8 Easy Ways I Saved Money Last Year (& You Can Too)
With the new year here, you might be motivated to improve your financial situation. Last year I had some serious plans to do the same come January 1st. I was going to plan my meals, cut back on eating out, put more money into savings, and so forth. I’m happy to say that I made some improvements in a few areas, although it’s overall still a work in progress. That’s why this year, I’m looking for more tips and tricks to continue cutting my expenses and saving more money.
You might be wondering how you can do the same thing. To that end, I want to share with you a few ways that I saved money last year. I don’t have all the answers, but I did find these few things easy to do. They didn’t feel stressful or unnecessarily burdensome either. Take a look and tell me if you think these could work for you too.
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1 | Used the dryer less
I rarely used the dryer when I lived on my own. I can thank my frugal parents for that. They stressed to me that hanging clothes to dry would save energy and money. That habit stuck with me, and even today, I opt to hang dry things whenever possible.
It helps if you live in a mild to hot climate and have a fairly warm home. Bedding and towels dry within a day when hung correctly. To facilitate this, I use a drying rack and do loads on consecutive days instead of immediately back-to-back to allow time in between for items to hang dry. I also hang them from the shower rod or place them on the towel rack to dry.
My husband used the dryer for everything when we first moved in together. I encouraged him to use it less and now he uses the drying rack for lots of items. It’s improved the lifespan of clothes with elastic such as athletic wear because elastic breaks down in the dryer.
We do maybe two loads of laundry per week, sometimes using the dryer and sometimes not. By cutting back on the dryer use, I estimate we save anywhere between $25-50 a year.
Hang what you can on the drying rack
Use wool dryer balls to shorten drying time when you do use the dryer
Air out clothes before or after using the dryer to facilitate partial air drying
Turn off the dryer a few minutes early and let the remaining heat dry the clothes
2 | Used towels to wash the dog’s paws
This is the tactic I’m most pleased that we implemented last year. We adopted a dog and soon after started training her to have her paws wiped each time she came in from a walk. We used paper towels in the beginning and went through j after wiping her paws 4-5 times per day. I thought that was ridiculous, not to mention wasteful and trash-producing.
That’s when we started using multi-purpose kitchen towels to wash her paws. We already had several stored at home so we didn’t have to buy anything. Our dog uses each towel until its fully dirty. Then we wash them all with our laundry at the end of the week. It has saved us so much money!
Tip: Use old towels, t-shirts, or clean rags to clean your dog’s paws. Your dog won’t know the difference.
3 | Drove the same old car
I read that in this day and age, Americans keep their cars on average for anywhere from 4-6 years. My husband has hung on to his 2005 Toyota Corolla for much longer than that. It has about 160,000 miles on it and still runs really well.
My husband is interested in electric vehicles and jokes about getting a Tesla. We see more and more electric vehicles on the road nowadays. We even know many people who have purchased new cars recently. I know he’d like an electric vehicle one day. Still, we’ve held fast to driving the Corolla until it doesn’t work for us anymore.
It’s been the right decision for us because we rarely use the car. Both of us take public transportation to work and have commuter benefits to defray the cost of that. We almost always walk to get our groceries and run errands in the neighborhood. We drive anywhere from once a week to 1-2 times a month depending on what activities we have going on. It’s just not a smart decision for us to get a new car right now. As much as my husband entertains the idea of getting a new car, I’m thankful he agreed that we shouldn’t last year and not this year either.
Tips: If you’re looking to cut back on transportation costs:
Look into commuter benefits that may be available through your work
Combine errands into one outing
Try another form of transportation like biking, walking, using a scooter, taking the bus, or carpooling
Use an app like GasBuddy to find the lowest priced gas around
4 | Signed up for Ebates and Ibotta
I’m a newly converted fan of Ebates and Ibotta. I had heard about these two cash-back apps for a long white. With Ebates, you shop your favorite stores as you normally would either through the Ebates website after first clicking to activate Ebates on your browser. Ibotta is essentially an electronic couponing system that saves you money while doing your everyday shopping.
I didn't think about signing up for these apps previously because I rarely shop at mainstream retailers or supermarkets. Those shops and traditional brands are typically the ones that put out coupons. I shop at Trader Joe's and Costco, which have many items of their own brand. I do most of my clothes shopping at thrift stores too.
Despite this, I’ve still been able to save a few dollars here and there using these apps. I did some Christmas shopping at mainstream stores, so I was able to take advantage of $10 for signing up and then get a small percentage back for shopping at individual stores. Ebates works with hundreds of retailers earning you anywhere a small percentage back on your sales. I’ve seen as high 12% cash back during promotions. Ibotta sometimes offers a coupon just for shopping at stores like Target or Whole Foods. Every bit of savings helps and it adds up over the year.
Now that I use Ebates and Ibotta, I don’t know why I didn’t sign up sooner! It’s free money back in my pocket.
Tip: Sign up for Ebates and Ibotta and start using them today! You’ll get a bonus of $10 on Ebates with your first purchase of $25 or more. You’ll receive a $10 welcome bonus on Ibotta. You’ll be amazed at how much you earn and save in a short amount of time.
