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9 Frugal Habits That Can Save You Thousands of Dollars

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Last week I was awarded $8 in Shop Your Way surprise points, so I went to Sears. I found a nice $26 shirt on sale for $10, applied the points, and paid $2.16 including tax.

A $26 shirt for $2 is nice, but it won’t happen often, and it takes some thought. I had a six-day deadline to use the points and, for maximum savings, I needed to find something as close to $8 as possible, but not a penny less. I also had to avoid other fine print traps (sale items okay, but not clearance items, no household products, etc.).

On the other hand, it’s no trouble to save a few bucks annually on napkins. I just tear a paper towel in half when my wife and I eat. It takes no thought or effort, because it’s a habit.

Good habits can save you a lot of money, especially on things you pay for frequently.

For example, maybe, like my wife and I, you eat out frequently, making this a great target for developing a good frugal habit. You might forget the more intricate tricks for eating out for less, but if you develop one simple habit, like going to restaurants for lunch instead of dinner, you can save hundreds of dollars annually without any extra thought or effort.

Here are some more frugal habits you can develop. Most provide savings of $30 to $520 per year, and that adds up. But be sure to read to the end — the last habit can save you thousands of dollars annually.

1. Turn Off Those Lights and Electronics

Turning off unused lights and electronics is an obvious money-saving habits. And the myth that you should leave lights on if you’ll be gone only a short while has been disproven. The extra power used to turn them on is so small that even if you’re gone for less than a minute turning them off saves electricity (and money).

In 2010 Cornell University estimated it would save $60,000 per year if lights were turned off when not in use. Your own more-modest savings depend on the types of bulbs you have, how many you leave on, and the cost of electricity where you live.

A reasonable guess is that you might be leaving various unused lights on for a cumulative ten bulb-hours per day. If they use an average of 25 watts and you pay the U.S. average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, turning them off will save you about $11 per year. You can add that to the savings from turning off unused electronics.

Turn off the lights every time you leave a room. Turn off radios, televisions, and other electronics anytime you’re not using them. Once this is a habit the effort will be minimal.

Potential Savings Per Year: $30

2. Eat at the Restaurant Bar

The first thing my wife and I do when entering a restaurant is look for the bar. We arrive during happy hour, of course, and this two-part habit saves us a lot of money.

Many restaurants offer happy hour specials only in the bar area. Some restaurants that give you free tortilla chips or other snacks do so only at the bar. By eating those freebies and a couple delicious half-priced happy hour appetizers, we avoid paying for an entree altogether.

Make this a habit and you can easily save $10 each time. That really adds up if you go out at least once per week, like we do.

Potential Savings Per Year: $520

3. Adjust the Thermostat

Adjusting the thermostat should be part of your routine when you leave the house and when you go to bed. In colder months turn it down when you leave home or go to sleep (you need less heat when you’re under the covers). In summer turn it up when you leave to avoid wasting air conditioning.

Adjusting it permanently helps too. The savings depend on many factors, including the size of your home and utility costs, but according to lowering the temperature in winter by one-degree in a Michigan home can save $10 per month. Wear a sweater and you might be comfortable lowering the thermostat several degrees.

You can also get used to less air conditioning if you try. Here in Tucson, Arizona, with the help of a small fan, I’ve learned to be comfortable at 82 degrees (the dry air makes a difference — 78 degrees was the highest I could tolerate in Florida).

Potential Savings Per Year: $250

4. Plan a Route Before You Leave the House

If you jump in the car whenever you need something, it’s time for a new, more-frugal habit: Plan a route to minimize the number of trips and your total miles driven.

For example, if you know you have to go to the bank tomorrow, hold off on grocery shopping until then. Make a list of those and any other necessary errands, and plan an efficient route to reduce the distance you drive.

Habitually grouping weekly errands together on an efficient route can probably save you 20 miles of driving weekly. AAA says it costs 57.3 cents-per-mile to drive a small sedan, and about half of that is direct operating cost (some expenses, like insurance and registration, cost the same regardless of the number of miles driven), so the savings add up quickly.

Potential Savings Per Year: $275

5. Use Toilets Away From Home

The average price of tap water in the U.S. is about $0.004 per gallon, so if your toilet uses 2.5 gallons per flush it cost about a penny. That’s not much, but there’s also the cost of toilet paper, warm water and soap to wash your hands, and repairs (the more you flush the sooner you’ll be replacing parts).

So let’s round it off to about 3 cents each time you use the toilet.

Now, what if, every time you think about heading home you automatically head for the nearest public toilet? Use the bathroom before you leave work, use it before you leave the mall, tell the kids to use the bathroom at school before they get on the bus — you get the idea.

Developing a habit like this might save an average of one flush per day. If three of the people in your house make it a habit you can use that bathroom 1,095 fewer times annually.

Potential Savings Per Year: $33

6. Eat Before Grocery Shopping

I’m not going to quote any experts here, because your own common sense and experience tells you that you spend more on groceries when you shop hungry. And you know you eat more when you have more food around (especially if you loaded up on snacks).

Make it a habit to eat before you go to the grocery store. My guess is that this habit will save you $5 to $10 each time. Interestingly, Forbes recently reported on research that shows you’ll spend more even on non-food items when you’re shopping hungry.

Potential Savings Per Year: $260 to $520

7. Eat Inexpensive Foods First

You probably have a variety of foods in your kitchen, but does it matter which you eat first when you’re hungry? It does if you want to save money.

It’s a simple but effective idea. First fill up on cheap healthy foods and you’ll eat less of your favorite pricier foods, without the need to eliminate them.

For example, don’t tell yourself you can’t have that expensive cheese or pricey (and unhealthy) chocolate cake. Instead just start your meal with rice, beans, and vegetables. You may not have room left for the other stuff, but even if you do you’ll eat less of it.

Make it a habit to start with the inexpensive foods and you can probably save $10 per week.

Potential Savings Per Year: $520

8. Procrastinate

There are at least six ways procrastination can save you money, and there are even scientific studies of consumer procrastination. I’ll save you the trouble of reading the research with this synopsis: Put off purchases and you’ll save money.

Putting off a purchase makes you less likely to actually make it and more likely to find a better deal. Also, procrastination can decrease the frequency of purchases, so you spend less over time. For example, if you buy case of beer every two weeks instead of every week you cut your annual cost in half.

Make it a habit to wait a little while before buying something.

Potential Savings Per Year: At least hundreds of dollars.

9. See Bills as an Opportunity

Why not train yourself to habitually see bills as an opportunity to find ways to save money? It’s a more cheerful perspective, and if you keep at it you will find ways to cut costs.

There are three basic approaches you can use depending on the type of bill:

The first is to look for ways to eliminate the expense entirely. For example, if you’re looking at a car payment you might think of a way to pay off the loan early or sell the car and buy a cheaper one for cash. Other expenses that might be eliminated entirely include credit card debt, furniture rentals, cable TV service, and magazine subscriptions.

The second approach is to find ways to use less of whatever it is you’re billed for. This applies to utilities in particular. For example, there are always ways to use less water and electricity.

The third approach is to look for a less-expensive provider. For example, when you get your car insurance bill you’re first thought should be, “Have I looked for a cheaper policy this year?” If not, get online or on the phone and get some quotes.

Making it a habit makes this strategy powerful. The habit for most people is to dread bills but then to pay them without much thought about how to reduce or eliminate them. Your new habit, when you have a bill in your hands, should be to think. “Great! Now I can find another way to save money!”

Potential Savings Per Year: At least hundreds of dollars; possibly thousands.

If you know some good money-saving habits to add to the list, let us know below… and keep on frugaling!

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