15 Real Simple Ways to Save Thousands of Dollars

Photo: Lucas Allen

The March issue of Real Simple magazine has a fantastic feature called 71 ways to spend smarter.  With the magazine's permission, I'm sharing 15 of my favorite tips from that issue.

 March is the best time to buy a new TV

You can save an extra 15% if you buy your TV in March.  New TV models usually come out in March, which means retailers will be clearing out their old inventory to make way for the newest items.

If March isn't a good time, the day after Thanksgiving is the second best time to do your TV shopping.  Of course, you can easily cut out TV altogether by watching your favorite shows on your computer.


Where to find the best deals in a supermarket?

Don't buy products placed right at your eye level.  That's where the most expensive products are.  Companies know that's where you'll look first, so they pay supermarkets a hefty premium to place their most expensive products right where you're most likely to look.

Look up or down instead.  That's where you'll find the store brands which are usually just as good.


Forget the 3,000 mile oil change rule

95% of drivers change oil too frequently, according to a AAA survey. The 3,000 mile rule is a myth.  Unless your car gets heavy usage like a taxis, most cars can wait 7,500 miles, says Perry Stern, editor at MSN Autos.

Amy Schiff from our forums says you can save even more by changing your own oil:  "The bonus is you don't have to listen to the Jiffy Lube guy try to sell you extra services like changing the air filter for $16 when the part itself literally costs only $5."


Best grocery buys from warehouse stores

Strip steak costs $5.99 a pound at warehouse stores vs. $11.49 a pound at the supermarket.  Stock up because there's plenty of ways to enjoy that bargain meat.

Another great buy is canned tomatoes, which is 45 cents a pound at the warehouse stores vs. $1.14 a pound at the supermarket.


Don't splurge on fancy toothbrushes

cheap tooth brush

The American Dental Association says budget toothbrushes are effective tools for cleaning your teeth.

Pricier toothbrushes with fancy ridged bristles aren't necessarily better. The real key is to avoid a toothbrush with hard, stiff bristles, which can cause enamel erosion and receding gums. The best option is soft brush with bristles that have rounded ends. 

The oscillating-rotating electric toothbrushes are better for your teeth than manual ones at reducing plaque and gingivitas, but the benefits are modest.


You don't need designer reading glasses

If you only need low-magnification nonprescription glasses to read, the cheap $15 glasses you can get at the drugstore will be as effective as the $125 designer glasses. 

If the cheaper glasses feel comfortable on you, there's no need to spend a fortune.


Share a babysitter with a neighbor


Besides saving you money, this arrangement also gives your kid a built-in playmate!  Visit our sister blog Parenting Squad for detailed instructions on how to set up a babysitting co-op.


Fix windshield chips immediately

crack in windshield

A small chip can easily lead to a full crack.  Small chips cost $100 to fix.  Cost of replacing a windshield? $500 to $1,200.  Ouch.


How to negotiate lower fees with your health-care providers

blue pills

According to a 2005 Harris poll, two-thirds of people who asked for their medical fees to be lowered were successful.

The medical billing system has a lot of wiggle room for price adjustments.  Always ask if discounts are available before the procedure. Offer to pay in cash can also save you up to 10 - 30% off your bill (ask for the "prompt-pay discount").

For more ideas, check out Wise Bread's comprehensive guide to getting the most out of your healthcare dollar.


Apple a day for whiter teeth

fresh apples

Snacking on crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples and celery can help you maintain a dazzling smile. 

Need more whitening power? You can do an at-home treatment once a week.  Add just enough hydrogen peroxide to a little baking soda to form a paste. Brush with this paste to get rid of unsightly discoloration.


Get together once a year for a clothing swap

clothing swap

Real Simple reader Kelsey Hughes gets together with her friends once a year for a clothing swap.  It is a good excuse to clear out the closet and get some new clothes for yourself.

Best part? Everyone goes home feeling as if they've had a full day of exciting shopping without spending a dime.


Information you need for a medical emergency

pen and paper

Quick access to your medical background is crucial for getting the best emergency care.  That's why you should always carry a medical card in your wallet behind the driver's license (paramedics will always check there).

Write down information such as

  • medications and vitamins you're taking
  • any allergies
  • major surgeries or illness
  • contact information of your doctors
  • contact information of your family members


Swap your latte for a misto

A misto is brewed coffee with steamed milk (as opposed to espresso with steamed milk).  They generally cost about $1 less than regular lattes.

If you just want something hot and sweet, try steamed milk with a shot of flavored syrup. 


No one will judge you for ditching bad gifts

My favorite tip comes from our good friend Erin Rooney Doland of Unclutterer, who also blogs at Real Simple.

How many of us are afraid to throw away tacky gifts for fear of offending someone? Erin says forget about it. She's throwing out stuff all the time and no one has ever called her out on it

So relax.  That classic clown lamp your uncle gave you ten years ago? It's time to let it go.  He won't mind.

Here are a few related tips to help you find more zen in your uncluttering efforts:


Store digital cameras in a travel soap case

canon case

Plastic travel soap cases and Altoids tin cans are great for storing small electronic devices like cameras and MP3 players. 

