There are a lot of ways to waste money, and the pandemic hasn't made anything any easier. But fortunately, there are also a lot of ways to save. From lowering your utility costs to coupon sites, this roundup of 100 money-saving, reward-earning, and frugal-living tips will help you stay ahead of the game financially. Keep it handy by bookmarking it in your favorite browser and on your smartphone.
Cut the Cord
Consumers can save by joining the cord-cutting revolution and opting for a streaming stick from Roku, Google, or Amazon, or a set-top box such as Apple TV. Without a cable subscription, monthly entertainment costs can dip to less than $10 a month, and there is still plenty to watch.
Dress Up for Less
Want the outfit worn by a celebrity? It may be possible to find a similar look for a lot less at a low-price apparel chain such as Old Navy — or rent the very same look at a site such as Rent the Runway.
Insist on No-Fee Banking
Switch to a bank with fee-free checking and ATM use or fee reimbursement — often available from smaller local banks or credit unions. These institutions also typically offer checking accounts with no minimums and lower fees than large banks. Explore online services from Charles Schwab, Ally Bank, or USAA Bank (for members and relatives of military members and veterans).
Spend Less to See Movies
Many theaters are currently closed because of the pandemic. When movie houses do reopen, you'll want to think about saving money on movie outings by buying tickets in bulk at warehouse clubs or straight from theater chains, attending matinees, going on discount days, and avoiding the overpriced snack bar.
Dine Where Kids Eat Free
At least five days of the week (generally not Friday and Saturday) there's a restaurant chain that lets kids eat for free after the purchase of an adult entree. Clearly the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry with many chains closing locations, but many still have kids-eat-free offers and other family friendly deals.
Drop Unused Memberships
Check monthly bills and think twice about memberships that aren't used often. Whether it's a subscription box with products that aren't often to your liking or an infrequently visited gym (which is probably a good place to avoid these days), if the service isn't providing value, stop paying for it.
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Find Free Fun
Cut your entertainment budget: Spend a day outdoors hiking along one of the many beautiful trails this country has to offer. If it's cold, check out bookstores so cool that visiting is worth it even without a purchase.
Pay off Credit Cards
It's a myth that keeping a small balance on a credit card improves credit scores. On the contrary: Paying off balances can help cardholders boost their scores — and save money by avoiding interest payments.
Take Advantage of Libraries
Libraries do more than offer free books; they rent movies and ebooks inexpensively and often provide computer access, among other services. Libraries are also accommodating workspaces — they're quiet and there's no need to buy coffee or a snack every few hours.
Seek out Offbeat Attractions
Looking for a cheap or free vacation thrill? There's something unexpected or off the beaten path in every state, from an inn shaped like a giant beagle to the famed Cadillac Ranch in Texas.
Ask About Senior Discounts
The age for senior discounts may be as young as 50 at restaurants, grocery stores, and clothing retailers. With deals ranging from 5 percent to 50 percent off, make sure to ask.
Don't Write off Boutique Hotels, Airbnb, or VRBO
When travel eventually hits full stride again post-pandemic, travelers looking for an alternative to a generic room in a large hotel chain property can opt for an inexpensive boutique hotel. There are options across the country worth considering, and rates can be as low as $50 a night. Airbnb and VRBO sites can also provide unique experiences, whether you want an Airstream trailer, winter cabin or a Hobbit hole.
Book Slightly Outside of Town
Hotels are often cheaper farther from the city center or from major attractions. This isn't always true at holiday times, though. That's when business travel is at a lull, and rates may fall in a city's financial district. Also, be sure to keep an eye peeled for hotel freebies, like snacks and fitness classes.
Avoid Baggage Fees
Even if flying isn't on your immediate agenda, you'll want to remember that many airlines charge for checked bags. But there are ways to fit everything into a carry-on and otherwise eliminate or reduce airline baggage fees. Watch out for budget airlines that collect fees even for carry-ons. A new class of fare on United also limits free baggage to one personal item.
Try a Home Juicer
Instead of buying bottled juices or doing a pricey, prepackaged cleanse, use a home juicer. The time commitment and cleanup are not for everyone, so start with a cheap juicer and upgrade if juicing turns into an ongoing thing.
Learn Price Code Secrets
Many retailers use price codes (for example, a price that ends in .97) on tags to indicate whether an item is a final markdown or may be discounted further.
Negotiating makes sense more often than you might expect. With market information in hand, go straight to the manager at a rental car agency or hotel and try to wrangle a deal. No luck lowering the price? Try getting more value with an upgrade or fee waiver.
