AARP 11th annual list is the essential guide to cutting costs right now, July 1, 2020
From the latest online shopping tools to time-proven home frugality tricks, there are always new and effective ways to trim costs and keep more of your cash in your pocket. Try some of these today! And once they become a habit, come back to this list and try a few more. In time, you'll be amazed not only at how much money you've saved, but also at how much less you can get by on each month.
Insider Secrets! Lisa Rowan, personal finance editor for Lifehacker.com and author of Money Hacks 1. Let your online shopping cart sit. If you sign in to your account and stick a few items in your cart, don't check out just yet. Retailers often will email you a coupon in a few days to entice you to place the order. 2. Sign up for texts. Surprisingly, you often can get better discounts from a store's text message stream than from its emailed newsletter. You can unsubscribe once you've made purchases. 3. Shop at warehouse clubs without a membership. You can buy prescription drugs at Costco or Sam's Club without being a member. You can also buy almost anything in Costco if someone gives you a gift card. Nonmembers can buy alcohol and get free hearing tests at Sam's Club. 4. Pay for subscriptions up front. We're talking streaming services, news services, paid apps or anything auto-delivered. Many offer discounts if you pay for the whole year in advance.
Tips From the Chef Jim Haurey, owner, chef and buyer, the Grange, a farm-to-table restaurant in Warwick, New York 5. Shop where there's competition. Where farmers markets are back in business, remember that lots of vendors will have produce that's being harvested locally — so the price will be lowest for those items. Skip the shopping list, buy what's abundant and choose recipes based on what you buy. 6. Braise and save. There are two ways to get tender meat: Buy tender cuts, or buy tougher cuts at a fraction of the price and cook them to tenderness. So get out that old cookbook and braise low-priced chuck or stew meat, along with overflow veggies, for a low-cost, delicious stew. 7. Make vegetable stock. Save veggie scraps and peels, and once you have plenty, put in a pot, cover with water and boil for an hour or so. Strain it, and you have vegetable stock for making soup or for cooking rice, lentils or quinoa. 8. Buy wild-caught domestic fish. It's healthier and better tasting than farm-raised. To save money, look for specials on cod, pollack and haddock — delicious and inexpensive species.
High-Tech Savings Dan Kim, deputy deals editor at Wirecutter, the New York Times’ product review website 9. Confirm it's really a sale price. If you aren't sure whether a price on Amazon is good, plug it into a free price tracker, such as the CamelCamelCamel website or the Pricepulse phone app, to see the item's cost over time. 10. Get paid for shipping! If you have Amazon Prime (meaning you often get two-day shipping for free), you can opt for slower shipping on some orders to get other discounts, like $1 off Kindle books or Amazon music, or money toward a Prime Pantry box. 11. Skip the router rental. Your internet provider might be charging you a monthly fee for your equipment — but you can buy your own modem and router and make up the cost in a year. 12. Splurge on smart home devices to save in the future. Some gadgets can help trim utility bills — the Nest thermostat adjusts heat and air-conditioning for better energy efficiency, and the Belkin Wemo Mini Smart Plug controls the power to any device that's plugged in. 13. Protect your phone. Invest in a screen protector (often under $10) and a good case for your phone. According to one report, roughly 30 percent of U.S. smartphone owners have a cracked screen. That can mean a new phone much earlier than necessary, or a $100-plus repair.
Focus On Cleaning Michelle Robles, director of systems for Molly Maid, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan 14. Use microfiber. These towels, mops and dusters can be washed and reused hundreds of times — a great savings over disposable products. And, because they trap dust, liquids, oils and even bacteria, you can clean with water instead of harsh, expensive cleaning products. 15. Don't pay for dusters. Old white T-shirts and clean socks are great for dusting. To clean blinds, put a sock on your hand like a glove. Dampen it with water and run it over groups of slats. Start from the top so that any dust that falls downward will get wiped up. 16. Reuse old toothbrushes. They are great for cleaning grout, jewelry, sink edges and hard-to-reach areas on your appliances. 17. Buy concentrate, in bulk. For liquid cleaners, the bigger the container, the less you'll pay per gallon. You'll save even more by buying concentrated cleaners that you dilute yourself — why pay for water? I also recommend buying “all-purpose” or “multisurface” liquid cleaners instead of lots of specialized products in small quantities.
