What are your best painless tips for saving money?
January 14, 2013 8:21 PM   Subscribe

What are your best tips for saving money in ways that don't impact your quality of life and don't require much effort? I'm talking about things like: cut the dryer sheets in half, get twice as much out of a single box, impact on quality of laundry = 0, effort = nearly 0.
posted by bq to Work & Money (56 answers total) 139 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Eat less meat, more vegetables.

Try and use all the cans and jars and packets in the pantry and then only buy stuff you actually use. No obscure stuff for a one off recipe.

And eat leftovers. Add extra salt or cheese or spicy sauce to invigorate it. But leftovers. Learn to love them.
posted by taff at 8:24 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Automated banking transfers changed my damn life. Honestly. I figured out some relatively painless amount of money that I could afford to have deducted from my checking account every week - I started at about 40 bucks - and then set up a savings account, and set up an automatic transfer of $40 from my checking account into that savings account.

I know it's not a penny-pinching tip like "cut dryer sheets in half" or anything, but honestly, the mere fact that I didn't have to consciously set that money aside to be saved - the fact that I "set it and forget it" - is what finally made it happen, because when it was something I had to do manually I either kept forgetting or found excuses not to. But when it happened every week whether I was thinking about it or not, it got done - and honestly, I didn't miss the money. I even upped the amount because i realized I'd managed to save a couple grand that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 PM on January 14, 2013 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Freezer Cooking (cook in bulk, basically - similar to taff's leftovers tip).

Envelope budgeting, or carrying only the amount of cash you want to spend.

buy store brands
posted by jacalata at 8:29 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Using a strong vinegar dilution in a spray bottle is just as effective as most all-purpose spray cleaners

A pound of regular carrots is way cheaper than baby carrots (this goes really for any produce - buy it whole and cut it up yourself)

Adding a little water to liquid hand soap extends it a lot, especially when you're almost out.

Make a list before you shop -- do not deviate from your list.
posted by Fig at 8:30 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make a broth with cuttings and veggies that are going soft. Then put the cooked scraps in the compost.

Fruit going soft? Cut it up and freeze it for smoothies.

I leave today's coffee grounds in the coffee maker for tomorrow & just top it off with new grounds, about half what I'd normally use for a new pot. Then into the compost with that too.

For cold cuts for my meat-eating kid, I buy whole turkey breasts or ham chunks instead of pre-sliced & slice them with my handed-down electric knife.

Soft/chewy dog treats, I cut them into quarters & they last 4 times as long, happy dogs.

At work, I use my debit card for anything I buy & then have my reimbursement for purchases or mileage go straight into savings.

Yes to vinegar solutions, bleach solutions, and ammonia solutions in spray bottles. Cheapo. Also hand soap becomes foam soap and lasts forever if you mix it one part soap to about 5 parts water.
posted by headnsouth at 8:31 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Never mind the dryer sheets. Cut your salary in half.

The right time to do this is when you first start making money; when the phenomenon of Money Coming In is still an awesome new thing. If your entire economic career has always been run on the basis that only half of what you're netting is in fact your total budget, then you will naturally build all those dryer sheet and leftovers and cans and jars and packets scrimping tricks into your daily life.

What you do with the other half of your income is treat it like it belongs to somebody else. Invent a new imagined beloved grandma, and look after it for her. If you can find automated, no-brainer ways to do that, so much the better.

Thirty years of working that way will mean that the massive pile of savings you've accumulated for Grandma will be plenty to keep you living in the style to which you've become accustomed for the second half of your life.

All of this, naturally, assumes that you're from one of the privileged few families for whom dryer sheets are even a thing.
posted by flabdablet at 8:34 PM on January 14, 2013 [37 favorites]

Best answer: I started using half the recommended amount of washing powder and fabric softener in my laundry, and not only did it not have any noticeable effect on my clothes, it seemed to make them come out BETTER - softer, and less ravaged.

Everyday I dump all my change from my bag/pockets into a jar. At the end of the year, I've usually collected almost $1000.

I only buy staples when they're in bulk (Costco), or on special. Toilet paper, tins of tuna, rice, batteries, things like that.

I schedule my personal beauty rituals just a week past when is recommended - nails, waxing, etc. No one notices that my eyebrows/nails look a bit manky but me, and in a year it saves quite a bit. Plus, I save time that way too.
posted by shazzam! at 8:34 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two more ! I save ribbons/pretty packaging material from gifts I get, and re-use them. A bottle of wine is a lot nicer with a purty ribbon nicely tied around the neck, $0 extra spent.

