21 Ways to Reduce Your Spending Without Making Your Life Miserable

Jennifer writes in:

You often talk about how spending less doesn’t have to make your life miserable. Yet, most of the ideas you give seem miserable to me! What ideas do you have that won’t make my life boring?

Given that everyone’s life is different, it’s hard to point to a list of things that’s guaranteed to not be boring for everyone. For example, I find things like making a batch of laundry detergent to be fun because I can get the kids involved with it, but I recognize that others might not enjoy such things.

So, I made a list of twenty one spending reducing suggestions that I felt either didn’t have any impact at all on quality of life (things you can do once and benefit from for a while) or, if they’re repeatable, are inherently fun.

1. Get rid of stuff you don’t use.
Take a trip through your home and look around for things that you simply don’t use – and do something about it. Collect together things you rarely use and will probably never use again. Sell them off, give them away – just get rid of the clutter.

Why do this? For one, it makes your home less cluttered and more enjoyable. The result of this is that it’s more enjoyable to spend time at home – and to invite people over (see point #6). For another, you can take any money made on the items you’ve sold and apply them to your debts. This reduces your monthly debt payments and helps you get rid of entire debts more quickly.

Both of those come in exchange for just getting rid of stuff you don’t use. Sounds like a good deal to me!

2. Do some basic energy efficiency around your living quarters.
Replace your light bulbs with CFLs and LEDs – each bulb replaced adds up to at least $15-20 in energy savings over the lifetime of the bulb. Install a programmable thermostat to replace your current one, then program it to have the heating and cooling shut off when you’re not at home, saving you the cost of running it. Spend a couple of days air sealing your home, using this really handy guide from the Department of Energy, which can reduce your energy bill by about 20% every month with no additional upkeep work at all (it’s a great weekend project). Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees F (or about 50 C).

Each of these tactics are things you can do once and result in a drastically lower energy bill every month thereafter without changing the quality of your life one iota. After all, a 40% lower energy bill each month means a wad of cash you can put towards other goals, like paying down your debts.

3. Unless you’re a heavy cell phone user, switch to a pay-as-you-go phone.
I use Skype for the vast majority of my phone calls (even when I’m out and about). Thus, I use my cell phone less and less, and given that I’m under contract, I’ve made the decision to drop it and go to a pay-as-you-go plan for the few minutes a month I use it.

If you use your cell phone less than a couple hours a month and send and receive infrequent text messages, a pay-as-you-go cell phone can be substantially cheaper than a cell phone plan. Look into some pay-as-you-go plans and see if any fit your usage needs and add up to significant savings over what you already use – in my case, pretty much all of them do, so I’m comparing reviews to see which one offers the best bang (reliability) for the buck.

4. Buy in bulk the staples you use all the time.
Quite often, people march through the store, buying things without careful consideration. They’ll either buy everything at the size that’s the cheapest per unit – even if they rarely use it and much of the item will go to waste – or they just grab the most reasonable size of each item.

The best approach is somewhere in the middle: get the best deal you can without wasting stuff. The best way to do that is to buy items in bulk if you’re sure you’re going to use all of it in reasonable time or before it becomes unusable. Think household supplies – toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, laundry soap, and so on. Everything else, don’t buy it in bulk unless you find yourself buying a smaller (less expensive) version of the item quite often.

Does this mean you should get a membership at a warehouse club? It depends entirely on how much you buy in bulk. It might be worthwhile, though, to share a membership with your best friend (many memberships issue two cards), halving the costs.

Don’t change what you buy. Just do it a little smarter, and you’ll save money without changing your day-to-day life one iota.

5. Get some exercise.
Exercise? How does that save money?

For starters, most exercise is free or at least very inexpensive. Long walks around the neighborhood are free. Jogging is free. Squats are free. Jumping jacks are free. Situps and pushups are free. Even simple weight exercises are really inexpensive – buy some hand weights and that’s all you need. Many simple sports have minimal equipment and have all you need in your neighborhood – soccer just requires a ball, basketball requires just a ball and a hoop (available in many neighborhoods), and parkour requires nothing at all.

Thus, if nothing else, exercise is a way to spend time without cost.

But there’s another benefit. Regular exercise reduces your weight, often not directly, but by raising your metabolism. For most Americans, this is a great thing – it improves your long-term health (reducing your medical costs) and improves your day-to-day energy level. It can also help improve the state of ongoing conditions like diabetes.

Overall, it sounds like a great way to regularly spend an hour, regardless of the financial benefits.

6. Invite some friends over.
Yes, invite a bunch of friends over and revel in the savings!

How does that work, you might ask. Quite often, when friends come over, they devour a meal and snacks and beverages, leaving you footing the bill.

Here’s the thing, though. If you invite some friends over, likely those friends will offer an invite back in the near future, where you can go and hang out and devour food and beverages without cost. Not only that, you’ve built up some friendships that will come through for you time and time again.

But what about that initial cost of inviting friends over? For one thing, you’re at home, which means you’re not paying the high prices of appetizers and meals eaten out. The food is simply cheaper, as are the beverages. Even spread across a lot of people, a simple dinner and beverages won’t break you much more than a meal or two eaten out will.

