Autopay Is Not Your Friend

Did you know that Autopay is a sneaky way that service companies often use to actually steal your money? Some people may not believe this, but I have got to say that this is the ugly truth about autopay. Nowadays, as everything has become so convenient, people get lazier. I used to be in this situation so I feel it very deeply. No matter how busy your life is, I am sure you will always have enough time to make monthly payments for your bills. I always believe that if you want to do something really bad, the universe will support you. If you want to save money, keep in mind that autopay is not your friend.

When I first moved out, I used to live by myself. Since I worked two jobs, I loved money, I did not have a lot of time to pay attention to small things around my life. This was a huge mistake. As we all know, when we live alone, we are responsible for every single bill there is. Since I was too busy all the time, I often missed due dates for my bills and as a result, I ended up getting charged a lot of late fees. To fix this, I thought that autopay was the best option, and I decided to set up automatic payments for every single bill. It was helping me a lot at first, so I gradually developed a bad habit of “not checking” for the balances of my bills. After a period of six months or so, everything came to light when I decided to take a look at my payments one night. I was so shocked when I saw how much money I have lost without noticing. 

The first bill I checked was my cell phone bill. By the time I opened the contract, I specifically requested to not add any extra services. All I wanted was the most basic cell phone service that I could use to make calls, texts, and LTE. The agent confirmed before I signed that I will not be charged for anything else. Until this day, I am still very upset every time I recall this memory. After I looked at the bill balance, I found out that somehow, I was charged an extra $20 every month for six consecutive months. As I contacted the company, they let me know that I was charged for something called “upgraded service.” This was totally unacceptable since I did not make any requests. To make things more frustrating, I was told that I could not get any refunds since they could only refund the most current month. As a result, I lost a lot of money believing in someone’s promise. To make sure the same thing did not happen again, I checked every bill I had, and I found out a few more bills that were also overcharging me.

Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash

Consequently, I canceled every autopay from all of my service providers. To make sure I did not forget any due dates, I wrote down each bill’s due date on a whiteboard. I bought a big whiteboard to write all of the things that I may forget. Turns out, this worked very well since I did not forget any due date ever since. Just write down your due dates each month on a whiteboard so they are always visible to you. As you made a payment, cross out that due date and move to the next. Always keep in mind that automatic payments can sneak up on you and steal your money.

Are you relying on automatic payments to pay your bills? If so, consider undo it or at least check carefully each month to make sure service companies are not overcharging you.

Beware of Where You Shop

On my money-saving journey, it took me quite a while to realize that where I shop matters. Normally, when I go shopping, especially for groceries, I always look for the closest stores to shop for instead of stores that are too far from where I live. The problem is that I gradually build up a bad habit of choosing convenience over low price. If you live in remote areas where you may not have different choices of where to shop, then it is another story. However, if you live in larger towns or in cities where there are a lot of different places to shop, keep in mind that not every shop price their items right. As long as you want to save money, you must make sure to note down stores that sell the same products at a lower price.

If you look closely, convenience store milk will be much more expensive than milk bought from Walmart or Trader Joe’s. This is because smaller businesses often price their products a little higher to make a profit. This is not a bad thing but it is not helping if you are trying to save money. I remember when I first started living by myself, I often worked too much that when I got home, I was dog-tired and went straight to bed. When I woke up, I often went to the nearest store, which was a Walgreens pharmacy, to buy all of the necessities such as eggs, milk, soap, snacks, and drinks. Little did I know that my laziness has cost me a lot of money. Aside from being lazy, I also developed a bad habit of not having a shopping list. By that time, I did not realize how important a shopping list was. Without a shopping list, I often bought what I thought was needed, and more than once, I ended up buying an extra of everything that I have already had at home.

