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15 ways to save money on just about everything

Looking to cut corners in your family budget? Here’s how to save money on (almost) everything.

15 ways to save money on just about everything

Bet_Noire / Getty Images

Cassie Howard, the mastermind behind one of Canada’s top frugal-living websites, MrsJanuary.com, wasn’t always money savvy. In 2006 she was actually drowning in credit card bills.

“I was 18 years old and in terrible debt and decided to start couponing—and blogging to share my money-saving experiences,” says Howard, a Vaughan, Ont., mom of two. “It wasn’t until after eliminating my debt that I realized I actually enjoyed saving money.”

Today she has a full-time gig blogging about deals and smart spending tricks, making her money through advertisements on her site and by writing sponsored posts. Over the past eight years, Howard and her husband have purchased a house, a new vehicle and enjoy annual family vacations.

“A lot of people think being frugal means you don’t spend money, but it’s about being wise with your money and using your resources to get the most bang for your buck,” says Howard.

Couponing and price matching at the grocery store are nothing new, but there are many lesser-known strategies to help trim the fat from your family’s budget.

01Pay attention to sale cycles

Knowing when things go on sale over the course of the year will help you stock up when items are at their lowest prices. You just need to be aware of sale cycles. Bedding and linens typically go on sale in January. Find the best deals on frozen food in March and on cleaning supplies, paint and cookware in April. Pick up discounted party supplies and bottled water in May and craft supplies in July. August is known to see sales on large appliances, while October features deals on denim, toys and games. (For a detailed list, visit MrsJanuary.com.) And if you’re a frequent Amazon.ca shopper, free price-watching sites like Camelcamelcamel will alert you to Amazon’s price drops via email or Twitter.

Discount 50% Display Inverse Couple Images/ Getty Images

02Create a stockpile, but don’t get crazy

You probably don’t need 50 bottles of laundry detergent, but always having a backup on hand will save you from dashing to the store for a full-price replacement when you run out. As you notice sales, replenish your stock.

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03DIY cleaners

Homemade detergents and cleaning products don’t contain harsh chemicals and are much more cost-effective. Dartmouth, NS, resident Kelly Warren makes her own cleansers and detergents. “Vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, Borax and Castile soap are a lot cheaper than store-bought items and clean just as well,” she says.

Eco friendly natural cleaners, jar with baking soda, dish brush, lemon, flowers, soap on white background. Organic ingredients for homemade cleans with mock up bottle. Zero waste concept, Anna Ostanina/ Getty Images

04Use cash-back services

Cash-back incentives are a great way to earn money on things you would buy anyway. “Checkout 51” is a Canadian app that issues rebates. Each week, the app sends out new offers and, if you buy those items, credits your account when you submit photos of your receipts. For example, an offer might be to save 50 cents on tomatoes, or $2 on two boxes of cereal. Once you’ve earned $20 in rebates, a cheque will be issued to the address you registered.

If online shopping is more your bag, Ebates is your golden ticket. After creating a free account, visit Ebates and type in the online store where you’d like to shop. You’ll then be redirected and shop as usual, but you’ll earn a percentage of your purchase back. It’s an easy way to line your pocket and cheques are mailed out every three months.

Sign up for newsletters from your favourite sites to receive promo codes and deals. But beware; it’s a slippery slope when discount offers bombard your inbox. Stay strong, and only buy what you really need.

Cash back rewards point concept. B4LLS/ Getty Images

05Get free stuff

It’s not always a gimmick—free stuff is totally within your grasp! And you don’t have to spend your days filling out surveys hoping to get samples; use store reward programs to earn points, then cash them in for things you need.

“Learn how to earn the maximum amount of points for the least amount of money,” says Howard. “I love the Optimum points program at Shoppers; it’s changed my life as a parent. When my kids were little I’d always get diapers for about 10 cents or less per diaper with manufacturer coupons and points. A lot of the time, you will find sale items are cheaper than at other stores, especially if you take into account the amount of points you receive on extra points days,” she says.

New on the Optimum scene? Here’s how it works: Whenever you buy something at Shoppers Drug Mart, you earn points by scanning your Optimum card. Some items have bonus points and some days you can earn up to 20 times the points. Shoppers’s newsletters have tailored deals and alert you to their Spend Your Points events, which happen several times per year. Points are redeemable in increments of $10, $30, $60, $85 and $170. If you’re saving for a big-ticket item, it’s best to redeem your points during the Spend Your Points events when points are worth more than face value.

PC Plus is another card that can be used at all of the President’s Choice banner stores, like No Frills, Loblaws and Real Canadian Superstore, to earn points that you can spend to buy groceries or anything in the store, including clothing and gift cards. Every time you scan your card, the system logs your items, then caters deals to those types of products. Load your offers each Friday and watch your points add up. PC points are redeemable in 20,000 increments or $20.

Portrait of happy man and woman using mobile phone together holding credit card and shopping bags, Prostock-Studio/ Getty Images

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06Buy nothing new

A fun money-saving challenge is to shop exclusively second-hand for pretty much everything, from your clothing to your kitchenware. Thrift stores like Value Village, Talize and Once Upon a Child are brimming with practical finds, like cool decor and household items, toys and barely used brand-name clothing, including big-ticket items like snowsuits. If you have time to search, shelves are lined with heavily discounted books for kids and adults. Not your thing to sift through thrift shops? Go online to check out local mom-swap groups, Kijiji and Craigslist for gently used kids’ items.

