How I’m saving an extra $10,440 this year with minimal effort
Habit #1: Mending my clothes — Approximate yearly savings: $400
I used to be rather quick to throw out anything in my closet that was worn, torn, or that no longer fit. But once I learned to sew buttons, patch holes, and perform simple alterations at home, I’ve been able to significantly prolong the shelf life of my favorite pieces. This past year, my at-home mending has allowed me to avoid buying a new pair of work pants, replacing two sweaters, and purchasing a well-fitting interview outfit. And now that I’ve had some success with restoring my old closet favorites, I have no desire to shop.
Habit #2: Scraping containers — Approximate yearly savings: $210
A little over a year ago, I had a tube of concealer explode in my purse while on my way to work. As I was trying to clean out my bag and save what was left of my work papers and makeup, I noticed that the plastic stopper holding the concealer wand in place had come loose. And without the stopper secured in place, I found that there was still a significant amount of product in the bottom of the container that could be used without the wand fixed in its usual position. Realizing in that moment just how much money I’d been wasting by throwing out old products prematurely, I bought a few silicone cosmetic spatulas off Amazon and started scraping every last drop out of my beauty products before I even thought about buying a replacement.
With lip gloss, concealer, or any other product that comes in a hard plastic or metal tube, I’m able to use all of the product stuck at the bottom by first removing the stopper then scraping the walls of the container with my cosmetic spatulas. The remaining product, in my experience, usually accounts 10–20% of the total container volume. For any products with a squeezable container like toothpaste or sunscreen, I just cut the tube open with kitchen scissors and then scrape out the remaining product that’s usually stuck around the cap. The scraping technique has allowed me to extend the life of my products by weeks and sometimes even months. Over the course of a year, this habit has cut my beauty spending by 20%.
Habit #3: Making my own sugar scrub and hair mask — Approximate yearly savings: $150
I used to spend over a hundred dollars a year on pricey hair mask alone to keep my color treated hair hydrated. And since moving to a rather dry area of the country, I’ve also been going through body scrub at an alarming rate. So when my go-to hair mask was out of stock for months and I ran out of sugar scrub, I decided to give making my own products a try. Since I already kept eggs, bananas, olive oil and sugar on hand, I was able to find a couple of homemade recipes that worked just as well as the products I used to buy — all without driving up my grocery bill.
Habit #4: Replacing old items with cheaper options — Approximate yearly savings: $600
Over the past year, any time I’ve run out of a beauty product or had to replace a worn-beyond-repair article of clothing, I’ve done a bit of research to find a more affordable replacement that still meets my needs. Doing my homework as I downsize my spending has allowed me to find my new favorite pair of jeans for half the price that I used to pay, to free up hundreds of dollars that used to be spent on luxury makeup, and to find a few highly effective skincare products at prices that I can also get behind. While I’m not advocating for throwing out all of your pricey items right now, I recommend thinking twice before automatically repurchasing any expensive items in your home.
With so many direct-to-consumer brands scaling up in recent years, finding great products at fair prices has never been easier. For clothing, I’ve been able to find high-quality jeans, work clothing, and shoes at a fraction of the price that I used to pay by shopping Everlane’s Choose What You Pay Sale. For skincare products, CeraVe, The Ordinary, and The Inkey List offer affordable yet effective formulations that make buying luxury skincare products unnecessary. For my daily makeup, I’ve been able to get great results by switching to Covergirl concealer, Elf brow pencil, Maybelline mascara, and Physicians Formula for my bronzer, blush, and powder.
Habit #5: Cutting and coloring my own hair — Approximate yearly savings: $1,040
I used to visit the salon every eight weeks without fail to get my hair cut and colored without ever questioning why I was spending so much money to do so. Even when I cut out buying new clothes, luxury makeup, and eating out, salon visits were particularly tough to give up. This was because keeping my hair jet black and shiny had always kept me feeling confident, even on my worst days. And I assumed that since I was paying a professional top dollar to maintain my hair, trying to do it myself would certainly end in disaster. But once I started saving aggressively toward my emergency fund last year, I did the responsible thing and reluctantly cut the salon visits out of my budget.
While my initial plan when I cut this cost was to suck it up and let my roots grow out over time, my mind quickly changed when my natural color started to come in. Immediately I ran to my local beauty supply store, watched a few hair tutorials, and set out to recreate my bi-monthly salon appointment at home. While doing my own cut and color came with a bit of a learning curve, I was shocked to find that I was able to get the results I wanted on my own after just a few tries. Even with my finances now in order, the amount of money I save by doing my own hair makes me unlikely to ever go back to a salon.
Habit #6: Decluttering once a month — Approximate yearly savings: $550
I’ll be the first to admit that my sense of style is severely lacking. My partner has even poked fun at me for it a few times because it really is that bad. But perhaps the more unfortunate part of having a terrible sense of fashion is my propensity to buy items that don’t fit coherently into my wardrobe. But because I’ve accepted that I will never be on trend, I recognize my shopping habit as nothing more than a fruitless money pit. So a little over a year ago, in order to fully appreciate just how wasteful and counterproductive my shopping habit had become, I started performing a monthly closet cleanout.