Even better, you can buy (and cook) the items for the meal in bulk for that purpose. You can stock up on things like “buy one, get one free” on buns or get a large piece of cheese for a homemade pizza at a much lower per-pound rate. Thus, your meal becomes much cheaper, even though you’re covering for a lot of others.

Plus, the entertainment’s really cheap. Bust out the movies or video games you already have. Pop out a board game. Sit out on the deck and enjoy a glass or two of wine with friends. All quite entertaining, all very cheap (or free).

7. Unplug electronic devices you’re not using.
Many plugged-in electronic devices eat up a small amount of energy, even in standby mode. This can seriously add up – if you leave an XBox 360 plugged in in standby mode for a month (using about 0.02 kilowatt hours, according to my measurements), it eats up about 15 kilowatt-hours of energy use, which is about $1.50 (and that doesn’t include the cost of the heat the device blows into your home, which makes cooling less efficient). If you have several such devices that you rarely use, like a coffee pot you only use when guests are over or entertainment devices you don’t use very often or so on, unplugging them can save you a significant amount of money on your energy bill each month. Just unplug ‘em, forget about ‘em, and just plug ‘em back in when you actually need them (of course, if it’s too long, why bother keeping that item at all?).

Obviously, if you’re a regular user of a device or it’s extremely hard to unplug it, it’s not worth it, but if it’s a matter of just reaching a little bit to unplug a device, it’s certainly worthwhile.

8. Use refillable water bottles and keep them in your fridge.
Almost all of us grab quick convenience beverages out of our refrigerator and gulp them down. For some of us, the drink is bottled water – for others, it might be soda or something else. Whatever it is, it’s pretty expensive.

Try this, instead. Keep an eye out for high-quality reusable water bottles – it’s often easy to get them if you participate in lots of community events and other things. As you acquire them, fill them up with water and stick them in the fridge. Then, when you need a drink, grab that reusable bottle and chug down the water.

How does this save money? For starters, tap water is far, far cheaper than pretty much any other beverage you can drink. You’ll be able to refill that bottle dozens of times for a penny – compare that to buying any beverage. For another, water is a lot more healthy than many other beverage options.

What if you’re addicted to soda, or you crave something sweet? Just mix up something tasty in the water bottle. Get a big bottle of lemon juice and put a few drops in the water bottle after you fill it, along with an optional small pinch of sugar, then shake it up. It’s a quick, simple lemonade that costs you maybe a cent or so, and it’s just as convenient as popping open a bottled beverage (and likely healthier, too).

9. Step up to the plate for a cause you’ve always cared about.
Almost all of us are touched in our lives by a cause of some kind – a charity that can really use our help. Perhaps it’s the local food pantry. Maybe it’s the loneliness of senior citizens in retirement homes. It might be keeping the parks and trails in your town clean. Maybe you wish you could help a foundation that fights a disease or promotes public education.

Whatever it is, why not allocate some of your time towards making that thing happen? Why not spend an afternoon a month or so engaged with a cause that really tugs at your heartstrings? Just call up an organization in your area that deals with such charities and ask how you can help one Saturday a month.

How can this save money? First of all, it’s a way to spend an afternoon without spending money. More importantly, though, doing such things helps you to feel better about yourself. It raises self-esteem and naturally makes you more resistant to the influences of others – marketers, for example.

10. Switch to a bank that respects you.
Do you regularly get dinged with fees at your local bank for every little thing? Is there a “maintenance fee” you have to pay? Are you getting no interest at all on your checking account? Or a very low interest rate on your savings?

Start hunting around for a bank that respects you. See what banks are available in your local area – and don’t forget ones that offer full service online, like ING Direct. Find one that doesn’t charge you ridiculous fees, has solid customer service, makes online banking easy and accessible, and offers some interest on checking and solid interest on savings (in my opinion, banks lacking this are essentially charging you another fee).

Switching banks can save you $20 a month and make absolutely no difference at all in your day to day life – or maybe even make it a bit easier, with good online banking or a more useful debit card and ATM network. Sounds like a plan to me.

11. Sign up for the customer rewards programs at the places you already shop.
Most customer rewards programs just result in free stuff. At many grocery stores, they’ll automatically find coupons for you, reducing the cost of your bill with no effort at all for you. At many chain stores, the customer rewards program will result in discount certificates mailed to you – things like $5 off your next purchase – which you can just hold onto until the next time you go there.

Some people hesitate to do this out of privacy or out of laziness. For the privacy concern, just make up a name and start a new email account to collect the emails. If you’re just being lazy, you’re missing out.

So, next time you’re standing in line somewhere that has a rewards program, sign up. It’ll take you a minute or two at most, result in free stuff coming in the mail, and also possibly result in discounts for you right there at the checkout. Awesome deal, all around – you don’t have to change how or where you shop at all.

12. Figure out your most cost-effective grocery store and shop there.
This takes a little bit of up-front work, but the rewards over the long run are really worthwhile. To put it simply, all you need to do is figure out which grocery store available to you has the best prices on the staples you normally buy all the time, things like milk, fruit, eggs, vegetables, fruit, your favorite cereal, and so on.

