15 Ways I Plan to Save Money This Year

A few days ago, I posted a list of 15 things I did in the past year to save money. While this provided a great reflection of many of the positive moves I’ve made in recent times that actually had a positive effect on our finances, it’s perhaps just as important to turn one’s gaze forward and ask what a person might do in the near future to save money.

With that in mind, here’s a parallel list, except these are 15 things I plan to do in the coming year to cut our expenses.

I plan to cut the cord and drop cable television entirely. As soon as our current contract expires, we plan to cut out our satellite bill entirely. In fact, I already have the date marked on my calendar. On that day, I’m placing a call and having the service disconnected.

This is a large bill – larger than I’d like – for a service that we scarcely use. We don’t watch a whole lot of television to begin with – far below the national average – and when we do watch, it’s often a selected show from Netflix or Amazon Prime. We simply do not spend much time at all watching cable television.

Our motivation to keep it in the past has been to watch sporting events and live news, but we honestly find other ways to view those things. I typically go to a party or a friend’s house to watch big sporting events and I don’t watch any at home. We catch national and international news via the internet, and we catch the local news via over the air signal. There just isn’t much of a use case any more for cable television, so we’re dropping it.

I plan to reduce the size of my board game collection by 50%, rather than expanding it further. My goal by the end of the year is to reduce the size of my board game collection by 50% through a mixture of game trading and selling online. While that doesn’t mean that a few new games won’t appear in my home, it does mean that the overall number needs to drop.

This isn’t because I don’t like my game collection. I will undoubtedly be getting rid of some games that I do not want to get rid of. Rather, I’m doing this because I simply have more games than it is possible to reasonably play in a reasonable amount of time, and I want to trim it down to the ones that I am most excited to play and feel as though I will actually be able to get to the table regularly.

There will definitely be some proceeds from this selloff, which means that my hobby spending in the coming year will be much less than the previous year and, hopefully, approach neutral ground.

I plan to have at least two “meal prep days” per month. A “meal prep day” simply means that I spend a large portion of a day preparing meals to be frozen and used at a later date. For example, on a meal prep day, you might make a huge vat of soup and then freeze it in smaller, family meal-sized containers so that, at a later and busier time, you can thaw a bag for a very quick family meal (rather than turning to take-out).

We’ve done this several times in the last few years, but I want to make it even more regular in the coming year. Having those meals in the freezer has been a godsend at times and I’d like to reach a point where they can just be completely banked on a night or two a week (at least) instead of just filling in a gap here or there. Sadly, our meal preps weren’t always enough to cover our needs for quick meals and we ended up utilizing local restaurants a few times, something I want to change. To make that happen, I need a more regular commitment to meal prep days.

My first one is coming up very soon. Much as I noted above, I’m going to make a giant vat of soup (actually, a chili recipe) and then put it in gallon freezer bags in sufficient quantity to feed the family and make enough leftovers to cover lunch for Sarah and myself the subsequent day.

I plan to store most of our extra garden produce rather than giving most of it away. In the past few years, we’ve been so flooded with produce that we ended up having to give some of it away. We didn’t really plan ahead very well for huge piles of cucumbers and tomatoes, so we didn’t end up utilizing them very well.

That’s changing this year. As soon as the plants look anywhere near their harvest, we’re coming up with a concrete plan to process and store all of it – or as much as possible. I have plans for making salsa, pasta sauce, and pickles in copious quantities, and I’ll be penciling in a weekend to do it as soon as our harvest dates become more clear in the spring and summer.

This isn’t because I mind giving some produce away – I don’t – but we gave away so much that I’m sure at least some of it quietly went to waste on the tables of our friends. That’s a mistake that I don’t want to repeat.

I plan to go through a very deliberate process to replace our SUV and pay for it in cash. As proud as I am of the fact that we managed to get 10 years of driving out of the SUV that we bought used off of Craigslist, it really is reaching the point where it needs to be replaced. We have a brilliant mechanic who has done a great job of keeping things going, but the list of repairs that are coming up around the bend is large – new shocks and struts, a new flywheel, a new transmission, a new starter, a new circuit board for the instrument panel, a new radio, and several kid-related cosmetic issues – and the vehicle is now over the 200,000-mile mark. It’s time to replace it.

