9 Ways to spend less


There are a lot of articles out there about how to spend less and most of them say the same things… thrift stores, coupons, sales, stop buying coffee, etc.  Those are great, but I wanted to give everyone a few other ideas that maybe you’ve forgotten about or just haven’t thought of.

1) Use the library

If you are anything like me, there was a point where you haven’t stepped foot into a library since high school or college.  Technically, I did go to a library since that time in my life, but it was for a charity fundraiser and they were serving wine and beer there.  I was less of a reader then, most of my reading at that time revolved around technical software engineering topics and often online.  As I started caring more and more about finances, my career, retirement, real estate, etc I started coming across the phrase “Leaders are readers” quite often.  I finally stepped foot back into my local library and discovered a few things.

Obviously, they have books, I think we all know that, but what I didn’t realize was that they also have apps for your phone/tablet.    The apps give me access to a great collection of what used to be called “books on tape”… now known as “audio books”.  I’m an equal opportunity consumer of knowledge, I suggest you consider being the same way.  I read physical, digital, and audio books… whatever format I can get it in for free or the cheapest.  The audio books via the library’s apps are great for commuting to work as well as road trips, but the apps also have digital books available too, so I’ll use those.  I check books out at the library and if necessary, I’ll jump on smile.amazon.com and find the book used for as cheap as possible.  (side note: if you don’t know about Amazon Smile, check it out, it costs you nothing and Amazon makes donations to a charity of your choice).  I will say I do prefer paper over digital if I’m buying the book, quite often you can find a used copy for cheaper than the digital copy.  But otherwise, at least there’s the potential to sell the physical book to a used book store or in a garage sale for a couple bucks…. digital books don’t have a secondary market yet, so recouping even $1 per book means I can buy a few (more) cups of overpriced coffee each year if I wanted.

2) Discover free movies and tv

Guess what… your library has these too!  But there are a few other ways I have saved on my entertainment budget.  

I have not had cable tv in over 10 years and every year it is easier and easier to never need to return.  For a while I had rabbit ears, but after the government forced conversion to digital over the air TV transmission, I bought a digital antenna.  So I still get the local channels if needed, but I haven’t used that in a couple years now.

I use a ChromeCast device that allows me to broadcast my computer screen to my TV.  All you need is an HDMI port on your TV, you likely have one if your TV is a flat screen of some kind, if you are still using a CRT or rear projection TV… post it on craigslist for free before it costs you money to dispose of it.  Otherwise, google these devices… ChromeCast, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV.  You should find some way for about $20 that will let you stream things over wifi to your TV.

With that type of device you have a lot of options.  You can pay for Netflix and/or Hulu Plus for less than you likely pay for cable tv.  A lot of people don’t realize the number of full length documentaries and other videos available on Youtube.  A few years ago I decided that I would try an experiment, if I could not watch something for free (advertising is fine) on my schedule via streaming video, then the producers of it must not want to make money and don’t care if I never watch it.  This eliminated every time wasting tv show basically.  I have adapted my philosophy a bit since then, I pay for Netflix some months (I often cancel and restart my subscription).  I watch all the Presidential addresses, State of the Unions and such via YouTube.  I even watched the Republican debate the other day just hours after it was aired on TV because of YouTube.

There’s another place you might find free movies… some of your friends still buy or have old DVDs.  Go borrow them.

3) Homebrewing

Yes, brew your own alcohol!

You have to be careful with this one.  It is very easy to get sucked into “needing” a lot of equipment and having it costing you a lot of money.  You can do it pretty cheaply with a kit, spaghetti pot and your stove.  If you have other friends, you might all consider going in together and building a system together.  Go talk to your local home brew supply shop and they will talk your ear off and likely show you how to get started with a cooler from walmart, a cheap aluminum pot, and a propane burner.  Your friends will be happy to help you recycle used bottles for free too.  Once you have the setup you can produce about 5 gallons (640oz = ~ 54 bottles) for about $30-35.  Considering todays prices are around $10 per 6pack for a decent beer, you can do the math to know how quickly your alcoholism will equate to savings.

If you like ciders and wines, you are in luck… it’s even easier to brew that stuff than beer!  If you drink PBR or Coors… just go buy a 30 pack, it’s about the same price without all the work.  Plus, your homebrew is going to have too much flavor for you.

