March Madness is officially about college basketball and unofficially about the craze that sets in as you emerge from hibernation. As the days get longer, spending more time with friends is rejuvenating and exciting... but spending more money to spend time with those friends can feel less so. Luckily, there are ways to work around some of those pain points.
Read these tips for ideas on how to keep more cash in your pocket even as you live your best life in March. If you need to rewind and refresh, check out our
February and January editions of 365 Days of Saving for additional knowledge nuggets.
If quitting smoking were as simple as getting dirty looks and suggestive coughs from passersby, smokers in the United States wouldn’t be spending
$6.28 on average for pack — or double that in states like New York, where cigs carry high taxes. Going cold turkey will have an immediate impact on your wallet, but if that’s just too hard, look to your health insurance for other free and low-cost options. Smokefree.gov has a free, 24/7 texting service to help people on the path to quitting, apps for teens and adults, and access to experts. People with Medicaid may also be eligible for smoking cessation programs which cover the partial or full cost of prescription drugs to aid in smoking cessation.
For a lot of people, relaxing in bed while browsing through online shopping sites is second only to getting swept away in the Netflix void. If you’re feeling spendy, you can try to save
some dough along the way through a service like Honey. Honey is a browser extension that scours the websites you visit for discounts, coupons, and promo codes. The service is supported by thousands of stores like Amazon, Sephora, Expedia, and Forever 21. It's free for shoppers (Honey is paid a retail commission when their coupons are used), so you’ll save a little money automatically while you shop.
Especially in the case of medicine. The FDA mandates that generic drugs "have the same quality and performance as brand name drugs" — so if you do have the option to buy generic, go for it. For the rest of your faves (think: detergent, tampons, etc.), do a trial and see if you're really as committed to those brand-name items as you think.
Bringing your lunch to work is supposed to save you time and money... except for those times when it does neither. Instead of stressing about making additional meals for over the course of the week, or berating yourself for buying yet another midday meal, try to
organize a lunch swap with a few coworkers. To start, set some ground rules for your swaps — the number of people you can feasibly include, how elaborate or simple your meals will be, and most important, how much money you each want to spend every week. This group of marketing and sales employees commits to $20/week, for instance, while this group of elementary school employees decided on $35/week — both much less expensive than snagging takeout every other day.
Pennies, nickels, and dimes really do add up! Instead of ignoring the loose change in the crevices of your wallet, keep them in a jar — any old one will do — or buy a pack of coin wrappers to roll them in. A penny costs more than a cent to make, so they’re
kind of a loss of money on the macro level, but 100 of them still give you $1 — a net win for you.
One of the things you (should!) look into when you start a new job are the benefits, i.e., discounts on gym memberships, restaurants, and in some cases, even certain stores. Similarly, some banks offer discounts for cardholders
without asking them to spend any money to get the goods. For instance, Bank of America’s Museums on Us program gives account holders free general admission to participating museums across the country at certain points throughout each week or month. Take a few minutes to call your financial institution or visit their website to see what they might have to offer you.
When it comes to dining out, breakfast is often a less expensive choice than dinner because you're likely to spend less on alcohol. (Even boozy brunches feature cost-effective drink specials and pre-fixe menus.) So try starting your day off on an earlier, more relaxed note over pancakes and eggs when the temptation to go just
one more round is a little lower.
Qapital makes the best of the “putting your money where your mouth is” concept, without the whole gambling connotation. The way it works: You set rules that trigger Qapital to help you budget or save based on your spending. For example, the app will move a certain amount of money to the in-app savings account if it sees you splurging, or round up and save your change on other expenses.
Lots of companies, schools, and research institutions rely on feedback from real people. You won’t be experimented on in inhumane ways, but you can earn extra money here and there for activities that might actually be pretty interesting (or boring at the absolute worst). Sign up at sites like
FocusGroup.com or FindParticipants.com and create an email filter so you can look through new opportunities at your leisure without crowding your inbox.
Depending on your financial situation, you may not have to pay an accountant to handle your taxes. Doing your taxes yourself through a company like TurboTax is one low-cost option. Or,
reliant on your age and income, the IRS offers in-person tax return preparation services for free. Definitely look up the stipulations before you get started — you don’t want to get stuck with a surprise bill.
