If you’re a fan of money expert Clark Howard, you’re probably already familiar with many of the old tried-and-true methods of saving money. While things like keeping grocery bills in check, shopping for cheaper insurance, paying down high-interest debt, etc. will definitely help your wallet in a big way, there are tons of smaller, more creative ways you can save money on a day-to-day basis.
In this article, I’m going to share 35 clever and unusual ways to save money that you may not see in your typical list of ways to save money. Some of these tips are a bit extreme, so try what works for you and leave the rest!
Table of Contents:
Clever and Unusual Ways To Save on Food
Some of the most obvious ways to save money on food include using coupons at the grocery store, using apps to find deals on fast food or avoiding eating out altogether. Another big way to save is by buying in bulk from warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. However, there are a few more extreme ways to cut down on your monthly food budget.
1. Eat What’s In Your Pantry
This first tip may seem a bit obvious, but it’s often one I don’t follow until I really don’t want to go out and spend money on food. Dig deep in your pantry to see what’s been hiding in the back. A can of tomato soup? Rice and beans? Unopened box of pasta? You may be able to save on food and avoid buying a meal entirely simply by looking in your kitchen and cooking what you find there instead.
2. Eat Before Grocery Shopping
This one may seem a little counterintuitive, but try eating before grocery shopping. While there are several popular ways to reduce your actual bill at the grocery store, this tip is a clever way to prevent picking up snacks you don’t actually need (they may be more tempting in the moment if you’re hungry.)
Plan to head to the grocery store after dinner one evening instead of going on an empty stomach. At the very least, make sure you’re going to the grocery store before you’re totally out of options for eating at home. Don’t use this tip as an excuse to swing around a fast-food restaurant before heading to the store!
3. Give Kids a Smaller Portion
Kids are well known for wasting their food. Whether they’re playing with it or deciding they don’t like it, a lot of the food on their plates can end up in the trash. Instead, give kids smaller portions with the opportunity to get seconds. This can potentially save food, and in turn, money!
4. Dumpster Dive (Safely)
This is one of those extreme tips I mentioned earlier that will not be for everyone. Dumpster diving is something I’ve admittedly never tried, but people who practice freeganism swear by this unusual money-saving tip.
Stores and individuals throw out an insane amount of food. In fact, one survey found that the United States discards nearly 60 million tons of food (nearly $218 billion worth) per year. Dumpster diving, especially right after grocery stores throw out damaged or day-old products that are still perfectly good in most cases, is one effort to combat this waste.
If you do decide to try this tip, just make sure you do it safely. Follow all local laws and ordinances to ensure that you aren’t trespassing on private property.
Clever and Unusual Ways To Save on Other Spending
In addition to buying groceries, a lot of our budget tends to go toward things like electronics, eating out, buying gas, impulse buys and general shopping. Being more mindful of our spending is a great way to save. Some of the most obvious tips include comparison shopping before you make a purchase and setting up a solid budget. If you’re already a master of these savings methods, try one (or more) of the following unusual ways to reduce your spending even further.
5. Do a No-Spend Challenge
If you’re looking for an extreme way to save cash, try simply not spending it! Challenge yourself to go a full day, week or month without spending a dime over the absolute essentials (bills, meals, etc.) This is a fun way to save that encourages you to think outside the box.
6. Don’t Upgrade Until You Have To
This tip can be hard for our pride, but great for our wallets: Don’t upgrade anything unless you absolutely have to. If something of yours (especially high-price items) is broken or damaged, see if you can make it at least usable for a while longer.
If you crack your phone screen or dent your car in a fender bender, it’s easy to drop hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a repair or replacement. If these things are still working though, why rush to spend the extra cash?
You may be able to stretch the life of your kitchen appliances as well as pots, pans and dishes. The same goes for other electronics and household essentials that may hit your wallet when it’s time to replace.
7. Use Cash Only (Track Your Spending)
Unless you’re taking advantage of credit card reward points, encourage yourself to stick to a cash-only budget. When you pay with cash, you’re less tempted to make purchases (especially big purchases) while you’re out.
One of our favorite ways to plan with cash is with the envelope system. After you’ve budgeted your funds, put the cash for that budget in labeled envelopes. When it’s time to make a purchase, pull the cash from the appropriate envelope. Once the cash is gone, it’s gone.
If you aren’t keen on keeping cash out, at least make sure you’re tracking your spending. Track every single purchase you make to prevent overspending. You can check out our top picks for the best free budgeting apps, or learn how to build your own free budget on Google Sheets.
