Are you making any New Year’s resolutions this year? How about making some that would save you thousands of dollars over the course of a year? Consider some of these resolution ideas to do just that! As a bonus, most of these ideas have side effects that will benefit other parts of your life as well!
1. Ditch Cable TV
I had cable for most of my life but got tired of the cable company raising my rates 10% every year. So, I ditched cable and got a $30 antenna. Since I had a modern flat-screen TV, that’s all of the equipment I needed to get all of the networks plus PBS in HI DEF! For this to work, you need to live within 50 miles or so of the TV transmitters. If you live in a big city you should be fine. If you live in the country, best check before canceling cable. All of the details are at DisableMyCable.com.
Sure, there are some shows that I used to watch that I miss. But, it wasn’t worth almost $1000 per year! As an added benefit, I’m watching less TV overall and doing more productive things instead. Annual savings can be $900 or more
2. Refinance Your Home/Car Loan
I was paying an insanely high interest rate on my condo home loan. At the same time, my parents were retiring and looking for somewhere to put their money that paid more than the paltry 1% that a bank pays. Then my parents came up with the brilliant solution to loan me the money to pay off my loan. Instead, I’d pay interest to my parents. It was a total win-win! They got more than a bank would pay, and I got a low interest rate.
This is not for everyone, but it is working great for me. In fact, I am kicking myself for paying the bank all of these years, when I could have been paying my parents! Annual savings can be thousands of dollars!
3. Ditch Starbucks
I had a friend who used to buy up to three cups of coffee per day from Starbucks. While she could afford it (at the time), it seemed like a waste of money to me. Most people aren’t that excessive but many buy a cup a day from a coffee shop. This site calculated the savings of brewing at home vs. buying a cup a day from Starbucks. They came up with an annual savings of $773.80!
While we’re talking about drinks, think about how much money you spend on bottled water. A water filter costs less per glass. Soda is just plain bad for you. Annual savings (one $2 cup per day) is $700.
4. Use Free Software
Do you pay $60 per year or more for your antivirus subscription? Well, you can stop doing that and instead download Avast! Free Antivirus. The free version of Avast! gives you all of the protection you need.
There are tons of other free software out there. Instead of Microsoft Office, use Apache Open Office for Mac or PC. For editing photos on a PC, use Paint.net. On a Mac, use gimp. For web-based photo editing, check out Canva. For recording music or sound, use Audacity for Mac and PC (you will also need to download the Lame MP3 encoder, yes that is what it’s called).
If you need to open an Adobe Illustrator (AI) file, use Inkscape.
5. Use the “Free Gym”
Staying in shape is very important for your health and overall well-being. However, a whopping 67% of people who have gym memberships never use it! I was one of those people. I hated going to the gym.
Instead, I now use the “free gym” which you can access by stepping outside your front door. I have active hobbies like swing dancing. I jog regularly. Occasionally I’ll enter a 5K race just to push myself. Entry fee to a 5K costs less than one month’s gym membership and is good motivation. (If you can motivate yourself without entering a 5K, more power to you!) Anything within a mile I will walk or bike to instead of driving. Annual savings: $660 (average monthly gym membership is $55)
6. Drive Less
That brings us to our next money-saver: driving less. The IRS calculates the cost of driving at 56.5 cents per mile. Granted, no matter how little you drive, you’ll still need to pay for insurance and stuff like that, but you’ll definitely save on gas, parking, and maintenance. Last year I was hit with thousands of dollars in car repair costs (busted cooling system, dead battery, and nail in the tire).
I used to make frequent trips into Boston from about an hour away, so I started taking the train. At a cost of $20 it was worth every penny. I saved that much on parking alone. Then add in the savings in gas and maintenance costs. Plus, I get to rest or do work on the train ride, which is actually very pleasant. Yes, I do have to leave up to an hour early due to the train schedule, but if you have time, it’s great. I estimate I save AT LEAST $1000 per year by using public transportation instead of driving.
Consider carpooling when public transportation isn’t available.
