With a slumping economy that has little hope of recovering within the next few years, it’s becoming more important to find ways of living with less money. As a musician, I am constantly trying to pinch and save where possible so that I have the funds to keep doing what I love best – creating and sharing music. Believe it or not, being an indie musician isn’t a great way to make tons of money in today’s over-saturated music market. Actually, it can be an incredible money pit of expenditure if one isn’t careful. Below are some methods for saving money, reducing spending, and living with less so that you can enjoy life more. Some of these suggestions may be really easy to implement, while others might not be appropriate for your specific situation. I’m not a financial advisor, so all of the tips given here are from observation and personal experience.
1. Cook your own food. Eating out is expensive AND unhealthy in most instances. Live healthier and happier by fixing your own food. Some things are especially cheaper to eat at home. Salads, hamburgers, spaghetti (and ANY pasta), and pizza, to name a few. The markup on pasta when it’s served in a restaurant is huge. You can cook a spaghetti dinner for 5 people for anywhere from $2 – $10, depending on whether you add veggies or meat to the basic pasta and sauce.
2. Order water. When you do go out to a restaurant, order water instead of soda. Water is free, and restaurants usually charge $2.50 for a glass of soda. Besides, you didn’t come to the restaurant for the soda, most likely. But if you can, refer to tip #1 and stay out of restaurants. They are magnets for money.
3. Drive Slower. Try to keep your RPM’s as low as possible, especially while traveling. You’ll take a little more time, but you’ll save money on gas AND you’ll reduce your risk of having an expensive accident. I’m not saying you should go so slow that others on the road are burdened by your slow driving. I watch our RPM’s while we are travelling from Philadelphia to my hometown of Indiana each time we drive the 800+ miles there, and it really helps on gas.
4. Only buy clothes you really, really love. There have been times in my life when half of my closet was filled with clothes that I didn’t really want to wear. Know when to pass up a sale. If you wouldn’t wear it right then, you probably don’t need it. These past few years, I’ve bought very few new clothing items (even when I was pregnant) and I’m pretty happy with what I have.
5. Keep records of clothing donations to itemize on tax deductions. I’m not sure if every tax preparer has this option, but TurboTax does. You would be surprised how much money your gently used clothing is worth. You can still drop it off at an anonymous donations bin, but be sure to keep a list of the items donated, being as descriptive as possible about the item. (example: Mens size 32×32 beige corduroy pants) Also record the date of the donation and the location of the donation bin or thrift store. All of this information will be asked for at tax time, and can lead to a bigger reduction and money savings for you. Since I have a camera built into my phone, I take a picture of each group of clothes before folding and bagging, to keep track of exactly what was donated when and I can use the pics should I ever be audited.
6. Pay your bills every 2 weeks instead of once a month. Bills that accrue interest add interest on each day that you carry a balance. Therefore, the sooner you make the payment, the better, and the lower your interest will be. I read this tip on another website and have been using it where applicable. If you have a car loan, college loan or credit card bills to pay, this tip may really save you some money.
7. Cool your home without the A/C when possible. My mother opens her windows around 4-5 am, when it is the coolest, then closes the windows at 6:30 am to trap the cool air inside. Her home has very good insulation, so this works well to keep her house cool until the afternoon. I’m not sure if this would work in our house. I am sometimes just getting to bed at 4am! And our house is older and not insulated that well. We use box fans for as long as we can into the summer, and only use the air conditioner when the heat is squelching.
8. Plant your own vegetables. You may have success at growing vegetables, and you may not, but the potential savings are substantial if you are willing to do some work. We grow peppers and tomatoes in pots inside the house, moving them outside when it gets warm enough. Last year, I grew a few green peppers in our dining room window from seeds I took from a grocery store pepper. It was a very rewarding feeling knowing that I grew something edible from seeds I would have otherwise thrown away.
