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A cup of coffee at my local Panera is $1.99, or $2.17 with tax, but my last cup cost $0.79.
First, my Panera card gave me $1 off. I’m at Panera every Saturday to play chess, so I earn a few rewards (once, they gave me with a free bagel every day for a month).
A discounted price naturally reduces sales tax too, so my $1.99 coffee was $0.99, and $1.08 total with tax.
I paid for the coffee with a $20 Panera gift card I had bought on sale for $15, which knocks off 25% right there.
Since I bought the gift card with a 2% cash-back credit card my total discount was about 27% (off the $1.08 price), so instead of the usual $2.17, my total cost was just $0.79.
A savings of $1.38 isn’t huge but, as explained in a previous post, “deal stacking” like this can save you big money on larger purchases.
In any case, some of us get a certain thrill from using frugal strategies, regardless of the size of the transaction. If that describes you, you’re going to have fun with the following collection of money saving tricks…
1. Create Your Own Discount on “Damaged” Goods
I needed a sliding screen door, and found the right model at Home Depot for $109.98. I picked through until I found a door with bent metal trim at the bottom. The damage was inconspicuous, and probably easily fixable.
I brought the door to an employee, showed him the damage, and asked for a discount. He marked it 20% off, which saved sales tax too, so a door that normally costs $119.33 (with 8.5% sales tax) cost a total of $96.46. That’s a savings of $22.87.
To apply this strategy to just about anything you buy, look for damage that doesn’t bother you much.
Examples; a crooked seam at the bottom of a shirt you’ll wear tucked-in anyhow, or a bicycle with a broken pedal that can be replaced for much less than the discount.
It can take a few minutes to track down the right employee (sometimes you’ll need a manager), but it’s usually worth the time. When first offered a discount, ask for even more — the first offer on my door was a 15% discount.
You can try this at any store. So far, I’ve gotten “damage discounts” at Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, and KMart.
2. Travel With a Water Bottle
Why pay $3 for a bottle of water in an airport, when you can bring your own bottle to the gate and even onto the plane?
You can’t go through security with water, but you can go through with an empty bottle, which you’ll fill up at a drinking fountain on the way to your gate.
3. Ask for Free Drug Samples
The next time your doctor starts writing a prescription for you, ask her if she has samples of the drug. Doctors often have free samples they can give out. Depending on the medication, that can save you a lot of money.
But be careful The National Institutes of Health website says “Over 90% of physicians have some relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.” They often give out samples in order to get you to use expensive drugs.
To prevent this you can get the generic version once your samples are used up. You can also call the doctor to ask if there is a cheaper (but still effective) alternative.
4. Make a Pizza
You want to save money on pizza, but you know the frozen ones at the supermarket are never as good as those from a pizzeria. We add stuff to frozen pizzas, and that helps, but it’s still not the same.
To really save money and still have a quality pizza, make pizza at home with frozen dough.
The key is dough that rises for a couple hours, to give you that pizzeria-quality soft chewiness.
Experiment with various toppings, or use whatever cheese and vegetables in the fridge are nearing their expiration. If done right you should cut your pizza cost in half or more.
5. Make Your Own Healthy Soda
When 2-liter sparkling water goes on sale for less than a buck at Safeway, I buy a few and mix them with various fruit juices. It’s cheaper than most good sodas, and healthier too.
My wife and I also find that soda is too sweet, and certain varieties (orange, for example) taste better when mixed half-and-half with water. Cut the cost in half and have less sugar!
6. Use WhatsApp for Free International Calls
My wife has many friends in her native Ecuador.
Unfortunately it costs 15 cents-per-minute to call Ecuador, even with the cheapest plan. Fortunately she and her friends have downloaded WhatsApp to their phones, which allows free calls of any length using whatever wireless network is available.
7. Wash Clothes in Cold Water
My wife and I wash everything in cold water. We have no kids, so that saves us only a few dollars monthly, but a larger family can save over $200 per year by skipping the hot water.
Many sources say today’s laundry detergents work just as well when using cold water as hot. And more than that, hot water may shorten the life of clothing, so switching to cold saves you even more on less-frequent clothes replacement.
If your washer has two cold settings, use the one that says “tap cold.” The regular “cold” setting will still use some hot water if the tap water is below a certain temperature.
8. Make Your Own Salad Dressings
If you like Italian or vinaigrette dressings on your salad, you can make your own for a fraction of the cost of buying them — and it’s easy.
We just mix olive oil and vinegar (balsamic is best, but cider vinegar works too), and add whatever spices we have around. Add a touch of sugar if like sweeter dressings.
9. Do Your Own Bicycle Tube Repairs
Bringing your bicycle to a repair shop for every problem can be expensive. Among the easier repaiirs you can do yourself to save money is fixing a tube. A basic tube repair kit costs a couple dollars, and is good for several uses.
