Saving money can seem like more trouble than it's worth, given the relatively small sums yielded by trimming expenses by a few dollars a week here and there. But take those savings and invest them, even conservatively, and that belt-tightening promises to deliver thousands of dollars over the long-term. The potential payoffs increase more dramatically still if you also shrink some ongoing expenses that are often mistakenly treated as if they were fixed; electricity and insurance bills, for example, or your mortgage payment.
This article offers 15 suggestions to cut your expenses—daily, monthly, and annual moves that fairly painlessly deliver savings—as well as a way to supercharge your savings with your employer's money. For most of these moves, we calculate the proceeds from socking the savings away for 25 years, and assume your money will earn a fairly conservative return of 5% compounded daily. If those long-term figures don't boost your commitment to save, nothing will.
- Going DIY for your lunches and coffees can alone save you thousands in the long run
- Check regularly for less expensive options for such monthly expenses as cable, wireless, and electrical bills. Dickering can be effective in lowering costs
- Profit from cashlessness by charging expenses to a credit card with generous cashback benefits
- Despite being highly competitive, rates to insure your car and home range widely. Shop around at least once a year
1. Brown-bag it
A sandwich at a deli near work can cost $5 to $10 a day. That might not seem like much. But over a year, spending that every work day puts your annual expenditure into four figures. If you instead bring food from home, you can feed yourself for half as much. If you invest those savings—of up to $35 a week, or about $1,800 a year you’d have the tidy sum of about $84,000 after 25 years.
2. Brew your own
A cup of decent coffee at a premium shop can easily run from $2.50 to $4 or more, and that usually won't buy you a latte or other specialty drinks. Buy just a single cup every day and you’ll be spending $625 to $1,000 a year—in after-tax money.
Then consider that a pound of good coffee at the same store costs about $15 and brews at least 30 cups of coffee. If you brew one cup a day at home, instead of buying one at the store, you'd save about $125 a year. Total savings: $500 to $875 a year, and over $90,000 with our lifetime calculation.
3. Join supermarket loyalty programs
Signing up as a loyal customer at a major food chain can allow you access to member-only specials and sometimes to manufacturers' coupons, too—the kind that fall out of Sunday papers or you download online at such sites as Coupons.com and Couponmom.com.
Whole Foods offers an especially rich program for those who are members of Amazon Prime, its parent company's premium membership (which costs $119 a year, but delivers other perks, too). Prime members qualify for deep discounts on around 40 sale items at Whole Foods stores every week. (Examples for New York City in mid-2019: St,. Louis Spare Ribs, $3.99 a pound, down from $6.99. Two pounds of strawberries, $3.99, down from $5.99.) A shopper who heavily buys Prime specials could probably save $25 a week on groceries. That adds up to more than $1,000 a year or $60,000 over that 25 years.
4. Score senior discounts, perhaps sooner than you think
Many merchants offer big discounts to those 65 or older, but some give you the discount if you’re as much as a decade younger. As examples, at age 55 you qualify for discounts at Dunkin’ Donuts (10%), Jack in the Box (20%), and Arbys (10%), along with Michael's craft-supply stores (10%) and Albertson's supermarkets (10%, the first Wednesday of the month). Discounts that kick in at 60 include AMC Theatres (15%), Ben and Jerry’s (10%), Sonic Drive-In (10%), Piggly Wiggly grocery chain (5% off on select days, varies by location), and Kohls (15% discount every Wednesday).
5. Get student perks
Full-time students qualify for a host of freebies and discounts. Food-chain offerings include Chipotle (free drinks); Dominos, Pizza Hut, and Papa John's (10-20% off) all pizzas; and Qdoba ($5 for a burrito meal).
Retail discounts include Amazon Prime ($59 a year, rather than $119); JCrew, Madewell, and Banana Republic (all 15% in-store); American Eagle (20%); and Kroger (5%). Technology and telecom discounts include Apple (Education Pricing on much of its hardware, at varying discounts), Lenovo (25% off ThinkPads), Adobe (60% off the first year of Adobe Creative Cloud), and Spotify (a $4.99/month student bundle that includes Spotify, Hulu, and Showtime).
Saving money is only part of it. When you invest savings instead of spending them, you can at least double your returns over 25 years, due to the power of compounding.