9. Use your dollar store. Some items at the Dollar Tree, Dollar General and similar stores are not worth a dollar. But some of the items are a savings! I’ve found that Zip-lock baggies from the dollar store are just as good as the more expensive ones from typical retail stores. I tend to not buy any food products from dollar stores because it’s difficult to know how long the products have been stored before purchase, but I’ve found several domestic items that were a good savings. I needed a small broom for my kitchen and front porch…Dollar Tree had a decent broom for $1. The plastic “vanity cover” was junk, but the important parts are strong and have held up well these past few years. I also found some excellent twine for tying branches for the city to pick up. (They require branches to be either in paper bags or tied together with twine.) Twine at Wal Mart was roughly $3, but I got 100 feet from Dollar Tree for $1. Not bad for something that we basically “throw away”. I’ve also found birthday party decorations, cleaning products, seasonal cards, shipping paper, tape, and more. Just try to steer clear of all the things that are about the same cost of the name brand in the stores and the items that you don’t really need.
10. Make your own snack packs. If you are one of those people who likes “snack packs” for their ease of dropping into lunch bags or because they are in 100 calorie portions, use your zip-lock baggies from the dollar store and make your own snack packs. Store the baggies in the original box if possible so that you can easily see what you have before grocery shopping. The savings are substantial.
11. Keep your home organized. You can find what you need rather than buying duplicate items, and be emotionally happier with the possessions that you have if they are organized.
12. Use vinegar instead of Glass cleaner. It doesn’t smell as good, but it works better. Half vinegar and half water in a spray bottle or in a bowl or old can (if you want to be really cheap, like me) It can be found with the condiments at most grocery stores, and a bottle should be $1 or less. The vinegar smell will dissipate when it dries.
13. Use old pickle juice to clean your sink. As a lover of pickles, I’m constantly looking for ways to use up all of the extra pickle “juice”, which is mostly just vinegar, spices, and sometimes sugar. When I’m ready to throw it out, I put the stopper in the sink, pour the vinegar all around inside, let it sit for 5 minutes or so while I do other kitchen work, come back and scrub the inside of the sink with a dishrag, then rinse it off. (It has to be rinsed well because of the acidic vinegar and possible sugars.) It works. And I’m an advocate for making sure things I buy get used to their fullest.
14. Use old pickle juice to make new “pickles”. I get locally grown cucumbers, cut them up and put them in the old pickle juice sometimes, making really “fresh” pickle slices for sandwiches and salads. And they cost less than a jar of “real” pickles.
15. Visit your local library. One way of spending less on entertainment (dinners, movies, shopping trips) is by finding free or inexpensive alternatives that are enjoyable – like visiting the library!
16. Clean out your refrigerator often. Less items in the refrigerator and freezer means less energy to keep it cold. And if you regularly clean the spoiled and expired foods out, you may avoid getting sick, which can be costly and inconvenient.
17. Cook your own rice. I can’t say that I’ve never bought one of those packets of the microwavable type of rice because I was short on cooking time, but cooking your own is a huge price margin. It usually tastes better too.
18. Turn off the lights when you aren’t in the room. The savings may be meager on your electricity bill, with a savings of only a few cents a day, but you’ll also save the life of your light bulb and reduce A/C costs just a little bit. Besides, it’s a good practice to not be wasteful and to use our technology with an appreciative heart.
19. Use the things you pay for. If you pay for a gym membership, use it. If you pay for cable TV, explore the channels you will get the most enjoyment from and watch them. If you pay for phone minutes, use them to stay in touch with your friends. Etc. Etc…
20. Discontinue things you aren’t using. Not really using your gym membership? Cancel it. Aren’t using your bike? Sell it. Have boxes of clothes you’ve outgrown? Donate them for tax refunds or sell them on ebay. (But be prepared to dedicate some time to mailing things out.) Have an extra car you aren’t driving? Sell it. Signed up for a membership like Netflix and aren’t watching the movies? Discontinue or freeze your account.Subscribed to a magazine you don’t read? Don’t renew.
21. Freeze your gym membership during the summer. I tried to freeze my membership during my pregnancy because of the whole ‘bedrest’ thing, and discovered that I could freeze my membership for 3 months! I ended up cancelling and using exercise videos I already own to work out, but if you plan on walking/jogging or doing other outdoors things for the summer, you could save your monthly gym fee and not have to pay to open a new membership plan when you return. Brilliant.
