6 Lifestyle Changes That Will Save You Money
If you slept in a bed last night, ate a meal today, wear clothing or drive a car, you probably agree that daily life can be expensive. The number of things you have to pay for can seem endless.
But what if you could cut back in a big way in one or two spending categories and get ahead on your financial goals?
Some intrepid savers have done just that, resulting in less debt, more flexibility to adapt to career changes and a nicely padded savings account.
Here's how you can follow their lead.
1. Go bulk or grow your own. Food is expensive, especially convenience foods and restaurant meals. The average American spends about $153 a week on food, according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When Stephanie Swartz of Lakewood, Colorado, lost her job as a financial adviser, her ability to trim food costs came in handy. She buys food in bulk at Costco with her mother and sister to cut costs. The three have cooking parties and make dishes to freeze for later. "It saves a bunch of money," Swartz says. "I always have something in the freezer."
Some people take it a step further, growing vegetables or even raising farm animals at home. Johanna Fox Turner, a certified financial planner with Milestones Financial Planning in Mayfield, Kentucky, says her son and daughter-in-law have started raising chickens for eggs and are planning to keep a goat for milk. "They live a very low-cost lifestyle," she says.
2. Ditch the car. It costs Americans an average of $8,876 a year to own and operate a sedan that drives 15,000 miles annually, according to a 2014 study from AAA. You may be able to save a lot of money by getting rid of your car. Taking public transportation is a less expensive alternative to driving, and biking or walking has the added benefit of improving your health.
If you can't do without a car entirely, compare car insurance costs to make sure you're not overpaying. Find out if lowering your deductible or switching to a pay-per-mile plan can save you money.
3. Tailor your own clothes. "Over time, I taught myself how to sew out of necessity," Swartz says. She found a discount fabric store in Denver and keeps an eye out for inexpensive patterns. Her sewing skills also allow her to mend or repurpose older clothing.
"If you can't afford clothes, you have to fix what you have," she says. This approach has helped her cope with unemployment. "You have to look nice to go to an interview, but you can't spend a lot of money on anything before you have a job," she says.
4. Buy used. For some, frugality starts as a practical measure but becomes second nature. Amanda Folson, a product manager at PagerDuty in San Francisco, says a friend gave her the idea to buy clothes on eBay.
"Instead of paying $40 to $60 for a pair of jeans, I pay maybe $10," Folson says. Although she's buying pre-owned clothing, "more often than not, these are things that people haven't worn," she says. "They've usually got the tags on them."
Household goods like dishes and furniture can also be bought used, either through online auction sites like eBay or local Facebook groups, or by going to thrift stores and yard sales. In some cases, refurbished electronics cost less than brand new ones and still come with a warranty.
5. Embrace living with less. When Folson moved to San Francisco from Maryland, she decided not to spend the estimated $5,000 to move her furniture right away. She instead stored it at a relative's house. But nearly a year later, she's learned to enjoy having an almost empty apartment.
Folson has an air mattress, but usually finds it more comfortable to sleep in the hammock she strung up. Other than that, she doesn't have much besides computers, guitars and a bicycle.
"I like not having a whole bunch of stuff," she says. "My savings account really appreciates that."
Folson's thrifty ways allow her to put about $3,000 a month in her online savings account. And what's she planning to do with all that money? She's thinking of buying a condo or a tiny house -- a lofty goal for someone who is only 26 and living in the pricey Bay Area.
6. Make the most of your space. Smaller homes can save occupants on everything from rent to utilities to elbow grease -- they're much easier to clean and maintain. Cutting down on possessions can also make a modest-sized space more comfortable. Without furniture, Folson says her 700-square-foot apartment feels downright roomy.
Among Turner's clients, some with bigger houses have managed to pad their savings by renting out a room through online listings sites like Airbnb or VRBO. "In some cases, they can almost pay the whole mortgage," Turner says.
What to Do With Your Extra Money
Spending less can make life easier in many ways. Of course, not all money-saving measures require a radical lifestyle change. But for some people, changes in their spending habits have made them happier and less stressed. More money in the bank is only a side benefit.
Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a website devoted to helping consumers make smart financial decisions.