Financial Survival - 36 Easy Ways to Save Money Now
How are you ensuring your financial survival? Are you saving every penny you can?
“Waste not, want not.” My mother taught me this lesson years ago and it still rings true. You probably heard your parents or grandparents say the same, especially if they grew up during the Great Depression.
You work hard for each dollar, right? Why not do everything you can to save as much money as possible? There may come a time when you’ll be very glad you did.
Preparing for the future, scrimping, saving, recycling, and repurposing useful items just makes sense. Homesteaders, farmers and others who live off the land were doing this long before it was considered “green”.
But don’t think that you need 40 acres to adopt this frugal homestead mentality.
My family lives in the suburbs on less than a quarter acre; the tips below can work for city dwellers as well.
We use, or have used, every one of the following techniques and can verify that they actually save money.
And the best part about these money-saving tips is many of the initial costs are low and the payback can be fast, depending on your family’s needs.
36 Money Saving Tips for Financial Survival
- Wash and reuse zipper lock bags, plastic cling wrap and aluminum foil. Zipper lock bags are more durable than you’d think, able to survive dozens of reuses and washings each.
When I go to work, I pack PB & J sandwiches for my lunch (much cheaper than going out or grazing from vending machines). I pack them in empty bread bags when available, but use zipper lock bags the rest of the time. At the end of the week, I hand wash the bags and let them air dry. We haven’t bought new zipper lock bags in years.
You don’t even have to wash plastic wrap, just flip it over and you can double its life.
When we’re done baking garlic bread in aluminum foil (which keeps the bread moist and soft), we simply shake out the crumbs, fold the foil and stick it back in the drawer.
- Brew your own hard cider or wine. I brew 3 liters (about three quarts) for $2.70.
- Avoid buying prepackaged snacks. Munch on dry cereal instead. This is a great idea for kids; a box of generic cereal from Aldi’s costs less than $2 and is fortified with vitamins and minerals.
- Make your own laundry soap. If you’re familiar with the Duggar family, you can see how profitable this can be.
- Make your own baby wipes. Easy and quick. Takes only a couple minutes.
- Reuse coffee grounds as fertilizer. After you brew your morning pot of coffee, don’t toss the grounds. Instead, run them through another brew cycle to make a great liquid fertilizer for your house plants and garden.
Plants that love acidic soil, roses and Norfolk Pines for instance, benefit greatly from watered-down coffee. We keep our liquid coffee fertilizer in a pitcher in the fridge (it looks like iced tea) and use it every few weeks to perk up our house plants. I had been trying to grow sage, but even months later the sprouts that survived were sickly and anemic. But after a few waterings with the diluted coffee, they sprung to life, tripling in size within a few weeks.
- Make your own rice milk. Doing this saves us over $300 every year.
- Cook with a solar oven. Solar ovens allow you to cook food surprisingly fast, just with the energy of the sun. They work in winter and summer, all you need is a sunny day. Don’t be fooled, it’s a real oven; temperatures can reach upwards of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Buying a quality, commercially-made solar oven can run you $200 - $300. But if you’re handy, you can build your own out of plywood for less than $50. If you spring for the commercially-made version (we have a Sun Oven), this can still be a good investment over the long run. Or as Steve Martin would say, “A profit deal.” Solar ovens use no fuel or electricity.
Cooking outdoors also saves you from heating up a hot stove inside during Summer, saving on cooling costs. Solar ovens also allow you to cook meals even when the power goes out.
- Keep an herb garden. This is one of the most profitable and easiest gardening techniques. Herbs, especially fresh herbs, are expensive.
Herbs do not require much space and can be cultivated indoors, year round. As long as you have a few pots and a windowsill, you can grow herbs.
Seed packets cost a few dollars, yet can yield hundreds in dollars worth of fresh produce every year. If you have more than you can use, you can dry herbs in a dehydrator or a solar oven to preserve for later use. You can even sell your herbs at farmers markets for some extra cash.
I grow chives, which are exceptionally easy to cultivate. They make great additions to salads and baked potatoes. I also grow sage and mint for a refreshing tea. Specialty teas can be expensive, especially if you drink multiple cups per day.