6. Charge it to a cashback card
Maximize your credit card benefits by putting as many regular expenses as you can on a credit card that offers generous cashback rewards: Groceries, gas, utilities, restaurants, everything you can think of. Make sure, though, that you pay off your credit card bill in full at the end of the month. Paying interest on a balance will wipe out any rewards you’d have earned, and probably more.
A family could easily charge $2,000 a month on a rewards card. The Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Card, for example, pays 1.5% back on every purchase. That works out to $30 a month, or nearly $18,000 over 25 years.
7. Shop for home telecom service
Most areas have more than one company that provides cable TV, internet, and landline services. Sometimes there’s a big price difference between them. Don’t be shy about switching, or calling your current provider and threatening to leave—a move that may yield some offers you won't find on the website.
You could also drop your landline, for modest savings, or your TV service. Cutting cable or satellite TV is more ripe for significant savings, especially with the arrival of web-based cable-substitute services such as youTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and PlayStation Vue. However, these services tend to be moneysavers only for those who want to downsize their channel array. You can ditch paying for TV entirely by spending $40 or so on a new antenna that allows you to receive pristine over-the-air digital broadcasts of the major networks, and often other programming, too.
Don’t be surprised if you save more than $30 a month by switching—or at least reducing—your home telecom service. (You could, for example, trade your $70 Basic Cable package for a $40 online plan with YouTubeTV or Hulu With Live TV.) The potential 25-year benefit: nearly $18,000.
8. Consider switching mobile services
If you're no longer under a contract to your carrier—and you're not paying off your phone—you might be able to switch to a less expensive network without having to buy a new phone. For example, Sprint and Verizon phones can generally be used interchangeably on either network, as can T-Mobile and AT&T ones. Verify compatibility for your specific phone with with the carrier or by using checkers such as this one from Whistleout.com. You should also consider coverage in your area and compare extra features such as free video services and data rollover.
If those check out, though, the savings can be substantial. For example, from a recent comparison of monthly plans with unlimited talk and text and 2 GB of data for a single phone line in New York City, the Sprint plan cost $15 a month less than the Verizon one. Those savings would deliver a 25-year benefit of more than $8,000.
9. Shop for electricity
In many states, you're allowed to buy electricity from providers separate from the company that brings the power into your house. These alternatives often have lower rates than the utility company. In Connecticut, for example, companies like North American Power charge about a penny less per kilowatt hour than the utility company. While that doesn’t sound like much, you could save between $5 and $10 a month depending on how much electricity you use. That could add up to roughly $3,000 to $6,000 over 25 years.
10. Pay less in bank fees
Look beyond the balance on your bank-account statements and you may be rudely surprised at the number of fees you're paying and what they cost you. A few smart practices can help limit these, including withdrawing cash only at fee-free ATMs, carefully coordinating your available funds with any checks you write to avoid costly overdraft fees, and using credit cards and free P2P payments apps like Venmo to reduce your need for cash withdrawals.
If high fees remain a persistent issue, consider making a switch. If your current bank can't offer options to reduce your fee burden, turn to an online-only bank such as Ally and Capital One 360. With lower overhead than brick-and-mortar banks, these institutions often have no monthly maintenance fees or minimum-balance requirements and pay a higher interest rate on savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Some community banks and credit unions offer the same lower-fee, higher-rate advantages of the online-only banks while also allowing the option to meet with a banker face to face.
On average, Americans pay a fairly modest $97.80 a year in fees on their checking account, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. However, an analysis by Nerdwallet concluded the most consumer-friendly checking accounts would cost only as one-third as much as that average. Over 25 years, an account that cost only two-thirds of the average account would earn you about $3,500.
11. Reduce your insurance premiums
Review your homeowner’s and auto insurance policies at least every year for changes that could save you money. Even if you don't opt for an entirely new carrier, a host of moves can help you reduce premiums. For example, consolidating all the policies you hold with one company typically earns a discount of between 5% and 25% on each. If you're insuring an older car, its optional collision and comprehensive coverage may no longer make make financial sense, say experts, if the maximum claim payout (the vehicle's value minus your deductible) drops to 10% or less of the total annual premium for those two coverages. And for almost any insurance policy, increasing your deductible almost invariably reduces the premium—and, of course, your financial risk.
