100 Different Ways to Save $100 This Year – Part 1

I often receive emails from readers who wonder how on earth we managed to survive three years of law school on a part-time income without going into debt. I have a series of posts in the works right now on specifically why we did this and how we did this, but I thought it might also be insightful for me to share a 10-part series on 100 different practical ideas which helped us live on our beans-and-rice law school budget.

Not all of these ideas will work for everyone and many of them are probably things that other frugal zealots out there are already doing, but each of these ideas could very well save you $100 per year if faithfully implement. And many of them could produce much higher savings than that.

1) Make out and follow a written budget. I cannot emphasize how much money and stress we have saved over the course of six years of marriage thanks to our written budget. I've written more on budgeting here. I also highly recommend resources by Dave Ramsey if you're new to the whole idea of budgeting or could just use some motivation and encouragement in this area.

2) Use cash only for the majority of your purchases. I know that there are a handful of folks who can use a credit or debit card without overspending, but we personally have found it is much easier for us to spend more when swiping a debit card as opposed to parting with literal cash. So we use cash for the majority of our purchases and it has saved us hundreds of dollars in little excess purchases over the years.

3) Use an envelope system. In addition to paying with cash, we also designate a certain amount of cash each month for our spending categories (groceries, clothing, eating out, gifts, etc.) and put this amount an assigned envelope. If we need to make a purchase in any of these areas, we use the cash in the envelope.

When the envelope is empty, there is no more money left to spend in that category that month. This has taught us to learn patience and self-discipline in our spending habits. Undoubtedly, this has also saved us a large amount of money.

4) Plan a menu and follow it. Not only will planning a simple menu for each week save you last-minute frustration or trips through the drive-thru lane, it will also save you money. I wrote more on how I plan our menus and weekly shopping trips here and here.

5) Designate one or two nights per week for meatless meals. Now, not all families would go for this, but I promise you that it's a simple and easy way to cut down on your grocery costs and explore some new recipes at the same time!

When my husband was in law school, we often only had $20 to spend on groceries each week so meatless meals were a must for us. However, I determined to exercise creativity in the kitchen despite my limited resources and since then, I've come up with a number of delicious meatless recipes that my husband loves. I've written more on how to keep meat from breaking your grocery budget here.

6) Buy your prescription glasses from Zenni Optical. Seriously, I think this was one of my best frugal discoveries in the last few years. I was very skeptical at the thought of purchasing prescription glasses online for only $8 to $20 per pair, but after ordering mine and wearing them for almost six months now, I'm sold! You can read more on my personal experience with Zenni Optical here.

7) Utilize your local library. I have no clue how much money we've saved by frequenting our libraries over the years. We checked out thousands of books, movies, DVDs, and CDs and had countless hours of free fun, learning, education, and inspiration as a result–all thanks to our local libraries. 

When my husband and I were first married, we often went on "Library Dates". We'd just go hang out at the library for the evening, perusing books, and checking out a big stack to take home. It felt like a splurge of sorts and yet it was completely free!

8) Carefully evaluate all purchases and expenditures. Before spending money, always ask yourself: "Can I afford this? Do I really need this? Can I purchase this somewhere else for less?" Just taking the time to think before spending can eliminate many unnecessary purchases and save you hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars each year.

9) Frequent consignment shops and thrift stores. For the first few years of our marriage, we bought very few clothes. We tried to make do as best as possible with what we already had. But when we did need to buy something, we almost always purchased things used from a thrift store or consignment shop. Yes, it takes a bit more work to look through the racks at thrift stores but the rewards in the money saved are worth every bit of it.

The funny thing is, even though our income has dramatically increased since our law school days, I still prefer to purchase the majority of our clothes second-hand. In fact, I've gotten to where most of the time I can't even bear to pay normal thrift store prices so I go on the half-price days or Dollar Days!  

However, let me give one word of caution when it comes to thrift store shopping: do not buy more than you need. Just because it's a great price does not mean you need to buy it. Don't get carried away when thrift-store-shopping. Have a list of items you need and shop from that list. (Refer to #8 above!)

10) Use less whenever possible. Conserving in simple ways throughout each day can add up to big savings in the long run. Use less shampoo, less laundry detergent, fewer paper towels (or do what we've done and just eliminate them from your home and use towels instead!), turn off the lights when you're not in a room, and so on. I loved Trent's recent post on this subject.

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Comments

  1. says

    My husband just got 2 pair from Zenni and they look very nice on him. In fact he is probably happier with them than he has been with glasses from opticians because he was able to afford all the fancy coatings, etc.

  2. Rhonda says

    Thanks for your post–it is good for us when we are forced to downsize. Though I’ve always tried to be a frugal SAHM-this last year has really stretched me–for the good:) We are in construction/remodeling and lost 1/3 of our business due to the economical downturn. God has used it in our lives to show us just how little we can get by on if we have to–and I really do count it as a blessing and learning curve~God is faithful, but we, too, must do our part to use what He gives us wisely.
    ~Thanks for the blessing of your website!