5 | Got a Costco membership
Until late last year, I hadn’t stepped foot in a Costco since I was a child. My husband encouraged me to get a Costco membership because he liked the food there and thought it would save us money. I didn’t realize until recently how much you can save by shopping there.
We’ve purchased Costco’s Kirkland brand for groceries and household items like pesto sauce, mouthwash, and seafood. They’ve all been significantly cheaper than what we pay at a regular supermarket or drugstore. For example, we cooked sea bass for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I normally shy away from purchasing sea bass because it’s about $29.99 a pound at Whole Foods. Costco had it for only $12.99 a pound!
Costco food is also higher quality than we’ve found at many stores. I’m frequently disappointed by fruits and vegetables at Trader Joes and Safeway. Costco has fresh fruits and vegetables that I think taste better. That’s been one of the most rewarding things about the membership so far.
Costco membership is $60 a year for the basic level. We easily cover the cost in savings alone after a few visits. Just purchasing a pound of sea bass at Costco saved us $17. You can also buy items like gift cards to restaurants and movie theaters at a discount, usually paying $80 for a $100 card. Those are great for family outings and gifts.
It’s important to note though that not everything is cheaper at Costco. Sometimes you can find things for the same price or less at other retailers, particularly when they’re on sale. Costco also sells everything in huge quantities, which is tough when there’s only two of us consuming the food and we have a limited amount of household space. So far though, we’ve been doing well finishing foods without wasting anything.
Tip: Try out Costco membership for a year. Share the cost with other housemates or family members. You can always cancel your membership once the year is over if it doesn’t work for you.
6 | Shopped at thrift stores
Speaking of shopping, I stuck to shopping at thrift stores as much as possible last year. I rarely shop at retail stores and pay full price for clothes even less frequently than that.
Thrift store shopping is great for clothing with some flexibility. Most of my clothes in these categories are second-hand:
Costumes and one-time wear items
Some days I'll walk around and realize my whole outfit is thrifted (minus the shoes). I love that I can vary my outfits, look appropriate, and feel comfortable while still saving money. You might be surprised at how many compliments I get on my clothes from thrift stores. People are always surprised when I tell them where I get my clothes.
Tip: If you haven’t been there before, try spending an hour or two at a thrift store or second-hand shop in your neighborhood. Once you find something you like, inspect it thoroughly for any damage or holes before you purchase it. Wash it when you get home and it will be ready to wear or use.
7 | Purchased only discounted entertainment
My coworker told me the other day that she was disappointed watching the latest Cirque du Soleil that came to town. Not only was the show not up to par, but she paid a lot for the ticket. I hate when that happens! I so annoyed when I pay a lot for entertainment that doesn’t live up to expectations. That’s why last year I only purchased discounted entertainment.
I saw these professional productions for $20-35 each:
The Book of Mormon
The Phantom of the Opera
San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker
SF Ballet’s Robbins: Ballet & Broadway
SF Ballet’s Nijinsky
Lea Michele & Darren Criss: The LM/DC Tour
I got lucky and won lottery tickets to The Book of Mormon. Sometimes I’m not so fortunate. I entered an online raffle for another show all of November and December and didn’t win once.
When it comes to discounted tickets, you might have to settle for less than prime days or seats. Sometimes you don’t know until the last minute if you’ll get tickets and sometimes you don’t get them at all. Despite that, I’ve found it well worth any inconvenience for a year of discounted tickets.
Tips: A few ways to find discounted tickets:
Sign up for email notifications from your favorite venues, shows, and musicians. You’ll be privy to when tickets go on sale and any special deals that are going on.
Check out the websites for your favorite venues and shows regularly. Often information about discounted tickets is on those websites but not publicized.
Check out deal sites like Goldstar for deals as well.
8 | Started meal planning
Meal planning has been so helpful in saving me time and money. I got off to a great start planning my meals last year. Since it was winter, I made huge pots of soup or stew that would last for several days. We also purchased an Instant Pot, which made meal preparation even easier. I no longer felt the frustration of coming home after a full day of work wondering what to cook and knowing we’d have another late dinner.
As the year went on, my meal planning fluctuated. Some weeks were fully prepped ahead of time, while others were a struggle to get dinner on the table. Nonetheless, I’m happy with how far we’ve come with meal planning and saving money as a result.
I encourage us to eat at home more now because of how easy it is to prepare meals. I skip brunches out on weekends and look forward to trying new recipes all the time. My husband also appreciates that I’ve taken more responsibility for meal preparation as he’s busy with his work.
Tip: Try the $5 Meal Plan to get started meal planning. Each week you’ll be sent a meal plan to your inbox including a list of ingredients needed to make it. Meals are inexpensive, costing a few dollars or less per serving. You get all this for only $5 per month. There’s a 14-day free trial to see if it works for you.
The above money-saving methods did wonders for me last year and honestly, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by implementing them. Let’s see if I can work more frugal ways into my life this year. My husband commented recently that he may cancel his Netflix subscription. Fingers crossed for that!
What are some ways that you saved money last year? Have you tried any of the above and what did you think of them? What are your money-saving tips for the new year?