Whether or not you change coverage, shop around for your insurance, since premiums can range widely. Just how widely is difficult to assess when it comes to home insurance, but the evidence is clear when it comes to insuring your car. Based on pricing car insurance for a sample driver (a single 30-year-old male driving a 2011 Toyota Camry), ValuePenguin found the least expensive carriers nationally (GEICO and Erie) offered rates that were 30% below the national average for that driver and car. That difference, of about $450 a year, would add up to about $22,000 over 25 years.
12. Use apps to help track and save money
A rise in both the number and the quality of personal finance apps have made it far easier to know from your smartphone or computer where your money is going, and to help you save more painlessly.
Take two of Investopedia's top personal finance apps, both free. All-in-one resource Mint will help you create a budget, track your spending, connect all your bank and credit card accounts, and remind you of all your monthly bills. The Acorns app puts your pocket change to work in an utterly painless way. It rounds every purchase made with your cards up to the next highest dollar and automatically invests the difference in a portfolio of low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that you select based on your risk preference.
13. Enroll in your employer's retirement savings program
The closest thing to free savings are the matching-contributions many employers offer for company-sponsored 401(k), SIMPLE IRA and other salary deferral feature plans. Employers who offer the perk typically add up to half of your contribution to the plan.
If you're hesitating to join the company plan, then, you're losing out on not only the benefit of tax-deferred retirement savings of your own but in having those contributions supercharged by your employer.
An example illustrates just how much you can leave on the table by not participating. It's an especially conservative example, since it reflects a modest income that doesn't rise over time, as many employees' do.
Alana makes $31,000 per year working for ABC Company, which agrees to make a matching contribution to employee 401(k)s of 50 cents on every dollar, up to a sum equal to 6% of each employee's compensation. If Alana contributes the full 6%, which totals $1,860 a year, ABC will top it up with an additional $930 (50% of $1,860). That makes a total (employee plus employer) contribution of $2,790 a year, or $232.50 a month. Even invested as per our (conservative) formula, those contributions would create a fund totaling about $139,500 after 25 years. The employer contributions alone would have yielded roughly $47,000 of that amount. Free money indeed.
Refinancing your mortgage can deliver enormous savings in the long run, even if your current mortgage is only a point or two above current rates.
14. Refinance your mortgage
Mortgage rates are still near record lows, and much of the monthly mortgage payment for most people comprises interest costs. In combination, those facts mean that refinancing a mortgage can deliver huge savings, even if your existing mortgage is only a point or two higher than current rates. Reducing your interest rate not only saves money but increases the rate at which you build equity in your home.
For example, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a $100,000 principal remaining with an interest rate of 9% has a principal and interest payment of $804.62 a month. That same loan at 4.5% reduces your payment to $506.69—for a monthly savings of $297.93. Those savings, over 25 years and invested at 5%, would add up to $175,260. The one-time cost to refinance is between 3% and 6%, or between $3,000 and $6,000 for our example. That would still result in a lifetime benefit of at least $169,000.
15. Optimize timing for big-ticket purchases
Substantial savings are possible if you're willing and able to wait for seasonal sales and clearances on big buys. Those optimal times fall into two basic categories.
The first are major holidays, almost all of which are now an excuse for retailers to hold "sales events" of some kind. The end-of-year holiday season is the best example, beginning with Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving. Carefully researched, Black Friday buys can often, though not invariably, be the best of the year, especially in electronics categories such as TVs and computers. Categories featured in the sales on holiday weekends include appliances on Memorial Day, furniture on July 4th, and mattresses on Labor Day.
The other major sale opportunity is to snap up older items as this year's models begin to arrive, or as seasons end. Buying last year's stock does, however, mean selection may have dwindled and you sacrifice acquiring the latest features and technology—but those advances are fairly incremental given the maturity of most big-ticket categories. Optimal categories and times to take advantage of model-year and seasonal changes include cars in October and November, grills in September, and winter sports gear and clothing in March and April.
The Bottom Line
Chances are slim that you'll want or be able to take advantage of all of these savings strategies, and your mileage from them will surely vary if you do. Still, it's inspiring and impressive to total the take from all the strategies we outlined. Collectively, they'd deliver a nest egg after 25 years of about $615,000. And they'd do so, for the most part, with fairly minimal hardship.You could even get better at sandwich-making than that guy at the deli.