8. Save Your Change and Small Bills
If you do use cash, another clever way to save is by keeping all your change or small bills. We keep a change jar in the house that we cash in once every few years. You’d be surprised at how quickly change can add up!
Another idea is to keep all of your small bills. Some of our readers have taken the $5 challenge where they save every $5 bill they’re handed for any reason. After a year, this method can really add up! The next time you do pay with cash, keep the change instead of spending it.
9. Ditch Your Credit Cards
When it comes to overspending, credit cards are often what gets us into trouble. It’s easy to swipe that card, enjoy your purchase, and know that your bank account balance hasn’t budged. However, it’s a bit less tempting when you don’t have your credit card on you at all times.
Some people recommend literally freezing your credit card in a block of ice so that you can’t access it. Others recommend cutting up the card so that you can’t use it at all until you order a new one. At our house, we just keep our credit cards in a lock box with our other important documents until we need them.
Of course, some of these tips are a bit extreme. If nothing else, simply get in the habit of not bringing your credit card with you when you don’t plan to use it. When I go to the gym, I know I won’t need to buy anything, so I only bring my driver’s license instead of my whole wallet. Then when my husband calls and asks me to pick up food on my way home, it’s a lot easier to tell him we’re going to have to cook at home instead.
10. Buy Gift Cards on Sale
Buying discounted gift cards is another clever way to save. You can find great deals on gift cards at Costco. When I checked out the selection at my warehouse recently, I saw four Domino’s $25 gift cards for $79.99 (that’s a $20 savings!) I also saw discounted gift cards for digital/gaming codes, entertainment and movie tickets, and even flights!
While we typically think of using gift cards as gifts, there’s no rule that says you can’t buy them for yourself. Our favorite pizza place was recently offering a Mother’s Day deal where you could get a $25 gift card for $20. We bought two knowing we’d be back for more pizza throughout the year, which ultimately saved us $10!
11. Walk or Take Alternate Transportation
Depending on where you live, walking or taking alternate transportation could be a simple way to save. Investing in a bike one time is likely cheaper than the gas you’d buy driving to work over time. If you can leave half an hour earlier and walk instead, that’s a completely free way to get around! If you’re going somewhere that you’ll have to pay for parking or if you’re driving a long distance, consider public transportation instead.
12. Park Further Away
While we’re on the topic, park further away when you do drive! There’s no need to waste the gas circling around the lot to find the perfect spot. Park in the first open spot you see and get your steps in walking to the door.
If you do have to pay for parking at your destination, park even further away. You may be able to find free parking a bit further out. If not, you’ll likely at least find cheaper parking lots/garages. Instead of paying $10 for parking, look for a lot that requires more walking but that only costs $5 or $3 (or better yet, free!)
13. Join Buy Nothing Groups on Facebook
The internet makes it easy to spend a lot of money, but it also makes it easier to connect with others who are also trying to save.
The Buy Nothing project is one example of a community that strives to spend as little as possible. When you join Buy Nothing, you can post things you’re giving away for free, ask for anything you want and avoid paying altogether. You can join with the Buy Nothing app or find your local Facebook page.
In addition to Buy Nothing, you may find more Facebook pages in your community where people are interested in trading/giving as opposed to selling and buying. This is a great way to prevent waste and avoid spending at the same time!
14. Unsubscribe From Retail Emails
This tip won’t save you any cash immediately, but if you have a bad habit of online shopping, this is one way to reduce the temptation: Unsubscribe from all junk/retail emails.
If you’re trying to avoid spending, the last thing you need is a flashy advertisement in your inbox for the latest trend. Cut the temptation off at the source and click “unsubscribe” at the bottom of that next email.
Clever and Unusual Ways To Save at Home
Unfortunately, we don’t even have to leave the house to spend money. Simply using too much water, electricity or even cleaning supplies can slowly cost us more over time. There are several easy ways to lower your utility bills, but there are also a few more extreme things you can do around the house to reduce the general cost of living.
15. Reuse Everything
Consider saving by reusing things that you would normally consider a one-time-use item. For example, I’ve recently started reusing freezer bags. I can get regular small sandwich bags for much cheaper, so when I section food out to be frozen, I’ll put portions in the smaller bags and then put 2-3 of those small bags into a freezer bag. When the freezer bag is empty, I’ll refill it again with new sandwich bags of portioned food.