Keep in mind these cases only offer protection against scratches and minor bumps.  And as the helpful reader at the Consumerist pointed out, hiding electronics in unusual places may sometimes attract unwanted attention from the TSA.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. If you see the March issue of Real Simple at the supermarket, pick it up and give it a scan.  It is well worth your time.


Tagged: Frugal Living
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Guest's picture

That's a whole bunch of fantastic advice! I definitely plan to implement these. One funny coincidence was that I read Erin Rooney's article that you mentioned here - one of my own articles was published in the paper this past Sunday, and it was about exactly the same thing! The de-cluttering process is stressful and tiring, but in the end it's so worth it. You just feel free. Here's the link to my article: http://alternativelivings.blogspot.com/2009/02/blogging-for-sunday-paper...

Guest's picture

Liked your blog - lots of good info. Here's another way to save money: I volunteer at a Thrift Store and we sell reading glasses for $1.00 and they're brand new. Also, we get clothes with the tags still on them all the time. We sell most clothes for $2.00, dresses are $4.00. Our shoe prices vary but don't usually go above $8.00. Since I volunteer there I also get a 50% discount on anything under $100.

Guest's picture

WoW! Nice post with some excellent advice that I can use. Thanks.

Guest's picture

Our car insurance fixes chips for free. I think the logic is fixing a chip is cheaper than replacing a windshield later. We have used this twice.

We drove the price of one drug down to 80 cents a month. By asking about not just generic but different generic options we found a super cheap deal. The original drug was combined with tylenol and cost $110 before insurance for the generic. I looked for the main drug by the generic name on the $4 drugs list at the pharmacy. Then I just asked my doctor to rewrite for the generic without the tylenol added. Since our copay is percentage based that $4 drug costs me 80 cents.

People really should try making their own coffee. It takes a bit of practice buy you can make a decent espresso drink with a cheapo espresso machine. Just use good quality beans and filtered water.

Guest's picture

Great article! I like the idea of a soap caddy for cameras. I also LOVE using altoids tins for various things around the hosue--in my purse they are a great case for all the gift cards we got over the holidays.

In the home office I use them to hold tiny computer parts such as screws used to install hard drives and motherboards. They're also great for paperclips and rubberbands.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I especially like the cheap travel protection idea for digital equipment. Our camera is a little large for that, but we can definitely use the altoid tin idea for the nano we received as a gift last year.

Guest's picture

Last time I got my windshield on my Honda Civic replaced, it was about $150. The time before that (yes, I have a problem with random rocks flying out of nowhere and hitting my windshield), it was less, I think.

Guest's picture

Some great ideas here. Though I fail to see how any of these (or all of these combined, for that matter) will save me thousands of dollars.

Just one example, I don't eat toothbrushes for breakfast - buying cheap ones is NOT going to add up to anything remotely close to significant savings. Neither is chucking my uncle's clown lamp.

Guest's picture

Check your insurance policy. It may vary by states, but in MN where I am my insurance covers windshield damage for free. They used to charge a minimal amount, like $6 every six months, but they now include it in our policy. Also, you are alloted one windshield every 4 years on the life of your vehicle. They allot this under the "pitting" end of coverage. So even if you do not have a crack or chips you can every 4 years get a new windshield.

Guest's picture

Altoids Tins might work okay for some electronics, but I'd worry about them bumping around inside the tin without some padding. I guess any protection is better than none. Personally, I use Pelican cases for my iPods and digital camera. Each have a bit of foam (left over packing material) cut so that everything fits in without bumping or banging around. They're also waterproof, so I can drop my iPod or camera in my bag and have no worries about it banging around, falling out or being damaged.
The cases cost a little more ($10-$15 at Frys) but I think it's worth it to protect these expensive electronics.

But some other interesting and different money saving ideas. It's always nice to see an article that doesn't depend on the standard "brown bag your lunch", "cut back on cable", "don't by a $4 coffee every morning" ideas that anyone who's got half a clue about frugality has already at least considered.

Guest's picture
Amy Yee

Thanks for posting these tips with such beautiful shots! (Kudos to the photographers) I don't know why it's taken me so long to think of setting up a clothing swap. Now I just need to figure out the logistics.

Maybe I can see if there's community interest in this event and donate $2 participation fee to a charity like Dress for Success, or even the Salvation Army. Anyone know some good logistics for swapping? Is it just a free for all, or is there negotiation or set rules? Would love to know if anyone's done one successfully.

Thanks again Will,


Guest's picture

Lots of great money-saving ideas here. I just blogged about the Swap Parties myself. They are lots of fun, save you and your friends money, and keep items out of our landfills!

Guest's picture


Savings I can actually use!

Guest's picture

Outstanding post!

Something for everyone . . .

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

Hi everyone! Thank you for your kind words.  I can't take any credit though.  This post is the product of great tips from Real Simple and fantastic photography from some very talented photographers.

@ Gabriel - Congratulations! I used to read the DMN quite frequently (mostly because I'm a Rockets fan and I like to read DMN to see how the rival Mavs are doing).  I totally agree that garage sales require a deep level of soul searching.  Great article! The editor must have loved your article to order a custom illustration for it.

