The New Year is always a time for people to reflect on how they can better themselves – exercise more, eat healthier, and save money are usually at the top of the list. I try to do all of these things throughout the year, oftentimes sporadically, but I find myself especially drawn to any article I see that focuses on how to save money.

Two of my favorite posts on how to save money come from Jenny Evans over at Unremarkable Files – you can find those here and here. I already do a lot of the things she suggests, and she has quite a few that I’ve never thought of before. I don’t have a large family as she does, but even having only two kids is expensive, so I’m always looking for ways to save.

Here are 18 things I do to save money:

1. Happy Hour – not just for cheap drinks anymore. I realize that when you’re trying to save money, you could just not go out to eat, but there are just some nights where the thought of cooking dinner makes me want to scream. Or cry. Or tear my hair out. Or all three of those things, simultaneously. If you check out restaurants in your area, chances are many of them offer half-priced appetizers during certain hours. We usually order four or five appetizers for the table, and that’s dinner. (*Bonus tip – Feed your kids a granola bar and an apple before you leave the house. This way they won’t be as hungry so you can order one less item, and you won’t have to feel guilty that all they had for dinner was a granola bar and an apple.)

save money

Although it may seem like it in this text message with my husband, he is NOT as enthusiastic as I am when I save a lot of money at the store.

2. Coupons! I’m not one of those crazy couponers with an enormous binder who ends up buying 57 boxes of tampons and 93 cans of tuna for $1.63, but I DO utilize coupons. And they WORK! But you have to use them correctly. I almost exclusively use coupons on items that are also on sale. Even if I have a coupon for an expensive brand, I usually find that it’s cheaper to buy a less expensive or generic brand without a coupon. You can also usually pair manufacturer coupons with store coupons. And if you have a coupon for less than a dollar, most grocery stores will DOUBLE it. I spent years throwing out coupons for $.55 or $.75 cents not realizing this was the case. It still haunts me to this day.

3. Online Coupons! That’s right! More coupons! In this day and age of smartphones and the Internet, there are a lot of ways to save money on top of conventional coupons. My grocery store of choice is Stop & Shop, and if you have their loyalty card, you can link it to an online account where you can load coupons and special offers to the card that will automatically be deducted from your bill at checkout. I would imagine that many major grocery stores have a similar system.

I have also started using Checkout 51 and Ibotta. These are rebate apps, and while they aren’t quite as easy as clicking a button to load a coupon, or simply clipping one out of the paper, it’s usually worth it. Both require you to load the offers you think you might use, but after you buy the items, you have to take a picture of your receipt – your entire receipt, which is sometimes as long as I am tall, so that’s kind of a pain. Ibotta also requires you to take a picture of the UPC for most items.

When you reach $20, you can cash out and have the money put into your PayPal account or request a check. I’ve been using these apps for the past couple of years and have made a few hundred dollars back. They both also offers bonuses if you redeem a certain amount of offers each month, and incentives for getting other people to sign up under you using a unique code. For every person that signs up using your code, you get $5. (Feel free to use my code for Ibotta or my code for Checkout51.)  Ibotta also offers a $10 bonus when you sign up and redeem your first offer!

4. Take advantage of FREE events. The town we live in offers a lot of free events geared toward families with small children. Touch-a-trucks, harvest festivals, egg hunts, Christmas and holiday festivities, story times, and the list goes on. We have taken full advantage of these types of activities, to the point that we’re a little sick of them. But I plan on continuing to attend these events until my children are old enough to tell me that they’re “lame,” because they are free, they are usually pretty fun, and they get us out of the house on days we have nothing else to do. And did I mention they’re FREE?

