If you’re like most people, you’re always on the lookout for ways to save money. While most of us clip coupons and take advantage of sales when we see them, there are many other things you can do to cut your household expenses and put more cash in your pocket.
As a bonus, scaling back on household expenditures can also go a long way toward reducing your family’s carbon footprint. Here is a complete guide to saving big on everything from groceries and clothing to utilities and car insurance.
How can you save money with groceries and household items?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spent $7,729 per year on food in 2017. Today, we pay about 20 percent more for groceries than we did 20 years ago.
However, incomes shrank by just over $1,000 per year. This means people are making less but spending more.
No matter your family size, food is likely a huge expense in your budget. By tackling your grocery bill first — and finding ways to reduce it — you can shop and save precious dollars from your household’s monthly bills.
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How do you keep your grocery bill low?
How many times have you unloaded groceries at home, only to discover you forgot an essential item at the store? Or maybe you shopped without a list and ended up with a cartful of pricey impulse items like chips, candy, and cookies.
Humans are impulsive creatures, and grocery story planners take advantage of this trait. In fact, grocery stores are laid out in a way to encourage you to purchase the most expensive items.
For example, stores often advertise products on end caps, complete with a huge sign to draw your attention. While you might assume this indicates a sale, it’s usually just a marketing strategy.
By making a list before you shop, you give yourself a roadmap and a set of goals. Rather than just wandering through the store, selecting items that appeal to you in the moment, you purchase only what you need.
Hate scribbling down a list at the last minute? Consider downloading a grocery list app that lets you save past lists, share your list with family members, and build a list whenever it’s convenient.
How much money can you save by not eating out?
Preparing meals at home is better for your health and your wallet. But did you know it costs five times as much to dine out than it does to cook at home?
To put this in perspective, if you spend $10 to prepare food at home, the same meal will cost you $50 in a restaurant.
Not only are restaurant meals typically loaded with salt, butter, and other unhealthy ingredients, the average portion size is two to three times the recommended serving size. If you make a habit of dining out, you’ll feel it in your bank account and your wardrobe.
How do you plan meals for weeks?
The key to cooking at home is to plan your meals in advance. To start, try planning your meals one week ahead. As you gain more experience, you can try planning a month in advance.
Planning meals ahead of time stops you from “suddenly” spending — splurging on takeout when you realize you don’t have the time or ingredients you need to prepare a meal. When you plan ahead, you’ll no longer have to run out for a pizza or grab a fast food dinner on your way home from work.
When you sit down to plan your meals, try to build recipes around the weekly sales at your grocery store. Most grocery chains advertise their sales online, and some even let you fill your cart online and then pick up your groceries later.
When you shop, stick with less expensive ingredients and simple recipes that incorporate vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry, beans, nuts, fish, and lean meats. If you like to try new recipes, save them for the weekend, when you have more time to experiment.
If your children are old enough, you can even get them involved in meal planning. Make it fun by assigning a theme to each day of the week. You can try Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Pizza Friday.
Meal planning is a great way to teach kids about healthy eating habits, budgeting, and safe food preparation. (It also helps to have an extra set or two of hands in the kitchen when it’s time to clean up!)
Pro tip: Give the Instant Pot a try
The Instant Pot does the job of a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, saluting (browning) pot, and warming pot — all in a single, compact appliance.
You save on hours you would have spent cooking average meals.
Compared to the average oven, the Instant Pot won’t heat up your house in the summertime. And because it performs so many tasks, it’ll clear up a lot of space on your counter tops.
You can even buy an extra inner pot to cut down on cleanups between meals.
If you’re new to the Instant Pot, there are many different places to find recipes. Check out this must-try list from the Food Network, or this mega list of recipes and tips on Pinterest.
Should you buy in groceries in bulk?
Done properly, buying certain items in bulk can help you slim down your grocery bill. However, it’s important to be careful about bulk purchases, as not every bundled item offers a savings.
Experienced bulk shoppers know how to do the math to make sure a bulk purchase is less expensive than buying single items.
Another potential problem with bulk buying is the temptation to overuse the items you buy. For example, if your pantry is stocked with 50 bottles of body wash, you may end up dumping a big handful on your loofah during every shower.
There’s also a difference between stockpiling and hoarding. Like grocery stores, warehouse and bulk stores often lure shoppers into making impulse buys.
Avoid grabbing items you don’t need just because they seem like a good deal.
Do you really need 10 bottles of ketchup? If items will end up gathering dust on your pantry shelves, you might want to leave them off your shopping list.
Buying in bulk can be intimidating at first, but it becomes easier once you get the hang of it. If you stick with it, you’ll find the balance between bulk shopping and saving money.
