Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Saving Money Without Adjusting Your Lifestyle

In a troubled economy it seems everyone is looking for new ways to save money, but most of these ideas involve major lifestyle changes – and they don’t have to.

Let’s face it… humans are creates of habit, and once we have grown accustomed to having cable television, high speed Internet and going out to eat four or five times a week, it isn’t easy to go back to basics. However, saving money doesn’t have to be so hard – it just takes a little creative thinking.

Over the past year or so I must have read at least a few dozen different articles with suggestions on how people can save money. Whether it be such creative solutions as making coffee at home instead of ordering from Starbucks, packing lunch instead of eating out, biking to work instead of driving, or going to the library instead of the bookstore, most of these ideas have one thing in common… they force the individual to make lifestyle changes they wouldn’t normally be willing to consider if the economy (and their paychecks) were growing instead of shrinking.

Because of this, I thought it was time to list a few of my ideas on how to save money that don’t require any major lifestyle changes or dramatic sacrifices. Not only will these help people save a few bucks here or there, but for the most part these ideas are invisible and after reading them you might just find you do a few of them already even without thinking of it.
So without further drama, here are a few ideas to get you started…

Stop Being So Loyal

This might seem a bit odd if we are talking about family or friends, but in this context we are talking about products and companies. Often times people will purchase the same type of bathroom tissue or the same brand of diapers or even shop at the same stores time and time again without ever taking the time to realize they are missing out on some money saving opportunities.

For example, if you are the type to always buy Tide laundry detergent, have you ever thought about looking at the competition? Often times coupons or sales exist which could reduce your cost per load of laundry by 50% or more. Ask friends what they use and what they think – read reviews found online or within Consumers magazines, and stop being so brand loyal. You will soon find out that your habit of always buying Tide has just been costing you money and not making your clothes look any better.

I have found by purchasing when items are on sale or when I happen to have coupons for a specific brand, I can save hundreds of dollars a year. If you look at the shelf above my washing machine you will typically see no less than three or four brands of laundry detergent because I don’t care about brands… I only care about my clothes getting clean, and from experience I have found which brands work well versus which are just watered down or overpriced. If you open my bathroom closet you will most likely find two or three different brands of shampoo and a couple of different brands of soap. As long as the product does the job I see no reason to remain brand loyal.

The same is true for other commodities such as paper products, soda, clothing, shoes, or even deodorant. If you can look beyond the marketing hype you might just find that you like the taste of the generic soda just as much if not more than the name brand, and it can save you a ton of money without having to give up soda all together.

If you have the room to keep extra at home, you can save a pile of cash simply by buying items when they are on sale and keeping them until you use them. So what if you have a three month supply of toothpaste or a six month supply of toilet tissue…as long as the product won’t expire or go bad before you have a chance to use it, there is no reason to not stock up when the price is right. Granted this won’t work with many grocery items, but if you use a little common sense you will soon find your dollar can go much further.

To take this to the next level, consider shopping at stores you haven’t thought of in the past. Perhaps you drive by a dollar store on your way home from work but have never thought about stopping. Since it isn’t out of your way, take a few minutes to go inside and see what you can find. You might be surprised to learn that those paper towels and napkins work just as well as the brand you have been buying from the big retailer, but they cost 60% less.

Look for BOGO or “Free with Purchase” Discounts

So much of the time we tend to make shopping lists and we only buy something when we are running low or completely out. I tend to think of toothpaste as one of these items, and most people only buy one or two tubes at a time. However if you pay attention you will often see deals on toothpaste where they give you a free travel size with the purchase of a regular size tube, or perhaps they throw in a toothbrush for free.

If the actual cost for the tube hasn’t been inflated for this “free” bonus, and if the cost is competitive – it’s a great time to stock up. Buy four or five tubes and all of the sudden you have enough free toothbrushes for the whole family.

The same holds true with other products whether it be shampoo or cereal. If you are going to need that product anyway, and it happens to be on sale or attached to a free item – it is never a bad idea to stock up. The only warning is you MUST be sure you actually need and will use the product. There is no use buying a can of shaving cream that comes packaged with a free disposable razor if you are the type of guy who always uses an electric shaver.

