Are you familiar with the catchphrase “big bucks, no whammies?” It was made famous by the 80s game show Press Your Luck, where contestants played for big money. Just last year, “big bucks, no whammies” got revived as the game show was updated and reappeared for a summer run.
Let’s face it; we all want big bucks. No, I’m not talking about white-tailed deer. I’m talking about money! The trouble is most of us have difficulty obtaining it, and saving money is hard.
If you had plenty of money to save, you do not need to read this article. Unfortunately, most people need tips on ways of saving money. The personal saving rate in the United States in November 2019, amounted to 7.9 percent. The personal saving rate is calculated as the ratio of personal saving to disposable personal income.
If you ask 100 experts how to get that initial toehold on your finances, you’ll get 100 answers. Most of them will suggest you pay yourself first, which is standard advice on the best ways of saving money.
The trick is finding that right opportunity to save. Here are our eight best ways to save big bucks each month.
Best Ways of Saving Big Bucks
Reduce Your Grocery Bill
Your grocery bill is a great starting point because everyone eats. And it’s easy to reduce your bill by $20 to $50 a week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the average household spends about 6% of their household budget on groceries. If your grocery budget is higher than that, it’s a sign you must cut it. If it’s in that range, you can still reduce it and increase your monthly savings.
Here are a few simple techniques to reduce unnecessary grocery expenses:
- Plan your meals weekly
- Make a shopping list and stick to it
- Buy clearance and coupon items, especially bulk foods that store well
- Make enough for dinner to pack for lunch the next day, eliminating restaurant costs
- Keep your fridge and pantry organized to reduce waste
- Try Amazon for canned foods, cereal, and other pantry staples
- Eat meatless once or twice a week
- Avoid processed foods, which are costly and worse for you anyway
- Don’t buy organic or GMO — they can double your cost
- Drink water at most meals
Examing your weekly, monthly expenses and making changes is one of the best ways of saving big bucks.
Cut Down on Utilities
We often spend too much money on utilities. Worse, we have very little say in the rates these monopolies and virtual monopolies charge. Cutting your utility costs is a matter of discipline — getting in the habit of using less power, water, and trash. But a few one-time acts can cut your bill down quickly:
- Unplug computers, audio equipment, and televisions when not using them to eliminate “phantom energy.”
- Clean your refrigerator coils by removing dust with a duster or lightly touching with a rag
- Put a blanket around your water heater, insulating the water, so it takes less energy to keep warm.
- Use your curtains (and buy better ones if necessary) to keep heat in all winter and the sun out in the summer
- Use a Groupon to get your HVAC maintained and cleaned each fall
- Turn off your dishwasher’s heat dry function
- Insulate your electrical outlets in exterior walls — you can buy insulated wall plates at Home Depot for less than $1 each
- Set your thermostat for 68 degrees F
- Lower your water heater temperature by 2 degrees
- Only do full loads of laundry and dishes
- Install a low-flow showerhead
Make Those Minimum Payments
And make them on time. Late payment fees on your credit cards and other loans can be up to $39 each month. Making those payments on time each month requires organization — or even better, automation — but it’s worth the investment.
Look at it this way: it takes less than 10 minutes to make a payment online or over the phone. Add another 10 minutes to make sure you remember to do it on time. You’ve spent just 20 minutes but saved $35. That’s $105 an hour. If you make more than that at your day job, you probably don’t need to be reading this article. For others, though, the challenge comes from having enough money when the payment is due. If you’re in that situation, consider some of the following strategies:
- Make your payments when you first get your check, so you’re not tempted to spend what you don’t have
- Call your creditors for a one-time waived fee — sometimes this can break the cycle, so you never have trouble again
- Set up a pro-rata plan with one of your loans, so you don’t accrue fees while you find a way to get back on track
- Have a yard sale or similar one-time cash infusion to get yourself where you need to be
- Use the techniques on this list to cut other expenses until you can pay on time
We’re not saying you should get rid of a gym membership you’re using or cancel Hulu when “The Handmaid’s Tale” is your favorite show. It’s OK to keep getting Rolling Stone every month if you’re actually reading it — and if you can afford it.