Decorating Shortcuts Tarsha McCrae, interior decorator and home stager for Catch Decor, based in Washington, D.C. 18. Create unexpected art. Have an empty wall that's dying for some art? Go through your garage or storage to find interesting pieces of fabric or wallpaper and insert into a picture frame. 19. Bring a little outdoors in. Transform old patio seating into a new piece for inside your home. Clean, spray-paint, and add a cushion and throw pillow for the final touches and — wow! — you have a new accent chair. 20. Check out model-home auctions. After homes in a new development are sold, furnishings in the model homes are often auctioned off for cheap. Go to the Builders Auction Company website to find auctions near you. 21. Consider these online discounters. Design websites like Rue La La and Gilt offer free discount memberships. They often have sales on all types of housewares, decor and furnishings from higher-end retailers.
Money Manager Moves Ramit Sethi, personal finance adviser and author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich 22. Link checking to investing. Consider an account like Charles Schwab's High Yield Investor Checking, which is automatically linked to a fee-free Schwab brokerage account. Features such as no account minimums, no monthly fees and ATM fee refunds can save you hundreds of dollars a year. 23. Negotiate all your bills. Almost every bill is at least slightly negotiable. Call your credit card, gym, cable, streaming service, car insurance and phone companies once a year to remind them what a good customer you are, and ask what they're able to do to keep you. 24. Plan next month's spending. Budgeting software like You Need a Budget can help users focus on where their money should go in the coming weeks, not just where it went last month. The online service offers a 34-day trial and claims to help new budgeters save an average of $600 in the first two months. 25. Create a target savings rate. Diverting 10 percent of monthly income to savings and 10 percent to retirement investments is a good rule of thumb. Once you're achieving your targets, you don't have to worry about your smaller splurges.
26. Watch TV à la carte. Consider canceling cable or streaming subscriptions (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) and buy only what you need. For instance, if you pay for full cable but mostly watch HBO, drop cable and pay separately for HBO. With so many streaming services, many of them free, you might find you were paying hundreds per year for little-used services.
My Best Savings Tricks Kevin L. Matthews II, Raleigh, North Carolina-based money and retirement planner and author of Starting Point: How to Create Wealth That Lasts 27. Airless luggage! For less than $30, you can buy a set of zip-up compression bags that allow you to squeeze more clothes into your carry-on and bypass costly checked luggage. 28. Check your credit card for additional benefits ... Some cards offer surprising rewards, like credits for TSA PreCheck, roadside assistance, free museum entry and complimentary subscriptions to premium offerings from Lyft and DoorDash. 29. … As well as no foreign-transaction fees. Currency conversion or cash-withdrawal fees can be shockingly high. Travelers should get a credit card that doesn't charge you a fee for swiping overseas. 30. Buy fractional shares of stock. Stocks like Amazon can cost around $2,500 per share, but firms such as Fidelity and no-commission apps like Robinhood and M1 Finance let you buy fractional shares. You could invest $250 (10 percent) or even $25 (1 percent) and still get the same growth. 31. Use FINRA's fund analyzer. Just a 1 percent annual fee on investments can cost you thousands by the time you retire. Visit finra.org to check the fees in your mutual funds and compare the costs. 32. Price-shop for accessories, too. Digital retailers make up their profits on heavily discounted electronic items by upselling accessories. Before buying add-ons, check prices on other sites to see if you can save.
Shopping Savvy Lani Inlander, owner and chief stylist of Real Life Style, a style consulting and personal styling service 33. Keep an opportunity list. When something you wear or use frequently nears the end of its useful life, put it on a list of items to be replaced when the price is right. For example, replace sandals at summer's end. Besides saving money, they'll be on hand for the start of next summer. 34. Shop on holiday weekends. In normal times, that's when you find the best sales at department stores and also outlet centers, many of which sell a coupon book for about $5 that gives extra discounts, potentially worth hundreds. AARP members can get coupons for discounts at places like tangeroutlet.com/aarp. 35. Shop your own closet. Organize clothes by category and color so you know exactly what you have. When you see five pairs of black pants hanging together, you won't buy another.
Clothing Smarts Loren North, clothing stylist and personal shopper 36. Think 30 wears. Don't buy something unless you will wear it at least 30 times and it will go with at least three other items in your closet. Avoid “conditional” clothing — items that pair only with that one skirt or pair of shoes. You want all your clothes pieces to be interchangeable. 37. Create a color palette. Many people shop without considering a cohesive wardrobe palette, so they end up with items that rarely get worn. Determine about five colors and/or neutrals you like the most, and stick to them when shopping. 38. Guys, know your body. Are you wasting cash on clothes that just don't seem to fit or look right? There are three body types — ectomorph (lean and long), endomorph (softer, rounder) and mesomorph (medium, well proportioned). Read online articles to help determine your body type and to find advice on clothing brands and styles that complement your unique shape.