4) Dating… stop doing it

Just kidding!  If you’re single, dating can be expensive, if you’re with someone, you should still be “going on dates” with each other anyway.  But, dating doesn’t have to be expensive.  If you’re frugal, the person you’re likely to want to be with will have at least a similar mindset or appreciate your mindset towards finances.  This doesn’t mean you have to be “cheap” though.  Plant a rose bush and/or other flowers in your backyard that you can cut and bring with you occasionally for a date.  Buy a season pass to somewhere the two of you (or the type of partner you are looking for) would enjoy, State park pass, National Park, Amusement Park… google around and be sure to get the best deal on it too.  If you are looking for something new and want to go eat, don’t be afraid to use things like groupon.  For me, the right woman for my life will understand that doing things like that is a good way to balance spending money to have fun and being responsible with money.

5) If they ID you, don’t drink

This might sound strange, but you would be amazed at how much money you will save.  A friend of mine came up with this one and I thought it was a neat concept that works really well.  It might not work quite as well if you are under 25 or look younger than most though.   It’s a simple concept, if you order a beer or other alcoholic drink and the server asks for your ID, simple say: “Oh, never-mind, I’ll just have a water” or “Actually, I changed my mind, I’ll just have some water for now”.

Most states do not require servers to verify ID before serving alcohol, so it’s often left up to the servers discretion to estimate your age.  Although some restaurants make it policy to “ID everyone”, including your 80 year old grandmother, especially the more corporate ones.  But, not all, so it acts as a bit of a natural limiter that removes you from having to make the decision yourself.  I don’t always do it, but sometimes I pull it out of my bag of tricks.  Some friends are more used to it than others and don’t think much about it.  Others ask me if I’m “scared of being tracked”, or making a political statement, or something crazy like that… I normally just tell them the truth, that it’s a self regulating financial thing while I’m getting myself out of debt…. but other times I might make up something random like “How I don’t want to give them money because I’m insulted that they are ‘calling me a liar’ by not believing I’m over 21”.

The only time I’m adamant about not showing my ID is if they want to scan it, I work in software and see first hand the type of data collection being done, there is no way I am giving the local tavern/restaurant that has essentially zero security around their network and/or the card scanning company the data on my drivers license. They all claim “it doesn’t store it” or “it only keeps it for 7 days” but take it from someone in the Big Data field of software… nothing is every really deleted.  There are plenty of establishments that are not scanning IDs I can go to… unless I’m in Utah, then I just deny them the tax income.  They will know my name by my debit card, but there’s no reason to give them my drivers license number, birth date, home address, eye color, hair color, height, weight, and blood type… that’s a bit too much and I hope more people start to realize how much they are giving up when they do that.

6) Grow it

When you are looking for ways to shrink your expenses you have to consider your highest cost categories.  Food is one of those categories that will always be there and you can’t minimize it without considering the long term health effects with your decision.  Colorado is known as one of the healthier States in the union and I happen to live and work in the Boulder/Denver area that tries to take it to the extreme at times, so Whole Foods (aka. “Whole Paycheck”) and Natural Grocers are never far away.

Regardless of where you live, you likely have a farmers market nearby.  This is where your personal food philosophy will need to be considered, it’s possible to find things that are less, more or just as expensive as your local grocery store.  If you want to only buy things that are equal or less expensive than the grocery store, you’re able to do that if you know your prices well.  Each week/month you’ll find some variety since crops are not magical vending machines that produce a little bit all year round.  Even though it might seem like that at the grocery store since you can get anything you want any time of year.  Which, you might want to take note of what time of year to buy what kind of produce, the cost is often directly related to transportation costs due to where it was harvested.

7) Can it

You can buy some things in bulk and store it away for a long time, but going along with the previous point, you can only get fruits and veggies during certain times of the year.  Getting into canning is cheap and will allow you to buy more of what is in season and help decrease your overall costs over the year.  It is an extremely simple process to learn, takes a minimal amount of initial investment and will pay off for years to come.  In todays high tech world, it has never been easier to learn an old art of preserving food your grandma used to do. Jump on Youtube and you’ll learn everything you need.  If you combine your own garden, the farmers market, and canning with friends who are similarly minded, then you’ll quickly realize that you can trade jars with each other too.  … it’s like traveling in time, back a few hundred years to a simpler colonial style life, but with new technologies like electric stoves to make everything faster and easier.

