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How to save money each month: 19 timeless tips

September 1, 2023

Written by Kelley Keehn

How to save money each month: 19 timeless tips

You might sometimes wish you could control the prices of the things you buy. Unless you're also the seller, that's not usually possible. 

What you can do is get creative in your spending and potentially save a lot of money. It doesn't have to be painful. Mindful techniques can help you save money and build your savings goals. 

Here are some simple strategies to help you build an emergency fund (if you don't have one or need it topped up) and save money each month.

1. Reduce your electricity bill 

Dimming the lights isn't just for romantic evenings. And cold showers do more than increase your morning energy. Simple tweaks around your home can save you money each month and hundreds of dollars a year without a lot of effort. Consider these simple tricks:

  • Install a dimmer on extensively used lights 
  • Get an electronic thermostat and reduce your heat or air conditioning levels when you're away or sleeping 
  • Fix drafty doors and windows 
  • Stick to cool settings (as much as possible) when showering or using your washing machine 
  • Invest in a low-flow shower head and toilet 
  • Shut off the tap when brushing your teeth and soaping up your hands 
  • Consider fans (ceiling and floor types) over costly air conditioning units 
  • Use your appliances at off-peak times 
  • Unplug what you're not using; even when appliances are set to off or standby, they can still pull costly electricity when plugged in. 

2. Cancel unnecessary subscriptions

A recent survey reveals that the average person spends $273 per month on subscriptions. That's a whopping $3,276 a year. Ouch! To put that cost in perspective, you could buy a $5 coffee every day for a year, and that would only cost you $1,825. 

To adjust your spending habits, spend a night with your bills to see which services you love, which you'll likely use over the coming months, and which ones you should unsubscribe from immediately.

And keep in mind that while gym memberships aren't generally included in the subscription fee estimate above, they can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. Check out free apps or YouTube videos for great cardio workouts, or invest in some used weights or resistance bands for a low-cost sweat session. 

2. Reduce your electricity bill

Dimming the lights isn't just for romantic evenings. And cold showers do more than increase your morning energy. Simple tweaks around your home can save you money each month and hundreds of dollars a year without a lot of effort. Consider these simple tricks: 

  • Install a dimmer on extensively used lights 
  • Get an electronic thermostat and reduce your heat or air conditioning levels when you're away or sleeping 
  • Fix drafty doors and windows 
  • Stick to cool settings (as much as possible) when showering or using your washing machine 
  • Invest in a low-flow shower head and toilet 
  • Shut off the tap when brushing your teeth and soaping up your hands 
  • Consider fans (ceiling and floor types) over costly air conditioning units 
  • Use your appliances at off-peak times 
  • Unplug what you're not using; even when appliances are set to off or standby, they can still pull costly electricity when plugged in

3. Delay purchases with the 30-day rule 

We know that delaying gratification can increase your odds of sticking to your fitness goals, and experts even attribute the practice to greater success in life. So why not try exercising a rule for delaying your purchases to try to save money? It doesn't have to be a full 30 days. Even 24 to 48 hours can give you enough of a cooling off period to determine if you really want that item you saw in the store or have sitting in your online shopping cart. Plus, by spending more time window shopping (either virtually or in person), you're much more likely to enjoy the item when you finally buy it. Or you may find the exercise of pre-enjoyment enough pleasure that you don't even desire the item after your delayed point. Plus, there's real science to back up the fact that anticipating your purchases (concerts, a new iPhone, your next vacation) can provide as much enjoyment as the actual experience or thing itself.

4. Record your spending and set goals 

Many studies find that dieters who kept food journals regularly lost twice as much weight as those that didn't keep written track. While there isn't science to back up that recording your spending will help you reduce your financial calories, I can attest that many of my readers have happily reported that they were not only more mindful of their money when they recorded their spending, but the act itself had them spending less. They've told me time after time that it was like a money coach on their shoulder asking them if they really needed or wanted what they were about to buy.

5. Set savings goals 

If you want to increase the odds of saving even more money, set savings goals and share them with your friends. We've all had success and failures with achieving our goals. The setbacks can certainly sting and derail your future attempts. But there's no denying that having clear goals will get you to where you want to go quicker. If you were at an airport ready to head to a destination but had no idea where you wanted to go, how likely would you be in getting there in the least amount of time possible? It's unlikely!

We're great at setting easy goals like getting the kids a ski pass, buying a new TV or heading for a road trip. But bigger savings goals like accumulating enough for the down payment on your future home or having enough money for retirement get harder and fuzzier. You need to chunk these goals down, create clear time frames and as science would now tell us, share them with someone whom you care deeply about impressing. Holding yourself accountable to someone you hold in high esteem (a boss, respected co-worker or mentor) can increase your chance of achieving those goals. 

6. Automate your savings

If you're traditionally employed, talk to your employer and see if they have a “pay yourself first" program at work. The brilliant part of this strategy is that your workplace will take an amount you determined (say 10% of your net income) that you'd like to save right off your pay each month. By never seeing the money, it takes the sting out of feeling a loss. We all have what's called a “present bias". Our brains are wired to value what we can get now over some benefit we may receive in the future. Even if that future reward is far greater. 

