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I’m a firm believer that the easiest way to save money is not by making more, but by spending less. Our biggest priority is to spend less so we can travel more, which is the driving motivation for every dollar we make, save, and spend. This is a list of our favorite ways to spend less, and therefore save (and travel) more. And by the way, take note that most of these things also have positive impacts on our planet. What a win! Feel free to just check out the bold highlights- the rest are ways we’ve incorporated these specific things into our lives. Oh, and we love hearing other peoples’ money saving tips too, so please comment if you have any good ones!
But before we delve too deep, the truth is none of the following money saving ideas will save you a dime if you actively spend every dime you make. These ideas only work if you know where your money is going, and account for those expenses. That’s why every cent we don’t spend is a victory, because then that money goes toward our life plan and our dreams.
Ways to Save at Home:
Make a plan. Hand-write a list of ways you and yours can strive to spend less.
Stop buying bottled water. This is America, home to the cleanest drinking water this side of Iceland. If you insist on filtered water at home, use a filter pitcher or the filtered water from your refrigerator. If you don’t like the taste of tap or well water, throw in a lemon. Take a Steripen when you travel to other countries and save money (and the Earth) by purifying your water and using your own bottle.
Take a bath or shower every other day. This obviously conserves water as well as products.
Turn the water off while you’re brushing your teeth and washing your hands, and turn on a low flow to rinse.
Turn the lights off. TURN. THE LIGHTS OFF. I’m the queen of turning other peoples’ lights off. I don’t care if they are LED lights that last 20,000 hours, leaving lights on in an unoccupied room is a waste of energy and money, two things I cherish. Every penny is a victory.
Start a quarter jar for pesky spouses and kids who leave the lights on. Use the quarter jar toward your utility bills, or for dining out on your next vacation.
Don’t flush the toilet every time you pee. I must’ve lived in the desert in a past life because I strive for and celebrate all water conservation. When we’ve got true indoor plumbing we’ll go all day without flushing, but we flush every time when we’re in the camper and obviously any time we go #2. We’re conservative, not monsters.
Wash your dishes by hand and wipe them off with a towel instead of rinsing. We learned this from our friends in the Australian Outback and I thought it was crazy too until my dear friend Jo told me “You’ve obviously never lived in the desert.” Well I do now! And while we’re not currently on any water restrictions, I like to conserve just in case. Nothing ever tastes soapy and we haven’t, like, gotten sick or anything.
Take a camper shower. Our hot water heater is six gallons and lasts approximately five minutes, which is exactly enough time to wash your hair and get your body wet, then rinse everything off at the end. We never shower in the camper unless we have to, but we do this wherever we shower now. Not always, sometimes you just need a good rinse after a long hike, but anytime we do it it makes a positive impact on the environment and I just love that.
Stop washing your hair, or wash it a lot less. Look, I thought this was crazy too, but I love the idea of less plastic consumption and spending less on shampoo. I mean, that $2.50 bottle of Suave every three months was about to break the bank. I started this at the end of December and have only “washed” my hair about five times with baking soda, a shampoo bar, and a no-rinse shampoo, and otherwise I just rinse with water and preen the hell out of it. We just got back from Hawaii and this is the best my hair has looked yet, even with all that sun, sweat, and salt water. I’ve definitely noticed a positive difference after I rinse my hair with cold water at the end of my shower. But don’t take my word for it, there’s a whole internet world out there on the no ‘poo movement.
Unplug your appliances. We just moved into an RV park that charges separately for electric, which is new to us. We’ve always been good about unplugging things we weren’t using, but now we are all over it. It certainly helps that the meter is directly under our hummingbird feeder so we can look outside to see it spinning faster or slower, depending on what’s currently running. Like our electric fireplace which makes it go nuts.
Wash and reuse your plastic baggies. And tin foil. And your plastic cups. And your plastic cutlery. It kills me to see someone use a plastic fork once then throw it away. My head about explodes over Styrofoam cups. I probably lived in the desert during the Great Depression in a past life. I don’t save everything, because we’re minimalists, but I conserve every… thing… I can. Gregory and I will thrive during the apocalypse.
Rewear your clothes. As long as they’re not visibly soiled or stinky, I’ll wear clothes indefinitely. Here’s a great article on never having to wash your jeans.
Hang towels to dry after you use them. Save on laundry detergent and your wife’s sanity.
