Skip to main content

Cheap Tricks: Easy Ways to Save Money

Marcy writes about family, home life, parenting, money-saving tips, and many other topics, as well as essays and occasional humor pieces.


Amazing Budget Hacks to Save Money

With the cost of everything increasing and salaries not expanding proportionately, it seems we’re all pinching pennies, all the time. If you’re still searching for ways to cut your budget, here’s how you can save hundreds of dollars a year without changing your lifestyle in dramatic ways.

  • Weekday Lunches: If you eat out daily, it can cost almost $3,000 a year. Admittedly, I’m not one to pack my lunch regularly. I often have good intentions but little follow-through, and when I’m in an office all day, I really, really need a break. But I’ve found ways to make taking my lunch more palatable and to save many dollars when I do eat at restaurants. Here’s how you can save painlessly, and still get out of the office for a break.
  • Picnic in the Park: This still involves packing a lunch, but bear with me. If your office building has a grassy area, or if you work near an urban park, consider packing a lunch one or two days a week and dining out under the trees. You won’t have quite the ‘Trapped with Tupperware’ feeling you get when eating at your desk. It will clear your head, and the food even tastes better. Take crackers and cheese or hummus, cherry tomatoes, veggie sticks, and fresh fruit. Grab a good book or your iPad (if there’s wireless) and enjoy a peaceful lunch without the restaurant rush and clatter of nearby diners. If you don’t want to dine alone, invite an office mate to join you. Figuring a minimum of $7 for lunch with tax and tip, you’ll save $364 a year.

How to Save Big Money at Restaurants

  • Share Entrees: Restaurant entrees are usually huge, even at lunch. If you find yourself eating far more by dining out than you’d eat at home, consider splitting your meal with a friend. Most of us take lunch with a friend or two; chances are your dining partners are watching their waistlines and budgets, too. Ask the waitperson to split it ahead of time (but watch out if they charge for plating it twice!), or ask for an additional plate and divide it at the table. If you do this at least once a week, you can save around $5.00 or more a week, which $260 a year.
  • Two-for-One Coupons: Watch for deals in your paper, or go online and search for coupon specials at places near where you work. You’re bound to have a coworker or two who would love the chance to enjoy a bargain meal with you. If you pay half the price for an $8 entrée once each week, you can save at least $208 per year.
  • Skip the Drinks: The price of any restaurant drink (tea, lemonade, colas, whatever) has steadily crept up in recent years. Many menus don’t even list the prices where you can spot them, because restaurant owners know diners will automatically order a Coke or iced tea anyway. However, at $1.50 (low average) to $2.25 a hit, or more, you’re adding quite a bit to your monthly lunchtime expenses without realizing it. Get rid of pricey drinks altogether (get a plain glass of water instead) and you can save about $450 a year.
  • Cut out Designer Coffee: Okay, maybe you can’t stand the thought of giving up your fancy latte altogether. At least cut back on it, if possible. A few years ago, the world would have laughed at the idea of $4 or more for a cup of coffee. Now, it’s become the norm. If this insidious habit has crept up on you, calculate how much you spend each week and consider cutting back at least one day out of five. Average savings, at least $200 a year, not counting tax or tips.