You can also rinse and reuse those small sandwich bags for snacks or lunch. In our house, we often rinse and reuse plastic water bottles several times before recycling them. Aluminum foil can also be rinsed and reused a few times. You may even be able to reuse a paper towel for small messes by keeping it on the counter instead of immediately throwing it away after one small use.
16. Fill Your Freezer
This is something new that I learned while writing this article: It costs more money to leave your freezer empty. It makes sense though! When you open your freezer, warm air rushes in to fill all the space and your freezer has to work harder to cool it all back down. You can work to prevent this by filling your freezer and leaving less open space.
That doesn’t mean you need to spend a ton at the grocery store on frozen foods. Instead, fill zip bags, water bottles or milk jugs 2/3 full with water and freeze them. This will take up space in your freezer and you’ll also have ice ready to go if there’s a power outage.
17. Adjust the Thermostat
This is a simple tip that anyone can incorporate into their daily routines. Whatever your preferred temperature is in your home, turn it up or down by one or two degrees.
If you typically keep your thermostat on 70 during the summer, bump it up to 71 or 72. In the winter, knock it down just a little more than normal. Open your windows or throw on a sweater instead of reaching for the thermostat throughout the day.
This is a great way to save a couple of bucks on your electric bill every month. To take this tip a step further, consider zoning off your home and only heating/cooling the rooms you use.
18. Shower Faster (and With Colder Water)
Another way to save on utilities is by reducing the amount of water you use. It’s insane how much water we waste on average in the shower. To prevent this, try taking faster showers. I like to play music when I’m in the shower, and I know each song is about three minutes. After two or three songs, I know it’s time to start wrapping up. You can challenge yourself to take faster showers as a way to reduce water usage. At the very least, take a slightly colder shower than you’re used to. Reducing your hot water usage is another great way to save on utilities.
19. Pee in the Shower (or Don’t Flush)
This tip is on the extreme side, but it’s another way to reduce the amount of water you use in the bathroom. In the past, followers have shared the tip of not flushing the toilet when you urinate. Instead, flush it every other time. You can avoid flushing the toilet once a day by just waiting until you’re in the shower to pee! If you do try either of these tips, I definitely recommend taking the time to clean the tub/toilet more frequently.
If this tip is a bit too extreme, be sure to check out these more conventional tips on how to save on utilities.
20. Use Towels Twice Before Washing Them
After you get out of the shower and dry yourself off with a towel, consider hanging the towel up instead of tossing it into the dirty clothes basket. Let your towel air-dry and it should be good for at least one more use before it needs to be washed. This is a great way to reduce the water you’re using on laundry while also extending the life of your towels.
21. Keep Your Razor
Instead of buying an expensive razor and replacement heads, you can always opt for a cheap, disposable razor. To make the savings stretch even further, use one disposable razor for a bit longer than you think you should.
Many years ago, a listener called Clark to let him know that if you properly take care of a simple disposable razor, it could last over a year. Clark actually tried this tip himself, and did hit the 12-month mark with one disposable razor! The trick is to dry the razor thoroughly and clean it with a bit of alcohol periodically. You can read about Clark’s experience with this tip here!
22. Scoop Less Detergent
When you wash your towels, clothes, or even your dishes, consider using a little less soap or detergent than usual. If you look at the recommended amount of use per load size, you may find that you’re using too much already. By using a bit less detergent or soap, you can often get your clothes and dishes just as clean without having to replace your cleaning supplies as frequently.
23. Cut Paper Towels/Sponges In Half
This is a tip I regularly use at home. I already buy half-sheet paper towels, but I like to take it a step further by ripping the paper towel into at least two pieces. Typically, I don’t need a whole paper towel (or even half of one) to clean a simple spill. Cutting or ripping paper towels into smaller pieces is an easy way to maximize what you’re getting out of one roll.
24. Use LED Lightbulbs
The Department of Energy’s website says that switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills. In fact, it says that the average household saves about $225 in energy costs per year by using LED lighting. They recommend that you replace your home’s five most frequently used lights with bulbs that have earned the Energy Star rating.
However, I don’t recommend that you run out and replace them all right away. If you have bulbs that are working right now, wait until they blow and then buy an LED replacement.
25. Use All of a Product (Cut It Open)
Packaging for things like toothpaste, lotion, makeup and cleaning products isn’t designed to give you every last drop of the product. Instead of buying more when you get low, cut open the packaging and get the extra product out of the bottom.
Every time we buy lotion, we end up cutting off the top of the bottle when it gets low. Then, we just store the bottom in a ziplock bag and reach in to get more. This always makes it last an extra couple of weeks at least!
