50+ Proven Strategies to Save Money in 2021
Looking to save more cash in the new year? Our thrifty guide will help you keep your money in the (piggy) bank.
Photo: Chris Robinson
Shop the perimeter of the store
Where you shop in the store directly affects how big your bill is. Food essentials (produce, meats, dairy and bread) are usually located around the store’s perimeter. Middle aisles stock the more costly prepared and processed foods. Steer clear of those inner aisles and your groceries will be healthier and cheaper.
Organize, then layer on the coupons
Steal two simple tricks from the couponing pros. First, a little organization goes a long way: use a binder with photo-album inserts to sort coupons by category and expiry date, then haul it out before every trip to the grocery store. As well, think about using a manufacturer’s coupon with items already on sale at the grocery store—say a $1.99 package of taco shells is on sale for $1.49. If you have a 50-cents-off coupon and the store allows double coupons, you’ll pay only $0.49.
Shop less often
Try to stretch out the time between grocery-shopping trips. Instead of going once a week, go once every two weeks. You’ll be forced to make a more careful food plan and be even more likely to use the food you already have in the pantry and freezer.
Earn money when you buy groceries
Caddle, a Canadian app, pays you cash in the form of rebates when you shop online and in person. In exchange, you answer short online surveys and watch video ads. It’s available as a free download on iPhone and Android devices.
Hit farmers markets just before closing
Vendors don’t want to bring unsold produce back home, so they often sell their inventory at reduced prices (up to 80 per cent) before the market closes. Some markets have restrictions on price slashing, so check your local’s policy first.
Buy at the right time
Shopping for big home items off season yields the cheapest prices, as retailers and manufacturers want to clear out inventory before introducing new models. Think furniture in January and February, televisions and home electronics in the spring and barbecues and lawn mowers in the fall.
Extend the life of your winter boots
Keep a cloth and a spray bottle of vinegar and water in your entryway to quickly wipe off salt stains every time you walk through the door. It’ll help your winter footwear last through multiple seasons. And for wet West Coast winters, Canadian brand Kamik sells sustainably manufactured rain boots that are durable and about half the price of competitors’ boots.
Ditch fast fashion
Beware the trap of fast fashion—usually you end up with a closet stuffed with ill-fitting, poorly made duds (see the holes in the neckline of that new T-shirt after one wash). It’s worth spending a bit more on fewer pieces that last. Look to innovative brands like Universal Standard, which is revolutionary for its size inclusivity (every piece in the vast collection is available in size 00 to size 40) and commitment to sourcing premium fabrics, all at reasonable prices.
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Read for free
Attention book lovers: access to Prime Reading is a little-known bonus to being a member of Amazon Prime—members can choose up to 10 free titles at a time from over 1,000 options (a regularly updated list of novels, non-fiction, thrillers, children’s books and more). The title is then available to view on any device via the Kindle app; some books also come with audible narration.
Give your old shoes a second life
Grimy sneakers can be made to look nearly new again. Mix a dab of gel-based whitening toothpaste with a sprinkle of baking soda and get to work scrubbing with an old toothbrush.
Browse resale apps
Poshmark, the popular U.S.-based shopping platform backed by celeb stylist Rachel Zoe, is now available in Canada. There are over 100 million items to choose from, and you can buy and sell both new and gently used clothing, bags, jewellery and accessories, from basic loungewear to designer labels. When you make a sale, the company provides you with a Canada Post prepaid, preaddressed label ready for shipping.
Automate your bargain hunt
Amazon price tracker websites like CamelCamelCamel send an email alert when the price of an item you covet drops to your designated threshold. It can also provide a price-history chart for the item in question so you can see variations over time and strategize when to strike.
Max out your cards
You may be surprised by how many gift cards or store credits are lingering in your wallet or shoved in a junk drawer. How about a reloadable charge card you forgot you reloaded? Or a cash-back account you’re ignoring? It’s worth spending a few hours to inventory all those latent funds.
Drug Store Deals
They have the same active ingredients as brand-name medications but are substantially less expensive. You can look for the generic name for your medication online and ask the pharmacist if they stock it.
Take advantage of seniors’ day
Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall offer seniors’ days, with decent discounts on regularly priced merchandise. If you fall below that age limit (65 at Shoppers, 55 at Rexall), take senior parents or grandparents shopping on those days instead.
Negotiate at independent pharmacies
Smaller drug stores are often more willing to give you a deal because they may have more discretion than the big chains over the prices they charge. To find out, make a few phone calls and ask your local independent pharmacist to beat a chain store’s price list.
Photo: Chris Robinson / (Glasses) ISTOCKPHOTO/Nastco
Spruce up your scratched glasses
Drop a bit of Brasso metal polish on a soft cotton cloth, wipe it over the lenses, let them dry completely and then polish out the scratches. Then paint a thin coat of clear nail polish on the screws to keep them from coming loose.
Grow your own veggies
Lettuce is hardy and easy to grow, as are carrots, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. You can start even smaller with some herbs in a pot and never waste money again on those clamshell packs at the grocery store.
