We've all tried the money-in-a-jar thing—but it doesn't work that well. Or maybe you've tried the envelope system like I did, and found the envelopes soon wore out and were abandoned. How does one really save money? Like, real, serious amounts of money? Here are the tips that really do make a difference.
1. Prioritize paying down debts. If you have a debt that is accruing interest, and you're not paying it back as quickly as you can, you are wasting money. You are paying money for nothing. It is not a sexy way to save money, but paying down your debt is the number one step towards putting yourself in a place where you even can save money. Make 2016 the year you go debt-free. You’ll sleep a lot better, too.
2. Write shopping lists. Write a master shopping list for your life. What do you really need right now? What do you really want? Are you sure everything on the “need” list is stuff you actually need? Before buying anything new, put it on the list and wait two weeks. See if the moment passes—sometimes it really does! Write shopping lists every time you go to the grocery store. This is the number one way your friends who are grocery-store gurus save money: they write a list and only buy what is on the list. When I started writing a list for my grocery shopping, my grocery bill for our family of 4 was cut by $40 a week. $40!! What had I been buying?!
3. Stay away from the mall (real and virtual). We buy shiny new things because we see shiny new things. Best way to not spend money on shiny new things? Don’t go looking for them! Ban yourself from the mall. Restrict your access to your favorite online stores. Instead of spending time shopping, dig into some other great pastimes. Go for a walk somewhere beautiful with friends. Close your laptop, head to your local library, and read books. Challenge yourself to a three-month sabbatical from recreational shopping. I bet you won’t miss it.
4. Rethink your cellphone. When it was time for me to get a new cellphone, my friends told me it was impossible to do so for under $50 a month. But I found a plan that works for me—limited talk, unlimited data—for $35 a month. Sure, it’s not an iPhone (gasp!), but is that the worst thing ever? I’m saving $180 a year compared to what my friends pay. Spend an evening researching cellphone options. What if you could save $15 a month, too? And after you’ve found a better cellphone plan, research cheaper home internet and car insurance options, too.
5. Learn to say “No.” We are so bad at saying no, aren’t we? It might feel easier to say yes to anything from the coffee out at the expensive cafe to the super extravagant three-day bridal shower, but all these yes-because-I-guess-I-have-to’s cost money. And you don't even want to be doing them! Somewhere I read a great idea that went something like, “This year, if it’s not a Hell Yes! then it should be a No.” Say no to the coffee out, say no to the bridal shower, even try saying no to some of the things you feel you must buy: new clothes or furniture or a newer car. And feel proud that you're saying "Hell Yes!" to saving instead.