Saving money requires one of two things: You can either earn more money and stash that extra income, or you can spend less of what you currently earn. The latter is not a fun prospect for most people, because cutting your spending generally requires some lifestyle changes.
Most people don’t have big expenses they can easily trim from their budgets. If you bathe in champagne and live on caviar, then you have two obvious ways to start saving more money. For most people, though, meaningfully cutting their spending involves some meaningful sacrifice.
The ideas below may not all work for you, but the spirit of them can apply to many of your expenses. These are practical ways anyone can save a little more money without feeling the pain too much.
Keep your coffee order simple
Budgeting articles like this one often tell people to give up the daily coffee they buy from a barista. But most people really don’t want to do that (even if there’s free coffee at work), because there’s joy in the ritual of buying that morning cup of Joe.
So if you’re unwilling to give up your daily trip to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, at least try to spend less on that trip. A simple cup of hot or iced coffee costs about half as much as a fancy espresso drink — and it’s also better for you (unless you’re generous with the cream and sugar). In addition, Starbucks loyalty club members get free refills on regular coffee and tea while in store (and no matter what you order, you can get free refills of basic coffee or tea).
Making the switch to a more basic coffee will save you around $2 a day. Assuming you make the change five days a week for 52 weeks a year, that’s $520 a year that can go into your bank account.
Buy water in bulk
Unlike coffee, water is a necessity, rather than a treat. That’s why it’s silly to spend a lot of money on bottled water.
And while switching to tap water may be too much for some people, that’s not the only choice. If you buy bottled water by the case, it costs about $5 for 24 bottles, give or take a couple bucks. That’s about $0.20 per bottle, compared to the $1 to $3 you might spend on a single bottle.
It’s easy enough to buy water by the case and stock your home, your office, and the trunk of your car. There are even delivery services that will haul your water to you for only a little more money than you’d pay to lug the cases from the store yourself.
Go with a bare-bones gym membership
For years, I was a member of a gym that charged about $60 a month. It had a sauna, a pool, and fancy locker rooms. I used the sauna occasionally, never swam in the pool, and spent as little time in the locker room as possible.
When that membership expired, I switched to a gym that cost $10 a month. It wasn’t as nice, but the equipment was fine, and I saved $600 a year.
Hold off on that new car
Many people start thinking about a new car as soon as they’ve paid off their last one. It’s a natural impulse, especially when every new generation of vehicles comes with more and better feature. However, buying a new car just because you can is a terrible idea.
If your car runs well, doesn’t need any major repairs, and still has a lot of mileage left in it, then keep it. Going even a single year without a car payment can save you thousands of dollars, and the only downside is that you’ll spend more time pining for a bigger engine and a backup camera.
Also keep in mind that a new car will come with a new, higher insurance premium. The cost difference will vary by vehicle, but sticking with an older car could save you hundreds of dollars in annual insurance payments.
Downgrade your dining out
My wife and I eat out a few times a week. We could save a lot of money if I cooked more, but that’s more effort than I plan to put in.
Instead, we cut our spending by having one or two of those meals at fast-casual restaurants instead of sit-down joints. Swapping Chili’s for Chipotle, for example, cuts our bill roughly in half.
We also sometimes make a similar trade-off when it comes to our Saturday “date night” meal. We normally go to a higher-end restaurant where we pay roughly $80 for an appetizer for me, a salad for her, and two entrees. But for $50, we could still find a decent meal — maybe even a really good one — while saving $30 per week.
By swapping a fast-casual for a sit-down meal twice a week and downgrading date night twice a month, the savings pile up. Our 24 cheaper date nights save around $720 a year, while each fast-casual meal saves maybe $15 to $20. It’s a rough estimate, but even leaving some fancy meals intact, we save nearly $2,500 a year while still eating out.
Cut the cord
With the average American cable subscriber spending about $100 a month for cable, getting rid of it offers a major chance to save. Of course, about 94 million American homes still have cable and don’t want to get rid of it, because that’s how they watch TV.
Now, however, it’s possible to get a lot of cable content without an expensive cable plan. A subscription to a streaming service like DISH Network’s Sling TV starts at $20 a month and offers about 20 live-streaming channels. Add Hulu ($7.99) and Netflix ($10.99), and you get an awful lot of content for less than 40% of the average cable bill. That’s a savings of roughly $500 a year.