What we are saying is, you should audit all of your automatic expenses every month and then decide, purposefully, what you’re going to do with each one. Print out three months’ worth of bank and credit card statements, and carefully look at all of the automatic drafts. You’ll likely find at least one you forgot about, and another two or three you can live without until money’s a little less tight.
Some of the most common unnecessary subscriptions to watch for:
- Unused gym and other fitness memberships
- Credit card benefits programs that come with a monthly or annual fee
- Apps that charge just a few dollars each month
- Streaming services you don’t use much
- Subscription boxes of all kinds
- Magazine and newsletter subscriptions you don’t use
- Duplicate services of any kind
Identify Your “Latte Factor”
Financial guru David Bach named this idea the “latte factor” because it often takes the form of buying fancy coffee when you could be pouring your own at home. But it can apply to almost anything and is different for different people. Your “latte factor” is the one thing you spend more money on than you need to without adding real value to your life.
Fancy lattes taste good, but for most people, they aren’t worth the $3 to $5 they cost. If you’re in the habit of spending a little extra every day unnecessarily, it can cost you $100 to $200 a month.
Your mission is to find your latte factor and eliminate it or cut it back to an occasional treat rather than a default ritual. Other examples of latte factors include:
- Drinking alcohol at restaurants
- Lottery tickets
- Extra services on utilities
- Mindless Amazon purchases
- Supersizing meals
- Buying premium gas
- In-app purchases
Consider spending on things that are a priority in your life. Remember you can afford anything, you just can’t afford everything. A quick examination of your daily habits is one of the best ways of saving big bucks.
A surprising number of your monthly bills can be lowered just by asking. Businesses understand that replacing you as a customer costs seven times what it costs to keep you. They want to keep you around.
You won’t be able to get your local pizza joint to sell you a large pepperoni for less than list price, but there are places renegotiation can be successful:
- Call your cellular provider and threaten to cancel. You’ll immediately qualify for discounts that were unavailable before you made the threat.
- Contact your credit cards and other loans and negotiate for a lower interest rate or other deals.
- Ask your utility companies how you can reduce your rate or plan.
- Try that cancellation threat with your cable and Internet service providers. It works on them too.
- Shop aggressively for insurance rates, and bring those rates to your current company to see if they can match them.
By questioning the companies you do business with could go a long way to save you money.
Find Your Fees
Check every single statement from every single bill you pay in a month, and find the fees. Tally them up to get the total. For many families, this can be more than $100 a month in unidentified charges. For every single one, call the company and do the following:
- Ask what the charge is, exactly. If they don’t explain it, keep asking until you understand.
- Ask to opt-out of whatever program is responsible for the fee.
- If that’s not possible, ask to have the fee waived temporarily.
- Contact the competition and ask if they have the same fee. If appropriate, contact your provider again and negotiate using that information.
You won’t be able to reduce every fee, but you will remove some small unnecessary expenses going forward.
Learn to Love DIY
It costs $200 to $300 to have a professional install a toilet. But you can learn how to do it in under an hour from a free YouTube video. Even if you’re not ready for significant plumbing work, you can cut down on bills by spending a little of your time while learning a valuable skill.
Consider these opportunities to spend your time instead of money on daily, weekly, and monthly tasks:
- Cooking at home instead of eating out
- Mastering simple home repairs, like replacing an outlet or fixing drywall
- Changing your own car oil
- Making crafts for gifts instead of buying them outright
- Replacing filters in your car and HVAC
- Lawn care and landscaping
- Patching and repairing clothing
Final Thoughts on Saving Big Bucks
If you are still struggling with the best ways of saving big bucks that we’ve outlined, it might be helpful to think of your home finances as a business. Your wages are your income, and your household costs are your expenses. What’s leftover is profit. We discussed ways to increase profit by reducing costs, but there’s another side to that coin.
The other way businesses increase profit is to make more income. If you save $50 a month and earn an extra $50, that’s $100 a month to put to work in your favor. What small things can you do to add extra money to the small savings from the list above?
Can you sell unwanted stuff on Craigslist or eBay? Babysit for a friend twice a month? Start a microbusiness, like cleaning houses or scanning photos? Whatever it is, combine it with the techniques above to make serious headway toward saving big bucks and your other financial goals.
Winston Blake struggled in his early 20s with his bills as a freelance writer. Now, he’s made lifelong changes and has slashed his debt dramatically. He writes about his successes for several publications.