Yes, yes, I realize if you spend about 5 minutes on Pinterest you’ll see 3,285 pins about ways to save money, which is why you haven’t seen a similar post on this blog before. But as I’ve been helping others get on a budget and coaching them on how to cut their expenses and save money I decided that you just can’t be the author of a personal finance blog without including your own article on the topic.
Creative Ways to Save Money
Saving money does not have to require living on rice and beans, in fact, it can be quite easily achieved with just a few simple lifestyle tweaks.
So here it is, a collection of my 9 favorite creative ways to save money.
I’m not talking about extreme couponing here…in fact, most of these take very little effort or a small amount of work in the beginning and will really pay off over time.
Since meal planning is the tip that does require the most effort, I thought we’d talk about it first and get it out of the way.
While it might take some work on the front end, consistent meal planning not only saves you a ton of time (once the planning and shopping are complete) but it also will help you save money…and often a substantial amount.
When you are randomly walking the aisles and grabbing your normal staples (plus whatever happens to catch your eye at the moment) you might end up sticking to your budget, which is great, but the odds are when you’re making dinner most nights you’ll realize you’re short an ingredient or two.
When this happens a few times each week those extra trips add up and before you know it, you’ve blown your food budget.
Does meal planning feel overwhelming to you? Grab your meal planning starter kit…it’s free!
Another good way to combat this is to do your food shopping online (See #9 below)! Some local grocery stores offer this option on their websites or you can use large online grocers such as Thrive Market or Amazon Fresh.
If you are already an Amazon lover than Amazon Fresh will give you the same awesome service you already know and love on another level with the lightning-fast delivery you’ve come to depend on. Get a free trial of Amazon Fresh.
Taking the time to plan your meals in advance allows you to head to the store (or online) with a clear “plan” of attack.
You won’t be wandering aimlessly, instead, you’ll be focused, buying only what you need which will save you time and you’ll be amazed when you might even come in under budget.
You can see how I often meal plan and shop for a month at a time. Again, this takes more effort up front but then I know what I’m making for the whole month…it’s almost like a vacation.
I know, you’ve likely thought of doing this but you’ve probably wussed out! We talked about doing it for a long time before we finally pulled the trigger. We (read: my husband) were worried that we might miss out on something, I suppose…
We were not in a good place, financially, and were desperate to lower our expenses. Personally, I would have preferred increasing my income instead but that wasn’t going so well either so we were left scrambling to see where we could force some savings.
After a small adjustment period, we were completely unphased by the lack of TV options and now, a few years later, there are a ton of free TV streaming apps.
Honestly, we already used Netflix, we subscribed to Hulu+ for the current network shows and we also had Amazon Prime Video. We rarely had to deal with commercials and could basically watch anything we wanted except for most sports.
Sports, I think, is what holds a lot of people back from canceling their cable but there are a ton of other options out there now to subscribe to different sports packages without your typical “cable”.
We finally subscribed to cable again when a really great deal came in the mail but I’ll tell you what, we often wonder why we bothered since we still watch so much more Netflix than cable?!
When our contract is up we will likely just cancel it again since it almost seems like a waste…
Buy in Bulk
I had read an article a long time ago that talked about how shopping at wholesale clubs actually made you spend more money instead of saving money so I rarely went to Sam’s Club, even though we had been a member for years.
More recently I started doing some price research between Aldi (where I do most of our food shopping), where the paper products are very reasonably priced, and Sam’s Club. I completely expected Aldi to be cheaper and was shocked when Sam’s Club won in almost every scenario.
We save a substantial amount each month when we purchase our bottled water, paper plates, toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, etc. Also, we purchase American Cheese at Sam’s too! I can buy 5 pounds for about $11.00 and our regular grocery store costs almost $7.00 for just one pound?!?
They also have some really great prices on other essentials and awesome promotions at different times of the year too…if you have a Sam’s Club location near you (if not you can shop on their website with a membership) I would definitely say you will get your money’s worth out of the membership.
Using Cashback + Coupon Apps
These have really been gaining popularity in the past few years and while each app might have a slight learning curve, once you know how to use them you can become efficient and really save!
I’ve recently discovered Fetch Rewards and I am just loving it and I know you will too! The reason Fetch is so cool is that you do not have to spend time browsing the app looking for specific deals, you simply scan your receipt, and if you have purchased anything that is currently on the app as a deal it will automatically give you the extra points you’ve earned!
The other great thing about Fetch Rewards is that you can scan receipts from so many different stores including Dollar Tree and Aldi (which is where I do most of my food shopping)!