Here’s what you do. Make a quick list of all of the grocery stores near you where you’d be open to shopping regularly – don’t include stores that are inconvenient or you don’t shop at for other reasons. Whenever you go for a normal “big” grocery trip where you’re picking up most of your staples, go to a different store on your list and save the receipt.

When you’ve gone through all the stores (and figured out any that you won’t shop at because of item selection or other reasons), get out those receipts and compare them. Figure out the items you bought at all of the stores and add up the prices on those items at each store. So, if you bought milk and bread and eggs and cereal and cheese and sauerkraut at each stop, get the price for these items from each receipt and add up the total for each store.

The cheapest store is where you should shop regularly, and by shopping there, you’re naturally spending less on your food bill. Just make that store part of your routine and buy the stuff you normally would and you’ll be spending less money each week – no change except for the money you save.

13. Check your cupboards and fridge before you hit the grocery store.
You know you need milk and something for dinner the next few nights, so you decide to hit the grocery store on your way home from work.

Stop.

Before you go to work that morning, spend a minute glancing in the fridge to see what you have. Then make a quick list of the things that are missing – and the things you’d like to have for dinner or have on hand for the next several days.

it’ll take you just a few minutes and it’ll save you money in multiple ways. First, you’re much less likely to realize you’ve forgotten something and have to make another trip to the store. That quick list will save you time and money by not sending you back to the store. Second, having a list to focus on means you’ll buy less random things at the store. That makes your bill at the end of the trip lower than it would be otherwise.

That little list, prepared in just a couple minutes before you split for work, will save you money and is likely to save you time as well without influencing your buying choices one whit.

14. Whenever you make supper, if it’s reasonable, make twice as much and freeze the extras.
Or three times as much. Or more.

If you’re cooking a pound of loose ground beef, cook three pounds of it and put the extra two pounds into two separate one pound freezer containers. If you’re making a casserole, make two of them and freeze the second one at some appropriate point in the preparation. If you’re preparing vegetables, chop up some extras and put them away for soups or stews in the future.

The possibilities are endless.

Doing this saves money and time. In the here and now, it only adds a small sliver of time to your preparation (and even that’s arguable, considering you’re only picking up the item once at the store instead of two or three times), but later on, preparing a second meal just got a lot shorter. Even better, though, is that you can buy items in larger quantities, often grabbing savings, and having a very easy to prepare meal at home means you’re much more likely to do just that, meaning you’re not ordering takeout or delivery and instead eating a lot cheaper.

You don’t have to change a bit about what you eat – instead, you just make it a bit quicker and a bit cheaper, too.

15. If you’re married, talk to your partner about where you want to be in five years.
Sure, this seems like a good relationship tactic. After all, it’s always useful to make sure you’re on the same page.

However, doing this regularly has another significant impact: it helps both partners to set goals together that they’re both committed to. During such a conversation, people tend to find the things they have in common, the desires that they share. When those desires become clear, quite often the conversation and thoughts move towards how to actually make them happen.

Making those dreams happen usually revolves around better financial control – but you’re not in this alone. Your partner will be supporting you to some degree, ideally to a strong degree. You’re in this together, and you’re working toward something you both want. That makes difficult choices quite a bit easier, as you have a partner that understands what you’re doing and encourages it.

16. On a lazy afternoon, do a maintenance run.
Spending a lazy afternoon at home? Why not spend it doing a maintenance run?

What’s a maintenance run? Basically, you just spend a few hours going around to all of the major appliances and equipment in your home (including your car) and doing the little maintenance tasks that need to be done to keep them running well. Here’s a big checklist of such activities.

For starters, it’s a free way to spend an afternoon, since most maintenance just costs you a bit of time. The big benefit here, though, is that by doing this maintenance, you’ve made things last longer and made them run more efficiently. Cleaning the coils on your fridge makes it run a bit quieter and with greater efficiency and a greater lifespan. Emptying out your hot water heater (and getting rid of the sediment that comes out) means it’ll run more efficiently and longer. And so on.

You can get lots of these tasks done in a lazy afternoon. Suddenly, your home is a bit quieter, a bit more energy efficient, and the equipment there is bound to last a lot longer, too.

You can pretty much do this whenever it fits. It’s a great way to fill a lazy afternoon, but there’s no need to give up any sort of activity for it. Keep living your life as it is and just do this some afternoon when there’s nothing else going on.

17. Shop for Christmas supplies on December 28.
Most people buy all their Christmas supplies – wrapping paper, cards, and the like – in the month before Christmas, paying prices like $5 for a roll of paper. A much better approach is to buy it on December 28 or so, where you can get that same roll for $0.50.

What do you do with it, then? When you take down your Christmas decorations and store them, store the Christmas items you bought along with them. Then, when you pull them out next year, you’ll pull out the cards and paper and bows that you need, already ready to go.

This can be done with lots of events where you regularly spend money, like Mother’s Day or Halloween. Buy the items just after the holiday, then put the items into storage along with other items associated with that day. You can save a huge amount by just shifting a regular shopping trip a few days, not by doing anything else differently.

