Updated on 09.15.14

Readers Speak Out

Trent Hamm

Their 25 Best Actions for Saving Money

My colorful library by library_mistress on Flickr!A few days ago, I mentioned my single best action for saving money in my own life – utilizing the library. I also encouraged readers to submit their own best actions – and did they ever! The post has already received almost 250 comments and several dozen more readers emailed me their single best action.

As promised, I’ve compiled a list of all of these actions. Here are the top twenty five – basically, these are the ones that were repeated more than twice. These aren’t in any particular order. If you want some direct personal finance actions that have actually worked for people, here’s your list.

1. Utilize the library

Many readers agreed with my statement about how valuable the library is for those who read avidly. Not only can it save you on the cost of buying books, it can also provide DVDs for viewing, CDs for listening, and many other interesting cultural experiences if you pay attention to the schedule of events.

2. Use online bill pay

Not only does online bill pay save you the expense of envelopes and stamps (roughly fifty cents per bill paid online), it also provides you the convenience of auto-calculating your bills and comparing them immediately to your checking and savings account balances. No more checkbook math necessary.

3. Get your paycheck direct deposited

Instead of receiving a paper paycheck, have your paycheck directly deposited into your checking account. This spares you the need to have to go to the bank to cash your check, plus relieves you of the temptation to have some cash taken out of the check when you deposit it.

4. Make your own lunch and take it to work with you

Instead of eating out every day, brown bag it! Prepare a lunch the night before and take that lunch with you to work the next day. It can be leftovers, it can be a fresh meal (like a sandwich), but either way, it can cut into your costs tremendously.

5. Stay home

Instead of going out on the town for entertainment, stay at home and enjoy the activities available in your domicile. Most of the activities you can do at home – reading, watching television, exercising, playing games with friends, meditating, listening to music, cooking, etc. – are far cheaper than similar activities you might do out of the home.

6. Set up an automatic savings plan

If you’re getting your paycheck automatically deposited, consider setting up an automatic savings plan to have some of that money routed into retirement or into a savings account for an emergency fund. It’s far, far easier to start saving if the actual transfer of money happens automatically without your intervention.

7. Build an emergency fund

Alongside that advice comes the idea of building an emergency fund, a cash reserve that can help you in the event of a crisis such as a job loss or an automobile breakdown. It’s easy to build one – just sweep a small amount of money on a regular basis into a savings account, watch it build, and utilize that cash when the time comes.

8. Stop smoking or drinking

Expensive consumables can be a huge drain on your financial situation. Eliminating a consumable habit, such as tobacco or alcohol, can quickly improve your financial situation while also improving your health (which can also improve your financial situation by reducing health care costs).

9. Use the “envelope” system

Many people swear by this method, in which one actually budgets their money for a month using “envelopes.” Whenever you need money for, say, groceries, you take money out of the groceries envelope – when that envelope is empty, you’re out for the month. This forces you to be careful with your spending in all respects.

10. Stop looking at ads

Advertisements of all kinds – from television commercials to flyers from the Sunday paper – simply serve to coerce you into spending money on things you don’t actually need. Minimizing your exposure to advertisement minimizes the temptation to spend that money, keeping it at home in your wallet where it belongs.

11. Ditch cable television

Cable television is often a pricy monthly bill and all it does is provide you with more channels that repeat variations on the same content. Get a digital converter box instead and watch the channels that come in over the air – ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, and often others. And they’re free – no monthly bill!

12. Drink more tap water

Tap water makes you healthier (most people are somewhat dehydrated, even if they don’t realize it), fills you up (keeping you from overeating expensive food at meals), and is incredibly cheap compared to any other beverage out there. Take advantage of the tap – it can save you a ton of money on beverages and on food.

13. Eat out less (esp. fast food) and cook at home instead

Every time you purchase prepared food outside the home, you’re spending more than you would making a similar meal at home. So why not adopt that as a platform instead? Learn how to cook at home, make your own meals, and save a lot of money.

14. Stop shopping for fun

Shopping is a very expensive form of entertainment. Instead of shopping with your free time, find other fun things to do – almost anything is cheaper – and leave the shopping trips for the times when you actually need an item.

15. Use the “ten second rule” (or some close variation of it)

Whenever you are tempted to spend your money on something frivolous, stop for a few seconds and ask yourself whether you really need this item. Ten seconds is usually enough – many people also recommend putting the item down and leaving the store, only returning if you’ve decided you actually want it after some serious consideration.

