Ways to Save $$ That Might Go Too Far, Maybe Aren’t Worth It, But I Love to Do Anyway
A few years ago, for some inexplicable reason, I HAD to have Papa Murphy’s Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern pizza. So my BF bought a normal pepperoni pizza (with a coupon, of course), and then just rearranged the pepperonis for me, pinching together a stem at the top. Cheaper pizza, 3x the amount of pepperonis, and twice the excitement and joy (because it doesn’t take much to put a smile on my face). Below are 33 tips, ideas, and absurdities to put less of your bacon up for the takin’. :) (No more rhyming after this, I promise).
1. Free $5 chunks to spend in Amazon’s vast expanse of possibilities/materialism? Yes, please. All you have to do is search on Bing instead of Google while signed up with an account. You get 1 point for every two searches you make on Bing. Rack up around 500 points, and you get a $5 Amazon gift card applied to your account. There are also many other rewards to choose from.
I use ’em for Christmas presents, for traction gear for spring hiking on ice-slaked foothill ridges, for a monitor to use with laptop in a rigged up stand-up desk (thus avoiding Igor hunches all day), and for portable watercolor kits. These points do add up slowly, but it doesn’t suck up any extra time from your day, because you’re probably already browsing the web anyway.
2. Americans purportedly waste boatloads of food constantly. I rebel against this statistic by rather crazily shlepping every last drop and scrap of edible to not-quite-edible food. It has become some kind of obsession. I put bone-dry bread (used to soften brown sugar) into meatballs. I zest my citrus fruits before eating them and load the spongy zest into cookies, salsas, anything. Throw stale tortilla chips into scrambled eggs, scrub carrots instead of peeling them, save meat bones to make broths.
3. For Denverites, Westword (a Village Voice publication) has plenty of free foodie things and events listed each week. Great source to find out if someone’s giving away free smoothies that week or if there’s a free comedy show at your local brewery. I also sign up for my suburb’s events newsletter plus comb through them when they come in the mail. It’s fun to partake in whatever twee event they have going on next– ride bikes from elementary schools to house-lined open spaces, make your own corn hole boards at the public library, or attend free concerts (sometimes including free beer!).
4. When trying to save money, this oftentimes involves settling for less than best. I demanded less than best internet for quite a while. 7 megabits per second! It was actually still enough to constantly stream video for work during the day. But the second my hubbie came home to download a new video game, well, everything went kaput. But our internet only cost $30/month for a while, which wasn’t bad. Or you can buy generic at the grocery store. Sometimes you can truly get less than best, though (e.g., marshmallows, Ritz crackers, mouth wash, refried black beans).
5. $13/ month for a phone. Read. it. and. probably weep. And that’s all thanks to Republic Wireless. Two catches– you have to buy one of their phones (starting at $129) and if you wanna pay as little as $13/month, you should use as little data as possible (always try to hook up to Wi-Fi). I block pretty much all my apps from being able to use cellular data except for Maps and Evernote, where I store my grocery store lists. $13! That’s the only monthly bill I am always happy to pay.
6. Save Water. Any water sitting in glasses overnight gets used to feed my growing basil plant (which is still just a skinny stalk with a few leaves). And then the usual— no running water while brushing teeth, not turning it on full blast.
7. Nick stuff your parents have too much of, like face scrubs, tp, baking pans, workout equipment. We also share tax software, raincoats (cuz who really wears raincoats?), fertilizer equipment, and other seldom used items. Of course, you’ve got to live near your parents and get along with them OK. But yes, I have definitely leveraged the heck out of this relationship. haha
8. Ibotta app. I’ve only accumulated $10 over 6 months, but it’s still fun to find an extra discount off your receipt once you get home.
9. Be friendly and talkative with bar staff. I asked about a beer on tap at Tivoli Brewery the night before an Avs game and ended up saying something like “mmm, you make that sound really good.” In hindsight, that was kind of weird and a little pervy-sounding, but it might’ve led to his taking $1 off each of our beers instead of just $1 off the full tab for wearing an Avs jersey. ;)
10. Take advantage of your family’s discounts. Once again, this could be considered using people. But if it’s family, where’s the harm? Because my mom is a public school teacher, she sometimes gets discounts on tickets to the Nuggies, operas, and Avs games. Whenever she gets a discount for an Avs game, we nab ‘em and have a great time up in the nosebleeds.
