While saving money is always a priority, it's an especially top-of-mind goal whenever we head into a new year. On top of everyday expenses like rent, bills, groceries, and the occasional splurge, the winter season tends to bring on a slew of extra spending, from holiday gift shopping to décor upgrades and other unexpected buys.
Of course, managing our finances wisely is always easier said than done. Case in point: How many times have we joined co-workers for happy hour, only to stretch it to another cocktail and dinner? Whether you're looking to pinch pennies due to a tightened budget, hoping to buy your first home, or saving for your next getaway, we've rounded up a handful of realistic ways to save money during the workweek (no extreme couponing required).
Not only will these finance-minded tricks make a difference in your checking account, but they also don't require a drastic lifestyle change, and they'll even help save some time in your busy schedule—meaning you'll finally have a chance to get some face time with your financial planner.
Prep Your Meals
It may seem daunting to spend your Sunday afternoon cooking an entire week's worth of work lunches, but you'll find that meal prepping ahead of time is incredibly easy to do once it becomes a habit. Your tastebuds don't necessarily need to suffer by eating the same meal every day: You can build each dish around a key ingredient like avocados, roasted vegetables, or your favorite protein source. Not only will preparing your food in advance save you the temptation of a last-minute (and pricey) lunch, but it also makes it super easy to eat healthily.
Buy Your Essentials at Costco
Another way to save on food? Get a membership at Costco (or whatever warehouse retailer is convenient for you), and score bargains by buying groceries and other home essentials in bulk. Pantry staples like quinoa, spaghetti, marinara, and canned vegetables can be easily stored away without worrying about their expiration dates, and the same goes for freezing items like butter, cheese, and meat. Bonus: The membership fee more than pays for itself by saving you not just money but the time spent making multiple trips to the grocery store.
Always Shop With a List
If you've ever shopped for groceries while hangry, you've likely gone home with a bunch of random ingredients and unhealthy frozen meals that seemed like a great idea at the time. Avoid overspending by always having a shopping list on hand. Whether you write it out on paper or on a smartphone app like Out of Milk (yes, even Notepad will suffice), having all of your ingredients in a central place will help streamline your visit to the market and keep you from straying in the grocery aisles. Many apps are also linked to popular recipe sites, making it simple to plan your meals and shopping.
Automate Your Shopping
While we're on the topic of household shopping, yet another trick to save money (and precious time) during the workweek is good ol' Amazon Prime. We already know the online shopping giant is a mainstay for everything from décor to skincare, but it's also a great source for home essentials—including items that you can buy using Amazon's Subscribe & Save option.
For staples, you don't necessarily need in bulk amounts or that might be an inconvenience to schlep from the car or subway to your home (we're looking at you, mega-pack of paper towels), the e-commerce go-to is ideal for scoring discounts while stocking up. If you find you're not using up that auto-delivered toothpaste or lip balm as often, it's easy to update your delivery settings or cancel the subscription altogether.
Be Your Own Barista
Just like making your own lunch, brewing your own java is another money-saving no-brainer. It doesn't mean you need to sacrifice your favorite flavored drink at your go-to caffeine spot—most coffee shops sell the same espresso beans they use in their drinks. The next time you stop in for a latte, buy a bag of coffee beans and bring it with you to work. (Just be sure to have the barista grind the beans for you if you don't have your own grinder.) Not feeling your office's drip coffee machine? An affordable pour-over coffee maker will give you the same artisanal taste sans the extra dollars.
Make Your Own Cleaning Products
As much as we love the non-toxic cleaning products available today, they don't exactly make it cheap to keep our stylish spaces shining from floor to ceiling. One tried-and-true alternative that's just as eco-friendly and effective is vinegar, a natural disinfectant used to clean everything from dishes and microwaves to bathroom tile and laundry. You can even stock up on this household staple at Costco along with your other essentials.
Mind Your Money with Finance Apps
Being smart when shopping isn't the only way to stretch your dollars daily. It's also key to track and save the money you would have been spending during the workweek, and that's where finance apps come in. For example, Mint can help manage your budget and identify how you can spend less, while Acorns can turn your spare change into investments.
Rediscover Your Local Library
Budget-strapped bookworms who love devouring the latest bestsellers shouldn't forget the original on-demand free book service. Public libraries often stock the newest titles, and if your local branch doesn't have what you're looking for on its shelves, it can usually be transferred from the central library in a day or so. Another priceless perk of browsing your neighborhood library? The opportunity to find new favorites or rediscover the classics on your reading list.
Up next: These are the books you should read to control your finances like a pro.