16. Accept help from others

It’s easy to let pride get in the way of accepting help from others. Don’t let that happen. Be willing to accept help if others offer it, and be thankful for it. Later on, when your situation improves, you can pay it forward and help someone who needs it.

17. Plan ahead for meals

At the start of a week, make a careful plan of what meals you’re going to eat during the week, then make a grocery shopping list based solely on those meals. When you go grocery shopping, stick to that list. This is a great way to keep your food shopping bill low while keeping the food you want and need on the table.

18. Go on a diet

Many people recommended healthy dieting as a tactic for saving money. If you make a conscious choice to eat less, not only will you save money on your food bill, you’ll also reduce your health care bill and perhaps your clothing bill as well (since it’ll be easier to find consignment clothes).

19. Eliminate expensive hobbies

Are you engaged in a hobby that requires a lot of financial upkeep, like golf or collecting? Instead of continuing that expensive hobby and watching it drain all your money, choose a different path entirely – find a new hobby to focus your energy on that doesn’t require so much upkeep cost.

20. Stop reading women’s magazines

This is perhaps the biggest surprise on this list for me, but several readers swear by it. They argue that women’s magazines are extremely effective at convincing you to shop for things you don’t necessarily need, convincing you that you need some item in order to keep up with the crowd. Spare yourself the guilt – skip those magazines.

21. Make a budget/spending plan

If you can’t seem to get a grip on your spending, try assembling a budget/spending plan so that you can clearly see where your money is going. Spend a month or two keeping careful track of what you actually do spend on certain items, then set a spending goal for that type of item. This can simultaneously serve as a wake-up call and as “training wheels” for good financial habits.

22. Set strong goals

Don’t fleetingly think about how you wish things were. Instead, sketch out exactly how you want your life to be in, say, five years, then focus all of your actions toward that goal. Not only can this cut out frivolous spending, it can also help you to make strong choices to improve every aspect of your life.

23. Stop worrying about what other people think

Don’t let the opinion of others rule the choices you make in your personal life. It’s not their life to live – it’s your life. Instead, make choices that you think are strong – and don’t worry about the neighbors or the naysayers.

24. Sell your car

A car is perhaps the worst investment you can make. It depreciates rapidly, breaks down regularly, and requires constant upkeep. Instead of dealing with this, sell the car and make do with the other transportation options available to you – a bicycle, buses, trains, and so forth.

25. Be accountable to what you spend

Finally, try having a weekly or monthly review of all of your spending. Make yourself face the mistakes you’ve made – don’t let a bad spending move lie in the dust and be forgotten. Use it as a tool to make sure it never happens again.

Hopefully, these tactics spur you on to great things.

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  1. Matt says:

    A rally good list.

    I’ll add more:
    Exercise and live a healthy life – you’ll save loads on doctors and medicines.

    Or a more easy one:
    Walk or cycle instead of driving or taking a bus – you save on gas and tickets plus you get all the heath benefits.

  2. Kelly says:

    In the topic of “tap water”: we buy filtered water in refillable gallon jugs from our local grocery store (I hate the taste of our tap water). It’s only $.39/gallon, I don’t have to wonder how much lead is coming through the pipes of our old rental, and my daughter loves helping press the buttons on the water refill machine at the grocery store. This is much cheaper than the water delivery service we used to pay for!

  3. What a good list. And I’m thrilled to see that my menu planning suggestion made it on there(and was suggest by more people than just myself!).

  4. Simplicity in Kansas says:

    These are great and for some other items are key too

    1 – Leveraging any company benefit – 401K match, education, discounts, memeberships and other item associated with employment.

    2 – Buy used via Thrift Stores, Craig’s List and other second hand markets.

    3 – Focus on reducing obligations and things that add to the cycle of spending or time consumption like co-workers that judge you.

    4 – Improve health (Stop smoking is an example) to improve earnings potential and happiness.

    5 – Ignore the noise. Simple and frugal behaviors are growing in importance.

    Simplicity in Kansas

  5. Maureen says:

    I was surprised by the woman’s magazine! It’s true though. Not only does the persuasive advertising make you think you need something but most magazines have more advertisements than features meaning you’re also paying to be persuaded to buy more.

  6. Anne K says:

    @Kelly- It might be cheaper than 39 cents/gallon for your water if you get some sort of filtration system for your rental. We used Britta filters in a pitcher for years before moving here (we have well water now). The filters look expensive at first glance, but they last three months each, the tap water tasted loads better, and we didn’t have to run to the store to buy more water.