Decluttering once a month has not only allowed me to earn a little extra money by reselling a portion of my closet, but it has also provided me with an up-to-date inventory of what I have, what I actually wear, and what’s been a waste of money in the past. Having that information and updating it monthly has not only kept me from buying duplicate items, but it has also helped me to avoid buying more items that I’m unlikely to wear.
Habit #7: Sticking to a capsule wardrobe — Approximate yearly savings: $700
In order to ensure that I always felt confident in my clothes, didn’t waste hours a week trying to piece together outfits, and didn’t break the bank in the process, I decided to create capsule wardrobes for work, weekends, and date nights. And as a result of having a newly decluttered closet, I was able to create them entirely using pieces I already had. For work, I now rotate between five shirts, two pairs of pants, one pair of heels, and two skirts.
For weekends, I keep two pairs of jeans, three tops, one jacket, and a pair of white sneakers. For date nights, I reuse my weekend tops and have recently added in a pair of heels, a bodysuit, and two dresses. Since adopting the capsule wardrobe, I’ve cut the guesswork out of getting ready, feel great every time I go out, and spend less than 10% of what I used to on clothing.
Habit #8: Price comparing before shopping — Approximate yearly savings: $750
Before I buy anything, I like to look run a quick Google search on the item in question and note the prices for it at a few different stores. I then look for any promo codes, sitewide sales, or first-order discounts that may apply. Once I’ve done that, I check the prices on Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Because Amazon, Target and Walmart offer everyday low pricing and are willing to price match at the customer service desk, a smaller retailer offering the product at a discount doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the best possible price. Finally, before I decide which store to buy from, I run honey on my PC to make sure that I’m not leaving any discounts on the table.
If I have a list of items to pick up, I do the same for each item until I know where I can find each product at the lowest price. I recommend re-running honey or a similar browser extension as you add items to your cart. Often buying multiple products will trigger additional discounts. Taking a few minutes to compare prices before I buy and being willing to visit a few different stores has saved me over $25 a month on beauty and personal care items, as well as over four hundred dollars on gifts, clothing, and electronics over the past year.
Habit #9: Packing food before I head out — Approximate yearly savings: $720
I used to be pretty bad about mindlessly picking up lunch while I ran my weekend errands and eating downtown during the week if I was having a longer day at the office. While I’ve never been one to spend obscene amounts of money on eating out, I still noticed that most of my spending in this category could be avoided with a little pre-planning. Instead of automatically heading to Chick-fil-a or Chipotle once I’d finished my errands, I started bringing a few healthy snacks along with me to eat as I got hungry. By addressing my hunger as it came rather than waiting hours to eat, I no longer felt the need to stop for fast food once I’d finished my errands.
And since I could usually tell when I was going to have a longer day at work, I got in the habit of packing a few extra snacks and a more substantial lunch for those days before arriving at the office. By falling back on my pre-packed snacks, I’ve been able to net over sixty bucks a month while substantially improving my eating habits.
Habit #10: Meal planning according to the weekly store ads — Approximate yearly savings: $300
Since I’m already used to shopping at several grocery stores and don’t find it to be much of an inconvenience when I do, I’m able to save a significant amount of money on food by being willing to change my meal plan based on what’s in a variety of store discount flyers. To do this, I view all the weekly ads together and challenge myself to incorporate as many discounted items as possible. By meal planning with store ads right in front of me, I’ve been able to save over $25 a month on an already low grocery bill.
Habit #11: Taking a kitchen and bathroom inventory before I shop — Approximate yearly savings: $350
Before I head to the grocery store, I cross reference my shopping list with the contents of my fridge, freezer, pantry, and spice cabinet. Since I cook for one, buying duplicate items pretty much ensures that I’m either wasting food or at best spending money that I didn’t have to that week. Since I used to throw out just over ten bucks a month in expired duplicate ingredients, adopting this practice has saved me a little over $120 this year and has helped me to do my part in reducing food waste.
To save even more money, I keep a running list of the extra beauty products that I’ve stored in drawers and under my bathroom sink. Since I like to buy extra makeup and skincare products whenever they go on sale and then store them for future use, I risk forgetting about them unless I consistently check for them. Now that I’m in the habit of taking a bathroom inventory before heading to the store, I’ve not only avoided buying several hundred dollars worth of makeup and skincare products that I didn’t need, but I’ve also prevented myself from wasting even more money on those extra products expiring before I’ve had a chance to use them.
Habit #12: Borrowing over buying— Approximate yearly savings: $500
While I’m no stranger to asking my neighbors for the occasional cup of sugar, I’ve found that this habit need not only apply to kitchen ingredients. Because I’ve been willing to lend out clothing and household items to friends and neighbors in the past, I’ve been able to borrow everything from picnic tables to cake pans to wedding outfits. Just this year, borrowing over buying has saved me $300 worth of dresses and $200 in patio furniture.