  3. says

    Great list! I am a Dave Ramsey fan and slavishly adhere to all of his tenets. We aren’t far into the steps, but we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

  4. Nancy says

    One thing that makes me stop and think about purchases is how many hours my husband has to work to pay for the item. Keep all of the great idea coming our way.

  5. Michelle says

    We have “good” clothes and “house” clothes. Now our good clothes are not fancy, just not stained or whatever. We try to always wear the older clothes around the house and the nicer ones when I go to the store or somewhere.

  6. Krista says

    Thanks so much for this advice! I am starting law school in the fall and am terrified on the debt we might rack up. I am new to the blog, and was just wondering if you have kids, or had kids while he was in law school? My husband is in the Army, and I know I am going to have to take out loans for living expenses, because I have to hire a full time nanny while I am in school, so I am trying to see what other people did!

  7. Lisa says

    Although a bit pricier than Zenni, I have bought from 39dollarglasses.com before and was very happy with them.

  8. says

    Thanks for all those great tips. I am always wanting to hear new ways of saving money.
    I know this year my husband and I have started the “Cash Only” plan. No more credit cards. I know some people hate it because they feel like they have to stress more about running out of money. Honestly I have loved it and have really learned of all the unnecessary items I was buying. We have saved tons of money already by following this.
    Keep the tips coming.

  9. Lyn says

    This is a super idea for a series. Even for those of us who are already frugal, it’s great to read reminders that spur on frugal creativity. Looking forward to the rest of your posts!

  10. Sandy says

    I am somewhat new to your site and I have to say I love it! I followed your advice and worked out a budget in January, I just made out my envelopes the day before yesterday, and I am currently working on my menu. I too, have meatless meals…mac n cheese for example. I’m looking forward to reading your meatless recipes. Thanks for the great advice. I’m hoping to save far more this year than last!

  11. Terri says

    I have tried Zenni Optical. I had a question about entering my prescription. I asked them and they never got back to me. Now I’m stuck. I’m glad everyone else had a good experience.

  12. Kelly says

    I am a stay at home mom of two boys and one girl on the way. I don’t try to spend much but in January, I went to Walmart and bought a big glass jar and we put all our change in it so we don’t spend it. Since January I think we saved close to 100.00. I also put a envelope next to were I put my wallet and I don’t spend any 1’s…I make envelopes of 20 ones at a time and once it hits 20, I stash them away. In two months we have saved $100.00. We figure at this rate, we will have holiday money or a small ER money if ever needed.

  13. Dianna says

    As someone who has religously done the things you recommend I can attest to how well they work. We are a single income family with three children. The luxury of staying home with my kids comes as a trade off for knowing how to make the most of our budget. The meatless dinners are great and I just snuck them in, the family never really noticed, lol= pasta fagioli, vegetable stew or homemade french onion soup they love and they don’t even think about there not being meat. The only tip I slack on is the envelope rule, we tried this one, but found that it didn’t work for us we were always stealing money from one envelope to fulfill a different need, lol.
    I am very much looking forward to your future tips, I’m always ready to learn more!

  14. says

    We’ve just started Ramsey’s baby steps and so we are doing almost everything you listed. We stand to save a lot more then $100 doing them. That is money that can either truely be saved (in an account) or go to paying off debt. It is wonderful to have hope again. Can’t wait to see the rest of the tips. Thank you for your ministry!

  15. Sandy says

    Every one can always use a new idea on how to save more money. Some of the simple ones we do all of the time some one else may never had thought of. This is going to be a good series and one we need to hear.

  16. says

    Thanks so much for all your help. I will be reading all of them…I need alot of help right now and this is a big one.

    Hugs Pam

  17. says

    I’ve had several of Dave Ramsey’s books on “request” from the library for WEEKS and they still have not come in. I can’t wait to read and take notes and get some more tips. I think the most important thing to do is make frugality a lifestyle change. Just like committing to working out at the gym, being frugal is not something you should endeavor by just jumping into the deep end and feeling depressed about. We’ve taken smaller steps and changed our routine over several months, and we’ve enjoyed not only living frugally but by practicing and finding new ways to save and connecting with others. It’s been a huge source of beaming pride to save $15 at the grocery store, or learn new frugal recipes. If you can’t find a way to enjoy it, you won’t make it habit.

    Love your site. We are so blessed by it!

  18. Amy says

    We had 4 children by the time my husband finished his graduate degree. I wish I would have had your blog then. I would have helped a lot. We always just barely made it but knowing what I do know we could have done so much better.

    We did my husband’s grad school debt free. We committed to doing that before he started and I’m so glad we did. I see others he went to school with still paying off huge loans. He was lucky and got a fellowship for most of the tuition and worked in Labs and as a TA for stipend money.

  19. says

    In January, I began a written meal plan. Like having a written budget, it’s really helped me stay on track. By shopping sales (particularly on meat) and planning meals based on what I have in the freezer/cupboard, I’ve saved over $100 on our grocery budget this month. I really didn’t expect it to make that much difference. I was so excited as I neared the end of the month and saw how much money was left over.

