9 easy tips to save money

Today, times are tough and saving money can be even tougher. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you want to see your money work for you, and not feel like you’re constantly working for your money. Whether you’re setting up an emergency fund, want to take your family on a trip to Disney World, need a new car or you’re planning a wedding, getting there takes a lot of work and discipline.

For me, my saving journey started about a year-and-a-half ago. I was a recent college graduate, just started a full-time job and had one foot in my hometown and the other in California. I had big plans to leave everything behind and start anew 3,000 miles away from everything I grew up with. I had the drive and I had the dream, but what I didn’t have was the one thing that would really make it all happen – money. I set up a savings plan and had it all figured out, but actually sticking to it was harder than I thought. Along the way I found “the little things” are what really mattered when it came time to evaluating my spending and saving.

I learned that it’s all about saving the money you don’t really have to spend and adjusting spending on those “little things.” Here are some easy ways to spend less and save more money. (Did I actually make it to Cali? Keep reading to find out).

1. Track your spending

If there is one savings tool or tip I can give, it’s to be aware. You spend a chunk of your earnings on your monthly expenses, but where does the rest go? Each day, write down in a notebook or even in your cell phone what you spend your money on. I log my spending in the Google Sheets App on my iPhone. When you have it right in front of you, it’s easy to make adjustments based on what you deem is necessary and unnecessary. You might be shocked to see what your hard work is actually buying you.

2. Set up a plan

If you can see yourself flying to that tropical island next spring or cruising around in that new convertible, you have the first step – a vision. But, a vision is only a vision without a plan to make it a reality. I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay yourself first. Each month or week, however you want to do it, set aside a certain amount of money to transfer into a savings account. Make savings an expense that is included in your budget. Even if you only give $25 every month to your savings, you’ll be amazed to see the amount grow and grow with each deposit.

3. Bring your lunch and eat out less.

To put it lightly, food is the biggest waste of money there is. True, we would literally die without it, but we can all admit we don’t spend money on food wisely. Cooking is a lot of work and who wants to come home from work to make a lunch for the next day? Not me, and probably not you either. But, if you really evaluate how much you spend on lunches at the local sandwich shop or dinners out at restaurants multiple times a week, you could honestly do a whole lot of food shopping. Cook at night and bring the left overs for lunch the next day. The grocery store provides you with food for the whole week. That restaurant gives you one meal. That is the epitome of money you don’t really need to spend.

4. Skip the coffee runs

Along the lines of the previous tip, you can save so much money by ditching the coffee shop or donut shop drive-thru and just make your coffee at home in the morning. You could even purchase a one cup coffee maker to bring to work so you won’t be missing any cups during the day. What’s even better is if your office supplies the coffee. That’s unlimited cups of coffee, all day, every day… for free. That, my friend, is an amazing thing. Take advantage.

5. Buy clothes that can be mixed and matched

I don’t know about you, but I always feel the need to buy an entire new wardrobe every time the season changes, but I also hate spending money on clothes. I would have little reservations about spending $30 at dinner with the girls, but give me a shirt for $30 and I’ll put it back on the rack. I learned how to buy clothes that I could wear all year round, and with other articles of clothing. For example, I like clothes in neutral colors, so I can wear a navy blue shirt with the gray pair of pants or the tan pants. Or, I buy nice tank tops that can work by themselves in the summer and with a sweater and cute scarf in the fall or winter.

6. Use coupons

You’ve seen the people on TV who are labeled as “crazy couponers” or “coupon queens,” and they are known to save hundreds of dollars when they shop. While some of us don’t have the time or patience to take couponing that far, using coupons in the simplest way can save you a few bucks. There are tons of coupon apps and websites out there that you can use, and the stores you frequent most often have reward programs and coupon books or cards. Even a simple search on Google for “Macy’s coupon” or something of the sort is worth a try before you bring your merchandise to the cashier. I promise you, there is no better sense of accomplishment than handing the CVS cashier a batch of coupons and seeing the price on the register go from $26.94 to $13.23. True story.

7. Buy the generic or store brand

Whether its food or household items, the generic brand or store brand is almost always cheaper than name brand products, especially at the dollar store. I’ll be honest though, dollar store ice cream tastes a lot like sour milk and they might as well take shaving razors off the shelves. However, items like greeting cards, gift bags, toys for kids, storage bins and baskets are usually the same quality and are much cheaper than stores like Target or your grocery store. Even while grocery shopping, compare the name brand and generic prices and see how much you can save on those little things. Who will win the match between Cheerios and Tast-ee-os?

8. Keep snacks in your car or purse

This tip will help you more than you think. When you’re out and about, you may find that when hunger strikes, you end up buying a meal or snack. Remember in tip #3 when I said to eat out less, same applies here. You went grocery shopping for the week, so keep some snacks that you purchased in your car or purse to avoid passing through the drive-thru or stopping at the convenient store to buy a little something to hold you over. Snacks like nuts or trail mix, granola bars, pretzels, peanut butter crackers, even apples, bananas or oranges are easy to carry with you when you’re on the go. They may make your bag a little bulkier, but your wallet will be bulkier, too.

9. Buy used

Between yard sales, online yard sales, websites like Craigslist, friends who are getting rid of stuff and thrift shops, buying used is easy these days. There may be some things you just aren’t comfortable buying used, but other items like home décor, furniture or appliances, even clothes at consignment shops, can be bought gently used and in good condition. And, you can actually put those DIY home décor pins to good use.

Now, I know you’re dying to know if I made it to California or not… I didn’t. But, not because I didn’t save enough money, but because I met a guy (yes, I am one of those girls), and instead we are currently shopping for a house together. My dream and my vision changed, but the difference between now and when I first started is that I made a plan, tracked my spending and broke my unnecessary spending habit a long time ago. Now, my money is actually working for me and it’s going to get me where I want to be. I hope you get to where you want to be, too.

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