Keep your home as long as possible. I’m speaking of course about the 2003 camper we paid $6k cash for, but this definitely applies to ‘real’ homes too. It’s advised to keep your home at least five, but preferably seven years to avoid losing money on closing costs and interest after a quick sell. Don’t buy a home if you can’t commit to that amount of time.
Barter for services like Netflix, Prime, or Hulu. We trade access to our MLB.tv subscription for HBO Go and Game of Thrones. Or just use your parents’ accounts.
Put yourself on a specific spending freeze. Last fall I put myself on a clothing, shoes, and cosmetics freeze after I looked around our tiny camper and realized I have more clothes, makeup, and perfume than any four people should. I have not suffered from this decision for a single second, and I’ve been amazed at how terribly effective it is. We recently went to both New York and Chicago and I didn’t walk into a single clothing store. I love H&M; this is a huge deal for me.
Cut each other’s hair. I’ve done this for Greg since we were dating, and this is the year I let him return the favor. He hasn’t cut mine yet, but I’ll let you know when he does. It’s hair. If he truly screws it up, it’ll grow back. And I can keep it in a pony until it does.
Use less. We consistently use pea-sized amounts of toothpaste, and when I was using shampoo it measured about a dime. It’s my goal this year to only use one pump of liquid soap, and only one paper towel in public restrooms. Or none at all, I take a hand towel with me when I use the bathroom at our RV park so I don’t have to waste the paper or energy from a dryer.
Make or use natural products. I started with DIY laundry detergent, and have branched out to dish soap and hair rinse. The laundry detergent has been effective and we haven’t noticed any damage to washers. I’m waiting until we run completely out of Dawn to use our new dish soap, but I’ll let you know what I think. Update: I’ve tried the homemade dish soap twice and it sucks- totally runny. I’ll try something else next time.
Get healthy. This is a broad one, but taking care of your body is an excellent way to save money both now and into the future. Our goal is to avoid as many copays, prescriptions, and insurance premiums as humanly possible.
Cancel your cable. Libraries and YouTube are free.
Lower your entertainment budget. Libraries and YouTube are free. As are parks, nature centers, public movies, and hiking/biking/walking trails. We love going to the movies as much as the next couple, but we stick strictly to matinees.
Ask your friends and family for their old things, instead of buying new. Mothers are excellent people to ask for sheets, or pillowcases, or towels, or frying pans, or coffee makers, or blenders. Speaking of… Charla, I noticed you have two blenders. May I please take the old one off your hands?
DIY. YouTube is an amazing resource for learning to do, build, maintain, etc. Greg uses YouTube to repair our vehicles and the camper and has saved us thousands over the years by doing those tasks himself. THANK YOU GREGORY.
Ways to Save at the Store:
Use your own bags. Not only are you saving our precious Mother Earth, but plenty of stores offer a refund for using your own bags. And in some countries they actually charge you for using theirs, which I think should be implemented everywhere. I never leave home without collapsible totes in my purse or suitcase, and about 20 in our vehicles.
Buy next year’s Christmas gifts after this Christmas to save mega dough. Same goes for clothes after the current season.
Decrease your food budget. This is a multi-part suggestion. First, and most importantly, do not waste food. We Warckens are like human garbage disposals. We never buy more than we need, we love leftovers, and we’re happy to eat the same thing multiple days (and even meals) in a row. One of the easiest ways to save on your grocery budget is to eat what you already have at home.
Meal plan. Look around for ingredients you already have and plan meals around them, instead of buying everything new. Make, and stick to, a shopping list. Make enough for easy leftovers. We love chili, tacos, and slow-cooker ham and cheese.
Always keep a snack on you. Don’t allow yourself to get hangry and make an unnecessary, overpriced food purchase. We rarely leave the house without sun seeds, turkey sticks, or peanuts.
Clean out your work refrigerator. By ‘clean out’, I mean eat everyone else’s expired food before someone throws it out. I’ve eaten yogurt six months past its expiration and I’ve never had any issues.
Apps. We’re not mega-couponers. If I see a coupon for something we were already going to buy I’ll use it, but we never go out of our way to buy something just because we might be getting a deal. I consistently use four apps to spend less and save more on food: Ibotta, Checkout 51, Walmart Savings Catcher, and Receipt Hog. Sign up for Ibotta through this link and get a free $10 to start!
Take advantage of free food. We love free food because saving that meal is actively contributing to our life plan. Food is hands-down our favorite gift to receive. Hint hint nudge nudge.