Buying seasonal things after they go on clearance and saving them until the next year.
posted by Fig at 8:38 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: By the way, one of the tricks to living happily and contentedly on far less than you're actually making is to shield yourself from advertising to the maximum extent you possibly can. You're far better off without an entire industry devoted to the creation of superfluous needs messing with your head.
posted by flabdablet at 8:38 PM on January 14, 2013 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Water + the last of the shampoo bottle, the body wash, the dish soap... (this allows me to be both frugal AND lazy)

Frozen vegetables, on sale. Learning how to roast frozen vegetables or otherwise turn them into palatable dinner items has been a big thing.

China tea mug + bulk tea purchased once four months ago + half gallon of milk every week = unlimited tea at work for $.50 a day basically

Tea towels instead of always using paper towels

Using way less laundry detergent unless the load is seriously gross

I actually have a coin bank, and it works surprisingly well! (It does not have $1000 in it, but it's still pretty great)

Granola bar in purse = no excuse to purchase fun snacks from shop in train station; small water bottle = no excuse to purchase fun fizzy bottle of water from shop in train station when waiting for an hour

If you have the space, wine in bulk-- especially useful for parties, so that you don't have to run around and buy the first nice-maybe-overpriced bottle you see on the way over there

Dollar store gift bags in brown, gold, and silver + dollar store spools of metallic ribbon + white tissue paper = wrapping supplies for every party/holiday, ever! I also save tissue paper from every source unless there's a logo on it or another noticeable flaw...there's just a TJ's bag in my closet with gift supplies so that I don't even have to think about it.

Library card!
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:41 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I try to save all my errands to once a week, then do them all in one day, making a huge circle with the grocery store last. Saves gas and time from making a bunch of single trips. Also, I bring a bottle of water or lemonade with me instead of impulse-buying juice or soda when I am out.
posted by mochapickle at 8:42 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Make your own laundry detergent. Seriously, I did it once because I was sick and did not want to go out of the house and now I do it because I love it.

I make the powder, and add oxyclean.
posted by oflinkey at 9:00 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

At the end of every day, fish out any change you've accumulated and dump it into a jar. At the end of the year, go cash in the jar at a bank or Coinstar machine. We do ours every December or January and it's never less than $150 of "found" dollars.
posted by Miko at 9:01 PM on January 14, 2013

- Don't use dryer sheets, period. You don't need them, they're bad for your skin, and you probably know someone who is allergic to them and now you.
- Definitely planning errands so you don't waste gas as mentioned above.
- Planning snacks (granola bars, cut up fruit, etc) so you don't stop to buy something (also good for your waistline!).
- Start paying attention to prices at the store, and stock up when something is on sale.
- Don't buy anything except for prescriptions and absolute last-minute necessities at the local drugstore. So so so expensive! Think of them as "convenience stores" where you are paying for convenience. Buy this stuff at Target or Costco. Plan ahead, pay attention to when you are getting low and buy then so you don't have to run out to the corner drugstore when you're totally out of shampoo. You can also get a lot of stuff online on Amazon or Drugstore.com - brand name OTC drugs, razors, etc.
- If you have pets, the doggie waste bags are also way cheaper online. Also as mentioned above, I always break treats in half - the trainer said dogs care about number of treats more than size of treats (i.e. if you really want to praise your dog, three 1/3 size treats is better than 1 full-size treat).
posted by radioamy at 9:02 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh and on the laundry topic, make sure you are reading the bottle and the lines on the cap and actually using the right amount of detergent. You usually only need to fill the cap up halfway. If it's a HE washer you need less (or use HE detergent).
posted by radioamy at 9:03 PM on January 14, 2013

Don't use a dryer at all. Your clothes will fade less and last longer if you hang most of them to dry.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:20 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry the more I think about this the more I come up with!

- Use an app like GasBuddy to check out gas prices. Fill up when you have like 1/4 tank so you aren't on empty going to the closest place because you're on fumes (this is also better for your car).
- Use store "loyalty" cards (the privacy issue is for another thread). You "save" a ton of money (well really they just jack up the "regular" prices).
- If you don't have health insurance, all the big chain drug stores have club programs that offer generics super cheap.
- Try to buy produce in-season.
- Pay attention to what is in your fridge and don't let it go to waste!
- Cleaning with vinegar has been mentioned above. I can't stand the smell, so I make citrus vinegar. You just buy a jug of white vinegar, pour out a little (use it for something!), and then shove in some lemon/lime/orange peels. Let it sit for a few weeks somewhere cool and dark. Then pour about 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water in a spray bottle.
- You can get good deals on random stuff at stores like Ross and Marshall's. Housewares for example - I got a $50 Calphalon pan for $22! Also pet stuff is cheap there. You can use an app like Amazon Price Checker to look up the real MSRP, since I'm not sure you can always trust the listed MSRP.
- Sign up for email lists for stores you shop at a lot (or would like to if they were more affordable). There are a lot of clothing stores that have tons of ales (Gap brands come to mind) and e-coupons. Also if you know you're going shopping somewhere and don't have a coupon, try Googling "store name printable coupon" to see if something comes up.
posted by radioamy at 9:26 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Acknowledge that tap water is the perfect drink.