Budget-Saving Travel and Entertainment Tips

  • Day Trips: If the family is bored to pieces, but you don’t have the funds to spend a weekend away, explore ideas for day trips rather than spending money on hotels. You’ll save food expenses, too, because you won’t need to buy breakfast the next morning (and often will be back in time for dinner at home). Look for quaint towns, or interesting historic sites to give the kids an educational experience. Study up on the destination and what makes it interesting and talk about it at dinnertime in the days before your trip. Ask each child to research and share some interesting facts about it, which will make for ‘family talk’ in the car rather than riding along with earbuds or watching the backseat DVD player. To save even further, take a picnic and eat at a park. Kids crave time with their parents; day trips can give you quality time as a family at a fraction of the cost of a weekend away. Figuring a modest $60 per night for a hotel or travel lodge and maybe $20 for breakfast, if you take one day trip every two months, you’ll save $480 in travel expenses.
  • Family Night at Home: Plan one evening a week of family entertainment at home, in lieu of going out someplace. This will strengthen your family’s bonds and save money as well; children crave time with their parents, and these nights of fun or learning will become treasured memories. Your kids will love watching a favorite movie with mom and dad (homemade popcorn), or baking cookies together, or playing a board game. Make this a tradition and your expenses for commercial entertainment will likely drop, because there’s less of a ‘boredom’ factor in your weekly schedule. If you typically spend $30 for a chain restaurant meal with the kids (and that’s cheap), you’ll save $1,560 by creating your entertainment at home.
  • Invent a Game: Our kids are learning more things than we ever imagined as kids. Challenge your kids to "invent" a board game or activity game. They’ll spend hours creating ideas for the rules (maybe they’ll even design a board and playing pieces), then spend family night playing it together. Your kids will feel like they’re in the spotlight, and you’ll have an evening of entertainment at a very low cost. Compared to a movie out (four people) with popcorn, you’ll save at least $25, but the value of building family togetherness? Priceless.
  • Timeshare “Sales” Trips: Have you been contacted by a ‘resort’ firm offering you six days and five nights, dirt cheap, just to hear their 90-minute presentation? These offers are generally for-real. I spent a very affordable week on Hawaii's Kauai island at a beautiful hotel, with full use of a rental car (free), and a $50 certificate for dining, for less than $800. Yes, I had to pay for the flight, but since the hotel would have been about $350 a night, and the car came to around $150 or more, the trip was a bargain. I’ve had offers for stays in Aruba (only $199 for five-night), Mexico, and a ton of destinations in the United States. I travel with friends, so we share the cost of the stay and we all save. Based on the trade-off for the Hawaii trip, the saving can be around $1200, counting the rental car included in the package.

Budget Tips for Young Families

Save Around the House

  • Electricity: Invest in energy-saving light bulbs. They cost a bit more, but you’ll notice an immediate drop in electricity if you swap out the bulbs you use most often. Aside from the lower cost to use them, they do not heat up the room the way incandescent bulbs do. I swapped out all bulbs I normally keep on for many hours a day, and my bill indeed dropped. It’s difficult to estimate an ‘average’ savings per household, with our different needs, but the next time you buy light bulbs, switch to these and you’ll see some savings.
  • Use Less Soap and Detergent: You can generally reduce the amount you use with anything that’s pre-packaged and comes out of a box or bottle. This is especially true with laundry detergent and dishwasher powder or liquid. You don’t need to fill up the entire dispenser; you’ll get good results by using only half the amount the machine takes (or even less—I use about one third or one-quarter of what I used before). Some people recommend using no soap at all for clothes that are basically clean, or dishes that have been pre-washed at the sink. If you’re able to use only half the soap for laundry and dishes, you’ll buy only half the amount each month. This could save you $200 or more a year, depending on the size of your family and the loads each week and month. You’re also reducing your impact on the environment.
  • Tweak the Thermostat: Gradually lower your thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer. If you do it one degree at a time, you’ll adapt to the feel of the new temperature more easily than going for a dramatic change all at once. You can reduce your heating bill by 5 to 10 percent, and possibly save even more in the summer when rates skyrocket. Naturally, you’ll want to adopt the habit of turning things way down (or way up, in the summer) when you leave the house for even a few hours. Even if your bill is only $100 a month currently, at 10 percent a month, you’ve saved $120 a year.
  • Buy Energy Star: Don’t get rid of a perfectly good washer or dryer prematurely, but when you do need to replace appliances or electronics, buy only Energy Star rated items. These ratings are not just idle hype, they truly do save energy, and they will save you a ton of money on your utility bills. I replaced my washer and dryer and a few other things (notably light bulbs) and watch my bill plummet. This is another place where individual household savings can vary greatly, but I promise you, if you gradually swap your worn-out appliances, printers, computers and other energy vampires for Energy Star replacements, you will see a savings.
  • These are only a few ways to save painlessly; once you get on the frugal bandwagon, you’ll come up with even more ideas for reducing your outflow of cash!


Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on December 29, 2012:

I agree, Tips - we used to have potluck lunchtime picnics at a few places where I worked - we were near the Capitol building, and the grounds were like a lush park! It was a great way to unwind together & 'bond' with the rest of the staff.

tipstoretireearly from New York on December 29, 2012:

Picnic in the park is a great way to enjoy a stress-free and inexpensive lunch. It works equally well during weekends, when bringing a lunch or dinner to a lake or beach is a cheap way to enjoy waterfront dining!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 29, 2012:

Hi, Little Two Two - some of these have helped me quite a bit. Just ordering water at a restaurant meal, for example, really adds up after a while. So glad you like the hub - thanks for commenting!