  7. Meri says:

    I switched to tap water as well but also have a slight aversion to the taste. Once a week I buy a lemon, slice it, and keep the slices in my refrigerator. In the morning when I fill up my water bottle, I put a lemon slice in and it gives the water a nice, crisp taste all day long, even when I refill the bottle. Lemons are super cheap, so I don’t mind those few pennies.

  8. Mule Skinner says:

    Staying at home, meaning not going out for entertainment, is more likely in a small town since there are fewer commercial entertainments available anyway. So, the small town offers yet another benefit.

  9. Mule Skinner says:

    Sell your car — hmmm, harder to get along without it in the small town.

  10. Mule Skinner says:

    My house has not had television for 30 years but I get cable advertising by mail about twice a month. In reading this material recently, it appears that (1) cable tv, plus (2) telephone with unlimited national calling plus (3) internet connectivity would cost less than I am currently paying for phone and internet alone. It is tempting to take their offer and ignore the tv plug that would come with it.

  11. Deborah Johnson says:

    What has really helped me to save money is to go to the store when I get paid (every other week), plan meals and make and stick to a grocery list. I found that by taking a few minutes to plan and write down what I need, I don’t make those frequent stops on the way home from work “for a few things” that always turned into a cartful of stuff I don’t need.

    I also cut back on my magazine subscriptions. Saves money and cuts down on clutter.

    Great list! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Mule Skinner says:

    Women’s magazines are not the only publications chock-a-block with advertising. Daily newspapers are loaded with it as well. Even my small town newspaper that appears only on Wednesday and Saturday has thick advertising inserts (which I trash). Seasonally they have feature sections (e.g. brides) that are thinly disguised promotions of one facet of commerce or another.

  13. Margo says:

    I figured out the “no women’s magazines” advice about 2 years ago. Once I stopped reading them regularly, I figured out there are only a very small handful of articles worth reading in any issue. 80% of the pages are advertisements. I do like to read these occasionally, but my gym has a nice variety so I can get my fill of fluff on cardio days. Alternatively, I can checkout last month’s issue from the library.

  14. Tap water in most of the US is one of the biggest bargains out there.

  15. Savvy Frugality says:

    For those who don’t like the taste of tap water (I’m one of those) I highly recommend a faucet filter. I have used Pur, but the generic version made by Culligan and sold at Walgreen’s is even better. One filter provides 200 gallons of drinking water. The cost of the filter is about ten bucks, and it lasts about 2 months. That’s much cheaper than bottled water and tastes just as good.

  16. The following action can save you a lot of money in the long run: Pay yourself first. Set aside at least 5% to 15%(do 5% if you have student loan, do more than 5% if you don’t have student loan) of your gross income every month. Setup an automatic plan to do it regularly.
    A Dawn Journal

  17. Jane says:

    Re: womens magazines- so true! I have cut almost all my subscriptions because I enjoy reading blogs for all the same topics! With blogs however, I get a balance. I read some decorating and fashion blogs and some frugal blogs-in alphabetical order on my google reader. So, there is a balance to all the messages. I feel less alone in the frugal lifestyle even when my real life friends are spending away.

  18. talia_tx says:

    I cut my cable a few months ago and haven’t missed it. I now just get all my favorite shows off the web from sites like hulu.com or sidereel.com Of course it also helps that I don’t have a TV but a projector that I have hooked up to my laptop.

  19. Katzchen says:

    I hate being told, “Well, sell your car!” When you live in a spread-out city where the closest grocery store is a mile away, there’s no public transportation AT ALL, and the streets are covered with snow and ice six months of the year, with the other six months being so hot and humid that riding a bike to the grocery store is likely to make you die of heatstroke, that’s just not a smart suggestion.

  20. Kathy says:

    *shrugs* I think that I am less swayed by advertising than other people for some reason. I look at sale ads to find out if the things I am planning on buying are on sale or not. If they aren’t, then I wait until they are.

    I also really like my “woman’s magazines” because they seem to have topics that interest me. Family Circle seems to do a really good job of looking at relevant topics that make me go “You know, I should pass that on to the HS/MS Principal or the Guidance Counselor” Oprah in particular does an excellent job of hitting topics that make me go “WOW. That’s just want I needed to hear about” or “OMG. I thought that I was the only one that felt that way” Sure, I could get a lot of this stuff on-line, but there is something to be said about stepping away from the computer *grins*

    My biggest money saver is not stopping at the grocery store more than once per week and I am striving for once every two weeks.