Other than beer, of course, which you should learn to make yourself to pay about 1/6 of retail cost.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:54 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Turn down the AC, and dress accordingly. (e.g. set the thermostat to 62 F when you're at home, and put on a sweater)

Ride a bike or walk for local errands--you get your exercise AND save on gas.

Make a budget and stay on top of your cash flow. Know where each hard earned dollar is going and why you're spending it.
posted by scalespace at 9:54 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

In terms of entertainment, the decent cable with the stations people would actually watch is about $80/month where I live. Netflix, which has more TV and movies than I could ever watch, is about $8/month for streaming. A year of Amazon Prime is $75 and also offers more TV and movies than I could ever watch in addition to everything I order shipped to me second day shipping.

Even for live sports, most of the major sports offer a streaming option. At one point I was watching three sports a year (baseball, hockey, basketball) for roughly $30/month for each sport's streaming package, buying a new sport's package after each sports season ended (which got me live games plus archives of every game for the entire year), and had Prime and Netflix going and it was STILL cheaper than decent cable on a monthly basis and I had an ungodly amount of things to watch.

In terms of food, a crockpot is a godsend. You can buy cheap cuts of meat and batter them into submission with 8 hours of cooking and do it in bulk so you can freeze it and save money on future meals.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice in here. And apparently, I'm gonna throw a biblical amount your way. Here we go:

It's less about "penny pinching" and more about changing how you think about things and how much you spend versus how you value those things. Large advertising firms have spent billions of dollars convincing you that spending four dollars on .45 of coffee is a sign of affluence, rather than stupidity.

Cutting down on your purchases of premade food can save you a bunch of money quickly and easily, in addition to leading you towards a better diet which will save you so much more in the long run that I can't really quantify it. I'm not saying you need to kill your own meat, cure it and serve it to your kids, but use your head. If your kid likes ham sandwiches, buy a chunk of ham and slice bits off of it as needed. Eat vegetables, salads can be really cheap if you make them yourself. Don't buy baby carrots, cut those bad boys yourself. Double points if you grew them. Are you seeing a theme here?

If you like to eat rice regularly, invest in a rice cooker. Rice is really inexpensive, and you can cook a bunch up very simply in a rice cooker. I've cooked several great tiny meals with a small pan with chicken/pork/bacon/beef bits cooked up with some spices or broth and dumped on some steamed rice. Protip, before you cook it, rinse the rice off at least twice if not three times.

Credit card debt is some of the worst type of debt. %75 of the time, it is totally avoidable, but since we're all human we are wired to see an available credit balance as money burning the fuck out of our pocket. Spend, spend, spend. I simply must have those pants/HDTV/diamonds**/etc. Go ahead, pay %20 on those impulse buys. Stop spending your well earned money on garbage, STOP WITH THE IMPULSE BUYS.

I used to be a huge believer in saving money on gas. The older I get the more I realize that I get to spend a huge chunk of money on gas regardless on what the actual nine foot high neon numbers say. That being said, I'm not saying that $3/gal isn't different than $5/gal, what I'm trying to say is that you don't get that choice, and it's usually not worth your money to drive somewhere where it is. Find a close gas station you like, and if it has low prices, than bonus. Hypermiling is only cool if you drive like sixty miles or so to work.

Sure, I will stipulate that you can save bucket loads of gas money in certain circumstances, and a bunch of those don't take into account what happens when the batteries on your Prius fail to hold a charge. Protip #2, Don't buy a Prius, lease a Prius. Bemoan the fact that we're all not driving VW Polo's and getting 70 mpg.

And here's my single most important piece of advice.

Never, ever overspend on real estate. Your grandpa was wrong, they're making it all the time. And more importantly, they're building historically shitty houses there and charging you lifetimes of money for them. Don't buy your grandpa's shitty 2 bedroom rambler for 650k so it stays in the family, somebody got fucked on this deal in a huge way and you should avoid paying for it.

**I lied, this is my most important piece of advice.

Don't in any case ever, ever spend money on things like diamonds expecting to get anything approaching half of your original money back. Personally, I'd rather try to resell an $80k sunken Katrina houseboat than try to resell an $80k diamond ring. The houseboat is vastly more valuable.

Hey, if you want to buy your SO a $65k diamond ring that's cool that you can afford it and like them that much. Just don't buy into the whole "This is an investment" bullshit, because it's total bullshit. Buy a cheap one. Better yet, buy one from someone you know who is looking to move it.