Work for food and lodging. We Warckens are excellent house guests and will mow lawns, clean kitchens, chop firewood, whatever our hosts desire in return for three hots and a cot.
Drink yesterday’s coffee. We don’t purposely make extra coffee, but if we have any leftover we wouldn’t dream of throwing it out. Typically we make a fresh pot on top of the old stuff so it all tastes fresh.
Speaking of, drink free coffee at work, or at your RV park, or at your bank, or at Walmart’s automotive department. If you insist on a fancy coffee shop, please consider using your own mug instead of getting a new disposable one every time.
And speaking of your own mug, please consider always using a reusable water cup and coffee mug. Ask anyone who knows me- I never leave home without my water and coffee cups, as well as a set of reusable plastic cutlery. I have a standing offer to procure a new, never-been-used cup, mug, or cutlery set for anyone who would like to do the same. Seriously, just give me your address.
Oh, and speaking of fancy coffee, if you buy a bag of Starbucks, you can take the empty bag in for a free cup from any Starbucks. Shoutout to the Scotts for this one!
Free shipping. If we’re getting close to free shipping I spend the difference on food staples, like peanuts or peanut butter or turkey sticks. I’m not buying crap we don’t need, and I’m obviously saving on shipping.
Share your meals. Greg and I rarely order separate meals at sit-down restaurants, and never if there are free appetizers (chips and salsa, bread and salad). We’re obviously not going to starve, and we still get to satisfy our cravings.
Ways to Save on your Phone:
Apps. I love free apps that make and save us money, but instead of just being satisfied knowing we’ve gotten a deal, I opened a side hustle savings account to put all this fun money into which I’m going to let grow for the year to see what we could fund with all these new side ventures. My goal is $7900, or enough to fund our HSAs. On our recent drive to Tucson, we saved $14.48 at Shell stations, we earned $3.24 on Job Spotter, and redeemed two free coffees and saved $2 at McDonald’s. That may seem like chump change, but that $21.72 saved us 10 gallons of gasoline. I could not be prouder. My favorites are:
Sweatcoin. Earn coins for walking or running. Coins can be redeemed for products, services, gift cards, or PayPal cash.
Job Spotter. Earn Amazon gift cards for taking pictures of Now Hiring signs. I’ve gotten upwards of $1.74, just for taking a single picture.
Receipt Hog. Earn points for receipts you scan into the app. Redeem points for Amazon gift cards, PayPal cash, or magazine subscriptions.
McDonald’s. Buy 5 coffees, get 1 free. Find deals for free food, and cash off purchases.
Instead of over-paying for cell phones and getting into yet another two-year contract, buy your next phone new or (gasp!) used from Ebay or another credible site. Even better, ask one of your relatives if they’ve got an old phone lying around that you can use, or buy, or have for free. We just did this. Thanks, (my oldest brother) Barry! We’ll give it back when we’re done.
Ways to Save on the Web:
Use cash back portals for shopping online. I search seven free different portals to make sure we get the most cash back. While Ebates is the most popular, I prefer TopCashBack for consistently higher cash back. If you sign up through my links, we both earn $! Check out my Cash Back page for more information, more sites, and more links.
Microsoft Rewards. Make Bing your home page and earn points for internet searches, reading emails, and lightning quizzes. Points can be redeemed for Amazon or Walmart gift cards.
MyPoints. Earn points for reading emails, surveys, and shopping online. Points can be redeemed for gift cards to restaurants, Amazon, and Walmart.
Online surveys. Redeem points earned for gift cards to restaurants, Amazon, and travel programs.
Unsubscribe from marketing emails. This is has been great for my spending freeze. I love LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, Victoria’s Secret, and Backcountry as much as the next person, but if I can’t spend the money I don’t need the temptation. As an added bonus, this contributes greatly to my mental health as I only get about 30 emails a day now, as opposed to my normal 200.
Ways to Save on the Road:
Drive less, walk and ride your bike more. Clark Howard estimates it costs $0.59/mile to operate a vehicle, which I love to think about. Can you imagine having to physically insert $0.59 into your car every time you drove a mile? You’d never do it! What a dream! Walking and riding bikes not only contributes to our mental and physical health, but also to the planet, and our pocketbooks. One of my chief joys is walking for a meal. As Greg likes to say, “You gotta burn it to earn it”.
