Money & Career

15 tips to save money

Easy ways to save money everyday and live on the cheap without sacrifice

We’re all feeling the pinch these days. Browse our cash-saving guide for a list of 15 smart tips to make cheap living painless.

Cheap eats
You don’t have to eat microwaveable dinners to save on meals. For easy ways to cut back on your grocery bill and food costs see our practical tips and eat more but pay less. You could also switch to Costco, where you’ll find great deals if you’re buying large items. You can split the cost of a membership card ($50) with a friend and save even more if you shop together and divide the bulk items (and the bill) down the middle. Hit up farmer’s markets for affordable in-season produce or visit your local Chinatown – most offer great bargains on groceries. If you’re not the best cook, eat out more efficiently. Instead of making dinner plans, invite your friends on breakfast outings, which can help you save almost half of what you’d normally pay. Or, host a weekly potluck with family and friends. For recipe ideas, browse our Potluck party planner.

Stay fit on a budget
If you don’t hit the gym at least once a week, it’s time to rethink your membership. Be realistic about how much you’re getting from your gym. If there’s no hefty cancellation fee to break your contract, cut ties and invest in at-home equipment you know you’ll use regularly. Our At-home exercise guide, Yoga for all levels and tips to Lose weight watching TV suggest fitness routines you can do in the comfort of your living room, so there’s no excuse to let your health goals slip. Join a running or walking group to stay motivated.

Go tax-free in 2009
Who wouldn’t love to earn tax-free dough? As of January 2009, Canadian banks now offer a tax-free savings account that allows customers to deposit up to $5,000 each year. The interest earned is yours tax-free. For instance, if you earn 2.7% interest on $5,000, the $135 earned in interest that year wouldn’t be subject to tax — saving you $19. This may not seem like much at first, but the savings would compound nicely over the long haul.

Clip coupons online
You no longer have to flip through soggy flyers to be in the know – there are endless online resources that make bargain hunting effortless. SmartCanucks.ca is a regularly updated blog offering discounts and info, such as a list of price-match guaranteed retailers. To shop around virtually, enter your city into the Flyerland.ca database. You can easily print off the coupons and save on everything from groceries to department store goods. Canadianfreestuff.ca, Save.ca and Redflagdeals.com are some other handy Canadian sources to check.

D.I.Y
Think twice about chucking old junk. Do-it-yourself projects not only help you save, they become a fun way to spend time with your family. See our step-by-step guides for updating a lamp, making your own red pepper jelly and framing memories. For manageable repairs, YouTube offers video how-tos on everything from repairing drywall to changing a flat tire. Tackle simple jobs yourself but shop around for contractors (see our tips before hiring Mr. Fix-it) and always get multiple quotes.

Shop (and sell) online
Craigslist.org, ebay.ca, and Kijiji.ca are all great resources for online purchases big or small. Plus, they’re a great way to find unique gifts and marked down big ticket items. There are some things to keep in mind – always buy from trustworthy, reputable sellers and inquire about the condition of your goods. Most shopping sites safeguard buyers with guarantees. These sites are also a great way to sell your unwanted wares – read our tips for how to sell your old clothes online. Make sure to sign up for your favourite retailers’ e-newsletters to take advantage of online discount codes.

Fly smart
Flight Centre and Expedia.ca both offer discount airfares to destinations across the globe. They can also help you find cheap hotel rates and package deals. If you have a choice, travel in the low season when fares drop dramatically. Travel on Sundays and off-peak hours to get the best value.

Find the cheapest gas
Sites like GasBuddy.com help you search by city and locate the cheapest pump near you. Users across Canada report gas prices at their local stations so you’ll have up-to-the-minute prices.

Put it in writing
If you find yourself dangerously close to overdraft each month, think about putting together a budget. Tallying your expenses and seeing an actual dollar figure can put you off impulse buys. Try this daily expense calculator to learn what your spending habits are. Then compile a monthly budget at a time when your expenses won’t be skewed by things like holiday debt.

No-brainer energy savers
Besides energy-efficient bulbs, there are lots of simple and cost-effective ways to save on your energy bills. For less than a hundred bucks you can install a water-saving toilet, which will save thousands of litres of water every year. Some cities even offer rebates when you install an energy-efficient toilet in your home. Have a programmable thermostat installed – you can save 2% on your monthly heating bill for every degree you lower the temperature. While you’re at it, low-flow showerheads cost next to nothing but cut anywhere from 30% to 50% of your water use while bathing. Your appliances could be zapping energy even when they’re turned off. Plug them into surge-protecting power bars to handily save on “phantom power” sucked by microwave displays, TVs and computers. Switch the power bars off when the appliances aren’t in use to save money (and power) without ever having to think about it.

Rethink your habits
The average coffee drinker spends $730 per year on their caffeine fix. If a $3 latte is your daily drink of choice, you’ll spend even more – about $90 each month or $1,095 each year. Smoking is another habit that puts more than just a dent in your wallet. See this smoking calculator from the Canadian Cancer Society to discover what you could save (financially and health-wise) by quitting. Besides being a major killer, a pack-a-day habit costs $3,285 every year. At that figure, you can’t afford not to quit. Use Industry Canada’s daily spending calculator to learn what you’re shelling out everyday on non-essential items, like lotto tickets. It also calculates the potential savings you’re missing out on.

Don’t overspend on your ‘do
While we realize giving up your style is not an option, there are ways to maintain your look without breaking the bank. Instead of full-out highlights, ask your stylist for root touch-ups. You can also book appointments at your local hairstyling schools. Going to a beginner stylist can save as much as 80% of what you would normally pay. Newbies are always supervised by senior stylists so you can take comfort in knowing that you’re in good hands. For affordable tricks to instantly update your look, see 30 ways to look younger.

Know when to go generic
If you don’t already buy generic, this is the fastest way to save a quick buck. No name pantry staples like sugar and flour don’t usually go on sale and don’t differ from their pricier counterparts. Opt for generic brand over-the-counter medications, which are the same strength as the brand-named stuff. If you use Advil or Motrin, for example, look for ibuprofen on the label. If you usually buy Tylenol, look for acetaminophen. The key is to be smart about when to go generic – if you can’t tell the difference between fancy shampoo and the regular variety, for example, don’t pay more.

Earn extra points
Most department stores and pharmacies offer points you can earn, which can later be used as credit. Be sure you’re not just satiating your appetite for rewards, though. PC Financial offers a no fee account that collects points you can put towards groceries. Air Miles can be redeemed on anything from movie tickets to magazine subscriptions to flights. A no fee Amex credit card will give you one Air Mile for every $20 spent. A no-fee Mosaik BMO credit card will award you one Air Mile for each $40 spent. Plus, when you use a blue Air Miles card and rewards credit card together you can double your points.

Get debt-free
Pay down your high interest credit cards first and try to pay the minimum on the rest. Your interest rates aren’t set in stone, either. Call your credit card company and ask to have your rates lowered. The worst they can say is no. If you can consolidate your credit card debt to a personal line of credit or small loan, this will lower the monthly payments to one simple sum. Depending on your situation, you may want to consider seeing a financial planner to help you fit retirement savings into your long-term financial plan.

Wondering about your financial future? Check out your 2009 year-long money horoscope.