Install a Programmable Thermostat
Smart thermostats can be real money savers — they learn residents' preferences and can be controlled from afar — but even a cheap programmable thermostat set at a reasonable temperature can save $180 a year on average, according to the federal government's Energy Star program.
Earn extra cash by selling unwanted clothing on websites such as Poshmark, Vinted, ThredUp, or The RealReal.
Some major retailers, including Walmart, Target, Staples, Best Buy, Office Depot, and Toys R Us, now price match Amazon. There are many exclusions to watch out for, but checking prices with a smartphone before making an in-store impulse buy can yield savings.
Rent and Swap Toys
Don't waste money on toys that children will cast aside after a few months. Instead, consider toy swaps with other parents in your neighborhood.
Related: 14 Ways Parents Waste Money on Kids
Don't Go Overboard for Savings
Being too cheap may not be financially wise. Don't blindly choose the least expensive item when it's low-quality, for instance. And make sure extreme couponing or a long drive to find the cheapest gas isn't wasting more time than it's worth.
Buy Generic Food and Drugs
Related: How Seniors Can Save on Health Care
Shop for a Diamond Online
Looking for a diamond ring for a holiday engagement? Get a good price by shopping online and knowing the five C's: clarity, color, cut, carat, and certification. Don't compromise on cut, which makes a diamond sparkle, but a low clarity or color grade is harder to notice and can make a large stone more affordable. Also consider alternative synthetic diamonds or alternative gemstones.
Use Veterans' Discounts
Veterans can take advantage of a slew of discounts and benefits year-round. Lowe's, for example, offers 10 percent off to active and retired military and those receiving Veterans Affairs benefits.
Seek Alternative Phone Service
Escape the contract and switch to an ultra-cheap phone provider such as FreedomPop or Republic Wireless. They use the same towers as some of the big telecom companies but charge consumers just a fraction of the price.
Test out of College Classes
Yes, it's possible to earn a bachelor's degree for less by testing out of required classes at an accredited college. This path requires a lot of self-discipline but can save tens of thousands of dollars.
Do Disney on a Budget
A trip to see Mickey and the gang may be just a wish upon a star in the near term because of pandemic closures and restrictions, but a visit to the Disney theme parks can be a costly affair. Regular tickets to Disney World are more than $100 for ages 10 and up, but there are ways to save on a Disney trip. One of the best strategies: Bring food, drinks, and even Disney memorabilia bought somewhere besides the overpriced gift shops (tell the kids a favorite character stopped by the hotel to leave them a souvenir). Disney World now allows outside food, and Disney cruises permit up to two bottles of wine or six beers in a carry-on.
Detect fraud early by monitoring credit reports and checking credit scores for free using a site such as Credit Sesame or Bankrate. Some credit cards now come with a free credit score.
Get Cash Back
Cash-back shopping sites such as Rakuten and Mr. Rebates let consumers earn a percentage of their money back when shopping online. Many rewards credit cards offer a similar perk for online and offline purchases.
Maintain Low Credit Card Balances
For a high credit score, don't spend a large part of each card's available credit limit. The utilization rate — the percentage of a credit limit that's being used — is an important credit-scoring factor, and lower is better in the eyes of credit scoring agencies.
Don't Let Credit Card Debt Linger
Consumers who have good credit scores but have trouble paying off credit card debt can move the debt to a card that charges zero interest on transferred balances during a promotional period. Some, but not all, such cards charge a one-time fee equal to a percentage of the amount transferred. Another option: Take out a personal loan with a lower interest rate than the credit cards and use it to pay down the debt.
Find Promo Codes
Netting a discount can be as easy as typing the retailer's name and "coupon codes" into a search engine. Consumers can also check sites such as RetailMeNot, DealNews, and Brad's Deals for coupon codes before checking out online.
Go Gift Card Shopping
Gift Card Granny shows where to buy gift cards online for less than face value — and who says a gift card has to be a gift? Shop at a discount by paying with gift cards at big-name retailers.
Track Price Drops
Savings need not stop after clicking "buy." Several price-tracking services alert shoppers to after-the-fact price drops so shoppers can ask for a refund of the difference — or get one automatically (minus a cut for the service). Paribus and Rakuten monitor select retailers, including Amazon, through users' email accounts. Several credit card issuers offer a similar service for free.
Invest in Energy-Efficient Upgrades
Upgrade a home and reduce utility costs with energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. The initial investment will pay for itself over time and the planet will benefit. It's one of many ways to reduce utility costs during the winter.