18. Keep a notebook on hand.
If you walk through life with even a hint of observance of what’s happening around you, you’ll see all sorts of little opportunities and hear many different ideas. Keep a notebook with you, in your pocket or purse, and when these ideas present themselves, write them down. Perhaps you’ll hear of a tremendous sale on something you need, or a friend will tell you about someone who’d be happy to give you an old desk, perfect for your needs.

A little notebook makes it very easy to jot down the information that you need to remember later to take advantage of it. Then, once a day or once a week, leaf through that notebook and clean up.

You don’t have to do anything different, other than to just slip a notebook and a pen in your pocket. Then, when an opportunity comes your way, jump on board. Write down that coupon code that gets you a free rental. Jot down the location of that sale. And enjoy the benefits.

19. Ask around about your job benefits.
When I was a boy, one day, my father came home from work with seven tickets to Six Flags. Obviously, me, my older brothers, and my cousins were enthusiastic about these, but where did they come from? He got them through a work program that he’d only heard about via his foreman – not a widely advertised one. The tickets came with a huge discount and we enjoyed one of the few vacations of my childhood.

Not too long ago, I had a similar opportunity at my previous job, collecting four free tickets to a local minor league baseball game.

An unusual benefit? Perhaps. But many jobs offer a lot of little benefits that the employees rarely know about or indulge in, from straightforward things like health savings accounts to little things like travel discounts.

On a lazy day at work, why not browse through your employee manual or the HR website? Or perhaps even stop in at the HR office and read the bulletin board? You might discover something really financially useful to you.

20. Consolidate your debts, particularly your student loans.
A great technique for college students: if you have several student loans from different sources out there (as I did after college), do some research into student loan consolidation as well as automatic payment plans. Quite often, loan consolidation can net you a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments. Even if that’s impossible, many student loans offer a plan where if you sign up for an automatic payment plan, they’ll knock off 0.25% of the interest on your loan.

What’s the result? You still have to make your student loan payments, but the amount you pay will be a little bit less, allowing you to keep a little bit more money in your pocket while still chiseling away on your loans.

You may be able to consolidate other debts as well via personal loans or other such mechanisms. Stop by your local credit union and see what they have available for you. Again, a good consolidation simply reduces both your interest rate and your monthly payments, doing nothing more than saving you money.

21. Stop by the library the next time you want to read a book or rent a movie.
Thinking about renting a pile of movies this weekend or curling up with a fresh new book? Hit the library before dropping cash at retailers. Many libraries have extensive DVD collections which you can check out for free, as well as a huge number of books available.

Since switching to using the library heavily for my reading needs, I’ve been able to read a ton of fresh new bestsellers in hardback and watch a lot of interesting films for free. I can request them online from the convenience of my home and just stop in and pick them up within the next day or two, simply stopping in, picking up my packages, using my library card, and walking out without paying a dime.

Sounds like a great way to trim some spending to me.

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  1. Dan says:

    The act of cleaning DOES make my life miserable, especially because I can never seem to do it up to my wife’s standards…however, after a good thorough cleaning, things always feel better.

  2. Johanna says:

    Isn’t most of this post recycled from the post you just linked to this morning?

    At least you didn’t include “Move to Iowa.”

  3. Much of this is related to organization, which is not a bad think in itself. It’s eaier to save money when you’re organized.

  4. Matt Jabs says:

    Wow! I am always amazed at the depth and value of your posts Trent. Thanks for this great list, my wife and I employ some of these… but I am going to print this baby off and see if I can’t work a few others into our lives. :-)

    One thing we do is try contracting more service work to ourselves. For example… my wife cuts my hair which saves us around $15/month. She had never cut hair before, but I just told her to GO FOR IT… and that I’d wear a hat for awhile if it was really bad! But, she of course did a great job and now cuts it every time.

    Some other DIY services we do include:

    - mow our own lawn
    - make our own bread
    - make our own yogurt
    - make our own laundry and dishwasher detergents
    - etc.

    The biggest help was just changing our mindset to be more “self-sufficient”. I know from your past posts that you hold this same mindset… it sure is a blessing!

    Some of the benefits are $ saved, increased family activities, greater skills gained, etc.

  5. Mike Piper says:

    I just want to second the “skype + minimal cell plan” idea.

    Skype is tons more fun that a normal call (I actually get to see my nieces and nephews!), and it’s completely free. What’s not to love?

  6. On Sunday evenings roommates and I often rent movies OnDemand. Lately I’ve been putting a bunch of movies on hold from the library and getting the same new releases for free!

  7. Dash says:

    Yes I just wanted to say thank you for the library idea, that combined with your thorough book reviews has helped me go from not reading much to reading two books a week. It wasn’t until early this summer that I realized just how many books/videos/dvds are at the library. Not to mention they have over 50 magazines where as long as you don’t mind having the latest issue one or two weeks later than it is released is absolutely great. My wife and I had already cancelled our Netflix and magazine subscriptions in an effort to save money but after realized all this is available at the library that is just icing on the cake.

