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Mendo Lake Family Life

15 Creative Ways to Save Money

By Janeen Lewis

Saving money should be simple, right? Spend less than you earn, and save what’s left. If only it felt that easy.

Saving money requires the endurance of running a financial marathon, when most of us like to sprint. Whether you’ve lost wages during the pandemic, or saving money is a new goal, here are some out-of-the box ideas to help.

Barter. Are you good at baking and decorating birthday cakes? Maybe you know someone who takes professional quality photos. Trade services with a friend and save. Also consider participating in a time bank, where everyone’s time and skills are of equal value. There is one operating in Sebastopol:

Hold a swap party. Organize a swap party online or in your home and get items you need for free. Decide on a theme. Be clear about how to rate the condition of items and how many items each guest contributes. Send a list of items and agree on socially distanced ways to make exchanges.

Find missing money. You could be missing money and not even know it. For example, if you moved and a utility company owed you a deposit and couldn’t contact you, the money went into an unclaimed property fund. To learn more or to search your name for missing money, go to or

Be a cherry picker. Try some Buy One Get One free items (BOGOs). When cherry picking, buy the sales items but save other shopping for less expensive stores.

Let someone else grocery shop for you. Shopping online for curbside pick-up saves time, stops impulse buys, and allows you to keep a running total of your purchases. If you go over your budget, uncheck unnecessary items before finalizing your order. Most groceries have waived pick-up fees during the pandemic. If your store has not waived the fee, then use coupons on grocery items to help fray the cost of pick-up.

Make restaurant-quality food at home. Dining out is a budget blower. Invest in a virtual cooking class, check out online cooking tutorials, or ask a friend who is a good cook for recipes.

Give up the ghost. Standby power, or phantom power, is energy that household appliances and other electronic items use when they are off but plugged in. Items with digital displays and computers with monitors and printers can be standby-power hogs. Unplug everything at night for a month. Monitor the electric bill for a difference. For more information, visit

Stop flushing money down the toilet! The bathroom is where the largest percentage of water is used in most American homes. The average toilet guzzles up to five gallons of water compared to the 1.3 gallons used by high-efficiency tanks. Also, opt for low-flow showerheads and faucets. For more information on water consumption, go to and look for the WaterSense logo, or to calculate individual household water consumption, go to the Water Consumption Calculator at

Round up savings. Trick yourself into saving money. Round up to the next dollar when you record a check. At the end of the month, you’ll have a surplus. Your banking institution may offer this feature, or there are round-up apps.

Start a “kick it” jar. Unhealthy habits and shopping addictions, such as smoking or buying dozens of expensive shoes, are costly. Start a “kick it” jar. When the urge to splurge strikes, put money in the jar. As you see the money grow, so will your resolve to kick the habit.

Keep the change. Collect loose change in a jar at the end of the day. Saving a mere 50 cents a day will add up to almost $200 annually. Get the family involved and save to pay off a debt or make a fun purchase.

Calculate your time. When you consider purchasing a non-essential item, calculate how many hours you have to work to pay for it. Is your time worth the purchase?

Be a Dollar Tree hugger. Dollar Tree has party items, school and office supplies, craft supplies, seasonal decorations, over-the-counter medications, and plastic containers for less than other discount stores.

YouTube it. Leaky toilet? Car repair? Look on YouTube for some DIY, fix-it tutorials. Even if you can’t fix it in the end, you’ll gain knowledge that will help you make the thriftiest choices when hiring help.

Embrace a giving spirit. This sounds counterintuitive to saving, but even when a bankroll is at its lowest, giving to someone whose needs are greater than yours helps grow an appreciation for what you have. Giving to others is also a motivator to save more so you can help others more. 

For nine years, writer Janeen Lewis was a stay-at-home mom who tested money-saving ideas.