Nope, I’m not going to tell you to skip your daily latte. If you’re trying to stretch your budget to get out of debt or build wealth, you’ve seen the same suggestions over and over. Obvious things that you’ve already done, like ditching the expensive coffee habit, or sticking to a shopping list. Here are some different ideas that don’t make most of those lists. Chances are good you’ll find something here that you haven’t considered yet.
1. Find a salvage grocery store
Chances are there’s a salvage grocery store within reasonable driving distance of your home. It’s like a whole store that’s one big clearance rack. These “scratch and dent” operations specialize in selling merchandise that regular stores won’t- because it’s damaged, discontinued, short-dated, or otherwise imperfect. They tend to be small operations with unpredictable inventory, but if you consider it a shopping adventure you’re sure to find some bargains.
2. Let a student fix your lawn mower
Many local community colleges and technical schools obtain practice cases for their repair classes by offering discounted service to the general public. They can often fix your small engines like lawnmowers and snow blowers, appliances like air conditioners, and more for a fraction of the going rate – provided it’s the right time of the year, and they’re not already booked. Call the school and ask for someone in the appropriate department to find out what they might offer.
3. Eat nose to tail
Traditional cultures valued all parts of their animals, wasting nothing. Rejected for a time as “uncivilized”, foods like organ meats, bone broth, and gelatin are making a comeback – both for their exceptional nutritional profiles and the budget boost of eating something for which there’s less competition. Liver, for example, is one of the most nutrient dense foods there is, and even the highest quality grass-fed kind is often remarkably inexpensive. The same goes for heart, kidneys, and other bits. Chicken feet and necks are excellent for making broth and soup, as are bones and vegetable scraps that you save in a freezer container.
4. Check out your local grocery co-op
You’re probably also near a food co-op of some kind. These are member-owned grocery stores which often have an emphasis on locally sourced, natural and organic foods. If you want something that isn’t stocked, most co-ops are happy to special order it for you. Despite a reputation for offering some spendy premium goods, some things are likely to be much cheaper here. Of particular note, there’s usually an impressive bulk department where you can get grains, nuts, seeds, candy, dried fruit, herbs & spices, and more at very competitive prices when you fill your own container. Best of all, you can buy just the amount you need, whether a pound of nuts or a pinch of fennel seed. Here’s an article I wrote about co-ops from a paleo diet perspective, but the principles apply no matter what you eat.
5. Properly measure your coffee
I said this wouldn’t be about your Starbucks habit, but what about the coffee you make at home every day? We’re currently getting our coffee from Costco to save money, and it’s good for a pre-ground commercial product, but also finer than we’re used to. When we recently started having problems with an overflowing filter basket, one of the suggestions I found online was to make sure you’re not using too much. It turned out our scoop was indeed about 30% larger than the recommended amount, and changing it out for the right size (⅓ cup, in our case) solved our problem. New filter purchase averted, and major savings on the magic beans from here on out!
6. Follow Dave Ramsey’s “baby steps” to get out of debt and build wealth
So this one isn’t exactly a secret, but lots of people still haven’t heard of Dave Ramsey. In my opinion, he has the best plan around for getting out of the debt trap and reaching your goals no matter where you’re at on the financial spectrum. His plan has helped millions of people get completely out of debt and on track financially. To be honest, I was initially put off by the religious language he sometimes uses, but then I realized that’s just who he is, and the underlying concepts really are for everyone. His plan works because it provides hope, motivation, and a proven, practical structure. And it applies whether you’re teetering on bankruptcy or the millionaire next door. Check out his book or entertaining podcast to get the whole scoop.
7. Switch to a credit union or community bank
Credit unions generally offer lower rates for loans (such as you might need to temporarily trade down in vehicles if you’re underwater on your crazy car loan) and higher rates for savings than the big bank chains. Perhaps more importantly, they’re likely to have fewer fees and minimum balances, and may be more flexible if you run into a problem.
8. Fix your own appliances
When (not if) a heating element goes out in your oven, you could buy a brand new oven as a family member actually suggested (yeah, right.) More realistically, you could call a repair service– and get a big bill. Or… you could order the part and install it yourself for much less. There are websites and online videos showing you exactly what to do. You need to be careful not to take on more than you can handle, but many of these projects are easier than they seem. You probably have a local appliance parts store that can get what you need, but it’s worth checking Amazon too, where you’ll often find cheaper alternatives. I’ve paid less than $30 for a part that would cost $80 locally.
9. Fill your tank/s while you’re at Costco
Do you have a Costco membership? I find that they almost always have the lowest price for gas. It doesn’t count toward your annual rebate, but the actual pump price is often a penny (sometimes as much as 10¢) below the lowest nearby competitor. There’s no guarantee of course, but it seems to be part of their business model to make fill-ups a no-brainer.
While you’re at it, if your other tank needs filling too (the one inside you) it’s hard to beat their hot dog deal at the lunch counter. You get a large, better-than-average hot dog or brat for $1.50 (in Madison, WI at the time of writing) which includes a soda. If you eat paleo/low-carb/etc. like I do, they’ll happily put it on a plate without a bun, and the soda machine also dispenses club soda or water. Sauerkraut is optional but free for the asking. Condiment bar has yellow & brown mustards, ketchup, relish, and chopped onions.
10. Fully utilize your Amazon Prime benefits
If you order things for home delivery (and who doesn’t?) Amazon Prime is probably already a good idea just for the free shipping. That’s old news. But you should know that it also offers amazing (often free) deals on music streaming, audio books, unlimited photo storage (with inexpensive print delivery) and more. Check it out to see what they have that you might currently be paying more for somewhere else.
11. Try the Shopkick app – Get gift cards for browsing
I debated whether this is a money-saving, or a money-making, idea. I chose to include it here because you collect points while shopping, and the app turns them into instant gift cards – often for the same stores, like Target, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, etc. If you pay attention to opportunities, a few clicks and scans can quickly add up to savings on this or a future shopping trip. Sometimes you even get points just for walking into a particular store! The app is free and easy to use, and I find it quite worthwhile.
12. Re-use the envelopes that come with junk mail
You still have a few bills that you pay by mail, right? No need to spend money on envelopes, when you already get them for free in your junk mail! Just label over the pre-printed information and stick on a stamp! This is also a good use for those unsolicited sheets of return address labels that some charities send out periodically.
13. Keep an extra water pitcher by the sink
In most houses, you have to waste some cold water while waiting for the hot water to come through the pipe. This is sometimes true for cold water too, if you want it really cold. Why not capture all this wasted water in a pitcher kept by your sink, so you can use it for watering plants, flushing the toilet, or whatever. Be creative! If your sink drips, keep it under the faucet to collect that water too.
If you found this helpful, or have other ideas to share, I’d love to hear from you in my Facebook group: Joe’s Budget Boosters!