I’ve heard that most of us forget our resolutions sometime before Martin Luther King Day. But maybe we’re just making it too difficult? Living better often comes down to slowing down and keeping things simple. In that spirit, I’ll tackle a few common resolutions.
My goal is to share the easiest, least expensive, most practical knowledge I’ve gleaned on how we can live better. Share your favorite tips in the comments section, too.
If you’re serious about making positive changes, some experts advise that you focus on one specific, defined, quantifiable goal at a time. So pick one from the list and go for it!
Ten Ways to Save Money
Quite a few of us became reluctant experts on the art of pinching pennies. My husband and I became adept at tightening an already tight budget. Here are the best ideas I’ve come across so far:
1. Write down everything you spend.
Do you already have a budget? If not, write down everything you buy for a week. It will make you aware of your spending habits. (You may be surprised how much incidental purchases add up.) Then use what you learn about your expenses to make a monthly budget.
2. Carry cash
Try ditching the debit and credit cards and using cash for purchases. You may find that you’re more conscious of how much you’re spending. Parting with cash can feel more real than swiping a card. And a study suggests carrying large denomination bills makes people much less eager to spend money.
3. Pay your Savings Account first
Determine how much money you can afford to save, and pay your savings account before you pay any other bills. If your employer offers direct deposit, automatically divert a portion of your paycheck into your savings account.
4. Give yourself free money
Make sure each member of the household has a designated amount of money to spend on whatever they wish. It will help everyone stick to a tight budget without feeling deprived.
5. Park your car for a week.
My husband and I recently parked our car for an entire month. We don’t drive much, so we thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. We learned how to be so much more economical with our trips and purchases. When you’re relying on public or human-powered transit, things like going to a box store on the outskirts of town, running out for last-minute take-out, or buying anything big and heavy become less attractive options.
We honestly missed the car a little more than we hoped we would. But we enjoyed riding our bikes everywhere, especially our son. He retrieves his bicycle helmet first thing in the morning and says, “Vroom, vroom.” His zeal for two wheels keeps us riding our bikes nearlly everywhere – even when it’s raining.
6. Make your own
Stock up on baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide, and whip up your own personal care products and household cleaners. These three ingredients are non-toxic, inexpensive, versatile, and amazingly effective.
7. Eat at home
If you eat out just once a week and spend $30, that adds up to $120 a month and $1,560 a year. It’s not hard to see how dining at home can save you lots of cash.
8. Plan your meals
A meal-planning system can cut your grocery bill by hundreds of dollars a month. It can also help you eat healthier, incorporate more whole foods into your diet, enjoy cooking again, stop those last-minute “let’s just get a pizza” nights, and even help you get along better with your spouse. Want to learn more? I wrote about the art of meal-planning here.
9. Cook from scratch
You can save a lot of cash by giving up processed and packaged food and preparing your meals from scratch. I’ve cut our food budget by at least $300 a month this way. But more importantly, I love it. It’s more labor-intensive, more time-consuming, and more general effort. But cooking from raw ingredients is creative work. Our house smells of fresh-baked bread; or of garlic, oregano, or basil; or of soup slowly simmered, and it just feels a lot more like home. Want to learn more? I wrote about cooking from scratch here.
10. Eat local foods seasonally
In Eating Close to Home, Elin Cristina England writes, “We seem to have collectively succumbed to the myth that a green lettuce salad with a tomato should be part of every dinner from January to March.” She argues that we should eat seasonally, with our winter meals consisting of mainstays like carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabagas. If we eat this way, she writes:
Over the course of a year, we end up eating a varied diet, from a wide range of the plant kingdom, which nourishes us with a full complement of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Imagine how much money you might save on food by letting go of the idea of eating like it’s the peak of summer year-round.
Do you have any tips on saving money to share?