My List on How to Save Money
Living on a reduced budget/fixed income, and with a goal of saving money 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 was $40/month, unlimited calls and text. Another option I considered is the one that my college-aged son uses, which is Straighttalk (from Walmart). His plan runs $45/month.
However, after using Consumer Cellular (CC) for over three years, I am back to AT&T. I couldn’t receive text messages from certain companies on the CC network (it wasn’t my iPhone or my settings, an CC’s technical support team could not figure it out). Plus, the reception was crappy (I had the T-Mobile Simcard). CC said they could send me an AT&T Simcard, but I passed. Yes, I pay more with AT&T ($64/month versus $47 with CC), but I got a 25% discount for veterans, I use the mobile hotspot all the time, and my AT&T plan provides WatchTV (which includes some of my favorite channels plus HBO).
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. I just cut cable with my move and am getting excellent reception with a flat antenna I picked up for under $20 at Walmart.
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.
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.
UPDATE 4/8/19: I discovered a free tv app called Pluto TV. It has live tv and on-demand movies and tv shows. I downloaded the app onto my iPad and rewatched “The Lovely Bones.” It also has news from CBS, NBC, and Sky. I am going to play with it for a few weeks and then might finally cut my cable service.
UPDATE 11/2/19: I also learned about a few more no-cost services – Facebook Watch (but requires a Facebook account, which I deleted), Sony Crackle, Shout!Factory TV. Comcast/NBC’s Peacock streaming service is expected to offer a free ad-supported version for some cable and satellite tv providers.
b. Online Shopping
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 also use Ebates, now Rakuten. I generally get a few bucks back when shopping online. The site includes cashback from the big retailers (Amazon, Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Best Buy, etc). Also worth mentioning is Brad’s Deals. I get daily emails pointing out what’s on sale and where. If you don’t mind the one or two emails a day, then you might want to sign up. Or, you can opt-out of emails and download the app.
Update 11/2/19: A browser extension to help you compare prices/find coupons might come in handy. I downloaded the Honey browser extension.
Other online (budget-friendly) retailers with free shipping include Walmart, Target (with a RedCard, plus you get 5% off), Zappos, Cents of Style, ShopBop, and Wayfair.
I get daily emails from BookBub, which lists books that you can download from Amazon for cheap (from free to $2.99). If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can get a free book each month with Prime First Reads.
Free e-books are also available at Gutenberg.org, Open Library, Good Reads, Smashwords, Read Any Book, and your local library. Also, check out Abebooks and Better World Books for used books and other book deals.
If you don’t have “itchy feet” and dislike leaving home, or if the 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. Use a website like Google Travel, Kayak, Priceline, Travelzoo
Some ideas I have not tried (or don’t qualify for yet) include:
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. I like to take cruises occasionally and I heard about a website called CruiseSheet. I’m not sure if they provide good deals for solo travelers.
e. 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. I also have a post on creating a capsule wardrobe. 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
When I lived in Seattle (2015-2016), 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!).
When I downsized from a house to a 725 sq. ft condo, I did 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 could be used in multiple ways. My wood daybed (the one pictured below, but with different cushions) that had been in a guest room in my old house, sat in my living room and served as my sofa, as well as a comfortable guest bed (it uses a twin mattress).
Since I only had one bedroom in my condo and no office space, my expensive Pottery Barn Logan Office suite (pictured below) sat against the wall in my small dining area. On one side of the cabinets, I kept my office supplies, and on the other side, I housed kitchen items that didn’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 (I know…), 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.
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. For lists of the most current bank offers and deals, check out Hustler Money Blog and Doctor of Credit. By the way, 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 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
I recently sold my small condo for above list price. I found a realtor that provides a discounted commission (5% vs 6%) for law enforcement and military veterans.
Additionally, some title companies (like Ticor) give discounts on escrow fees to certain groups, like veterans, seniors, law enforcement, teachers, etc. I was shocked to see that I am a “senior citizen” (over 55) according to Ticor and that gives me a 30% discount on my escrow fees!
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 cashback 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. USAA also has a similar program.
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 Alaska and Southwest lets me 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. Travel Rewards
As I mentioned above, too save money on travel, I enroll in airlines’ frequent rewards programs. A reader suggested this article, which lists U.S. News & World Report’s best-ranked airline rewards programs. I personally love Alaska and Southwest.
13. Relocating to a Cheaper State or City
GoBankingRates has some helpful articles, including the major cities where housing prices are plummeting, which includes San Antonio, Shreveport, Birmingham, etc. 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).
14. Saving Money on Pop Culture
As someone who enjoys attending Pop Culture convention events, I have scored free tickets to conventions by volunteering for 6+ hours. The great thing about volunteering, you can see the “stars” up close, meet some fellow nerds, admire the cosplay, and make friends. I have volunteered at several conventions in 2019, some near and some far. Obviously, for the faraway locations, I paid for travel and lodging, but with my hotel and airline points, the costs were minimal.
15. Keep a Budget
For seven years before retiring, I kept a detailed budget of my income and expenses. This tool – a simple Word document called “Budget,” helped me pare down unnecessary expenses since it forced me to see how wasteful I really was. It also allowed me to determine how much income I needed to retire. The budget was so useful, I keep it today.
I will be updating this list frequently. If you have some good resources for saving money, please comment below.