Hope this works for you.
posted by Sphinx at 10:18 PM on January 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

If like me you're bad about just going ahead and buying random stuff, try this: go a month without buying anything except the bare necessities. Pay your bills, put gas in your car, and replace anything you use up if you don't have something else already that you can use in its place. Try to use up the food you already have in the cupboards that month. Once you're done, your random spending will have been "reset" and you'll naturally spend less going forward. If you find your random spending creeping up, repeat.
posted by hazyjane at 10:32 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Don't go out for coffee.

If you insist on going out for coffee, order drip or an Americano, rather than some fancy mocha latte contraption.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you see something you want on Amazon, do not buy it. Put it on a private wishlist. This feels kind of like acquiring it, and satisfies, to some degree, the impulse-buying itch. Later, going through your list, you can see how transient was the desire to own many of those things. The things you really do still want, you can save and budget for.
posted by thelonius at 11:52 PM on January 14, 2013 [46 favorites]

Best answer: I get all of my coolest clothes at second-hand stores, and I spend hardly anything on them. Plus it's fun! go with a friend and compete to see who can find the ugliest dress in the place.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:15 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In fairness, I don't think a lot of the answers given fit the original parameters. Sure, it's cheaper not to eat meat or not buy your daily coffee from Starbucks, but that's not a change you don't notice. You may become used to it, but it's not quite on the same level as "cut dryer sheets in half"

I put waterbottles in the fridge/freezer to keep it cool since I usually just have enough food for me in there.

Most store brands are the same/better than name brands.

Turn down the temp on the water heater.

I tend to drink less soda/juice/whatever when I have smaller cups, thus smaller cups are worth it because they save me money/ things consumed.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:24 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Build your own furniture. Much furniture is based on the beloved, classic "box" concept. Building a box is really easy. I was looking at the cost for a bed and even a cheap particleboard ikea nunber, secondhand, would have put me out at least fifty bucks. A trip to home depot for some two-by-eights i'll have a bed made of real wood and cost me about twelve bucks, and is a way better way to spend a weekend than watching tv, getting sucked in by ads and feeling like a blob. Building stuff makes you feel good. watching tv, especially ads, makes you feel like shit.
posted by windykites at 2:40 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh also- learn where to buy things. Never pay retail. Go to outlet stores, warehouse sales, restaurant supply stores, and so forth. Don't pay for fancy packaging or some shop's expensive rent. Don't pay retail.

Learn what things you can buy cheaply and what things will just die. Learn how to do basic repairs. Learn to improvise and make do with what you have.
posted by windykites at 2:46 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh here's another: if you like greek yogurt but don't like the price, you can stretch it with sour cream which is usually quite inexpensive and lasts a good while.
posted by windykites at 2:53 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

My landlord is a very frugal man. Here is what he does:
- buys only store brands for cleaning products
- keeps things until they are fully used up (though this means our bathroom cabinet has cough syrup from 2004 in it and his cheese in the fridge expired in November) and in the case of household goods, broken rather than merely outdated
- replacing appliances etc. via Gumtree (like Craigslist) rather than buying new
- only buys food from a) the cut-price grocery store b) the more expensive supermarket half an hour before they close and then only at heavily reduced prices
- never eats out or buys takeaways
- doesn't go out very much at all - when he has a guest (like his girlfriend - they keep their relationship fairly discreet) they will watch a film at home and share a ready meal
- doesn't buy clothing - I think in the three years I've lived there he's bought a dressing gown and that came from a charity shop - and throws out household textiles only when they have become holey to the point of unuseable
- cycles where possible except where public transport is a necessity; the bike is second-hand and he has learned to maintain it himself so only needs to buy parts when necessary
- doesn't go on holiday, or owns a car
- has lodgers renting rooms from him to pay the mortgage - he rents out the larger rooms and sleeps in a room just about big enough to fit a double mattress on the floor, futon-style.
- as his luxuries are coffee and DVDs, he owns a Gaggia machine rather than buying coffee out, and waits until his chosen entertainment is heavily discounted on Amazon.

Some of this would not be my personal choice but he did manage to pay off his mortgage in fifteen years.
posted by mippy at 3:19 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Get to know parks and libraries around your area. Bike, run, walk, picnic, people-watch, read, and host meetups in your parks!

I like to go to the library and read magazines for downtime, and I always have a big stack of books to choose for reading at home from there.

A lot of libraries have been upgraded to have a little cafe area, and many host free events or guest speakers.

I just seriously love libraries and parks.

(Oh, and The Simple Dollar is a great blog for these tips.)
posted by shortyJBot at 3:35 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Stay out of stores. No, seriously. Plan your grocery and other purchases wisely, but stay out of stores. Don't shop as an activity or entertainment. the longer you look, the more likely you are to buy *something* and the odds are, it'll be something that you've just convinced yourself you need (or deserve, or -- whatever, you'll come up with an excuse, believe me.) When you buy gas, pay at the pump.