Grow the ingredients you use the most for the greatest savings.
- Bake your own bread. The savings can be 50% (or more) per loaf.
- Open drapes and blinds on south-facing windows in winter for free heat. This is how we heat our living room and kitchen. The sun heats our tile floors during the day, then the ceramic thermal mass releases the stored heat into the room at night. Even when it is 15 degrees outside, our living room, with no additional heat, stays around 60 degrees.
- Use zone heating. Instead of heating your entire house, it makes sense to only heat the rooms you are using. A simple 1500 watt ceramic heater costs on average $0.18 per hour to run (1,500 watts = 1.5 kilowatts x $0.12 per kWh = $0.18). We use this technique in the other rooms in our house without a southern exposure.
- Shade south-facing windows in the summer. I built custom shades out of sun-filtering cloth and stretched it over window screen frames and mounted them over our single-hung windows. These shades break up the sun’s rays and reduce temperatures hitting our windows by up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The total material cost was $118 dollars. You can also install commercially-made reflective window tinting, found at many home improvement warehouses, to save even more, but this film is not easily removed or reapplied as seasons change.
- Vent electric clothes dryers indoors during winter for additional heat and moisture. I got this tip from Mother Earth News and I was surprised at how well it works. We live in a ranch, which gets quite dry in the winter, so the heat and moisture recovered from the dryer is pushed right into our living areas. My wife loves the smell of fresh clothes throughout the house too!
When indoor air is vented outdoors, air from outside must replace it; in winter this is much colder, much dryer air. Replacing warm air with cold air from outside forces furnaces to run more often, costing more money.
WARNING! DO NOT attempt to vent gas dryers indoors as this can release dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into your home!
Most home improvement stores sell an indoor dryer vent kit for about $20, but I built mine from some scrap fiberglass window screen and a few rubber bands attached to the flexible dryer vent pipe. You can also use an old pair of pantyhose or some cheesecloth if you don’t have the window screen.
The purpose is to trap lint and excessive dust from flying through your home. You will need to clean the lint from this periodically, much as you would the lint trap in the dryer. (You’ll be surprised how much lint makes it through.)
- Make your own all-purpose and streak-free glass cleaners.
- Trade dog boarding services. If you have a friend, relative or neighbor with a dog, offer to look after their pooch while they’re away. In exchange, ask if they’ll do the same for you.
We’ve done this with our neighbors in the past. The cheapest, quality kennel we’ve found (one with a huge yard where the dogs get lots of fresh air and outdoor exercise) charges $25 per day. If we go away for a week, that’s a savings of $175!
- Ask for cheaper services. We saved $20 per month simply by asking our phone company if they had any cheaper plans available.
We also ask if hotels are offering any discounts when we’re traveling. Often, if you’re nice to the clerk, they’ll give you the discount even if you don’t have qualifying membership cards, etc.
Also, check the web for discounted rates. If you have a smart phone, you may be able to save 10%, simply by booking the room from your phone while you sit in the hotel’s parking lot, rather than at the front desk.
- Lose the cable/satellite. We bought a high-quality digital antenna for $70 (a one-time cost) that gives us access to local networks, like ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS, most in HD. We then pay $8 per month for Netflix, which allows us to stream unlimited movies and tv. This does require us to maintain a $50 monthly high-speed internet connection, though we had this anyway.
However, if we wanted to save even more, we could get our internet fix and rent movies from the library for free.
- Opt for simple, non electric tools and kitchen gadgets. Instead of mixing cake batter with a $40 electric mixing bowl, use a $10 hand-crank mixer, or better yet, a $2 whisk. You’ll save money on the initial cost and the electricity and you’ll get a good workout mixing by hand.
Buy hand-crank flashlights that never require batteries.
Drill holes with a carpenter’s brace and auger in lieu of an electric drill; you can find old carpenter’s braces at garage sales and flea markets for around $10.
Mix smoothies with a hand-crank blender. Though the blender will initially cost you around $100, you’ll be able to blend nutritious smoothies even during power outages, using up produce that would otherwise go bad. Plus they're handy on camping trips where electricity may be unavailable.
