My parents have always been really...let's be diplomatic and say thrifty...so frugality is bred right into my bones. It's so automatic for me that I had to teach myself how to turn off the mean, haranguing voice in my head that would lecture me any time I bought something frivolous (NB: now that I don't have a steady paycheque, I've invited The Voice back again to keep me in line. I can invoke my cheapness at will like a superpower!!!).
I've always assumed that the money-saving measures I take are just common sense and therefore obvious to everyone, but I've definitely known some people who were perpetually broke and never knew why (and I wanted to raise my hand and go "Me! I know why! Please for the love of god let me fix this for you!"). So, in this post I'll share some of my money-saving techniques and philosophies. It may not all be useful or relevant to you, but I hope some of it is.
My biggest thing is: No Outside Food. By "outside food" I mean stuff that didn't come from the grocery store. Eating a meal in a restaurant costs more than preparing a similar thing at home, and buying snacks or bottles of water when I'm out wandering adds up fast. If I'm poor, I'll avoid doing these things at all if I possibly can; under regular, non-poor circumstances, I'll let myself go to restaurants or for coffee, but I'll try to limit it to once a week. If I know I'll be out running errands for a few hours, I'll bring an orange or some almonds and maybe a refillable water container with me in case I get hungry or thirsty.
More food things: I'm sure coupons are awesome, but I don't have the energy to find them, clip them, and remember to use them. My style is to memorize the cheapest versions of everything I like to eat (bagged chicken leg quarters are quite a bit cheaper than thighs, for instance) and also to figure out which of my local stores carries each thing for the least amount of money. Then my shopping is pretty much automatic - eggs and chicken from this store, lettuce and juice from that store. I guess it helps that I eat the same few things all the damn time like a five year old - I can totally shop on autopilot because there are no decisions to make. Of course, if I notice that something I like is way on sale, and that something is either canned or freezeable, I'll stock up. Unless it's a dessert item because I have no self-control with those and my "two month supply" will end up lasting me approximately seven minutes. Oh, and I try never to grocery shop on an empty stomach because the hunger will make me overspend.
I never skimp on the overall quality of my food in order to save money, btw (and I really, really hope it never comes to that). Sure, I could live on ramen noodles and spend less money on groceries, but with my various food sensitivities I'd get all kinds of fucked up. It's not worth compromising my health just so my savings will last longer. And anyway an 18-hour-a-day gluten coma wouldn't leave much time for painting.
Entertainment: I love movies, but almost always wait for video instead of watching a film in the theatre. Most movie theatres here cost around $12; the cheap rack at the video store is maybe $3, and if I love the movie I can watch it again a few times for free before I return it. Likewise, if there's a movie I love and want to buy, I figure if I wait long enough it'll end up in the bargain bin.
One of the biggest money savers for me is simply staying away from malls and clothing stores; I can't want something if I don't know it's out there*. Also, I find that most cravings for shiny new things will go away if I wait long enough. If I get sick of all the self-denial and decide that I do want to buy the shiny bauble I've been wanting...I try to hold off until there are a few other things I want/need, too. I find that it's all too easy to pick up a lipgloss here and a pair of tights there and not really remember it, and the costs add up; when I buy myself a few things at once, it's an exciting little mini-spree that actually feels like something. I guess my point is that I try to make sure all the purchases I make - no matter how minor - are deliberate rather than impulsive.
I used to buy a montly transit pass that let me take unlimited bus/streetcar/subway rides, but that is no longer viable now that I'm self-employed. Interestingly, even though it's been about ten years since I've been without either a Metropass or a husband with a car, I find I've effortlessly slipped back into my old habits of grouping all my errands by geographical location and walking places whenever possible. Special bonus: The Boy has a Metropass and it's legal to lend them to other people, so occasionally I'll give him two tokens so he can get to and from work and then borrow his pass for the day. That way I can go all the hell over the place for the price of those two tokens ($5. Buying my own transit day-pass would've cost $9).
What I'd really love is to buy a bike - even the places I go that are too far to walk are well within my idea of biking distance. The problem, though, is that the traffic terrifies me and there aren't enough bike lanes, so I can't see myself doing this.
If it seems like I consistently have less money than I think I should and I can't think why, I'll start writing down all my purchases (and the amounts) for a month or so. This makes it easy to analyze what's going on and decide how I can do better next month. Another good trick is to use cash for everything that isn't rent or groceries. Debit is too abstract and hard to keep track of; when you set a budget for yourself and you can physically see your pile of bills dwindling as the month wears on, it can be a reality check.
Credit card expenditure is even more abstract and hard to keep track of. I'm pretty anal retentive about money (as you can probably tell by now) and wouldn't be prone to credit card rampages, but still...I don't keep the card in my wallet so I'm not tempted. :)
Do you have any money-saving tips to add? Do you have anything to ask or tell me about mine? That's what the comments section is for!
*I mean, okay, I can want new clothes even if I'm just sitting around at home. But if I go to the mall I might see a specific dress that's adorable and matches whatever my current hair colour is, but it's $70, but there's only one left in my size and ARGH. That mall dilemma is way worse to live with then "I wish I had some new clothes, le sigh."