Whether it's 20 minutes of exercise a day leading to a healthy body or picking up the living room every day giving you a perpetually clutter-free space, good daily habits add up to big rewards. Money, of course, is no exception. A few tweaks to our behavior can lead to hundreds of dollars in savings each year. And when these behaviors become habits, the savings are automatic.
1) Budget. This can't be emphasized enough. It's not drudgery, it's not limitation; it's peace of mind, freedom, and financial empowerment. I learned about YNAB from you all, and now it's better than ever. Worth every single penny.
2) Plan your meals. You won't waste food, you'll buy only what you need, and you won't eat out as much. I use Plan to Eat, which allows me to import online recipes with a click of a button, lets me drag and drop recipes onto a calendar, and automatically populates my shopping list. (Bonus: you'll save your sanity at the what's-for-dinner hour.)
3) Use a programmable thermostat—and turn it down. Using a programmable thermostat allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you're out of the house or at night. Recommended settings for heat and cool (when you're in the house) are 78ºF for AC and 68ºF for heat. If you can't stand that (or if you're brave and can push it further), turning your thermostat down just 3 degrees will save you about 10% on your energy bill, as I Will Teach You To Be Rich explains.
4) Pack a lunch. If you buy lunch every day, this habit should save you well over $100 a month. Planning your meals helps dramatically with this habit, too.
5) Wait before you buy. This applies to little things that you're putting in your cart at the store (hesitate just a few seconds and see if you really need it), as well as bigger purchases. Set a certain amount as your limit, say $75, and if the item isn't an immediate necessity, wait a week or even a month to see if the impulse dissipates.
6) Think ahead. Are there clothing items you and your family members will need soon? Appliances that are on their last legs? Save for these items (YNAB makes it easy) and try not to ever buy them at full price.
7) Use coupons. I don't clip coupons, and I hardly ever use coupons for food, but there are other places that I very rarely buy from without a coupon because I know a 40% off promotion is right around the corner. Checking for coupons at any given store is a Google search away, and I often ask cashiers if there are any coupons they know about if I haven't found anything by the time I'm ready to pay.
8) Wait for sales and buy ahead (for some things). Take a brief look at the weekly sales of stores you frequent; when something you've planned ahead for is on sale, it's time to buy. For example, once you have a little savings available for children's clothing because you've budgeted for it, buy their clothing for the next year when it's on clearance this year. In addition, when a product you use regularly—like your favorite laundry detergent—is on sale, stock up.
9) Become a savvy library user. Sign up for an account online and deliberately put the books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs you want on hold. When they're ready, you can pick them up in a stack in just a few minutes. If you have a Kindle or other e-reader, don't forget you can get e-books from the library, too! Make it a habit to check the library before you buy the book you've been dying to read.
10) Stay in. Whether it's for date night or GNO, consider an evening spent together at someone's place. Do an appetizer potluck or a simple dinner at home. Everyone will save a bundle, and you'll enjoy the intimacy and camaraderie that comes from inviting others into your personal space.