11. Make your own mozzarella cheese, bread, pizza dough, yogurt, etc. Sometimes this is more trouble than it’s worth. For example, I’ve tried making mozzarella three times. For each try, it turned out rubbery, delicious, and then sticky and vinegary, respectively. So this might not be cost-saving or time-efficient, but I consider that the sacrifice you pay for acquiring a new skill. Once you master the art, though, homemade is definitely the way to go for cost savings, increased skillz, and the whole one-with-your-food, back-to-the-earth spiritual side of things.
I’ve also made my own Play-Doh to play Cranium since the original purple dough had dried into a crumbly stone. Just requires some flour, baking powder, salt, water…
12. Free museum days. Check out SCFD free days in Denver. They’ve included Buffalo Bill’s grave, the DAM, the Botanic Gardens (I went in wintertime to see the garden as brittle, curled up decay and hibernation. But there’s also an orchids exhibit and an atmosphere-controlled area with tropical plants.)
13. Play tennis, disc golf, lots of different sports on free courts and fields. This does require startup costs of acquiring equipment, but it’s a good investment.
14. Attend Meetups instead of paying for yoga or Spanish classes, or whatever. I’ve attending lots of Spanish conversation ones. You can meet some really fun people or find yourself the only young person in a gaggle of retirees (where you can usually still find some cool people! Not hatin’!). It’s fun to try out different groups and see which ones you feel comfortable in and get something out of.
15. Sign up for b-day stuff. Lots of restaurants give out coupons for completely free entrees, like Noodles & Company, Which Wich, Red Robin. These are all like extra presents from complete strangers! During my birthday week, I find myself eating out nearly the entire week! Now, this is both a good and bad thing. But since I’m usually frugal to death all year, I bask in the glory of free milkshakes, rosemary fries, and other artery-clogging concoctions. Just look up your favorite food places around you and see if you can sign up for their email club or something. There’ll usually be a b-day gift involved.
16. Park farther away and walk. I’ve been in many a car that drives into a King Soopers parking lot and then weaves through each lane, circling the entire lot to find the closest possible spot. Madness! Not only are you wasting gas, you’re wasting time, and you’re cutting down on the number of steps you could be walking. And if you’re downtown, the available parking farther out from the hustle-and-bustle of the center is usually going to be free. Think Little Raven St. to get to the 16th Street Mall and 25th & Arapahoe area for Coors Field and LoDo (which might not be a good idea alone at nighttime). This way, you see more of the city, save some pennies, and burn a little further into that extra padding.
17. CamelCamelCamel is a great way to see whether you’re getting the best price on Amazon. And therefore, it’s a good incentive to wait on purchasing something. It allows you to see the lowest a certain item’s been priced in the history of its existence on Amazon. Sometimes prices spike and sometimes they drop. Might be worth holding off a week or two for that $5 drop in price! Course, it might never drop, or you might need the item sooner. But especially if it’s an impulse type I-just-want-it buy, then this waiting time will do you good to make sure it’s something you really need/want.
18. Want some free Groupon bucks or a mail-delivered 4-pack of Red Bull? Then take advantage of lawsuits. Of course, it’s pry best, in the interest of taking the moral high ground, not to play dumb and game the system if a certain lawsuit doesn’t concern you at all. But sometimes a freebie will come your way!
19. Choose the longer shipping option in Amazon’s Prime membership to get credits for music. Prime grants you free two-day shipping, which is amazing. But if you don’t need your package right away, select the Standard Shipping and you can get free Amazon credits you can use towards songs, TV shows, movie rentals, etc. I used my credits to get a couple Nas songs since my library’s copy is currently AWOL (undergoing repairs).
