I’ve been on my saving money quest for about a year now. In that time I have saved enough to go on several trips and beef up an emergency savings fund. I’ve also written quite a bit about saving. So let’s round up those ways to save money and take a stroll down memory lane.
Have trouble saving money? Me too. Below you’ll find easy, painless ways to save without stress.
Picture c/o http://web.archive.org/web/20121219045655/http://usamania.wikispaces.com:80/ released under CC licensing.
This summer George and I are taking a road trip to Florida. We’ve been talking about taking this trip for years and I am so pumped that we finally ponied up and planned the thing. I often visited the gulf coast of Florida on family vacations as a child. And I can.not.wait. to (annoyingly) sing entire Jimmy Buffett albums in the car and experience the first time George swims in the warm, clear water of the gulf.
This isn’t our first road trip. Oh no. One summer I lived in California and we drove all the way across the country. I learned quite a bit about road trippin’ and money from that excursion. This time we won’t be traveling quite as far but my budget is still tight. Here’s some of my best tricks and tips to save money on your (and my!) next road trip.
Plan, plan, plan Planning is one of the most important aspects of saving money– especially on a road trip. First, create a list of the stops on the trip. Google Maps has a great multiple destinations feature. Using your ideal stops and mileage, create a budget. I’ll have more tips about the details of creating a road trip budget tomorrow. Knowing where you are going and how much you think it will cost is one of the most essential ways to keep your road trip on the cheap.
Travel with friends
By traveling with several people, you’ll be able to split more of the expenses like fuel and hotel rooms. If you like to do your own thing, just let your group know that you like your space too. There’s no shame in needing a little me time.
Expect the unexpected So many unexpected things will happen during a road trip– good and bad. You might have car trouble, prepare for that. You might also see something so kitschy that you just have to stop. The world’s biggest ball of twine, anyone?!
Pack your own food Eating on the road will eat through your budget like pac-man eating dots. By packing your own snacks and some meals, you manage to fight the lure of the gas station pretzel and Slurpee. Some of my favorite road trip snacks are: peanut butter and apples, dehydrated fruits and instant coffee! I’ll, of course, have another post about road trip food closer to my trip.
Eat out for lunch instead of dinner There comes a time on the road trip when jerky just isn’t going to cut it. Plus, the local cuisine is part of the experience. To cut down on the cost of eating out, try eating at restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. The prices will be lower at lunch time, but you still will be able to savor that local cuisine.
Grocery stores Gas station food isn’t very healthy and it’s expensive to boot. Sometimes eating out isn’t much better. Find the local grocery store for healthy and inexpensive fare. George and I will go to the grocery store as one of the first stops when we get to our destination. We stock up on things we couldn’t pack on our road trip like yogurt or milk and store it in our hotel fridge– if we’re lucky enough to have one. This is great for those late night snacks or hotels where breakfast isn’t free.
Stay with people you know Relatives and friends have an obligation to let you stay at their house for free. Kidding. But it never hurts to ask if you can stay with relatives or friends who live in cool locals. Offer to cook dinner for them or do other household chores while you are there. Be a good guest and offer the same in return.
Stay with people you don’t know If you don’t know anyone in your desired travel location, you could always try couch surfing. I’ve never tried it, but if I was going to couch surf, I’d be take precautions. I’d only couch surf with a friend and through a verified organization like Couchsurfing.org.
Collect experiences, not things
Stay away from souvenirs. You don’t need them. Rely instead on pictures to remember your trip. If you must bring back something for your loved ones, look for something free and memorable. I brought my mom a rock from our trip to the Grand Canyon. Shells from the beach are another total classic.
Take advantage of your smart phone What would I have done traveling without a smart phone? Probably eaten at a bunch of crappy restaurants and seen a lot less sights, that’s what. Yelp is one of my favorite tools for scoping out delicious (and cheap!) restaurants in a new city. I also just downloaded the Gas Buddy app for this trip. Gas Buddy helps you find the cheapest gas in your location.
Make some money on the way If you are going to travel a long distance, you might as well make some money while you do it! There are a couple of different ways to make money on your road trip. Barnacle uses drivers to deliver packages all over the U.S. If you have a truck, you could also become a carrier for things like furniture and motor vehicles. Check out U Ship for more details.
Camp along the way
America is a beautiful country with lots of free or low cost camp sites. Even if you aren’t a happy camper (I’m not!) just knowing that I have a hotel booked for the next few nights would soften the blow of spending a night at a campground. It might soften the blow to my wallet too! Recreation.gov is a great place to start your camp ground search.
