Frugal has been a word many of us have shied away from; it conjures up images of having to pinch pennies to save a thimble-full of coins. And when the economy was clicking on all cylinders, saving a buck here and there, just didn’t seem worth the effort for many consumers who were feeling good about their bank accounts.
Enter a pandemic, an unprecedented economic shut-down, soaring unemployment numbers, a volatile stock market, shrinking 401Ks, and suddenly saving a buck takes on a new meaning. Simple changes such as forgoing an extra shot of espresso in your latte means another dollar you can put towards credit card debt. A staggering number of Americans have lost significant portions (if not all) of their incomes, and saving money is suddenly back in style.
Although we might not be heading towards depression-era measures, we should be heading towards the depression-era mindset. Our parents and grandparents, often referred to as the Greatest Generation, knew that saving money was the key to surviving financial hardship. The good news is you don’t have to go to great lengths to save money. You can take several small steps that add up to putting less money out, and keeping more money in your bank account. Having an emergency savings fund with even a couple hundred dollars in it, buys you peace of mind. And once we’re all traveling again, won’t it be nice to have a vacation fund – or even a restaurant fund? (Baby steps.)
Let’s start with some simple but smart things you can do right now to help adopt a savings mindset that won’t take a lot of effort. Savvy savers everywhere are silently applauding you already.
- Track your spending. For one week, track everything you buy, even the small stuff. Be sure to include both online and offline spending. This will help you identify places where you can trim expenses. Once you identify those items, either reduce the cost by looking for coupons and other offers, or eliminate that expense entirely.
- Take Control: Use tools to help you save and you may not need to cut things out at all. You might just need to shop with a savvier mindset: grocery coupons, cash back offers, coupon codes, and the like. Like they say, “There’s an app for that.” Several, in fact, for all of that.
Evaluate your credit card terms. High interest rates? Call your credit card companies and ask if they’ll lower your rate; what have you got to lose? If you’ve been a valuable and loyal customer, they’re likely to work with you, especially in light of the current economic situation. If they say no, shop for lower-interest credit cards with zero or low balance transfer fees. The goal here is to get a lower rate and pay more than the minimum when you can. Keep in mind that while you’re going through this process, continue to make at least the minimum monthly credit card payment by the due date!
- Know your credit report and credit score. Did you know that a good credit score can save you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime? Since the pandemic hit, a lot of people have had to take cash-advances and charge everyday items on their credit cards, and that’s okay – you do what you need to survive. AnnualCreditReport.com is a free site that allows consumers to get a copy of their credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies per year. Once you access your reports, you can pay a nominal fee to get your credit score. Check with your bank or credit card companies to see if they offer free credit scores as a perk. Don’t bury your head in sand, tackle your debt and monitor your score regularly. Knowledge is power!
- Take inventory of all your automatic subscriptions and memberships. Did you buy any at-home exercise equipment during this quarantine? Maybe you can lose your gym membership. How much do you order from Amazon? If your answer is, “I prefer to support smaller businesses directly,” maybe your Prime membership can go. Do you get any subscription boxes that have been just “meh” or you’re up to your eyeballs in whatever type of products they send? (A whiskey-of-the-month club sounds great, but honestly, are you stocked up?) Extra expenses like that are easy to trim.
- Ask about a free energy audit. Many gas & electric companies provide them, and they’ll show you where you’re losing energy plus recommend ways to conserve. They may even offer a credit if you participate in their energy-saving program. If you’re still stuck at home, now’s the perfect time to call them, especially as air conditioners are kicking on across the country. Something as simple as lowering your AC a few degrees can have an impact on your bill. If your financial situation has changed or you have a medical condition, contact your gas & electric company to find out about their financial assistance programs.
- Never pay full price online. Like, ever. EVER, ever. For most purchases you don’t need to. Shop seasonal and event sales, sign up for emails from retailers and get a percent off. Peruse the “clearance” section on your favorite websites regularly to catch the new bargains, and sign up to get Coupons.com e-newsletters where you’ll be alerted to the best sales, deals and online coupon codes available. That’s being “2020 Frugal,” where you save quickly, easily and digitally. You can save the trees and be savvy at the same time.
- Evaluate your grocery spending. Take a few minutes to look at your weekly store ads—anything catch your eye? Plan a few meals based on sale items and introduce something new to your family’s weekly menu. Combine store circular deals with grocery coupons that you keep on your smartphone, and watch your savings grow! Now I’m talking a significant savings (no clipping or printing, woohoo!) and turning your phone into your biggest savings ally. Just remember to plan, plan, and plan some more instead of shopping willy-nilly (especially with hungry kids in tow). Studies have shown that meal planning and shopping with a list can reduce your grocery budget significantly. If a great deal is out of stock, ask for a “rain check”. This could allow you to buy the item when it is back in-stock at the sale price, even if it’s not on sale!
- Try new stuff! Venture out and be adventurous! Brand loyalty is real, and if there are things you won’t budge on like laundry detergent or shampoo, that’s understandable. But let’s take something like cheese, for example: If you’re not stuck on a particular brand and you have a cash back offer where you can get a buck back for trying a new shredded Cheddar, go for it! Sprinkle that savory goodness on some chips and put that dollar back in your account. Remember: The little things add up.
Start here: Commit to tracking your spending, cutting expenses where you can, and saving money on even the smallest of things. Now that coupons are more accessible and easier to use than ever there’s no excuse! Gone are the days of clipping and sorting. You can say goodbye to those accordion organizers and say hello to the simplicity of digital. Have fun with it. You might find you like this new savvy mindset and become one of the forward-thinkers that are bringing frugal back in style.