This, along with flabdablet's advise to avoid advertising (I read magazines at the library, and my tv is netflix/downloads/movies = no commercials) helps an incredible lot with managing money. There's no manufactured need, and impulse buys are kept to a bare minimum.

There's a lot of great advice here that doesn't quite fit the parameters of your question but the thing is, saving money long term isn't about a few quick and easy tricks. It's about changing how you look at money. The best way to start to save money is to write down everything you spend money on for a few weeks and then go over it and see where it's wasted--but that's long and involved and not a quick fix.
posted by lemniskate at 4:52 AM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: And now for a "Hints from Heloise" type of tip of the sort you're looking for as well (although my advice about automating your savings is a biggie):

For books, DVDs, or CDs that are not new releases, sign up with Paperback Swap and its related CD and DVD sites. You post lists of stuff you want to get rid of, and if someone contacts you saying they want it, you send it to them (you pay the postage, but you can use media rate so it's only a couple bucks) and every time you do that you get a point. Then you can search for books or DVDs or CDs you want, and if someone else has it, you can "spend" that point to ask them for it, and they send it to you for free.

You probably won't get any new releases that way, and there's always the risk that something you really really want may not be available right that minute, but who cares. I have saved five hundred dollars just on books, just in one year this way. (This is also better than a library in that you do not need to return it within a given time, or at all; you can keep a book as long as you want, or forever.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Use what you have up before buying more. This goes for makeup, food items, clothes, whatever. Don't fall into the trap of buying stuff up because it's a good price right now, or you are afraid it will be discontinued. Yes, there are things I now wish I had bought long on, but there are even more things I'm still using even though I am tired of them, because I bought six a year ago.
posted by BibiRose at 6:20 AM on January 15, 2013

I'm still working on this goal but here's the best advice I have culled from all the years of reading advice on this topic and observing my extremely frugal boyfriend.

Think about the absolute value of money rather than the relative value. Very often we compare the amount we are saving to the thing we are buying and decide on the basis of that, whereas in reality the money is the same whether it's saved on a cup of coffee or a coffee table. The classic example of that is when people buy new TVs in big box stores and buy extremely overpriced connector cables to go with them. You could easily save $90 by buying the cables online later but most people don't think like that as the price of the cables is very small compared to the price of the TV.

Be extremely wary of recurring costs. Try to shave small amounts off such bills as this really adds up over time. Paying $20 less on your rent every month is $240 over a year. Obviously cutting cable or switching to instant Netflix only represents big savings too. Never let yourself get tricked into one of those automatically renewing monthly clubs -- always a scam!

Pinching pennies is all very well, but think about what you could be doing in the time you are pinching pennies as well. Is there any way you could turn that time into an extra source of income? Could you improve your qualifications so that you are paid more? These may be more effective ways of improving your ability to save money than all the penny pinching you can do.

Try to buy fewer disposable clothes. Not only are they a drain on your wallet as you have to keep buying more clothes to replace them, a closet full of disposable, almost-perfect-but-not-quite clothes is a drain on your soul. I have two pairs of boots that each cost $300 that I wear about 10 times as often as all my other shoes put together, because they are so comfortable, sturdy and good-looking that they make me happy every time I put them on.

Along the same lines, this is something that I am not the greatest at just yet, but treat the things you have now with respect. It's much better to spend the money to look after your things in advance, than to always have to replace clothes because they're looking worn out.

Taking care of your things is time-consuming, so buy fewer things, look after them well, spend money on experiences (which have been shown to be more happiness-producing in the long run anyway) and save the rest!
posted by peacheater at 6:52 AM on January 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

Work somewhere with no dress code and hang out with people who don't care about fashion.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:39 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you are going to follow the advice to sign up for mailings from your favorite stores, you should set up a new email account just for that. Have that email account sign up for every store that you regularly shop at. But you don't read that email account every day, no, you stay out of there until you are ready to purchase something specific, THEN you log in and see what kind of coupons you can find for that item.
posted by CathyG at 8:22 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

The automatic transfer thing is absolutely key for me too. Every pay (bi-weekly) I automatically have:
- x amount transferred to my "grocery" account (joint account with my fiance, he transfers the same amount in to it every pay as well, and that is the account we use for groceries),
- x amount transferred to my "mortgage" account (mortgage comes out monthly but I do it this way to create a bi-weekly pay schedule that works a lot better for me in terms of budgeting and planning),
- x amount to my descretionary spending account (I acutally use my cashback visa for all my descretionary purchases and then use my spending account to pay it off. I at least know how much money I have left though), and
- x amount a month in to an "emergency" account (50$ a pay is all I can afford at the moment, but it is still accumulating quickly)

ALL of this is done for me and totally effortless. If you have debt that you are trying to repay, I would suggest setting up an automatic payment on that every pay as well. Just make everything happen for you automatically. That is the biggest and most awesome tip I have.