Steer Clear of Hotel Minibars
It's not as simple as refraining from eating or drinking anything. Some hotel minibars have a built-in sensor that may be triggered by merely moving items. Look over the bill before checking out to make sure there aren't any accidental charges.
Reject Unnecessary Purchases
Avoid buying things that probably will not be used more than once, such as formalwear (rent instead), specialty kitchen appliances (which lose their novelty quickly), and power tools (rent from home improvement stores or borrow from local sources).
Put Credit Card Perks to Work
Many credit cards offer extended warranties, full refunds if items are damaged or stolen up to 90 days after purchase, zero liability for fraudulent charges, and rewards programs that earn the cardholder money back on every purchase. Look at what's included before buying additional coverage.
Be a Cheap Date
Looking for inexpensive date ideas? Instead of dinner and a movie, try wine tasting, volunteering, going to an arcade, or checking out a local tourist attraction that's often overlooked by residents.
Don't Rent a Modem or Router
Buy a wireless router or modem rather than renting one from an internet service provider. The purchase often pays for itself in less than a year.
Escape Foreign Transaction Fees
Get a credit card that does not charge extra for foreign transactions. This can come in handy when international travel returns to normal or when making purchases in a foreign currency while at home.
Make Razors Last
Save money on razors by drying the blades after each use and storing them in a dry space. This simple step can prolong the life of a razor blade by months. For more savings, consider switching to a service that delivers inexpensive blades.
Buy in Bulk for School Lunches
Save on school lunches by buying ingredients in bulk and packing in reusable containers, instead of purchasing single-serving packages.
Related: 50 Super Easy School Lunches
Enjoy Free Samples
Influenster and BzzAgent send free samples, and sometimes free full-size products, to consumers who write short reviews or tell friends about the products.
Adopt the Right Pet
Considering a new pet? Experts say purebred cats and dogs are most prone to illness — and the accompanying vet bills. In general, the least expensive animals to care for are small, female mixed breeds that have been spayed.
Related: Dogs That Don't Shed
Clean With Microfiber Cloths
Microfiber cleaning cloths generally cost more than standard cotton towels, but even the priciest options pay for themselves over time when factoring in durability and savings on cleaning products.
Have a Taco (or Two)
No matter the day of the week, tacos are a delicious and inexpensive food. There are iconic taco shops (or trucks) across the country that are worth checking out.
Save With Apps
Use mobile apps to help save money while shopping for groceries, clothing, and everything else. Try RetailMeNot, Ibotta, Checkout 51, Grocery Smarts, SmartSource, and the Coupons app.
Make Clothes Last
To prolong the life of clothing, wash clothes in cold water, don't use wire hangers, set the dryer on low, or hang-dry washables.
Instead of farming out your yard work to a lawn service, so to speak, dig and take care of it yourself. Lawn services can charge $35 or more for an average size yard.
Plant a Garden
Take the DIY yard work a step further by planting a garden that can provide cheap, homegrown fruits and vegetables. Initial expenses are minimal, and if you end up with more produce than you can use, you can freeze it for later.
Unplugging DVR cable boxes, computers, and other appliances when they're not in use could knock $200 a year off the electric bill, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but ending "vampire drain" is only one of many ways to save on energy costs.
Keep the Wedding Simple
Large floral centerpieces, paying for an open bar, and extravagant extras such as an ice sculpture can add up quickly. Consider a simple wedding and put the savings toward a goal such as buying a home or paying down debts.
Book Travel Directly
Booking directly with travel providers can yield savings and extra perks, such as free Wi-Fi, fewer hidden fees, and more flexibility.
Some Things are Worth a Little More
Don't go rock-bottom-cheap on these household items: skillets, knives, storage containers, furniture, and vacuums. Stepping up a bit in price is worthwhile to net goods that will last and save money in the long run.
Take Volunteer Vacations
Here's another travel alternative to consider when pandemic restriction ease. For a way to see the world and also give back, consider a volunteer vacation. The experience can be personally rewarding and much less expensive than a resort.
Shop at Stores With Generous Return Policies
Take the stress out of shopping and guarantee a purchase will be appreciated by going to stores with good, consumer-friendly return policies. Nordstrom is a longtime favorite, and there are several other stores with similar approaches, including Costco.
Take Alternative Transportation
Electric bikes and scooters offer inexpensive and relatively sweat-free alternatives to a car for consumers eager to cut transportation costs.