Kayak.com Kayak is my favorite site for travel discounts because it searches all the major travel sites at once. No more going to Priceline to compare it with Orbitz. Kayak does all the work for you!
Ask hotels for discount It never hurts to ask for a discount. I highly recommend AAA for roadside assistance. They’ve helped me when I’ve locked my keys in my car– more than once! With AAA, you’ll often get discounts on hotels too!
Don’t forget stuff for the actual trip
I never leave for a trip without sunscreen, cash and paper towels. Sunscreen is always more expensive at the beach or touristy locations. My bank’s ATM or a Cash Points may be no where in sight. (I hate ATM fees!) And paper towels are a must for quick clean up in the car. In general, all of these items are going to be cheaper for me to buy at home than to buy on the road.
I know, I know, I just said that you need to bring all kinds of stuff. And you need to bring stuff to a point. But packing light(er) will help you to save on gas. I’d consider things like shoes. Do I need 5 pairs of shoes for this trip? Probably not.
Keep your car in tip top shape Before you leave on a road trip, get your car checked out by an expert. There is nothing worse than having to buy a big unexpected thing, like tires, on the road.
Keep your tires properly inflated
By keeping your tires properly inflated, you’ll save on gas. Properly-inflated tires also are more environmentally friendly and believe it or not, help prevent accidents! Periodically check them at gas stops and you could save a cost of $300-500 per year!
Maintain steady speed Keeping a steady speed is essential for achieving optimal fuel economy. Tests from The Energy Conservation Japan show that “varing your speed up and down between 75 km/h and 85 km/h every 18 seconds can increase your fuel use by 20 percent.” So, put on that cruise control and ease on down the road, baby!
Make travel a priority Travel is a big priority in my life. I save for it just as I save for retirement. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret not taking George to see the clear, blue-green water of the gulf coast. That’s why each month I sock a little bit away just for travel.
What are your best road trip money saving tips? Let me know in the comments!
My dad once told me a story of this guy at his work who was so thrifty that he ate only bologna sandwiches for the last 20 years. That’s it. Two pieces of white bread, a piece of bologna and some mustard. (Not even any cheese!) Every day. His coworkers used to say that he was so tight with money that if you squeezed him, quarters would fall out of his butt. Crude, I know. When he died, they went into his house and found almost a million dollars stashed under his mattress.
I don’t know if the story is true, my dad tends to exaggerate, but it’s the ultimate story of odd thriftiness. I’m not suggesting you only eat bologna sandwiches because I can’t believe the guy didn’t get scurvy. I’m also not saying that you die with a million dollars stashed under your mattress because you do need to live a little. But I thought I’d share some less extreme, but still a little weird ways I’ve found to save cash.
Don’t wash your hair: My hair stylist actually suggested this one and it has saved me a ton of money. I went from washing my hair every day to washing it once a week. My hair is so much healthier now, less dry and I save an hour a day. And I know what you are thinking: But my hair is oily! George‘s hair was too, but when I convinced him to quit washing his hair so much, his body regulated itself and produced less oil. You’ll go through a gross stage where your hair looks terrible for about a week, but see it through. I’ve yet to go completely shampoo-less, but some people swear by it!
Don’t coupon: Believe it or not, couponing can lead to overspending. Those $10 off $100 deals can be a trick to get you to spend more than you planned. Expiring offers, like those from Groupon or Living Social, can also put pressure on you to make an impulse purchase. And believe it or not, some coupons aren’t actually a “deal.” Coupons are usually for name-brand items, and sometimes even with the coupon, the generic brand is cheaper. Ridiculous! Read more about why I don’t coupon here.
Unsubscribe to junk mail and email: Unsubscribe to retailer emails through Unroll Me and junk snail mail through Catalog Choice. The junk mail will never even make it to your mailbox or inbox, taking away the temptation before it happens! It’s also a great tip to keep down clutter.
Shop under a time limit: Shop before you have to be somewhere or set a stopwatch and give yourself a limited time to shop. There’s less temptation when you know you need to just get 5 things and get out. Sometimes I’ll shop on my lunch break and store the food in the break room fridge at work. It gives me a chance to get out of the office and shop on a deadline.
Flush less: If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down. Nuff said.
Put a water bottle in your toilet tank: Ok, after this one, I swear I’m going to be less gross. A capped water bottle filled with sand in the back of a toilet tank can displacing enough water to save 10 gallons a day. That’s a savings of almost $100 per year! Sometimes it pays off to be slightly gross.