NOT effortless, but well worth it and gets easier in time, is setting up a detail budget for yourself and updating it often. Keep track of your spending and debts, plan months ahead so that you can prepare for upcoming costs and expenses. Project how much you'd have in savings/how much you'd be able to reduce your debt by if you follow it. Seeing how far ahead you could be in 6/12/24 months time can be a HUGE motivator for staying on budget. Yes, it takes work and time to set up, but once you get in to the swing of it the maintenance of it becomes pretty routine and easy. And again, mega pay off if you do it right.

That, and making all your own meals. I just had delicious curry from Thai Express for lunch, and while I enjoyed it and it was tasty, I certainly didn't need to spent that 8$. That is what happens when you forget your lunch...
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:31 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

CathyG is right - those emails I mentioned can clog up your inbox! I personally just use Gmail filters and put all those emails into a folder and skip the inbox, but using a secondary email account would work just as well.
posted by radioamy at 8:39 AM on January 15, 2013

My e-reader plummeted the amount of money I used to spend on books, because the act of sending the free sample satisfied my MUST BUY NOW urge, and I could read them and pick which books I wanted at my leisure, and be better assured that I'd actually finish the book if I bought it.

Don't have to buy an e-reader, either: the various companies selling e-books make e-reader apps for computers, tablets, and smartphones.

(I still buy paper books, but now it's mostly ones that I know I'll want to keep around for a long time, or ones that sort of require having the book itself, like reference books, art books, and cookbooks.)
posted by telophase at 8:47 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Along the lines of automatic transfers - every time you get a raise, increase your automatic savings so your net income remains the same as before. This helps reduce lifestyle inflation that tends to go along with raises (although eventually you'll need to adjust for actual cost-of-living inflation).
posted by randomnity at 8:59 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Identify inexpensive luxuries that make you feel fulfilled and "rich" and can substitute for expensive things. Example: Boring everyday cappuccino at the coffee shop: $3.50. Jaw-droppingly expensive (yes, that's $100/pound), world-class tea: 50 cents a cup.

Be willing to spend money upfront to facilitate this. A proper tea filter costs $10, which seems like a ridiculous amount to pay, except that 1) it makes the jaw-droppingly expensive tea taste better, and 2) you've paid it off the 4th time you make tea instead of going to the coffee shop. (Apply the same logic to a good burr grinder if you're into French-press coffee or making espresso at home.)

Also, libraries. Our library system has plenty of DVDs (including seasons of TV shows). You can browse online, put them on hold, and they're right there at the front desk to pick up whenever it's convenient to stop by. Mind you, this is not just inexpensive or cheaper than cable or Netflix; it is in fact free. (Or, thinking of it another way, you're already paying for through your property taxes, so you might as well use it.)
posted by BrashTech at 9:54 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Bike everywhere you can - saves on gas and you'll look and feel better.

When you want to read/watch something you don't have, check your local library before you go to Amazon. I find that I eliminate about half of my book/entertainment buying this way. Many libraries are now online, and you can just request a hold and be notified when it's ready for you to swing by (on your bike!) and pick it up.

Never buy new electronics. Those things depreciate instantly on purchase. Wait a month or two and then buy what you want on ebay or Craigslist. Alternately (or also!): sell your old electronics on ebay or Craigslist.

This may seem self-evident, but to some it's not - contribute to your 401(k) if you have that option. If nothing else, contribute whatever it requires to max out your employer's contribution - that is free money. It's also part of what your employer owes you as your compensation for working for them - don't let them get away with not paying you!

Don't buy shampoo. Not everybody can get away with this, but many many can. I rinse my hair in the shower every day and use conditioner once every couple of days, and no, I don't look like I live in a subway tunnel. :) Constant shampooing strips your hair and leads to needing more hair products so you don't look like you've got a Fraggle strapped to your head.

For that matter, if you shower every day, use less soap. Americans are weirdly soap-obsessed. You can stay clean and fresh without lathering up every single day. Look into oils instead of soaps - they're cheaper and far better for your skin and for the planet.

If you have a smart-device, buy free versions of apps, not paid ones. Those $0.99's can really add up.

Drink the coffee/tea/water your employer provides (if they do - and they should) instead of stopping at Starbucks or whereverthehell.

Cook at home. It's cheaper, it's better for you, and it makes you a more well-rounded person. Also it's fun.

Also, I find that the less I eat out, stop at Starbucks, etc, the more I appreciate those times I do. They become rare, fun gifts to myself rather than day-to-day expectations.