22. Have breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, Eggs, toast and most breakfast foods tend to be a lot cheaper than dinner foods. Just be conscious that proteins and vegetables are included where possible.
23. Do the math on bulk items at the grocery store. Sometimes items packaged in bulk are a savings, sometimes they are not. Green peppers are a good example. I used to buy a big pack of 6 for $3.50, but decided I would weigh a single green pepper on one shopping visit. I found out that it was $0.50 per green pepper on that particular day at the single-pepper price. So basically, I would pay MORE per green pepper for the 6-pack AND I might not be able to use them all before they started to go bad anyway. A little bit of math can save you a lot of money. When I went to “Sam’s Club” with my family, I kept the “WalMart” website pulled up on my phone and compared the prices per-ounce for the regular size foods and in most cases for protein items – chicken wings, Jack Daniel’s Salmon Steaks, and more items, the per-ounce price was the same. In some cases (flavored chicken wings) you actually pay more by purchasing in bulk.
24. Ask for a lower interest rate. If you are making payments on time and are getting offers from other credit cards, it’s reasonable to think you might be eligible for a lower interest rate for any outstanding credit balances you have.
25. Be happy with the clothes you have. If you can make your current closet of clothes work for you and are happy with what you have, there’s no need to buy more unless you need something.
26. If you need new clothes, try to buy used. Oddly, you may find better quality used products than the new products at discount stores. If you often shop at lower-quality clothiers, you might as well shop for clothes that are crafted with higher quality at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. A friend of mine once got a Chanel skirt from a secondhand store in Philadelphia for $10. You never know what you’ll find.
27. Cook from scratch. It sounds difficult and laborious when I write “from scratch”, but it really isn’t. Cooking from scratch means buying a bag of potatoes instead of a small prepackaged box of scalloped potatoes. Buy a box of pasta instead of a box of Hamburger Helper and other such “dinner helpers”. You can help your own hamburger with some pasta, tomatoes and your favorite spices. And for a fraction of the cost. Pizza dough is surprisingly easy to make from scratch, as is fruit pie, california-style sushi, hummus, egg noodles and lasagna. The trick is knowing what is “worth” the savings to make from scratch. Sometimes the savings is so small and the time spent to make the food makes buying the prepared product make more sense to me, other times I prefer to make the foods from scratch. Bread is an example of this for me. I can usually find bread at a discounted price, buy it in mass, freeze some of it, and not have to bake my own bread. Potatoes, rice and pasta on the other hand are always worth the work to make yourself.
28. Try vertical gardening. If you don’t have the space to grow your own vegetables outdoors or in dirt-filled pots inside, you can find many vertical garden options. Check out hydroponics.
29. Cut up your credit cards, or at least stop carrying them with you in your wallet. Unless you really truly are only carrying a credit card for emergency purposes, it doesn’t need a place in your wallet. With the development of debit cards and check cards that can be used as credit cards, there isn’t a reason to have a credit card. If you DO have an emergency, if you can think of ANY other solution than to use a credit card, it’s always going to be better financially in the long run. Car broke down? Look into public transportation, or work out an agreement with a friend who has a working vehicle. Maybe you can exchange services for car rides. Even paying money for the car rides is going to be better in the long run than putting it on the credit card.
30. Be conscious of how much toilet paper you are using. Enough said.
31. Use cloth napkins or kitchen towels instead of paper towels.
32. Hang things to dry when possible. The savings here are small, though they add up over time. Luckily, my basement is very dry, so I can wash my clothes down there and hang them to dry in the basement and they are dry by morning. This tip has as much to do with conservation and not being wasteful as it does with monetary gain.
33. Look for the lowest gas price when travelling. If you have a smart phone, utilize it’s ability to find the cheapest gas on your route. The “maps” app usually comes standard with most phones, and if you search for gas stations, it will often display their prices as well.
34. Pre-plan travel expenses. I’ve found that when I plan our trips far in advance, I can anticipate added costs and eliminate some of them. Last-minute trips with little planning tend to be the most expensive and least enjoyed. We tend to research what restaurants will be around and will choose a Fazoli’s over an Olive Garden. (Because it’s about half the price for our family, and less wait time!) The food…still remarkably tasty. I research hotels and find rooms with refrigerators so that we can take some food with us, and prefer that they have free breakfast. If you’re flying, rates are usually cheapest in advance.