As I mentioned above, I pretty much walk or bike to anything less than a mile or two away. That might not sound like much but it adds up to significant savings in gas and wear and tear on your car. I estimate I save about $200 per year because I walk or bike on these short trips instead of driving.
Needless to say, driving less has all kinds of benefits for your health, the environment, and for our country (because we can buy less foreign oil!)
7. Stop Smoking
Hopefully you don’t smoke, but if you do, I don’t have to tell you how much it is costing you not only in terms of money, but more importantly your health and future medical bills. You can do the math. It’s a fortune in terms of your money and your health. Annual savings ($6/per pack, 1 pack per day): $2190
8. Sell or Donate Stuff You Don’t Use
I read a statistic that said the average home has $3000 worth of stuff that isn’t used. Clear out the clutter! Sell what you can and donate the rest. I am in the process of selling back old CDs and music equipment. I sell my CDs to Second Spin. I’m going to donate my old books and clothes to get a tax write-off. It feels so good to de-clutter! Check out my article on how to sell your stuff on Craigslist fast or how to get the most money for your stuff on eBay.
9. Stay Healthy
This tip can cost you a little now but can save you a lot in the long run. The most important machine you own is your body! Take care of it! Go get your annual checkup. It’s covered by your health insurance, so why not use it? Finding a problem early can save you big money, not to mention your life!
Do you go to the dentist every six months? A teeth cleaning is cheaper than filling a cavity. Filling a cavity is cheaper than a root canal.
10. Maintain Your Stuff
Another important machine you should maintain is your car. Do you get regular oil changes? Do you have any warning lights on? It’s much cheaper to replace brake pads than brake rotors and shoes. But, beware of ripoffs and get a second opinion if you’re not sure.
Similarly, if you own a home, a little preventative maintenance can save you tons of money later on. For example, getting your home tented for termites is a pain but can literally save your home!
11. Re-Evaluate Your Insurance
The purpose of insurance is to protect you against catastrophic costs when an accident occurs. It is very important and necessary. Yes, it costs money, but it can save you from financial ruin when a disaster occurs.
But, you shouldn’t rely on insurance to pay for things that you can afford. A lot of people have their car insurance deductibles set to only a few hundred dollars with the idea that insurance is supposed to pay for everything. That luxury will actually cost you money in the form of higher insurance rates.
If you are a good driver, you can save money by setting your deductible high to decrease your insurance rate. Check your rates. You can probably save a few hundred dollars in the long run, which would pay for any minor fender bender that you’d get. If you don’t get into an accident, you pocket the money, whereas if you paid insurance, you’d pay no matter what. Insurance companies need to make money off of any benefits they offer you.
Of course, if you are prone to frequent fender benders, it actually might be best for you to keep your deductible low. Anyway, it’s something to think about. While you’re at it, you can shop around for lower rates and potentially save hundreds annually.
I was stupid and stayed on COBRA health insurance after I left my job. I thought that was a benefit, but actually private insurance or ACA insurance is much cheaper than COBRA. I could have saved $200 a month if I had known! Don’t make this mistake like I did.
There are other types of insurance that are usually bad deals, namely, insurance on electronics and cell phones. The insurance on my iPhone was $10/month, or $120 per year! And, even with that “insurance” I’d still have to pay a $120 fee on top of that to actually get a replacement! I just went to Radio Shack, and they said it would cost me $135 for the latest iPhone – with no insurance or anything! So, the cell phone insurance is clearly a bad deal. Basically, the insurance is only worth it if you lose your phone in the first month. I haven’t lost my iPhone yet after two years, so I’ve already saved $240!
12. Get 2% Back on Everything You Buy
I have a credit card that gives me 2% cash back on everything I buy with it. So, I put as much as possible on it vs. using cash or checks. If you spend $1000 on your card per month, you’ll save $240 per year. In addition, you get the free insurance that comes with the card which could come in handy. I only wish I could pay my rent with my credit card!