20. Smoke your own salmon with a friend’s smoker and vacuum sealer. Also, generally take advantage of neighbors’ and friends’ tools and fun contraptions. We bought a salmon fillet for $5 per pound. It came out to be $16, or $4 for four healthy, heavy slabs of glaze-crusted, buttery lox. That’s a huge savings compared to the tiny slivers they offer at Soops for $6+! Wanna try your hand at making your own beer? I’m sure your homebrewing friend would love to have you over to take you through the whole process. Or maybe you know someone who makes their own cheese or yogurt, or hunts! I think most people would be psyched to share their knowledge with a truly interested friend. Again, don’t just use people. Enrich your own life with advantageous friendships!
21. I know keeping the thermostat as low as we do in our house (around 63 degrees) does contribute to a certain amount of laziness and sloth. During the winter season, I like to curl up in blankets with hot tea and not move out into the cold, breezy climate of our house. Ever. So I think of the wintertime as a time to learn languages, read books, do writing, and get ahead in my sedentary-favored activities.
22. Waiting to buy something at a fair deal is great, because it (1) saves you money and (2) prevents you from buying said item on a more regular basis. Chipotle comes out with a BOGO every so often, and so there’s just no way I’m going to pay full price on something when I know a BOGO is just around the corner. Of course, this is a bit detrimental to the company’s bottom line. But what do they expect?
BOGOs are like treats many people might say is just incentive to spend when you should be cooking every night. But let me tell you, as much as I love to cook, I just don’t wanna do it every night. Images of cheesy pizza, juicy burritos, thin, lardy tortillas stretching over succulent meat, they start dancing in my head, and I have to eventually calm the voices.
Wait for 50% off deals at Domino’s, Broncos season for $1 McMuffins (just ask for the keychain), or a free lunch hour to get the $18 all-you-can-eat sushi lunch at Uokura in Golden (gyoza and Cali rolls!).
23. Ask for King Soops gift cards for birthdays and Christmas. For me, food is an ongoing and steep expense since I like to cook new and odd cuisines, try weird cheeses, and splurge a bit. I get much more excited finding a glittering $100 grocery store gift card under the wrapping paper instead of a cashmere scarf I know I will never wear.
24. Offer manual labor to family instead of gifts. This might seem cheap, but I think it’s more fun, much more useful, and leads to more sweet, sweet family bonding (yikes!). My yard always seems overrun with weeds, brush, and an endless amount of debris. I don’t know how this happens! (Maybe not raking all fall). But since yard work is always so heavy on my mind, to have a helper help me knock it all out in one day is the greatest gift of all! Maybe add some fancy chocolate or sack of fancy nuts to the deal, and you’ve given a great, pretty affordable gift!
25. Do free/cheap stuff in your area. Take advantage! In my case living in the Denver suburbs, there’s Coors Brewery (where you always get 3 free tall pours of their beers per visit!), free open spaces and foothills full of hiking trails, bird watching from your own backyard, high school baseball, ice skating recitals at the local rec center, and libraries.
26. Hack the credit card rewards game. There are a lot of great deals out there. You can start with cash-back cards to get your feet wet and then graduate to travel rewards cards for real savings. Chase Freedom offers 5% back in rotating categories each category, which is kinda fun. Plus you can get $150 back after spending a certain amount within a few months of opening the card. Remember, this is only worthwhile if you’re buying things you truly need and if you’re paying off your credit card in full each month!!! This is HUGE!
I like to wait to open a new card when I know I’m going to be making a big purchase (like my biannual car insurance payment, which is around $500, or a new laptop ’cause my 10-year-old one has finally pooped out). That way it’s easier to reach the spending requirement.
27. Get trash service in just the summertime when you’ve got grass clippings to dispose of regularly if you have a yard. In winter when our trash amount drops, I just throw the single weekly bag into my car to put in my parents’ giant bin when visiting. Again, this is much more convenient if you have a willing party to share trash duties with and if you have a non-hatchback car (smells are contained better in a sedan). Plus, if you’re starting a new service every summer, you get to cycle through all available new customer deals. Plus! This is probably a bit of a stretch for most people, but my situation lends itself well for this trash hack.
I also have a nearby free recycle drop-off, which I’m so happy about. I hope it never shuts down!
28. Lump errands together. Going to the dentist? Lump in a visit to the grocery store, a swing by Plato’s closet to sell some clothes, and a pitstop at the UPS store to ship off a package. Or need to go to the other side of town for something? Make a trip of it. See the sights and try a fabled food shack that’s the bargain secret of the neighborhood. I hate driving out from home in order to accomplish just one single thing. Lumping stuff together saves time, gas money, and wear and tear on your vehicle.
