Have you ever wondered about easy ways to save money? I’m a “saver” by nature and I’ve respected the value of money since I was a kid (thanks, Dad!). After I bought my first house in my early twenties and owned three before 30, people started asking me for financial tips.

James and I just got back from Boston where I pitched literary agents live and, goodness, what an expensive city. It got me thinking about all things budget and saving money so that when opportunities arise to break out of the query trenches, I can take advantage.

How to make a budget

Easy Ways to Save Money

Exercise at home rather than at a gym. For the cost of some exercise DVDs (I love Jillian MichaelsJackie Warner and Denise Austin) or even free workout programs on the internet, you can get (or stay) healthy and fit on the cheap.

Create lists before you go shopping and stick to them. Meal prep is critical to saving money and eating well. Decide what you need to buy at home away from the temptation of impulse buys. Then, when you’re out shopping, stick to your list of pre-determined items you’ve planned on and not everything else in sight.

Make efficiencies in your home, such as programmable thermostats and energy efficient bulbs and appliances. No one likes to spend money on things like utilities, but unfortunately we all have to. There are ways to be smart about it and keep more of your money in your pocket.

Buy a deep freezer. Wait a minute. I told you that I would help you save money and here I am telling you to buy something! However, a deep freezer will let you buy food items at great prices (read: when they’re on sale) and freeze them to use later.

Make as many of your own products as possible. I make my own personal care products (check out my recipes for safe toothpaste, anti-aging eye cream and exfoliating face wash) and household cleaning products. It is more upfront work and I won’t sugarcoat that, but it saves money, saves the environment, and saves you and your family from being exposed to toxins. Bonus: homemade products make great gifts!

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Eat at home as often as possible. Eating out is expensive and usually won’t help you to reach your wellness goals either. Fall in love with cooking and you’ll soon see that it’s a lot more comfortable, healthy, cost-effective, and delicious than going to restaurants or ordering in.

Sign up for free rewards. Many retailers will offer you free rewards simply for shopping at their stores. For example, I have earned over $1,000 in free groceries just for buying my weekly groceries.

Note: this tip only works if you are buying essential items you need anyway and not just spending money to get free rewards (sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised).

Make your credit cards work for you. Similar to in-store rewards, many credit card companies offer rewards such as cash back, travel miles, insurance, and discounts on products and services. Even better, many have valuable sign-up bonuses that can jump start your savings. I have several credit cards and I use them at specific stores to maximize my benefits.

However, and this is critical, I also pay my balances in full every month. If you can’t do that or the temptation of having a credit card is too much for you, then don’t get one (let alone several). Ongoing debt will counteract any of the bonuses that the cards give you.

Pay attention to “time of use” utility fees. It’s easy enough to do your laundry and run your dishwasher outside of peak hours, so why not start? That’s just two of many suggestions you can incorporate to save on your monthly bills.

Use your local library. You can borrow books, DVDs, and access many free (or very reasonably priced) programs through the library’s services.

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Make regular, on-time debt repayments (and not the “interest only” or “minimum payment” options). It might seem like a good idea to pay the least amount of money possible towards your debts so that you have more money available during the month, but all that’s doing is allowing your debt to stick around longer and rack up interest charges. Even if it’s an extra $50 a month towards the principle amount, pay something. Also, this goes without saying, but pay your bills on time to avoid sometimes hefty (and unnecessary) late fees.

Give up on the lottery. I understand that you’re buying hope and living a fantasy out in your head until the numbers are announced. However, your odds of winning are so minuscule that it would make a lot more sense to allocate that money towards something useful.

Consolidate your debt on a low interest line of credit. Interest payments on consumer credit cards are outrageous and retail credit cards are even worse. The sooner you can stop giving that money away, the better.

Focus on paying down your biggest debt first. I’ve heard the opposite advice too, but this method has always been my approach and here’s why: if you can double up your mortgage payments once a month and change your payment frequency to weekly instead of monthly, you will be surprised at how much interest you save by decreasing the amortization period. Not having a mortgage hanging over your head is an amazing feeling!

Be strategic about your vacations. If you are a picky traveler, plan in advance to take advantage of the best prices. If you don’t care where you go so long as you get to go somewhere, select a cheapie last minute deal.

Make a budget and stick to it. I’m amazed by how many people I know who don’t have a budget. If you don’t know where your money goes each month, how are you going to find ways to save that are specific to your situation? I can provide general tips, but unless I examine your expenses, I can’t create custom-tailored recommendations.

For example, what if you are spending an obscene amount of money on fast food, coffee breaks, happy hour, or entertainment without even realizing it because you aren’t tracking? Budgets are all about allocating your funds (no matter how limited) where they make the most sense. If you aren’t saving any money but you are hitting up happy hour with your friends every Friday, then it might be time to re-evaluate your priorities and make some changes.

Bonus: if you are able to follow your budget, you can create a “fun fund” so that you can go to happy hour every so often.

Consider buying used items. You can shop at garage sales or second hand stores for many household items. If that’s not your thing, consider checking out Kijiji or Craig’s List.

Purchase items for value and not for price point alone. If you’re trying to save money, you might think that buying the cheapest product on the market is the way to go. However, if the cheap version is going to break in a month and you have to buy another one, then it doesn’t actually work out better for you than if you had purchased the version that offered the best value from the start.

Attend free local events. Many towns hold free festivals and events or offer discounted admission to local attractions on certain days of the week. Take advantage of these options rather than paying full price for events and attractions in other towns.

Plant a garden. You can grow many of your own fruits and vegetables, which not only taste better but are much cheaper! Bonus: if you have extras, you can share with your friends and family.

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Comparison shop. James and I will always check multiple sources before we make any purchase so that we can either “price match” at our preferred retailer or simply go to the store (or website) offering the lowest price. However, whatever you do…

Don’t compare yourself to others. Some people may appear to be living charmed lives, but you have no idea how much debt they have or if they are truly happy. Be grateful for what you have and don’t try to keep up with the Jones’.

Eliminate unnecessary expenses. Do you really need cable or a landline phone? You can save a bundle if you go without one or, ideally, go without both.

Be a smart driver. Don’t accelerate like a crazy person and burn your gas; don’t slam on your brakes and come to hard stops; and do regular maintenance on your vehicle to help it last longer. Even something as simple as an oil change can catch problems early and keeping your tires inflated will improve your gas mileage. Bonus: walk, take public transit, or ride your bike whenever you can. Your body and your wallet will thank you.

Avoid paying bank fees. If you can bank with a company who offers free basic banking, make the switch. Also, don’t use generic ATM machines because each withdrawal is going to cost you.

What are your best tips to save money?

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