when you were a kid and your parents would yell at you for leaving all the lights on? That was because mom and dad were smart and didn’t want to waste money.
As we fill our homes with more and more gadgets, it’s not just the bathroom light that needs to be double checked. All electronics and their corresponding charging stations should get turned off or unplugged after use. Even though a lot of our modern devices promote energy efficiency, the sheer volume of occupied outlets in our homes means we’re paying for more power than we likely need.
Turning off lights and TVs is just the first step. Shorter showers and fewer loads of laundry make a big difference, as does closing windows and doors to keep the cold air inside or out. If you live in an old enough house, paying for upgraded windows might actually save you money over the course of a year or two. It might not be the best way to save for summer, but it’s something to think about after the kids go back to school.
It’s so easy to overlook the little things that cost you a couple cents here and there. Leaving the door open while you run back out to the car or letting the water run while you’re on the phone sound harmless enough, but these are the things that add up. You might not eliminate every wasted watt, but you can become conscious of your utilities and save a lot of money with just a little extra effort.
Buy those energy efficient bulbs and run the AC an hour less each day, then see what your bill looks like in a month. If that gets you one step closer to a European rendezvous, I think you’ve made a pretty smart move.
You’re not getting rid of your car and I’m not getting rid of mine. It would be nice if we didn’t have to pay for gas, insurance and maintenance, but that’s not the real world and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. That said, I bet you can drive less often and more efficiently.
If it’s an option, walk or bike to work every once in a while. It’s good for your health and your wallet and might be a really easy trip that you’ve just become accustomed to doing in a car. If that’s not possible, check out the bus schedule and see if you can let someone else do the driving one or two days a week.
If you have no choice but to drive everywhere, you still have ways to save. Every day you drive around on underinflated tires, you lose money at the pump. Every time you roll through town with a trunk full of equipment you’ve been too lazy to remove, you lose money at the pump. Every day you drive with a dirty oil filter because you keep pushing off that servicing you need, you - say it with me! - lose money at the pump.
When you drive a lot, the action becomes a thoughtless part of your daily routine. You spend money on gas because you have to drive to and from work, but you don’t stop to think about how much you’re spending and if that number could be lower. Until you get proactive about vehicle maintenance, you can expect to keep losing money at the pump.
Before you know it, another summer will have come and gone. Money might seem tight right now, but with a little bit of foresight, this could be the summer where you have enough cash set aside to take that fun vacation and recharge your batteries. Put this list of saving techniques to work and watch as your dream of sneaking off to the Bahamas becomes more and more of a reality.