Photo by Rebecca Jennings on Vox

To fix this, the first thing I learned to do was create a shopping list. When you have a list of what you want, you can just stick to that list and buy only what you really need. It is okay to buy a few miscellaneous items, but the main point of a good shopping list is to give yourself a guideline on what to buy while you wander around a store. The next thing I did was to note down stores that offer the same product at a lower price. In general, Walmart is the number one choice to shop when you want to save money. Products at Walmart are often offered the lowest price. My next favorite store to visit is Trader Joe’s. They carry both organic and regular products at a very reasonable price. I do like shopping at Target, but in terms of grocery shopping, places like Walmart and Trader Joe’s carry a lot more choices of fresh produce.

The next time you head out to shop, pay attention to the prices to see which store offers the lowest price to avoid spending extra money on the same item.

Repurpose Plastic Containers

Nowadays, we all know that instead of throwing plastic food containers into the dumpster, we should throw them in a recycling bin. However, what is even better than throwing your used food containers into a recycling bin is to give them another purpose. Not only does this action help to reduce the amount of waste, but it also helps you to save a lot of money. In general, there is nothing wrong with reusing food containers. The only challenge is that people are often too lazy to wash those containers and think that they are disposable so why would we reuse them anyway. What they do not realize is once they need something to store random things around the house, they will end up spending money on more plastic containers. In short, a lot of people throw away reusable plastic containers to later buy more of them.

Identify the Reusable Containers

Although most plastic containers are reusable, we must know which type of container we should reuse and which we should not. The general rule is, if you do not need to store food in these reusable containers, then you do not have to worry too much about which containers to keep and which containers to throw away. Personally, if I do not plan to store food in whichever container, I will just keep containers that are easy to wash and dry. For instance, I often end up having a lot of changes in coins after each grocery shopping trip, and if I don’t organize them, I will lose them somewhere eventually. To prevent losing my coins, I always keep a wide mouth 1-gallon juice jug to store my coins. This is sort of a DIY piggy bank that everyone should have, and it is very easy to make. After you are finished drinking your juice, wash your juice container carefully and let it dry. As for the lid, cut a narrow opening so that the biggest coin you have can go through. Once the empty juice container is completely dried, screw back the lid and start putting your coins in after each shopping trip. You will be surprised by the amount of money you have in that bottle once it is full.

Photo by Jill Nystul on One Good Thing

For those who plan to store food in used plastic containers, keep in mind that as long as your container is hard to clean on the inside, you should throw it in the recycling bin instead of reusing it. When you look at the bottom or on the side of your container, there is often a small triangle made up of three little arrows. In the center of this triangle, there is always a number. This is the recycling number. If you see numbers 2, 4, or 5, that container is safe to reuse. If you see any other numbers such as 1,3, and 6, just throw that container in the recycling bin. Another thing you should pay attention to is the condition of your reused containers. Being reusable does not mean that your container will not need to be replaced. As long as you see your reused plastic container is discolored, scratched, or broken, it is time to throw it in the bin. To make sure that used food containers are safe to be reused again, wash them thoroughly after each use and let them air-dried. Other than plastic containers, you can also reuse glass containers, but never metal containers. The acid and salt in your food may cause metal containers to rust very easily, and this is harmful to your health if you put your food in rusty containers.

Look around your house to see if there is any container that is reusable. If so, give them a good wash and a new purpose.

Shop Seasonally

To me, saving money does not have to be stressful, and it should not be stressful for you either. As I mentioned before, to be able to save on groceries, I always plan my meals and their ingredients before I head to the store. However, if you find yourself not so comfortable with making meal plans, an alternative to planning on what to buy is to buy seasonal products.

While I like to make a list of what I want to eat ahead of time, I have to admit that this is not always a fun task. It is simply because I cannot predict which product will be out of stock at the supermarket. Of course, I can find that out-of-stock item at another supermarket, but it will cost me time and money to drive to another store. What is worse is that the other store may run out of this item too, and as a result, I have just wasted my time and gas. To fix this issue, I will just buy what is available plus the freshly harvested seasonal products. What I love about shopping seasonally is the freshness of the products. Although the selection of seasonal produces may not work well with my plan, I can never walk past a fresh batch of vegetables without getting some.