New Savings Habits Erin Lowry, personal finance expert and author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together 39. Switch to a SodaStream or Drinkmate system to get your fizzy drink fix at home. If you drink a lot of carbonated water, making your own sodas can save you big dollars. Muddle in fresh fruit or mint for natural flavoring. 40. Automate your coupons. Use browser extensions like Honey, Rakuten's Cash Back Button and TopCashback to seamlessly find coupon codes and earn cash back on your online purchases. 41. Free streaming. Check whether your phone or cable provider offers free streaming, like how Comcast offers Peacock or Verizon provides a year of Disney+. Also take advantage of free trial periods, such as Quibi for 14 days, Hulu for one month or HBO Now for a week. Apple also offers one year of Apple TV+ with the purchase of any Apple device.
42. Nickname your bank accounts. Replacing each account number with a meaningful name — such as “vacation fund” or “dream home” — will remind you why you're saving and motivate you to put away more. 43. Challenge yourself to a no-spend month when you forbid any nonessential purchases. Feel like a month is too much to handle? Try declaring one day each week a “no-spend day." 44. Clean out your home for cash. Ditch the yard sale and use sites like Poshmark, Tradesy and ThredUp for selling clothes and accessories. Use eBay or Facebook Marketplace to sell furniture, trinkets and gadgets.
Easy Frugality Courtney Richardson, attorney and founder of the Ivy Investor, an investment-education company in Philadelphia 45. Tell your favorite brands you love them. Think about products and brands that you use or purchase regularly, and send the company an email to let them know. Many provide coupons to loyal customers who reach out. 46. Get free college classes. At edx.org, you can access more than 2,500 courses from schools such as Harvard and MIT. 47. Change to LED light bulbs. The prices have dropped considerably, so there's no reason to delay any further. Not only are they better for the environment, but by replacing your home's five most frequently used bulbs, you can save some $45 per year in electricity costs. 48. Earn Starbucks rewards at home. You can receive Starbucks stars, redeemable for free drinks and treats at the coffee chain's stores, when you purchase Starbucks K-Cups, bagged coffee and ready-to-drink products at the supermarket. Enter your stars via the app or website by using the code on the package, or upload a receipt for proof of purchase. 49. Virtual change buckets. Apps like Qapital and Acorns round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and add the difference into an investment account. Users can direct those extra pennies toward a savings account. Fast Company reports that Qapital can help folks save more than $1,500 annually.
Groceries 50. Shop during the week. Retail savings app Ibotta analyzed approximately 50 million grocery receipts over three years and found that totals are highest on weekends. Their data suggests you should shop Monday for beer and ice cream, Tuesday for wine, Wednesday for produce, Thursday for cleaning products, and Friday for snacks and bread. Often, the best overall day to shop is Wednesday — and the earlier in the day, the better. 51. Pay with discounted gift cards. Websites such as Raise.com purchase new or partially used gift cards at a discount from consumers who would rather have cash, and then resell them. “I buy cards at around 10 percent off the retail value, which is free money when I use them at the grocery store,” says Chris Michaels, founder of the site FrugalReality.com. 52. Downsize your cart. A manufacturer once doubled the size of its shopping carts to see what would happen; shoppers reportedly bought 40 percent more groceries. To control your spending, opt for the smallest viable cart or basket. 53. Shop elsewhere for spices. “Many spices and ingredients that are considered ‘specialty’ at supermarkets are everyday ones — and therefore much more affordable — at Indian, Asian, Mexican or African markets,” says Jess Dang, founder of the meal planning service CookSmarts.com. Even within a grocery store, spices in the ethnic section are often cheaper than in the spice section. 54. Thaw your own seafood. Save by buying seafood from the frozen foods section instead of the fish counter; in some cases, it's the identical product and you can keep it longer. 55. Regrow veggies. Cut green onions an inch from their roots and submerge in water, and they'll regrow. Do the same with romaine lettuce, cabbage, basil, celery, onions and even pineapples, then transfer to a pot of soil once the leaves start to appear. 56. Remember the tried and true. Even in these unusual times, grocers still compete for your business, which means they announce the week's sales every Wednesday. Check flyers or websites for deep discounts, and stock up when prices are low.
