10 Ways I Try to Save Money

Simple ways to cut your spending in every part of your budget!

You know why I love you guys? Because I think most of you are budget-conscious too.

As I’ve told Bart on more than one occasion, money-saving is my love language. When he tells me, “I used Ebates to make a purchase today,” it’s basically the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.

I’m thinking about money all the time right now, as we start paying off our student loans, begin being homeowners again, and Bart actually gets a paycheck (how novel!).

About fifty times before graduation, Bart and I said, “When we’re making money again, let’s stick to our student living budget. Let’s not start spending money like crazy and not make any progress on our financial goals.”

It’s certainly nice that when I ran over a nail and had to get my tire replaced, that it didn’t destroy our whole budget for the month or send me into a panic over a new $89 tire (although, I certainly would have RATHER spent that $89 on something more exciting than a tire), but I am definitely still in budget mode.

Pretty much, it should come as no surprise that I was totally cashing in my free birthday meals yesterday.

Here are ten ways I try to keep our spending under tight control:

  1. Unsubscribe to all the store emails. You know how you have no plans to buy anything and then suddenly you get an email with a 50% off sale and suddenly you’ve spent $75 when you didn’t actually need anything? Yeah, me neither. I have all my store emails filtered by Gmail so they never come through my inbox, but if I am buying something, I can do a quick search and see if there are any trashed emails with coupons or other discounts. But I don’t want 15 daily nudges to buy something. 
  2. Buy used or refurbished. The first time I remember buying something refurbished was my original Apple laptop. Bart bought it for me for Valentine’s Day after we got married and I think it was about 40% off the original price. That baby lasted me FOREVER. We’ve bought two very excellent sets of washers and dryers off of Craigslist (and then sold them for the same price we bought them at several years later). I like buying nicer clothing from reputable second-hand stores like ThredUp, especially because you can usually get a good sign-up incentive, like $20 off your first order. And Gazelle sells certified refurbished phones and tablets (including the latest iPhones and iPads), plus you can trade in your old ones for cash. Whether you’re in the market for an upgrade or need to replace a damaged phone, it’s a great way to save yourself a ton of money and avoid locking yourself into a new contract. When there’s something I really want, like an iPhone, I still want a way to get a discount on it without sacrificing usability. 
  3. Buy things with a decent return policy. I basically don’t buy anything that I can’t return. How many times have you loved something in the dressing room and then put it on the next morning in your home and wondered if it got mysteriously switched in the night because it is now totally unflattering? I’d rather pay a little more and know that if I’m unhappy, I can easily take it back and get a refund. Even though I love a good deal, my personal rule is to never buy anything on final clearance that can’t be returned or exchanged. Too easy to have a bunch of ill-fitting cheap things filling your house and closet. 
  4. Don’t buy things you can borrow. People ask me all the time if I buy tons of books. Of course not – that’s what the library was invented for. We also never buy movies. I dream of living in a town with a tool lending library or a cake pan lending library (not that I ever make cakes but . . . wouldn’t it be awesome?). If you need something for one time use, use Facebook the way it was intended and ask if someone has it. 
  5. Keep your big ticket spending in check. After I read All the Money in the World, it made me really look differently at spending. I have definitely always leaned hard to the “don’t spend money on little things” side but she was pretty convincing that by buying a smaller house, you could have a lot of $5 coffees that make you happy on a daily basis (or whatever your small indulgences are). I still try to not spend much on little extras, but I also am focused more on being frugal about the big purchases too. We bought a big house, but we picked an older one that was the best deal we could possibly find. We have very average cars that don’t cost a lot to insure and that, if they get a nick in a parking lot from a rogue door, we don’t shed any tears. 
  6. Buy the minimum amount for a new project or hobby. I pretty much don’t like to spend any money on new things. When we decided to get a dSLR, we bought the entry-level one and then we used that thing for five years before I finally made the jump to a nicer one. By that time, I really knew what I wanted, I had absolutely gotten my money’s worth out of my cheaper camera, and I knew that I would use an expensive one enough to justify the (insane) cost. If you’re thinking of getting into tennis, maybe just buy a can or two of balls and a used racquet. Wait until you’ve actually decided how much you like playing and if you’re going to be serious about it before you start getting a ton of gear. (Bart is less sold on this method – he’s more inclined to think if he’s using a cheap racquet or doesn’t have all the right equipment that he won’t KNOW if he really likes it because it might just be the lack of all the right stuff that’s making him not want to go play tennis twice a week).  
  7. Don’t make all your social events revolve around spending money. A few months ago, Bart and I went out to dinner and a movie. And even though we don’t drink, split a single dessert and both picked pretty reasonable entree with no appetizers, our total cost at the end of the evening was over $100 after we paid the babysitter. Yikes. We try to find cheap or free things to do on our dates instead, which often tend to be more fun and memorable anyway. Last weekend, we went to a live recording of the season finale of Marriage is Funny and it was so fun, plus there were snacks. Free, free, free (except for the babysitter). When I hang out with friends, I lean toward going to the park, visiting someone’s house, or attending library story-time. 
  8. Evaluate your reoccurring costs. As Bart likes to remind me, subscription models are awesome for companies because they keep getting your money month after month whether you use the service enough to justify it or not. If we’re watching a show (that we can’t get DVDs of at the library), we’ll sign up for a month of Netflix and watch our way through it and then cancel it when we’re done. How many things do you really need showing up on your doorstep month after month? Would it be cheaper to just pay for something when you need it rather than paying to have it available all the time? 
  9. Make a note in your calendar to cancel free trials. How many times have you signed up for a free trial and then forgotten to cancel it? I’ve started making a note in my Google Calendar so it reminds me a few days ahead of time to make the call. In lots of cases, like Amazon Prime or Netflix, you can set your free trial to not convert to a paid account immediately after you set it up, but if it’s something like Rocksbox or Blue Apron that doesn’t allow that, you’ll definitely want a reminder because 30 days will come and go faster than you expect. 
  10. Call and ask for a discount or refund. I hate talking on the phone to pretty much anyone that isn’t my mom, but I have no qualms about calling up the credit card company and asking them to waive an annual fee or requesting that my cable internet charge continue at the introductory rate for another six months or year. You can usually get a late fee refunded too – the only place I’ve never tried this is the library only because it never occurred to me. 
Tell me all your secrets for saving money. And I will steal them immediately. 