LyttleTwoTwo from Canada on August 29, 2012:

Great tips and advice ... I really suck with money, trying to implement new ideas that I can use to turn into habits ... Very useful hub!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on July 24, 2012:

Hi, Mpnica - so glad you like the ideas here! Thanks for reading and commenting!

monicamelendez from Salt Lake City on July 24, 2012:

Great hub. I learned quite a bit and need to do a better job of focusing on saving money. Thanks!

Scroll to Continue

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on June 15, 2012:

Thanks, Naimishka - so glad you like these tips!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on May 26, 2012:

Hi, Comparejuniorisa - thanks for checking out the hub! I'm glad you found some helpful ideas here!

comparejuniorisa from United Kingdom on May 26, 2012:

Great Hub, I haven't thought in a couple of these, they will really help!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on April 05, 2012:

Doesn't it make you feel downright righteous to find these great Littke ways to save money? Thanks for reading and commenting, Pinkchic!

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on April 05, 2012:

Awesome tips here! I do a homemade lunch everyday and it has saved me so much money. I used to eat out every single day. Now I get better nutrition, and better cost-friendly lunches :)

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 09, 2012:

Is that one of your hubs? Excuse me while I go read it! ;-)

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on February 09, 2012:

I actually did...How To Get The Party Started has a few:)

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 09, 2012:

Thanks, Sunshine! You write very creative hubs - I would imagine you could come up with some great games. Let me know if you invent one?

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on February 09, 2012:

Fantastic tips on how to save money! I enjoy making up games...that could always be exciting and entertaining!:)

kikalina from Europe on February 07, 2012:

All very true. Besides, homemade food is healthier! Thanks for SHARING

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 07, 2012:

Thanks so much, theking2020! I hope you'll share your ideas with us, too.

theking2020 on February 07, 2012:

This article goes straight to the point, excellent.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 07, 2012:

Thanks, Hawkesdream! I will watch for ideas on your hubs - I love the way our community supports each other. I learn so much from other Hubbers!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 07, 2012:

Hi, mljdgulley - thanks for reading and commenting! Don't you love potluck meals with friends? We do that a lot at church, and when I worked full-time in regular positions, I used to organize monthly themed potlucks for my staff. We did Italian, Soul Food, Picnic Food (had to be cold - for a summer theme) and a few others. Other departments were jealous and would crash our lunches.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 07, 2012:

Hi, Victoria! It sounds like you've discovered even more tricks for saving money! There are a few more tips on the hub about Loving Earth (a take on Valentine's Day), and I'm compiling more for other hubs. I'll look for your hubs, too - we can trade tips. I have been to Starbucks, but it's always because an out-of-town friend wants to stop there. It's sort of odd to go there when you don't normally see the place - like landing on another planet!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 07, 2012:

Thanks, mohitmitm! I've found I need to save the easy way - it's really hard to deny yourself things, at times!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 07, 2012:

Hi, Brett - I know what you mean about those things that are overly tempting to us! Thankfully, I gave up coffee a few years ago - otherwise, I'd probably have needed a part-time job to support the habit. My weakness is chocolate. And sushi (but not at the same meal)! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Al Hawkes from Cornwall on February 07, 2012:

This is a great hub with plenty of food for thought. I am always looking for ways to cut back the expenses. Thank you for these tips.

mljdgulley354 on February 06, 2012:

Great tips for saving money. I use these tips also to help save money. Instead of going out to eat we get together with friends and family for a potluck meal. This has saved all of us eating out funds.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on February 06, 2012:

Awesome to connect with people who are like-minded. I do all these things. I can't imagine spending several bucks for coffee. Do you know I've never been to Starbucks? And I can't imagine eating out more than a few times a year. I'm continually looking at frugal ways to save money. Going to share this one and look for more of your money-saving hubs! Thanks!

mohitmitm on February 06, 2012:

great hub marcy...:)

Brett C from Asia on February 06, 2012:

Some really great tips to save everyday there. I have to admit, I am a sucker for a 'good coffee' while out, probably should reduce them at least.