  20. says

    Thank you so much for this post! I need new glasses in the next year for sure and paying only $20 would be a dream!!
    I must check out that post!!
    I have also found I use coupons for everything and I wait until Bath & Body Works has their 5/$10 sale on soaps, my dad came up with the genius idea of filling them with 1/2 water and 1/2 soap to make them last longer. Which I have to admit it is slightly thick soap when you buy the foam, so this will make it perfect and when I stock up on these sales I usually don’t need hand soap for about 6 months or more which isn’t bad for a family of 7!!! (Plus, use coupons and get freebie items with it for stockpiling birthday gifts, items on hand to have when you need them!)
    I recently offered my house for some church people to host a birthday party and I never had a chance to go get the birthday girl a gift…luckily I had a stockpile of items so I gave her some perfume samples she loved, a PINK dog from Victoria’s Secret I got free last year, some earrings I got for $3.99 at JCP and some pumice stones I found on clearance at Target a few years back! She loved it and it didn’t cost me a thing at the time! :)

  21. Allyson says

    My husband tried Zenni. He had to send his glasses back and have them fixed. Now he has been wearing them for a few months and has had lots of headaches. I am encouraging him to go to the eye doctor and get new glasses somewhere else. I know he is tired of his headaches, and so am I!
    This is a great post!

  22. says

    Fantastic list. I do most of what you mentioned, although, I haven’t done the envelope system.

    We ditched paper towels quite a while ago and don’t miss them. I recently showed my solution on my blog. Works great! And no enviromental or financial remorse!!!

    Thanks for a great list.

  23. says

    Thanks for the tip on the eye glasses site!! I’ve had my glasses now for about 7 years and I need an updated look!! On that site I can afford some sassy glasses for a great price! We started a budget once we went down to being a 1 income family and I stayed home with our children (we have 2). The budget as hard as it was to start and get things set $$ wise, has been a big help with us!! Now that I’ve found this blog, I’m learning more tips too!! Thank you

  24. says

    Great series! We just started a 5 part series about how to save money and bargain shop in small towns and rural areas, as this is something people constantly seem to wonder about! We live in a small town, so we decided to share our ideas, so everyone can benefit.

    We would love it if you would share our “25 ways to save money and bargain shop in small towns and rural areas” series with your readers. You can see part 1 of the series here:

    http://www.engineeradebtfreelife.com/2009/02/25-ways-to-save-money-and-bargain-shop.html

  25. Gena says

    I would love some ideas concerning the use of paper towels. I can’t imagine not needing them, but I’d love to get rid of them.

  26. says

    Hello,

    Great post, Crystal. We do many of these things and find them to be so very helpful. Even in this day and age, it is just amazing how little we can live on when we put ingenuity and creativity to work!

    Last year, for your Frugal Friday series I put up a post of 5 things we’ve done to save $100. Most thing saved us even more than $100. Here is a link to that post in case anyone’s interested.

    http://farmhomelife.blogspot.com/2008/01/5-ways-to-save-100.html

    Thanks,

    Trixie
    http://farmhomelife.blogspot.com

  27. says

    Thanks Crystal! Great List. The only one that I am leary of is the thrift shop. We have been dealing with bed bugs for almost four months now and used furniture found in thrift shops is one of the culprets of transferring these nasty bugs. (Though that is not how we got ours – we live in a row home and they traveled from that house to ours). If you do purchase from a thrift store bring it into your house in a sealed plastic bag, wash all clothing on hot and dry on high for at least 80 minutes to kill anything that may be on them. Furniture should not be brought into the house until thoroughly inspected and maybe even given a quarentine time to make sure you aren’t carrying anything home that you don’t want! Bed bugs are extremely difficult to get rid of and very costly!!! We have already spent more than $2000 trying to get rid of them! So please be cautious. Thanks!

  28. Gloria says

    One thing I would like to mention that really helps us alot is to use Freecycle. It’s been a life saver for me as I was able to get good furniture, clothing and other stuff. You just need to be willing to drive and pick up the stuff. But it’s is really worthwhile to join this group. Go to http://www.freecycle.org.

  29. Renee Clark says

    I’m going to check out the eyeglasses! Thanks! Mine are glued together since I only wear them from the sink to bed and in reverse in the morning. Then the occasional getting up with the kids at night. The rest of the time is contacts so I don’t mind the gob of superglue on them in these occasions. I’m fearful of having a problem with contacts at some point (eye infection or some other problem) and being forced to wear super glued glasses out in public. I’ll check this out.

  30. DaisyMom says

    Eyeglasses:
    We use Sam’s Optical, part of the big whiolesaler Sam’s, for our eyeglasses. They have been wonderful for us. They are the lowest priced in the area, and with our family we have needed local care. My son was four when he first got glasses, and we were at Sams once or twice a week to get them repaired, all for free. If the glasses are still under warranty, they replace the broken frame then and there, if they have it in stock, which they usualy do. We we were at a different eyeglass place, they charged to reapir or adjust, even if you had a warranty or something saying you could have free repairs. And then they wouldn’t do anything to adjust or repair them. We were quite happy to find Sam’s.

  31. Susan says

    My oldest daughter received her first pair of Zenni Optical glasses today…she LOVES them and they look SO cute on her. That’s where we are getting ours from now on. Even with insurance, it’s less.