Top 50 Money-Saving Tips
Set Your Own Personal Budget
These clever tips help keep your cash where it belongs -- in your pocket!
First things first: Learn how to set your own personal budget with our easy-to-use worksheet.
Buy Bulk with a Friend
Know your needs. Bulk items are only worth buying if you can use them before they expire. Consider shopping with a friend and splitting perishables such as meat and dairy products.
Instead of buying pricy flavored bottled drinks at the supermarket, add a hint of flavor to tap or filtered water by infusing it with slices of lemon, lime, orange, or cucumber and mint. Set a pitcher of your flavored water on your desk: You'll drink more if the pitcher is there as a reminder, and you won't have to buy multiple bottles of water, either!
Make Clothes Last Longer
Prepare your clothes for the washer by closing zippers, fastening hooks, and turning items inside out. Wash darks together using the cold-water cycle so they don't bleed onto lighter clothes -- and cold water is crucial, since it lowers your water-heating costs. Line-drying dark items will also help maintain their original appearance -- and you'll save on heating costs of the dryer.
Store Wine on a Budget
Skip buying a pricy wine refrigerator that needs to be powered at all times. If you have storage room in the corner of a cellar or at the bottom of a cool, dark closet, use that instead -- the money you save can go toward building your collection.
Stock Up on Scraps
Reserve carrot ends and peelings, celery leaves, garlic trimmings, the outer layers of onions, and wilting herbs and their bare stems (such as parsley and thyme) in a resealable bag. Store shrimp shells or roast-chicken bones separately. Freeze, then make stock from scratch whenever the mood strikes (Tip: Remove onion skins before using; they can turn a perfect stock into a bitter one).
Organize a Clothing Swap
Chic, savvy, conservation-minded consumers now update their wardrobes by taking part in clothing swaps. All you have to do is gather up gently worn items from your closet, bring them to a central location, and choose from others' castoffs. Find one through an organization such as Clothing Swap, Swap-O-Rama-Rama, and Buffalo Exchange, or consider hosting your own. Invite friends, set a minimum number of pieces for each to bring, and trade away.
Pass on the Paper Towels
Instead of spending money on pack after pack of paper towels, buy reusable microfiber towels, which grip dirt and dust like a magnet and don't let go, even when wet. When you're finished, toss the towels in the wash and reuse. (One brand to try: Method, available at Target and Office Depot.)
A Well-Kept Pantry
Transfer flour, sugar, and other dry goods to wide-mouth, airtight containers. This will help keep them fresh and make them easier to scoop with measuring tools. If you don't use ingredients quickly, note the purchase date on the containers and keep these pantry staples in a low-humidity environment. Moisture can make solid sugars lumpy, so be sure to leave brown sugar in its original bag, and then double-wrap it to keep it soft.
Adjust Your Water Heater
Lower your water heater's thermostat to 120 degrees to restrict heat loss. The exception: dishwashers. Check if yours has a "booster heater" for sanitizing 140-degree rinsing. Your potential annual savings: $450 and 215 pounds of emissions.
Prioritize Organic Foods
Buying everything organic isn't always financially feasible, so make the switch for items most likely to have higher pesticide residues -- apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes (imported), lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, and strawberries. It's also wise to buy organic meat and dairy products that don't contain growth hormones.
No-Cost Wrapping Paper
The most unique and beautiful wrapping paper -- vintage scarves, newspaper, colorful cloth, and more -- is already lying around your house.
Maximize Air Flow
When it's hot outside, position a fan to blow air out a window. But if you're lucky enough to have a strong wind, set the fan to blow in the same direction to maximize air flow. Close nearby windows to keep exhausted air from flowing back in, and open those on the other side of the house (ideally in cool, shaded areas). In a multilevel home, place the fan in a top-floor window and open windows on lower floors, where air is cooler. For windows that catch direct sun, use blackout blinds or heavy drapes to minimize solar heat gain.
Reuse rainwater with these barrels made from trash cans. Placed underneath your home's downspout, a rain barrel can help conserve water (and money) by capturing rain runoff from the roof. You can then use that water for the garden. You'll find a variety of barrels available online: Look for ones that have a spigot for a house attachment. Or make your own from large plastic trash containers. You can purchase a pump to help deliver the water through your hose, or a tap to fill your watering can.
A Wise Buy
This $20 investment will serve you for at least 50 years: A cast-iron skillet is indispensable for far more than its expected uses. Reach for one when making roast chicken, upside-down cake, cornbread, and even pizza (just flip the pan over and use the bottom as a pizza stone).
A popular organic brand of pasta sauce costs $5.99 for a 26-ounce jar, while the same-size jar of Whole Foods' generic 365 Organics sauce rings up at $2.49. You'll even save over a nonorganic product -- a similar-size jar of Ragu pasta sauce goes for $2.69 at some local grocery stores.
Save Money on Wine
Wines often cost more when they come from a well-known wine-making region or are made from a popular grape. So rather than heading straight for a familiar bottle, try something different: Instead of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot, try Albarino, Malbec, or Sangiovese. Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa are newer wine-producing countries that make good-quality bargain wines. You can also ask the store manager about any specials. If a store gets a deal from the distributor, the savings may be passed on to you.
