Personal Finance Advice: Being Broke Ain’t Cute- Tips on Saving

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Krystal from Give Me Back My Five Bucks, gives TBF readers some excellent tips on how to save money on the little things.

It seems like we are always focused on staying away from purchasing big ticket items to save money. For those of us on a budget, we know we shouldn’t be buying that big screen TV, or that new car … or even that cute purse we’ve been drooling over for the past month at that great store on the way to work. But what are some ways we can save money on things we need on a day to day basis?

It dawned on me this evening as I was rinsing out plastic zip-lock bags from my lunch box, that there are a lot of things I do in my every day life to save a few cents here or there. Sure, it may not seem like I’m saving much, but by doing things like rinsing out plastic bags, I’m not only saving myself money, but I’m helping out the environment too. And I got to thinking, what other things have I picked up over the last year or so that have saved me money?

Cool Tips on Saving

  • Selling my car – like I’ve said before, this is the #1 money saver move for me. I sold my 1989 Mazda 323 hatchback for $1,600 (originally bought it 3.5 years ago for $1,800), and bought a brand new scooter for $2,200. Even though the scooter was $600 more than the value of my car, the cost of owning a scooter ended up being cheaper than buying a monthly bus pass! $5 gets me almost 200km on my scooter, and it’s only $15/month to insure. Cars are a luxury, and for most people, aren’t truly necessary. If you take the bus, ride a bicycle, or even buy a scooter, it’s not only going to save a ton of money, but it’s also way better for the environment.
  • Bringing my own cloth grocery bags – at our local grocery store, they give you a 3 cent credit for every plastic bag you don’t take out of the store. So if your groceries would have fit into 2 plastic bags, they deduct 6 cents from your bill.
  • Using a cloth to remove my make-up – I used to use those round cotton pads to wipe away my make-up before I washed my face every night, but now I’m using an old face cloth instead to do the job. It saves me $3 every month.
  • Buying the generic store brand – this is pretty much a given for anybody doing the frugal thing out there. I used to be completely against the store brand stuff, especially when it came to lotions, body wash, feminine products – basically anything skin-related. But when I see a huge bottle of name-brand body lotion on for $10, and the generic brand right beside it for $3.50, I always take the store brand.
  • Use skin products sparingly – you’d be surprised how long your face creams and moisturizers will last if you just use a little less. I used to work as a beauty advisor when I was in college, and I would have customers come back every month to buy another pot of their favourite cream. And that stuff ain’t cheap! Face cream is something I don’t scrimp on, but I can make a 50 mL ( 1.7 fl. oz) tube of face cream last me an entire year.
  • Using the back of recycled paper for taking notes – instead of using post-it notes, every few months I take some paper from the recycling bin to work, cut them into quarters, and then use the industrial stapler to staple them together. A perfectly good note pad! So what if the back doesn’t stick to things? It’s FREE!
  • Using coupons – I’ve been using coupons for a while now, and I wonder why I didn’t start sooner. 50 cents here, 35 cents there, and it all adds up after a while. I know some people just don’t have the time to clip coupons, but seriously, 15-20 minutes every Sunday looking through the paper for those valuable coupons really makes a difference.
  • Buying groceries on sale – the BF and I have made it a rule to never buy anything unless it’s on sale. So if we’re out of tea, or bread, or cheese, or lettuce, and it’s not on sale that week, we don’t buy it. It has saved us a fortune compared to when we just bought whatever we considered “the usuals” every week. We’ve learned to create our meals around the ingredients that are on sale by looking at the store flyers online before we head out, and then figuring out what we can make with those items. We spend between $20-$50/week on groceries for the two of us, and that includes buying lunch stuff for the week since we always pack our lunches. Which brings me to …
  • Bringing my own lunch – in the 6.5 months since I’ve been at this job, I’ve only eaten out once. I always pack my lunch the night before, because I’m always in a rush during the mornings and never have time to throw anything together. That saves at least $5/day.
  • The Entertainment Book – seriously, one of the best purchases I make every year. That thing pays for itself after using just 2 or 3 coupons! Aside from having the coupons for the places you know and love, it’s also a great way to try out new places you might otherwise have never gone to. The EB is one of the main reasons I was able to stay on my $30/month dining out budget for so long.
  • Re-using shoe boxes – I love shoes, but I also love shoe boxes (but to a much, much lesser extent). They’re great for storing things, and if you spend the time to dress the boxes up nicely (wrap them with thick decorative paper or something), they look really good stacked on top of each other. I have everything in shoe boxes – first aid supplies, yarn/needles/cross stitching, old journals, electronics, old floppy disks, etc.
  • Re-using retail shopping bags – I re-use the retail shopping bags I get from Jacob, Esprit, etc. Not only do they make good garbage liners, but most of the time they’re sturdy enough to hold our recycling when we take it out to the curb every other week. And the recycling guys always leave us the bag so we can use it again the next time. And as for garbage liners, when we’re collecting our garbage for the week, we just dump the contents from every waste bin into one big bag, and leave the bag liners in their original waste bins. That way we’re only throwing away one bag.
  • Borrow from the library – gosh, I don’t even know when I bought my last book. The library has all the best-sellers, and as long as you’re willing to wait a few weeks (or months in my case, for Shopaholic & Baby), you’ll get to read it for free! Books are so expensive nowadays, it’s not even worth it to buy it brand new. And if you absolutely can’t wait to wait and borrow the book from the library, at least ask around to see if you can borrow anyone else’s copy, and also check out used book stores for people who trade books. I had a friend who read a lot – and every time he finished a book, he’d take it to the used book store and just trade it for another one. While I was buying the books new from the store, he was saving $20 each time by borrowing it for free. Besides, is it really a big deal that the spine has a crease in it, or some of the pages are folded over?
  • Quit drinking alcohol – not that I was an alcoholic before, but I can probably count the number of drinks I have in a year on my two hands. That’s how little I drink. I never go to the bars or clubs with my friends anymore because it costs too much money, and I always feel really weird being surrounded by drunks. And I certainly never order alcohol with my meals if I do end up going out for dinner. If you are in a situation where you must order an alcoholic beverage, at least take a look at their drink specials for that day.
  • Always order water – while on the subject of beverages, it’s really really rare that I’ll ever order anything besides water with a lemon to drink at a meal.
  • Order the daily special – It’s so much cheaper than ordering something regular priced off the menu! I’ll always order the daily special unless it’s completely disgusting. Like if it has cucumbers, olives, or the worst, if it has raw/fresh tomatoes in it. YUCK. Also, anything Greek? No thank you. And if you have left-overs, for gosh sakes, pack it up and bring it home!
  • Drink tea instead of coffee – coffee dates with the gals can be pricey when the cost of a fancy beverage is like $5!  Tea is so much cheaper, and if you’re being really frugal, you can ask for a cup of hot water and bring your own tea bag.