Another reason I like to buy seasonal products is that they often cost less. For instance, if you want to buy some fresh cherries during the winter months, chances are you will end up spending a lot of money on not so high-quality cherries. This is not the market ripping you off; it is just not the right time. Every year, I love it when summer comes. At the end of spring and the beginning of summer, fresh cherries are always readily available. What is even better is that you can visit U-pick cherry farms to pick the ripe cherries off the trees yourself. It will be a fun activity for you and your family or friends.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

What I find to be the most interesting reason to buy seasonal produces is that I can learn to become flexible with my meals. Nowadays, I often hear a lot of young people complain about their lack of cooking skills. Although this does not seem to be a big deal at first, later on, it can cost you a lot of money for eating out every day. If you find yourself not very good at cooking, you can start with simple recipes to see if you are good at cooking or not. For me, I used to think that I am a terrible cook and that I will burn everything I touch in the kitchen. However, after I tried cooking, I finally realized that I can cook quite well. From the beginning, I started with fewer preparation recipes, then I gradually moved on to more complicated recipes. Now, I can cook many complicated dishes with confidence. I find that by buying seasonal products, I can modify my food so that it does not break my pocket.

Do you like seasonal products? If so, head to the nearest farmer market this weekend and buy some fresh produces to support the farmers.

Shop Locally

Who doesn’t love a shopping trip at a local grocery store or a farmers market on the weekends? After a long week of hard work and stress, spending some time at your local grocery store or a farmers market is the best way to relax as well as to spend some quality time with your family or friends. Aside from having yourself some good time on the weekends, buying your groceries locally can also save you a lot of money. Most of the time, local grocery stores and farmers markets offer a wide variety of products that are not only less expensive but they are also organic or non-GMO. Although big-name grocery stores like Whole Foods Market or Sprouts Farmers Market always carry a lot of organic produce, their price is also much higher. This is because these companies have to pay a lot of different fees to run their stores. If you are into money-saving, you should rather think about shopping locally instead of shopping at the big-name grocery stores.

Before I discovered the local grocery stores and farmers markets around my neighborhood, I used to spend a fortune on quality produce. To be honest, I am not a big fan of big-name grocery stores. While I do like organic foods, I do not always find that I need to consume organic food all the time. At places like Whole Food Market, even non-organic food is expensive. Once again, this is because of the cost to run their stores. When I buy organic food, I only buy food that I eat every part of it. For instance, since I don’t want any harmful chemicals sprayed on my apples, and I don’t peel the apples, I buy organic apples. For other types of produces like orange and banana, the non-GMO option is good enough for me. With that said, I buy a lot of my groceries at local grocery stores and farmers markets to save money.

When I shop locally, I often get to know the store owner or the farmers who grow these products. By chatting with them, I get to know them even better and how much hard work they put into growing their products. I especially love going to the local farmers markets that only pop-up on the weekends since the grocery sellers in these markets are real farmers from the local farms. They always offer the freshest produce at a very reasonable price. After I talked to a couple of farmers from my trips to the farmers markets, I learned something very interesting. As you may know, in order to be certified as organic, the product must be free of chemicals for seven consecutive years. A lot of the time, this requirement will not work since different types of fruits and vegetables attract different types of pests. It is not easy to have a quality crop when there are absolutely no pesticides to block the insect from destroying your crop. Thus, sometimes farmers still have to use pesticides on some fruits and vegetables, and this resulted in these fruits and vegetables being “not organic.” However, the local farmers are very responsible in terms of using pesticides. They only use it when absolutely necessary, which means organic or not, their products are always fresh and safe to eat.

In conclusion, I find that local grocery stores and farmers markets are a good choice to shop for fresh and healthy products. Search for local grocery stores or farmers markets in your area and stop by to support them when you can.

Your Shopping List Is Your Friend

The simplest way to save money when grocery shopping is to stick to your list. Most of the time, grocery stores intentionally place more expensive items in the most convenient locations, usually within arm’s reach near check-out stations or randomly throughout the store. This clever trick works every time since people love the convenience, and a lot of people end up getting something they did not plan on buying before.