Pay attention and be smart about your choices and you will save money – without ever having to cut corners.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For a Discount

No I’m not talking about haggling with the cashier at Wal-Mart - I’m talking about your cellphone, cable, or even garbage service bills. I was once told “you don’t deserve anything you don’t ask for” and that seems to apply in this case.

I recently received a mailer from a competing garbage service and it was at least 20-30% less expensive than the service I was using. When I went to cancel my existing service I was immediately offered a discount and one free month of service. Now in this case the new service was still less expensive so I passed on the offer, but had I not called I would have never known about their discount. In this economy, businesses cannot afford to lose customers, so it can work to your advantage.

Another example was from a few years ago when I was using a TiVo. I loved my TiVo, but when I switched from cable to DirecTV and upgraded to HD televisions with a HD DVR, my old TiVo just wasn’t as useful. When I called to cancel my service, TiVo offered me six months worth of service for free, and that was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I moved the TiVo into the bedroom where we still had a regular SD television and continued to use it. Had I not called to cancel my service I would have never received this offer. Granted I did eventually call to cancel before the six months was up, but essentially I was given six months of service for free.

By simply taking a few minutes to call your cell phone company or your landline or Internet provider, you might find that you can save quite a bit of money without having to change anything. If the company is unwilling to offer a discount, don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere… nothing gets the attention of a company faster than threatening to move on to their direct competitor.


Yes – the concept we were all taught by the time we were in kindergarten is still as useful now as it was then. In fact sharing can be one of the most efficient ways to save money and it doesn’t really require any additional work to do so.

A while back I was working on a home improvement project and needed a tile saw to cut some porcelain tile. I thought about buying one but it didn’t seem worth owning it considering I would probably only need it this one time. Renting was an option, but since the rental fee was around $40 a day I figured it would cost me at least $120-$160 to do the complete job.

However during a conversation at work I learned a co-worker had finished several tile jobs of his own and he had his own tile saw which was now sitting in the garage unused. I asked him if he would consider loaning me the saw for a few days and he was happy to do so. At the end of the job I purchased a $30 replacement blade for his saw as a thank-you and returned it. Not only did this save me a considerable amount of money, but I don’t have to store a tile saw in my garage that I might never use again.

Of course it goes both ways – so if you expect to borrow from others, you need to be able to share as well. When a friend needed some cable tools to install a few cable jacks or when a family member needed a paint sprayer to paint his house I was able to provide what they needed because I had the items on hand, and I know if the situation was reversed they are more than willing to help me out.

Tools are just one example of things which can be borrowed or loaned, but other examples might be a pickup truck for that once a year trip to the city dump or maybe you could loan that portable DVD player you have to some friends so their children have something to enjoy during a week long road trip (the parents and the children will both thank you).

Taken a step further, if you have a good relationship with a family member or neighbor you could consider buying certain items together to save money. Maybe you only need a garden tiller once a year – if you buy the tiller with a friend, neighbor, or family member you each can use it but you will reduce your cost by at least 50%. Find three or four people to each chip in for large ticket items such as garden machines, pressure sprayers, or a utility trailer and the cost goes down even further.

One note of caution however – always have a written agreement in place every time you loan out an item. If the item is damaged while on loan, the person who borrowed it should know their responsibility is to repair or replace that item no questions asked. If you are buying an item with a buddy or neighbor, ensure you agree beforehand on who will store it, who will maintain it, and what will happen if one of you decides to move to another city etc. A little pre-planning can go a long way towards eliminating problems down the road.

Even non-tangible assets can be shared. For instance maybe you have a membership to a warehouse club like Sam’s or Costco. You might consider having a friend shop with you and you could split the cost of the yearly membership. Of course you should check the terms of the membership agreement beforehand to ensure you aren’t violating their terms, but in many cases this is a quick way to not only save money on the membership, but because you are likely shopping together you can also carpool to the store and even divide up items that come in large quantities to save even more.

Reuse Instead of Recycle

Most everyone knows the benefits of recycling, but what about reusing items instead of sending them off to be recycled? Better yet, what about making shopping decisions based upon the ability to reuse some of the packaging?