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  • Reply Kristin @ Going Country September 15, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Don't go anywhere. Works great. Living 20 miles from the nearest (small) city means I am not hopping in my car just to pick up one random thing and then buying five more things I didn't intend to buy.

    It also means I can't easily pick up, say, a birthday present on the spur or the moment, but that's okay by me.

    I started using to buy a lot of my boys' clothes, because while I like thrift stores, they're pretty much impossible with three small kids in tow, plus the selection of boys' clothes gets severely limited the older the boys are (because they thrash all their clothes before they grow out of them). (with whom I am not affiliated, no) also has a 100% return policy, which I have yet to use, but makes me feel better about buying things sight unseen.

  • Reply MommySizedHeart September 15, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Everything you've said, we've implemented into our budget. We also set a budget for each category: groceries, gas, etc. and do an online envelop system. Once the money is gone for that category,it's gone and you're more diligent the next month/paybeck to spend the money more frugally!

    For birthdays, we plan events where its free or discounted for the birthday person. Grand Canyon and all national parks are free Wednesday and Out of Africa is free for your birthday month – our plan thus year for my birthday.

    Our vacuum hit the dust, so hubby just ordered a refurbished online for half the price.

  • Reply Lori September 15, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Using Amazon Prime for little purchases I'd normally make at Target (like lightbulbs, toilet paper, pens, etc.) has cut down my miscellaneous spending a lot. If you're in Target, chances are high you'll see something you could use but isn't 100% necessary.

  • Reply Natalie September 15, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Where to begin … I've actually thought about starting a little blog about things I do to save money. I'm that proud of myself! Anyway …

    ASK! Last year I purchased a bunch of work/back-to-school clothes from Downeast during a 20% off sale. Less than a week after I received my items, all skirts and tops (everything I ordered) was on sale for 30% off. What?!? I emailed Downeast with my order number and total, and asked if they'd refund the difference. Two business days later, I had about $15 credited back to me. Win!

    BE PATIENT! I think I told you about this on Instagram … but a few weeks ago I found a purse I just had to have (and had birthday money burning a hole in my pocket). It was marked down pretty significantly with an extra 20% off. I decided to wait and see how much I really wanted it. I realized I had to have it and went back the next day … everything had been marked an extra 33% off!! Woo-hoo!

    On that note, I recently got a $140 flat iron for about half that out of pocket. Ulta has an ongoing $3.50 of a $10 purchase coupon, but I knew they occasionally do 20% off your entire purchase. I waited for a 20% off coupon, used my $33 in rewards points (always sign up for rewards programs for stores you shop at frequently!), and paid just over half price out of pocket. And … I got rewards points for the amount I did pay. And got free shipping.

    One last one. Maybe. If you sew at all or know someone who does, don't be afraid of damaged clearance items. I got a sweater that was missing a button, so it was significantly marked down. However, it came with an extra button, so I bought it, sewed on the button at home, and enjoyed my $4 cardigan. Same with a coat I bought … it had a belt and one of the belt loops broke. I took it home, spent maybe 5 minutes sewing it back on, and had a great jacket for only $8.

    Also, give companies feedback, whether positive or negative. Either way, they'll almost always send you high value coupons to use on their products! Sometimes they'll just send you a refund check if it's something you're dissatisfied with.

    Anyway, I'll stop hijacking your blog post.

  • Reply diana September 15, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    We do many of the same things. I'm a big believer in borrowing, I wish more people felt the same! I have no problem borrows pans and tools only used once or twice a year. Money and storage are not always things I'm
    Willing to give up for convenience!

