10 creative ways to save money
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Saving money can be challenging, especially during times of inflation when more of your money goes toward essentials such as housing, groceries and gas. In fact, nearly half of Americans say inflation is causing them to save less for unplanned expenses, according to a recent Bankrate survey.
A healthy personal finance strategy can include adding leftover money to a savings account each month, although coming up with ways to reduce spending and ramp up savings isn’t always easy. Here we’ll take a look at 10 creative ways to save money, whether you’re looking to build up your emergency fund or save for other financial goals.
1. Sign up for gas rewards programs
Everyone’s feeling the pain at the pump these days, and one way to save some money on gas is to sign up for a grocery store fuel rewards program. With these, buying groceries can earn you discounts on gas or money off gas purchases at gas stations operated by (or partnering with) the grocery chain. Stores that offer fuel rewards programs include Albertson’s, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, Shaw’s and Stop & Shop.
Other options include getting a gas credit card that pays you rewards for gas purchases. You can also sign up for loyalty programs from gas stations such as Exxon Mobil Rewards+ and Shell Fuel Rewards — both of which allow you to make purchases to earn discounts at the pump.
2. Join a Buy Nothing group
If there’s a product you need, see if you can find one for free through a Buy Nothing group in your local community. You can join such a group on social media or by downloading the Buy Nothing smartphone app. Members of these groups offer each other items they don’t need for free — including home decor, cookware, tools, clothing, furniture and even store coupons.
“The whole concept of Buy Nothing is about gifting what you no longer need or use and allowing others to reuse or repurpose it,” says Jana Dykstra, an administrator of a Buy Nothing Facebook group in the Chicago area. “We’re not donating it to others, it’s a gift for them to have.”
Dykstra has seen members of the group give away everything from a hot tub and a swing set to purses and wallets. She has personally given away things such as metal shelving and Chicago Bulls items. “I think it really just depends on the community demographics and interests,” she says.
3. Negotiate your bills
You may be able to lower your monthly bills by talking with your service providers. For instance, a call to a credit card issuer might help you lower your annual percentage rate (APR) or cancel a fee for a late or returned payment, according to consumer credit reporting company Experian.
Talking with a representative from your cable company may help you find ways to cut your bills by canceling channels you don’t use or by bundling services. Similarly, calling or meeting with your auto or homeowners insurance agent once a year can help you evaluate whether you’re paying for aspects of your policy that you don’t need or use.
4. Keep the change
Loose change often accumulates in places like your car’s cup holder, the bottom of your purse or underneath your couch cushions. Many people don’t give it much thought, but placing all of it in a piggy bank or mason jar can help you accumulate a significant sum that can be put toward anything from a vacation to holiday gift shopping to debt repayment.
If you want to start up a 529 college savings plan but are having a hard time coming up with the money, consider using your accumulated loose change for that. Many require no minimum opening deposit, while others allow you to open an account with as little as $25.
5. Improve your credit score
A low credit score can result in being assigned higher rates for everything from credit cards to homeowners insurance. In fact, bringing up your credit score can save you thousands in the long run. Check your credit reports regularly from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion for any mistakes or signs of fraud. Errors can be disputed with the respective credit reporting agency.
Additional measures that can boost your credit score include staying on top of payments and lowering your credit utilization rate. Not applying for new accounts too often can also help, since this results in a hard inquiry on your credit report and can lower your score temporarily.
6. Get cash back on everyday purchases
Cash back credit cards can earn anywhere from 1 percent to 6 percent cash back on your purchases. Some earn the same percentage of cash back on all purchases, while others earn a higher rate on things you buy in select categories such as dining, groceries or gas.
When using such a card to earn cash back, it helps to limit its use to everyday expenses and monthly bills in order to keep from overspending and avoid interest charges.
7. Shop around for the best bank
Whether you’re saving for emergencies, a new car or a much-anticipated trip, earning the best rate of return on your money can help you reach your goals faster. You’ll often find the highest yield on a savings account from an online bank, since these banks may offer better rates to help draw customers away from traditional banks. For instance, it’s not uncommon to find online savings accounts with yields near or above 2 percent, whereas brick-and-mortar banks’ savings accounts commonly pay an annual percentage yield (APY) of only 0.01 percent.
“Moving your savings from a bank paying 0.1 percent to an online bank paying 2 percent is a 20-fold increase in interest earnings and since you still have the protection of federal deposit insurance, you don’t take any risk to get it,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. “It is the only free lunch in finance.”
8. Eat less meat
Eating less meat could potentially reduce your grocery bill since meat prices have jumped nearly 12 percent over last year. Try cutting meat from your diet for certain meals — or certain days of the week — or you might consider going full-on vegetarian to increase the money you save. Additionally, it can be a heart-healthy choice with less of an impact on the environment.
9. Unsubscribe from retailer notifications
Emails, texts and app notifications from retailers often tell you about the latest sales and discounts, and it could result in a sense of urgency to buy now so you don’t let a good deal get away. You can avoid impulse purchases — and possible buyer’s remorse — by putting an end to receiving these types of promotional messages.
Ways to stop receiving these notifications include unsubscribing from emails and unfollowing retailer and brand social media accounts, says Bola Sokunbi, author and founder/CEO of Clever Girl Finance. “You can also take it a step further by blocking these email addresses in your email accounts and blocking these accounts from showing up in your social feeds,” she says.
By making such a change, you could end up spending less and be more likely to stick to a budget, as well as better emotional balance, Sokunbi says.
10. Get creative with holiday gifts
If you’re stressed around the holidays about all of the gifts you need to buy, chances are your friends and family members feel the same. A grab bag or Secret Santa gift exchange helps reduce the number of presents everyone has to purchase. Both of these options can enable each person at a holiday party to purchase only one gift.
Another way to keep costs down yet give something of value is to go with a creative gift that doesn’t come from the store. “When people think about do-it-yourself (DIY) gifts, their minds often wander to something underwhelming: a homemade card and an ugly knitted sweater,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com. “But DIY can also be more valuable than any store-bought present. These can include a home-cooked meal and a total house or car cleaning.”
Practical strategies such as these can help you reduce spending and add to your savings every month. For long-term financial success, it also helps to live within your means by sticking to a personal budget and only making purchases you can afford.