29. Trade stuff into Amazon and Plato’s. I’m a big fan of reducing the amount of stuff you own. It feels so good to unload. It’s like freeing up storage space within your own head and heart, freeing up RAM for other concerns instead of worrying about when you’re going to use all those saved scraps of wrapping paper. I take my clothes to Plato’s before dumping them at Goodwill for the chance at an extra $10 or $15. Last time they said my clothes were too mature (i.e., old!) for their clientele. Slam! But I still cling to that sliver of hope.
And Amazon makes it very easy to sell stuff to them. I’ve shipped off a Chicago Manual of Style, textbooks, fancy cookbooks, and a camera to them. You just look up stuff you have laying around, and some items will have a button on their page that says Have One to Sell? Sell on Amazon. You then just need to scrounge up a container to ship it off in (unless you want to buy a $5 cardboard box from UPS), slap on the provided shipping label, and ship it off from UPS. If they approve the condition of the item once they get it, there’s an extra $10, $20+ in your Amazon account. Woo-hoo!
30. Since I live in Colorado, it seems almost mandatory that I ski or snowboard. So I do. But I do it the cheapest way I know how, at Ski Cooper in Leadville. Each year, I wait for the 1/2 off coupon to come out on KDVR’s Nimble Deals website. That’s a $24 lift ticket! Amazing. Plus, Ski Cooper is family friendly, small, but with lots of tree trails and fun ways down the mountain. Minuses– not many crazy runs and no terrain park, so might be boring for very advanced skiers. And Leadville is quite a ways out there from Denver (about a 2-hour drive). But it’s my favorite way to ski every year. I say don’t be a sucker and pay top dollar for over-crowded, over-rated resorts full of hassles unless you really feel it’s worth all the extra money.
31. Once winter is over and the skiing opportunities are no more, what is one to do? Start dranking! Just kidding. But not really. Now, this is an obvious way to actually spend lots more money than you probably need to, but it’s become something of a summer tradition for me. Every year I get the Boulder or Denver Passport. It’s a $20 coupon book for 20+ BOGO drink deals in your city.
You make up for the cost of the book pretty darn fast considering how expensive drinks can be. So yes, this is basically a portal to emptying your pocket further, which this list is vehemently against! But I consider it one of my splurges. Once you make the $20 investment, it’s great to spend an afternoon on a sunny patio, ice-cool mojito/lavender infusion in hand, chatting with a best friend, and then only have to plop down $8 to cover the entire expense. Pretty great.
32. Be smart with your taxes. Put your retirement savings into accounts that help you either avoid paying taxes now, avoid paying taxes later, and/or let your money grow untaxed. Examples are HSAs, 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, etc. Max these out, and you’re keeping Uncle Sam’s grubby paws off some of your money.
33. Huz-ah! Last item! By now, you should be on your way to getting the biggest bang for your buck, evading forking over more of your hard-earned cash, and basically enjoying life more. This last item lists off methods of a more questionable nature (though I believe many of the tips above probably belong on this list as well).
Things I have done (and some I’m not proud of)– having my friend shred and print things for me at his/her place of work; loading up on hotel breakfasts and taking extra fruit, pastries for lunch too; not contributing to public radio; standing in line for a free lunch from a church (mostly intended for the homeless, but it just popped up in a public square and smelled delicious!!); drinking way more than I should have/should have been allowed to at a beer fest I volunteered at; gotten my furniture off the street; ignored the advice of household repair “experts;” opened a checking account with Charles Schwab to avoid paying a $10 annual fee for an ATM card; not flushing the toilet after each #1 use (I think this is fine if it’s just you or somebody you’re INCREDIBLY comfortable with); only getting skis waxed once every few years; not having things that require extra payment (e.g., children, pets, boats, RVs, extra storage).
Things I have not tried– dumpster diving, tax evasion, collecting rain in rain barrels (illegal in Colorado), not tipping.
There ya have it! Did I miss anything? Let me know! Am I a total nutcase? Are you even worse? Let’s talk about it!