  8. Colin says:

    Nitpick:

    “15 kilowatt-hours of energy use, which is about $1.50 (and that doesn’t include the cost of the heat the device blows into your home, which makes cooling less efficient)”

    The 15 kWHr *IS* the heat (exception are things like fans or LEDs that use the energy in another way like moving air or making light). Every joule of energy you convert to heat is a joule of energy you have to push out with A/C.

  9. Colin says:

    I switched to prepaid cell and I’m amazed at how much I used it simply because I was paying a monthly rate. In 7 weeks I’ve used about 20 minutes of time. $0.25/min * 20 = $5, or $2.50/month. Just have to use up the $100 in a year before it expires.

    A cell phone is nice and it is convenient but a large phone bill does not go into my “need” category and I’m finding I. just. don’t. care, so it’s not even in my “want” category.

  10. Tahlia42 says:

    Okay, I totally had a different take on the reader’s question. I read the question “What ideas do you have that won’t make my life boring?” as more, what can I do to save money that is fun.

    To me, fun is very different than rewarding. I initially thought you were going to discuss low cost entertainment. Since I am not a home-body, but I also don’t spend more than $100 a month on entertainment, I immediately came up with tons of ideas, some of which play off things you mentioned.

    I live in a major metropolitan area, so here both our paper and Film Metro offer the opportunity for free passes to sneak previews of major motion pictures. They are usually free drawings, so I don’t always win, but every month or two I get to go see a film before anyone else!

    I’m also into being outside, so on a recent second date I recommended an afternoon at the park where we had a picnic and I brought a kite ($8 including shipping from ebay) and a free frisbie I’d received at a street fair a year ago. We spent a wonderful 3 hours just being kids again. Plus I didn’t have to worry about squeezing in a work-out that day with all the running around!!!

    My friends and I have a rotating potluck party once a month. Since I bought (on sale!) some heavy plastic reusable dishes and silverware, the only costs I have on my turn is the main dish and the occasional 2 liter that I get on sale and some wine. If you have a group of 6 people, you are only hosting twice a year, and every hosts invites their friend network, so you get to meet new people.

  11. lurker carl says:

    An observation on #15. Couples who are NOT married need to talk about future goals and dreams as much as married couples. As much is at stake when the “ties that bind” are very loose in the legal sense.

  12. Patty says:

    Great ideas!

    I’ll make an addition to the 21st one – why not check out the programs offered by your public library. The programs are generally FREE, offered for all age groups. It’s a great place to meet folks with the same or similar interests. Heck, you may pick up a new interest :)

  13. Tara S says:

    So very many people make the comment that either your philosophy or all your practical suggestions (or both) are miserable, penurious, boring ideas. There must be an awful lot of people out there whose lives are floating upon a great deal of frivolous spending and glitz, that they can’t get any pleasure out of doing things for themselves.

    As Robert Heinlein put it:
    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

  14. Jen says:

    Great list Trent! It’s a good reminder that we need to do some work on our household energy efficiency, and maintenance. The rest of it we’ve got down.

    @Matt Jabs (#4)

    Please share you homemade dishwasher detergent recipe. I’ve tried a few, and haven’t found one that works well yet. Thanks!

  15. Jen says:

    @Matt Jabs: Sorry! I just clicked over to your site and easily found the recipe. :)

  16. Holly says:

    I would add the following: just go through you bank statement twice a year and cull subscriptions and memberships you’re no longer using. You may have been really into something when you signed up but have long since forgotten about it. If you’re not using it, it’s no skin off your nose to cancel it and enjoy the savings without “misery”.

  17. My friends and I have a get together at each others home once a week. We all bring a little something and it saves all of us money. It’s fun and we all have a better time than going out and spending loads of money.
    -SingleGuyMoney

  18. Matt says:

    A great post this is!

    I really like the idea of inviting friends over. It’s kind of like car pooling… but instead, it’s “House” Pooling! Clever way to save.

    And of course idea #1 is probably the fastest way to save A WHOLE LOT of money!

  19. I switched to a prepaid phone and don’t even buy minutes anymore. I keep it charged. In the case of a real emergency, it is 911 capable, as all cell phones are.

  20. Sarah T says:

    You are right on about the energy efficiency of CFL or LED bulbs, but I think that the best thing to do from both financial and environmental points of view is to replace your incandescent bulbs as they burn out, rather than throwing out working bulbs.

    Your easier-than-a-price-book grocery shopping plan is brilliant!

  21. torrilin says:

    You often talk about how spending less doesn’t have to make your life miserable. Yet, most of the ideas you give seem miserable to me! What ideas do you have that won’t make my life boring?

    Well, a lot of this gets back to values. I don’t agree with Trent’s methods or tips at least 50% of the time. His values are not mine. This is ok, very few people will exactly share my values (or his).

    I really and truly enjoy having tea. A nice loose leaf tea soothes me when I feel sad, warms me when I’m cold, makes my throat feel better when I sing, cools me when iced in the summer… It is something I wouldn’t give up for the world. It also is a pretty inexpensive pleasure. While certain hand rolled teas can be $40 or more per pound, I enjoy many teas that are $16/lb or less. One pound generally lasts me about 2-3 months. (yes, I drink a *lot* of tea) A teakettle made with a whistle starts at about $20 new. A nice teapot is another $20. A strainer is perhaps $5. A cup of tea at a coffeeshop is usually at least $3, so at the rate I drink, the startup costs for tea at home are paid for in less than a month.

