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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Iowa chapter.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that the world is so unpredictable, and you can only control so much. One area that we all can work to control is our spending habits. I was able to save more money than usual in 2020 because I wasn’t going out as much as I used too, but also, I was making less due to job loss during the pandemic. I know so many others are facing increasingly difficult financial situations, so I figured I would share some money tips that I am working to implement in 2021. While I could simply state the obvious like “pay off your credit card in time” or something vague like “learn how to budget”, I figured I would instead offer some small, everyday changes you can make to save a couple hundred bucks by the end of the year!

1. Brew your coffee at home

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash
I know that almost every coffee addict has probably been told this at one time or another, but if you are really serious about saving money than this is something to take into consideration. Obviously, a good coffee machine is an investment in itself, but you don’t need a fancy Keurig to brew some at home coffee, a simple coffee maker works just fine. I personally am a big fan of the sweet cream foam or different syrups that I often order when at Starbucks or Dunkin, but I promise that there are so many different flavored creamers out there that it is still super realistic to have great tasting coffee at home (and you usually get more than one cup out of each brew!) I personally try to only go to Starbucks or Dunkin if I have a gift card as a treat every once in a while, so that is another helpful tip I have.

2. Use a Budgeting app

Freelance Girl Working at Home Sitting on Sofa with Laptop and Cat
Illustration by Irina Strelnikova from Shutterstock
I know that I said making a budget is a very vague tip so to get you started in the right direction, I would highly encourage you to start using a budgeting app! Mint is a super popular app that you can link your accounts to in order to keep track of every transaction, see your credit score, make investments, and see a categorical breakdown of your spending habits. This app basically shows areas where you need to start budgeting, so it is a super good template to use and is highly rated by finance professionals. Another form of budgeting is through apps like Acorn and Chime which round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and put the rounded-up change directly into your savings account. I know that we aren’t always taking the time to invest in our savings account, but this is a way to make sure you are putting money into savings every day, even if it is just loose change. Chime also has a feature that allows you to put 10% of your paycheck directly into savings (but even if you don’t have the app, this is another strategy you should think about implementing anyways).

3. Winter Cleanout

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash
If you are stuck inside waiting for spring weather to appear, it is the perfect time for a clean out! Go through your closets, room, apartment, etc. and look for unused items and unwanted clothes you can sell. I personally have a hard time parting with my clothes, but a good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t worn it in the last 6 months, you probably won’t be wearing it again anytime soon. Facebook marketplace is a really good place to sell items other than clothes, although eBay is still a classic selling site. Depop and Poshmark are super popular apps where you can sell clothes, though I encourage you to consider donating items to a local thrift store/Plato’s closet. You might not get as much money when selling to a resale shop, but it is often benefiting people in your own community who are unable to afford new clothing, so that is definitely a more meaningful way to donate/sell clothes.

4. Install Cashback extensions / apply for a Cashback Credit card

Person using laptop holding credit card
Photo by Rupixen.com from Unsplash
Getting cashback is actually easier than a lot of people think. There is a ton of research you can do on different cashback sites and cashback extensions that you can download to your computer that will automatically pop up at checkouts on certain sites. Now I wouldn’t normally advocate for opening a credit card, but if you have been looking to change credit cards/apply for a new one, most name brand credit card carriers have some sort of cashback card that gives you a percentage back on each purchase. If you type cashback credit card or cashback extensions into google, you will see many lists of different ones you can look into, and there are even many lists comparing different credit cards to one another so you can decide which card actually gives you the most cashback with the least amount of fees and sneaky restrictions.

5. Always check for discount codes at checkout

Sale Signs
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Unsplash
To all of the sites that automatically apply the discount code that matches the dollars you spent, you are a blessing! However most online retailers aren’t going to give you discounts that easy! Make sure to check on the website for recent promotions to make sure you are not missing any sales. Another trick I have learned is that you can literally google discount codes for certain stores and some of them actually work (you might try 7 that don’t work before the 8th one applies so keep that in mind). And of course, thanks to revolutionary TikTok, there are TikTok videos of influencers promoting their discount codes, followed with comment sections filled with other discount codes that people have used recently! Whenever I see one of these videos I always like it so I can come back to it later in case I need a discount code, so something for all my TikTokers out there to look for.

6. Put 5 dollars aside every week

payroll clerk counting money while sitting at table
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
Obviously, you can do this with any amount that is reasonable for your situation, but I think that 5 dollars is a good starting point. This is another way to start creating good saving practices just by setting aside 5 dollars every week. That’s one Starbucks drink, one drink at the bar, or one impulse purchase from target that you can go without that week in order to save money. You can put these 5 dollars directly into your savings account or have a little jar to slip in a 5 every week. You never know what will happen this year, so this is a way to have a designated emergency fund if needed. Or if you happen to make it through the year emergency free, you can save this money for something practical like paying off student loans or reward yourself with that new apple watch you wanted or a weekend trip with your bff.

7. Keep a coin jar somewhere

I am the absolute biggest hypocrite of this one because I hate change. If I am with friends, I will give my coins to them, leave it in the tip jar if that is an option, or on occasion, I have even thrown my change into the trash. I know I know TERRIBLE. So, this is one I am really trying to work on because coins do add up! One of my friends keeps his change in a jar that he can fit into the cup holder of his car. This is a genius idea because as soon as they hand you back change in the drive thru, or as soon as you get out of the store, you can immediately throw your change in the jar (not to mention all of the times you have scrambled for change in a drive thru or at a toll way).

8. Unsubscribe from promotion emails

You make one online purchase or sign up for rewards at one store and suddenly your inbox is flooded with a million emails. While there is the occasional email that reminds you of a sweet sale going on, most of them are just junk emails trying to get you to go to their website and buy more of their stuff that you don’t need! I highly recommend stopping the temptation before it starts by unsubscribing from email lists (usually at the bottom of the email), this way you are only checking a website if you are actually looking for something specific you need instead of mindlessly browsing.

9. Plan meals for the week / meal prep

Three pre-made meals in containers
Photo by Ella Olsen from Pexels
I understand that we are all busy people and sitting down to meal prep may seem as though it doesn’t fit into your schedule. But I promise that the time you spend trying to decide what to eat or where to order out from is almost equivalent to the time you could spend planning out your meals for the week. Plus, it saves time making a grocery list/ time spent at the grocery store because you know what you are making and what ingredients you need for the week. For those who also have a new year’s resolution surrounding healthy living, people who meal prep are proven to eat healthier, so this is just another added bonus. I usually plan out my school week on Sunday’s, so this is the perfect time to plan meals as well. Having set meals will save you from dinning out, which is one of the biggest areas I personally spend money, so I am trying to be more conscious about when and where I am eating out. 

I know that last year was tough for so many emotionally, mentally, and financially. I wish you the best in all areas of life, and I hope that these saving tips can start you on the right track in 2021.

University of Iowa '22 | Tippie School of Business | BBA Marketing Analytics | Certificate in Event Management | Travel & Lifestyle Blogger |
U Iowa chapter of the nation's #1 online magazine for college women.