If you don't have a workplace program or are self-employed, you can easily create your own strategy. Set aside as little as $25 every month and see how quickly those barely noticed dollars add up. Be sure to add digital reminders in your computer's calendar or phone app each quarter to see if you can pump up those monthly savings gradually.

Trying to figure out the best way to handle your finances? Check out Tangerine's Money Management Tools. 

7. Open a savings account

Have you ever gone to a retailer and received one of their reward “punch cards"? You know the type; you buy 10 coffees or loaves of bread and get the 11th one free? Retailers know that if they give you a couple of “punches" to start with, you'll feel that the wind is at your back and will be more likely to return to their store to buy more. 

When it comes to savings, a great way to “punch" your own card is to set up your savings accounts, even before you have money to invest. Why would you spend time on such an activity? Well, there's a double positive punch in your wealth card if you do.

First, by taking that initial step of opening your savings account, you have that task completed. When you do have the money to set aside, you won't have that nagging “to do" still on your list. Second, humans love a good target. Having this account set up is like a gym that you've paid a membership for that you drive by every day without going in. You feel pangs of positive guilt. Once your account is opened, your subconscious will remember that account, and it will be easier to find more ways to save or earn more money to deposit into it. You've likely heard the saying that nature abhors a vacuum. This is a great way to use that axiom in your favour! 

8. Open other investment accounts before you have a lot to contribute

Another sure-fire success strategy is to open a TFSA (Tax-Free Savings Account) and an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan, called an RSP at Tangerine) before you're ready to invest. These accounts are generally free to set up with your bank (check to see if there are fees with do-it-yourself options, or with your financial advisor). Once the accounts are set up, you'll feel a little closer to your savings or investment goals. Think of it like the last time you booked a trip to a new city. Chances are you didn't really feel any skin in the game until you actually booked your flight. That's when you started to get invested (pun intended) and you got serious about researching the tourist attractions and rounding out your itinerary. Use that same logic with investing. If you're nearing retirement, be sure to research RRIFs (Registered Retirement Income Funds, called RIFs at Tangerine) as well. They can help you continue tax deferring your investments when your RRSP has to be converted to a RRIF (this must be done by the end of the year you turn 71).

9. Use a shopping list for the grocery store 

Paying too much for groceries. Make a plan. This is the easiest way to save over $1,000 a year per person while wasting less! And the best way to use a shopping list is to stick to it. We know we should never go to the supermarket hungry, but entering the store without a clear list is also a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of recipes, have those in hand too. There's nothing worse than making dinner and realizing after the fact that you're missing ingredients to prepare the dish you had envisioned. Spend your Sunday making a list of recipes for the week and print a list of ingredients needed for all seven days. If you have anything ready to spoil in the fridge, make a list that night as well for what needs to be used up that week and incorporate those items in your planning and shopping. 

10. Consider apps to help you save on food

Hate clipping coupons and fussing through flyers? No need to with a slew of helpful apps to the rescue to save you money. 

  • Flashfood app is on a mission to help you and grocers reduce food waste. Receive a notice on pricey items like meat, dairy and fresh food at a 50% savings. 
  • Flyer app Canada has consolidated all major grocery chains in our country into one timely and convenient website. No waiting for paper flyers in your mailbox to get the best deals.

11. Use cash-back rewards programs 

Be it actual cash paid to you or rewards that you can cash in, these programs can return significant saving for your loyal spending.

You may already know the numerous rewards programs offered by major retailers, airlines, theatres and gas stations. Consider also the Caddle app. If you're willing to use a little of your time for some extra cash back savings, this app may be for you. Complete surveys, shop at their qualified retailers and upload receipt proof of your purchase for quick cash back incentive (24-48 hours). Best part is it's 100% Canadian! 

12. Go bulk or go home

Buying in bulk is another way to save money. However, if you're prone to food expiring before you use it or gas-guzzling trips to mega stores that are often located at far-reaching parts of most cities, you have to crunch the numbers to see if it's worth it. You could opt to share expenses and expenditures with a grocery buddy. And buying items that never expire like tissue and laundry detergent always make sense. 

13. Reduce your mortgage payment

It may feel impossible to save on your mortgage, especially if you have a high interest rate. It's a done deal, after all, right? But did you know that there are a number of strategies you might be able to use to save on your mortgage? 

Extending your mortgage amortization, for instance, may be an option for you, in order to put more money into your monthly budget or help you build or top up your emergency savings account. While it will cost you more in the long term, if it helps you weather the immediate inflationary and other financial storms in your life, it may make sense and be worth a call with your lender.

For example, if you have a $500,000 mortgage at 6.00% for a five-year term, moving from a 15-year amortization ($4,199.41 monthly payment) to a 25-year amortization ($3,199.03 monthly payment) will put $1,000.38 more in your pocket each month. 