Case in point – when I go to buy margarine, I have found through experience that many brands taste exactly the same, so there is no use in me going out of my way (or spending more) for one specific brand. Therefore, if the cost is relatively the same, I will often purchase a brand of margarine that comes in a container that I feel I can re-use for another purpose.

Several years ago I found one brand that came in a red bowl with a clear top – and there was no writing on the plastic whatsoever, so these bowls came in very handy for leftovers or in a pinch they could even be used for cereal bowls. If I was bringing food into work or sharing something with a friend I never had to worry about getting the container back because they were essentially disposable.

Other products come in containers that are just as useful. At one time I had a cat which forced me to buy kitty litter on a regular basis. I found the type that came in the large bucket was just as cheap as the type that came in the bag, so I always bought the type in the bucket. When the bucket was empty, I had a bucket and lid that could be used for all types of things such as washing the car, storing materials in the garage, or in my case I used several of them for mixing mortar and grout for home improvement projects. Not only was the bucket free, but when I was done I could dispose of it with no need to clean it out or worry about dried mortar sticking to a good container.

In fact, I have found several cases of where I could buy a container full of a product cheaper than I could buy an empty container, so now before I ever recycle a plastic container whether it be from margarine, paint, baby food, or even orange juice I stop to think if it could be useful for another purpose. Not everything can or should be reused ( wouldn’t reuse a jug that contained harsh chemicals or cleaners for instance), but sometimes it makes more sense to repurpose something instead of simply throwing it out.

One other example I can think of is old t-shirts. I have used old t-shirts in my garage as shop towels for years, and I have never had to buy shop towels… ever. Between old bathroom towels that get stained or torn and my old t-shirts, I always have enough shop towels to clean up a spill or dry my hands without worrying about staining the “good towels” in the house. Every now and then I run a load of shop towels through the wash and if they get really bad I just toss them out without feeling bad about the cost because for all intents and purposes they were free.

Accept What is Given to You

I’m not talking about being polite when offered gifts or always allowing your brother to pick up the tab when you go out for dinner. I’m talking about the little extras that we so often take for granted.

I’ll freely admit I eat out for lunch almost every day, and those days that I decide to hit the drive thru lane for some fast food I almost always end up with two or three extra napkins. Now I suppose I could just toss them in the trash like most people, but instead I tend to keep them in the center console of my car.

When I end up with a fairly good stockpile of extra napkins, I take them inside and use them at home. In fact if you look at the basket that holds napkins in my house you would probably find them from almost every fast food joint in town. I realize packing my lunch instead of buying fast food every day would probably save a lot more money than a few free napkins, but the point is saving some napkins or extra condiments to reuse at home doesn’t require a change in lifestyle – but it can and does save me money.

This concept can work in a number of different areas as well. If you are a frequent business traveler, maybe you can stock up on shampoo and travel soap by taking those from the hotel at then end of your trip. Many hotels use name brand shampoos and soaps these days, so why pay for something when you can get it for free? If you happen to stay at the same franchise often enough, you could even combine bottles into a larger container for home use or simply refill a bottle you already have.

If the hotel offers a complimentary bag of coffee or some tea bags – it isn’t a bad idea to grab those either. I personally don’t drink coffee but my wife does, so if I go on a trip and come home with a few servings of coffee I know she will use them, and since the cost is zero it saves money.

Tradeshows and conventions are always a good place to accept freebies as well. I will admit I’m not the type to go grab one of everything at a tradeshow because I find it a little tacky, but if there is something I know I can use I’m not afraid to take one. Several years ago I was at an airshow and I came across a booth which had some free sunglasses. I took a pair to use that day and believe it or not three years later I’m still wearing the same sunglasses on a daily basis.

I fully realize these sunglasses were probably made in China for well under a dollar, but they have served me well longer than most pairs I have paid for. You can bet if I spent $40 or $50 for a pair of sunglasses they would be lost or broken in under six months, so who can complain about something that is free?

The bottom line is it really doesn’t take much to save a little money if you look at things from a unique perspective. I’m not suggesting anyone spends their entire day trying to find new ways to save a few pennies here or there, but it is quite possible to save money even without having to change your lifestyle… and isn’t that the entire point?

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