    Cutting out tea would make me miserable. Making it at home means I get to have it as often as I like, and it is physically impossible for me to spend as much as I would on tea out. I could choose to spend lots of money on pretty teapots, electric kettles and whatnot, but those don’t add to my enjoyment. I’ve been a tea drinker for most of my life, and if there’s a gadget, I’ve tried it. Whistling teakettles are worth the extra money to me, and other gadgets aren’t.

    The trick with not making yourself miserable is to identify the spots where spending more money actively makes things worse. For any given person, it’s probably not tea. But in any given life, odds are there is something where you’re spending money and not getting joy out of it. You probably won’t eliminate all unhappy spending… but the less unhappy stuff there is, the more money you have for fun.

  22. Joan Garneau says:

    I’d like to suggest Virgin Mobile for a pay as you go phone plan. For $20, set up to be taken from a credit card every few month, you’ll get 200 minutes and when the minutes are automatically renewed the unused minutes will be rolled over. I think this is the cheapest plan around. You’ll have to buy the phone, but it isn’t that expensive. We dropped a contract plan for this over a year ago and are very pleased. Except for a few blank reception areas, we haven’t had any problems. We didn’t get reception in rather remote areas. That’s all right because once we got near a highway, we had excellent reception and I don’t think there is a plan that has service everywhere.

  23. friend says:

    I second the idea of Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go phones. (And you can get last year’s model phones incredibly cheap, like $8 if you catch a good sale.)

    Hint: If you put $90 on the phone all at once, you are good for the whole year (no hassle with renewals every three months). This is for the minute-to-minute options–no need to even give them your credit card number if you buy a scratch-off card.

  24. Esme says:

    In terms of Xmas wrapping paper- I just buy white, neutral or solid colour tissue paper, which is cheaper and can be used for gifts all year round. A little bit of creativity and you can layer colours, do origami or tuxedo pleats or any number of other decorative things. Its far more versatile that Christmas wrap and you dont need to store it somewhere 11 months of the year.

  25. Emily says:

    Losing weight is a great idea. Less weight = smaller clothes = less laundry or more laundry/load, which is savings either way. Thanks, Trent!

  26. You’re going to save a lot of money if you Need to do all 21 things differently. It almost sounds like a person who is going to change that many thinks could save enough to make a car payment! Thans for the comprehensive article.
    John DeFlumeri Jr

  27. I could add one–think of all of the methods of free entertainment that there are out there.

    One, go visit a park. Its lots of fun especially with kids.

    Second, check online for local free events in your areas. My wife and I recently found a free summer concert series, and several free activities for our son which we also attend.

  28. Denise says:

    Sometimes life is work and everything can’t be “fun!” Chores have to be done and many things require maintanance. Why not do the things that you have to do anyway, more frugally? Many of the frugal, fun things that I do require a bit more planning but often, that makes them more satisfying.For me, the older that I get, the more time and effort I am willing to invest in all the fun and not so fun things that make my life move in the direction that I want it to.

  29. Jules says:

    On student loans:

    For me, my payments dropped by almost 50% when I consolidated. Ironically, my interest rate actually went up, but since it was only 4.25% I could handle it.

    I continue to prepay as much of my debt as I can. Getting out faster means I can put more money towards things that matter–like that little farmhouse in the country with a huge garden…

  30. Steffie says:

    If you live anywhere near a college or university they are great sources of cheap entertainment. They may have a ‘film society’ with inexpensive movies on the weekend, not always new ones but good ones. Our university here has a weekend ‘Science Fiction’ marathon. They also have many free lecturers on all sorts of topics. Good way to meet people who enjoy the same things as you.

  31. Tyler says:

    Interestingly enough, I would think the Christmas supplies you buy at the end of December would qualify as the ‘clutter you never use around the house’ from January to November.

  32. DivaJean says:

    We use very little Xmas paper anymore in my family. Year ago, we converted to cloth and I made many drawstring type cloth bags out of varying Xmas prints bought on sale. We use these for family presents but Santa does still wrap (as long as kids believe) because it makes for a convoluted tale about how bags get back and forth from us to the North Pole. I’m thinking in 3 or 4 more years, we will be a cloth gift bag only family. (My mother in law converted to cloth for ALL presents, birthdays too.)

    Storage of the cloth bags is not any problem- they just go in a Xmas bin and get put up when holidays are over. When I get more into it- birthday and non Xmas bags will go in an under bed storage- we also use paper for friends birthday parties presents— but someday…

  33. michael bash says:

    Remember most pieces of paper you get have writing on only one side. Keep these and use the other side – an A4 usually torn in half for me – for list making, a wonderful activity (find & read Rob Buckman’s “Listless in Gaza”) the most important of which, besides the basic “To Do” list, is the shopping list. Keep the paper with a magnet on the fridge and write items as they finish when cooking. I know my market well so I can note items geographically, if you get my drift. And never forget the first rule of grocery shopping – never do it when you’re hungry

  34. Quick note about unplugging unused electronics:

    An easier way to do this is to strategically place power strips around the house that you plug all your infrequently used electronic accessories into. That way, rather than regularly plugging and unplugging 10 things around the house, you only have a couple to worry about.