Displace water in your tub (or bathe together!): Displacing water in your tub can also save some dough. I’ll let you decide what or who to help you displace the water 😉
Cash only: Challenge yourself to operate on cash only. By doing everything from paying bills in cash to using cash for groceries, you’ll see exactly where your money is spent. It might be a little more hassle, but the convenience of credit and debit cards can lead to overspending.
Save condiments: If you eat out, save your leftover condiments. My paternal grandma, god bless her, didn’t pay for a single condiment in her entire life. She had a giant Ziplock in her fridge full of ketchup, mustard and mayo packages. She also freshened her breath with the parsley garnish on her plate. As a kid, I thought it was the weirdest thing ever. But now, I know, she was a smart lady. Smart enough to raise five kids on a single income home. Which leads me to…
Think like your grandma: I don’t know when it happened, maybe the ’80s, but people started to get spoiled. We had a boom economy and “treat yo’ self” was the norm. Maybe they said it differently, “Like totally, treat yourself, dude,” but times were easier. Now, it looks like that time was the exception, not the norm. We need to learn how to make do and mend like our grandparents.
Make friends with thrifty people (and stay away from the big spenders): I’m not saying you should ditch all your rich friends because you might need to use their yacht one day, but being friends with like-minded thrifty people is much easier. Your big spending friends influence you to spend more whether you realize it or not. Hanging out with my friend, Gabby, who is ultra-thrifty has has challenged me to be thriftier too. She is a Craigslist ninja!
Eat raw: Uncooked veggies are significantly cheaper than meat. Plain and simple. You don’t turn on your stove, so you save energy costs and we all know how much cheaper veggies are than meat. If this idea is hard for you (it’s totally hard for me! I’m a big omnivore), challenge yourself to just eating one day or one meal per week meat-free. Even Martha does “meatless Monday,” so you know it’s a good idea.
Forage: I’m no foraging expert, but truly getting back to the land can be an educational, money-saving experience. I wouldn’t recommend you go at it alone, though. You don’t want to end up all Into the Wild, but there are mycological (mushroom hunting!) and foraging clubs across the U.S.
Reuse disposable items: Tinfoil, Ziplock bags, saran wrap and other “disposable” items can all be reused. I, personally, wouldn’t reuse them more than a couple of times because I worry about chemicals, but I had a friend who said his mom still had a package of tinfoil from the ’70s because she always reused it. That’s thrifty, ya’ll.
Reuse coffee grinds: This is one of my favorite tips because, well, I love coffee and I have super dry skin. Coffee grinds are a great exfoliator. My skin glows after I slough some on. The jury is still out, but I also heard that coffee grinds can help cellulite ANDDDD those delicious, fragrant grinds can also be used in your garden as fertilizer. Is there anything coffee can’t do?
Shift your thinking: I once read that if you begin thinking of yourself as a fit person, you’ll become more fit. If you tell yourself you “don’t” eat something instead of “can’t” eat something, you are taking away the negative emotion and empowering yourself. It works the same with money. Begin thinking of yourself as a saver and you’re more likely to actually save. Try telling yourself that you “don’t” overspend instead of you “can’t” overspend. It’s liberating.
Get Scroogy: The holidays are coming up and it’s oh so easy to walk into the nearest Target and drop $200 bucks on decorations. Try making your holiday decorations out of stuff you have around the house or forgo decorations all together this year. You could also make it clear to your friends and family that you won’t be partaking in present exchanges this year. They’ll probably be disappointed, but explain your reasoning and they’ll get over it. If you’re crafty, you could also try your hand at making gifts this year.
Pick up every coin you find: I have a friend who literally throws pennies away. She also won’t pick up change on the ground. WHO DOES THAT. Last year, my mom picked up every coin she saw on the ground, put it in a jar and at the end of the year, it added up to almost $12. That’s free money!
Go to bed earlier: This is a toughie for me, but I know if I go to bed earlier and get up earlier, I’ll be taking greater advantage of the daylight and using less electricity at night.
Make it a competition: Start a saving competition with your family or friends. See who can save the most money each month. Make sure there is a prize at the end, so you all have that incentive. May I suggest a weekend trip together?
Bonus tip! Live in an Airstream. No really! We do it and it’s been the biggest money saver in our lives. Want to read more about how we live? Start here.
What weird, crazy or out of the box tips or tricks do you have to save a buck? Let me know in the comments!
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