My List on How to Save Money
Living on a reduced budget/fixed income, and wanting to save for travel, I am always researching ways to save money. I started compiling a list and will update it frequently as I discover new ways to save! Also note, I do not receive any money from any of the companies I have listed.
Here are some ways I cut costs:
1. Cheap Cell Phone Providers
Before I retired, I researched cell phone plans because I was tired of throwing money away on Verizon and (later AT&T). Eventually, I ended up going with Consumer Cellular, because my plan is $40/month, unlimited calls and text. Another option is one my college-aged son uses, which is Straighttalk (from Walmart). His plan runs $45/month.
If the reception in your area is poor, you might be stuck going with a major provider. Check out this article comparing the major cell providers.
2. Free Entertainment
If you have an HDTV, there are at least 20+ channels you can watch for FREE over-the-air, including the local channels. While I haven’t cut cable (yet), I don’t have a cable receiver in my bedroom. Instead, I use an HDTV antenna to watch local channels if I have guests or if (more likely than not) I can’t sleep.
I also discovered that I can also stream up to 10 free (and good) movies every month based on my library membership. The service is called Kanopy. If you have a library card, you can sign up for free.
Some streaming tv services to consider, in addition to Amazon Video (free with Prime), are Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Sling. Costs vary. I haven’t canceled my Basic Cable subscription because some of the streaming services cost about what I pay for bundled cable.
My sister, who loves tech, introduced me to a media server app called Plex. My sister has a large server where she stores thousands of movies and tv shows. She authorized me to access her server via the free Plex app. Now I can watch shows and films for free.
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you not only get free two-day shipping for Prime Eligible items, you also have access to Amazon Prime Video (with thousands of shows and movies), Amazon Music, and one free Amazon book per month as part of your membership. Prime membership is around $119/year, but it’s worth it if you shop online, don’t have cable but want to watch movies, and if you like getting a free book a month. With your Prime membership, you can also have groceries delivered within a two-hour window with Prime Delivery. Unfortunately, the groceries are a tad more expensive than going to the store yourself. But, if you are unable to go to the store, it is an option. Note: Prime Delivery is not available everywhere.
I get daily emails from BookBub, which lists books that you can download from Amazon for cheap (from free to $2.99).
If you don’t have “itchy feet” and dislike leaving home, or if lack of money prevents you from traveling, find free entertainment in your city. (In a city like Las Vegas, there is always something happening.) I have joined Meetup groups to have companionship when I go to the movies, eat out, and volunteer. Meetups are generally free.
When I travel, I follow these guidelines:
a. Fly midweek (typically on Tuesdays) because I have found that the fares are better (although I have heard that there is no truth to that!)
b. Travel off-season
c. Read books on the Kindle app on my IPad
d. Compare the cost of hotels (using Expedia and Priceline) versus the cost of staying at an Airbnb or VRBO. Inevitably, Airbnb and VRBO are a better deal. Other options are Couchsurfing.com and (in Asia) Agoda.com
e. Pack lightly to avoid any unexpected charges by the airlines. As I develop a minimalist capsule wardrobe, this will become easier.
f. Check these websites to find cheap airfares: Matrix.ITASoftware, Momondo (the BEST!), Skyscanner, and AirlineConsolidator.
Some ideas I have not tried (or don’t qualify for yet) include:
a. Try housesitting while overseas. Two websites that I have heard of are TrustedHouseSitters and MindMyHouse.
b. Most travel bloggers I follow stay at hostels, so that is another way to cut costs. Check out Hostelworld. I have also heard that, during the summer, universities may allow you to reserve a dorm room. Check out UniversityRooms.
c. I have not hit senior status yet, but Amtrak gives senior discounts to folks over 65.
d. Related to trains, if you decide to travel by trains, check out Seat61 for the most info on routes, schedules, etc.
As I mentioned above, try to stick to a capsule wardrobe of a few pieces that you can mix and match. There are blogs devoted to creating a capsule wardrobe, as well as Pinterest boards. While you clean out your closet, you can try selling your gently worn, but no longer needed, clothes. You can hold a garage sale, or sell your clothes at a consignment store. You can also try Ebay, RehashClothers.com, and other websites.