Keep your vehicles as long as possible, unless you’re upside down in your loan then you should sell it and buy a beater. A car is a depreciating tool, that’s it. Mine is 12 years old, and I bought her seven years ago with the goal of driving her for at least eight. She’s doing great and I’ve happily extended my goal another five years. Greg’s truck is 11 years old now and he feels the same.
Drive 60 mph. Or less! I drive 60 everywhere I go, unless I’m in a hurry which I really try not to do because that reflects poorly on my life plan to save the planet. Time is money. And conservation.
FuelRewards. I linked our IHG numbers with Shell’s Fuel Rewards program to save at least $0.06/gallon at Shell gas stations. Rewards are stackable if you earn points from dining out or shopping with your linked credit or debit cards. Our first fill up this year we saved $0.56/gallon which goes a loooong way in a truck pulling a camper.
GasBuddy. The Warckens use the hell out of this app when we’re on the road to search for current gas prices in the US and Canada, and to update prices for the chance to earn points and win free gas. We’ve never won anything, but it’s not uncommon to find gas $0.10-$0.25/gallon cheaper in the same town we were planning on stopping in anyway.
Ways to Save in your Bank and Investment Accounts:
Start separate savings buckets. Excluding investments, we have six savings accounts at four different banks- one for travel, one for side hustles, one for allowances, one for a new car, truck, or camper, one for giving away, and one for our annual expenses. That might be excessive for the average saver, but I love not having to feel guilty about going on vacation because we’ve set money aside for travel. I love knowing that if one of our vehicles were to fail, we wouldn’t have to take money out of our giving account to cover its replacement. Capital One 360 is our main bank and they allow us to open as many savings accounts as we’d like, which takes less than five minutes. If you open new accounts through this link you can earn $25 each for checking or savings with minimum $250 deposits, and $100 for a money market with minimum $10,000 deposit.
If your job allows it, work overtime. I call this “Making hay while the sun shines”. People like to say all overtime is eaten up in taxes, but I’ve never once worked overtime and made less than I do working full time. It’s not cardiovascular surgery- when you work more, you make more. And when you make more, you get to do everything else more. I. Love. Overtime.
Get to work on time. If you’re a shift worker you actively lose money every time you show up late. You’re an adult, you can do this.
Lower your interest payments. Consolidate your loans, refinance, call and ask for a lower interest rate, whatever works best for your particular situation. Better yet, just pay your interest-bearing debts off already.
Earn more interest. Find out what your bank is offering and shop around for higher-yielding savings accounts. Our Capital One 360 money market earns 1.4%, our American Express personal savings 1.35%, our regular 360 savings 1%, our 360 checking account 0.2%. You know what Bank of America offers on their regular checking? Nothing. In fact, they charge you a monthly fee if you don’t meet their direct deposit or daily balance requirements. And on their regular savings? 0.01%. Or as I like to call it, “a complete joke”. Online savings accounts are able to offer much higher rates because they don’t have to maintain brick and mortar banks. For those of you who like to bury coffee cans of cash in your front yard, I’ve banked exclusively online since 2000 and I’ve never had any issues.
Lower your investment expense ratios. I opened my Roth IRA with USAA when I was just 23 years old. At 34, I finally went through all my expenses and realized I was paying upwards of 1.58% fees on their index funds, when I could be paying just 0.04% for funds at Vanguard. What a dope! I rolled it right over.
If you don’t already, start contributing to your employer-sponsored retirement plan, preferably the maximum amount allowed to get a full match. An employer retirement match is free money, which as you know, is one of favorite things on Earth. This should actually be #1 on your list. Hit me up if you need help.
These are some extra ideas I came up with but the Warckens may not utilize, which makes them seem more like nagging instead of encouraging, so read at your own risk:
Make a big, broad life plan and narrow it down. I find it’s much easier to set a big goal first, then create smaller, tangible, obtainable goals for how I’m going to ultimately realize the bigger goal. For instance, my big plan is to not depend on the government for retirement. I can break this down into obtainable goals by contributing to our IRAs and HSAs and 401ks every year until we’re of retirement age. I can break that down even further by setting annual contribution goals for those accounts (spoiler alert: I want to max them all out), and I can narrower it down even more by contributing a certain amount in those accounts every month to ensure I meet my annual, and therefore lifetime, goal. You don’t run a marathon by going out and running 26.2 miles one day. You start with a run/walk, then you run a mile, then you run five miles, and work your way up from there.
