How to make little changes that can save big bucks

Saving money doesn't have to be an insurmountable task. By incorporating a few, barely noticeable changes, you can save anywhere from hundreds to even thousands a year. JGI/Jamie Grill

Everyone wants to build a sizeable nest egg, but the sacrifices can be daunting. Putting away a percentage of each paycheque sounds easy enough until unexpected expenses come up — and continue to come up every month. That’s why experts suggest doing little things to help save money over the long term.

When they say little things, they mean small changes that you will barely notice but will add up over time. And considering that average Canadian consumer debt increased 2.7 per cent over the last year to $21,348 (not including mortgage debt), according to credit monitoring firm TransUnion, the time to start saving is now.


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Read below for some no-brainer, easy to do money-saving tips that could save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.

#1 Save money around the house

Hydro costs can be exorbitant (especially if you live in Ontario), but by switching out regular light bulbs with LEDs, you’ll use a lot less electricity and will have to replace them less frequently, says Tom Drake, founder of Canadian Finance Blog. But don’t stop at the lights.

“Find air leaks in your home using a candle near windows and doors, then insulate behind the frame or add weather stripping,” he says. “And keep your freezer full, as it’s easier to keep items cold rather than keep the air cold.”

Finally, install a programmable thermostat and set it a few degrees cooler. This could help you save from 10 to 12 per cent on energy costs in the winter. Conversely, avoiding arctic air conditioning temperatures in the summer could save up to 15 per cent.

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#2 Switch up your driving style

Slowing down on the road won’t just potentially save your life, it could save you money, too.

READ MORE: Real tips from financial planning pros to shape up your finances in 2017

“Go light on the accelerator and braking when you drive,” says Stephen Weyman, founder of the website “Putting your car in neutral when going down a hill, for example, won’t put as much strain on the engine to brake for you. This will save on gas costs as well as overall maintenance of your car.”

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#3 Use a top cash back credit card

Funnelling all your spending through a cash back card can earn you up to $1,000 in a year, Weyman says.

“A middle class family in Canada could spend $25,000 a year on a credit card, which is a reasonable amount,” he says. “With a top cash back card that gives you 2 per cent on your spending even after the annual fee, that amounts to $500.”

He advises using your credit card instead of debit to pay for purchases, especially large ones like insurance.

“Instead of having your insurance company automatically pay the service, get a form and submit the claim yourself. If you put that purchase on your card, you’ll be getting the rewards for it,” he says.

Weyman puts together a comprehensive list of the best cash back cards every year. Here’s his list for 2016.

#4 Monitor your food costs

“What we spend on food often has the most room for cutting costs,” Drake says. “Make a grocery list and stick to it, which will help you avoid all the temptation throughout the store.”

He also advises planning meals ahead of time and having them ready to go with little preparation, which can circumvent the temptation to pick up something ready made on your way home.

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This isn’t to say that you can’t eat out at all, though. Weyman says to “get creative” when eating out.

READ MORE: 6 tips to avoid drowning in debt (and save more money)

“I find you can get 90 per cent of the experience of eating at a restaurant and a considerably lower bill by making small changes to your ordering habits,” he says. “For starters, order tap water, it’s usually filtered and even if it isn’t, our water is pretty clean in Canada. And choose larger portion plates that can be split among people, or skip the mains and share some appetizers and desserts instead.”

#5 Buy quality, not quantity

You’ve probably heard this one from your grandmother, but the rule is still relevant today. Especially for personal items like clothing.

“I’ve had many times where I’ve tried to save a few bucks on a cheaper option only to have it fade or shrink,” Drake says. “It can cost more in the long run to replace things than investing in the better option up front.”

But planning ahead is also crucial in cases like this. Weyman says timing your shopping trips around seasonal sales can save you a lot on clothes. Try buying things towards the end of a season, like getting a winter coat in February.

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In fact, experts say that certain days of the week are better than others for online shopping. The best day to buy men’s and women’s pants is Monday, and children’s clothes and shoes are a better deal on Wednesdays.

#6 Shop around

It’s easy to pay fees and expenses without questioning why or even realizing there are other options. Drake says it’s worth it to switch to a no-fee bank like Tangerine or PC Financial, and look for cheaper insurance rates and utilities providers. In particular, review monthly bills like cable and internet, and see where you can make cuts.

“Can  you do without the fastest speeds and over 100 channels?” Drake asks.

READ MORE: Thermostat wars: Heating expert can’t save your marriage but he can save you money

#7 Put these savings to good use

“Do a rate comparison of high interest savings accounts,” Weyman says. “A lot of virtual banks will offer interest rates as high as 2 per cent.”

He advises setting up an automatic transfer every pay period so that you don’t have to remember to do it yourself.

If you’re paying down debt, Drake says this is a perfect opportunity to up your monthly payments and get rid of that debt faster.


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