If you live near a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s, consider purchasing an annual membership. You can also make bulk purchases online at Amazon.
What can you buy in bulk?
Dry pasta – If you have a family of pasta lovers, consider stocking up. Dry pasta will last for months as long as you store it in a dry place.
Canned foods – Keep a well-stocked pantry of bulk canned foods you regularly use, such as tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, tuna, and corn. ALDI sells canned foods at very reasonable prices.
Diapers – The average baby wears between 3,500 and 4,600 diapers a year. Buying diapers in bulk can be a huge money saver. Look for deals at Costco, as well as online at Amazon and Boxed.com
Meat – Meats are expensive grocery items, so buying in bulk can offer a significant savings. If you see meat on sale, consider stocking up. To make cooking easier, divide into meal portions according to the size of your family, and then freeze.
Paper goods – Warehouse clubs tend to offer great deals on napkins, paper towels, paper plates, and toilet paper. If you’re short on space, consider storing extras under the bed.
Detergent – Laundry detergent has a long shelf life, so you can save money by buying in bulk. Modern washers are also more efficient, which means you need less detergent to get a thorough clean. A few containers will last a long time.
Oats, Cereals, Quinoa, Granola, Nuts & Seeds – Purchased in smaller packaging, these items can be costly. It’s usually much cheaper to buy them in bulk.
Check out places like Azure and Bulk Nation for deals on nuts, seeds, granola, and candy.
How does a zero based budget plan work?
Budgeting doesn’t have to mean denying yourself the things you love. You can still save money while enjoying your favorite Starbucks beverage.
However, a good budgeting plan includes your daily latte in your expenses, with money allocated to cover it. This is where a “zero budget plan” can be a big money-saver.
How do you create a zero balance budget?
- Write down all your bills – Before you pull any money from your income, write down all your expenses, including bills, debt repayment, investments, emergency fund, and any money you put toward savings.
- Give each dollar a job – With zero budgeting, every dollar has a “job.” In other words, when you set your budget each month, each dollar in every expense should have a corresponding dollar in income. This gives you a zero balance between income and expenses.
If you end up with twenty dollars or a hundred dollars left over, find a job for them. For example, put the extra money toward your student loan, or use it to make a double payment on a credit card.
- Zero budgeting helps you scrutinize your expenses and eliminate wasteful spending. If you stick to a zero budget plan, you’ll know exactly where your money is going before the month even starts.
Why is it important to track your spending?
Budgeting helps you save money by giving you a visual of what you bring in, as well as how much you spend.
If you simply pay bills as they come, it’s hard to know how much of your income you spend on various household expenses — or if you’re overspending on any given item.
Before you make a budget, however, you need to track your personal expenses. This will give you a clear picture of where your money is going each month.
To start, write down everything you buy. Some people find it easier to record their purchases for the week rather than the month.
How do you write down your spending?
Whichever way you do it, be sure to record every single purchase. This means you should write down every cup of coffee, your afternoon trip to the office vending machine, and a pack of gum you bought while you paid for gas.
While it may seem silly or pointless to track an expense like your morning java, writing it down lets you see how quickly these purchases add up.
For example, if your daily caffeine costs you $5 each morning, and you buy it Monday through Friday, that’s $25 every week. Total it up over the month, and it’s $100 each month. That’s quite a bit of money.
Budgeting doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of coffee. However, recording every expense lets you identify frivolous purchases you could probably live without.
To track your expenses, you can use old fashioned pen and paper. Many people also find it convenient — and even a little fun — to use software or a budgeting app.
Does using cash help save money?
By paying cash for your expenses, you force yourself to be accountable. And by avoiding credit cards, you don’t rack up costly interest charges that can trap you in a debt spiral.
How do you budget for cash?
- The envelope system is a simple and effective way to reduce your household expenses. To set it up, allocate a certain amount of money for every expense.
For example, if you spend about $40 on gas each week, put $40 in an envelope marked “gas” or “fuel.” (You can also set your system up for the month by putting $160 in the fuel envelope.)
- From here, consistency is key. Never borrow money from envelope to supplement another. If, for example, you run out of money in your entertainment envelope, don’t take money from the grocery envelope to extend your movie or dining budget.
- If you have money left over at the end of the week or month, carry it into the next one. You can use the extra money to make a double payment on a debt or increase your emergency fund.
- Once you grow accustomed to it, the envelope system can be a lot of fun. Some people use different colored envelopes for their different household expenses. For saving on the go, i use an organizer wallet i purchased from Amazon.
How do you save on entertainment?
With the number of streaming services available today, you can reduce your household expenses by eliminating cable.