Clever Approaches Andrew Fiebert, founder of Listen Money Matters, a website and podcast that reach more than 1 million people every month 57. Write notes on your credit cards. If you have multiple cards with different bonus categories, write the category on it with a Sharpie marker. If the categories rotate, you can erase it with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol.
58. Rent your little-used car ... Web services such as Turo, HyreCar or Getaround let you market a car that is otherwise just sitting around. They claim you can generate thousands of dollars a year. Note that the sites charge to use their platforms.
59. … Or little-used parking space. If you live in a place where parking is scarce, you can use web services like Pavemint, SpotHero or CurbFlip to make money from a spot you aren't using.
60. Refinance student loans. Cutting a few percentage points off a large loan can save you thousands over time. Many banks now offer refinancing options. Note that you might sacrifice eligibility for any government loan forgiveness programs if you do this.
Savings From AARP Members have access to hundreds of benefits that offer real value. 61. Norton 360 Protection. Get up to 25 percent off the monthly fees of plans that help protect your devices fromviruses, malware and more. 62. 1-800-Flowers.com. Members save 20 percent on online purchases. 63. Silver Cuisine bybistroMD. Get 25 percent savings and free shipping on your first home-delivery order of chef-prepared meals that's $99 or more. 64. Philips Lifeline. Members save 15 percent on medical alert service, plus get free shipping and activation. 65. Ancestry. Get 30 percent off a World Explorer or All Access subscription for the first year. 66. SimpliSafe. Members save 15 percent on new home security systems. 67. Prescription savings. Cut costs at CVS Pharmacy and other participating retail pharmacies through AARP Prescription Discounts provided by OptumRx. 68. Consumer Cellular. Get 5 percent off monthly service and usage charges and 30 percent off accessories. Plans start at $20 per month, require no contract and include free activation and an extended risk-free guarantee. 69. Allstate Roadside. Save up to 20 percent on plans, including the Roadside Elite plan, which covers 100 miles of towing, jump starts, tire changes and lockouts. 70. Health and safety packages. Members save $60 a year on the Preferred and Ultimate plans from GreatCall, with the purchase of a Lively Mobile Plus or Lively Wearable2 medical alert device. 71. Audible. AARP members save $2 on Audible's monthly membership.
Home Improvement Steve Bowie, 55, owner of Bowie Construction in Hewitt, New Jersey 72. Check out estate sales for tools. Go to Craigslist.org or search “Estate sales near me.” Attend sales that list “tools” in the description. Some sales will be a treasure trove of tools, and sometimes materials, at incredibly low prices. Don't forget to haggle! 73. Shop at the lumberyard. The prices for wood or building supplies are often better than at home centers, and you'll usually get better lumber. Plus, you get to drive right up to the lumber pile instead of piloting a full cart through long aisles, then the parking lot. 74. Shop at ReStore. Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations often have surplus building materials, appliances and used furnishings that are offered at great prices at 900 ReStore locations in the U.S. To find the closest one, check habitat.org/restores. 75. Consider combo kits. Cordless tools with interchangeable batteries are all the rage. Kits that include two to six tools, a charger and two rechargeable batteries are a great value if you'll actually use it all. Otherwise, pick a brand you trust and buy one tool with batteries. Then buy others of that brand as you need them, but without batteries.
Neighborly Advice Brittney Castro, certified financial planner and CEO of Financially Wise Inc. 76. Use NextDoor for onetime needs. Need a table saw for a few hours? A pipe wrench for a repair? Chairs for a party? A tent for camping? Ask to borrow what you need on this or another neighborhood social-media site so that you don't have to buy. 77. Embrace grocery store credit cards. Just be sure you pay your bill in full each month. You'll get 5 percent off at Target with its RedCard, 2 percent cash back at Costco with its Anywhere Visa, or 6 percent cash back at any U.S. supermarket with American Express Blue Cash Preferred. 78. Book unused time-shares. Life happens to time-share owners, too — and you can often snag their unused weeks at a steep discount. Check websites like Trading Places International or RedWeek for opportunities.