Finally - just in general - try not to think of saving money/being frugal as "effort" or worry about the impact it will have on your existence. Think of it as finding a cheat-code for life. Treat saving like a game. Every corporation on earth wants you to buy stuff. When you buy stuff, they win. Every time you don't buy X thing - you win. Every time you find a way to not drive your car, you win. Every time you eat in cheaper than you could eat out - you win! Winning is good.
posted by kythuen at 10:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Make shopping lists and stick to them.

Make a budget. Make an allowance for savings in that budget. Set up an emergency account with an amount that makes you feel safe in it. Use it for emergencies instead of borrowing money on credit cards. Honestly having some savings and that sense of security made me feel so good I found ways to save more it is amazingly motivational.

Make saving money a game not a chore.

Gardening for veggies can save you money, but be careful as you can go crazy with money and effort there very very easily. Not everything you grow has to be organic heirloom stuff. A 99c packet of lettuce in a cheap big pot from a garage sale and a cheap bag of dirt is a summer of salad for one. for less than $5. With no work but plucking a few leaves as needed and a bit of water.
posted by wwax at 10:10 AM on January 15, 2013

Sign up for emails from your local Freecycle group. You can ask for things you want and give away things you don't need and grab things you could use. In the past year I've gotten a wonderful Oriental-style rug that we needed for the living room and that I'd have spent $300 on if I hadn't found a freebie, a gorgeous giant fern, a large leather CD binder, a flat screen desktop monitor, and two bookshelves which we needed after moving. All nice and good condition.
posted by Miko at 10:15 AM on January 15, 2013

Best answer: Refill foam soap dispensers. Foaming soap is simply liquid soap that's been diluted with water. You can use regular liquid soap if you don't have castile like they suggest in the link.
posted by hannahelastic at 11:09 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you eat chicken, don't pay for boneless chicken breasts at the grocery store. Instead, seek out the "split breasts" which are the same cut, but with bones and tenderloin still attached, and sold much more cheaply per pound. It's very easy to slice the breast and tender away for use as boneless meat. Even with the weight of the bones accounted for, you still just got boneless chicken breast much more cheaply than you would buying it already boned. Then you'll have a section of rib and other bones. Pop those in the freezer until you have six or eight, then put them in a large pot of water and boil to make stock.

I also save all my veggie scraps in the freezer for stock making. Sometimes they go in with the chicken, sometimes I just make veggie stock.

It makes a good gallon or more of stock at a time. The stock is delicious and less salty than store-bought. It's also practically free, minus the cooking gas, since you already used the food that created its scraps. I strain it into clean empty jars (like spaghetti sauce or salsa jars) and thaw one at a time for use in recipes. I don't think I've bought any premade stock in, like, ten years.
posted by Miko at 11:48 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have refused to wrap gifts in wrapping paper since I was a kid. If I feel that I must wrap something, I will reuse something given to me, a brown bag with handles or the free weekly newspaper. For the holidays that just passed, I used an old atlas book and wrapped gifts with maps pertinent to the gift receiver. This allows me to spend the extra $$ on the gift, or keep it.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 12:03 PM on January 15, 2013

Nth automated saving.
Nth cook your own food.
Nth drink water.
Nth library.

I usually like to keep my car for long time. My personal rule is keep the car for a year for every $2000 in purchase price. Potential saving: Thousands of dollars. I can save even more if I ditch the car all together and bike but I'm a wimp. Effort level = 2 (scale 1 to 10) mostly to resist the temptation to buy new car.

I like to prepare my lunch in advance to save money. Here's how. Crock pot can be awesome and effortless. Here's 6 ingredients or less recipes to get started. Potential saving: Thousands of dollars vs. eating out. Effort level = 4 (scale 1 to 10). It will get easier once you have a system down.

If I buy thing from Amazon or Best Buy, I go to Camelcamelcamel website to look at price history of the item. I can then set the item at a price I want to pay, then have Camelcamelcamel email me once the item have lowered to the price I want to pay. Potential saving: few bucks to ten of dollars for each item. Effort level = 1 (scale 1 to 10)

Honey extension for chrome will automatically search coupons for the item I am buying. Or I will search the coupon manually by going to RetailMeNot. Potential saving: zero to few bucks for each item. Effort level = 1 (scale 1 to 10)

I usually paid my car insurance every six months instead of monthly. Potential saving: ~$100 a year. Effort level = 0 (scale 1 to 10)
This will take some effort but shop around for new car insurance every few years. Effort level = 4

This will take some effort. Once a while, I call my cable/internet/etc companies and threaten to cancel unless they give me the promo rate. Usually they will give me better rate. If they don't, I can always change my mind and keep the service. Potential saving: $100 - $200 over a year. Effort level = 5 (scale 1 to 10)