- Preserve food with a dehydrator. If you have a solar oven, or if you built one (see number 8), you can dehydrate food with only the power of the sun.
- Start canning. Though you can water bath can jams, jellies and preserves, you’ll need a pressure canner to safely preserve vegetables, meats and seafood. A quality pressure canner and utensils can cost $200 - $300, but if you keep a garden, hunt and fish, this one-time investment can quickly pay for itself many times over.
Learn more about this and other food preservation methods here.
- Use coupons. Join store clubs and sign up for grocery membership cards. Look for stores that double or even triple coupons.
My wife is an expert at this. She won’t buy anything unless she has at least one coupon for it. Usually, she’ll wait until a product goes on sale, then she’ll combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon (one of which hopefully doubles).
She’s gotten soap, ramen noodles, toothpaste and paper towels, among many others, for free using these methods. Occasionally, when her coupons are worth more than the product’s price, stores have actually paid her the difference in cash to take merchandise home!
Unfortunately, this is getting less common. As retailers are getting wiser to the tactics used on shows like Extreme Couponing, it is getting harder to find these exceptional deals.
The trick is to buy the smallest size product allowed by the coupon fine print for the greatest savings. For instance, say you've got a coupon for $0.50 off a bottle of dish washing soap. The store carries two sizes, an 8 oz. for $1.16 or a 16 0z. for $1.98. If you apply the coupon to the larger size, that's only a 25% savings ($0.50 / $1.98). However, when applied to the 8 oz. bottle, the coupon saves you 43% ($0.50 / $1.16).
- Sign up for store-issued credit cards. Large retailers like Target and Lowe’s offer an everyday 5% discount simply for using their credit card. But charge wisely; you MUST pay off balances in full before you incur interest charges to reap these savings.
- Use laundry color catchers. Color catcher fabric sheets allow you to wash colors with whites to save on doing separate wash cycles. Think of them as insurance for your clothes. They amazingly absorb the dye leeched by colors before it soaks in and ruins your whites.
Once clothes have been washed a few times (it’s best to still separate colors on initial washings), you can rip the sheets in thirds and even reuse still damp, unstained color catchers in subsequent loads.
- Split (or eliminate) your dryer sheets. You can also save money by ripping dryer sheets in half or in thirds, depending on your static electricity tolerance. If you don’t mind the occasional shock, ditch them altogether for the greatest savings and peace of mind.
Dryer sheets leave a thin, plastic-like film on your lint screen that can build up over time, causing your dryer to overheat, breakdown or even catch fire. Eliminating dryer sheets helps your dryer last longer, avoiding costly repairs (not to mention insurance deductibles).
NOTE: If you use dryer sheets, you can help prevent this dangerous overheating. Every six months or so, remove the lint trap and place it under running water. If the water doesn’t easily seep through the mesh, neither can the air in your dryer.
Fix this by gently scrubbing the mesh screen on both sides with warm soapy water and a scouring pad.
- Save your water. Simply by placing a bucket under the faucet while we wait for the water to warm up to do dishes, wash our hands or take a shower, our family of four is able to save an average of a dozen gallons of water per day.
We use this water to fill our dog’s water bowl, to water houseplants and the garden, to wash clothes, even to flush toilets. Over the course of a year, this adds up to over 4,000 gallons of water saved. Just think if every household did this.
- Follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Meat and dairy are already expensive and prices always seem to be increasing. And if you buy products from humane, certified organic farms and ranches, the cost of meat and dairy can be staggeringly high. Simply cutting out animal protein can benefit not only your wallet, but your waistline.
For more on this financial survival tip and to learn what vegans eat and how they get all their protein from plants, click here.
- Wash your clothes by hand. Going low tech here does require some elbow grease, but you can wash a basket of clothes with only a 1/4 tsp of soap and a few gallons of water.
- Barter. Rather than relying on cash to get what you want, trade services or unused/unwanted items.