I am very glad that Sarah and I have been saving for this situation (and for the replacement of her commuting car in a year or two). We have the freedom to shop slowly for what we want, on our own terms, and buy accordingly.

Later this month, we’re going to sit down together, figure out exactly what vehicles and features we are targeting, and simply tell several local dealerships exactly what we want. We have no interest in shopping around for anything less. The one that comes in with the lowest price within a few weeks will get our business.

I plan to integrate even more low-cost staples into our meals. In the past couple of months, I have really come to appreciate our rice cooker. I think I finally reached a level of proficiency with it where the rice comes out pretty much exactly how I want every single time and I can prepare lots of variations to boot.

Because of that, we’ve been eating more rice in our diet as of late, and that’s great because rice is really inexpensive and reasonably healthy.

In the coming year, I want to expand on that. I want to really master the art of cooking all kinds of beans – not just the black beans and pinto beans and lentils that I’m good at preparing, but other kinds of beans as well. I want to get really efficient at it so that it doesn’t become an obstacle.

I want to dabble into ways of making really high quality versions of other low cost staples, too. For example, I want to get back into making sizable batches of homemade pasta, which is dirt cheap and delicious but time-consuming unless you attain a high level of proficiency.

You might call these things a “hobby,” but they produce some amazing meals at an incredibly low price.

I plan to make large quantities of vegetable stock with our leftover vegetable scraps instead of just disposing of them. We often end up with a lot of vegetable scraps – a few spoonfuls of unused steamed broccoli or part of an onion or a few bits of green pepper. In the past, I was in the habit of throwing them into a gallon Ziploc bag in the freezer and then eventually making stock out of them, but somehow I fell out of that habit.

In the coming year, that’s a habit I hope to reclaim. I want to avoid wasting even a single usable scrap from our home, so what I’m going to do is just put all of it in a fresh new gallon bag and, when it’s full, dump it in the slow cooker in the morning, turn it on low, add some salt and pepper, and let it simmer all day. In the evening, I just strain it and put it in another container to freeze until we need it. It’s as simple as that.

Why do this? Vegetable stock is an amazing flavoring for all kinds of things. You can use it instead of water to make mind-blowing rice. You can use it as the basis for soups. You can use it to deglaze pans while you’re cooking to add even more flavor. You can use it in almost any dish that calls for a little water to add a spike of flavor. It’s so versatile and makes cooking at home so much tastier!

I plan to redo the caulk around several windows. During this current cold snap, I’ve noticed that the caulking in a few of our windows is weak, so I’m going to fix that, probably by the time you read this. This is my money “resolution” that will likely see the first action of the year.

Taking care of a little air leak around a window is easy. You just need a tube of caulk, a putty knife with a rounded corner, and a caulking gun. All you do is strip off any caulk in place with the putty knife, put fresh caulk there to replace it with the gun – it’s like spreading toothpaste on a toothbrush – and then smooth it out and let it dry. That’s it.

The caulk then blocks cold air from coming through the window, which keeps your house warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and ensures that your heating and cooling doesn’t run nearly as much, which saves a ton of energy.

I plan to price book the multitude of new grocers that have opened near our home in recent months. In the last few months, a bunch of groceries have opened up within 15 minutes or so of our home. While I definitely rely on the old standby of the discount grocer that’s really close to our home, I want to make sure that we’re really getting the best prices on the things that we buy and eat.

How do I do that? I use a simple price book. I have a list of 25 or 30 things that we routinely buy – things like dry beans, pasta, certain fruits and vegetables, milk, and so on. I just go to each of the stores and check the regular prices on each of those items. How do they compare? Then, I add up how much we’d spend on those items over the course of a month. If one store is clearly ahead, that one becomes our default store.

