Get free mulch. Accepting free shipments of wood chips from local tree pruners is an easy way to save money on gardening, says Kate Russell of the Daily Garden. Mulch protects the soil, nourishes plants and looks nice, but it can cost about $15 to $65 per cubic foot. Instead of spending the money, you can take advantage of the fact that many tree trimmers give out a free charge to avoid the fees most municipalities charge to dispose of removed trees and branches at local landfills or recycling centers. “All you have to do is leave your name and number at a local tree trimmer and have your driveway available if they have a load,” says Russell.
Join a Buy Nothing group. The Buy Nothing Project was created so that people can give items to others in their communities – and everything is free. “Before you buy something new, see if someone near you is giving away an item,” says Julianna Poplin of the Simplicity Habit. Find your closest group in the Buy Nothing Project app or by searching Facebook groups.
Schedule a no-spend day. “Don’t use cash. Do not use your credit card. Don’t put your hands in your pocket for anything” for a whole day, said Andrew Gonzales, president at businessloans.com. Once you get used to not spending any money for a day, try doing it twice a month, once a week, or even a whole week. “If you’re prone to impulse buying, this is a great way to hit the financial reset button,” Gonzales says. “It gives you more control over where your money goes and makes you more aware of what you’re buying when your unspent day is over.”
Buy frozen foods. “Frozen seafood is usually less expensive than fresh, and there’s no rush to cook it,” said Jenna Helwig, food director at Real Simple magazine. “Frozen berries last much longer than fresh, but they are just as nutritious and perfect for smoothies. You can save $2 on 10 ounces of frozen raspberries compared to fresh,” she adds. “And you’d have to buy several bunches of fresh spinach to be the same as in a box of frozen.”
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Reduce salon costs. Find out if your salon offers discounted prices for cutting, coloring and other services in training new stylists. Some designate a day/time of the week or month or post dates on social media. “And if you live near a beauty academy or beauty school, you may be able to score services at a deeply discounted rate,” said Susan Jones, senior asset manager at Plancorp. “For example, Boca Beauty Academy [in Florida] …offers a cut and color treatment starting at only about $30, well below the going rate of $150 or more at other salons in the area.
Buy discounted gift cards. It’s rare to find a discount on gift cards. But if you do, it’s an opportunity to increase your budget, says Bryan K. Chavez, national deals editor at Living on the Cheap. However, only buy the cards for merchants you already frequent; buying any discount card you find will negate any savings. While Chavez finds most of his discount cards online at sites such as PayPal and Newegg, he has also taken advantage of supermarket promotions and direct offers from retailers and restaurants.
You can also find gift cards at stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, where discounts range from about 5 to 25 percent. “Part of my strategy is to set aside money each month for use in December, when gift card discounts are at their greatest,” Chavez says. “Every year, I get about $600 off a bargain with gift cards. For me, it’s like prepaying for goods and services for the next year at my favorite places to eat and shop, but at a discount. I make a ‘profit’ of about $150 each year.”
Use it or lose it. It can be difficult to keep track of recurring payments, especially if you use automatic payments. List your subscriptions, such as streaming services, gym memberships, and meal plans, says Erin Ellis, financial advisor at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union. “Go through each list and if you haven’t used it in a month, cancel it,” she says. “Removing these unnecessary expenses can yield major savings.”
Buy second hand. Check out thrift stores, yard sales, and online marketplaces for deals on used furniture, clothing, toys, gifts, and home decor. Jane Topolovec-Vranic of Sustain My Craft Habit, a DIY and decorating blog, found two nearly full cans of designer brand paint on Facebook Marketplace for just $20, which she used on an accent wall in her bedroom. And instead of buying faux leather for over $20 a yard for a craft project, she grabbed a men’s leather jacket at a thrift store for $4. Once deconstructed, it yielded over ½ yard of real leather. “Look for items that are in new or good condition and budget beforehand so you don’t overspend,” she says.
Grow your own herbs. “Why pay $5 for three sprigs of rosemary when you can have fresh herbs all year round?” says professional gardener Jen McDonald, founder of Garden Girls, a Houston-based design firm. Parsley, sage, chives, thyme, rosemary and oregano are easy to grow in a sun-filled window all year round and yield a bountiful harvest. A pot, soil, and starter plants cost about $20.
Reduce energy consumption. Energy bills are another place where you can cut costs by making simple changes at home. A microwave consumes no less than 80 percent less energy than, for example, the oven. Or a toaster oven typically consumes 33 to 50 percent less energy than a conventional oven. According to the Energy Department, washing dishes by hand costs about $40 more per year than using a fully loaded dishwasher. Replacing your home’s five most-used light bulbs or bulbs with Energy Star-certified products can save you up to $75 a year. And if you plug your electronic devices into a power strip and then turn them off when you’re not using them, you could lose up to another $100 annually.
Dive into drugstore skincare. If you’re shopping at beauty stores like Sephora or Ulta, try the beauty departments of other stores — Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Target — give it a shot. Heather Muir, beauty director at Real Simple, says that while the packaging may not look quite as fancy, brands like Olay, owned by P&G, have huge budgets for research and development, so their ingredients and technology are as good as – or better than — the expensive brands’. For example, instead of an expensive moisturizer, try Olay or CeraVe. “Besides saving money, you might be pleasantly surprised because some work even better for a much lower price,” she says.
To slow down. Tire friction and air resistance cause speeding to increase fuel consumption. While cars achieve ideal fuel economy at different speeds, gas mileage often drops dramatically at speeds over 50 mph, says Will Gogolak, an assistant professor of finance at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. It is well quoted that every 5 miles per hour above 50 miles per hour is equivalent to paying 7 to 10 percent more per gallon of gas, or about 27 cents based on the national average gas prices of [about] $4 a gallon.”
Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies. Find her on dailywriter.net.