Of course, there are deals to be had at big-box stores, too. If you do buy new, wait for end-of-season clearance sales and buy for next year. Also snoop around for guarantees. Walmart and Sears promise replacements if your child wears out their gear—boots, shoes, clothes, coats—before growing out of them.

Thrift store clothing racks jennifer m. ramos/ Getty Images

07Make things

If you have the time and patience, homemade anything will stretch your dollar. Why spend six dollars on a store-bought greeting card when your kids can make one (and it will be much more appreciated by the recipient)? Have your children craft trinkets (look to Pinterest for swoon-worthy DIY inspiration) for relatives to combine a fun activity with a birthday gift. Michaels craft store is a great place to stock up on supplies, with their standard 40 percent off one item deal, and sometimes up to 30 percent off your whole purchase (check Michaels.com for offers). You might also be surprised at the array of crafting goodies at your local dollar store.

Craftswoman working in her workshop Alistair Berg/ Getty Images

08Family fun on the cheap

Schlepping the fam for a day of fun can get pricey. But in many regions, the local library is more than just a great resource for renting movies and borrowing books—some even offer passes for local attractions. In Toronto, a member with a valid library card can obtain a free family pass (two adults and up to five children) for attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo. Doled out on Saturday mornings, some branches offer passes on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have draws. Similarly, the Hamilton Public Library in Ontario offers a museum pass that can be checked out. Other libraries offer kids’ book clubs, play groups and lessons. Call your branch to see what it has to offer beyond storytime. Howard also suggests following attractions on Facebook. “They often have promotions to save you money.”

helping a young student with her homework in the library after school. Marco VDM/ Getty Images

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09Adjust thermostat settings

We all know that an unexpected household expense can creep up like a stealthy ninja and, if you’re just making ends meet on a good month, even something small can throw you into debt. To make more wiggle room in your budget, shave some money off your monthly bills by using a thermostat with a timer that will lower the heat or AC while you’re out of the house or asleep, and try setting your regular temperature a degree or two warmer or cooler than usual, depending on the season. Be sure to change your heating and AC filters regularly. A dusty filter makes for a less effective system and can ultimately shorten its lifespan.

Woman adjusting the temperature on the thermostat of her house andresr/ Getty Images

10Avoid phantom energy use

Unplug items like the toaster, coffee maker and device chargers when not in use—do a nightly sweep of your house to make sure you’ve unplugged or turned off any unnecessary lights, electronics and ceiling fans. If you’re going away for a few days, you could even unplug your stove and hot water tank (but not in the winter, or your pipes will freeze!). Little one afraid of the dark? Rather than leave an energy-sucking lamp on, try an energy-efficient nightlight that turns itself off.

Midsection of woman plugging mobile phone charger on wall at home Maskot/ Getty Images

11Double-check your meter readings

Make sure you’re not being overcharged on your bills. Utility workers are human, so mistakes happen. If your meter reading is less than your bill reflects, call and have it rectified.

Cropped shot of a couple looking at paperwork while sitting with their laptop mapodile/ getty Images

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12Repair seals and cracks

Drafty windows and doors can lead you to crank up the heat, but you can easily fill cracks or repair seals yourself with supplies and a little instruction from the staff at the hardware store. Or try making your own draft blocker by sewing a thin piece of fabric the length of your door into a tube shape and filling with kitty litter or sand. You’ll be amazed at how well it blocks under-door drafts.

Man in a blue shirt does window installation galitskaya/ Getty Images

13Embrace bundling and ask for savings

When it comes to things like your phone, Internet and cable, bundling options or using family plans to share minutes are good money-saving strategies. Even calling to ask if better deals are available can lead to surprising savings (this is also true with your banking options and fees). Check your services and cancel any that you don’t use, such as voicemail, caller ID, call waiting or add-ons through text. You can even call your credit card company and ask if they can lower your interest rate. Often times they'll oblige.

A woman sits at her dining room table with laptop and financial reports doing her monthly budget. RichVintage/ Getty Images

14Couponing: The struggle is real

Coupons are often for sugar-filled processed foods; saving money on produce can be tougher. After becoming a vegan, Howard struggled with couponing. “A lot of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly companies don’t advertise. But I found that if you call and ask, the companies will send you coupons,” she says. And what about those coupons you won’t use? Leave them on store shelves. Chances are someone will benefit from them.

A woman checking her coupons in the store monkeybusinessimages/ Getty Images

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15Save money with your phone

Using technology to save money is just good sense these days; you probably won't be surprised to learn that there's an app for that. From uploading gas and grocery bills to earn rebates to tackling your budget using tips from real pros, there's almost no shortage of ways a quick download could let you cash in.

Read all about money-saving apps here.

Over the shoulder view of young man checking financial data with mobile banking app on smart phone while sitting on sofa at home Oscar Wong/ Getty Images

Read more: Throw a birthday party on a budget Baby on a budget How to survive a reno (with kids)

This article was originally published on Jan 02, 2017

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