Habit #13: Downsizing my cleaning cabinet — Approximate yearly savings: $75
When I first moved into my apartment, I stocked up on bathroom cleaner, stainless steel wipes, all-purpose cleaner, carpet cleaner, stain remover, and Windex. I went a little overboard to say the least. But after replacing several of these superfluous products a few times too many, I did some research and found that I only really needed all-purpose and glass cleaner. Since simplifying my cleaning routine to include just two products, I avoid three unnecessary twenty-five dollar trips to the store every year.
Habit #14: Making my own cleaning products — Approximate yearly savings: $60
Once I proved to myself that I only needed all-purpose and glass cleaner to keep my apartment clean, I realized that buying generic cleaners wasn’t even the cheapest route I could go. In fact, I could save even more by making my own cleaning supplies. So once I ran out of each product, I kept the bottles they came in and did just that. Eventually, I found another DIY recipe that doubles as a glass cleaner and surface disinfectant. By making my own cleaner and sticking to just one product, I now clean for pennies on the dollar.
Habit #15: Giving up the K-Cups, Ziploc bags, dryer sheets, and paper towels — Approximate yearly savings: $350
I’ve owned a Keurig for years. And while I appreciate the convenience of making my coffee one cup at a time, I’ve wasted more money on K-Cups in the span of a few years than I’d like to admit. While making coffee at home is still much cheaper than buying it, paying up to a dollar per single-serve pod is absolutely ridiculous for drip coffee that you still have to make yourself. Even when I bought Amazon brand K-Cups in bulk, I was still paying over $30 per month for coffee until I discovered reusable pods. With reusable pods, I’m no longer paying for the convenience of pre-packaged K-cups and instead pay just under $5 a month for bulk coffee grounds at Walmart.
Since I moved into my current apartment, I haven’t spent a dime on Ziploc bags, dryer sheets or paper towels. These three items are not only unnecessary, but they can also get pretty expensive over time. Whenever I pack food, I use washable tupperware instead and save a few extra dollars a month that way. Since my laundry detergent already makes my clothes smell great, I’ve never felt the need to buy dryer sheets. And instead of repurchasing paper towels when I first ran out of my first pack, I decided to cut up old t-shirts and use those as washable cleaning rags instead. Going without paper towels alone has saved me over $40 this year.
Habit #16: Skipping the home fragrance — Approximate yearly savings: $240
I used to be a bit of a candle junkie until I realized that I was spending over $20 a month just to make my apartment smell like peonies. While a $5 candle here and there may seem insignificant, frequent purchases like these can make a big difference over time. To keep my apartment smelling fresh without having to buy any home fragrance items, I added a few drops of lemon and sweet orange essential oil to my homemade cleaning products. Since I clean my apartment on a rigid schedule, this swap has worked wonders for keeping my place smelling fresh at no additional cost to me.
Habit #17: Never touching the AC — Approximate yearly savings: $375
Since I live in a relatively temperate part of the country, I’m able to get by most of the time without turning on the heat or AC. During the cooler months, I just keep a few layers handy. And during the occasional heat wave, I make sure to stay hydrated as I wait for temps to cool back down again. By giving up heat and air, I save just over $30 per month on my utility bill.
Habit #18: Running appliances during off-peak electrical hours — Approximate yearly savings: $130
When I finally sat down to study my utility bills, I was surprised to find that appliance usage was the biggest driver of my monthly charges. Since I wanted to consistently lower my bill and had already cut out heat and air, I knew that I’d need to get a little creative in order to do so. After a bit of googling and a quick call to my utility company, I learned that if I ran my appliances during off-peak hours, I could save nearly fifty percent on electricity during those times. So I gave late-night laundry and meal prep a try. In response, my monthly bill came down by $11.
Habit #19: Cooking food in batches — Approximate yearly savings: $240
I used to cook single servings for dinner in the oven every night. But once I set out to cut my utility bill, I switched to cooking my meals in larger batches. Not only has batch cooking cut my appliance usage down to less than a quarter of what it used to be, but I’ve also noticed less food waste from cooking more servings at a time. Since making the switch to batch cooking, I’ve also had ample opportunities to save on ingredients at the supermarket by buying in bulk and have substantially cut food waste since I have fewer extra ingredients sitting in my fridge when I’m done cooking. In total, batch cooking saves me $20 a month in the form of lower utility and grocery bills.
Habit #20: Shopping around for car insurance, internet, and cell service — Approximate yearly savings: $2700
Right before I renew my larger recurring expenses such as car insurance, internet, and phone plan for the upcoming year, I do some comparison shopping to see if switching providers can get me a lower rate. Shopping around has allowed me to find a no-frills phone plan that still gives me great coverage for sixty dollars less than what I used to pay each month, to negotiate cheaper monthly internet service with my current provider by fifty dollars, and to lock in $120 in monthly savings on my car insurance. Even if you don’t plan to leave your insurer or phone plan, just mentioning to your service provider that you’re shopping around can get you a better rate.