It’s no surprise that the words “miser” and “miserable” come from the same Latin root. Being a penny pincher is no fun! Or…is it?
Truth is, you can actually have a ton of fun on the cheap. We’ve compiled some of the best tips, tricks, and hacks that diehard penny pinchers swear by. Once you start saving, we think you’ll agree that the frugal lifestyle is far from miserable!
First Steps for Successful Penny Pinching
To truly save money, you need to take a long, hard look at your financial habits. Some of these habits are easy to change, while others might take some commitment. But having a clear picture of your economic health is always helpful.
Begin By Budgeting
Have you ever checked your bank balance and wondered where in the heck all your money went? We’ve all been there. The very first step you should take as an aspiring penny pincher is to make a budget and track your spending.
It can be scary, especially if you are in debt, to create a budget. However, it’s nearly impossible to get yourself back on sound financial footing without one. So bite the bullet and get ‘er done.
In addition to your budget, start tracking your expenses. This means writing down every single time you spend money, and what you’ve spent it on. This practice can be a real eye-opener. Those little $10 or less purchases — an iced coffee here, an on-the-go fast-food sandwich there — really do add up.
It’s very likely that without even really trying, you’ll find places where you can slash your spending.
Switch Up How You Spend
As you track spending and revise your budget accordingly, think about how you tend to spend. Is it dangerous for you to carry cash around? Or are you more likely to be a spendthrift with your debit or credit card? In the latter case, try the envelope system of managing your money.
While you’re at it, think long and hard about your credit card situation. It might be time to cut them up and stop buying anything you can’t afford right now. Saving a credit card for emergencies can be helpful, as long as you don’t consider a really cute new dress an emergency.
Feed Your Family on a Budget
How much do you spend on groceries each month? If you’re like the average American, it’s somewhere between 13% of your income and a whopping 33%. The amount you shell out for food depends on the size of your family, where you do your shopping, and whether or not you follow special diets.
Smart penny pinchers know that it’s actually really easy to whittle down your grocery expenditures.
Be Smart About Where You Shop
Giant mega-marts, where you can purchase everything from lawn mowers to a gallon of milk, might be convenient — but convenience tends to cost more. Instead, stock up on the essentials at a “no-name” grocery store like Aldi or Price Rite. You may not find name brand products, and you will have to bag your own items, but the discounts are worth it.
Another source for inexpensive food is an ethnic market. If you live in a larger city, find out where the Asian or Indian grocery is. Here you’ll find enormous bags of rice and noodles for a fraction of what they cost at the mega-mart. There are also great deals on meat, produce, and condiments like soy sauce or sesame oil.
The farmer’s market can be iffy. If the market is in an upscale neighborhood and sells mostly organic food, it’s probably going to be spendy. Larger markets can be inexpensive. It’s also a good idea to go towards the end of the day and haggle. Many farmers would rather sell what’s left for a steep discount than haul it back to the farm.
Get Creative in the Kitchen
It is almost always cheaper and healthier to cook your own food than to buy prepared foods. And no, you don’t have to be a whiz in the kitchen. Check out some cookbooks from the library or watch YouTube tutorials and teach yourself a few simple recipes.
A slow cooker is a great investment for penny pinchers who are also foodies. It doesn’t require fancy cooking techniques, it’s hands-off, and it can turn inexpensive cuts of meat into delicious, tender meals.
Speaking of meat, one tried and true frugal food tip is to rethink your carnivore ways. Vegetarian meals cost less than traditional meat-and-potato plates. If you’re not quite ready to take that step, try using meat more sparingly. Bulk up a beef stir-fry with loads of veggies. Flavor a big pot of stew with a small portion of sausage. Cook up a batch of chicken leg quarters in the slow cooker, then use the meat for a variety of dishes.
You can also save big by baking from scratch. Homemade sandwich bread, cakes, cookies, and even granola are all much less expensive than buying premade. We’re talking pennies on the dollar here. And again, they almost always taste better than their highly processed, chock-full-of-preservatives cousins.
Dine Out on the Cheap
Just because you’re a penny pincher doesn’t mean you have to live like a pauper. You can still give yourself a treat by eating out. One of the best ways to save dining dollars is to opt for lunch instead of dinner. Many restaurants serve the exact same dishes and the same portion sizes during midday, but for much less moola than during the dinner service.
If you know in advance that you won’t want to cook dinner, order takeaway at lunchtime. Chinese restaurants, for example, often offer combination specials up until 3 p.m. Grab it early, avoid the dinner rush, and all you have to do is reheat the meal when you’re ready to eat.
Entertainment is a category where it’s really easy to cut corners and still have a lot of fun!
Check Out the Library
Expert penny pinchers are often regulars at their local library. In addition to borrowing books, you can check out movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and music CDs. Some libraries also lend out jigsaw puzzles, games, and children’s toys.
Many libraries offer free classes, social hours, movie screenings, homework help, and children’s programs. At some public libraries, you can even check out a membership card that can save you money at zoos, museums, historical attractions, and other family-fun destinations.
Surf the Coolest Sites on the ‘Net
While your Hulu or Netflix subscription might be a non-negotiable budget item, it’s also easy to source free online entertainment. Check the websites of cable television channels, too, and don’t forget about PBS.
Addicted to your e-reader? Head over to Project Gutenberg, which offers 56,000 books, all for free.
YouTube tutorials are an excellent way to learn a new skill or hobby. If you have some time on your hands, earn money by watching videos, playing games, or taking surveys.
Anyone who loves to shop online should look into Honey, a browser extension that automatically checks for better deals or coupon codes, no matter where you shop. Honey and similar sites also let you collect points that can be redeemed for gift cards.
You probably already hit the stores on February 15th for half-price chocolates, but did you know that almost every category of consumer goods has a “sale season”? Particularly if you’re planning a major purchase, it makes sense to wait until those items are marked down.
Last But Definitely Not Least
To round out our guide to becoming a saving-savvy penny pincher, here a few miscellaneous ways to keep a little more of your hard-earned cash in the bank.
Frugal Fashion Tips
The average American spends about $160 per month on clothing — that’s a lot of money for frugal penny pinchers! Even if you consider yourself a true fashionista, there are ways to save and still be stylish.
Consignment stores are a lot of fun to browse through. Unlike thrift stores, they generally only offer fashionable items in good condition. In fact, some only carry high-end brands. In addition to shopping ’til you drop locally, check out online consignment shops. You can also earn a little pin money by selling your own items at such sites.
If you don’t follow fashion, you can pay even less for clothing by shopping thrift stores. There are plenty of steals for the whole family, and many offer discounts on certain days.
Don’t Diss Discounts
Are you a senior citizen? Student? Military service member? Member of AAA? Do you belong to a credit union, professional organization, or alumni association? All of these can help you save big on meals, hotel rooms, car insurance, and much more.
Just because a discount isn’t advertised doesn’t mean it’s not available. At any rate, it never hurts to ask!
Clean Up At the College
You’d be surprised how many valuable items college students leave behind when they pack up their dorm rooms at the end of the school year. We’re talking TVs, stereos, mini-fridges, fans, furniture, books, clothes, and even food. Visit the dumpsters behind dorms at graduation time, when harried students are likely to discard anything that won’t fit in their car.
Proud To Be a Penny Pincher?
These savings secrets are truly just the tip of the iceberg. For more ways to keep your money in your wallet, bookmark our blog and check back frequently for great articles on budgeting, investing, cost-cutting, and more!
Which of these tips do you want to try first on your journey to become a proud penny pincher? Any hacks that we have neglected to mention? Share them in the comments!