A few days ago, I mentioned my single best action for saving money in my own life – utilizing the library. I also encouraged readers to submit their own best actions – and did they ever! The post has already received almost 250 comments and several dozen more readers emailed me their single best action.
As promised, I’ve compiled a list of all of these actions. Here are the top twenty five – basically, these are the ones that were repeated more than twice. These aren’t in any particular order. If you want some direct personal finance actions that have actually worked for people, here’s your list.
1. Utilize the library. Many readers agreed with my statement about how valuable the library is for those who read avidly. Not only can it save you on the cost of buying books, it can also provide DVDs for viewing, CDs for listening, and many other interesting cultural experiences if you pay attention to the schedule of events.
2. Use online bill pay. Not only does online bill pay save you the expense of envelopes and stamps (roughly fifty cents per bill paid online), it also provides you the convenience of auto-calculating your bills and comparing them immediately to your checking and savings account balances. No more checkbook math necessary.
3. Get your paycheck direct deposited. Instead of receiving a paper paycheck, have your paycheck directly deposited into your checking account. This spares you the need to have to go to the bank to cash your check, plus relieves you of the temptation to have some cash taken out of the check when you deposit it.
4. Make your own lunch and take it to work with you. Instead of eating out every day, brown bag it! Prepare a lunch the night before and take that lunch with you to work the next day. It can be leftovers, it can be a fresh meal (like a sandwich), but either way, it can cut into your costs tremendously.
5. Stay home. Instead of going out on the town for entertainment, stay at home and enjoy the activities available in your domicile. Most of the activities you can do at home – reading, watching television, exercising, playing games with friends, meditating, listening to music, cooking, etc. – are far cheaper than similar activities you might do out of the home.
6. Set up an automatic savings plan. If you’re getting your paycheck automatically deposited, consider setting up an automatic savings plan to have some of that money routed into retirement or into a savings account for an emergency fund. It’s far, far easier to start saving if the actual transfer of money happens automatically without your intervention.
7. Build an emergency fund. Alongside that advice comes the idea of building an emergency fund, a cash reserve that can help you in the event of a crisis such as a job loss or an automobile breakdown. It’s easy to build one – just sweep a small amount of money on a regular basis into a savings account, watch it build, and utilize that cash when the time comes.
8. Stop smoking or drinking. Expensive consumables can be a huge drain on your financial situation. Eliminating a consumable habit, such as tobacco or alcohol, can quickly improve your financial situation while also improving your health (which can also improve your financial situation by reducing health care costs).
9. Use the “envelope” system. Many people swear by this method, in which one actually budgets their money for a month using “envelopes.” Whenever you need money for, say, groceries, you take money out of the groceries envelope – when that envelope is empty, you’re out for the month. This forces you to be careful with your spending in all respects.
10. Stop looking at ads. Advertisements of all kinds – from television commercials to flyers from the Sunday paper – simply serve to coerce you into spending money on things you don’t actually need. Minimizing your exposure to advertisement minimizes the temptation to spend that money, keeping it at home in your wallet where it belongs.
11. Ditch cable television. Cable television is often a pricy monthly bill and all it does is provide you with more channels that repeat variations on the same content. Get a digital converter box instead and watch the channels that come in over the air – ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, and often others. And they’re free – no monthly bill!
12. Drink more tap water. Tap water makes you healthier (most people are somewhat dehydrated, even if they don’t realize it), fills you up (keeping you from overeating expensive food at meals), and is incredibly cheap compared to any other beverage out there. Take advantage of the tap – it can save you a ton of money on beverages and on food.
13. Eat out less (esp. fast food) and cook at home instead. Every time you purchase prepared food outside the home, you’re spending more than you would making a similar meal at home. So why not adopt that as a platform instead? Learn how to cook at home, make your own meals, and save a lot of money.
14. Stop shopping for fun. Shopping is a very expensive form of entertainment. Instead of shopping with your free time, find other fun things to do – almost anything is cheaper – and leave the shopping trips for the times when you actually need an item.
15. Use the “ten second rule” (or some close variation of it). Whenever you are tempted to spend your money on something frivolous, stop for a few seconds and ask yourself whether you really need this item. Ten seconds is usually enough – many people also recommend putting the item down and leaving the store, only returning if you’ve decided you actually want it after some serious consideration.
16. Accept help from others. It’s easy to let pride get in the way of accepting help from others. Don’t let that happen. Be willing to accept help if others offer it, and be thankful for it. Later on, when your situation improves, you can pay it forward and help someone who needs it.
17. Plan ahead for meals. At the start of a week, make a careful plan of what meals you’re going to eat during the week, then make a grocery shopping list based solely on those meals. When you go grocery shopping, stick to that list. This is a great way to keep your food shopping bill low while keeping the food you want and need on the table.
18. Go on a diet. Many people recommended healthy dieting as a tactic for saving money. If you make a conscious choice to eat less, not only will you save money on your food bill, you’ll also reduce your health care bill and perhaps your clothing bill as well (since it’ll be easier to find consignment clothes).
19. Eliminate expensive hobbies. Are you engaged in a hobby that requires a lot of financial upkeep, like golf or collecting? Instead of continuing that expensive hobby and watching it drain all your money, choose a different path entirely – find a new hobby to focus your energy on that doesn’t require so much upkeep cost.
20. Stop reading women’s magazines. This is perhaps the biggest surprise on this list for me, but several readers swear by it. They argue that women’s magazines are extremely effective at convincing you to shop for things you don’t necessarily need, convincing you that you need some item in order to keep up with the crowd. Spare yourself the guilt – skip those magazines.
21. Make a budget/spending plan. If you can’t seem to get a grip on your spending, try assembling a budget/spending plan so that you can clearly see where your money is going. Spend a month or two keeping careful track of what you actually do spend on certain items, then set a spending goal for that type of item. This can simultaneously serve as a wake-up call and as “training wheels” for good financial habits.
22. Set strong goals. Don’t fleetingly think about how you wish things were. Instead, sketch out exactly how you want your life to be in, say, five years, then focus all of your actions toward that goal. Not only can this cut out frivolous spending, it can also help you to make strong choices to improve every aspect of your life.
23. Stop worrying about what other people think. Don’t let the opinion of others rule the choices you make in your personal life. It’s not their life to live – it’s your life. Instead, make choices that you think are strong – and don’t worry about the neighbors or the naysayers.
24. Sell your car. A car is perhaps the worst investment you can make. It depreciates rapidly, breaks down regularly, and requires constant upkeep. Instead of dealing with this, sell the car and make do with the other transportation options available to you – a bicycle, buses, trains, and so forth.
25. Be accountable to what you spend. Finally, try having a weekly or monthly review of all of your spending. Make yourself face the mistakes you’ve made – don’t let a bad spending move lie in the dust and be forgotten. Use it as a tool to make sure it never happens again.
Hopefully, these tactics spur you on to great things.
This has been a guest post from Trent Hamm who writes about personal finance at The Simple Dollar. Please visit his blog for even more articles like this one.