With the number of new grocery stores around, particularly given that two of them are heavily promoting their low prices, I feel it’s time to do this type of price comparison and see if I can find a more cost-effective place to shop. My guess is that I won’t, but one can never be sure.

I plan to use items on hand to build a standing desk for free rather than buying one. I’ve been considering a standing desk for a long time, but nice standing desks can be pricy. They need to be very stable, for one, so you typically can’t go to your local low-end store and pick one up that’ll work well.

Instead, I’ve decided to just place a very stable desk we already have on a raised platform to function as a standing desk. This saves us the cost of having to purchase one.

Why a standing desk? The simple reason is that I need to move around more for my own health and the shifts and movements one makes while at a standing desk serve that purpose. I am considering eventually making it a treadmill desk.

I plan on not buying any new books for a year. The only books I will buy in the coming year will be from gift cards or other forms of store credit.

Why am I doing this, given that I am such an avid reader? It’s simple. I have a big pile of unread books at home, plus the library is an infinite source of additional books to read for free, plus I am on the dock to borrow several books from friends and family members.

Simply put, I have a ton of reading to do in the coming months without buying a single book… so why buy more books?

I’m sure that throughout the year I am going to find books that I am passionate about reading. Those books will go on a wish list or onto my library reserve queue.

I plan on adopting a diet even more heavily based on plants. This is a simple change. I just want fruits and vegetables to take up a higher percentage of my plate this year as compared to previous years. I can do this by being more conscious in the meals I’m preparing.

How does that save money, though? Well, for starters, countless studies have shown that plant-heavy diets have a huge benefit in terms of long-term health, which reduces long term health care costs. At the same time, the costs of fruits and vegetables and grains is quite low compared to the costs of things like meats. Go to the store and compare the cost of a steak to what you can get from the same price in the produce section or even the frozen or canned vegetables area.

This is a dietary shift that’s already been a part of my life but one that I hope to push even farther in the coming year.

I plan on vacationing with another family to split expenses. We’re planning a road trip vacation this summer, which wouldn’t be all that expensive on its own, but to make it even less expensive, we’re planning on doing it with others and sharing a lot of the costs along the way

We’re using one very large vehicle for all of us rather than using multiple vehicles. We’re combining our lodging, too. Along the way, we’re all cooperating on meals and plan on using the kitchens at the places we’re staying more than eating out, which saves even more.

This is going to be an interesting and exciting and relatively low-cost summer vacation, and I can’t wait.

I plan to get a November Project started near me. A “November Project” is simply a regular day, time, and place for people to get together and run a 5K. My plan is to try to get one started in the spring in our town park, where people meet up regularly in the early morning to run a 5K around town.

My hope is to get the Parks and Recreation department on board – which shouldn’t be too hard, as there’s no cost – and then use their resources to promote it. The goal would be to schedule one early in the morning so that people are done before work and school and to schedule it a couple times a week to accommodate varying schedules.

I’m not exactly a good runner, but the idea of building a community of people towards a positive health goal with no cost sounds quite appealing to me. I hope to write a really successful article about this in several months.

I plan on having a giant yard sale in the late spring. Our town has a community-wide yard sale each year in the spring and this year I hope to participate in it with a large family yard sale, perhaps in cooperation with an interested neighbor.

We have a lot of accumulated possessions from the past decade, particularly toys and clothes that our children have outgrown, that need to either be sold off or donated, as well as collections of DVDs and lots of other random items. I’m in the process of downsizing some of my possessions for personal reasons as well (besides just the aforementioned games).

A yard sale in the spring gives me (and everyone else in our home) something of a timeline to work toward in terms of processing our possessions and doing some conscious downsizing. Plus, it can produce some revenue for us along the way.

These tactics – and many other little ones that I’ll find and use along the way – give me great optimism that the coming year will be a wonderful one in terms of securing our financial future and enjoying many of the other life benefits that come from doing so, such as healthier lives and a better sense of control over our possessions. I hope you’ll stick around on this journey with me.

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Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.