As a woman in my early twenties, I have recently become financially independent—alongside my husband—and I just knew we would be fine. I love saving money, and our income was more than enough to fund us. We went through our first year of marriage in financial bliss; we didn’t have to ask permission to make any purchases, and we enjoyed little vacations here and there as we pleased.
About three months ago, we realized we were steadily losing money each month.
It happened slowly. We paid the bills, we got groceries and gas. We enjoyed fun things every now and then, but our usual savings made up for those, right? It wasn’t until we sat down and took a good look at our spending habits that we realized the little extra things were adding up fast. Thankfully, we caught it before we were in trouble, but the fact that we were losing money was a wake-up call. Now, we’re working extra hard to save and budget, and our lifestyle has taken a turn for the better.
If you have the mentality we did—“but we’re not making bad decisions!”—yet your bank account isn’t growing every month, you can bet there are changes that can be made. If you’re barely breaking even or are losing, it’s not too late. You’re not alone. I was there just three months ago, and without adding any extra jobs we’ve seen our bank account gain back almost $3,000. The right decisions can be made, and they’re easier than you think.
Goodwill and other thrift shops are a saver’s best friends. Buying used opens up room for saving on many items such as furniture or home décor.
For example, last November I bought our first fake Christmas tree as a married couple. I got it for on sale for $50. It’s a little bare-looking, and our first reaction was, “This will be fine until we can justify buying a better one,” but was much cheaper than those beautiful, full trees for $200+ that I was seeing at most stores. Great, right? A week later I was shopping at Goodwill for a tacky Christmas sweater and I saw beautiful, full trees—pre-lit and everything—for $29.99. I have no idea why I didn’t pick one up and return the pitiful $50 that was already set up in our living room, but I seriously regret it.
Don’t write off used merchandise; Goodwill isn’t solely for moth-eaten ‘80s clothes. The options are endless when buying used; you never know what someone will decide to get rid of. If you don’t like the color of your new-used coffee table or see some chips on your picture frame, learning how to finish wood or simply grabbing a can of spray paint can make all the difference.
Craigslist and Facebook Yard Sale Pages
It’s basically a thrift store from the comfort of your home. Craigslist and Facebook “yard sale” or “buy and sell” pages in your area make buying used even easier; you can specifically search for items you want. It’s also great for making money on items you don’t use anymore.
My sister-in-law uses Craigslist quite a bit. When her youngest two kids outgrew their double stroller, she sold it on Craigslist for $60. It was originally worth $110. Her buyer saved $50, and my sister-in-law (who got the stroller as a gift) earned 100% of the profits. Craigslist is especially great for baby and kids’ supplies; a used crib is much cheaper than buying new, and in a few years your kids won’t need it anymore, either.
Of course, with all these Craigslist horror stories, please make sure to use these sites wisely. Never allow a buyer or seller to come to your home, and don’t go to theirs. Meet in a central location, especially one that’s well-populated, such as a Walmart parking lot (if you really want to ensure safety, meet near a local police department). Always make your trade during daylight hours. Bring a friend with you or at least tell someone where you’re going. Use a separate email address—one that has no personal information—to contact your buyer or seller, and don’t give out your phone number.
Another tip: always lowball your offer. (You can even do this at Goodwill if you think their asking price is ridiculous.) One friend of mine recommended never, ever offering asking price on Craigslist, eBay, or Facebook yard sales; her lower offers have been often been accepted.
For more information on how to sell items on Craigslist, check out a step-by-step how-to here.
Extreme couponing isn’t the only way to coupon; I promise. You can find deals on groceries on Coupons.com; just print them right off, and you’ve saved a couple cents here and there (it will add up the same way that spending a couple cents here and there will!).
Want coupons on clothes? Check RetailMeNot.com. You can go from there to choosing stores in your area and getting some great deals. For coupons on everyday activities like painting your own pottery, a photography session, or even dinner at a restaurant, check Groupon.com. Sifting through the things you don’t want is a must, otherwise you’ll end up with the “spending so I can save” mentality. Don’t fall into that temptation! If you wouldn’t get it otherwise, don’t get it because it’s on sale.
If you have a smart phone, consider apps for coupons at your favorite stores. “Cartwheel” is an app for saving at Target, and Michael’s has a coupon app as well. If you shop somewhere often enough, it’s worth a shot!
If you are interested in extreme couponing, there are tons of blogs on “Extreme Couponing for Beginners.” Check it out on Google or Pinterest if you want to start. My main issue with extreme couponing is that it typically requires buying in bulk, and with a family of two living in a small apartment, we just don’t need that quite yet.
Similar to couponing, meal planning has become a large part of my monthly savings. The idea here is that I only make one trip to the grocery store per week and don’t buy too much extra food that will go bad or be forgotten.
Here’s how I did it: I first chose the grocery store most convenient to my home; in my case, it’s a Food Lion. I got their rewards card—no purchase necessary—and now I save money every time I buy food that’s having an “MVP deal.” (Before I moved, the most convenient grocery store was a Winn-Dixie, which also builds up gas rewards and saves a few cents per gallon at Shell stations. That was awesome.)
Next, I look at the Food Lion ad section of my weekly newspaper and find out which foods will be having MVP sales. While I have that flyer open, I have Pinterest and my cookbooks out so I can match up savings with my existing recipes. (For example, this week shrimp was on sale, so I’ll be making shrimp and grits.) Once I have six or seven meals written out for the week, I add all the ingredients to my shopping list, and—voila—the savings begin. Besides the specific ingredients, I of course will buy some of our favorite snacks, ingredients for salads, etc. But overall, I ensure that we aren’t buying too much or too little. This has also drastically cut back on last-minute shopping trips right before dinner.
It seems obvious—when at all possible, avoid buying anything at full price. Always check the clearance rack first if you have a shopping need.
I used to work at Target, so I’m somewhat familiar with its discount system. On the red clearance tag, you’ll see a tiny number in the upper right-hand corner reading 30, 50, or 70, which indicates percentage off full price. If the number is 30 or 50, more sales are coming! If an item has been 70% off for a certain length of time, it will go off the floor, never to return. However, items that don’t sell at 30% off will eventually get knocked down to 50%, and if they still don’t sell, there’s one more level to go. Keep that trick in mind when shopping clearance at your Target store!
Another common sense rule of thumb is to buy clothes at the end of their season. I always shop for bathing suits in the fall, and I always get great deals. Don’t be tempted by the allure of a new season; buy winter coats and boots at the beginning of spring; buy shorts and flip-flops in the fall. It will be worth it.
Ask for Discounts
Common savings to ask about: military or government discounts, student discounts, age-related discounts, and (of course) employee discounts.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask about discounts. Military/government discounts are common, and the worst thing the cashier can tell you is no. Hotel rates and restaurant bills can go down significantly if you simply ask.
I’ve saved money on a movie ticket just for having my university student ID on me. I’ve taken kids that I babysit to “kids eat free” restaurants. Once you hit these places once, be sure to keep going back. You’re supporting their decision to give you a discount, and you’re saving money in the process.
There are numerous ways to pinch your pennies, and the options don’t stop here. I would love to get more tips and tricks for smart spending; once you start, it becomes a hobby. If you’re going to jump on the bandwagon with me, good luck and happy saving!
Special thanks to Mom, Alicia, and Ashleigh for sharing stories and giving me advice for this article!
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