I love a good bargain. I do. If an item I have to have is not on sale, I try to maximize my savings when I can. There are so many free resources out there available to help assist and extend the budget. I’ve compiled a list below that I have adopted myself to help maximize my savings. These are not get rich quick schemes, just slow and steady trusted ways to help me reach my FI sooner. Grocery is a big expense for us. So when I can, I try to save on those. I’ve tried semi-extreme couponing and it stressed me out! If extreme couponing works for you, more power, because I know this in itself is a full time job to accomplish.
You probably have heard already about the importance of knowing your financial status and setting a budget, and then, sticking to your budget. Here are my tips for you:
- Set up two checking accounts. (preferably free) One for paying the bills and one for personal use. I do this so that I don’t accidentally dry up my checking account specifically set to cover the bills and get hit with an Insufficient Fund fee when the check bounces. Yes, I still prefer to use paper checks. I transfer the exact amount I budgeted for the bills into it, pay the bills with it, and not touch it otherwise. It should work the same if you have your bill payment set automatically. Use one for paying the bills and one for everything else. That way, the bill payments are always covered.
- I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my monthly budget. It’s what I have been trained to use during my accounting days. I like that I already know how to use it. I have all the bills I have each month listed, plus a few for saving and unexpected expenses. Once I set up a spreadsheet for the month with automatic calculations, I can just use or copy the same spreadsheet to make one for a new month. You can get fancier if you like. If you are interested in learning to use Excel, your local public library may offer tutorial classes and/or access to Lynda.com. Lynda offers Microsoft Office Excel tutorial. YouTube also offers video tutorials for free. Google also has its own version of Excel spreadsheet.
- Create a buffer on your checking accounts. $10/month is a great start. Set it and forget it. Think of it as paying yourself and consider it a bill you have to pay. When I balance my books, that amount is taken out as if it is already reserved for a pending bill. Within a year, you will have created $120 emergency buffer to cover any accidental overspending. $10/paycheck is even better, twice a month. That’s $240 in a year.
- Set a fixed amount for each bill. In the winter months, my electric bill is lower because we have a gas fueled heater. In the summer months, my electric bill is higher than my gas bill. Setting a fixed rate on my budget sheet covers the expense for the months my utility bills tend to go higher. It helps me be more prepared for the bill increase. Each month I subtract the exact bill amount and carry over the remaining balance for the following month. I do this for all the expenses listed on my budget spreadsheet. When I reconcile my accounts, I count the remaining balances on each budget entry as already spent. *Bonus: My checking account APY increased, just a tad but still an increase, due to a larger balance on my account due to the budgeted “for emergency carryovers”.
- Use cash to pay businesses. I have a wristlet I love to carry. It’s big enough to carry my phone, my keys, ids and my envelopes. I have several envelopes there to help me stay on budget. I have one for groceries, one for outings, and one for shopping. I also keep my receipts in there and empty it out when too full to close.
- Involve a trusted family member or friend. My sister has always been great with saving. So she got me to finally agree to giving her a few dollars at random times, nothing set in stone, to set aside for me. She usually have to drag it out of me though. Haha But I have accrued close to a thousand just by her asking me for money. She takes coins and bills or reimbursements. If I buy something for her, she puts the money I spent towards my savings instead, which I don’t mind if it’s not a big ticket item.
Get cash back on items you buy anyway. There are a lot of free apps available specifically to help you save. Here are the ones I’ve tried and love: (This post has affiliate/referral links.)
- Ibotta. I get cash back on groceries, medicine, clothes, 3% on pet supplies and so much more on this app. All you have to do is download the free app, activate the rebate(s) and submit a photo of your receipt. It’s free money and easy to use. Plus, once you have your own account, you can get referral bonus for each successful referral. Redemption minimum is $20, which can then be transferred to Paypal or exchanged for a gift card (Best Buy, Starbucks, Wholefoods, Amazon, Regal Cinemas to name a few). There are also additional bonuses to help you get to that minimum redemption fairly quickly. If you sign up thru me, you get a $10 sign up bonus. You may also go directly to Ibotta.com to sign up.
- Ebates. For my online purchases, I check Ebates first to see the promotions and the additional cash back I can earn. It’s free to sign up. You can also earn referral bonus once you signed up with every successful referral. Minimum redemption threshold for this site is $5, which can be transferred to Paypal or sent via post mail quarterly. Cashback is automatically calculated. As you may know, contact lenses are quite expensive and I’ve saved using this website, to give an example.
- RetailMeNot. My mall advertises this site everywhere and I love that it does because I’ve saved quite a bit shopping with this site, easily accessible on my phone. This site gives current promotions available around my area and I’ve used a $10 off a $25 purchase at Macy’s and JcPenney in the past to give as an example. I just have the cashier scan the coupon code on my phone. I check this site prior to making a Papa Johns’ Pizza order as well and have saved from 20% to 50% on my order. RetailMeNot also sells giftcards to famous businesses at a discount. for example, save 7% on a Lowe’s gift card, which is extra helpful for big ticket items.