  35. Scott says:

    I’ve already done the research and T-Mobile has the best plan. I pay $100 for 1000 minutes that are good for a year and get a 15% bonus when I renew plus a free phone at sign up. There are no other fees. Some plans have a daily usage fee or added fee when you use the phone but not T-Mobile. Calls are deducted at ten cents per minute, texts are higher. So far my average usage indicates that I use about 1000 minutes per year so my ANNUAL cell phone bill is $100. Even double that is far cheaper than the $1200 I used to pay. The bottom line is that it’s not about the money. People are suckered into thinking that they have to have the latest and greatest or that they are somehow inferior if they don’t have something. When I was a kid there was no such thing as a cell phone and the world went along just fine. It’s not what we really need, it’s what we think we need. Change your thinking.

  36. Jen says:

    Be careful with the customer rewards thing. I was at TJ Max the other day and she asked if I wanted to sign up for their rewards card. The first thing I asked was “Does it cost anything?” And, she said no, so I started signing up then saw it asked for my social which I wasn’t going to give them. IT WAS AN APPLICATION FOR A CREDIT CARD!!! She made it totally sound like a CVS card or something… so beware, I think more stores are going to start trying this “trick”.

    She was not happy when I took the application off the thing and crumpled it up (and kept it). But, I was not about to sign up for a credit card at that place!!

  37. leslie says:

    I agree with comment #10 from Tahlia42. I am extremely frugal but still have a very active social life. Here’s my own addition to fun things that are cheap:

    There are quite a few websites that will list drink specials and free drinking events in your city. MyOpenBar.com is one of them (several cities). MurphGuide.com is another (nyc). And most bar’s websites will list their weekly drink specials as well. A bar around here has $1 mugs of Yeungling and $0.50 slices of pizza on Mondays.

    When looking for new furnishings, check Craig’s List or Furniture Trader and keep an open mind. If you like the style of a $10 coffee table but hate the color, buy it and spend a day repainting it (look for paint on Freecycle). It’s a bit of work but is rewarding and can be fun (i love crafts!).

    If you live near a university, even if you’re not a student, check the school Calendar of Events (on their website) and check for cheap events on campus. Most activities are free or super cheap and open to the public.

    If you’re interested in going to live shows, try Goldstar.com or the plethora of other sites that offer discounted tickets. They even have special priced tickets to the zoo on there!

    Sign up for a store and restaurant’s member club. It’s free and they send you coupons and sometimes birthday deals! ColdStone, Sephora, Anthropologie, BananaRepublic, FamousDave’s are just a few of the places I know that gives you free/discounted items for your birthday.

    Also, clubs sometimes offer one-time free cover just for signing up on their mailing list (this saved me $25 and I get notified of events early).

    Check newyorkology.com or an equivalent for free admission nights to museums.

    Invite friends over instead of going out to a bar. Not only is this cheaper but you can actually hear the person you’re talking to. You don’t have to do this all the time, but it does help break up the monotonous bar scene from time to time.

    Definitely look up your local parks/trails. If you live near a river or lake, there are usually places where you can rent a canoe/kayak for cheap.

    When buying tickets to a concert, if at all possible, PURCHASE TICKETS DIRECTLY AT THE VENUE (not will call) instead of purchasing through ticketmaster. This will save you at least $8 per ticket!!! Last time I bought tickets, the tickets alone were $42 but the total came to $63 with the ticketmaster fees.

    There are ALWAYS coupons to theme parks. Check the local grocery store or chamber of commerce. Every six flags has buy one get one free admission coupons floating around in various establishments or you can get half off admission with a coke can.

    Check review sites, like yelp.com before trying out a new restaurant. Why waste your money on terrible food and service?

    Try to buy tickets ahead of time if you can. I purchased tickets to the statue of liberty online for $15/ticket. When I picked them up, I saw the full price was $20/ticket. That $5 savings adds up per ticket.

    Always take per person price into consideration when choosing what to do. If we have a group of 5, it’s cheaper to drive and split tolls than everyone buy a train ticket. It’s cheaper to split the $10/car state park fee, than everyone paying $8/person to get onto the beach.

  38. Tom B says:

    My office has free movie, video game, and book rentals that you can pick on a cool internal website, and they even deliver them to your desk! I have not bought a new videogame in a long while, with few exceptions being items that I play a lot and get a lot of use from.

    My job? I make video games!
    — Tom

  39. A.J. says:

    Jules (#29) — yeah, I’m in the middle of consolidating my loans right now. Figured I might as well lock in a decent rate of 4% now (since I don’t think it’s ever gonna get any lower)

    Of course, the new plan is for 15 years (when I only had 8 or so left on the old one), so I’ll pay triple the total interest if I just make the minimum payments!

