During the four years of the recession, neither my husband nor I received a pay raise. We felt fortunate to both be gainfully employed and definitely did not gripe about the situation. However, it was quite obvious that many of the staple items we needed and wanted—groceries, gas, insurance, etc.—increased in cost. Faced with rising costs on the same pay, we decided to focus our energy on reducing our spending.
And guess what?
We figured out pretty quickly that reducing spending has the same effect as a pay raise does: it increases your monthly cash flow. It may not feel as good as receiving a pay raise, but it serves the same purpose.
So let’s get started in finding ways to reduce your own spending!
1. Cut Gas Costs: My husband and I employed several gas-saving measures over the last few years that you may be able to do as well. For one, I exercised one of my employer’s perks by changing to a flexible work schedule. Instead of working 5 days a week (8 hours per day), I worked 4 days per week (10 hours per day) which equaled four fewer commuting days per month (a savings of 72 miles). For a period of several months, I carpooled with a coworker of mine who happened to live just a few blocks over. Our agreement was for him to pay $40 per month towards gas. And finally, my husband was able to change his work schedule for several months so that he and I could commute back and forth to work together. Not only did this save on the cost of gas, but it also gave us an additional hour of quality time in the car together. Bonus!
2. Cut Grocery Costs: After doing this ourselves for several years now, I believe that the single biggest way that you can cut your grocery costs is to grocery shop every other week. This is partly because you can only give into impulse buys twice per month instead of four times per month, and partly because you tend to plan better when two weeks of meals are at stake. The first several times that you do this will be a learning opportunity for you as you figure out which fruits and veggies need to be eaten in the first week (such as strawberries, bananas, ripe avocados, etc.) and which ones will last through to the end of the second week (such as carrots, apples, potatoes, unripe avocados, onions, spinach, etc.). Also, if you’re up for it, you could try switching to soy, almond, or rice milk since these tend to have a much longer shelf life than dairy milk.
3. Cut Date Night Costs: When people cut spending, they usually slash entertainment altogether. But that’s no fun! Instead, focus your efforts on finding affordable date night ideas. For example, sign up to be invited to free pre-screenings of movies, search your area for free wine/beer/whiskey tastings, or whip up some gourmet popcorn and put in a free DVD rental from your local Redbox.
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4. Cut Energy Costs: Whether you have natural gas, electricity, or use coal, energy costs can really eat up your budget (especially in the winter time up north, and in the summer time down south). Ways to decrease your energy costs are to turn your water heater down when you are away from home for a few days, turn ceiling fans off when you leave a room, and line dry your clothes. These tips alone have shaved hundreds off of our energy bills each year.
5. Cut Costs for Services: This is one of my favorite tips that I only recently learned about. If you want to save money on things like haircuts, manicures, car repairs, dentist appointments, and other services, then search your area for professional and vocational schools. For example, my husband and I just received free haircuts (tip was extra) from our local Remington College, and my aunt takes her car to the local vocational school where the students fix problems for free (you pay for the parts). The great thing about this is that there will typically be an experienced person who oversees and checks the work… so you are getting quite a deal.
6. Cut Spending on Books: We are voracious readers in our household, and could easily spend a thousand or more per year on books. Instead, we’ve come up with some great ways around stepping foot into a brick-and-mortar bookstore or ordering new releases on Kindle. First of all, in three separate towns that I have lived in, there has been an annual used book sale at either a library or community center. Check out your own area to be able to score books at typically between $2 and $4 each. Secondly, we use our interlibrary loan (ILL) system at the local library. You can get virtually any book through ILL with some patience. A third way we save is by borrowing and lending books among family and friends. Finally, we frequently download free eBooks from Amazon.com. Don’t worry, you do not need a Kindle to take advantage of this; there is a free app you can download for your desktop and various other electronic devices.
7. Cut Travel Costs: Do you have an itch to travel? One of the ways that you can travel for much less than normal is to piggyback off of a business trip. Talk with your boss and see if you can add a few days onto the beginning of a business trip, or onto the end. You will need to cover the extra costs such as hotel room, food, and parking at the airport, but the airfare should be fully reimbursable. My aunt’s boss recently allowed her to take a Thursday business trip so that she could extend it into a long weekend with us, my husband did the same just last year and explored some of New York, and my friend was given the option to do so by her company while in Boston. Sometimes you just need to ask!
Incorporating some of these tips can easily save you a few thousand dollars next year and beyond. Talk about a nice “pay raise”! But don’t stop there. Let’s help each other save even more by sharing your own money-saving tips in the comments below.
Image credit: rangizzz