8) Shoot it

Some people love eating meat, I am definitely one of them… I’m a “meat and potatoes” type of guy.   We could argue about hormones and whatever philosophy you may have with hunting and/or eating meat, but this is a financial blog, so I will focus on the money side.  Since meat is a bit of a cornerstone of my diet, it can be fairly expensive.  Especially now that the rest of the country has discovered how delicious (and healthy) bison is.  Around here, we used to be able to get a pound of bison for about the same price as a pound of beef, even in the restaurants it was basically the same price, those days are gone, so I had to find a new way to eat healthier without spending more money.  Besides skiing and snowboarding, Colorado is also known for hunting.  If you have to travel long distances, especially if you fly, then hunting is definitely not going to be cheaper (or easier) than going to your local store.  On the other hand, if you happen to live somewhere you can hunt, it can be done cheaply and you don’t have to hunt for big game like deer and elk.  You can help a farmer out by taking care of their rabbits.

The Flannel Guy ROI did a write up about the ROI on hunting and based on his assumptions, it is not cost affective.  So, be aware and be cautious, because it is not appropriate for everyone.  In my case, I can eliminate the $1k land lease by using BLM (public) land, 3 of the 4 trips per year by just going out for one hunt for an elk that will give me ~200lbs, the $10/hour cost of time since it’s not really a cost since I use vacation time and get paid anyway, and the cost of the gun since I own them anyway.  I’ve already decreased his estimated cost from $3500 down to $1100, and $300 of that is to buy a freezer to store all the meat, meaning: in the first year alone, it saves me $500.  But, it’s an option to consider if you never have before, just don’t get caught up with buying the newest fanciest everything.

9) Discover Google Voice

If you are a Millennial you probably avoid talking on the phone at all costs.  I was born in the early 80’s, which makes me part of that in between generation that has some Gen X tendencies and some Gen Y (Millennial) tendencies,  I’m not really part of either one, I’m kind of part of both, especially with being in the software field, I have always been more advanced (technologically) than the majority of Gen X.  I have been using Google Voice for years, since before most people knew it even existed, I’m sure some still don’t.  I used to pay $100/month for verizon to have 400 minutes and unlimited text and data, I now pay T-Mobile $30/month for 100 minutes and unlimited text and data.  The trick is, I use Google Voice (now part of Google Hangouts) to make all my phone calls when I’m at home.  I bought myself a phone for $300, got a sim card with T-Mobile and registered with their pre-paid service for $30.  It is still automatically debited from my checking account, so it’s basically the same, but with no contract, so if I find something better I can switch at any time.  I let T-Mobile give me a new number and then I had Google Voice take over my old number from Verizon and told Google to forwards all calls and texts to the T-Mobile number.

To be honest, I don’t even know the T-Mobile number, never bothered to learn it.  This setup, besides saving money, has another benefit.  I broke the screen once on that $300 phone (it’s a Nexus 4 if you’re curious).  So, I went over to Walmart and picked up a $10 prepaid tracfone, activated it, got a new number and within minutes forwarded Google Voice to it.  I lost any cool data stuff I could do, but all phone calls and txts still came to me without issue.  Once I fixed my phone, I pointed Google Voice back at my T-Mobile number and tossed that tracfone in my glove box of my car in case of an emergency since it still had minutes and all phone can dial 911 even if you don’t have a paid plan.  I have since managed to crack my screen 2 more times over the last 3 years and have used that tracphone as my backup.  I have amazed friends at my completely nonchalant attitude when I’ve broken my phone in front of them.  Yes, it sucks, but I know as soon as I get home I will power up that tracfone, swap google voice and be ok until I can find the best deal to fix the screen and go back to normal life.  After all, internet browsing on your phone is a luxury, if everyone still calls and txt’s, they never even know you broke your phone.

So, I saved $60/month and managed to deal with situations when I crack my screen and can’t use my phone.  Perhaps Google Voice is an option for you?  Even my mom is now used to me calling her “on speaker phone” using my laptop.  She also was the one that learned to IM me on AIM at 2am while I was in college if I had not talked to her in a while, so she might be smarter than the average Baby Boomer.


What are some of the unique ways you’ve managed to save?


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