35. Know what to buy in bulk. Know what is ok to buy in bulk and what will spoil. This is especially important in the summer when the house is hotter and produce will spoil more quickly. Pasta, rice and canned goods are great to buy in bulk when a good sale is available.
36. Take advantage of after-holiday sales. Don’t buy anything you aren’t going to need (like masses of Halloween candy) but shop the clearance items for things that you would normally purchase at full price. After Thanksgiving, you may be able to get a discounted turkey or bags of Amish noodles…or whatever the stores have too much left over of. Seek out discounts after Christmas, New Years, Valentines Day, Easter, July 4th, and Halloween. I once got several boxes of Pillsbury cake mixes that had been marked down significantly because they had snowflakes on the box, and were clearly marketed for Christmas. Still perfectly tasty, and had a long time before their expiration dates.
37. Take advantage of SEASONAL sales. Potential savings on items aren’t just possible after major holidays. You can also get some incredible savings on things you would ordinarily purchase by shopping out-of-season. If you are growing your own vegetables, purchase equipment and supplies for next year at the end of the growing season. Seeds are usually good for 3 years. (Although I do tend to purchase these at the beginning of the season because they are so cheap.) Shovels, hoes, gloves, pots, plant food and watering devices will all be good the following year. Just be sure you are purchasing items that you will actually need in the following year. If you have kids, consider buying their winter clothes for next year at the end of the winter season of the current year. Coats, gloves, pants, and all winter-styled clothes will be on clearance. Same with summer clothes. Buy at the end of the season. Don’t let the marketing experts get you!
38. Download free music legally. There are plenty of musicians out there who want to share their music with you. And many of them are just as good (if not better) than what you hear on the radio. Check out Soundcloud here where you can search for free downloads from the masses of members there. You can even get a free download of one of my album’s best songs by signing up on my homepage here through ReverbNation.
39. Wear winter clothes in winter. This may be obvious. In the wintertime, you can keep your home a little cooler if you wear a sweater or a shirt and jacket. Wear socks and house slippers. Save money on heat.
40. Wear summer clothes in summer. There may be really hot days where you can’t tolerate the heat without the A/C on. And I understand that completely, but if you can be “comfortable enough” with just a window fan, it will save you a lot of money.
41. Separate rooms. Our home has a very open floor plan, and therefore it used to cost us quite a lot in heating and cooling the entire first floor. Last year I installed heavy curtains over the arched doorway between the living room and dining room, and curtains at the other doorways that don’t have doors. We just cool/heat the room that we are using, and have seen a significant drop in our bills this year compared to the last few years. They aren’t fancy curtains, just plain beige ones on sale at IKEA, but they really work well.
42. Live smaller. The smaller the house, the lower the utility bills will be. Cosmetic upkeep costs less. (Carpet is sold by the sq foot!) Each possession takes up more space and becomes more noticeable, therefore reducing impulse spending. There is an interesting video on YouTube of a woman who built her own small mobile-home of mostly lumber from the dump here. Am I saying that everyone needs to go to these measures to save money? Of course not. But, it might inspire you to think outside of the box. The channel with that video also has many other going-green and money-saving related videos as well. If you’re looking to purchase a house or move into an apartment, try to resist the “bigger is better” trend for housing.
43. Transfer your balance to a 0% interest credit card if necessary. If you are getting credit card offers for 0%, yet continue to pay off a card at a higher interest rate, you should call your current credit card to see if the interest rate can be reduced. Otherwise, transfer the balance. There may be an interest increase after 1 year, and possibly a new interest rate implemented at that time, but if you pay diligently during the year, you should have plenty of opportunity to transfer your balance to another 0% card after 11 months. Sounds like a game, I know. And the credit card companies are winning in most cases. If you’re befuddled in credit card debt, take control of it by doing what you can.
