The absolute best money-saving move my husband and I have ever made is to get rid of our credit cards and use cash or debit cards for everyday purchases. We kept two of our lowest interest accounts open, froze the cards in a bag of water and closed the rest. This way we know where they are in case of a true financial emergency (between the cranberries and Ezekiel bread), but they’re not readily accessible when we’re out shopping to indulge in impulse purchases.
Here are five other money-saving tips for families:
1. Use credit cards with caution
There are definitely times when credit cards should be used, a lesson I learned before we froze our cards. I rented a small, gas-friendly car last summer to drive our son to school in Michigan, and divine providence led me to hand the agent my American Express instead of my debit card.
Driving home through Kentucky a few days later, a rock flew off the dump truck in front of me and shattered the windshield of my rental car. I didn’t know it at the time, but AmEx covers that completely. I followed the trucker to his construction site, yelled up to him in his very high and intimidating perch, and then spent a very fruitless few days of dealing with the trucking company and their insurance agent. Thankfully, AmEx pulled through beautifully.
Credit cards are also the best way to pay for items when traveling out of the country. Consumer guru Clark Howard recommends using a credit union credit card, as most of them have implemented the new security chip used around the world to prevent theft and fraud.
2. Make a budget
Download and print out a simple home budget sheet and fill in your monthly expenses. Predict your needs for the upcoming month, set a dollar amount for each expense — and stick to it. Put cash into an envelope for each category, such as grocery, clothing, grooming, restaurant, entertainment, etc. When the envelope is empty, you’re done. The fun part is when you’ve got money left over in an envelope and you can put it under your mattress to start saving up for that Lamborghini — or whatever luxury item you crave.
3. Use coupons and groupons
Sign up for Groupon, CrowdCut, Living Social or any of the other deal-a-day sites, but be a careful buyer. The trick is to be on the lookout for services you need and places you already frequent. Stay away from buying something you’ve never bought before just because it looks like a good deal, and be sure to check that what you’re paying is actually a discount off of what you would typically pay. Deals on these sites frequently include salon services, car washes, restaurants, entertainment and various home services.
4, Ditch the contracts
Take a close look at what you’re paying for cellphone service each month, and check out this site to see if you can lower your bill by switching to a contract-free plan. Call your cable, home phone, gas and electric companies a couple times a year to review your plans and find ways to reduce the monthly bill. Be your own advocate — the company won’t tell you if you could be paying less unless you specifically ask.
5. Shop smart
Before going shopping, make a list of what you need and check the weekly ads of your neighborhood stores online. Some stores offer weekly buy-one-get-one free deals and allow customers to buy just one of the items for half price. If you’ve got the pantry space, buy-one-get-one deals are a great time to stock up on items you use most often. Throw in a coupon and the store practically has to pay you.
For everyday items, check out your local dollar store. Make it a weekly trip, as many dollar stores get new merchandise in regularly and the good stuff goes quickly. You’ll find name-brand foods along with plenty of generics that do the trick for a whole lot less dough. I recently purchased a small microfiber duster at a supermarket for $9, then saw the same one a few days later at the dollar store — for $1.
Another trick we’ve used when budgeting is to put back one pricey item from the basket before heading to the checkout. If you’re like me, there’s something in the basket that is not a necessity — and cutting back on these kind of items can help you save hundreds of dollars a year. This applies to food shopping, but also at Walmart and Target type stores where nothing seems expensive and every purchase can be justified, but you can easily buy things you don’t need and overspend.
If you’ve got more ways for families to save big on everyday expenses, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.