After writing about how people can save at least one-quarter of their income in my book Generation Earn, I heard from people who save even more—as much as 50 percent of their take-home pay. Some strategies are extreme, such as only taking cold showers, and others are downright dangerous, such as driving a car with the engine occasionally turned off. But some of them are useful, and by my calculations, they will allow you to live on about $500 a month, depending on where you live.
[In Pictures: 12 Money Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes]
Here are 15 of the best savings tips:
Take cold showers. Andy Hough, author of the blog TightFistedMiser.com, argues that skipping hot water will reduce the expense of heating up the water as well as the water bill itself since you’ll likely take shorter showers.
Get rid of your car. I originally suggested using only one car, but many readers suggested cutting out car use altogether. Hough says that public transportation, biking, and walking can work just as well.
Stop using a fridge. While ice cream and cheese lovers will resist this change, Hough insists it’s entirely possible and notes that one blogger, Nomad Needles, has done so successfully. He’s also grown accustomed to scraping mold off of his cheese.
Replace your house with an RV. Doreen Orion, 49, a psychiatrist and author of the memoir Queen of the Road, left her dream house in Boulder, Colo., and her 200 pairs of shoes to go on a road trip with her husband. They spent a year living in a 340-square-foot bus, camping throughout the country. When they got home, they realized they were happier in the RV than in their dream house and made the change a permanent one.
Bake cookies in your car. This will only work in hot climates, but Nicole Weston of Baking Bites has developed a method of baking chocolate cookies with the heat that collects inside cars on steamy days. She suggests parking in the sun, using a thermometer to help monitor the temperature, and protecting your dashboard by putting a barrier between it and the baking sheet. She says it needs to be at least 95 degrees outside for this to work, and the cookies take about two and a half hours to cook.
[For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. News Alpha Consumer blog.]
Reuse plastic sandwich bags. Sandwich bags can be easily rinsed out and dried and used again the next day. As long as the bags didn't touch raw meat, it's hygienic—and environmentally friendly. With a pack of 100 bags going for around $3, a family of four can save about $30 a year.
Turn your car off—while it's still moving. While the American Automobile Association warns against this technique, some bloggers are promoting it as a way of saving gas. By using the car's momentum to glide into parking spaces or move downhill, you can get where you're trying to go without burning any fuel. Just make sure you practice driving without power steering and power brakes in an open space before experimenting near other cars—or people. And never try this at high speeds, even though some blogs recommend it—it's too dangerous.
Make your own cleaning supplies. Martha Stewart has long recommended vinegar and lemons as kitchen cleaners. To absorb unpleasant smells, leave vinegar in a shallow bowl on a kitchen counter. To deodorize a garbage disposal, squeeze lemon juice down it. You can save up to $10 a month on cleaning supplies.
Stop drinking soda (or another beverage of choice). Tricia at Blogging Away Debt recently tried giving up soda as a way of cutting back on grocery costs. She estimates that if both she and her husband are successful in giving up fizzy drinks, then they'll save about $50 a month. Going cold turkey with other drinks, from lattes to bottled water, can produce similar effects. If you're used to two or three sodas a day, the change could save you upwards of $30 a month.
Move back home with your parents, at any age. When writer Nan Mooney became a single mom in her 30s, she moved in with her parents, who also provide some child care. The arrangement allows her to afford motherhood, she says. Other grown kids say they also enjoy the arrangement, even if it means giving up some privacy. Parents can benefit, too—they get free pet sitters and help reducing their own costs. You can save up to $3,000 a month in avoided housing costs.
Buy in bulk. My friend Zack drives to the suburbs in New Jersey to shop at bulk retailers, such as Sam's Club. He fills large duffel bags of food to bring back to the city and estimates it saves a significant chunk of change each month.
Stockpile supplies. Cans of beans and tomatoes are cheap, store easily, and make quick, filling meals.
Compare prices. For some items, such fruit, buying from street vendors turns out to be cheaper than shopping at Manhattan grocery stores.
Cook big. Zack makes lots of soup, chili, and other big dishes that can turn into leftovers or even go into the freezer for a future meal. To spruce up the dishes and make them even bigger, he often adds pasta or rice.
Plan ahead. By loosely deciding in advance which meals to cook on which nights, Zack avoids getting home from work—starving—and eating out just because it seems easier.
Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.