If you do, you’ll join the millions of Americans who have already opted to say goodbye to traditional cable television. According to one report, an estimated 33 million people canceled their cable subscription in 2018.
If you have access to high speed internet, you can enjoy more variety and more affordable entertainment by switching from cable to a streaming service like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime.
Before you switch, however, it’s worth calling your cable provider to see if you can negotiate a better deal. As with many discounts and deals, these types of savings are usually only available if you ask for them.
Mention that you’re considering canceling and switching to streaming TV. If they want to keep your business, they may just offer you a better price.
How can you save money on your commute?
The United States is a car-loving nation. In fact, 88 percent of us own at least one vehicle. This makes sense, given the size of the country.
However, car ownership can eat away at your monthly budget. In addition to the cost of regular maintenance, you have to pay for fuel, auto insurance, and (in some places) parking.
If you live in an area with reliable public transportation, consider making the switch to the subway or a bus. Not only will you save on gas, you’ll avoid the stress and frustration of rush hour traffic.
If your city’s public transit system leaves much to be desired, try arranging a carpool with co-workers who live in your neighborhood.
This lets everyone cut their fuel budget, as well as reduce the wear and tear on their vehicle. It’s also a lot better for the environment.
What’s the best way to save on electricity bill?
You may not think of your electric bill as a budget buster, but chances are there are things you can do to save on your electricity bill at home.
- Decrease utility expenses by simply switching to energy saving light bulbs. Even if you only replace the bulbs in your home’s five most commonly used light fixtures, you’ll save $75 per year on energy costs. Imagine how much you can save if you switch out every bulb.
As an added bonus, energy saving bulbs last much longer than incandescent bulbs, so you won’t need to change them out for a long time.
For example, the average LED bulb will last a little over 10 years, and that’s assuming you use it for 12 hours each day. This way, you only use as much light as you need.
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room. You can also save by shutting down your computer when it’s not in use.
- If your current appliances (washer, dryer, refrigerator) are over 10 years old, consider investing in energy star models. You’ll be surprised how much money you save.
- While the federal energy star tax credit is no longer available, you can still claim a tax credit if you install certain residential renewable energy products in your home.
- Did you know that keeping your fridge/freezer full saves energy? Food acts as insulation, reducing the amount of time your refrigerator needs to run to stay cool.
- Replace your furnace’s filters according to your HVAC manufacturer’s recommendation, and at a minimum every six months.
This is where you can put your bulk buying skills to good use, as you can usually snag a deal on furnace filters by purchasing them in a multipack.
You should also conduct regular inspections and maintenance on your home’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system. It saves electricity and improves the air quality in your home.
- Set it to heat/cool your house moments before you get home, and keep it at a more economical temperature when you’re away.
- Most people use the same hot water level year round. During the spring and summer months, decrease the water temperature on your water heater by 10 degrees. This will drastically cut your energy and lower your water bills.
- Some utility providers have dual rates, which means they charge a higher rate for energy consumption during the day. If you can wait to run the vacuum or wash clothes later in the evening, you can save a bit on your electric bill.
- Keep the air circulating in your home and reduce your air-conditioning costs by installing ceiling fans.
How can you lower your car insurance?
Many people pick an auto insurance company — and then stick with it for years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you might miss out on better car insurance rates if you keep renewing your policy without exploring other options.
Before you renew your car insurance, shop around for the best deals. Many insurers offer savings to people willing to switch from a different provider.
Also ask if the insurance company offers any discounts. Here are five tips to keep in mind when you shop:
- You can often save money by consolidating your policies with the same company. For example, you might want to use the same insurer for your homeowner’s insurance and your car insurance.
- Got a teen or college student in the house? Auto insurance can be pricey for young drivers. If your child gets good grades, however, you might quality for a good student discount.
- Some vehicles cost more to insure than others. For example, you’ll pay a lot more for auto insurance for a sports car than you will a four-door sedan.
- Every year, Forbes publishes a list of the most and least expensive cars to insure. If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, make sure you check the list before you shop.
- If you’ve never had an accident, take advantage of your clean driving record by asking if your insurance company offers a discount.
- Do you need every bit of coverage in your policy? If your car is older, consider eliminating collision coverage. This is the type of insurance that pays for physical damage to your vehicle.
- For an older vehicle, it’s probably more economical to replace the car after an accident rather than spend money repairing it.
When it comes how to cut your household expenses, every little bit helps. Even small changes can make a big difference. If you don’t know where to begin, just tackle one thing at a time. Start by reducing your grocery bill by cooking at home, then move on to using cash instead of debit card.
As you get more familiar with budgeting, you’ll find that saving money is easier than you think. In fact, the only challenge you’ll face is deciding what to do with all the money you save.