Thanks for SHARING.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 06, 2012:

Jackie - I what you mean about the way lunch expenses add up! Before you know it, it's a daily habit and you calculate your monthly budget by factoring in that expense. I admire your willpower in budgeting for leaner months with a seasonal income cycle. Many people couldn't do that.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on February 06, 2012:

When I first married my husband had seasonal work so I learned quick to save money and it has just always stuck. We always order water since we always have a drink in the car anyway usually (I carry tea which is good at any temperature) and my husband hates the lemon on his water so lately I have been squeezing it into my water and adding just a touch of sugar so I don't choke, and it is really good, not quite lemonade but refreshing! Even at that I never even drink half of it. When I worked in an office I cooked my food at home, something like Lean Pockets, etc and just warmed them in the microwave, plus fruit or something while others were ordering out at an average of 7 to $10 each and I just could not believe it.

Great info!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 06, 2012:

Hi, Sparlea - thanks for your sweet comments! I'm glad we know each other here on the site. Hey - the ice water & lemon stuff is really good, isn't it? I've used that, too. If a family of four saves money on drinks, it's about $10 (or more) counting the tax and tip.

Sparklea on February 06, 2012:

Hi Marcy, great ideas! A few months ago I started ordering ice water with lemon at a restaurant and add sweetener and squeeze in the lemon juice. It HAS made a big difference in the bill. We turn our heat down at night also. I SO enjoy your hubs. Blessings, Sparklea :)

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 06, 2012:

I love your idea of bringing Crystal Light packets, Jon! I've also seen people ask for extra lemon wedges & make their own lemonade at the table. Thanks for sharing the tip on Crystal Light!

Jonathan McCloskey from Cinnaminson, New Jersey on February 06, 2012:

Another thing about the drinks at restaurants is that you could always bring some of those crystal light things to add to the water to make it into lemonade or iced tea. I think they're only about three dollars for twenty of them? Good hub and good tips.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 06, 2012:

Thanks, Ardie - I'm thrilled to get such praise from a great writer such as you! As with you, I freeze very easily. To my own surprise, it really did help to lower the temp gradually (winter), and I'm actually staying comfortable now at a much lower temp than before. My heat is gas, so the savings isn't as huge as the summer electric is. That's one area where even a degree or two makes a huge difference in the bill. Let me know how it works for you!

Sondra from Neverland on February 06, 2012:

Marcy, what a great find this Hub is! Your writing is always so full of practical, useful information. You will be my go-to for any advice I ever need because you have an easy-to-read flow to your writing. I plan on using the thermostat trick and seeing if it works. My husband and I fight over the temp constantly heheh He turns it down, I walk through and turn it up, he comes and turns it down again, and I walk through and crank it up!!!! And I DO wear a sweater and slippers... Anyway, great Hub on cutting costs and saving money :)

Ov Overo from Oklahoma on February 05, 2012:

I will.. I will.. Thanks once again for sharing..

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 05, 2012:

Hi, Capedium - thanks for reading and commenting. Yes - I can attest these ideas work and will help cut down your expenses. Some of the best ways to save start with small, easy things. Let us know if you try any of the tips, and how it works for you.

Ov Overo from Oklahoma on February 05, 2012:

Sounds interesting.. Hope it works as it seems.. I really want to learn how to save.. Thanks for sharing..

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 05, 2012:

@sgbrown - Thanks for stopping by! I'm with you; I figured out the soft drinks thing long ago, and was amazed at how much it reduces a lunch bill (or dinner). I appreciate your comments!

@thebookmom - I agree, it's hard to change habits when it's a hassle. I think the only way I can curb expenses (or calories - but that's another hub) is to do the easy stuff. Thanks for reading and commenting!

thebookmom from Nebraska on February 05, 2012:

Great ideas! Most are easy to apply once you make the choice to just do it :)

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on February 05, 2012:

Great hub Marcy! I have not been ordering drinks when I eat out for a long time, it ridiculous how much they charge! You have a lot of good information here. Voted up and useful and sharing! Have a great day! :)

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 04, 2012:

Hi, Marlene - Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I'm glad you found these interesting. The tip about cutting out drinks when dining out is a major savings strategy - you'd be surprised how much that tacks to your bill.

MarleneWheeler on February 04, 2012:

Great hub, I practice most of these steps now, I've become so frugal it's now natural to me and my family, in fact I'm always seeking ways to SAVE my hard earned money. Voted up!

Related Articles