There’s a fine line between saving money and being one of those famed coupon clippers who make it onto a reality show (although there are certainly some things to learn from coupon clippers). Sadly, the vast majority of Americans are overspending on at least one thing they buy every week. Whether it’s coffee, a new TV, a hotel or gas, oftentimes convenience (ahem, laziness) takes priority over saving a few bucks that have the potential to really add up. Even worse, sometimes it’s not convenience but familiarity; how often have you gone to the more expensive grocery store even though the bargain one is the same distance away just because you’ve “always gone to that grocery store”?
If you tracked how much you overspent, which you can with various apps, you’d be shocked to see how much savings you would have or what you could have really purchased. Even though the year of the horse is already underway, it’s not too late to make 2014 your year of money saving change. However, you need the right tools to get started along with a change in perspective. Start by making a list of five things, in various prices ranges, that you would buy as a treat if you were suddenly handed an envelope of cash just for that purpose; that’s what savings can do.
1. Start tracking purchases today
This is by far one of the most challenging parts of saving money: Realizing exactly how much you spend. Choose a method that works for you, whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet, free app (emphasis on free), notebook or a service you can opt into with your bank. Track every single cent daily, weekly, and monthly for four weeks. You can start instituting changes during this period, but this is the only way to really see where all your money goes and often the only thing that inspires change. Don’t cheat, and make this a habit.
2. Shop used
Buying used no longer has the stigma it used to, and celebrities like Shailene Woodley are speaking up about only buying used clothes. This is by far the best way to shop for nearly everything from furniture to clothes. However, you’re not going to save money if you just buy more because it’s cheaper. While tracking your purchases, you’ll also be building a budget and shopping used makes that easier. For now, focus on changing your mindset if you have “used prejudices” or on getting into the thrill of the bargain.
3. Put the budge in budget
Once you know exactly how much you spend per day, week and month, you need to know how much your income is post-taxes. Hopefully, there’s a surplus of income; if not, you need some serious changes. Budget everything including food, entertainment, savings, retirement, bills and emergency funds. You can’t save money if you don’t know how much is coming in, and a budget can help you appreciate what you earn.
4. Ask for a deal
There’s absolutely no harm in asking, whether it’s at a car dealership or a farmer’s market. You’re guaranteed not to get a lower price if you don’t ask, so why set yourself up for failure? Bargaining and negotiating is a beloved tactic in many countries, but Americans shy away from this practice in favor of a fixed price. You’d never get that dream job if you didn’t apply or that perfect date if you didn’t ask for the number, so do the same when it comes to a bargain.
5. Shop off season
This applies to travel and retail purchases alike. Most houses are sold in the spring and summer, which means sellers have more options and are less likely to negotiate; house buying is best done in the winter. Most travel destinations have off seasons where airline tickets and hotels are half price; this is when you need to travel. Shop the clearance racks and get coats in July (this is the one exception to shopping used since clearance racks offer similar prices) and seek out swimwear in December. It’s all about supply and demand, so make sure you’re on the profitable side of that equation.
6. Go online
For many things, you’re going to find it cheaper online, especially in light of the number of online coupons and promo codes that will discount your purchase or provide free shipping. You might find it profitable to get an Amazon Prime membership or, even better, use a friend’s if you have specific things that can only be found for a low price at this mega e-tailer. Plus, don’t forget about the value of your time. Your time is worth a set amount (use what equates to your hourly pay as a foundation), and you’re not really saving money if you’re spending hours going from store to store.
7. Borrow and swap
Check out books and movies from the library, forego cable in favor of free Hulu, and check out some of those Naked Lady Parties or other swap parties where you can bring things you no longer need in exchange for something else. Bartering is a centuries old tradition, and you might be able to find a perfect match such as your web design skills for someone else’s handyman services. These are all win-win situations and you’ll be surprised at what you can get for free or trade.
8. Write it off
This one can be tricky, but for many people you can legally write off a number of purchase every year from airfare (if you’ll be attending an industry-specific event) to a new laptop. There are of course many loopholes and a lot of red tape, so find a reputable CPA to help you with this process. Many people lose thousands per year because the tax process is so confusing.
9. Sell, don’t toss
People will spend money on the craziest things, so consider selling items you no longer use via Craigslist, a consignment store or have a yard sale and make it a family affair. Take the money from these profits and use it to buy a replacement for whatever was outdated or something totally different. This is like found money, and can put a big dent in a large purchase.
10. Strike at the right time
Finally, don’t forget about sales and those famous coupons, promotions and sales. Those epic Black Friday and other holiday sales really can dish up bargains, but only if it’s for something you need or wanted for a long time before you saw the ad. Keep a list of things you need and a list of no more than five things you want. Retailers regularly discount around Memorial Day, Fourth of July and other major holidays, so keep an eye out year round.
This is a lifestyle change, not a financial change. Few people got rich from spending with abandon. Isn’t it time you joined the ranks or the wealthy wise?
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