  21. Kerrie says:

    This is a really great list! Wish we could only use tap water in our house, but it’s not drinkable (due to a screwup outside of our home). But the state pays for us to get bottled water (Leisure Time) delivered once a week, so that’s nice. We do have to pay for the darn cooler being plugged in all the time.

    I wish I could get rid of my car! I would love to be able to bike everywhere, that would be great! Doesn’t work where I live though…I guess I do live in a small town. =)

  22. Saver Queen says:

    All great tips. I use almost all of these tips myself, and what a difference it makes. Staying out of the stores makes my interest in acquiring more “stuff” plummet. Kathy, I think that women’s magazines are worse than others for product promotion. I agree that Oprah is one of the better ones, with thought provoking content. I like Canadian Living too because it includes coupons, recipes, and money saving tips, and crafts… and I got a yearly subscription for about $18 CND.

  23. JP says:

    I love this list! My goal is to be mindful of all the issues on this list, I figure even if I don’t accomplish all of them, it will make a huge difference in my financial state.

  24. JB says:

    I’m not surprised by the women’s magazines. Not only do they often lead to lower self-confidence “20 ways to get a man!”, they are all about ads or the latest fashion trends, “20 must haves for Fall!”. Once I made a conscious effort to avoid them, I noticed I stopped feeling the need to have the latest ‘it’ item and feeling better about myself overall.

    After reading the other comments I also agree there’s a big difference between women’s magazines, some are geared more towards consumerism than content than others.

  25. J. says:

    regarding #12, it is a myth that most people are chronically dehydrated, and the myth has been repeated over and over in spite of zero evidence:


  26. joanie says:

    Ditto on the women’s magazines. There is frequently an ad for a “product” being discussed in the “feature” on the opposite page, e.g. “Fifteen ways to stop feeling tired!”, Fifty ways for beautiful skin, etc. I am hoping to get rid of my cable also, because it’s nothing but advertisements and “product” placements, with a little programming in between.

  27. Katina says:

    I’m a voracious reader and started using the library exclusively in 1980. I wish I had kept a list of all the books I’ve read, I’d like to see the total amount of money I’ve saved.

    Also, for those of you who have to “own” a book. Instead of buying it new, go to a used book store or a thrift store. They get the “new” books pretty quickly these days.

  28. Paul says:

    This is exactly the type of article that I read TSD everyday hoping to see. Two points though.

    1. I completely agree with everyone who says to use a Pur water pitcher. It makes even the worst water taste pretty good.

    2. I was really suprised to see that “use a pre-paid cell phone” wasn’t one of the suggestions. It saves a lot of money for me and I am suprised noone else said the same. Oh well, you can’t win them all. ;)

    Thanks for yet another great article.

  29. Kim says:


    I believe someone did say that in the original article. Today Trent was giving us a list of the most frequent readers’ recommendations from the other day.

  30. cv says:

    A friend gave me her old bridal magazines when I got engaged recently, and I totally agree that these sorts of magazines are great at making you feel like you need to spend lots of money. I think the fashion and single women-oriented magazines are much worse than the more family and mother-oriented ones. Cosmo, Elle, Lucky (an entire magazine about shopping!) and Vogue are full of hot trends and products to buy. Family Circle and some of the others that have recipes and such aren’t nearly as bad.

  31. SimplicityinKansas says:

    Interesting list. Thanks for sharing.

  32. SS says:

    This list is great. I like the water pur. I am going to check that out. I think our water has
    too much calcium where I live. The appliance man told me that too. So, I think I will try this. Thanks. Water is important. I want to suggest buying everything used at yard sales, garage sales, such as clothing, furniture. I have found some great buys. Shopping is too expensive. Check them out. I got a great couch set designer for $50.00. He delivered it too. I have found great deals. People need the money too. You will help a lot of people out.

  33. Melissa says:

    I’m surprised by #20 but wholly in agreement!! I never read those magazines anymore; they are just full of junk. I’m also pretty sure they make up most of their “statistics” such as “59% of men admit they like doing THIS with their woman!” And once I saw how retouched and airbrushed those models are, it made me want to read those magazines even less. All they do is perpetuate an image and lifestyle most women can never have, though many have tried. (Get this handbag for only 2,499! What a steal!)
    Makes me afraid to have daughters; I’ll have to be constantly monitoring them so they aren’t over-exposed to this and become self-conscious about themselves at an early age like many girls do now. It’s just sad.

