One of the biggest things you can do to save money is simply to plan ahead. I’m not talking about planning far ahead like planning for retirement or for starting a family, although those are good plans to make. I’m talking about planning hours, days or, at most, a few months ahead. There’s nothing wrong with being spontaneous and doing some things on the spur of the moment, but when it comes to saving money planning ahead is your friend.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I knew this birthday was coming up and I could have saved money if I’d just thought about it.” Or, “I know I should have packed snacks for this trip to the mall, but I forgot. Again.” Or, “I had the chance to buy this on sale last year/week and now I have to pay full price.” While you can’t plan for everything life throws your way, there are many aspects of our lives that are predictable from day to day, week to week, and year to year. Taking advantage of that predictability allows you to save money. Here are some examples of how simply looking down the road a little way can result in money in your pocket.
- Carry drinks and snacks when you go out shopping or to the kid’s sporting events to prevent having to buy them on the go.
- Engage in once a month (or week) cooking and make meals ahead of time to combat the, “I don’t have anything/time to cook, so let’s go out,” mentality.
- Keep a calendar of holidays, birthdays and other gift giving events and buy gifts, cards, wrapping, decorations, etc. ahead of time and on sale to avoid pricey last minute purchases.
- Plan vacations ahead to give you time to hunt for deals and to join any organizations that might net you discounts.
- Carry your coupon folder with you when you go out so you avoid saying, “I have a coupon for that. At home,” while you’re out running errands.
- Plan your grocery shopping. Make a list, get your coupons ready before you go, and know what sale items you want to get. You’ll spend less with a list, shopping will take less time, and you’ll be sure to use all your coupons if you plan your trip beforehand.
- Know your bill pay dates and deadlines to make sure you get payments in on time and avoid late fees. They’re often the same month to month, so it’s easy to plan for this.
- You know Christmas is coming, so save a little each month to avoid a big money hit in December.
- Plan your errands in advance so you don’t waste gas and time driving back and forth all over the place.
- Plan summer and weekend activities/entertainment for the kids so you have time to buy supplies on sale, enroll them in programs (at early registration discounts), pre-purchase tickets at a discount, and get up to speed on specials like free summer movies at the theater or kid’s days at local attractions.
- Toward the end of a clothing season, take inventory of what is wearing out so you can buy replacements at the clearance sales rather than buying at full price at the beginning of next year’s season. Do the same for yard care and outdoor products and buy what you’ll need for next summer at the end of season sales.
- Plan back to school shopping and buy as much as you can on end of season sales the year before and on tax-free holidays if possible. Paper, pencils, crayons and glue will last into the following year.
- You have a general idea of when you need to buy things. Maybe you buy pet food once a month, laundry detergent twice a month, cleaning supplies every two months, etc. You know when it’s time to start thinking about buying more, so watch the sale flyers and plan your purchases to take advantage of sales. It beats running out to buy pet food at the highest price because you waited too long and now Fido is out of chow.
- Similarly, you know when big things start to look like they need replacing or repair. The warning signs are usually clear. You can tell the car is on it’s last legs, you know you need a new computer because yours is too slow, you know the couch is developing an uncomfortable sag, and you can tell when the oven just isn’t heating right any more. Use those early warning signals and start looking for the best deal on repair or replacement, rather than waiting until the item is totally dead and you have to buy a new one at full price immediately.
- You know that things like insurance payments, vet visits, and taxes occur at certain times of the year, so look ahead and save a little for them each month to avoid being shocked when the bill comes due.
- If you’re a crafter, think about the projects you’d like to tackle and look for materials on clearance.
- You know that if you live in a storm prone area you’ll likely need emergency supplies, so get them early in the season when you can buy on sale (and you can find what you need).
- If you know you don’t watch much TV or many movies in the summer, see if you can put your TV service or movie rental service on hold until fall, saving you the monthly fee. Avoid getting to the end of summer and saying, “We sure didn’t get our money out of that for thee months.”
- If you’re a book, movie, or gaming junkie, keep abreast of new releases and when they’re coming out so you can take advantage of any discounts for pre-ordering rather than paying full price after the release date.
- When you do eat out, choose your restaurant ahead of time and go where you have a coupon or gift card, where kid’s eat free, or where they have early bird specials. Don’t just pop into the first place you pass.
- Know the expiration/redeem by/cash by dates on coupons, gift cards, checks from rebates, credit card rewards, etc. These things are just as valuable as cash, but often we let them expire because we fail to realize that they have expiration dates and plan accordingly. It stinks to get excited about having $100 in credit card rewards but then realize you can’t use them because they expired two weeks ago.
Everyone’s life is different, but I bet that if you look at your lifestyle you can identify many expenses that you can plan for and even avoid if you just give some thought to what you’ll be doing and needing in the near future. What other ways have you found that planning ahead saves you money?