Since the debut of ’50 Ways to Save A Buck or Two’, I’ve continued to collect ways to economize a few dollars here, a few there. Some will save you much more than that! Here are 25 more for your files:
Purchases — And Holidays:
1. Always dicker. This is a given if you’re dealing with private sellers at garage sales, or on Craigslist. You may save a few bucks — or considerably more. (If that doesn’t work, try getting something extra thrown in, for the same price.)
2. Buy it after…or just before. Christmas items have traditionally been priced 50% less after Dec. 25 — but an increasing number of stores are offering the same discount a day or two earlier. Live Christmas trees are a good example; they take a huge dive in price Dec. 17 or later. (For more Christmas savings, go here.)
3. Don’t forget that lesser-celebrated ‘holidays’ are important for sales, too. Superbowl Sunday is often heralded by lower prices on televisions, especially large-screen ones. Columbus Day can be big for furniture.
4. Think month by month. Sales often follow a seasonal pattern, like linens (especially sheets and towels) in January. Late May (especially Memorial Day weekend) is famous for appliance sales — but also has its share of fix-it specials like paint and tools, for people who are tidying up. Take a look at this schedule for suggestions.
5. ‘Back to school’ sales are great. Don’t wait for Labor Day, though — most schools now start in early August! Some specials even start in mid-July. You’ll find outstanding deals on office supplies, computers and printer ink, and furniture and linens. Great prices on kids’ backpacks and other items, too.
6. If the holiday is famous for [insert item] — don’t buy it then. (See #2.) Red roses are synonymous with Valentine’s Day, for good reason: their ‘Language of Flowers’ meaning is “true love.” The only problem — rose prices, especially for red ones, skyrocket around Feb. 14! You’re much better off if you…
7. Buy to last. Instead of roses (which often wilt in a few days), buy flowers that last a long time, like carnations and alstroemeria. Make the same decisions for items you use regularly. Spending more for quality brands in clothing, appliances and household furnishings means they won’t wear out as quickly…so you’ll have to replace them less. This is an excellent rule of thumb, unless:
8. If it’s more apt to be lost, buy ‘good enough.’ Gloves, sunglasses, travel mugs…anything that can quickly disappear falls into this category. (So do items like earrings, hairbands and other accessories, unless you’ve got a way to secure them.) How much good will a hundred-dollar pair of leather gloves do, if one has already fallen out of your coat pocket?
9. Are you — or your child — taking up a musical instrument? Rent one first, to see if you really enjoy it as much as you thought. Once you’re sure, don’t buy one from a music store, unless its prices are comparable with private sellers. Our secret weapon: pawnshops. (We bought a good-quality trumpet, plus a violin, for less than half the retail price.)
10. If you can — wait on large purchases. A few weeks may give you the chance to find it cheaper — or let you decide you didn’t need it, after all. (You’ll have time to save more, as well.)
11. Some items are best rented. (See #8.) This includes rototillers and chippers, plumbers’ snakes (for clogged pipes), chairs and tables for fancy events — anything you’ll use once a year, or less. Check rental companies — or even better, talk to the neighbor who owns one.
12. Make it yourself. Yogurt needs little more than a quart of milk, a heating pad, a cup of active-culture yogurt to get things started, and a few minutes of your time — at a fraction of the cost. (You can control your own toppings and sweeteners, too.) Bread, casseroles, even items like breakfast burritos and homemade noodles are easily made, and cost much less.
13. Buy local. Buy in season. Or grow it yourself! (See ‘Gardening’ below.) Your food will be fresher and cheaper, too.
Or scavenge from trees and bushes whose fruit isn’t being used. (Ask politely first.) In Hawaii, any fruit trees on public land along the roads are up for grabs — first one there gets the harvest!
14. Check price per ounce or pound. Larger ‘economy’ containers may actually cost more than a smaller size…one of manufacturing’s dirty little secrets today. Also, don’t assume that just because you bought it at a discount store, that item is going to be at the lowest price. (It isn’t always.) Check the same item at other stores in your area. (Some, like Amy Dacyzyn of Tightwad Gazette fame, even advocate keeping a price book of the items you use most.)
15. Make soup. A lot. It helps you use up bits and pieces, leftovers and scraps. And with a slab or bread, a biscuit and some cheese, it’s a satisfying meal. (More food savings ideas are here.)
16. Plant what grows best — or produces a lot — in your area. Zucchini has a reputation for producing like crazy — but that also means an abundance of food at a small price. (Pick the zukes small, and they’ll be sweet and tender.) Green beans grow well in many neighborhoods; so do tomatoes. (Although our high-altitude Colorado area is tough on tomatoes. Too many cold nights.)
17. Include ‘food’ plants in your flowerbeds. Runner beans and snow peas make an attractive backdrop on a trellis for flowers. Lettuce, kale and multi-colored chard are lovely accents — and edible.
18. Choose perennials. These come back year after year, and often can be divided for additional plants. Some of the best buys are offered as small plants, along with other ‘annuals:’ good candidates are pinks (otherwise known as dianthus), daisies and dusty miller. Many herbs are perennials which will spread, given time — mints, lavender and thyme. Strawberries will also start baby plants, using vining ‘runners.’
19. Pick plants that reseed themselves. Larkspur, coreopsis, poppies and cosmos, once planted, will drop their seed to the ground, come fall, then reappear the next spring. (We’ve also had good results from dill, bachelor’s buttons and snapdragons. More info here.) Or harvest the seed or bulbs yourself from plants like hollyhocks and zinnias (seeds) or grape hyacinths (bulbs), then replant to spread them in different parts of your garden.
20. Don’t make reservations. This lets you take advantage of specials — and special places — as you find them. (More on this, plus other travel tips here.)
21. Take the train overnight — and save on a hotel room. Amtrak offers comfortable ‘Family Bedrooms’ that fit two adults and two children. The private spaces includes comfortable seats during the day, fold-down berths at night, and access to toilet and showers, with fresh linens and towels, and personal service. An added bonus: Meals are included!
Make the same trip in one of Amtrak’s coach seats for much less. I’ve slept reasonably well on these seats, as well as on Megabus, which specializes in overnight travel for surprisingly low prices.
22. If you’re staying at a hotel or B&B, get breakfast included. If you can’t, find an inexpensive cafe nearby…or carry six or so protein bars in your luggage. Include it with the coffee or tea provided by your lodging. (Bars, along with microwave popcorn, beef jerky, and other lightweight items, also make a convenient late-night snack — or keep you going when a meal isn’t readily available.)
23. Look for multi-course meal specials. In Mexico, this is the comida corrida, a homestyle luncheon often connected with the menu del dia, or ‘menu of the day.’ Ireland’s best buys are early-bird meals good from about 5-6:30 p.m., and half the price of what you’d pay an hour or so later. A little research will tell you what’s possible where you’re headed.
24. Eat the local specialties. They’re often cheaper, fresher and tastier than “safe” food. (If you’re worried about stomach trouble, try an ‘old wives remedy’ that’s gotten us through several countries — a teaspoon of Pepto-Bismol, once a day.) Definitely take advantage of protein sources eaten by the locals; whatever they’re having should be your choice, too.
25. Learn the language...especially phrases like “Hello – how are you,” “How much is —,” “Where is the bathroom,” and the most important — “Thank you.” Think of yourself as an ambassador, representing your country. Speaking the language means a willingness to interact on their grounds…not yours. And that often translates to opportunities.
See what you can save this year, by just a few small changes