  34. Janell says:

    Great list but, I have a question about the cable-I really like to listen to Fox news it is the only unbiased news out there other than talk radio- I have direct tv and am unable to get Foxnews unless I get the big package- Any ideas on that would love to give it up but, the other stations are not anything I prefer to listen to at this time. I have bugged the Direct Tv company but, they just offer me more channels for less. Not what I want I want a basic package for LESS and includes some of the stuff we watch.

  35. Battra92 says:

    I agree with them all … except the one about the car. It’s not possible to give up a car in Western MA. I remember when I was in college people from outside the area never quite understood that there are very few buses here and bicycling 10 miles to get to work/college was not my idea of fun.

    Of course now that I’m in the real world and I have to drive 50 miles a day (round trip) I carpool twice a week to save on gas.

    As for the women’s mags, I can’t say I’m surprised. I’d also add the Style Network and Oprah to that list. Hey let’s have a show where we tell people they look like rag pickers and then force them to buy expensive clothing or have a hypocrite with weight and emotional issues tell you that your life is a lie.

    Seriously, why do people beat themselves up by reading/watching that crap?

  36. Paul says:

    @ Kim,
    I was the one who said it in the original article. I am suprised that noone else suggested it, thus putting it on the final list. Oh well. :(

  37. Jenzer says:

    I agree that “women’s magazines” can be an indirect drain on the pocketbook and a direct drain on self-esteem, which also has associated costs (like an overall feeling of reduced energy and well-being).

    However, I do find value in certain magazines that are geared *toward* women, but are not necessarily traditional women’s magazines. Clean Eating and ShopSmart come to mind.

  38. oliver_optic says:

    ‘other transportation options available to you – a bicycle, buses, trains’ I am to old to ride a bike, we do not have trains and the bus service sucks. So how do I get to work?

  39. Matt says:

    @Maureen: I think an even stronger case against women’s magazines is that the features many times are veiled advertisements which attempt you to buy products and services and watch television shows. I think this point is more compelling than the sheer quantity of advertising in these mags.

  40. Karen says:

    I’m surprised that no one mentioned shopping at thrift Stores for home wares, clothing, books, etc… I never buy anything without first checking my local thrift stores. I shop mostly at Goodwill because I feel good knowing my money is going to a great organization. I recently bought two brand new casual two-piece outfits with the Nordstrom tags still on them. They retailed in Nordstroms for $208! I paid $12 total! In my opinion not taking advantage of these resources is like throwing money away.

  41. Cari says:

    As a librarian, I’m very happy to see the library shout-outs here. I agree about the women’s magazine thing. It can be really depressing to read those when you can’t afford the stuff in them, although you can probably come up with the looks from consignment stores and more inexpensive makeup. Getting back to the library thing, though, if reading women’s magazines is really your thing, you can always get them from the library to cut back on spending (I flip through them on my lunch break). Also, don’t forget you can ask the librarian for a reading list if you want the guilty pleasure of an escape without the spending temptation. There are a lot of great chick lit titles that require little thought but are well-written and fun.

  42. David Nofsinger says:

    I think along with the “getting rid of magazines” could also be to stay away from HGTV. Almost every show I see they are gutting out kitchens and bathrooms and spending a lot of money in the process. Everyone wants to be surrounded by pretty things, I can’t blame them. I think however that HGTV motivates people into getting things that they don’t need, or fixing a house that isn’t “broken”.

  43. Shanna says:

    Great list. Great idea to reach out to your audience and get their feedback. It makes it that much more credible than what I may read in a magazine. ha ha Anyway, I came by your site today from No Credit Needed (http://www.ncnblog.com). Thanks for the post. Shanna

  44. Nick says:

    The library is a big one. I’m reading a few books a week lately, and although sometimes I have to wait to get the book I want, it saves a ton of money. $10-$15+ for each book as compared to buying new.

  45. NP says:

    I use many of the mentioned strategies to stretch my dollars. I also save all loose change in jars–My husband and I are loathe to ever spend change! It can add up to 30-50 dollars per month if you use a lot of cash.

    Also we have saved a lot of money on our Discover Account in Discover dollars. We have over 500 dollars there because we never tap into it. I am trying to make my savings more fruitful by purchasing a CD every month from ING.

  46. chris says:

    I was dissapointed with my bank so I shopped online savings accounts and found Venture Bank Direct. Much better rates than any brick and mortar bank. 3.8% APY and it was quick and easy to set up.

  47. save money says:

    Thanks for the heads up.

  48. Marcus says:

    Thanks for the tip Chris. Venturebankdirect.com has been a great find. Currently getting 3.6% APY on my savings account. I understand they are in the process of launching an online checking account as well.

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