Garden for Less Shere Hanlon, owner of Green Escapes Gardening of Ann Arbor, Michigan 79. Order bare-root plants. These are trees, shrubs, berries and perennials that are sold in a dormant state with no soil on the roots. They are a lot lighter to ship than plants growing in soiland therefore less expensive to purchase online. Their light weight makes planting much easier on the back, and the hole you have to dig can be smaller. 80. Look for disease resistance. Planting varieties that are genetically resistant to disease can save you a bundle that you'd otherwise spend on pesticides and replacing dead plants. Some online catalogs will let you sort by “disease resistance." 81. Mulch with free wood chips. Sometimes you can get wood chips for free. Check with your local tree care companies, utility companies and your city. Used as mulch, wood chips not only suppress weeds but also provide nutrients that can reduce the need to buy fertilizer. 82. Skip the landscape fabric. It doesn't benefit the soil or plant health, and weeds grow in the mulch anyway. 83. Go with ground covering. Smother out weeds with a ground cover suitable for your site and region. The onetime cost and effort will be much less than if you mulch. Bare-root varieties will save you even more.
Focus On Wine Randall Bertao, wine buyer and master sommelier, Los Altos Golf and Country Club, California 84. Try warehouse brands. Some warehouse stores place their brand on really good wines. These include Trader Joe's and Costco's Kirkland brand. Go slow: Buy single bottles of similarly priced wines and write down those you like and why.
85. Think inside the box. Glass is expensive; and you pay for it. Some good wine comes in boxes and cans these days. Again, experiment one at a time. 86. Refrigerate that red. If you can't finish a bottle, stick it in the refrigerator to preserve it. If you leave it on the counter, it will go bad quickly, which is a waste. Just remove it from the fridge a few hours before consuming. 87. Try less popular varietals. Grape varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are the most popular and most expensive. For lower-cost whites, check out pinot grigio from northern Italy, albariño from Spain or sauvignon blanc from anywhere. For reds, malbec from Argentina, tempra-nillo from Spain and lesser-known European varietals grown in Californiaprovide great value. 88. Don't pay for hype. Never buy a wine just because it received a high score in a magazine. Good press can raise the price. A lesser score doesn't necessarily mean a wine is inferior.
Savings Potpourri Dominique Broadway, chief executive of Finances Demystified and personal finance coach 89. Rent your sparkle. Have a onetime need for an elegant outfit? Use a service like Rent the Runway or the Black Tux to borrow high-end designer items at a fraction of the cost of buying. 90. Subscribe and save. Vitamins, soap, toilet paper — there are certain items you need like clockwork. Use the Amazon or Target subscription feature in order to save up to 15 percent when you have such household staples sent to you on a schedule. 91. Consider Carvana or CarMax for your next vehicle purchase. There's no haggling involved, and your car may be delivered to your door. Plus, each company offers a seven-day money-back guarantee. 92. Comparison shop for your medicines. GoodRx.com will show you which neighborhood pharmacies offer the best prices. 93. Get groceries delivered. Using online ordering services such as Amazon Fresh and Instacart help to limit impulse purchases. Plus there's less chance of cashier mistakes, and no travel costs. If you miss food shopping, just buy produce at the store.
DIY Cost Cutters Alona Hapey, executive director of International Personal Shoppers Association in Potomac, Maryland 94. Make your own cleaner. Mix 8 ounces of water, 2 ounces of vinegar and 2 pumps of dish detergent into a spray bottle. This low-cost solution cleans rug stains like magic, as well as most surfaces, including countertops. Of course, try it first on a small area to make sure it does not damage the material. 95. Flip your mattress. Mattress starting to sag? Before you run out to buy a new one, try rotating and flipping it. (Some mattresses are one-sided and can only be rotated.) A washable mattress cover is another way to extend the life of your mattress.
96. Clean with hair spray. Ink stains on a leather sofa? Use alcohol-based hair spray directly on the area, then blot. First use a cotton swab on a tiny area to make sure it works and doesn't remove color. Works on polyester, too.
Beauty On a Budget Wendy Fitos, licensed aesthetician and owner of Just “Brows"ing Skincare and Makeup Services 97. Try starter kits. Twice a year,in January and then in May or June, many manufacturers offer skin care “starter kits” for as little as $30. They contain a useful, frugal mix of products in “deluxe trial-size” containers (usually about half the regular size). Spring versions usually include a sunscreen. 98. Pick the right skin expert. A dermatologist is a medical doctor who treats skin diseases and writes prescriptions. An aesthetician is not a doctor, so he or she charges less for a visit, but understands skin structure and will recommend products to keep your skin moist and healthy. 99. Skip the kitchen cures. Applying kitchen products like olive oil, baking soda or Crisco to your skin may save money, but they can clog pores and exacerbate skin reactions. Shop at Target, Ulta and CVS for high-quality but lower-priced cleanser, facial scrub, moisturizer, eye cream and makeup remover.