7 Strange Ways to Save Money that Actually Work

By Jackie Lam
April 12, 2017

Budgeting can be just as personal as say, decorating your home or planning a wedding reception. And while there are a bevy of budgeting strategies out there – the 50/30/20 rule or the zero-sum budget, for starters – things get really interesting when you add in your unique spin on saving.

We reached out to some super savers to see what novel tactics they’ve employed to make their dollars stretch further and hit their money goals. While some of these may seem a bit strange, these 7 out-of-the-box savings strategies did the trick for these folks:

Everyday Savings

1. A strange way to save on gas

To save money on his car expenses, Eric Rosenberg tried out hypermiling, which is a set of driving techniques designed to maximize fuel efficiency. For instance, Rosenberg would time the red lights, drive a little slower on the highway, and avoid accelerating and braking suddenly. As a result, he was able to get up to 50 miles per gallon while driving his 2008 Toyota Corolla. This saved Rosenberg, 32, about $10 a month, or $120 a year.

“I eventually gave up on it, but it could be an interesting way to help people who are on a tight budget save a little extra,” said Rosenberg, who runs the site Personal Profitability.

2. Ditch the cell phone  

Jeff Yeager is no stranger to extreme ways of saving. He doesn’t believe you should spend more than a dollar per pound on food. And to slash his energy bills, Yeager soft-boils his eggs each morning in his dishwasher along with his dirty dishes. (Yes, that’s actually possible.)

To save hundreds annually, Yeager is cell-phone free. In fact, the 59-year-old Ultimate Cheapskate has never had a cell phone in his entire life. Instead, Yeager uses a landline and email for his communication needs. To boot, he’s been able to ditch the cell phone despite traveling extensively throughout the year. “Cell phones are an expensive way to make yourself less independent, and they destroy the quality of life,” Yeager opines.

3. Bubble wrap your doors to slash your heating bill

If you live in colder parts of the country, you know just how much your heating expenses can spike during the winter months. To slash his heating bill, Joshua Crum of RebuildRepairCredit.com bubble wraps his leaky doors and windows in his house. “Our friends and family expect to be walking into an alien spaceship,” laughs Crum, who lives with his family in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri.

Crum keeps his thermostat under 70 degrees and uses a space heater sparingly. His oddball money-saving efforts save him about $300 a month on his heating bills and $200 to $500 a month on his electric bills, netting him an annual savings of about $3,600.

Saving for the Short-Term

4. Pick up pennies

Marcia Marie takes the adage “make every penny count” literally. For the last decade or so, she’s been picking up change while running. “It’s rare that I don’t do a run without finding money, be it a single penny or a couple dollars,” Marie explains. “And while I can’t say I’ve found huge amounts, it adds up over time.”

She’s collected anywhere from $80 to $268 a year, which she has donated to charity, put toward the principle of a car loan, and allocated toward small expenses like buying soda. For kicks, Marie takes quick photos of the coins she’s found. To date, she’s taken hundreds of such photos. “I’m not sure what I enjoy more – running or finding coins,” says Marie.

5. Save for vacations with a trip jar

If you’re cash-strapped, you know how hard it is to eke out enough money for a vacation. When Gillian Culff was raising her two sons, she didn’t think her family could afford a vacation to Maui. They were living on a combined income of $35,000 a year on Hawaii’s Big Island. Culff did the math and figured it would cost her family roughly $1,000 to island hop and rent a condo for the weekend. They started a trip jar and put spare change into it. They also told family members that they didn’t want any gifts for Christmas or their birthdays – just money for their trip.

In six months’ time, the Culffs had enough saved for their vacation. “Even though we didn’t have much wiggle room in our budget, we used the ‘money attracts money’ approach to save,” says Culff.

Saving for the Long-Term

6. Save weekly for your goals by automating

Professional writer Kathryn Atkins makes sure she saves regularly for her money goals by automating. Here’s how she does it: She figures out how much she needs for each goal and divides the amount by 52. She then creates different saving accounts for each of her money goals and automatically transfers the set amounts into each of the accounts every week. She currently has savings accounts for expenses like taxes, a new car, and emergencies. She also has a catch-all savings account for end-of-year expenses, such as health and property insurance.

Atkins and her husband have managed to save about one-third of their combined income over the last 20 years.

“It’s less painful, but it also helps make sure we don’t spend the money when the paycheck drops into the checking account,” explains Atkins, who lives in Southern California and runs Writing World, LLC,.

7. Max out your retirement contributions by July

We know how tough it can be to keep far-reaching goals such as retirement top of mind. Alexa Thorn has a special method to max out on her Roth 401(k) contributions. In fact, she hits her retirement goals by mid-year. She pulls this off by aggressively saving for the first six months of the year and maxing out on her annual Roth 401(k) contribution of $18,000. For the second half of the year, Thorn saves a sizable chunk of her income to live off of. She then repeats the cycle.

This saving strategy ensures that she hits her annual retirement savings goals by July. And while she earns over $100,000 annually plus bonuses at her tech job, living off the amount she has set aside helps her maintain her frugal lifestyle.

“I want to feel like I can retire as soon as possible because I worry about not having enough money for the future,” said Thorn, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband. “And what I’m really looking forward to is feeling free enough to choose what I do without as much financial consideration.”

As you can see, if you’re creative and resourceful, you can turn saving money into a game of sorts. Hopefully, these ideas will provide inspiration for you to come up with your own out-of-the-box ways to save.

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based financial writer whose clients include Fortune 500 companies and FinTech startups. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD.

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