My neighbor has a some crab apple trees she wasn’t using, so I asked her if I could harvest them. Now every fall, I pick ripe crab apples for my homemade jelly. I get the fruit for free and in return, I give my neighbor some jelly.
When you recognize a mutually beneficial arrangement like this, don’t be afraid to ask. If you’re shy, start with friends and family, then branch out on craigslist or freecycle.
- Scavenge. I take my dog on walks along country highways a couple times a week, picking up aluminum cans as I go. I collect, on average, 20-25 pounds of cans per month. My local recycler pays $0.55 per pound. That’s an extra $11 - $13.75 cash in my pocket every month. I would walk my dog anyway, why not make a little money at the same time? I get cash, we both get exercise and I do my small bit to help clean up the environment. Everyone wins.
If you want free insulation, hit up stores that sell and deliver appliances. These businesses typically unwrap all the appliances prior to delivery in order to check for damages and to reduce time spent on the road. Refrigerators, ranges, washers and dryers are surrounded by large, flat sheets of styrofoam. Simply ask the delivery manager if he’ll set some aside for you. These sheets make great additions to existing attic insulation. And many sheets even fit nicely between studs or rafters without much trimming. Your house stays warmer and cooler for free.
- Make gifts. I give my homemade jelly, bread and hard cider to friends and family every year at Christmas, whether they want it or not. My wife makes homemade bath salts and “cookies in a jar”. My father carves figurines and reliefs and, with his additional woodworking skills, makes toys for his grandkids. My mother sews bed sheets and clothes and makes pottery. My sister fashions knotted baby and adult-sized fleece blankets.
Use your talents and time rather than your pocket book to show loved ones that you care. It ensures meaning and thought are in every gift (and the recipients will appreciate them more, too).
- Combine errands to save on gas. I got this idea from a military wife, supporting her family on her husband’s GI Bill. For us, going to the other side of town is about a 12-mile trip one way, which burns about 1 gallon of gas. Unless it’s unavoidable, we wait until we have at least three stops to make the trip worthwhile. This has saved us an average of 4 gallons every month. At $3 a gallon, that’s $12 month, or $144 every year.
- Shop around for the best prices. Just because you have a coupon, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. My wife once gave me a coupon for $10 off an oil change. But the discounted bill was still $15 higher than a competing shop’s regular price I later stumbled upon just down the road. Don’t get comfortable. Keep trying different businesses and eventually you’ll find the best, consistent bargain.
- Refinance your loans. We saved $1,400 in our first year! If you’ve got some equity built up in your house, strongly consider refinancing if the prime interest rate is at least a point, preferably more, lower than the one you’re currently paying. If you owe less than what the house is worth (unfortunately, not as common now as it was in years past) you may be able to refinance without any money down. However, you will still need to pay additional fees and closing costs, which may total a few thousand dollars.
We were fortunate enough to refinance our mortgage three percentage points lower. This lowered our monthly payments by more than $200! Not only did this reduce the breakeven period to less than a year (the amount of time to recover the costs of the new loan) it will save us tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan.
- Move. If you’re willing to put some sweat equity into a fixer-upper, consider purchasing undervalued real estate - a house in a good location you can add value to - making improvements as you can afford them.
Or, simply downsize. If you’re tired of working to pay for the room to store your stuff, get rid of clutter and move to a smaller space. Reducing what you need is the easiest, and cheapest, way to save money on living expenses. Doing so can get you into a house with a smaller mortgage or help you pay off your mortgage faster (amortize over 15 years instead of 30).
Pay cash for the greatest savings. If you have the means, paying cash for a home can quite literally save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments over thirty years. Take a look at your last mortgage statement. If it’s a newer loan, 75% or more of your payment is just interest.
- Reevaluate your wants vs. your needs. Without going into the politics, Americans, on the whole, enjoy a standard of living that much of the world does not. What some see as luxury, many now see as necessity. Look around your home and pick an item at random. Ask, “Do I really need this?” If not, consider selling or donating it. Do this before every purchase and eventually, you’ll get into a different mindset. By redefining your “wants” and “needs”, you might be surprised at how much you can save.