Getting hit with unexpected charges is one of the worst feelings, especially when the knock comes from your own bank. Go through your bank statements — print out a hard copy if you need to — and see what fees you may be incurring. These could include maintaining a balance that is below the minimum for a free account, depositing too much money at one time, or (everyone’s favorite) overdraft fees. If you want some help automating the process, parse through your accounts with a resource like
Bank Fee Finder, which sorts through your accounts and tells you how much you're losing out and why.
It’s totally normal to indulge in a fantasy shopping spree now and then — she who hasn’t clicked "Add this to cart?" just for the thrill of it can cast the first stone — but that’s where the ride should end. Instead of buying purchases and convincing yourself that you’ll return them later, build up the willpower to not buy them in the first place, or at least put it off. Before you go shopping, make a list of the things that you definitely need and purchase those things first. Once you see how much you have left over, you might be chastened to wait on those wants.
Some people are #blessed with being light steppers; others stomp the sweet life out of their shoes no matter how hard they try. If you're one of the latter, don't feel like you have to make regular shoe shopping a line item in your budget just to make them last. Visit a shoe repair shop with your tired kicks and tally up repair costs; it may be cheaper than replacing them.
The downside of having a vibrant social life is that being social is rarely free. One option you can look into is joining a local volunteer organization by yourself or with friends. You can work with orgs that are thematically tied to your day job if you like, but don't force yourself (especially if it's a drag). Instead, think of the things you enjoy doing or are skilled at, and spend an hour or two researching organizations that might value your time and help. Signing up will get you off your couch, out of your house, and meeting new people, all while doing some good.
A crucial part of "adulting" is BYOM: Being Your Own Mom. That tomato sauce-stained shirt you threw out might have survived if you hadn’t let it moulder in a crumpled heap on your floor for a week. And you can't make up for putting off laundry with dry cleaning every now and then.
A 2011 study published in the journal Gender Issues showed "significant differences [between] the cost to clean women’s and men’s shirts." On average, a men's shirt cost $2.06 to clean, while women's shirts cost $3.95 — not including "the additional costs incurred if the item of clothing is made of a special fabric, such as silk or rayon, or has embellishments or pleats." Point of the story: Take care of your ish while this whole patriarchy thing is being sorted out.
Meal prep isn’t only for Instagram fitness stars. Preparing your menu in advance for the week will help you save yourself from pricey last-minute meals, which can really add up. Your lunches don't have to be boring or super-fancy. There are easy, inexpensive ways to
sass up sweet potato, and cute ways to package it as well.
When you’ve been paying off loans for a significant amount of time, the date that is usually top-of-mind is the one on which your money comes out of your checking account each month. Useful, but not the most motivating. Rather than looking at what you owe from present-day into the far-off distance, flip your view around. Working with a specific goal in mind rather than shelling out money mindlessly each month can help you stay on top of your payments, and motivate you to get them paid off.
Pick a goal date for when you’d like to pay off your loans, factoring in the max amount of money you could feasibly pay each month. The website for the company or organization that owns your loan will likely have a calculator to help tabulate that number including interests, and some banks offer free consultations to do the same for other kinds of loans. (You can also check out sites like Student Loan Hero and Bankrate for calculators.)
Buying gas online now may save you money later when prices go up. Sites like
MyGallons.com allow you to purchase a certain number of gallons of gas on one day, and then keep that amount locked in even if you wait to use that fuel when prices have risen.
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) are an employer-sponsored benefit. You can stash pre-tax dollars from your paycheck in these accounts to help offset certain out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses. The hitch:
Your employer decides whether or not you can roll over any unspent money from one year to the next. If so, you can either get a 2 ½ month grace period to spend what's left, or carry up to $500 into the next year. Double-check your benefits so that you know to when use it before you lose it.
Costco is king when it comes to free samples. If you show some real dedication, you can probably do enough aisle-graze enough to cover a three-course meal — but that’s only the beginning. Sephora offers
free samples with every online purchase, as well as the chance to try beauty merch you’re interested in if you shop at a brick and mortar location. Certain drug stores may also let you try select products for free before buying. It can't hurt to ask, so find out if a shop can provide product samples for anything you might be ambivalent about before you drop more cash on it.
