This post is relevant mainly for Australia as that’s where i live and have experience. Unfortunately many people today are lacking in financial literacy and ability to manage money. If you’re struggling with curbing your spending or with your basic living expenses here’s some tips which I hope can help you…
This article was revised with some new tips on 28 September 2018, check it out again
Reduce your expenses
- Shop the sales and clearance items
Especially for non perishables, stock up on things when they’re on sale. Build up a pantry of staples and your regularly used items. If you find fresh produce very cheap you can also bulk buy and freeze or preserve it. I have been known to cut and peel pumpkin, potatoes, etc and store them in the freezer. You can also look for quick sale items if you know you’ll use them quickly. Clearance items are usually marked down more heavily than sales, I’ve picked up some great items for just 10c (measuring spoons, and some other kitchen items) in the Coles clearance section. Other finds were earphones marked down to $1 and a pyrex bowl for $3.
- Use what you have and avoid overstock
For me this tends to happen with personal care items like shampoo, body wash, soaps which we are always getting gifted or as samples/freebies/gifts with purchase. Its also very easy to find the brand names dramatically marked down in dollar stores so even if i see something ridiculously cheap there’s no real need to buy it. Similarly, if you have enough of something, don’t buy more. Whether it’s clothes, food or even digital purchases like ebooks or music etc… consider whether its really worth it.
- Use free entertainment
Parks, beaches, and community events. You can look into free or low-cost hobbies like crafts using recycled materials, writing, reading collecting seashells, bird or nature watching, or people watching. For kids there’s often free playgroups around. Joining your local library should also be free.
- Grow what you can
If you’ve got a yard or even a sunny windowsill you can grow a few things at home to reduce your grocery bill. In Aldi herbs with roots for planting are at about the same price as the cut ones, so you’re not losing money (that is – if you usually buy herbs) even if they end up dying. If you have a yard you can also plant sprouted produce (like onions or garlic). If the soil is very compacted you can use containers or raised beds. Containers also allow you garden on a balcony or paved courtyard. Some plants are incredibly easy to grow but expensive to buy like berries (any kind) and sweet potato. If you purchase these regularly it’s truly cheaper to grow them.
- Check your eligibility for programs and charities
If you’ve got a pension card from centelink (ie the blue one not the yellow healthcare card) or a veteran’s affairs card, there’s some places around where you can get low cost or free food. Your community or neighborhood center is where you can find out about this kind of thing. Many towns have a pantry program where you can obtain free or low cost food and require either an income statement or centrelink card to register. Some charities have shops where they sell low-cost food from food bank (may require a pension card to register). Students can access services through their university or educational institution (eg TAFE) which can provide free meals, food or meal vouchers, some also provide free frozen meals. Some unis also host regular free breakfasts or hold events where free food is available.
There are also lots of free services that can be accessed for new parents, youth, refugees, migrant women, disabled, people with a mental health diagnosis and those in financial hardship. You can usually find out about these via community centers or social workers (you can access a social worker via centrelink, education institutions, and hospitals in Australia). Services available will vary depending on your area and elligibility criteria is also different for each organisation. Some allow self-referral (ie you can contact them directly and ask to be put on their program) and others require a referral usually from a social worker or medical professional.
- Don’t pay for bread and go to free meal events
Many charities and community centers give away free bread (that supermarkets were unable to sell) and/or frozen meals for everyone (just need to ask and also often leftovers from restaurants) and most towns/cities will have places where you can get a free meal (often hosted by churches) and generally ‘everyone is welcome’ (ie its a community event and you don’t need to be low income). Sometimes there also events where you can get a feed for just a gold coin donation which are often worthwhile to attend for entertainment and socializing too.
- Learn to cook and meal prep, eat out less
preparing your meals in advance can save both time and money. While fresh ingredients might seem more expensive you will be able to make food in larger quantities which is more filling than the convenience version. So while it may not seem worthwhile to make pumpkin soup yourself when you can get a can of it for $1 or less, consider the health benefits of less added salt and sugar, no preservatives, and it generally being more satisfying. You will eat less and be less prone to snacking.
- Buy Bulk
Bulk food stores are often cheaper than the supermarkets for some items like dried beans, nuts and even popcorn. Usually there’s also the added benefits of it being organic and/or pesticide free.
- Use reusable wherever possible
How much are you paying for things that go almost directly into the trash? Paper towels, tissues, diapers, pads, napkins etc. Reusable items will save you loads of money. I’ve diapered my son for over 9 months with just an $80 setup of reusable diapers (read about that here). This beats paying hundreds over the course of a year.
- Seek out and use promotional offers, loyalty programs, and other rewards
Flybuys is good if you take advantage of bonus point offers and take the time to work out their algorithms. Other loyalty programs often offer birthday credit, discounts, or credit as a percentage of your purchase which can build and be used later. As these programs are usually free to join, there’s not much reason not to take advantage of them. These days you often don’t need to carry a physical card and can access your loyalty account using a phone number or email.
- Don’t buy unnecessary gadgets
You don’t need a rice cooker to cook rice, or a popcorn maker to make popcorn… etc. It drives me mad when people say a rice cooker is 100% necessary to cook rice and boiling it is ‘not safe’. Make do with what you have, you’ll save money and bench space too.