Make a Good List

I must admit that sticking to “buying only what you need” is not as easy as it seems. Before heading to a grocery store, we often tell ourselves that it will be just a quick trip, and we will only get what we need, nothing more. However, as we are in the store, thanks to the clever distribution of products in the store, we end up buying almost everything we see. To combat this, I always make a very thorough list before I go shop for my groceries. The reason is very simple. As long as you have a list full of items you need, chances are, you will not lay eyes on things you do not need.

To make a good shopping list, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you live alone, try to think about how much meat and vegetables you will need by visualizing your next meals. Once you have a good idea of what you want to eat, write them down. If you live with other people and share food with them, ask them what they want to eat and write it down. The point of this practice is to make sure you do not have to make multiple runs to the grocery store which may result in you or your friends falling for the store’s trick. Nowadays, you can find apps that can help you with this task by suggesting meals and the needed ingredients.

Stick to Your List

When you are in the store, do not look to the right, do not look to the left, look into your list. If you find this practice is too extreme or strange, at least try your best to finish your shopping list first before window shopping. As you make yourself stick to the list, you are busy with finding the ingredients listed. The more ingredients you add to your shopping cart, the easier it will be to realize how much money you have spent already. You can do a quick calculation by adding up the estimated price of each item to see how much you will have to pay when you check out. I am currently living with someone, and our shopping cart often costs around $50 each time. Before, when I used to live by myself, my shopping cart often cost me a lot more because I never had a list of what I wanted to buy. Last but not least, by sticking to your shopping list, you can ignore other products that are placed conveniently in your way. 

Did you make a grocery list for your next grocery shopping trip? If not, go ahead and do it.

Save on Groceries – Part II

Buying in Bulk

To save money on groceries, a lot of people decide to buy in bulk, use some, and put the leftovers in their freezer. So, how is this going to help you save money or not help you save money?

Advantage

When you buy in bulk, the price per unit is relatively cheaper. This is obvious since retailers always want to sell more so when you buy in large quantities, the price will be lower. Next, if you are a simple person who does not need to rotate their food too often in a week or month, then buying in bulk will save you a lot of money. For instance, I love salmon, so I often buy half a salmon instead of just one or two pieces every day. When I buy a large amount of salmon, I have already had a plan in mind about what dishes I will cook. This way, I can make sure that I do not need to freeze leftover salmon which may be forgotten for a long time at the back corner of my freezer. Usually, after I bought my salmon from the supermarket, I cut it into many smaller pieces and marinate them based on different recipes I want to cook. My favorite salmon recipe is grilled cajun salmon. I also love teriyaki salmon and baked salmon. Last but not least, if you live with other family members or roommates who also share the same food with you then it is ideal to buy in bulk.

Disadvantage

The biggest disadvantage of buying in bulk is that you risk throwing leftover food away if it is spoiled before you could consume them. After I moved out of my parents’ house, more than once, I have thrown away a lot of food that I bought in a large quantity. This is definitely a waste of money since I just buy something only to throw it away later. To avoid wasting both your money and food, plan ahead on which ingredients you will need more than the others, then head to the grocery store and buy only what you really need.

Freeze Your Meal

Nowadays, the world is getting very convenient. However, this also makes us lazy. A lot of people buy their meals online or from the store to later find out that those prepared meals cost them a fortune. To prevent wasting too much money on packed meals, you can buy fresh ingredients from the store and prepare yourself some of your favorite dishes. In my case, I always plan ahead on what I want to eat. After I know what dishes I want, I buy enough ingredients and meal-prep on the weekends. I usually marinate the proteins and let them chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before freezing them. This way, no matter it is fish, meat, or shellfish, the proteins always soak up all the flavors. Last but not least, another type of food you can freeze to use later is leftover food. Most of the time, people throw away leftovers because they get bored of eating them. However, if you pack them up and freeze them right away, you can heat them up and use them later.

Photo by Hamilton Beach on Hamilton Beach Blog

If you have not already, check your fridge to see if you have any leftovers that you want to put away. Freeze them immediately so you can eat them later.