Of course, if you have issues with controlling your spending with credit cards, this is not for you. But if you are responsible, it’s like getting a little cash for doing nothing. By the way, I steer away from cards that give airline miles. Miles are getting less valuable every day as the airlines add greater restrictions. The value of the airline miles is therefore less than what you would get back in cash, so why not get cash that you can spend anytime on anything (including airline tickets on any airline)??
13. Buy Used or Borrow
Check out Craigslist or Ebay for stuff that is nearly as good as new but a fraction of the cost! Borrow from friends instead of buying if you are only going to use it once.
When was the last time you were in a library? They now have DVD’s you can check out, just like Blockbuster!
14. Tame Your Phone Bill
Do you still have a land line AND a cell phone (like my parents, haha). Time to ditch the land line. When I had one, all I got was telemarketing calls on it anyway. That alone saved me $360 per year. For long distance calls, use Skype or Google Voice.
If you absolutely need a “land line”, check out Obi Hai, a device that offers free calling through Google Voice using your regular phone (you’ll need an Internet connection).
Finally, check your cell phone plan to make sure your plan matches your usage. You might be paying for more minutes and features than you need. If you are a light phone user, a pre-paid cell phone might be the way for you. This can be as cheap as $10 per month, saving almost $1000 per year vs. a $90/month bill. Also, a family plan can save lots of money, and you don’t actually have to share it with family members.
15. Make Your Own Meals
It takes time, but the savings are big if you make your own lunch instead of buying it every day (I assumed a savings of $5 per work day).
16. Care For Your Clothes
Some of my favorite shirts got ruined because they shrank a little every time I put them in the dryer. Now I hang my best shirts to dry instead and I haven’t had that problem since.
Sending shirts to the cleaners is expensive and hard on clothes. Yes, I know ironing is a pain, but you can do it while watching TV, talking on the phone, or whatever. If you spend $10 on dry cleaning cotton shirts each week, this will save you $520 per year.
They say that washing your jeans shortens the life drastically. Only wash them when they need to be washed, not necessarily every time you wear them.
17. Do a Clothing Inventory and Wear What You Have
I did a clothing inventory this year and found a bunch of clothes that I forgot about buried deep in drawers and at the back of my closet. What a waste not to use them! Because I did this inventory and simply wore the clothes that I forgot about, I was able to get through the whole year without buying a single item of new clothing! Sure, I am not at the cutting-edge of fashion, but I work from home, so I don’t need to be.
18. Scan Your Credit/Debit Card Bills for Fraud
Do you scrutinize your credit card, debit card, and checking account statements every month? I am ashamed to say that sometimes I don’t. Yet, in the past, but dumb luck, I caught a few fraudulent purchases by scanning my bill.
Debit cards have a time limit on when banks will reimburse you for fraud, so stay alert! Here is an article on how to make your debit cards fraud-proof if you only use them for ATM transactions.
There are costly monitoring services that will check your account for fraud, but amazingly, you can assemble your own fraud monitoring service for free.
In addition, you might find some lingering monthly bills for goods or services that you don’t use anymore (newspapers, magazines, memberships, etc.)
19. Date Cheap
Dating can be expensive. Even a trip to the movies with popcorn and drinks can be a stretch… (not to mention that a movie is a lousy place to go for a first date, but that is a separate topic). How about some of these cheap date ideas?
Most museums have one free day a week or month. Plan ahead and look for them. Some awesome museums are free every day, like the Getty in Los Angeles, and the Smithsonian in DC! During the summer, many cities have free outdoor concerts and/or dancing outdoors. Check for those. How about going for a hike in the local mountains, riding bikes to the beach, or people-watching downtown? Some cities have free outdoor movie nights or free Shakespeare in the park. Prepare a picnic basket and go. How about window shopping in a pedestrian-friendly area of town, like Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or Newbury Street in Boston? A friend of mine once said that “every big city has a ‘date walk’ area”.
These ideas are low cost, yet can be charming, especially if you chain several together (i.e., museum, then free outdoor concert under the stars with a picnic basket). Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that most people would agree that the extra thought, creativity, preparation and planning you put into a date can actually mean a lot more than just throwing money around at the last minute.
