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8 things you should never do to save money

I’ve tried a lot of weird things to save money. A journalist and finance vlogger by day, I’ve gone dumpster diving, emptied fast food ketchup packets into a bottle, tried DIY beauty treatments involving food items (and more hours of clean up than I’ll ever admit on the internet), and even shared library cards with friends in different states to expand our e-book selection.

Some of those activities could be considered a little strange, a couple might be frowned upon in some circles, and only a few worked at all.

But despite my willingness to try “extreme” money-saving tips, there are some things that I would never do… primarily things that aren’t ethical, hygienic or legal. These would absolutely save you money, but at a very different cost, one that I think crosses a line between being penny-wise and being a tightwad.

1. Stealing

Stealing takes more forms than hiding an item under your shirt and walking out of a store or lifting someone’s wallet.

Filling a bag with more than your share of complimentary items at a restaurant, smuggling home office supplies or toilet paper or even getting a water cup and filling it with soda are all stealing. No crime is victim-less and these are not viable ways to save money.

2. Using services meant for the needy

There is nothing wrong with taking help when you need it. Services like food stamps, soup kitchens, food libraries and the like are meant to be used. But taking those services when you don’t need them in an effort to save a little money robs someone else of that resource.

Consider volunteering instead, charity event organizers nearly always plan to feed volunteers as a thank you for their time. I helped out at a church-run food pantry a couple of times a month where the church provided dinner for volunteers.

It was a free meal for me, provided by people who wanted to help who couldn’t spare the time. It both helped my food budget a little and I was able to help people in the community who were truly in need. It was a win-win.

3. Lying

I’ve heard countless times about people “pulling one over” on big corporations by taking unfair advantage of “Love it or your money back” guarantees. If you honestly didn’t like the product or service, absolutely take the business up on their offer, but using 90% of something and returning it just because you can is dishonest and shameful.

The same goes for people who argue legitimate charges on their accounts or claim their food is bad at the end of the meal after they’ve eaten most of it.

I don’t care how big the business or corporation is, lying like that is stealing.

4. Not washing my clothes or body

I’ve read tips more than once saying to step into the shower in your day’s clothing and wash them with you. I’ve read about people only spraying their clothing with air freshener or never washing their clothing at all. I’ll wear clothing items that don’t get dirty (office work wear and the like) multiple times but clothing that gets sweaty, smelly or dirty always goes straight into the wash.

Cleanliness is one of the markers of a polite society. No one wants to work with or spend time with people who are stinky by choice. This will eventually affect how people treat you and your future opportunities.

Wash your clothes, wash your body. Take some pride in your appearance. It costs very little, but has a huge return on your investment.

5. Getting rid of pets

A pet is a big responsibility and should be treated as such. Dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters and moose (not judging), etc. all cost money for food, medicine, and care throughout their lives.

I’m always saddened and a little shocked to see tip lists that recommend getting rid of the family animal to offset costs. Unless you own a very expensive animal, and are jeopardizing your own ability to survive by providing for it, I would never say to kick your pets to the curb.

Instead consider shopping for the most affordable pet food and medications (generic heart worm and flea pills can be found at websites like www.petshed.com for much less money than at the vet’s office), learn to groom your own animals, and write a line into your budget to pay for monthly and annual pet costs to always have the money there to feed Fido.

6. Stopping tipping

If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out.

As a former waitress myself, I know all too well how many people choose not to tip and the percentage is completely unacceptable. Whether or not you agree with the custom, we all know that wait staff are often paid well below minimum wage and their tips are expected to raise their salary to a reasonable level (aka more than $2 per hour which will nearly all go to taxes anyway.) When you don’t tip, the service worker isn’t getting paid for their services. It’s an unfair system, but until it’s changed, don’t punish the person serving you.

If you don’t want to tip, feel free to take your food to go, park your own car, do your own beauty services and make your own drink.

7. Mooching

“Forget your wallet” at a group lunch often enough, and you won’t get invited to them anymore.

Friends and family should be joyous parts of your life, not vehicles to save a buck.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with letting your relatives buy dinner when you’re visiting for the weekend, but consider returning the favor the next time they visit you. Relationships shouldn’t be about who owes who and is soured when people take advantage of people.

If you’re often invited to expensive dinners or events by more affluent friends, consider suggesting more frugal outings where everyone can have fun and not jeopardize their individual money goals. Also don’t forget that everyone loves a welcoming invitation over for a home-cooked meal. Friendship doesn’t have to be expensive.

8. Miss out on life

The easiest and most effective way to save money is to not spend it. Saving money is important to me. It’s a key strategy in my long-term money goals. But I won’t decline every invite to do something fun with friends in order to save every possible cent.

Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. There are tons of free and frugal things to do and it’s also okay to spend a little more on occasion to have life-enriching experiences.

Your Turn!

  • What “frugal actions” are too far for you?
  • What will you do to save money?