5. Cup of Joe
Living in Seattle, I became a devotee of Starbucks and bold coffee. My coworkers and I usually went to Starbucks twice a day (there was one in the lower level of my office building). Now, that I’m retired, I rarely go to Starbucks because I prefer to make coffee at home (in my PJs!). While I do have a Keurig coffee machine, to save money, I use a washable plastic K-cup which I fill with my preferred ground coffee. This is a lot cheaper than buying K-cups and it is better for the environment. I also have an Aeropress (a gift) if I want a particularly strong cup of coffee (at less than $30 at Target, it ends up being cheaper than buying expressos every day!).
I am learning to curb my impulse shopping. It has become a whole lot easier since I downsized from a house to a 725 sq. ft condo. In my current place, I do not have room for any unnecessary purchases. I got rid of large furniture pieces (such as a sectional sofa and two leather recliners) and the furniture I kept can be multi-purposed. My wood daybed (the one pictured below, but with different cushions) that had been in a guest room in my old house, now sits in my living room to serve as my main sofa, as well as a comfortable guest bed (it uses a twin mattress).
Since I only have one bedroom and no office space, my expensive Pottery Barn Logan Office suite (pictured below) now sits against the wall in my small dining area. On one side of the cabinets are my office supplies, and on the other side is storage kitchen items that don’t fit in my small kitchen.
When I go grocery shopping, I make a list of what I need before I leave the house and try to stick to it. I have a tendency to impulse buy, so sticking to the list helps reduce unnecessary purchases and helps keep me on a budget.
- While I do not generally use coupons, but I will explore this option since so many coupons are digital.
- There are also sales patterns that grocery stores use – I haven’t figured out which days items go on sale at my local grocery stores. Some sleuthing is in order.
- I have read that bigger is better (lower price per unit), and you should look to buy items on the top and lowest shelves.
- Buy generic items when feasible, although I noticed that some generic food items are not worth the savings because of the taste difference.
- When it comes to vegetables, buy the actual vegetable and not packaged goods (e.g. a bunch of carrots and packaged baby carrots).
- If the store offers free membership, join (unless you do not want your purchases tracked).
- Costco and Sam’s Club are options, but I do not buy in bulk due to lack of space and because it’s just … me. My son is a member of Costco, so if there is something I really need, I could get it.
At our age, keeping healthy is a priority. So, should we stick to organic foods? If budget wasn’t an issue, I would say … probably… I read an article on Livestrong that lists 21 organic foods you should buy, even if you are on a budget. Items listed are wine, coffee, meat, soy, produce where you eat the skin (apples, blueberries, grapes, hot peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, celery, etc.), and dairy, I don’t know about you, but’s that about everything I eat!!
In an attempt to save money and to stay healthy, I have now switched to a primarily vegetarian diet. Previously, on the advice of one of my sisters, I tried veganism but lasted only 1.5 months. I found it too difficult to eat a vegan diet while traveling and, honestly, I felt run down and out of sorts. I will probably switch to veganism again after I figure out how to plan healthy meals.
c. Dining out and Health & Beauty
In a word, Groupon. Not being a fan of couponing, I never checked out Groupon until after I retired. For years, friends raved about their savings using Groupon. I checked the site out after I moved full-time to Vegas and discovered how much more expensive spa treatments were compared to where I previously lived. On Groupon, I found some good deals for haircuts, dining out, and skin treatments.
7. Financial Institutions
I can’t find any brick and mortar banks that have good savings rates. The typical APY on savings accounts is about 0.08 percent and I think my Bank of America account pays less than that! However, online banks offer higher APYs. Check out bankrate.com for the latest rates on CDs and savings accounts. When I looked, some of the online banks were paying 2% with a minimum $100 deposit. A good overview of types of savings accounts, CDs, money markets, etc. can be found at Lendedu.
Another option is credit unions. I recently opened an account at Navy Federal Credit Union and have been impressed with the APY on my money market account and CDs. To be eligible for an account, you must be a military member, a veteran, an immediate family member of a military member/veteran, or an employee of the Dept. of Defense.