When I started tackling my debt, I watched every cent I was spending. There was no way I was going to spend the money if I didn’t have to, even if it meant being inconvenienced for a short period of time. Now that I’m out of debt, I can look back and see that being so frugal was worth it in the long run. I’m debt-free a lot sooner than anticipated, I’ve developed habits that are going to save me thousands of dollars in the long run … and most importantly, I know that if I continue to be frugal, and if I continue to save as much as I can, I’ll be set on my path to financial freedom.

So I’m putting it out there: what do you do to watch your pennies?

Krystal is a recent college graduate who just became debt free, paying off over $17,000 in student loans in just ten months! Now that she’s living debt-free, her current financial goals are to save up for a down payment on a condo in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, create an Emergency Fund, and get her first taste at investing her hard-earned money. Visit her at Give Me Back My Five Bucks to read more about her journey to financial independence!

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  • Some Really nice frugality & savings tips you have mentioned. Using coupons, buying the Generic-brand items etc are really smart things you do. Overall, these are the most helpful money saving tips one can write about. I also do the same on most of these points. Thanks for the great post Catherine!

  • Lisa

    I save jars. My salsa jars become votive candle holders for my porch. I wrap old copper wire around the necks, line them with sand from the yard, insert citronella candles and hang them from my railings.

    Old jelly and mason jars that have built-in rubber seals are perfect for storing all sorts of things, from buttons to leftover food items. I even use mason jars to make small batches of sun tea. The tempered glass makes them excellent choices for refrigeration and microwaving. And they can be washed in the dishwasher easily.

  • cathy

    Well said, Lynn! I agree completely.

  • Lynn

    I think some people have completely missed the point of her entry (the point being: “Krystal is a recent college graduate who just became debt free, paying off over $17,000 in student loans in just ten months.” Frugality is something that’s not for everyone and is hard to stick to (at first). Eating out, Starbuck’s, expensive cars and bar tabs are luxuries, not God given rights. Try to spend less than you earn. Good job, Krystal. Good advice, too.

  • DontStart

    Some tips- okay. Like packing your lunch. I’d even say YAY to reusing plastic containers (not bags though- YUCK to me) but as someone else pointed out… I’ll be damned if I bring my tea bag from home to a Starbuck or other coffee shop. It is by far the cheapest, tackiest thing I’ve ever read in regards to money saving advice. Good lawd!

    Oh and on skincare items lasting a year. Kinda iffy there. I love body oils and those that I buy can withstand a year’s worth of collecting dust on the shelf b/c I have some many to chose from. But make-up—I’m glad I dont wear it BUT if I did, I think saving make-up for that year could definitley harbor all kinds of dangerous funguses. YUCK again.