Save

4 Rules to Curb Impulse Spending

Impulse spending was my biggest money mistake, to the tune of thousands upon thousands of dollars. Aside from our student loan debt, 85% of our debt was because of impulse spending and not planning ahead.

In order to break the cycle and change our spending habits, we had to learn the rules to curbing our impulse spending. I wished I had known about these strategies years ago, but they are still rules that we follow today.

Only leave with the cash amount that you are willing to spend

When you go out shopping with a limit to how much you’re willing to spend in mind, take only that amount in cash. Leave your debit and credit cards behind. If you leave any access to extra funds at home, you guarantee that you will not blow the budget and pick up $100 worth of items from Target when you only went there for paper towels.

Avoid the places where you know you tend to overspend

When we did our spending analysis, I saw just how much of a weakness I had for the cosmetics counter and Target. Those are two places where I can easily find myself overspending and making impulsive purchases.

My husband on the other hand would rarely walk away from our local hardware store with just the one item that he went there to pick up. We acknowledged our impulsiveness and agreed to avoid those places as much as we could.

Shop with a list

I not only shop with a list when doing my grocery shopping, but I also make a list when it’s time to do any type of shopping. My lists are made up of the items that we need by doing an inventory of what we already have, and nothing else goes into the cart.

As I prepare my Christmas shopping list, I come up with four items for each of my children. Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. Aside from the stocking stuffers, I know that with my list I’m protecting myself and my budget from going overboard.

Unsubscribe from those store email lists

Every morning I would be greeted with a long list of emails from some of my favorite stores letting me know about the great sale that they’re having (they seem to be having a different one each week), or a coupon code. I found myself all of a sudden in a mood to go shopping and take advantage of all these great deals.

This past January I decided to end the temptation once and for all. I unsubscribed to all of the email lists. No longer am I bombarded by sales ads, I’m no longer tempted to take advantage of the sale or coupon code on items that I didn’t really need anyway. After all, if you don’t need the item, you’re not really saving any money, no matter how much it’s marked down.

Your Turn!

  • What is your spending weakness?
  • What do you do to curb impulse spending?

What to do if you go Overboard and Over Budget

It happens, even to those of us who have been budgeting for years. There are going to be those months where something (or many things) come up and blow your well-planned budget out of the water.

Knowing that it will eventually happen, it is best to prepare yourself for that month (or months) where things have gone overboard and over budget.

Step One: Stop and Breathe – It’s going to be OK

What you want to avoid doing when you know you’ve gone over budget is to throw your hands up in the air and forget the whole budgeting thing. When times get tough and the cash flow feels tight, you want to try your best to maintain a positive attitude.

Step Two: Go Into Your Budget

When I’m stressed out about the budget, the last thing I want to do is go in and check in with my budget since I know I’ve blown it. I know though that it is the one thing that I must do. Go into the budget, see where things are, and see what needs to be cut back on so that you can find a way to cash flow this latest life expense.budget binder

Take a look at your variable spending categories (food, clothing, gas, etc.) and see if there are any areas where you don’t need to spend as much. Can some of that money be used to help cover the unexpected expense?

If you can’t cut from your variable expenses, take a look at what you are setting aside in your sinking funds. Ask yourself if there are any sinking funds that you can stop contributing to this month so that you can free up extra money and not completely blow the budget.

Step Three: Take a Look Around Your House

Is there anything around your house that you could sell to recoup some fast cash to then cover the unexpected? With so many buy and sell sites available online, making some fast cash is never easier and having that cash in hand in exchange for those items that rarely get used anymore will help to limit the stress that you’re feeling right now.

Step Four: Tap into your Savings

If the extra income isn’t there or if there are no areas in the budget left to slash, then it’s time to look at your savings. Yes that money might be earmarked for something else, but if it means not having to go into debt to help cover the cost, it’s better to borrow the money from yourself..

When things are better and you averted this temporary crisis, you can always pay yourself back. And it’s much better to pay yourself back than paying back a bank who charges you interest.

Your Turn!

  • How do you get through those months where life has thrown you an unexpected expense?

5 Things I Stopped Buying to Save Money

When you’re trying to save money, it’s a good idea to track what you currently spend money on and see if there are habits that you can change. Perhaps you can do without some items, look for a cheaper alternative, or find a way of doing it yourself.

In order to free up as much money to put towards our financial goals as possible, we saw our biggest money wasters and made cuts or found cheaper alternatives. They were simple changes to make and we haven’t looked back since.

Pre-Packaged Foods and Snacks

This was one of the first things to get cut from our shopping list that has saved us a lot of money over the last three years. When I saw that I could buy a bag of chocolate chips for the same price as a box of pre-packaged cookies, I quickly realized that I could make a lot more cookies for the same price, cut down on the amount of package waste our family was producing, and save a lot of money in the long-run.

The other things we stopped buying were the pre-packed side dishes, like flavored rice and pasta. Again, a large bag of rice or pasta is much cheaper and you can season it as you wish. The other thing to go were the boxes of crackers. Instead we’ll air pop some popcorn and have that as a crunchy snack.