Breathe new life into partially burned candles and antique teacups that have lost their saucers. Together, they make sweet gifts or favors.
To reduce hot-water consumption (and energy needs), federal legislation mandated improved showerhead efficiency for models made after 1994. Replace older models with ones that spray no more than 2.5 gallons per minute. Potential annual savings: $145, plus 370 pounds of emissions
Stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket to find the widest selection of unprocessed foods, which also happen to be less expensive -- and healthier.
Purify the Air with Houseplants
An alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on an air purifier: Houseplants, which have long been hailed for their ability remove toxins from the home.
Use Distilled Vinegar to Clean
A one-to-one solution of vinegar and water makes an effective, economical multipurpose cleaner. The nontoxic mixture disinfects floors and bathrooms and cleans glass without leaving streaks. And rest assured, its distinctive odor disappears as soon as the liquid dries.
"Dry-Clean" at Home
When a clothing tag reads "dry-clean only," it doesn't necessarily mean that the item can't be hand-washed, especially if it's made of natural fibers. Garments that are simply constructed, unlined, and made of natural fibers (cotton, silk, and linen) or of the synthetic workhorse polyester can probably be washed by hand or in cold water in a machine. (Slipping them into a mesh bag helps reduce wear.) However, let the pros handle anything with bright prints or colors that may bleed, clothing made of traditional silk, or anything with delicate stitching or beading.
Start Saving Automatically
Ask your benefits manager at work to deduct a set amount from each paycheck and add it to your retirement or savings account. If your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan (or automatic transfers), ask your bank to routinely transfer money from checking into savings on a certain date each month.
A Beautiful Budget Bracelet
If you have old brooches you no longer wear, why not welcome one back as the centerpiece of a romantic ribbon bracelet?
Turn Pretty Paper Into Packaging
Don't toss away all the wrapping paper that once covered your birthday, wedding, or holiday presents. Instead, run it through a shredder (cut to size first, if needed) and use it for lining gift boxes or protecting breakables to be shipped.
Chopsticks for Plants
Save spare sets of these take-out utensils and repurpose them as stakes for indoor plants and stirrers for paint. Or carefully slip one under the edge of just-washed stemware that's resting on a towel to ensure the glasses dry completely.
Save on Centerpieces
Instead of decorating party tables with large, costly arrangements, float a few flowers in shallow bowls or glass cylinders filled halfway with water.
Buy Frozen or In Season
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in season for the lowest prices and best flavor. Consider on-sale frozen vegetables; they're often just as nutritious as the fresh kind.
Set Your Programmable Thermostat -- Stat!
Give the AC a rest when you're away for even just a few hours. Set programmable thermostats to kick in half an hour before you return home unless you have heat-sensitive indoor pets. Cranking the thermostat to penguin-worthy temperatures won't cool the house faster, since air-conditioning works at full throttle until a set temperature is reached. With every degree you lower it, cooling costs increase by about 7 percent.
Organize a Book Swap
Are you amassing too many fines at the library? Get rid of the old and bring in the new by organizing a book swap at your home, work, or community group. By trading literature, you and your fellow bookworms can recommend authors to each other and pass around the latest novel du jour without having to spend a dime.
Warm Up with Flannel, Down, and Wool
Instead of cranking up the heat on cold winter nights, use flannel sheets (which are warmer than cotton sheets) and add down duvets that will ensure you stay warm and cozy.
Buy Dried Over Canned
A 1-pound bag of dried beans yields the same amount as three 15-ounce cans but costs less than half the price.
Set a Savings Goal
To set a goal, first figure out where your money is going. Use personal finance websites such as mint.com to track your spending, or carry a notebook around for a month and write down every purchase you make. At the end of the month, look for where you can trim, and then set a goal that makes you stretch a little but doesn't leave you subsisting on Ramen noodles.
Run Appliances at Night
Run appliances such as clothes dryers and dishwashers at night to avoid peak energy rates and the humid heat they generate. Excess humidity is more than uncomfortable -- it can also be expensive, since air conditioners use extra energy to process the moisture.
Dry Leftover Herbs
Fresh herbs are great, but what if you can't use the whole bunch? Tie leftover sprigs together with kitchen twine, and hang them upside down from a rack or shelf in your kitchen to dry. Once dried, transfer the herbs to airtight containers, and keep them in your spice rack.
Shop Locally and Seasonally
Farmers' markets typically offer organic foods at lower prices than many grocery stores because the food is in season and doesn't travel halfway around the world. At its peak, produce is most plentiful, which keeps the price lower. To find food cooperatives and farmers' markets, visit localharvest.org
Near the pantry, create an inventory list so you know what items you have, as well as how much you paid per unit -- for the sake of future comparison shopping. Warehouse price labels usually contain the purchase price as well as a unit price, which tells you how much you pay for a standard quantity (100-count aspirin, for example). For products you buy often, make a note of the unit price; you can compare it with prices at other stores to find the best deals.
Unplug Your Electronics
Unplug small appliances whenever you can. Computers, cell phone chargers, and other electronics often continue to use power -- and radiate heat -- even when turned off. To simplify, plug items into a power strip that you can use as a master switch.