    Some of those other tips are lame too. Car vs. Scooter. I’m from the SF Bay Area and that just doesn’t fly. Nevermind if you want to date somebody. Both of us on scooter= null and void scooter (that’s in the event we both use that saving tip). No future is scooter dates!

    The other stuff I dont think I’d ever use but if it works for you……… more power to you. I just see pennies adding up to homeownership. Now if you were talking dollar savings (as with the coupons) you’ve got me. This is a moshed up advice (some so unrealistic) piece.

    You get a E for Effort! Still a passing grade. No detention for you Chicky.

  • D

    I think this is wonderful advice, although most of it isn’t anything new to those of us who read up on the frugal lifestyle.  And not a pipe dream, if you use a little creativity. If you want to save more than you have been, you have to change some things from your usual routine, and change can be initially painful, but rewarding.  Sometimes what works in one locale won’t work in another, but you take the basic gist of it and adapt it to your surroundings.  Or else accept your current savings rate (or lack thereof) for what it is.  For lots of money saving tips, check out ,, or read The Complete Tightwad Gazette (preferably from the library).  By packing my own lunch and my afternoon caffeine beverage on a daily basis, I could justify the expensive leather jacket that I could not live without!

  • velouria73

    I think some of these are great ideas – why not re-use bags and boxes and try to find stuff on sale? And store brands can be a great savings for things that you’re not super picky on.

    However, I absolutely cannot get behind bringing your own tea bag to a coffee shop. That isn’t frugal, it’s cheap and tacky. It’s pretty rude to bring your own food into an establishment that is offering that service. I am not a coffee drinker but I know those types of drinks can get spendy and I don’t doubt that they jack up their prices a bit. But if you can’t afford to buy SOMETHING if you’re going to be hanging out there, either get a glass of water and drink that, or don’t go. Hopefully your friends would be willing to do something that’s free with you as an alternative.

  • Anne

    ‘you should not use the same container of a skin care product for a year – it doesn’t stay effective that long.’

    Au contraire!  It depends on what the product is and how it is packaged. I have had bottles of foundation, moisturizer, body lotion, etc. last for more than a year, and they’ve still been effective!

  • sheena

    While some advice given in this entry is quite helpful, easy, and useful, most of it is complete junk. I love reading the BF, but this article seems to be written by someone a little off. Save 3 cents by bringing your own bag? Using the same bottle of lotion for a whole YEAR?! Using a cloth to remove make-up? Oh my god, I can’t imagine how dirty that cloth would be!
    I sure hope people reading this are able to separate the useful tips from the rest of the trash.

  • Carla

    I eat a raw vegan diet. There are no coupons for fruits and veggies! 😀

    Bringing our own lunch is a big one though. I limit eating lunch out to one day a week.

  • While I appreciate the thoughts behind the tips, these strike me as quite unrealistic. There’s a difference between being budget concious/fiscally smart as opposed to just being CHEAP.

  • Pam

    Thanks for the GREAT advice.  I use some of the ideas already but I will be using a few more now.

  • A

    Also, L., you live in NYC, where everything is 50-110% above average prices in most American cities and towns. And where even eating in a crappy diner in the South Bronx costs $30.

    I agree, though, not ever going out is completely unrealistic if you are a professional or you know, if you have a life. One thing to try is to order a really heavy dark beer like Guiness, which I find lasts me much longer because I can only sip it, and even though it’s priced higher, I end up only drinking one or two instead or four or more light beers. Also, stay away from mixed drinks unless they are a daily/happy hour special.

    And getting rid of your car for a scooter? No way. A better suggestion? Get rid of your car and sign up for Zipcar/Flexcar.

    The one good piece of advice was buying the generic brand at your local grocery or pharmacy. That saves me a ton of money, especially if you shop at CVS and use the cashback coupons they give you every month on the bottom of your receipts. Just doublecheck the ingredients labels on the back to make sure they are the same ingredients.

  • Jahna

    This is the most worthless money-saving advice I have heard of. Firstly, you should not use the same container of a skin care product for a year – it doesn’t stay effective that long. It’s completely ridiculous that you never buy groceries unless they’re on sale. Vegetables rarely go on sale, for instance. Especially if you’re shopping at an earth-friendly co-op.

    You should be encouraging readers to do what is friendly to the earth, like reusing plastic bags to curb waste – not to pinch a few pennies. In reality, those pennies do not add up to be that much.

    And not ever going out because it costs too much? Gosh, what a fun life to have! In your opinion, life isn’t worth living unless you can find a way to get a “deal” out of it. There is more to life.

    I truly hope nobody reading this blog takes this person’s advice seriously.

  • L.

    Wow, this strikes me as somewhat unrealistic. I live in NYC. $30 a month dining out budget? $20-$50 a week on groceries? I would run out of food money in ten days…some of these ideas are great, but a lot of them strike me as pipe dreams.

  • Margaret

    These are good money saving tips that better for your health, the environment, and your wallet! 😉