20. Use AirBnB Instead of Hotels
I admit, I haven’t used it yet, but I have friends who swear by it. AirBnb is a room-sharing service where you can either “rent” out a room to a visitor or stay at someone’s place at a fraction of the cost of a hotel. I recently read that AirBnB now houses more travelers than Hilton.
Along the same lines, if you want to make a few bucks, and you have an extra room in your home, you can use the service to rent out that room to paying guests!
21. Slash Your Internet Bill
Most people blindly sign up for the “standard” Internet access with their cable provider. With Time Warner, that costs $44.99 per month for 15Mbps speed. However, most people don’t know that many cable companies offer cheaper lower-speed options. Now, no one likes slow downloads, but the lower speed options are still pretty darn fast – fast enough to watch videos. You might not even notice the difference. They offer 3Mbps speed for $29.99 per month and 1Mbps speed for $19.99 per month. Let’s say you go down to the $29.99 plan. That saves $180 per year. Here are more ideas to tame your Internet bill.
21. Used Media Gift Exchange
Like most of you, we have a big family gathering around the holidays. Our family typically doesn’t exchange gifts because we are all too busy to shop (and we pretty much have what we need already) but I know many families do.
Well, last year, I had some Blue-Ray discs that I had ripped to my computer (it was completely legal, I swear! These came with a “digital download”). I didn’t need the actual discs anymore so I brought them to Christmas dinner to give to anyone who wanted them. My cousins were THRILLED to get them (“Star Trek” and “Limitless” by the way). That got me thinking.. Why not have a gift exchange of the DVDs you don’t watch anymore for Christmas instead of buying gifts? Tell everyone to bring DVDs they don’t watch beforehand. Then, you can trade them or use them for a fun Yankee swap type of game. Or make up a new game: Have everyone wrap the DVD and write the name of an actor in the movie on it (or some other clue about it). Then, trade the “mystery movies” around. The same can be done for CDs, books, toys, etc.
Some might think this is cheesy but there are so many benefits. The biggest benefit to everyone might be not having to shop during the crazy holidays! It saves time. It saves money. It saves headaches. It saves the environment. Plus, how many times do you get a store-bought gift that you don’t really like? (i.e., sweaters, etc.) I always feel terrible when that happens, especially because the person spent precious time and money to get it for me.
With the used media swap, none of your valuable money is spent on gifts that people don’t need or want. If no one likes your DVD, then it’s a gag gift and at least it will be funny.
22. Use Your Car to Make Money
This is the year that peer-to-peer ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber have really taken off. If you have a car, and some extra time, you can earn money by driving people around in your neighborhood! Now, there are some requirements (your car can’t be a complete clunker), but it could be a fun, no-commitment way to earn a few extra bucks.
Similarly, if you park your car at the airport, you can avoid paying anything and actually make a little money by renting it out while you’re gone! This is still a new concept and only available at a few airports. Check out RelayRides at SFO and FlightCar at SFO, LAX, and BOS.
Everything is negotiable! Or at least, you should think of things that way. It never hurts to ask for a discount, or ask for that fee to be waived (just because you’ve been a good customer for so long).
When buying a big-ticket item, do research beforehand so you know what price is reasonable.
Ask for a cash discount.
Even with some things which seem to have fixed pricing, like cell phones, you might be able to get a freebie (I was able to get a free case for my new HTC One phone from T-Mobile). So, if you can’t get a discount, ask for something free on the side, or an upgrade.
24. Plan Your Estate
Not putting your assets in the proper legal and financial entities could cost your family tens of thousands of dollars and risk putting your assets into probate court when you die. If you own a home, you should talk to a good estate lawyer. I put my condo in a revocable trust, which means it won’t go into probate when I die and will go directly to who I specify in the trust. A will won’t prevent your assets from going into probate!
Well, I hope some of these ideas resonated with you. Best wishes for your new year and please tell me about some of your ideas to save money! What tricks have you discovered? Please comment below! – Brian