House hack. If you’re house-poor, you could sell your home and buy a cheaper one or rent, or move into a cheaper rental, or rent a room to family or a friend or a stranger you met on Craigslist, or rent a room from family or a friend or a stranger you met on Craigslist. I realize a home is a sense of security and all that, but it is just a shelter over your head, and there are cheaper shelters to be had. How much security are you providing to your loved ones if your house is keeping you from contributing to the rest of your life plan? Think about it.
Stop leasing vehicles. I cannot believe commercials I see for leases and the unbelievable down payments they require in order to pay for something you’ll never own. If you can afford the down payment, you can afford to pay cash for a cheaper car. A car is just a depreciating tool, remember?
Stop buying things based on “monthly payments you can afford”. If you can’t afford to pay cash for something now, you certainly can’t afford to make the higher monthly and interest payments. This is such a broke way of thinking. Broken, too.
Stop smoking. Stop vaping. For everyone’s sake, STOP. I realize it’s an addiction, but does smoking in any way shape or form contribute to your life plan? Is your life plan to spend more on cigarettes every month than you invest in your retirement? Is it to get cancer? Is it to have a femoral-popliteal bypass when you’re 40? Of course it’s not! It’s ridiculous!
Realize the money you spend on someone is not a direct reflection of how you feel about that person. This is a huge one for mothers, especially if they harbor any guilt about their parenting. Money isn’t love. Actual love, and time, and energy show what a person means to you, not the fact that you buy them a toy every time you go to the store, or new jeans every time they ask, or Jordans because everyone else is wearing them. If you have a hard time conveying this to your loved ones, send them to me and we’ll fill out a Life Plan together.
Find contentment in your current situation and live in the moment. This is one of those broad ideas but so often I see and hear people depending on future (potential) events to find their ‘happiness’. Like a higher income, or a spouse, or a baby, or a different job, or Trump getting impeached, or financial independence. I am, obviously, hugely goal-oriented but every day I make an effort to stop and be content in my life as it is now. I’m lucky to have a husband who doesn’t have to make this effort, and is happy to help me realize how great our lives really are.
Sell your stuff and stop buying more. It has been scientifically proven that things do not make people happy. If you want to spend less, stop buying stuff you don’t need. If you want to save more, look around your home for things you could sell at a garage sale, or on Craigslist, or on eBay. When we left our jobs in Montana we sold, donated, or gave away almost everything we owned, and we have yet to miss a single item. Oh, and we made a killing on Craigslist.
Prioritize your time. When you make an effort to establish what is truly important in your life it’s easy to recognize how much time you waste on things and people that don’t matter. I’m talking TV, social media, smartphones, and internet games. the very worst and most addictive- internet games. If spending less and saving more is important to you, you could use the time you typically spend watching TV or perusing other peoples’ lives on Facebook or Instagram to start a side hustle, or work an overtime shift, or donate plasma. You get to decide what is important to you, and what is not.
And now for my soap box rant, which you are free to ignore:
If you’re reading this I’m guessing you’re interested in saving money. I’m also guessing you’re American. I’m also guessing you haven’t yet realized we’re among the most privileged people on the planet, with the ability to procure anything we could ever need with a visit to the nearest Walmart Supercenter.
But being a typical American also means you might possess an unfortunate inability to separate said ‘needs’ from actual ‘wants’ because we tend to come with the world’s strongest sense of entitlement. Like all animals, humans need food, shelter, sex, and water. Everything else is just a want, and should be treated as a tremendous bonus, not something you deserve. You will never, ever hear those words come out of my mouth- “You deserve it” or worse “I deserve it.” None of us deserve anything but to live within our means and be a decent person.
Greg and I are far from perfect, but I love our ability to separate our wants and needs. We love drinking tap water, we pride ourselves on not being ‘foodies’, and our shelter has ranged from a $525/mo apartment with black mold that was later condemned, a $550/mo rental home next door to a hoarder with squatters living in a tent in his backyard and whose cat liked to poop in my herb garden, the back of a 2002 Ford Windstar, and a 29 ft 2003 Keystone Sprinter with no central heat. We keep our needs basic in order to fund our wants (of which we have plenty) as we see fit. We want to not have to work, we want to travel, we want a secure retirement someday, and we want to depend on no one but ourselves in order to do all those things.
If you truly want to spend less and save more, I would invite you to separate your needs from your wants and realize you aren’t going to die if you can’t go out to eat every day, or get eyelash extensions every three weeks. Have a drink and think about it. Tap water’s on me.