@ Guest who worked in thrift store - Thrift stores are the greatest! I just found out recently that the Salvation Army will come to your house, free of charge, and haul away furniture that you no longer want.  How neat is that?  I know people can do this via Craigslist, but I prefer Salvation Army since I generally get a little squemish about having complete strangers over to my house.

@ Lucille - That's a fantastic tip about generic drugs. I think a lot of people don't realize there are differences even among generic brands.  Making coffee is indeed a great skill.  I think that's the only valuable skill I learned while working in a big office.

@ Amy - Wooo we're kindred spirits.  I love finding containers for little things that I usually lose.  My latest kick is using Ziploc bags to store all my unwieldy computer cables.  

@ Myscha - Myscha you need to TAKE MORE PICTURES.  You travel to so many wonderful places around the world. I want to see more pictures of you living the frugal high life.  Consider that a request from your editor. Ahem.

@ Robin - $150.  Wow, what a bargain!  Did that include parts AND labor? Was any of it covereed by insurance? Civics are so reliable I'll bet you don't have to spend much money on maintenance.

@ Joe - I think several of these tips can bring huge savings.  For example, if you used the supermarket tip everytime you shop, you can probably save 5-10% off your overall grocery bill for the year. Other things like saving $1 a day on lattes, keeping your teeth white so you don't have to go to the dentist as often, and getting better medical bargains can certainly add up in a few years.

@ Bettie - Great tip! Now I am curious whether my own policy covers windshield chips...

@ Guest who doubts Altoids Tins - Padding is definitely a good idea. Altoid cans can make a huge racket.  I know some people put in cotton balls to soften the impact.  I'm glad you liked the tips. Kudos to the Real Simple editors and writers!

@ Amy - Aren't the photos great? The talent level on Flickr is amazing. I can browse through Flickr all day. I've never done an official clothing swap before, but I think as long as you start out with friends you trust, you probably don't need very rigid rules (unless you want to make it fun like a White Elephant gift exchange).

Or Amy, you can read Betsy's post for inspiration.

@ Betsy - Maybe you can give Amy some pro tips?

@ Divorced/Frugal Dad - Thanks for the warning about MBAs!





Guest's picture

Great concrete tips! Thriftiness is really something that should be taught by adults to their kids. Saving up does not necessarily mean forgoing life's pleasures... just like steak! I'm definitely going to try this out.

Guest's picture

Great thoughts! Another good example of how simple things can add up to make a significant difference.

Guest's picture

A regular coffee with steamed milk is more commonly called a cafe au lait. A "misto" is Starbucks-ian for a steamed milk (or "Steamer" at many smaller shops) and really doesn't have much to do with anything, coffee-wise.

Guest's picture

Great tips on savings! www.allconnect.com -- Thought this site by my client might be useful. Lets you see cost comparisons and savings programs (like special offers, bundling, etc.) at your local utilities by entering your address –Has other home services like cable, satellite, internet, phone and home security. Lots of ideas on cutting costs on what you're already buying.

Guest's picture

Great article! Saving money here and there can amount up to something significant.

Guest's picture

I loved your articles and like other posters mentioned the photo shots are real top quality. I found your information useful and informative and it will certainly help shape my spending habits in future! Thanks again.

Guest's picture
Patti C

Golly gee! Why buy reading glasses in CVS for fifteen dollars or for a dollar in the thrift store?

Dollar Tree and Ninety Nine Cents Only have brand new dollar reading glasse. I have plenty, and they are just fine. But yourself 15 pairs for fifteen bucks if you want them and scatter them throughout your home. If you have a job where you wear reading glasses, keep a spare with you and know where the nearest dollar stores is that has cheap reading glasses.

My tightwad father, who somehow didn't pay attention to the Medicare drug plan, used to go to the VA.

He only recently figured out that he only had to pay a private doctor his annual Medicare deductible and after that, 20% per doc visit, and that he could get generic drugs for 30 days for four dollarss or 3 months for ten dollars. He used to pay the VA eight dollars for each drug mailed to him.

No more waiting at the VA for him. His savings on his drugs will pay for his annual Medicare deductible. He says he is not currently taking a more expensive drug, but he can always go back to the VA if he needs something expensive. I'm trying to get him to sign up for the Medicare drug program next year.

People who have alternatives like Medicare really should go elsewhere and let the VA and other public hospitals treat the uninsured.

Ask your local drugstore that has the four dollar/ten dollar generics for a printout of the available meds and take it to the doc with you to see if one will work for you. The doc will prescribe it if he or she wants you to take your meds.

Also, if you have insurance, you may be paying more for the four dollar/ten dollar generics. My mother would pay more on her insurance. So refuse to use your insurance and pay out of your pocket. Meds should cost less when not turned in for insurance.

Guest's picture

Great advice! I love the tip about not buying food that's on your eye level at the grocery store. That's really interesting, like the grocery store stock managers know to take advantage of shoppers who are just going to buy the first loaf of bread they see, not taking the time to compare prices. I will definitely keep that one in mind!