- Prioritize. My husband and I agree on what’s important and where our money should generally go. That means neither of us goes out and spends several hundred dollars without discussing the purchase. It also means neither of us resent the other about how much we’re (not) spending, because we’ve agreed on a spending plan – and that plan includes a big savings component.
- Automatic savings. We always pay ourselves first. We both have retirement contributions that are taken out of our paychecks before we even get paid. And as soon as our salaries appear in our bank account, I transfer a set amount of money to our savings and investment accounts. Making this money unavailable (or at least less available) helps keep our spending down because we don’t have a ton of available cash. (As I’ve mentioned previously, we do most of our purchasing via credit card, but I can easily keep a close eye on the balance thanks to the internet.)
- Manage perspective. Last week, one of my friends mentioned that she got a great deal on a gorgeous pair of shoes. Originally priced at $370, she paid “only” $170. I know that she can afford the shoes, i.e., she didn’t charge them to a credit card that she isn’t going to pay off. But the number did boggle my mind a bit, since I simply can’t imagine paying over $80, including tax, for a pair of shoes – that’s usually for a good pair of running shoes, not a pretty pair of pumps. My mental maximum prices always help me keep my credit card in my wallet and thus, more money in my bank account.
- Eat at home. Cooking meals instead of eating out might be the number one money-saving tip of all time. But I’ve mentioned before that returning to work after my maternity leave resulted in more take-out for our family, simply because I have so much less time to plan ahead and to cook, not to mention our days are less predictable and more stressful. I’ve been cooking more as I’ve adjusted to being back at work, but we still pick up food on a semi-regular basis. However, we generally eat at home, supplementing with veggies (baby carrots and edamame are staples), saving half for later, etc. By eating at home, we order less food, never have to leave a gratuity, and never pay for drinks.
- Research purchases. Research includes everything from doing a quick search for discount codes to in-depth study of the details before making a major purchase.
If you use Firefox, I highly recommend the coupon notifier add-on for easy access to discount codes and deals.I also combine researching of prices with #8 and #9 below. Update 2/17/09: The coupon notifier extension is no longer available, but there’s a similar RetailMeNot extension that you can try.
- Avoid the mall. I love going to the mall. I love imagining owning many of the things I see. But I’m pretty good about limiting myself to imagining. However, I invariably end up buying something. So I stopped going. It helps that I have young kids with no patience for browsing and little hands that are always reaching out to grab something. Nowadays, I go to the mall before the stores open so that Alex can run around and burn off some energy. We leave before the stores open, too. (Between the hours of 7 and 10 a.m., malls are a wonderful, relatively safe place for energetic toddlers.) If I do need to buy something, I try to stack errands to minimize my trips to the mall, and I buy what I need, then leave without window shopping.
- Re-purpose. I love that re-purposing an item for a different use is not only easy on my wallet, it’s good for the environment too. Usually, ideas come to me when I don’t feel like leaving the house and I’m racking my brain to figure out if there’s something we can already use – necessity is the mother of invention and all that.
- Shop with a calculator. You’ll often find me in the diaper aisle holding my cell phone set to the calculator function, since that’s when I most need to figure out the price per item. But I’ll also whip out my calculator in front of the paper towels, the laundry detergent, nursing pads, etc. The basic idea here is that the largest package isn’t necessarily the best deal, and the only way to figure that out is to figure out the price per item or unit. The shelf tag will often list the price per item/unit, but it won’t take into account any coupons that you might have.
- Keep a price book. A price book is a notebook for tracking the lowest price of an item. It goes especially well with tip #8, since you’ll know if the price per item is just better than the competitor’s brand that week, or the best price of the whole year. I noticed that NCN just came out with a handy downloadable price book, so I highly recommend heading over to get that.
- Gifts. We are very lucky to have generous family and friends. My mother-in-law buys the boys and me lots of clothes, and while they might not be items that I would have picked, I’m usually okay with them since they were free. I also try to give constructive and specific suggestions to help her buy what we need and will wear. We’ve also had friends give and loan child-related items so that we don’t have to spend money, and we’ve tried to keep the circle of giving going by sharing what we no longer need.
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