    • Reply Natalie September 15, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I agree! I recently borrowed a wheat grinder from a neighbor. I thought about buying one myself, but considering we've been married 7 years and this is the first time I've wanted/needed one … not worth it.

  • Reply Rachel September 15, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    We make a meal plan every week, make a list of the groceries we will need for those meals, and then ONLY BUY WHAT'S ON THE LIST. We also use Amazon to buy almost everything that's not perishable. This saves money because every time I go to Target to pick up toothpaste, I end up buying a ton of other stuff I don't need to justify making the trip there. It also saves gas and time.

  • Reply Blaine September 15, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    My salad spinner broke the other day, I sent an e-mail to the company asking if they would replace the lid. . . of course they would! I just had to pay shipping. I've had this salad spinner for five years. Usually I would have just bought a new one, but I was glad I asked! $8 of shipping beats $25 for the new spinner.

    Same thing with snap circuits, we had some missing parts, but when Bentley got really in to it this year I decided to investigate to see if I could buy just the missing pieces, turns out the company will supply you with any missing/malfunctioning pieces for free.

    We live in such a disposable society. . . "I'll just buy a new one", but it never hurts to ask and see what less expensive options are out there.

    • Reply Blaine September 15, 2015 at 6:14 pm

      This was Kristi. Obviously. Though Blaine did spend some good time on your blog the other night when he realized he had to use 6 Audible credits before he could cancel his subscription 🙂

  • Reply julia September 15, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    I'm ashamed to even ask (oh, the irony considering this is a money saving post!), but where is that pink cross body from?

  • Reply Paul and Rebecca Jones September 15, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    The Mesa library on Main Street loans out cake pans

    • Reply Anne September 16, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      The red mountain one has them too. You can also rent pans from east valley cake decorating on Lindsay and Broadway. Or ask on Facebook. I have way too many pans and do use them but am happy to share. I want a tool lending library like design mom posted about!

  • Reply Kayris September 16, 2015 at 12:20 am

    Next time you pick up a nail, have it plugged. Living in a city, I get nails all the time. Every six months at a minimum. A plug is ten bucks (although the garage does them for me for free because I'm there so often.).

  • Reply Linda September 16, 2015 at 4:56 am

    I price match for produce. Maybe I've mentioned this, but use the El Super, Food City, and Ranch Market ads on Wednesdays for great deals. I also check the regular ads for my weekly trip. I have an extra freezer and stock up on things I can freeze when they are on sale.

  • Reply Lauren September 16, 2015 at 5:18 am

    These are all great! I know it's controversial, but I think Amazon Prime is a great deal for us. 🙂 We subscribe and save to items that we need (and I do check on it and rearrange or skip a shipment) and I go to target much less frequently. I use the free shipping to send my cross country family presents (Christmas shopping is SO easy), or order small things that we need to avoid a trip to the store. I also get free kindle books each month and the amazon prime also has good movies and shows. I'd get rid of cable, but bizarrely, we pay less for internet by bundling with cable than we would buying it on its own. Go figure.
    My friend and I barter babysitting. We both have toddlers the same age and its nice to get out for a bit knowing that I can return the favor.

  • Reply Patrick&Selena Pallas September 16, 2015 at 6:37 am

    The Mesa public library rents cake pans, outside play equipment, and has culture passes for free entries to places around Az.

  • Reply Unknown September 18, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Babysitting : Make a deal with some friends. We agree to watch their kids for a night, and then the next month its our turn to go out. This saves us on babysitter bills.

    Walking : Living in Arizona myself, we bought a house in a nice central area that allows us the ability to walk to many places. We walk to the park, we walk to the library, we can walk to the store when I only have fill in items etc. Being that we only have a few unbearable months here … this saves me a lot of gas for those quick trips.

    Shopping Apps : You have to be discipled for this one. But AFTER I made my weekly meal plan, I check my Ibotta App for anything that might line up. (They have a lot of product specific stuff, but they do a lot of generic things like milk, and various produce). From this App alone I get anywhere from 5-20 dollars a month which I then can either redeem in a gift card or, have transferred to my pay pal account. Since I buy all non-perishable items at Walmart for the price savings, I also use the Walmart App to save me time on price matching. If an item you buy is on sale anywhere else, the app will credit the difference. While Add matching makes for an instant discount, I find this more connivence for my schedule, and I let it build up and redeem it for a walmart gift card at the end of the month to just use toward the next months groceries. I also use Shopkick when my younger one are board and have time to kill while the older is at school. You scan products in various stores, we make a game out of it. I don't get much for this but I do get 5-10 dollars a month I redeem for a walmart card as well.

    Playgroups : We do the free thing too. We have a bookstore here that puts out a magazine every month that lists all the known events for the month. I use this to find ALL the free story times and other kid friendly events, and then there is always picnics at the park, library play dates and of course splash pads!

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