5. Bing Rewards. If you use Bing as your search engine of choice, you can create an account and they will award you points for every search you perform on their site. When you accrue a certain number of points, you can redeem them for gift cards. I always choose an Amazon gift card, because I figure at some point I’ll need to order something from there. I’ve been using it for around six months and I’ve probably earned around $40 – $50 in Amazon gift cards. Sure, Bing is probably selling my search history to marketing companies, but I figure they were most likely doing that anyway, so I might as well get something out of it

6. Don’t join a gym. Trust me. I totally get that it’s more motivational to exercise when you are in a place where other people are working out. But gym memberships are expensive! So with a little bit of self-motivation, go for a walk, or a jog. Do some crunches on the floor. Walk up and down the stairs in your house 20 times. It definitely isn’t easy (at least for me), but you can save a few hundred dollars a year by skipping the gym. All that being said, if I had more money, I would probably join a gym, because getting motivated to exercise is hard!

7. Stop buying school pictures for your kids. I know this sounds mean, but with our access to cameras and technology, snapping an editing a photo of your kids in “school photo pose” will cost you pennies compared to what you’d pay for school photos.

8. I’m not super proud of this one, but it is what it is.

9. Buy clothes and home decor at the end of the season. Mom is my name, and shopping clearance racks is my game! I always try to hit up the clearance racks at the end of the seasons for everything. I especially try to purchase things like winter coats and bathing suits at the end of the winter and summer. If you can buy clothes for your kids a size or two bigger, that stretches your dollar even further. I don’t just limit this to my kids, either. I buy clothes for myself and my husband, as well as things like seasonal decorations.

Here are some other quick and easy things I do to save money. (Many of these make me seem like I’m environmentally conscious, but in reality, I’m a cheapskate.)

10. Make all-purpose cleaner using vinegar, water, baking soda, and citrus oils (I add a drop or two of Dawn dish soap as well)

11. Make bread crumbs using the heels of the bread. I usually try to trick my kids by making sandwiches with the heel of the bread facing inward, but when that doesn’t work, bread crumbs it is!

12. Make chicken stock with the carcass of store-bought rotisserie chicken. It’s so easy, and it makes the house smell nice and homey during the chilly fall and winter months. When it’s made, I pour it into muffin tins, freeze it, then store it in the freezer in a zipper bag.

13. Compost kitchen scraps. This helps save a bit of money in the spring by not having to buy so many bags of soil when it’s time to get your garden going.

14. Reuse Ziploc bags. I also save and reuse the zipper bags that certain bread products (like tortillas) come in.

15. Buy reusable filters for the Keurig. I love my Keurig, but I still don’t like spending $.30 per K-cup. Using the filters, it will only cost you about $.02 per cup of coffee! These are the best reusable filters I’ve used, and I have tried a LOT. I don’t know if it’s the little dolphin shape or what, but they are the only filters that brew the coffee without water overflowing all over the place, in addition to being inexpensive.

16. Stop buying paper towels! Or at least stop buying them so much. I still buy them when they’re on sale (with a coupon, of course), because there are certain messes that require them (like cat vomit…. ugh!). But instead of using them for wiping counters, I’ve opted for these reusable rags. I figured that since I’m doing 40 loads of laundry per week, what harm could it do to add a few more things to one of those loads? They aren’t super absorbent for big spills, but they are great for wiping up counters when you clean up after dinner. As with any cloth item you buy, make sure you wash them before you use them for the first time.

17. Freeze everything. Okay, not everything, but freeze a lot. I stock up on things when they go on sale and freeze them for later use. From meats, to shredded cheeses, to veggies, to bread, I freeze it all. If I’m highly motivated, I’ll even cook meat before I freeze it so it only needs to be heated through when it’s time to eat. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve been known make my own version of Perdue chicken shortcuts and meatballs to freeze, making it much easier for me to throw dinner together when I’m short on time.

18. Toothpaste chicken. Maybe this isn’t something anyone else does, but my husband and I are known to be a little competitive with one another. In this game of toothpaste chicken, we see who will be the first person to finally give up trying to squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube, and just get a new tube out of the closet. I won this last round, but the time before that, my husband actually cut the tube open to scrape the last little bit out. I’d say this little game of ours gets us an extra three to four weeks out of a tube of toothpaste.

So those are just a few of the things I do to save money. Is there anything you do to help save money in your family?

I’m really asking. I need more ideas.

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