If your grocery store carried mostly brand names then you have to start using Ibotta. Simply browse the Ibotta app to see which items are available for cashback rebates then scan your receipt into the Ibotta app after you purchase those items!
If your purchase qualifies the rebate will automatically be added to your account. Once you reach $20 you can cash out for money or gift cards! I love cashing my points in for Starbucks gift cards and then treating myself and my kids (they love Sbux cake pops!) without paying an arm and a leg!
Ibotta also now offers “Pay with Ibotta” which is a shop in-store option where you can link a debit or credit card and earn cashback when you use your Ibotta app to pay for your order!
RAKUTEN (Formerly called Ebates)
Rakuten is the bomb! You might have heard of this app before as it was called Ebates for years. It recently changed its name to Rakuten but it’s the same great app! It’s great because you can use it on your total purchase at a ton of online stores (plus they’ve now added an in-store feature too) to earn ACTUAL cash…for real… they will pay you via PayPal or mail you a physical check each quarter…say whaaaa?!?
I like simple, don’t we all? Rakuten is simple.
Sign up for an account, then when you’re shopping online go to Rakuten first (they have a super handy Chrome extension you can add to your browser to make sure you never miss an offer when shopping), then search for the store.
Rakuten will take you to that store’s regular website. You shop and checkout as you normally would.
When your purchase is verified, Rakuten will deposit money into your account. It’s seriously that easy!
The best part: You can refer your friends and Rakuten will give you $30 for each person that signs up and makes a purchase! Pretty cool, right? $30 for basically no effort.
Sign up here then you’ll be given your own referral link to post on social media or share via email or text.
When your friends sign up you’ll get paid and they will earn a $30 bonus also.
Use Credit Card Points
This might seem like a no-brainer but 31% of people are not cashing in their credit card points or rewards?!?! (source) 31%….holy crap!! Do you have any idea how much money that gives the credit card companies? This is crazy to me…
Now, I’d actually prefer if you stop using credit cards for the most part anyway, and I know many of you have, which is great! BUT maybe you’ve paid off your balances and still have rewards points sitting in your account!
This is FREE MONEY people! (well technically, if you’ve paid a ton of interest, it’s not really free but go with me on this one).
Living frugally means spending less on the things that don’t matter so you can spend more on the things that do!
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Here’s what I want you to do:
CHECK YOUR STATEMENTS: Check every open credit card account (regardless of the balance). Look for your points balance. If you can’t find your balance then call the company and ask them what your rewards balance is and how you can use your points!
USE YOUR POINTS: Cash those bad boys in! Redeeming your points for gift cards is usually the best route but it doesn’t hurt to check out the other options as well. Sometimes you can even find discounted gift cards. Sometimes our Chase Freedom card (which is the one card we kept because it is awesome and so is the service) even has gift cards “on sale” so we will redeem our points for gift cards we know we will use.
For example, if there is a $100 Lowes gift card on sale for 20% off then we only have to use $80 in points to purchase it plus we can use a Lowes coupon or buy items on sale at the store…now that’s how you save money.
Note: If you’re a veteran, first of all, thank you for your service and sacrifice! Second of all, did you know you can get a 10% discount on your purchase at Lowes every day…how cool is that?
Bring Your Own Water
I catch a raised eyebrow periodically when I share this tip but that’s ok…I consider myself to be frugal instead of cheap and I hate waste. I hate wasting food and I really hate wasting money.
We don’t go out to eat often and when we do it’s usually just a quick lunch or grabbing Chipotle (our favorite) on the way home from running errands.
I almost never purchase a drink at these places because I almost always bring my own water. 2 reasons: first – I’m a bit of a water snob! It’s basically all I drink and I’m picky about the taste (and yes, I can taste a difference 🤣) so while places like Chipotle or Panera will usually give you a cup for free for you to fill with water from their soda machine, I don’t like the taste. That leaves me spending an additional $2 for a bottle of water. Umm…no thanks, I can purchase a whole case for a dollar more at Aldi.
I always have a bottle of water in my car so if we are dining in I just throw it in my purse and bring it in. I’ve never had any place give me an issue and usually they don’t even notice! Don’t worry… at a normal restaurant I won’t be so tacky. And yes, I’m also that Mom who brings her own food and water to the movies too
Shop in Your Pantry
We get so used to food shopping each week that we feel we can’t get through the week without going to the store and stocking up! When you’re shopping weekly (or whatever schedule you use), even if you’re meal planning and making good use of all the items you purchase over time things still begin to accumulate.