44. Take a multivitamin. After studying as a nutritional science major for a year, (before going back to music) I’ve come to the conclusion that it IS best to get your nutrition from foods, but that multivitamins are a great and cost-effective health insurance plan. By taking vitamins, you’ll have the potential to avoid many health problems that could cost you a small fortune in medications and doctor’s bills.
45. Check your local water safety readings. Once a year, the water company sends me the lab testing results for the tap water in my area. I don’t know if this is the case for every city, but I actually read the information. Because my tap water is unsafe and unsuitable for drinking unless boiled, we use bottled water for drinking and tap water for coffee. Find out what is in your water. Some trace elements can’t be boiled out. Parasites and bacteria can be controlled by boiling. Other people live in areas with perfectly healthy tap-water, like some of my family in Indiana! If you have clean tap water, drink it.
46. Buy water in gallons, not tiny bottles. Or invest in a water filter! Besides being a major pollutant to our environment due to the number of plastic bottles that are not recycled, they are also expensive and not very space-efficient. Use a BPA-free canteen and use it for a lifetime, instead of a water bottle that you’ll use only once. Our tap water isn’t safe or clean enough for drinking, so drinking the tap water isn’t feasible for us, although that would be the most cost-efficient option. I happened to find a Brita water filter pitcher on clearance at Target for more than 50% off and bought it, so some of our drinking water is filtered, saving on some of the bottled water costs.
47. Reuse packaging. I’m not saying you should hoard things that should be recycled or thrown out, but I have started a lot of my vegetable garden’s seedlings in old egg cartons and smaller plants in cut-off water jugs instead of purchasing expensive pots that do the same thing. I’ve mailed out CD’s using filler materials from other mailing boxes, and have sent out old college books bought from my seller account on Amazon.com taped neatly into recycled mailing materials too.
48. Cloth Diapers. There’s no shame in using disposables, but if you think you can use cloth diapers at least some of the time, you should try it out. You’ll save hundreds of dollars. If you have a sewing machine, sew your own for even more savings. I wore cloth diapers as a baby…so I know it’s possible! Just something to consider.
49. Make your own baby food. I have a Magic Bullet that my family bought me for Christmas one year, but I figure you can use any small food processor. Some people make baby food in bulk and then freeze “cubes” of it to be thawed and used later. I’ve always just made food for each meal for my little one, but freezing food is a good idea if you think it will save time. It will definitely save money. Baby’s first carrot…a real organic carrot that mommy steamed and processed into a bright orange mush. I’ve also bought a few of the organic baby foods on the market…you would be surprised the difference in taste…and price!
50. Buy used children’s clothes. If you have children, you know how hard it is to resist buying the newest, cutest clothes that come out on the racks at the beginning of each season. We all want our kids to have the best, and I personally like to dress up my daughter like she is my real-life “Baby Alive”. (Whom I have talked about in previous blogs.) But if you are pinching pennies…it is worth it to buy used clothes. Often times they are just as cute as the new ones, and last longer because they have already lived through the trials of washing machines. There are some used baby clothes I’ve seen that are NOT a deal though. If a thrift shop, yard sale or second-hand dealer marks their prices too high on used clothing, pass. Sometimes though, you can get an incredible deal by being willing to look at used baby stuff. I go to a neat consignment sale in my area that they have 4 times each year. If you’re in the Philly/NJ area, you can check out Growing Express Consignment here.
51. Try Natural Beauty Solutions. There are too many to list here, but if there’s something you need that isn’t an emergency, check out the ingredients label and be willing to google to learn more about those ingredients. Maybe you have an equivalent ingredient in your home already. Vinegar makes a great cleansing hair-wash to take out product build-up, and works better than some of the more expensive clarifying products for hair. Pour white vinegar (usually less than $1 a bottle) into your hair in the shower, give it about 3 minutes to work, then rinse it out and condition as usual. Olive oil from your kitchen can be used in place of most moisturising oils, and with better effects. Cuticles, feet, ends of hair, elbows, knees, and lips can be moisturised with olive oil. Baking Soda and Peroxide are the ingredients in most tooth whiteners. An occasional brushing with either – or both – can whiten your teeth for a fraction of the cost. The possibilities for savings are too many to name them all.