Related: Best Cities for Living Without a Car
Send Inexpensive Flowers
Chrysanthemums, carnations, and alstroemerias (Peruvian lilies) cost less than roses and last longer. No matter the type of flowers, call a local florist near the recipient instead of ordering online. The florist may offer savings or prepare a better bouquet for the same price.
Reject Weight-Loss Gimmicks
Some weight-loss methods are too good to be true. Avoid paying for creams, seven-minute workouts, shakes, pills, and fad diets that do not address the needs of the body as a whole. Choose a plan that emphasizes healthy eating and exercise over a quick fix. Instilled habits are more valuable in the long run.
Try Name-Your-Price Shopping
Priceline, Hotwire, and other travel sites aren't the only ones that let consumers name the price they want to pay. Greentoe has a similar setup for photography equipment, home theater items, appliances, and more.
Refinance Private Student Loans
Borrowers whose financial situation has improved since graduation may want to look into refinancing their private student loans to potentially lower interest rates. Lenders look beyond credit scores to the borrower's income, job, education level, degree, and other financial obligations.
Re-Evaluate Federal Student Loans
Refinancing federal student loans can also lead to lower interest rates, which can save borrowers money. Be aware, though: After refinancing with a private lender, borrowers are not eligible for federal payment plans based on income or forgiveness programs.
Lower Auto Insurance Costs
There are many ways to get discounts on auto insurance policies: Take a defensive driving class, install an anti-theft device, or use the same company for several types of insurance, for instance.
Get Teen Discounts on Auto Insurance
Buy Renters Insurance
Renters may benefit from an insurance policy even if they don't have many possessions. Renters insurance could cover theft of personal property even if it occurs outside the home, and liability protection in the event someone is injured and sues. Installing smoke detectors, buying a fire extinguisher, or paying premiums for a full year all at once usually generates a discount.
Ask About Student Discounts
Students are often on a shoestring budget, but there are plenty of savings opportunities. Some clothing stores, including Madewell, Asos, and Topshop, offer a 10 percent to 15 percent student discount. Restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, gyms, and technology companies also offer discounts for students.
Quit Smoking for Insurance Deals
A sure way to lower health insurance premiums is to quit smoking. Renters and homeowners' policies also often cost less for non-smokers.
Pay Higher Deductibles
To decrease premiums on your insurance, raise the deductible (the amount the policyholder must pay before the insurance company starts to cover costs).
Think Twice Before Filing Insurance Claims
When the cost to replace possessions or fix a vehicle is less than an insurance deductible, it may make sense not to make a claim. The policyholder has to pay for the damages out-of-pocket either way and reporting the incident may result in higher premiums.
Take Care With a Car
Most people know a new car's value drops as soon as it's driven off the lot. Help maintain the value by taking the car in for regular checkups, waxing the exterior, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking inside.
Use a Standing Desk for Less
Standing desks can encourage workers to be less sedentary and offer a nice change from sitting in front of a computer all day. Retail prices can reach into the thousands, but there are cheaper alternatives, including a wall-mounted shelf or stacking books or boxes to raise the height of a laptop or monitor. Keep feet relaxed by standing on a folded yoga mat or anti-fatigue mat.
Adapt to Age Well
Some basic lifestyle changes can help maintain or improve health as you age. Work in 30 minutes of physical activity a day, get plenty of sleep, and try to minimize sugar intake.
Consider Refinancing Your Mortgage
Get Last-Minute Tax Savings
Get a tax deduction for the current year by contributing to an Individual Retirement Arrangement right up to the tax-filing deadline in the coming year. The IRA contribution limit for 2019 is $6,000 ($7,000 for taxpayers 50 and older).
Touch Up a Bathroom Instead Of Tearing It Out
Save on a DIY bathroom remodel by keeping the basic layout the same and making other improvements: installing a new vanity countertop, painting the walls, putting up a new mirror, and regrouting the floor and tile.
The IRS has yet to announce it for 2021, but small-business owners who record the miles they drive for work can take a deduction of 57.5 cents a mile for 2020. If the rate stays the same as 2020, taxpayers who don't own a business can deduct 14 cents a mile driven for charitable purposes, or to and from a volunteer event.
Sites such as CamelCamelCamel and PriceSpider monitor the price of goods at stores such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Newegg so shoppers can pounce when the price drops.
Be Careful Hiring a Contractor
Before hiring a contractor, figure out if someone with specialized training is needed, and get recommendations from friends and family. Set a budget and ask contractors for an itemized task and quote list. To be safe, budget for cost overruns up to 20 percent of the initial quote.