- Compare prices before committing to a large purchase
Nothing more depressing than paying for an expensive item only find it cheaper elsewhere shortly after. Now that we have smartphones, there’s no real need for this to happen. You can compare prices online before you buy.
- Use the 4c fuel vouchers
Coles and Woolworths offer a 4c/litre discount on fuel so make use of those. It will probably save you a dollar or so each time you fill up but that adds up.
- On the topic of petrol, use a fuel efficient car 2nd hand car and don’t buy European cars
If you don’t have a huge family or go off-road often, you don’t need that gas guzzling SUV. Also, if you have a European brand like BMW, Volkswagen etc, can I just ask what were you thinking? If you can’t understand why I’m saying this you obviously haven’t needed a part replaced yet.
When buying used cars private sales are always better than dealerships who will be selling at least 5k above the cars actual value. Go for a brand like Toyota which is efficient and cheap to repair. You should also look for cars made after year 2000 because improvements in safety features reduced fatality in crashes (you’re more likely to die in a crash if driving a car made before 2000). Don’t buy new cars, they devalue fast and just aren’t worth it.
- Check shop-a-docket offers and other coupons
sometimes you will find something good like discounts for dental, online retailers etc. Offers will depend on your location but doesn’t hurt to check. If you use flybuys check the offers at the bottom of your reciept, you can find triple points barcodes for your next shop among other things.
- Look after your health
Especially your teeth because dental isn’t cheap and not covered by medicare. Getting sick isn’t cheap either because it will mean you need time off, medicines, and possibly other equipment depending on the problem.
- Install solar panels if you can
They will save you loads in electricity even if you only use it to heat your water.
- Find a cheaper phone plan and use prepaid
Firstly, prepaid plans are cheaper, better value and won’t give you any nasty surprises like $300+ bills. You can pay your $30 or so per month and whatever else is completely up to you.
Secondly, if you’re using Telstra or Optus you’re being cheated. No need to pay hundreds a month to the big Telcos. People justify using Telstra because of ‘coverage’ but I have news – there’s other companies with the same coverage as Telstra selling cheaper plans. To understand how this works, you need to know there’s 3 companies who own the actual infrastructure in Australia. They are Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone. Any other provider – like dodo, belong, Aldi mobile, etc is running on one of them. Telstra has by far the most infrastructure and better coverage for regional and rural areas, so look for providers using the Telstra network, and you have the same coverage, the same quality of service, without the huge price tag. I personally use belong prepaid and they are way cheaper than Telstra, with better features. They have unlimited data banking and generous plans with unlimited calls and texts, and ability to gift data to other belong users. They operate on the Telstra network. If you sign up with my referral code you will get $20 in free credit.
- Buy ebooks instead of physical books
They’re cheaper, and this will also save you loads of money when you need to move (ie less boxes and no heavy books to transport). The kindle app is free and works on any mobile device and desktop. With Amazon Prime you can also borrow ebooks for free. There is also kindle unlimited which gives you access to most of the ebooks on Amazon for a monthly subscription fee, and Audible may encourage you to spend more time with books as you can listen while driving or doing other activities (like housework). If you’re the kind of person who likes reading the subscription may be less than buying one physical book every month. All the above come with a free trial (except the app which is already free).
Maximize your savings
- High interest Savings Account
Find one with the highest interest possible. Take into account bonus interest, fees and any promotional periods. If you find a good promotional offer (like high interest for the first 6 months) make a note of when this period ends so you can weight up if transferring your money to another account would be more beneficial. Some savings accounts also reward you for not withdrawing money which is good if that extra money is motivating for you. If you feel you’d dip in anyway the interest in months you withdraw can be abysmal so consider your tendencies. Beware of accounts requiring a minimum balance, if you can’t maintain that, your money tends to get eaten up by fees.
- Automate your Savings
Schedule transfers into your savings account for every payday. Whatever you can afford is okay, you’ll be surprised how fast it adds up. Try to build a large balance in your savings account early on and take advantage of the compound interest.
- Note accrual periods
Usually interest accrues and is paid monthly but you should check because this isn’t guaranteed. The accrual period is usually in the booklet of information that comes with your account, and will say when your interest is paid. These periods are important because a savings account with 4% p/a with a 1 month accrual period is far superior to one which is 4% p/a with a quarterly accrual period.
- Use micro-investing
I’m talking about apps like Raiz (formerly Acorns au). You link it to your bank account and they will round up your spending to the nearest dollar (so a 2.50 spend will send 50c to your Raiz account). It also recommends you make a recurring monthly deposit of any amount you like. I did make a quite significant return in my time using this app, considering that for the most part my balance was quite low. If you sign up with my referral link before the end of September Raiz will start you off with a free $5 investment into your account. After September you can still net a $2.50 investment using the link.
- Look at other investing options
If you have a higher income or cash savings you may be able to look at things like term deposits, and other investing opportunities. Term deposits are quite safe but other’s will probably carry risk, meaning you may also lose money. Choose wisely.
What are your tips? Did I miss anything? Leave a comment.