20 Frugal (Not Cheap) Hacks That Save Money and Time

The best frugal tips usually aren’t big, complicated practices, but little tweaks to ordinary things that you do that save a few cents or a dollar each time you do it. You keep doing the same thing you always did, just a bit more efficiently in terms of cost (and often time) just by being clever. They’re “invisible.”

Often, these very same tips save a little time, too. If you can change your way of doing something so that you spend a dime less and 15 seconds less without creating a lower quality result, that’s actually a big win, especially if you repeat it.

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    Repetition is the secret ingredient here. If something saves you a dime each day, you’ve saved $36.50 over the course of a year. If you do 10 things like that, that’s $365. If those changes are effortless. … Why not do them?

    What you’ll notice over time with these kinds of changes is that very gradually, it feels like more money stays in your checking account even though your daily life hasn’t really changed. That’s the real magic of little frugal hacks.

    In this article

      20 little frugal hacks

      Estimated savings per day and per year are based on calculations from my own household, a family with two adults and three children in a 2,000 square-foot family home.

      1. Make a double batch of a simple meal you love, then put the extras in the fridge and enjoy them as a simple leftover meal in two or three days. You can eat the exact same meal, or slightly remix it. For example, make twice as much spaghetti, put the leftovers in a baking pan, add a bit of cheese on top, and bake them. You save money by being able to buy in bulk and because you’re cooking more at home.
        Estimated savings per day: $2.50
        Estimated savings per year: $912
      1. Use your own mix of powdered laundry soap. Put 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda, and 1 cup soap flakes in a resealable container, shake thoroughly, and then use 1 teaspoon of the mix per laundry load (just leave a measuring teaspoon in the container).
        Estimated savings per day: $0.12
        Estimated savings per year: $44
      1. Keep snacks in your car so that you avoid the temptation to stop for fast food snacks. If this cuts out one stop per week, you’re going to save a ton!
        Estimated savings per day: $0.75
        Estimated savings per year: $274
      1. Save your unseasoned vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer. The next time you need broth, just toss the scraps in a pot or a slow cooker with however much water you need for the recipe and let it simmer for several hours, then strain out the remaining pieces. Estimated savings per day: $0.10
        Estimated savings per year: $37
      1. Run your ceiling fans frequently and in the correct direction for the season and then experiment with new temperatures for your thermostat, as you’ll have less need to run the furnace and AC.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.75
        Estimated savings per year: $274
      1. If you like going out to bars or restaurants with friends or coworkers, watch for discounted nights and events like happy hours and suggest those options. Sometimes, something as simple as swapping where you go after work on Tuesday versus Thursday can save everyone some cash.
        Estimated savings per day: $1.50
        Estimated savings per year: $548
      1. If you drink lots of bottled water, switch to a water filter under your kitchen sink so you can just refill reusable bottles at home from the tap. Fill up a few, keep them in the fridge, then run them through the dishwasher afterward.
        Estimated savings per day: $2
        Estimated savings per year: $730
      1. Make your own spice mixes when spice jars start to get low. For example, if you bought a container of garlic powder at the store and there’s only about 10% left in it, use that jar to make a spice mix you like. It’s already got the garlic powder in there, so just mix in some other things to fill it up.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.10
        Estimated savings per year: $37
      1. Refill your window cleaner bottle with 10 parts water, one part white vinegar, and two drops of liquid dish soap. Mix thoroughly and use this instead of expensive window cleaner. We used to go through a bottle of window cleaner every 3–4 months. No longer.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.03
        Estimated savings per year: $11
      1. Cancel your cable subscription and use an over-the-air antenna and a streaming service or two for your television needs. Not sure if you can do this? Challenge yourself to not use cable at all for 30 days. If you can, cancel the cable and save yourself a ton of money with no real life impact.
        Estimated savings per day: $3
        Estimated savings per year: $1,095
      1. Once a month, when you get gas, properly inflate your car tires at the air station. It takes about five minutes and improves your fuel efficiency significantly. Not only that, you significantly reduce your chances of a tire blowout while driving.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.13
        Estimated savings per year: $47
      1. Set your hot water heater to 120 F, as per CDC recommendations. This is the sweet spot for minimizing burn risk and disease risk. Many hot water heaters are set at a higher temperature, with many defaulting to 140 F. (A hot shower is 100 F to 110 F, so you likely won’t notice the change.)
        Estimated savings per day: $0.10
        Estimated savings per year: $37
      1. Run your dishwasher and laundry machine on the short cycle. Unless your dishes or clothes are seriously soiled, this will still do more than enough to get them clean and will save on water and heat use. Plus, it’ll reduce wear and tear on your clothes.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.30
        Estimated savings per year: $110
      1. Replace your paper towels with absorbent rags. Keep a bin under the sink to collect dirty rags or just toss them right in the laundry basket. This eliminates paper towel cost.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.40
        Estimated savings per year: $146
      1. Replace all of your normal name-brand household and food purchases with the store brand version. Only switch back to the name brand if the store brand really doesn’t work for you. If you keep even half of them, that’s a ton of savings.
        Estimated savings per day: $2
        Estimated savings per year: $730
      1. Replace your daily latte with cold brew and some good creamer at home. You can heat up the cold brew in the microwave if you like it hot. You can buy cold brew coffee pre-made at the store, but you save even more if you make it yourself (it’s easy).
        Estimated savings per day: $3.30
        Estimated savings per year: $1,205
      1. When you eat out, ask for extra condiment packets. Save the condiments in a drawer in your home. When you need to use condiments, start with the condiments drawer. (Don’t open the packets into bottles — it offers no real benefit, takes time and can cause the condiments to go bad.) Be sure to throw out any packets you’ve accumulated at the end of six months to ensure freshness. You’ll find yourself buying a lot fewer things like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and hot sauce.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.10
        Estimated savings per year: $37
      1. Shop for clothes by starting at Goodwill and other second-hand stores. If you find something that works, you save a bunch of money. If you don’t, then you can still go to your normal stores. The same trick works for things like dishes and small kitchen appliances.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.25
        Estimated savings per year: $91
      1. “Shop” for books or movies at the library first. If you can just borrow the item from the library for free, you can watch it or read it, then decide if you want to permanently own the item. If this saves you even one book or movie purchase a month, it’s a big money saver.
        Estimated savings per day: $0.50
        Estimated savings per year: $183
      1. Buy highly discounted grocery items and freeze them if you have freezer space. Frozen foods are great, of course, but this works for many items such as fresh produce (most of which freezes wonderfully). Not only that, a full freezer runs more efficiently than a half-empty one.
        Estimated savings per day: $1
        Estimated savings per year: $365

      We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

      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.