This will take a lot of effort.
I don't have long term cellphone contract with AT&T/Verizon/Sprint/T-mobile.
Once my contract expired, I did some research on no contract prepaid companies such as Airvoice (ATT network), Ting (Sprint network with Verizon voice roaming) Platinumtel (Sprint network), Republic Wireless (Sprint network + WiFi), Page Plus (Verizon network), Spot Mobile (T-mobile network), Straight Talk (ATT network) and H2O wireless (ATT network). In general, $30 for unlimited talk and unlimited text and $45 for unlimited talk, unlimited text and "unlimited" data are common. It can be even cheaper if I take even more effort with google voice and etc but it's not worthwhile for me. The drawback with prepaid carriers is that the cellphones are not subsidized, so I migh have to pay full price for the cellphone. Good news is, most prepaid carriers have BYOP (bring your own phone) program that will let me use the old phone. Once everything was set up, I will easily save hundreds of dollar over two years period every month effortlessly. Potential saving: $300 - $1000 over two years depending on how often I want a new cellphone. Effort level = 10 (scale 1 to 10) only initially, once the service is set up, effort level = 0.

Elsewhere on the internet, for more inspirations and ideas. Head to r/Frugal.
posted by Carius at 11:44 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Don't get cable TV. Instead, get friendly with your local library and their DVD collection, especially TV series. You can watch an entire season of Mad Men back to back! Since I have not had cable in years, last years (or older) series are all new to me. I had to move to temporary housing for six months last year and there was satellite TV. What a bunch of garbage is on, it's unreal.
posted by waving at 3:41 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

you want this book
posted by The Whelk at 7:51 AM on January 16, 2013

When you're done with The Whelk's book, get the book "Getting More" from a library or friend. It's about negotiations, and the potential for saving more through negotiation is limitless.

I saved over $200 on my internet bill by using the techniques in the book. The other day, I saved $5 on a takeout meal by asking about "end of the day discounts."

Added bonus: the techniques help out in other realms of life too like relationships and careers.
posted by tenaciousd at 6:59 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My aunt does what telophase suggests with e-readers, although more as a reminder that she wants to read a book than as a money-saving trick. However this is definitely frugal-friendly, as you can try out a book's first chapter before spending money on the full thing. You can probably buy a last-gen ereader for cheap.

I have been thinking about this a lot, and I think it has to do with being more careful/mindful. Companies often make products so that you consume them as fast as possible and then need to buy more. I like kythuen's "cheat" metaphor. For instance it's easier to squeeze out a big blob of dishsoap than squirt out a the drop or two that you really need. Also you probably don't need a full pump of hand soap or face soap, but you have to pay more attention when using the product to use less. A full cap of laundry soap is way more than you need, but you have to actually read the bottle and look at the (faint) lines inside the cap to realize that.
posted by radioamy at 12:00 PM on January 17, 2013

When you go to invest your savings, some of it should be in a fixed term deposit/GIC/CD. You can do a quick search online to see what the best rate is and use that information to negotiate a better rate at your financial institution.

I have done this for years and back in the day when interest rates were higher, I figured out that I was making $600/hour every time I went in and chiselled a higher interest rate out of my cagey bank.

With interest rates much lower, the reward is less these days but is still many times more than what you'd save by economizing on soap usage and dryer sheets.
posted by storybored at 6:01 PM on January 18, 2013

Best answer: Use your local Library's request materials for books. I've never had one turned down; I guess librarians with a purchasing budget like knowing at least one person wants a book they're going to order.
posted by pwnguin at 10:19 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you color your hair, put the effort into figuring out an at-home hair dye that works for you. I used to spend between $50-100 every time I got my hair highlighted until I discovered L'oreal Couleur Experte hair dye. There's a base color and a highlight color. I do a lighter shade in the summer and a darker shade in the winter, and no one has any idea that I do it myself at home, including hairstylists who've complimented me on my highlights. I usually get it at the drugstore for $10-15, and even though it's one of the more expensive boxed hair dyes, it still saves me a lot every time I want to color my hair. And I do a better job at it than probably 75% of the professionals whom I've paid to color my hair. And I don't have to tip anybody!

And start buying your clothes/knick knacks/books (the ones you don't get from the library)/etc. at thrift stores. I used to think it was an awesome deal when I got a new pair of jeans on sale for $20 or something. Today, the boyfriend and I took advantage of a store-wide 50% off sale and thrifted it up. He got two pairs of broken-in Levi's 501s and an Adidas fleece, I got three pairs of jeans that fit like a glove and a goofy t-shirt. We spent $21 total. Buying your clothes secondhand saves you sooooo much money.
posted by jabes at 10:19 PM on January 21, 2013

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