Bread

One road trip during the summer we found ourselves driving through Amish country. That time of year, you can find vendors set up along the side of the road selling fresh produce and baked goods. When I saw the homemade bread, I had an awakening of sorts.

Bread where I live will go on sale for $1.75 a loaf, and that is the rock-bottom price. At the time I was spending on average $2.00 a loaf and each week and would have to buy 4 loaves of bread (Yes, we’re big bread eaters…Yum). The math however on that was a little scary. $8.00 per week meant that we were spending $416 a year on bread.

We inherited a bread maker that sat in my pantry for years, never being used until we returned home from that summer trip. I found a great recipe and have been enjoying homemade bread ever since. I can easily make a loaf for under $1.00, saving my family $200 a year.

Gym Memberships

When making cuts to our budget to save money, this was also one of the first things to go. I enjoy exercise and know how important it is to our overall health, but I also know that exercise doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money.

Rather than spending $30 a month on a gym membership (that honestly wasn’t being used enough to justify the cost), I spent $30 on a pair of hand-held weights, a weighted medicine ball, and a yoga mat. Getting outside and going for a walk or run is free and, thanks to the internet, there is an endless supply of exercise videos and tutorials available online that I can stream on my television.

Books and Magazine Subscriptions

I used to love getting the mail and finding my magazine subscription come in. When I added up what I was spending each year, I realized that it was money that I could just as easily put towards our financial goals. I quickly cancelled my magazine subscription and started enjoying the same magazine loaned from the library for free.

As a literacy teacher, I also love books. One of my favorite things to do would be to head over to my local bookstore and browse the shelves looking for the next great read. I treasured my growing collection of novels. What I didn’t treasure was the ever increasing price. Again, back to the library to pick up the same books and enjoy them for free. 

Take-Out Coffee and Disposable K-Cups

Coffee. I love coffee. It’s the first thing that I look forward too each and every morning. It was also a constant leak in our budget. When I saw what six months worth of take out coffee cost, I was shocked. It never seems that much when you’re spending only two or three dollars at a time. For what I was spending in one week, I was able to pick up a travel coffee mug and now bring my own from home.

The other expense we gave up were the individual, single-use K-cups for our coffee machine. I traded in my single-use cups and bought some reusable cups that we fill with our own coffee for pennies a cup. Not only is it better for our wallet, but also better for the environment.

Your Turn!

  • What have you stopped buying in order to save money?

Money Habits of People Who are Debt Free

Whether your goal is to become debt free, run a marathon, or simply declutter your home and live a more minimalist lifestyle, we often turn to those who have had success and do what they do. It’s called studying best practice.

If you want to learn how to run a marathon, you would talk to other runners and follow a training plan. If you want to enjoy a more minimalist lifestyle, you would read up on minimalism and talk to other minimalists. If you want to become debt free, you adopt the money habits of people who are debt free.

Organize and Pay Attention to Your Bills

Rather than just piling up the bills and walking away from them, people who are debt free open their bills as soon as they come in. They check to make sure that the statement is accurate and organize them in a way to ensure that the bill is paid on time.

Live Within Your Means

People who are debt free do not spend beyond what they earn. It seems obvious, I know. But in these days where credit is easy to come by, and most aren’t spending intentionally, it’s easy to spend more money than what comes in every month.

People who are debt free follow the principle that if you don’t have the cash, you can’t afford it. So part of living within your means also requires you to strengthen your savings muscle and set aside money each month for larger purchases like vacations, home improvements, or a new-to-them vehicle.

Don’t Try to Keep Up With the Joneses

People who are debt free have learned to practice the art of contentment and are grateful and happy with what they have. They don’t worry that their neighbors just purchased a shiny new vehicle or just upgraded to a 75-inch flat screen television.

They also avoid the trap of emotional spending and buying items to make them feel better. They know that these unplanned purchases only have a temporary effect on one’s feelings, and if anything may lead to feelings of stress later on in the month.

Demonstrate Self-Control

In order to live within your means, it’s important to be intentional with your money and develop a spending plan. Debt-free people create a budget before the month begins which gives each dollar coming in a job, helping to eliminate money that disappears or gets wasted.

Part of living on a budget also means avoiding impulse purchases. These impulse purchases can quickly destroy a budget. Instead try avoiding the stores that you know cause you the most temptation when it comes to buying impulsively. You know that trip to Target that you made to purchase one item and ended up walking out with $100 worth. Trust me, been there, done that!

Be Proactive

It’s no surprise that being proactive is the first habit discussed in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. People who gain control of their finances and live debt free have learned to be proactive. This means that they have looked at ways to cut their budgets and their spending to free up extra income to pay off their debt and then start saving. They will also look for ways to earn an extra income if it’s necessary to reach their financial goals.

Your Turn!

  • What’s one money habit that you would like to improve?
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