In an ever-changing fast-paced world, most of us are accustomed to doing things now, and long-term financial planning is often difficult for us to wrap our arms around. We don’t want to think about being a millionaire in twenty years; we want to start down that road now with quick actions that we can use to quickly see rewards.
Here’s a list of eighteen things you can do today that will improve your bottom line in the coming year. I’d advise you to sit down right now with a piece of paper, make a list of the ones that you are going to do today, and total up how much money this will save for you. If the individual items seem frivolous, just bear with me: there’s a conclusion to this that you may find interesting.
1. Drink less expensive coffee. Do you stop at the coffee shop a bit too often? Cutting out one latte a week can save $5 a week, or even ordering a smaller size three times a week can save $3 a week. Do you really need the grande latte? Savings: $5 a week
2. Prepare your own “fast food.” Fast food is convenient and tasty, but with some advance work, you can prepare your own quick foods at home. They take very little skill, are good for you, and are usually at least a dollar less expensive than the equivalent item at a fast food restaurant. If you eat fast food even once a week (and many of us eat more than that), then that’s a dollar saved. For me, I can save as much as $5 a week, so let’s average the two. Savings: $3 a week
3. Instead of watching television, read a book. After evaluating the per-hour cost of my hobbies, I discovered that television viewing was the most expensive and reading was the least expensive, so I basically just turned off the television and opened a book. What happened? We trimmed our cable bill to just the basic channels (a savings of about $15 a month), cut down our electricity usage (television and surround sound were off for two hours when they used to be on) which saved about $0.50 a month, and rediscovered a hobby that makes me consider the world instead of sitting there absorbing whatever the television feeds me. We’re even thinking about eliminating the cable entirely, since the few shows we now watch are almost all on network television. An average individual could save about $8 a month doing this, so we’ll use that. Savings: $2 a week
4. Find worthwhile weekend projects that don’t burn money. I used to spend my weekends involved with some pretty expensive hobbies, but then I started spending a couple weekends a month engaged with things that made money or were at least inexpensive. Do you spend $50 on a golf excursion with your buddies twice a month? How about a once a month trip to the mall with a $100 bill? Replace these with cost-effective weekend activities. Even better if you’re a parent: these can all involve the kids in a productive fashion. Just replacing one expensive weekend activity a month can save $30-$50 a month. I’ll even estimate this one on the low end. Savings: $10 a week
5. Air up your tires. On your way home tonight, stop at a gas station and air up your tires. It’s incredibly simple to do (if you’re capable of taking the cap off of a toothpaste tube, you can do it), it’s free, and it saves serious money – about $0.07 a gallon with current prices. Do this once a month if you can, and you’ll save about $3 a month. Savings: $0.75 a week
6. Use free software instead of expensive commercial products. In the past, I’ve bought copies of Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop and I also paid for yearly renewals for an antivirus package. No more. I save about $50 a year by using great open source software solutions. Most are easy to install and work as well as the software they replace. Instead of buying an expensive software package, look at what you can get for free. Savings: $4 a month.
7. Buy in bulk. Instead of buying smaller packs of items you’ll continually use (such as toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent, fabric softener, shampoo, conditioner, dish soap, tissues, diapers, baby wipes, trash bags, etc.), buy them in packages that cost the cheapest per unit (almost always the largest one). Put the excess in storage and continue to refill smaller containers out of the bulk containers as you need them. Even if you save only $5 per year on each item, if you buy ten items in bulk, you’ve saved $50. If your grocery list has such continuous use items on it, pick up the bulk version instead. Savings: $4 a month
8. Plan your road trips more carefully. We often make multi-hour treks to visit my son’s grandparents and other relatives, as well as visiting friends and going on camping trips. By planning ahead just a bit (maybe fifteen minutes of work), we can save $20 on each trip. If you travel quite a bit, planning ahead can easily save you up to $100 a year. Savings: $5 a month
9. Drink lots of water. Keep a water bottle full at your side and take a big drink every time you feel hungry or thirsty. This trick has saved me from many trips to the vending machines and unnecessary stops for food and beverages when out and about, and this converts straight into cash in my pocket. By cutting out the unnecessary snacks, I can save a couple dollars a day on average – and some people are far worse than I am. Savings: $10 a week