Maybe you ran out of time one evening and ordered out instead of making the meal you had planned (and shopped for). Eventually, you notice less room when you’re putting the groceries away. This is a great indicator that you should shop in your pantry instead of the grocery store that week.
Sure, you’ll still have to get to the store for your fresh items but otherwise, take inventory of your pantry, freezer, and cabinets and put some meals together using those ingredients. You will likely be surprised by how much food you actually have sitting around.
This is a great way to save money because you will be way under budget for your groceries that week plus you’ll be rotating through your canned goods and other pantry staples before they expire, eliminating waste.
Find a bunch of items you know you’ll likely never put to use? Set them aside to donate to your local food pantry! You can do this as often or as little as you feel it is needed. Plus you might even find some new meals your family enjoys.
» READ MORE: How to Automate Your Savings
Try a Spending Freeze
This might sound scary but I swear doing a spending freeze will not only help you save money but it is a fun way to challenge yourself too.
A spending freeze is just as it sounds….you freeze your spending, meaning you don’t spend. If you and your spouse/significant other are competitive as my husband and I then make it a competition to see who can spend less.
This is a super simple way to save money and maybe even add some extra to your cash envelopes while you’re at it. We love to do a spending freeze to get back on track after all the holiday spending chaos.
You don’t have to do much to prepare. In fact, I feel as if you prep too much you’ll ending up spending a bunch of extra money to “prepare for your freeze” and it would end up being counter-productive.
Try this for as little as a week or as long as you please…I promise you’ll start to evaluate your everyday purchases even after the freeze ends, which will likely result in even more savings.
Sometimes online shopping can be a slippery slope… If you are someone who gets sucked down the rabbit hole every time you get near your computer then this might not be the best option for you. But if this is not an issue for you then shopping online can definitely save you money. Let me explain…
When you shop in the store it is way too easy to toss everything (no? Just me?) in your cart and justify the “need” for it. Target, for example, hell yes I “need” almost every. single. item. at Target and it used to be a rare occasion to get through that check out for under $100 a pop, right?
When I shop online I’m able to keep an eye on my shopping cart and my total. I also have the luxury of comparing prices faster and easier from the comfort of my own home. I often find myself removing things from my cart that I realize I don’t need. If it’s a bigger purchase I’ll fill my cart then walk away for a few hours or even overnight to avoid impulse purchases.
Bonus: Sometimes if you close the site altogether, themerchant will email you a coupon to entice you to come back and complete your purchase.
The one caveat is shipping charges. I loathe paying for shipping and will do just about anything to avoid doing so when shopping online, which is why we do the majority of our online shopping through Amazon or Target. (You can see all my frugal favs in my Amazon store)
If you have an Amazon Prime membership you get free 2-day shipping on almost anything they sell. (Or an Amazon business account, for business owners ) We order anything and everything from Amazon and I love not having to leave my house.
Similarly, if you’re a Target RedCard holder you also get free shipping on anything from Target.com with no minimum. Save even more money from Target and/or Amazon if you use the Subscribe and Save feature. I recently started using Subscribe & Save from Target for cat food and cat litter and now I’m never rushing to the store at night because the cat has no food.
You set the items and the frequency and get a lower price from Amazon plus free shipping and Target gives you 5% off your order (plus an extra 5% if you use your RedCard) and also free shipping and it just shows up on your front door like magic. A total win-win.
Many stores now offer a ship-to-store option which also lets you avoid shipping charges. You purchase online, pay for the item, designate which store location you would like to pick it up at, and then you’ll be notified when your item is ready to be picked up.
Our local Walmart even lets you skip the line for most “pick up in-store” items now. When you place your order online you’ll be sent your receipt and pick-up instructions via email. Once you receive the notification that your item is ready you head to the store where you’ll find a huge store pick-up tower.
It can be slightly intimidating your first time, but you just step up to the Walmart kiosk, follow the instructions, scan your phone and it pulls your item and sends it right down to you. It’s really quite amazing and allows you to grab your item and run for your life before you blink and your cart is overflowing with additional items you “need”.
Those are my best tips for saving money. I hope you found them helpful and easy to implement into your daily lives without much effort! I’d love to hear some of your best tips to save money…if you have some good ones, share them in the comments.
Kristin Stones is the owner of Cents + Purpose, an online community dedicated to sharing practical personal finance content. Her mission is to equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge to take back control of their money and live a more purposeful life. She creates actionable content to help her audience achieve financial wellness using her simple approach to managing money - all learned through her personal experience of paying off almost $55,000 of debt in under two years.