Reporter Jim Robinson and I were recently asked to speak at a new event: the first annual Financial Blogger Conference. Held in Chicago, it was a gathering of hundreds of money writers from all over the country with one thing in common: the burning desire to make a living (or at least part of one) by helping people spend less, save more, and otherwise improve their financial lives.
Never able to resist the urge to put people on the spot, Jim and I stopped a few of the nation's top bloggers, and gave them 15 seconds to answer this simple question: "What's your single best tip to save money?" While we expected tried and true responses like "buy used" and "build a budget," the answers we got were both interesting and unique.
My Single Favorite Tip
Since I put other people on the spot by asking for their favorite frugal tip, it's only fair that I contribute my own. Here it is: Commercials exist to convince you that material possessions are somehow related to happiness. This is a lie. Material possessions won't boost your ego — they'll steal your ability to become financially free.
30 More Tips to Save
Since I've got a little more room on the page, here's a roundup of 30 more ideas that might help you save a buck or two.
1. Stop buying things you can get free. From books (use the library) to long distance (try Skype) to checking accounts (credit unions) there are ways to find things free that you might otherwise pay for.
2. Do Christmas (and other gift-giving holidays) shopping year-round, so you can buy almost all your presents on sale or clearance. Just keep track of who's getting what so you don't mix things up or buy too many gifts.
3. Don't buy things new when used will do. From cars to clothes to computers, help your budget and the planet by buying pre-owned.
4. Buy things out of season when they're cheaper. For example, shop for decorations after the holiday is over, get back-to-school items in the winter, winter wear in the spring, and patio furniture in the fall.
5. Create a "want" waiting list before making purchases. After 30 days, you might find you changed your mind or the item's price has dropped.
6. Don't shop when you're hungry or sad. In either case, you're liable to bite off more than you can chew.
7. Use a list. You'll save money by reducing impulse buys.
8. When you receive a windfall — a raise, a tax refund, or contest winnings — don't go on a shopping spree. Get ahead by paying down debt, investing, or saving for a rainy day.
9. Always take advantage of the competition — get several price quotes (including fees and perks) and see who really wants your business.
10. You don't get what you pay for, you get what you ask for. If something's expensive, always haggle — and not just on cars and TVs, but on everything from your credit card interest to doctor visits.
11. Check for coupons online and in print before buying anything at all. But don't let a coupon, Groupon or other deal convince you to buy something you weren't going to buy anyway.
12. Before you buy something new, sell something old — it helps offset the cost and creates more space. (It can also lower storage costs.)
13. Get by with a little help from your friends: Swap movies, games, and books to keep entertainment costs down. You can also share more practical things — from tools to carpools.
14. Never lease or rent-to-own: These are just hidden ways to pay interest and increase costs.
15. Plan errands around your schedule and to minimize travel. This may mean doing everything all on one day (in one central area) or doing certain things when you're headed in a certain direction.
16. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish by skimping on maintenance — when it comes to your car, house, and body, small expenses now are better than giant ones later.
17. Bring food and drink from home. Whether it's going to work or going on vacation, what you can bring with you isn't just cheaper — it's usually better.
18. When you do eat out, get a to-go box. Spreading a meal over two sittings will make both the price and your waistline more attractive.
19. Book a hotel room with a kitchen and spend less eating out. Better idea? Swap houses with someone else and don't pay anything for vacation lodging.
20. Grow your own food or shop at a farmer's market to save big on fruits and vegetables.
21. Try generic brands and ask for rainchecks on out-of-stock sale items.
22. Be energy efficient. Turn off lights and unplug devices you aren't using. Make cheap efficiency improvements like sealing leaks and adding insulation.
23. Invest in a high-tech solar clothes dryer — also known as a clothesline. If you have to use appliances, use less detergent and rip fabric softener sheets in half.
24. Make your own cleaning supplies with cheap ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. Learn how and find recipes in How to Make Dishwasher Detergent and More.
25. Make your own everything else: Let imagination replace money by making greeting cards, decorations, Halloween costumes, gifts and just about anything you enjoy spending time on.
26. Don't pay for a pro unless you need one. You can get free do-it-yourself lessons at some home improvement stores, and there's tons of information online. And don't forget other professional services. For example, you may not need a tax professional.
27. Get rid of services you don't need, like cable or your landline phone service.
28. Learn how to find the best freebies for the least effort, because free stuff you have to work for isn't really free.
29. Everyone recommends a budget, but keep track of your savings as well as your spending. Seeing the reward alongside the restraint can keep you motivated.
30. Don't pay interest. Renting other people's money is expensive. Keep it to a minimum, unless what you're buying is increasing in value by more than what you're paying in interest.