Our love for Trader Joe’s is
well-documented. And because the store sells its own branded items, their prices may swing lower than those you'll find at other stores for staples like milk, cereal, dairy, and meats. Pro tip: Their Just the Cluster Maple Pecan Granola Cereal is delicious enough to double as a snack, so it’s kind of two-for-one.
Getting friendly with the people you live near can be a lifesaver in a variety of ways (sometimes even literally — knock really hard on wood). Need to buy inexpensive furniture or sell some off fast? Look next door. Want to have an old-school clothing swap? Done and done,
sans carting around bags of clothes. Desperate for someone to watch your pet when you’re out of town? If your neighbor and your fur-kid get along, paying them to do it may be way cheaper than going with a boarder.
Beer and wine prices don’t actually take a pre-Hump Day dip, but your own spending habits are likely to change depending on the day of the week.
People who buy wine and beer closer to the freakin’ weekend tend to spend more money than those who buy the same things earlier in the week. Why? If you’ve procrastinated on getting that bottle you promised to bring to your friend’s house party, you’ll grab almost anything, fast. By contrast, people buying the same things on Monday or Tuesday are more likely to do a bit more comparison shopping. Give yourself a time buffer to make smarter choices.
Because Apparating and Floo Powder aren't yet a thing (get on it, science), you can’t pick up and visit your BFF wherever they are, whenever you want to. Get over any phone-phobia you might have and skip the texting at least once a month. If you know your phone session will last for ages, call on Skype or Google Hangouts to avoid using your minutes or data.
Ignore the burst of nostalgia that hits every time you try to get rid of that old American Apparel skirt and use an app like
ThredUp to sell the clothes you no longer want or need. Once you sign up, ThredUp sends you a large mailer to fill with clothing, which you can have picked up or shipped to them (they pay for postage). Depending on how much your item sells for, you may not get a ton of money after ThredUp takes its cut — but even if you only get $5, that's still better than the $0 you'll get if you just toss it.
In most states, tampons, sanitary napkins, and other menstrual accoutrement are classified as personal care items and saddled with a sales tax, meaning women will spend at least $7 a month on taking care of a basic need. Organize with your fellow period-havers in the office and talk to your office manager to see if there’s an opportunity to buy bulk.
Hide your snacks, hide your bites! At many movie theaters, the cost of a small popcorn can be close to half the cost of your ticket itself. Unless the you harbor a special kind of nostalgia for expensive ass Sno-Caps, stock up beforehand. Grab your biggest but most discrete bag, fill it with snacks, and have a low-cost feast at showtime.
If you can extend your caffeine high through key intervals, you’ll obviously save yourself some cash. Instead of spending your usual $3-ish on an adrenaline rush (and that’s only if you go with the most basic brew), put your coffee money in an online high-yield savings account where it can grow.
Eating dinner out and grabbing drinks are easy defaults when you want to catch up with your squad, but food, plus tips, plus transportation can obviously add up. Pick one night a month to ditch your out-on-the-town standby and host a game night. You can decide ahead of time if you want to make it a potluck affair where everyone brings a different dish, snacks, and/or booze, but be prepared with at least two games by the time guests arrive. Cards Against Humanity and Settlers of Catan cost about $25 each. Uno cards are less than $5 from Target. Monopoly and Taboo are about $15, depending where you shop—and Mafia is free! Bonus: You can enjoy these more than once, unlike those cheddar bay biscuits.)
The feasibility of hopping on a bus or train will depend on where you live, but if you can swing it, consider paying a few bucks round-trip to get where you need to go. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA)
estimates that individuals who use public transit for their daily commute save instead of driving "can save, on average, more than $812 per month." Your wallet, and the planet, will thank you.
But not necessarily all at once.
If you’re the kind of person who ambitiously moves cash from her checking to her savings account each month, only to guiltily move it back when you need more grocery money, try building up your savings muscle in increments. Thanks to Regulation D from the Federal Reserve Board, most banks will limit the number of transactions each month from a savings or money market account into a checking account (generally six transactions or less). By and large though, doing the opposite (checking to savings) is unpenalized. Try setting an automatic daily transfer from your checking account to your savings account, starting with $1 a day to see how much adds up.