Get free mulch. Accepting free loads of wood chips from local tree trimmers is an easy way to save money on gardening, says Kate Russell of the Daily Garden. Mulch protects the soil, feeds plants and looks nice, but it can cost about $15 to $65 per cubic yard. Instead of shelling out the money, take advantage of the fact that many tree cutters will drop off a free load 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 with a local tree trimmer and make your driveway available when 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 all for free. “Before you buy anything new, see if someone in your area might be giving away an item,” says Julianna Poplin of the Simplicity Habit. Find your nearest group on the Buy Nothing Project app or by searching Facebook groups.
Plan a day without spending. “Don’t use cash. Don’t use your credit card. Don’t put your hands in your pocket for anything” for a full day, says Andrew Gonzales, president at businessloans.com. Once you get used to not spending money for a day, try it twice a month, once a week or even for a whole week. “If you’re prone to impulse buying, this is a great way to hit the financial reset button,” says Gonzales. “It gives you more control over where your money goes and makes you more aware of what you’re buying when your no-spend day is over.”
Buy frozen foods. “Frozen seafood is usually cheaper than fresh, and there’s no rush to cook it,” says 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 get as much as in a box of frozen.”
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Cut salon costs. Find out if your salon offers discounted prices for haircuts, color and other services when you train new stylists. Some indicate a day/time of the week or month or post dates on social media. “And if you live near a beauty academy or cosmetology school, you may be able to get services at a highly discounted rate,” says Susan Jones, a senior wealth manager at Plancorp. “For example, Boca Beauty Academy [in Florida] …offers a haircut and color from just around $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 when you do, it’s an opportunity to stretch your budget, says Bryan K. Chavez, national deals editor at Living on the Cheap. However, only buy the cards for retailers you already visit; buying every discount card you get will negate any savings. Although Chavez finds most of his discount cards online at sites like PayPal and Newegg, he’s also taken advantage of grocery store 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 most plentiful,” says Chavez. “Each year, this gives me about $600 for a gift card shopping spree. To me, it’s like paying in advance for goods and services for the next year at my favorite places to eat and shop, but at a discount. With this plan, I can making a ‘profit’ of about $150.”
Use it or lose it. It can be difficult to keep track of recurring payments, especially if you use automatic payment. Make a list of your subscriptions, such as streaming services, gym memberships and meal plans, says Erin Ellis, a financial counselor at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union. “Go through each one listed, and if you haven’t used it in a month, cancel it,” she says. “Removing these unnecessary expenses can result in huge savings.”
Buy second hand. Check 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 decor 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 rather than buy faux leather at more than $20 a yard for a craft project, she found a men’s leather jacket at a thrift store for $4. Once deconstructed, it provided over ½ meter of genuine leather. “Look for items that are in new or good condition, and set a 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?” says professional gardener Jen McDonald, founder of Garden Girls, a design firm in Houston. Parsley, sage, chives, thyme, rosemary and oregano are easy to grow in a sunny window all year round, and they produce a bountiful harvest. A pot, soil and starter plants will run about $20.
Reduce energy consumption. Utility bills are another place where you can cut costs by making simple changes at home. A microwave oven uses as much as 80 percent less energy than, for example, the oven. Or a toaster oven typically draws 33 to 50 percent less energy than a conventional one. According to the Energy Department, washing dishes by hand costs about $40 more each year than using a fully loaded dishwasher. By replacing your home’s five most-used lights or bulbs with Energy Star certified products, you can save up to $75 each year. And if you plug your electronics into a power strip and then turn them off when not in use, you can save up to another $100 annually.
Dive into drugstore skin care. If you shop at beauty stores like Sephora or Ulta, give the beauty sections at other stores—Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Target—a shot. Heather Muir, beauty director at Real Simple, says that while the packaging may not look as luxurious, brands like P&G-owned Olay have big budgets for research and development, so their ingredients and technology are as good as — or better than — the expensive brands’. For example, try Olay or CeraVe instead of an expensive moisturizer. “In addition to saving money, you may be pleasantly surprised as some work even better at a much cheaper price point,” she says.
Slow down. Tire friction and air resistance mean that speed increases fuel consumption. Although cars achieve ideal fuel economy at various speeds, fuel economy often drops dramatically at speeds above 50 mph, says Will Gogolak, an assistant professor of finance at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. “It’s well-cited that every 5 miles per hour over 50 miles per hour is equivalent to paying 7 to 10 percent more per gallon of gas, or about 27 cents based on national average gas prices of [about] $4 per liter.”
Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies. Get her dailywriter.net.