5 Small Changes to Make a Big Difference in Your Financial Well-being

Every day you make decisions that impact your bank account balance. Small purchases throughout the week add up fast, but building a few smart habits can help you grow your savings. In this article, we’ll offer up a few strategies to cut down on everyday costs to help you keep your wallet healthy.

1. Plan ahead, even if that means one day at a time

Whether you work in an office or spend your day moving around town for work, you’ve probably heard two standard pieces of advice: bring a reusable water bottle and pack your lunch. Employers who offer free lunch may be a staple in Silicon Valley, but in the rest of the working world it’s important for employees to figure out how to meal prep.

These days “meal prep” may sound nearly synonymous with “Pinterest,” but it’s a tradition as old as modern refrigeration. By cooking at home at the beginning of each week, you can keep dollars in your wallet all month long.

If you do have to buy lunch out of the house, there are two easy ways to save:

  • Avoid fast food. Salt and fat may smell good cooking from the sidewalk, but they won’t give you the energy you need to get through the afternoon. Look for fast casual dining options that offer salads with protein or whole grain options, otherwise you may find yourself out running an errand to pick up a snack mid-afternoon.
  • Pay in cash. Unless you have great credit card rewards and know you can pay off your balance every month, credit cards can be a trap. Shopping with cash will help remind you what exactly you’re spending and how much you were planning to spend at the beginning of the week. If you end up eating at restaurants Monday through Wednesday, your wallet will let you now that you’ve already blown your budget.

2. Shop in bulk

If you want to get serious about saving on lunch (and breakfast and dinner), the key is to look for small dollar savings in your regular purchases. A key strategy in this pursuit is to buy in bulk.

The internet has lots of guides available on what to buy in bulk. It may seem ironic, but the idea of shopping in bulk can feel overwhelming – it costs too much to buy so much! The truth is that your savings can be significant if you plan ahead and buy large quantities. To help you get started, try thinking about bulk buys in two categories:

  • Household products. Most home products that are made for paper or cleaning are best bought in bulk.
    • Toilet paper is an amazing deal when you buy it in bulk. But four rolls at time? It can be shockingly expensive. The same goes for paper towels, although if you’re really serious about saving money, this is one product to ditch altogether. Old t-shirts make great rags and cut down on waste.
    • Any cleaning product costs less when you buy the larger size. Liquid soaps are a major offender when it comes to overpriced individual bottles, and most of this cost can be blamed on packaging.
    • When it comes to laundry detergent, for extra savings, buy powder over liquid and save space in your pantry.
  • Pantry Stockers. Pastas and grains! Premade sauce and crackers! Nonperishable items are great to buy in bulk, as are frozen fruits and vegetables. One caution: frozen food doesn’t last forever. Especially if you purchase frozen meat in bulk, be prepared to use it before its expiration date.

In all bulk buys, look for a generic option. For example, Costco’s private label, Kirkland, consistently costs less than name brands, and customer satisfaction surveys show that folks have noticed that these private label generics are a better buy.

Cost savings clubs have long been a great place to go for deals, and we’re starting to see online retailers follow their lead – Amazon’s eponymous brand is a strong example of this. Whether it’s the Amazon brand or Kirkland, don’t shy away from the generic.Shop deals: coupons are still king

3. Shop deals: coupons are still king

Bulk deals are awesome, but it may take time to save up for a bulk buy. Plus, it can be a challenge to store a six-month supply of toilet paper, even if you have time to make a trip to Costco right when you run out.

Planning ahead just has its limits: something always runs out before you realize you’re low, and inevitably you’ll have to make a purchase on the fly. To soften the blow, be sure to shop deals.

If you have the time to grab a paper flyer, you’ll still find great coupons right at the front of the store, but they may not have the product you need at a discount that day. The best way to shop on the fly is to have a few digital couponing tools at your disposal:

  • Use coupon apps for deep savings. There are a few savings apps specific to purchasing that can help you look for deals and steer you toward savings. Store-specific apps like Target’s Cartwheel are just the beginning. Cast a wide net to find manufacturer coupons and great deals.
  • Know where to find digital coupons. Most stores now offer digital versions of their weekly coupons. Be sure to link your loyalty cards to an online account to get your deals delivered to your inbox. Once these are linked, you don’t have to take the time to clip a coupon: you can get the same deals from your smartphone right when you need them.
  • Newsletters. If you’re opposed to adding apps to your routine or if you like to hold your personal information close to the vest, use your email address to subscribe to store newsletters. These can be a great source of digital coupons that aren’t readily available on the internet.
  • Look for opportunities to save on transportation

4. Look for opportunities to save on transportation

To cut down on commuting costs, the solution may require you to sacrifice some degree of convenience in favor of cost. If this is something you’re willing to consider, you may find it easy to save money when you:

  • Leave your car at home. If you live in a city with public transit, take the bus! Or the train. Look for commuter rail opportunities and skip paying for downtown parking. Bonus: the walking you’ll do on either end can count as your exercise and save you the cost of a gym membership!
  • Carpool. If you live in a place where cars are the best way to get around, look into joining a carpool. There are many apps, websites, and services out there to assist you. Rather than taking generic advice on this front, we recommend looking into local options. Query a search engine to find the best rideshare service near you.
  • Investigate into pre-tax savings. Employers often offer pre-tax public transportation plans that help employees save an average of 30 percent on their commuting costs.
  • Make savings fun: take part in (free) local programs

5. Make savings fun: take part in (free) local programs

Don’t we all get a thrill out of gaming the system to get a deal? When it comes to entertainment, there are two foolproof places to turn for affordable fun:

  • Seek out free events. Cities of all sizes dedicate staff to programming activities to bring the community out en masse. Whether or not you live in a major metropolis, you can save the $15 you would have spent on a movie ticket by attending an outdoor movie screening in summertime or walking the decorated zoo paths during the winter holidays.
  • Hit the public library – it’s not just for bookworms. Libraries lend many items, including DVDs, passes to museums, and sheet music. Of course, hours spent reading in the library are a great way to take a trip without buying a plane ticket or even taking out your wallet.
  • Make use of free gym benefits. Many employers have free gym facilities onsite, but it can be hard to fit these into your workday. Try out a new schedule: arrive early or stay late specifically to make use of the treadmill before heading home. If there are subsidized memberships or workout classes on offer, consider how you might fit them into your routine. It can be hard to change your habits, but finding a workout buddy can be a great way to hold yourself accountable and make the gym more fun.

Final word: building small dollar savings habits takes time

Our best advice for small dollar savings is to start small: aim to save five dollars this week, and see if any of your new habits stick. Next week, aim for ten dollars, and when you’re ready, plan out your first bulk purchase.

If you make this purchase online, you may find that the thrill is still found in the free shipping straight to your door.

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