26. Be Kind to Your Socks
If you find that your socks wear out too quickly, you may want to follow this tip: Keep your toenails clipped short and your heels soft and moisturized. Rough heels and long toenails are hard on socks, which decreases their life expectancy. Gross but true!
27. Learn To Clean and Repair Clothes
There are tons of great DIY stain removal recipes online for nearly any kind of stain. Similarly, you can find free YouTube videos on how to sew/repair nearly anything. Instead of tossing out clothes that are stained or ripped, try to salvage them before replacing them. In a similar spirit, don’t shy away from buying thrifty finds because of a small tear or stain. Instead, buy it and learn to fix it yourself!
28. Cut Your Own Hair/Nails (or Pay Students)
If you spend a few bucks on a haircut every month or if you’re going out to get your nails done regularly, consider learning how to do it yourself instead. Alternatively, find a family member or friend who would be willing to learn how to cut hair or do nails with you. Then, you can help each for free.
Another cheap way to get a haircut or manicure is by finding a local beauty school. Most of these schools require students to get practice with cutting hair or doing nails and you can often book an appointment for free or at a very discounted rate!
Clever and Unusual Ways To Save on Entertainment
It’s so easy to accidentally overspend on entertainment. Obviously, skipping the hottest concert of the year in exchange for a local band playing for free at the park would be a huge relief to your wallet. On a smaller scale, utilizing your local library can be a great way to save on books, games and more. For a few more ways to spend your time while sparing your cash, consider the following tips.
29. Choose a Free/Inexpensive Hobby
Not all hobbies have to be as expensive as collecting cars or traveling. There are tons of ways to fill your time without spending a lot of money.
Consider one of these free hobbies:
- Reading (find free ebooks or audiobooks online)
- Writing (find free prompts online)
- Learning a new skill or language (free online courses)
There are so many free resources online now that you can easily pick up a new hobby for very little money. A couple of years ago, I taught myself to crochet by watching free YouTube videos. Now, I hunt for deals on yarn, stock up, and spend hours a week making free patterns I find online! I’ve also started studying a foreign language with free online resources and a cheap textbook. These are great ways for you (and/or your kids) to spend your time and not your money.
30. Revisit Old Projects or Games
Another clever way to save money is by finishing old projects that you already have the materials for but never used. If you’ve ever lost motivation on a small renovation or an old craft project, consider picking it back up instead of looking for something new to do.
If you or your kids have any video games that you’ve never beat, that’s another great source of free entertainment. Even if you’ve “won” the game, there are often hidden levels, coins or achievements you can try to unlock, which is a great way to extend the life of a game. Alternatively, you can find a great collection of free games online.
31. Quit Bad Habits
Bad habits can quickly cost us a lot including our money and our health. If you use tobacco products or drink alcohol, you can save a lot by quitting. Even eating out or swinging by Starbucks regularly can be a bad habit. Instead, find less-expensive, less-damaging ways to spend your time and the money will save itself. For example, invite some friends over for the evening to grill out or play games and skip the drinks.
32. Bring Your Own Water/Snacks
This is a simple tip that’s often easy to forget. Before you leave the house, pack a bottle of water (or two) and a light snack. This is a great way to prevent overpaying for bottled water or picking up a snack at the counter when you’re out.
33. Listen to Financial Podcasts
Listening to a financial podcast won’t necessarily save you money on the spot, but the information you’ll learn while listening can help you make the best financial decisions over time.
You probably already know that you can listen to Clark’s podcast on your favorite podcast app and device, but there are countless other podcasts that offer both ideas and inspiration to keep you on the financial straight and narrow. Next time you’re in the car or going for a walk, find an informative podcast that you enjoy listening to for entertainment.
34. Go Camping
If you’re looking for a more active source of entertainment that isn’t going to break the bank, try camping when the weather is good. Many states allow rural camping for free where you can stay in your car or a tent. Rural camping can be a bit extreme for some people (don’t expect to find a toilet in the woods) but it can actually be a really fun way to spend a night away from home without paying for an expensive hotel.
35. Practice Gratitude
This last tip is simple, but it can be very effective: Practice gratitude. The best way to save money is by not spending the money you have. When you take the time to appreciate what you have, you realize you likely don’t need much else.
The next time you catch yourself wanting to book a big trip, go shopping or spend money in any way, pause instead to ask yourself whether you actually need to. Make a habit of listing three things you’re grateful for every day instead of adding to your list of things to buy or do.
What are your most strange or unusual ways to save money? Let us know in our Clark.com Community!