10. Check the library for books instead of the bookstore. Before you go buy a book, check and see if it’s available at your local library. Many libraries now have an online catalogue that enables you to check for a book. If this keeps you from buying one book a month (average cost $12), this adds up to $150 a year. Savings: $12 a month
11. Keep a list of what you spend. I keep a small notebook inside my jacket along with a pen, and whenever I spend money on anything, I jot it down. Every once in a while, I look it over and usually shake my head at the wasted money, but that’s not the powerful part: the power is in the guilt I feel when I consider adding an item to my notebook. This usually makes me stop and reconsider frivolous purchases, which can save me as much as $50 a pop. On average, though, it’s much smaller than that. Savings: $10 a month
12. Install compact fluorescent bulbs. Replace the light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent bulbs; stop on your way home from work and use one of those Christmas gift cards to stock up. If you replace fifteen bulbs with CFLs and use each bulb for four hours a day, you’ll save $0.22 a day, or $7.50 a month, in your energy bill. Per bulb, your savings each month is about $0.50. Savings: $7.50 a month
13. Write a grocery list. Preparing a grocery list seems kind of silly at first, but it works amazingly well. We keep a pad of paper and a pen attached to the refrigerator so that both my wife and I can write down anything we can think of that we need or that we want for preparing a meal. Then, when we go to the store, we just stick to that list; if it’s not on the list, we don’t buy it. Our weekly grocery bill immediately dropped by about $20 when we started sticking to this principle, and it’s so easy to do (and actually faster, because you don’t wander through the store wondering if you forgot something). Put a pad and a pen on the refrigerator and start making a list today. Savings: $20 a week
14. Eat breakfast. Before you leave in the morning, eat something small, like a bagel or a cup of yogurt. Why? When lunchtime rolls around, you won’t be as hungry and you’ll make more sensible dining choices which don’t involve going out to TGI Friday’s and ordering a giant appetizer before your meal … not that I’ve ever done that … not me … yeah, right. When I do this, I save about $3 on ann average lunch, which is balanced against the $0.50 or so that the breakfast food cost me. Savings: $10 a week
15. Invite your friends over. “Won’t that cost money?” you ask. Nope. Invite your friends over about once a month for a potluck dinner. Break it down into small pieces for everyone to bring (assign each person something to bring) and provide one of the main meal elements. For example, you can have each couple bring their favorite pizza topping and some pizza sauce and you provide the dough. Not only is this cheaper than going out to eat, you’re also spreading some of the dinner cost out among the guests. Even better: since you’re at home already, it’s pretty easy to find a very inexpensive activity to fill the evening, which is much cheaper than out-on-the-town activities. We did this with a New Year’s Eve party once and it was a huge hit – and it didn’t cost much either. Everyone brought their favorite pizza toppings, favorite finger snack, and a six pack of their favorite beer. Total cost for hosting a memorable New Year’s party: about $20 (dough, some mushrooms, and some Leinenkugel). Savings: $20 a month
16. Install programmable thermostats. This is another great item to spend Christmas gift cards on. A programmable thermostat can cut your energy bills by about $100 a year by following pre-set programs to lower and raise temperatures in rooms automatically. This enables the house to be at a nice temperature when you’re using it, but at an ambient (or close to it) temperature when you’re not (in the night, or when you’re at work, for example). This can save serious cash over the long term. Savings: $7.50 a month
17. Turn your computer off every night. You can do this automatically with little effort, and with a typical desktop computer, you can save about $2 a month on energy costs. Savings: $2 a month
18. Use the ten second rule. The ten second rule basically states that you should pause for ten seconds before making a purchase and spend that time asking yourself if you really need what you’re buying. Quite often, the answer will be “no,” which is all the incentive you need to put the item back on the shelf. I do this all the time and end up saving some decent money each month. Savings: $20 a month
Now that I’ve done all of these things… If you’ve done all of these things, you’re now spending roughly $85 a week less than you used to. Instead of letting that money just sit in your checking account, tempting you, sign up for a high-yield savings account at ING (4.5% APY and a $25 signup bonus if you use a referral code – just ask me for one) or HSBC (5.05% APY). Set up an automatic weekly deposit into that high-yield account from your checking account equal to the amount you’re now saving.
And how much will I have? If you followed all of the steps in this plan and put it all into HSBC, at the end of the year you’ll have $4,641.22 in the account. You might think that some of the ideas on this list are a bit silly, but how silly is $4,600 a year? That can easily be enough to make a few extra mortgage payments each year, pay off your car, or start an investment portfolio.
The best part? You can start immediately.