As for investment accounts, I used to have my retirement money in a Schwab account. My ex-husband, who has a finance background, had advised me to open the account. However, after my divorce and after losing beaucoup bucks during the recession, I moved my money from Schwab to Vanguard. I love Vanguard. There is a community of Vanguard devotees online called “Bogelheads” whose website emphasizes regular saving, broad diversification and adhering to one’s investment plan regardless of market conditions. They follow a few simple investment principles that they claim have shown over time to produce risk-adjusted returns greater than those of the average investor.
8. Continuing Education (for free or very little!)
I continue to enjoy learning new things. and am compiling a list of websites that offer free classes online. Here is what I have so far:
I also take classes – including how to create this blog!- (for under $10) at Udemy.
9. Selling a Home
As I mentioned in another post, I plan to leave Las Vegas next year. I paid very little money for my small condo but did have to sink around $20,000 for renovations. Now that the market has recovered, I should not only recoup the money I spent on upgrading the condo, but I should also make a profit of around $35,000. When I have sold homes in the past, I have paid 6 percent commission – until I sold my homes in California. I found a great realtor (former Marine) who discounted his commission and I ended up paying around 4.25%. I am hoping that, in a hot real estate market like Las Vegas, where I get weekly mailings from realtors begging to sell my home, that I will be able to negotiate a lower commission. It can’t hurt to try!
***Update: I found a realtor that provides a discounted commission for law enforcement and military veterans. Furthermore, this realtor is considered the “go-to” realtor in my community, as he has flipped many condos here. I had previously met with two realtors recommended by my credit union, but neither seemed that familiar with my community. My new realtor will discount the standard 6% commission to 5%.
Bottom line: Find out if there are realtors that provide discounts to certain professions (teachers, military, police, firefighters, etc.). It never hurts to ask. Alternatively, see if your credit union has programs that give you cash back on buying and/or selling. Navy Federal Credit Union has a program called RealtyPlus that does both. However, at my price point, the military discount offered by my realtor was greater than the cashback selling with a RealtyPlus realtor.
10. Free Word Processing and Office Software
If you don’t want to spend money on Office 365 or buy a permanent Microsoft Office license, you can get the same word processing functionality with Apache OpenOffice which can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.
From the OpenOffice website; “Apache OpenOffice is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages.”
Another free office software suite is LibreOffice.
From the LibreOffice website: “LibreOffice is compatible with a wide range of document formats such as Microsoft® Word (.doc, .docx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx) and Publisher. But LibreOffice goes much further with its native support for a modern and open standard, the Open Document Format (ODF). With LibreOffice, you have maximum control over your data and content – and you can export your work in many different formats including PDF.”
11. Travel Fees
Hotel WiFi – I’ve noticed that the fancier hotels always seem to charge for WiFi. However, if you join the hotel’s free loyalty program, WiFi is often included. Or, use the hotspot feature on your phone to make it a personal WiFi router to your laptop/tablet (if your cellphone’s data plan supports this).
Luggage Fees – As is almost always the case, flights are full and overhead bin space is limited. Inevitably, the gate attendant announces that people can check their carry on bags into luggage hold for free. Some people gamble and take two carry-ons to the gate to try to avoid paying the checked bag fee, but I have not tried this. The best option (for me) is to join the airlines’ frequent flier programs. I know that on Alaska and Southwest, I can check two pieces of luggage for free.
ATM Out-of-Network Fees – Find no-fee debit cards offered by credit unions and online banks which reimburse you for fees using an out-of-network ATM. USAA is one bank that does this.
12. Relocating to a Cheaper State
I am currently embarking on this cost-saving measure. GoBankingRates has some helpful articles, including the major cities where housing prices are plummeting, which includes San Antonio, Shreveport, Austin, Birmingham, Austin, and an article on the average rental rates in various parts of the US (spoiler, it’s more expensive to live in the West and Northeast, and cheaper to live in the Midwest).
I will be updating this list frequently. If you have some good resources for saving money, please comment below.