Save on Groceries – Part I

Grocery shopping is the most mundane task in everyday life. However, if you don’t plan carefully before you shop, you may end up spending a lot of money without realizing it. How many people can say that they only get what they need from a grocery store? Almost none. In every shopping trip, we often add extra items into our shopping cart as we walk down the aisles. This is not 100% our fault since grocery stores are designed to attract customers into buying more. Although sticking to buying only what is listed on our grocery list is not easy, it is not impossible, and here is what I usually do on my grocery shopping trips.

Before You Head Out

1. Make a Brief Visualization of Your Next Meal

The most important part of saving money on groceries is to plan what to buy. This task is the easiest but a lot of people decide to skip it all the time. To make sure I know what I need to buy, I often think about what I want to eat. Start with protein, then grains, then vegetables, must always have the veggies or your belly will hate you, and last but not least, dessert.

2. Look Into Your Pantry Carefully

More than once, I have looked into my pantry only to realize that I have more ingredients than I am aware of. This is the result of adding extra items into my basket during grocery shopping. Once you know what you want to eat from the last step, look into your pantry first to see if you already have what you need. In my case, I always have at least 1 or 2 ingredients that I will need to cook my next meal. For instance, if I want to make shrimp and asparagus stir-fry to serve over brown rice, I will look into my freezer to see if I have enough shrimps yet. Then, those asparagus should be bought fresh from the market so they will become item number one on my list. Next, I need some garlic and ginger. Whichever I do not have in my pantry, I will go ahead and buy. Since I always have a big bag of rice at home, I don’t have to buy rice every time.

In The Store

1. Round-Up The Numbers

While you are in the store, as soon as you add one item into your basket, note down the price. You can do this on your smartphone or a piece of paper. The goal is to keep track of how much money you have already spent. While you write down the prices, round them up. This will make the task easier as well as trick your mind into realizing that you have already spent a lot. For instance, if something costs $11.79, I will write it down as $12. If it is $6.10, still write it down as $7 instead of $6. The reason is very simple. If you add $11.79 to $6.10, you will see that you spent $17.89. The problem with this number is that you may forget the “89 cents” and think you have just spent $17. But if you add $12 to $7, you will see that you have spent around $20 already for just two items.

2. Look for the Discounts

Nowadays, discounted prices are among the most effective ways to draw customers’ attention. Retailers can trick customers into buying more because everything looks cheaper. However, if you stick to buying only what you need, discounted items are a blessing. Do not forget to look closely during check out. More than once, I had to stop the cashier and asked him or her to match the price with what I saw either on the store’s website or the pop-up sale tags. Even though you see a discounted price, the system may not work properly, and you may end up paying full price. Just be careful every time you check out and ask for a price change if you can find a cheaper price. Most stores will gladly honor your discount.

Check out this delicious drinking yogurt called Mango Lassi by Dah!

Only Buy What You Really Need

Before I figured this out, I used to spend a lot of money buying everything that I thought I needed. Normally, when we go shopping, we shop to buy stuff that we need to have. However, if we keep buying everything without carefully planning, then we may end up buying a lot of things that are not really necessary. The more you shop, the more you feel like you need something. I have been through this so I am sure over buying is very common for most people.

When I first moved out, I had to set up everything in my new place. At first, I did not think that I needed a plan on what to buy, because I did not know what I really wanted or needed. While I was still in my parents’ house, I never really need to think about buying anything other than my own desk and the computer. I believe my experience is similar to a lot of other people. When we live together with our parents, they are the ones who buy things. From the beds, sofa, tables, chairs, and so on. Since our parents are the ones who plan and put the plan to work, we often do not see the real struggle. I still remember seeing my parents do some research online to find the prices on what they are about to buy, and I just ignored them. 