- Checkout51. This is also a free cash back app and is very easy to use. Just click on the rebate and submit your receipt. The minimum threshold for this app is $20, which is sent via post mail once I cash out. What I love about this app is that it accepts any store, as opposed to Ibotta where the promotions differ per store. There is also a $500 monthly sweepstakes, with each $60+ grocery receipt submitted.
3- Share Certificates
Once those cash back rebates starts pilling up, you can either use the money to shop, add to a debt payment, donate, or even better – deposit to a savings/checking account and purchase a Share Certificate, which earns a higher dividend. I purchased one thru my bank that earns at 2.23% APY with just a minimum initial deposit of $50 plus an option to add up to $3000 up to the maturity date. There’s a penalty for withdrawing early, so this its not as liquid during an emergency; but, it does stop me from touching it. I just set it and forget it and it earns much higher dividend than a regular savings account. Do a little research to find one that works for you, most rates are available to view online.
4- Credit Cards
I do love to shop and I’m thankful for credit cards. However, credit cards can be both a friend and enemy. I’ve consolidated my smaller balance credit cards into one to help finally pay it all off. I’ve managed to get approved for a lower interest rate than all the others I currently have so I transferred the balances and got 0% promotional rate for the total balance I transferred for a year. Extra note: opening a credit card affects your FICO score, and the interest rate on the new card will be dependent on how great your credit score is. While I rather not open another credit card, I do want to decrease the amount I pay towards interest so I can pay off the balance faster.
5- Loyalty Rewards Card
Most stores offer loyalty rewards card and it should be free to sign up for one. I especially love the benefit of being able to load coupons and have it automatically applied towards my purchase. The downside, digital coupons are typically good for just one use. Some stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and Bath and Body Works, for example, send their coupon in the mail. I do love getting freebies from Bath and Body Works. Check to see if your favorite store has a loyalty reward to help you maximize your savings.
6- Spare Change
I do not like carrying coins in my wristlet. I do not like the hassle of counting coins at the register while people are waiting in line behind me. So, I recycled 4 pasta jars and use it to deposit and separate my coins. When it’s full, I either ask the bank for free coin rolls or buy a pack at the Dollar Store to deposit them into my account. I save money without realizing it. My bank used to have a coin machine but no longer. There are coin machines at certain locations that charges a fee, if you prefer not to count and roll your own coins. There are apps that round up your purchase amount to the nearest dollar to help you save. However, I’m not too trusting just yet of attaching my bank account that way. Call me old fashion.
I’ve called Cox Communications before to negotiate my bill. I’ve successfully lowered my monthly bill just by asking if they could work something out for me.
Utilities are variable type of bills and are dependent on usage. So I have since posted a summary of our monthly bill, gas/water/electric, on our fridge to keep my family aware of their usage. It can be as easy as doing one last sweep and turning the lights off before turning to bed.
A few months back, I noticed an increase on my water bill. It turns out, one of my toilet tank was leaking. We also had one of our water pipes burst, not weather related, just old pipes that need replacing. My water bill was much higher as a direct result since I didn’t realize we had a leaking pipe until it started flooding in the garage. Check if any of your faucet or toilets are leaking. Once in a while, do a walk through around the house to look for signs of wear and tear.
I have since removed my cable TV, only keeping the internet and phone because it was cheaper to bundle the two. I save $50 by getting rid of a subscription no one was really using. In replace, we bought a $10 subscription to Netflix, which is a cheaper alternative for home entertainment for us. The only thing I miss are current events, which I can get updates on online. I do not get any compensation for promoting Netflix.
Don’t forget to check your public library to borrow DVDs and Roku Streaming Stick.
9- Sprint Cellular
If your cellular network is Sprint, you can earn $50 prepaid Visa card, good at any store, for each successful referral up to $500 a year. I used my sister-in-law’s referral. She got a referral bonus for each phone I activated and I get the same amount just for using her referral. Honestly, I got better cellular reception with Sprint at Shenandoah area than I did with Verizon. I don’t know why that is because Verizon is supposed to be better and is more expensive for us; but, that is what happened to us when we visited. I have not replicated this result. We do have a Shenandoah Adventure in the early planning stages.
I use Swagbucks as a search engine and I get bonus SB points for using it at random times of the day. Once I accumulate the minimum threshold, which can be as low as $1, I can then exchange it for a gift card. Certainly, there are other ways to earn points with this site from watching videos, answering surveys, playing games, printing coupons, shopping, signing up to different websites that carries bonus incentives, like Blue Apron. The more you use it, the more points your earn and the faster you get to cash-in for a gift card to popular stores. I just typically use it as a search engine though.
I am always on a lookout to maximize my savings. While it does require just a tad bit of work, I’m buying the stuff already anyway. Or in terms of Swagbucks, I already do web search anyway, why not earn while I do it? I will post more ways to save money to extend the budget when I come across them and tried it myself. That way, I’m only referring ways that are legit and I would use myself. Happy deal hunting.
Some of the links provided on this post may earn me some compensation, this is of no extra cost to you to sign up or check out, just a little incentive for me to keep on writing. I am also not a professional financial consultant and the ways I mentioned above are from my personal experiences and should not be taken as an absolute advice. I share these to give you an idea what are some of the options available to you and you should set up time to research each individually and decided for yourself what is right for you or converse with your own financial consultant. Thank you for understanding.
Until next time.