    My plan right now is to just pay the new minimum on that for now, putting the rest that I *was* paying toward my car loan, which is a closer to 7% than 4%, to save on interest there. Once the car is paid off (I’m 24, and since this is my first car, no savings to start with, hence the loan), I’ll put that money back into the student loans.

  40. Debbie M says:

    Checking my cupboards and fridge before going to a grocery store? That’s not going to happen. Sometimes I haven’t even decided what I’m cooking for the next week when it’s time to go (I always shop after dance class which is practically next door to the store.) But one idea that does help is that whenever I’m about to run out of something, I add it to my shopping list. I clip a bunch of used envelopes with empty backs onto the fridge for this purpose (you can keep coupons in the envelope, too). So at least I’m keeping stocked up on things and won’t have to make an extra trip. It takes a while to get into this habit, but it’s so nice.

    Any hints on figuring out which appliances use energy when not in use? Obviously anything with a clock or other LED is using energy. And I know computers and monitors do. What about a washer and dryer? Coffeepot with no timer?

  41. Debbie says:

    I visit a woman in an assisted living facility each week during my lunch hour. I also get her large print books from the library. She appreciates this so much and I can a lot of pleasure and rewards out of doing this.

    You can also purchase exercise DVDs for under $25 and get great workouts in your home and avoid gym costs plus the time to get to the gym.

  42. Debbie says:

    Rewards program – Make sure you are getting rewards from banks and credit cards.You need to track this as it isn’t something they hand to you.
    Yesterday I got a $25 gift card through my bank.

  43. Beth says:

    It isn’t that some electronics are hard to unplug, but that all the programming is lost when we unplug the microwave, the coffee machine, the stereo, the TV. I don’t know what I can unplug. Not the computer, right?

  44. Ken says:

    “7. Unplug electronic devices you’re not using.”

    That’s a hassle to do continuously – especially if it is plugged in behind furniture. And if it is a hassle, then it will harder to make a habit.

    An easier way to to plug groups of items (TV, DVD player… i.e. entertainment center) into a power strip and then turn off the power strip. If you organize the wires properly, you can make the power strip easily accessible so that it is very easy to make this a habit.

  45. Leah says:

    re: #37 and the painting, check out (1) your local reuse center, (2) your local recycling center, (3) your local city government. Different entities do this in different towns, but in most towns there is a place where people can drop off paint cans that are partially used. In Portland, OR, you pay a small fee for a bunch of recycled paint. In my current town in rural Minnesota, the dump has a recycling/toxics room where you can get free stains, paint, spraypaint, etc. It’s awesome!

  46. Leah says:

    should have read more . . .

    re: #40, you can get a great device called a “kill-a-watt” that will measure energy use in your devices. I was able to check one out of my local library, so it was extra frugal. A fun fact — I figured out that my particular cell phone charger actually uses no energy when the phone isn’t plugged in (it’s just a circuit board and a teeny LED, so I imagine it uses a few cents of electricity per year). I try to unplug the thing, but I don’t sweat it if I forget.

  47. Kim_Mango says:

    Since my job is not location-dependent and I have the luxury of working from home, I’ve decided to move to the beach to see if I like living there year-round. Although the cost of living is more expensive, my new found friends and I spend a lot of time using the beach for entertainment.

    Here are some examples:
    1. a walk on the beach
    2. a glass of wine/beer at the beach
    3. lighting a fire at night on the beach
    4. camping on the beach
    5. surfing
    6. swimming
    7. picnic
    8. volleyball (I don’t have enough friends to do this yet but it looks like fun!)

    I believe that if you’re in a position to move, move somewhere that you can be active. Whether that means the mountains, a lake, a beach, etc. There is nothing better than enjoying activities with friends, especially when they are free!

  48. Joe says:

    “Replace your light bulbs with CFLs”

    No, thanks — I’ll keep my non-poisonous regular bulbs as long as my supply hold out. Why would anyone voluntarily use a product that requires sections of carpet on which it breaks be cut out and disposed of as toxic material according to the EPA?

  49. Forest says:

    I would have to say that exercise is the most fun of all of these, especially if you set a goal and go after it….. the feeling of hitting that goal is just awesome and most exercise that I like has little cost associated with it.

  50. Rich says:

    I’m a little later than the other posters, but one thing to mention would be hulu and netflix for TV/entertainment. My cable bill ran from $120 per month up to over $200 depending on the movies I ordered. It was just too easy to sit around and hit the buy button and rent a movie for $3.99.

    So, I pulled the plug completely on cable. I have the one-DVD at a time plan at Netflix and an account at HULU. Both of those sites have a vast quantity of content you can stream and you can even have it play on your TV.

    As an added bonus, miracle of miracles, I discovered I have more time (wow, never expected that). More time during the day to read, work out, follow my favorite blogs, whatever. It’s amazing how much time TV can zap without you knowing it. Cancelling the cable has been a huge help to me on several fronts.

  51. Heather says:

    I do nearly all those things already, I still enjoy reading though!
    What amazes me if people that are out of work and wont even make laundry soap for pennies when we make it and its by choice and they wont even bother in necessity!

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