10. Negotiate Even Where It Isn’t Normally Done
I bought a $10 book for $6 at a bookstore simply by asking… and then putting the book back on the shelf when the owner of the store said no. A minute later she called me back and agreed to my price rather than lose the sale.
You can get a better price in many retail shops where negotiating is not common. Talk to the owner if possible, be polite, and make it clear you’re not saying the item isn’t worth the price asked, but simply that for you can’t or won’t pay more than what you’re offering.
11. Pay Friends for Rides
The IRS says it costs 53.5 cents per mile to operate a car, but that includes insurance and other costs that don’t change much with mileage. Direct costs per mile (gas, oil, wear) are probably closer to 30 cents for most vehicles.
But even at that rate, if you drive 10 miles each way to the store you spend $6 just for the car. That’s why I used to pay roommates and friends $2 to tag along with them when they went to the grocery store.
In fact, the strategy allowed me to go without a car for many months at a time, which really saved me money.
12. Use a Spray Bottle and Fan Instead of A/C
To save on the cost of air conditioning, buy a spray bottle at a dollar store. Use it to occasionally mist yourself while you sit in front of a fan.
This little trick can keep you comfortable even when it’s 85 degrees in the house. It is more effective in dry climates (I live in Arizona), since it works on the principle of evaporative cooling.
13. Eat at Two Restaurants
An expensive restaurant might have great food, but often it’s the ambience that makes it popular, or the setting (rooftop, beachfront). So if you mostly just want to be there, eat first at a cheap place, and then go to the pricey restaurant for just a dessert or drink.
My wife and I use this strategy to go to the nicest places around for less than half the normal cost. It’s just one of 52 ways to eat out for less previously reported here.
14. Buy a Hair Clipper
I paid $29.95 for a simple electric hair clipper at Walmart, and I used it the next day to save myself the usual $15 cost of a haircut. It paid for itself by the next cut, and has saved me more than $100 since then.
It does help if you have someone to do the finishing touches using scissors, but when my wife hasn’t been available I’ve managed those myself in front of a mirror.
15. Use Employer Resources
Okay, there’s the guy who lived at the office for 500 days to avoid paying rent. That might be going too far. On the other hand, an employer is unlikely to complain if you use the bathroom before you go home to save on your water bill.
You can also save a little by waiting until you get to work to drink the free coffee. If there’s a company gym you might use that instead of buying exercise equipment.
If you stick to using employer resources in normal ways you can save some money without crossing any ethical lines (or pissing off the boss).
16. Carpet a Room With Samples
The first time I used this trick I bought carpet samples for 25 cents each and carpeted a large bedroom for under $10 — including the cost of staples for the staple gun.
At $1 each — a more common price now — it would have cost closer to $40, which is still a lot cheaper than installing regular carpet.
Most carpet stores sell off samples, and if you can’t buy enough at one time you can save them up until you have enough.
Yes, it’s a bit colorful and funky (or fun), but this is great for kids rooms, where you can pull out and replace any carpet square that gets stained.
17. Live in Your Investment
How do you make a profit on real estate without paying any taxes?
One way is to live in your investment. The IRS says if you’ve lived in a home for at least two of the past five years you can sell it without paying any capital gains tax (limited to $250,000 or $500,000 for a couple).
For example, my wife and I lived for two years in our condo in Florida, which made the $16,000 profit tax-free. That saved us thousands of dollars in taxes.
You can use this strategy for bigger savings if you fix and flip houses. If you have more than one project going just be sure to live in the one with the biggest profit potential for a couple years while you renovate it.
18. Live in Houses That Are for Sale
Want to live in nice homes with cheap rent? Live in homes that are for sale.
Caretakers of America can put you in a nice place for “…far less than the cost of rent for a comparable home.” The catch? You have to keep the house in “ready to sell” condition at all times, and be ready to move on to the next one when it sells.
That’s just one of dozens of cheap housing options previously reported on here.
19. Make Your Own Pet Food
My wife and I are kind of horrified to see all the stuff that goes into cat foods, so we spend a little more to get healthier brands. But for even healthier pet food at a much lower cost, you can also make your own.
For example, TheBark.com says homemade puppy stew is less than half the cost of high-end packaged dog foods. There’s also a lot of information online about how to make cat food safely, and for less that the cost of store-bought food.
20. Change Your Font When Printing
Printer ink is expensive! Printing fewer things is one way to cut that cost. My wife and I also use only black ink to keep the cost lower (you can re-insert the colored-ink cartridge when it’s absolutely necessary).
But perhaps the most intriguing way to save on ink is to switch the font you use.
NPR reports that a professor in Wisconsin determined Century Gothic font uses up 30% less ink than the most commonly-used fonts. That’s a pretty big savings for a simple change.
If you have your own money-saving tricks to add to the list, please tell us about them below… and keep on frugaling!