Improve Curb Appeal for Less
Preparing a home for potential buyers or visiting relatives doesn't have to involve expensive improvements: Clearing the driveway and walkways, cleaning the windows to let in natural light, and decorating the front with all-season plants may be the most important steps.
Compare Moving Expenses
The cost of shipping may be less than renting a truck for a long-haul move for people without large furniture. Before packing up and moving, compare quotes from local moving companies against shipping costs.
Practice Preventive Care
Emergency room visits can cost thousands — or tens of thousands of dollars. Taking preventive health measures such as not smoking, getting regular checkups or screenings, and practicing safe sex could reduce the chances of running into health problems.
Ignore Pricey Workout Clothes
Lululemon and Athleta may be in vogue, but frugal fitness buffs can turn to plenty of places for deals on workout clothes. Check out websites such as The Clymb, ClothingUnder10.com, and Steep and Cheap, or inexpensive retailers such as Old Navy.
Try Some Simple Kitchen Hacks
A few simple kitchen hacks can save money and time. To cite just a couple: Wrap banana stems in plastic to keep them fresh longer (keep plastic wrap chilled to make it easier to separate and tear) and put marshmallows in brown sugar to keep it soft.
Be a Smart Souvenir Shopper
When taking a trip or traveling to a new state, look for representative souvenirs that are small, lightweight, and inexpensive. Macadamia nuts or Kona coffee from Hawaii, saltwater taffy from the New Jersey shore, or an album from one of Nashville's well-known record shops are popular examples.
Get Hotel Rewards
Even infrequent travelers can save money by enrolling in hotel loyalty programs. Basic membership comes with free Wi-Fi, late checkout, and complimentary newspapers at some chains.
Consider a Credit Union
Credit unions are nonprofits owned cooperatively by members (people with an account at the credit union). They offer many of the same services as banks but give more savings and profits to members. Fees and interest rates may be lower on credit cards and loans, and checking and savings accounts may pay higher interest compared with other financial services firms.
Share and Save
Families, friends, and neighbors can share all sorts of things to save money. Power tools, lawnmowers, and luggage are just the start. Look for ongoing savings by sharing phone plans or streaming video subscriptions, too.
Don't Fall Victim to Nuisance Debt
Small debts can have a large effect on a credit score if they go unpaid and get passed on to a collections agency. Newer credit scoring models ignore debts of less than $100, but not all lenders use the latest models.
Leave the Kids Home When You Shop
Children are fountains of endless desires, and stores understand this, often positioning kid-targeted merchandise right where youngsters will see it. So outsmart the masters of marketing and keep the kids out of the equation. Maybe even offer to trade babysitting time with other parents to do so.
Do Your Own Car Maintenance
Some car repairs, such as an oil change or brake pad replacement, are relatively easy DIY chores. Other fixes generally require a trained mechanic and could be costly. If a problem arises after the warranty has expired, it may be possible to save money by contacting the manufacturer for "goodwill assistance."
Fight the Temptation to Eat Out
Keep food costs down by buying in bulk, using a slow cooker, eating at home, and saving leftovers for another meal. Keep small snacks in the car or at work to avoid the urge to go to restaurants.
Keep the Grocery Budget Low
To keep from overspending at the grocery store, eat before going shopping, make a list, and use only a set amount of cash to buy food. (Splurge once in a while to keep things interesting.)
Buy a Mattress Online
Many sound sleepers advocate buying a mattress online. Shops such as Casper, Leesa, and Tuft & Needle sell high-quality foam mattresses starting around $500. Search for discounts and coupon codes for further savings. There are also inexpensive options on Amazon, but they don't offer the same warranties or trial period.
Improve Gas Mileage
Start tracking your vehicle's gas mileage, and focus on ways to improve it. Some simple tips include maintaining proper tire pressure, checking the tire alignment, and accelerating slowly.
Shop Costco Without a Membership
Costco doesn't require a membership for every purchase. Anyone can eat at the food court or get a flu shot. In some states, non-members can buy alcohol, as well.
Keep Vet Bills Low
To save money on pet care, shop around before choosing a vet. Look for discount packages and focus on preventive care. Regular exercise and a proper diet of high-quality food are keys to keeping pets healthy.
Get a Side Gig
Cutting back can help only so much, and there are lots of ways to make money on the side. Become a mystery shopper, tutor, organize or clean homes, babysit, or drive people using a ride-share app.