14. Save by paying your mortgage quicker

If you're looking to save money in the long run, paying down your mortgage might be a great cost saver. However, keep in mind that not all mortgages allow prepayments and penalty-free options may be very limited.  

Here are some ways to get ahead: 

  • Switch to accelerated weekly payments 

This is an easy way to spend a little more now in order to save over the long run. When we think of making monthly payments, well, we think of making them monthly. One payment seems logical and simpler than a bunch of more frequent ones. But the fact is, by paying an accelerated weekly payment on your mortgage as opposed to a monthly one, you stand to save a ton. For instance, on a $500,000 mortgage at a 6.00%, five-year term with a 25-year amortization, you could save a whopping $86,065.71 over the life of the mortgage. If you don't mind splitting up your payments and technically paying a little more each year and more frequently each month, those numbers are a great incentive to pay more frequently. Because you're making your payment each week, more money is directed at paying down your principal. The difference is negligible in the early years, but rapidly snowballs as your mortgage nears the end of its amortization.

  • Increase your monthly payments 

Any guess how much just $3 a day and change would save you on the life of your mortgage? Considering you couldn't even buy a latte for that price, you would think not much, right? Well, with a mortgage balance of $500,000, a 25-year amortization and a rate of 6.00% (5-year term), that $100 a month would save you $35,388! And you'd pay it down 1.6 years earlier. Not bad for opting for your morning brew at home!

  • Shorten your amortization 

Many of us have a super hard time consistently finding extra money to save for our emergency accounts and retirement, but get gold stars for being exemplary when paying our mortgages on time. And a big plus for many homeowners is that having a mortgage is actually a great forced savings plan — assuming, of course, that your home will appreciate in value over the time that you own it. You may think that because you chose a 25-year amortization at the time you signed your mortgage documents, you're locked in. Well, you may be able to request a reduction in your amortization. It will mean a larger payment, but with the same example as above, paying accelerated weekly amounts and reducing your amortization from 25 years to 15 years would save you $153,028.05. That's a rewarding forced savings plan indeed!

15. Save on your rent  

There's not much you can do to bring down your monthly rental cost, is there? Well, actually, if you're leasing in Toronto, for example, you're looking at an average of $2,134 for a one-bedroom apartment. A two-bedroom averages $2,526. Alternatively, when you're looking for accommodation, consider finding a roommate you're comfortable splitting those monthly costs with. With a two-bedroom apartment, that mate would save you $1,263 a month or $15,156 in one year. Not to mention the opportunities to share food prep, grocery shopping, car trips and gas (if one of you drives).

16. Shop second hand 

What's old is new again. And who doesn't want to keep the environment in mind while shopping? If so, upcycling might be your new thing. If you've ever walked into a thrift store, you've been treated to finds that are 50% to 80% off the cost of purchasing new. But you can save on so much more than just clothing. Look for more saving by:

  • Visiting a pawn shop for bikes and electronics 
  • Checking with your cell phone provider to see if they offer refurbished cell phones or better rate plans if you bring your own phone 
  • Seeking out discount furniture and appliance stores 
  • Looking for quality used cars and motorized bikes 
  • Scouring eBay, Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace and good old fashioned garage sales 

17. Reduce your gas usage

Filling up your tank can put a huge dent in your monthly transportation budget. Instead consider these tips: 

  • Carpooling with neighbours for groceries, and other parents for your kids' extra-curricular activities 
  • Map out grocery shopping and other errands to save on trips 
  • Bike or walk 
  • Use Gasbuddy and Waze to save on fuel fill-ups and usage

18. Refinance high-interest credit cards and loans 

The fact is that 30% of credit card holders carry a balance each month, meaning they don't fully pay off their cards. If you're consistently using revolving credit without getting ahead, it might make sense to contact your bank and see if you can refinance your high-interest-rate credit card for a lower rate loan. The latter not only can save you a considerable amount on interest payments, but it will force you to make principal payments as well, while keeping you on track to pay the debt off much sooner (such as a five-year loan, whereas a credit card only requires you to make minimum payments that can take decades to pay off). Plus, if you have multiple debts like several credit cards, a student loan and perhaps a car payment, and are trying to reduce your monthly expenses, consolidating these into one payment makes budgeting and keeping track of your monthly bills much easier.

19. Use cash-back credit cards 

If you find yourself in the camp of credit card users who do pay their accounts off in full each month (70%), why not consider a card that pays you cash? When considering whether to pay for your next flight with your debit card vs. your credit card, if you're going to pay it off in full, a credit card option that pays rewards may be the clear winner. You have protection with your credit card (depending on what type you have), like some trip cancellation insurance, a safeguard if the company doesn't deliver what they promised, and much more that you don't enjoy when paying with debit.

Tangerine's Money-Back Credit Card, for example, has no annual fee and pays 2% cash back in up to 3 spending categories and 0.5% on all other purchases. 

Plus, if you have a cash-back card, every dollar you spend means cash rewards back in your hands. I don't know about you but returning back from a vacation with the dollars saved to pay off your card in full plus getting cash back because of it sounds like a winning strategy to investigate!

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