After I moved out, without carefully planning ahead, I moved into my new place with a desk, a computer, three boxes of clothes, and some other miscellaneous things. Though my parents did give me some suggestions on what I should have, I still did not know what else I needed. Within the first month, I bought a microwave and a conventional toaster oven. I used my old mattress so everything seemed to be enough. However, the place always felt empty because I did not have enough stuff around. Sometimes I felt like I needed an extension cord, or a coffee maker, or a table lamp, and I spent lots of time driving back and forth buying random things.

As time went by, I gradually developed the habit of buying things as soon as I feel like I need them. I started to love the feeling of buying brand things from the stores or unboxing an Amazon box or two at random times. Though this seemed like fun at first, later on, I slowly realized that I was burning my savings. Instead of buying things I really need, I bought things I felt like I needed. This means a lot of things I bought were just random things that should never be there. Because of my impulsive buying habits, I always found myself struggling to manage to last till the end of every month. 

To fix this problem, I started to learn how to plan carefully on what I really need. It was not easy at first, because I did not know what I may need until I needed it. However, I managed to make a plan to categorize the importance of things I wanted to buy. For instance, since I drink a lot of coffee, I better invest in a coffee maker. I bought a Keurig because I could make both coffee and hot water for tea. Instead of buying plastic bags to use as trash bags, I save bags from my shopping trips and reuse them. I also asked my friends if they have bags that they don’t use. By focusing on only buying what I really need, I was able to limit my spending on random things. 

Reuse Plastic Bags – Photo by Naomi on This Roller Coaster Called Life

The best way to both save money and protect the environment is to use reusable bags. Start planning carefully on what you need to buy today.

Happiness is Homemade

The most important part of this saving journey I am walking on is to cut costs. Over the past few years, I have learned that cutting different costs each month is the best way, at least for me, to build up my savings and get out of debt. The practice I am about to share with you may not be easy to do but if you are willing to try, nothing is impossible.

To me, saving money simply means spending as little as possible. If you have a good and stable source of income each month, you may not need to be too strict on yourself. However, for me, and so do many other college students and people who are living paycheck to paycheck, we need to be very disciplined or we will run out of money before the end of each month. With that being said, what I did was I cut back on eating out and focused on homemade. 

How I Started Cooking My Food

As of this point, many people would think that this method may not be applicable to them simply because they do not know how to cook. If you do not find that you can cook, don’t worry because you can always learn. By the time I moved out of my parents’ house, the most edible dish I could cook was the sunny side up egg or fried egg. Within the first two years after I moved out, I lived off of canned food, fried egg, and pricey take-outs. When I was at home with my parents, I did not have to worry about what to eat. My mom always cooked a lot of delicious foods for the family. Though I get to enjoy delicious foods every day, I never really learned how to cook, and the result, fried eggs or canned food. If you look closely, none of the above foods are healthy and can be eaten for an extended period of time. Take-outs and canned foods are packed with a lot of unhealthy fats and sodium. Not only did they not provide your body with nutrients, but they also make you gain weight or cause other negative health effects. Thus, to stop wasting my money on unhealthy foods and also to learn some new skills, I learned how to cook.

Cooking turns out to be much easier than I thought. Especially nowadays, there are countless convenient kitchen appliances that can help you with home cooking. For example, when I first started cooking, I did not know how to cook a steak properly. More than once, I burned my juicy steak and threw it away. Today, if you want to cook a perfect steak and find that you do not have a lot of experience with it, you can get an air fryer and let it do your cooking. There are a lot of recipes online that you can find on how to cook a steak with an air fryer. Not only that, when you invest in an air fryer, you can also get back many health benefits. For instance, the air fryer does not use oil to fry foods, so you can cook many different fried foods without worrying about consuming too much oil. 

Another good investment in your kitchen is the instant pot. An instant pot has seven different functions, therefore, you can just research a recipe, buy fresh ingredients, prepare and throw them all in the pot. You can make from stew, soup, slow cook, to saute and steam. An instant pot can also make steamed rice and yogurt. 

This was how I started my home cooking journey. I tried to find all the help I could from the internet and other people. With the help of today’s smart kitchen appliances, cooking is not that hard. Are you ready to start cooking your own meals daily?