Change Challenge and Other Money Saving Tips

I used to hate coins. I hated the way they weighed down my wallet, fell out of my husband’s pockets ALL over the house, and the way it required lots of counting (I suck at math!). When I had a salaried job, I didn’t give my change much thought. I let it sit in my bag or put it in a jar in our kitchen to save for later; those pennies can add up!

But when I took the giant leap of faith, quitting my job with the hope that I would be gainfully employed sooner rather than later, every penny started to count. Suddenly, I didn’t even want to spend the $4 round trip to take the T to downtown Boston, and I started spending a ton of time at home. At the time, it wasn’t too big of a deal; the weather was awful, it got dark early, and I didn’t want to go to stores or restaurants because I would just end up spending more money that I wasn’t making.

That all changed when I got an offer to work in an office two days a week. I would HAVE to take the T, and I came up with a creative, albeit possibly pathetic, way to pay for it: scrounging for change.

I dumped out my handbags, suitcases, change purses, and drawers. I picked up couch cushions and found quarters. There were dimes in the glove compartment and dollars’ worth of change under the seats. I am proud to say that ever since, I have not paid for the T with bills or a card. The machines only take 28 coins at a time, so having higher denominations is key. Winking smile

I can be cheap when it comes to lots of things, but I my propensity to underspend in many places has allowed me to get exactly what I want in others.

  • I always compare brand name items’ ingredients with those of similar store-brand items. There is often no difference in ingredients. For example, Listerine whitening rinse and the Target brand rinse have the exact same active ingredients, but the store brand is often $3 or more cheaper. Score! Similarly, beans, frozen veggies, and bread without the fancy label and marketing are big time money savers. You won’t know the difference when they are on your plate!
  • Speaking of frozen veggies, swapping them in for fresh has not only saved me money, but also has prevented me from wasting a ton of food, something I hate to do!
  • Pack lunches and breakfasts, religiously. My husband almost never has to buy lunch or breakfast, or even dinner if he is working super late. A little planning ahead and bulk cooking means we save a ton on a weekly basis.
  • When you travel, always look for great deals on hotels and cheap flights. Or, like us, travel to places where you have family and friends! Rather than stay in New York City, we stay with my mom, 45 minutes away and avoid spending several hundred dollars on a hotel. We are also lucky to have family in Ireland and Italy and very hospitable friends in California.
  • Never, ever buy anything for full price. I see a winter coat I like in the store in October, do I buy it then? No way. I go back a few more times or check online only buying it if it goes down at least 25%. The key is to realize how early clothes come out for the next season. Unless you are traveling or live in a warm climate, there’s no need to snatch up that full-price bikini in March!
  • Cut back on wine clubs. When I was at my steady-until-eternity job, we joined lots of wine clubs, resulting in lots of wine. We’ve cancelled lots of them, automatically saving some lots of money each month. I’ve also cancelled magazine subscriptions in favor of reading online. It’s the little things!

As I work toward my career goals, sometimes at the expense of my bank account, I definitely look for ways to save without giving up too much fun and quality in my life. I still love to go out to dinner and to travel, so I make those things my spending priorities (after mortgage and other bills, of course!).


Beyond bills and savings, what are your spending priorities? Do you have any tricks or challenges you use to save money here and there?

  1. Emily @ A Cambridge Story’s avatar

    Eating out and getting drinks is what we spend money on. And going to friend’s weddings. I only shop occasionally and pack all my lunches during the week. One thing that’s help us is creating a few separate bank accounts for our savings and not touching them!


  2. Erica’s avatar

    packing breakfast and lunch is such a huge money saver for me…that and breaking the Starbucks habit!


  3. Megan’s avatar

    These are some great tips. I feel like we’ve been spending so much money on everything lately. I take my lunch whenever I can and try to only go out one day a week — I need to get out of the office sometimes. I have some separate savings accounts set up and that’s really helping as well.


  4. Daisy’s avatar

    awesome post! I am all about spending on travel and food, seems our priorities are pretty similar ;)


  5. MelissaNibbles’s avatar

    Great tips! I spend money on food, but I buy frozen veggies and my oats and grains in bulk. I splurge on Greek yogurt and a good cut of meat.


  6. Kelly’s avatar

    Eric and I are very similar to you guys- we LOVE trips and eating out, so we do spend money in those areas (but I try to save even on those with lots of research, and we don’t tend to drink a lot at restaurants either- 1 drink each at the most). We always always pack breakfast and lunch too… not that either of us is allowed to leave work to get lunch haha.

    I hate change personally and I rarely have it because I use a debit card for almost everything. As a kid though, I bought a lot of things with the change I found in my dad’s office haha


  7. Julie’s avatar

    Thanks for the great tips! My husband and I always bring our own lunches to work too! We buy the store brand of some things too.


  8. Michelle’s avatar

    These are great tips! I love your positive attitude about all of the changes in your life!


  9. Michelle Collins’s avatar

    I love this post! I still have a piggy bank that I constantly fill with spare change – it’s so great to all of a sudden have $20-30, just by hoarding spare change. I will always spend money on iced coffee and meals out, but there are always ways to still stay within a budget while enjoying what you love!


  10. alicia’s avatar

    As a blogger I spend a TON of money on food. But lately, to save money to afford crazy vet bills…I make my grocery list off of the store circulars – then plan my meals for the week around what is on sale….
    If something we love, or eat a lot of is on sale for a good price, I stock up and stash it in the freezer.

    Also, I keep change in an empty peanut butter jar and roll coins when I’m sitting in front of the TV – call me old fashioned, but I’m not giving coinstar my .07 for something I can do myself.

    GREAT TIPS Meghan!! xoxoxoxo


  11. Shani’s avatar

    I make sure we go to the grocery store weekly and always take breakfast and lunch to work. (I eat two breakfasts, one before 6a gym and one at work at 9. It works out.) I have a lot of luck with store-brand stuff. I monitor all the deals on Groupon/BuyWithMe/etc for things we might do. I also make coffee drinks every morning–fancy, and it keeps us out of Starbucks.

    Nothing terribly original, I’m afraid.

    How on earth do you get to be members of Wine Clubs in MA? We couldn’t find any that would ship here.


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