Make your own household cleaners
White vinegar and baking soda are your cleaning BFFs—two cheap but effective products that you can use throughout the whole house to clean, polish and disinfect.
Install a clothesline
If you don’t have outdoor space or you live in tight quarters, take a cue from hotels and install a drying line above your shower-curtain rod. It’s less convenient than running the dryer, sure, but nothing beats a clean shirt with that fresh-air crispness.
Switch to CFLs
Replacing incandescents with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is one of the quickest, easiest ways to save money. CFLs use about 75 per cent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
Service the furnace
Tuning up the furnace (which also includes changing the furnace filter regularly) before the winter season will reduce energy use and may save up to 10 per cent on heating bills.
Buy your hot water heater
Canadians who rent their hot water heater may be burning up some savings. Financial blogger Robb Engen found that while there are upfront costs to buying a heater, after six years of owning (and most last 15 years) you’ll start to save. One drawback: you’re on the hook for maintenance fees, which could add up with a problem heater.
Install a heat pump
Dump your old furnace and get a heat pump—an energy-efficient system that heats and cools homes, says Sandy MacLeod from the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada. Depending on where you live, you could cut 50 per cent off your heating bills. There are upfront costs in the thousands, but after paying those off, you can save big.
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Set the thermostat to cool
At home, leave the thermostat at 20 C and wear a sweater if you feel chilly. Reduce it to 18 C when you go to bed at night (which will also improve the quality of your sleep). And when you are away from the house, keep the thermostat between 12 C and 16 C. A programmable thermostat can take the chore out of adjusting the temperature and can be yours for about $40. According to smart-thermostat company Nest, these Internet-connected devices can save you about 12 per cent on heating and 15 per cent on cooling costs a year.
Go with the (low) flow
Installing low-flow shower heads and faucets will save on water usage and can cut your energy costs by about 10 per cent. Many provincial power suppliers offer free kits that contain low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators for kitchen and bathroom sinks, water-heater pipe-wrap insulation, plumber’s tape and a refrigerator thermometer.
Ditch paper towels
A 36-pack of durable, reusable microfibre cloths costs about the same as a 12-pack of paper towels, but it will last much longer. Tip: keep a mini-hamper under the sink to corral the dirties.
Improve your attic insulation
Many homes have poor attic insulation, says Kevin Lee, CEO of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, which can translate into higher energy costs. Consider blowing in insulation like cellulose, which can fill all the gaps and crevasses in an attic and trap heat in. Get an EnerGuide evaluation to see how else to make your home more energy efficient.
Get your fans going
Ensuring your ceiling fans are moving in the right direction can save you money on your home-heating and cooling costs, according to financing company Ygrene. In the winter, a clockwise movement creates an updraft that pushes warm air down. In the summer, fans should move counterclockwise. This, in combination with an air conditioner, could reduce cooling costs by up to eight per cent.
Dodge the draft
Replacing worn weatherstripping on doors and windows can decrease energy use by up to 25 per cent. You can also cover drafty windows and doors with insulation film—kits on Amazon start at about $20.
Launder in cold water
The costly part of washing dirty clothing is heating the water. Most items will wash just fine in cold, and you definitely don’t need the premium (and pricey) detergent recommended for cold washes.
Landscape with transplants
It’s easy to spend a fortune at the local nursery. Instead, exchange plant trimmings with family and friends who have overflowing gardens. Many perennial plants and bulbs can easily be divided and shared.
Banking Breaks and Tax Tips
Slash investment fees
Most mutual funds charge a two-per cent fee, which helps pay the salary of the person picking stocks. One problem: fund managers almost always underperform their benchmarks. Instead, build a portfolio with exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are designed to replicate an index. When that index rises, the ETF will climb by about the same amount. No manager means low fees—about 0.05 per cent, depending on the fund—which equals thousands more in savings.
Expense your home office
Employees don’t usually claim home-office expenses, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write off some of your work-from-home costs. According to E&Y, staff can deduct costs for office rent and supplies, but it must say in your contract that you have to pay for these expenses. Your employer must also sign form T2200 before you can deduct the expense.
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Cut high-interest debt
Everyone loves reward cards, but many people don’t realize that they come with extremely high interest rates of between 25 and 30 per cent. It’s always good to pay off credit cards and lines of credit, but if you have to choose one in any given month, pick the reward cards. Depending on how much you owe, you could save thousands of dollars in interest payments over the year.
Have your employer pay into your pension
If you contribute to a defined workplace pension plan, make sure you’re taking advantage of the employer match. According to Sun Life Financial, Canadians are leaving up to $3 billion in matching contributions on the table. Contribute the max amount to your pension—usually between three per cent and six per cent of your salary—and your employer will put the same amount in your account.
Claim oft-forgotten deductions
There are several money-saving tax breaks that people don’t know exist. You can claim certain medical expenses, such as prescription costs and doctor’s fees. If you moved at least 40 kilometres closer to a new job or school, you can claim some moving expenses, including the cost of movers. Union dues, student-loan interest and child-care expenses come with tax breaks, too.
If you have more than one high-interest-rate credit card, consider consolidating all those debts under a single lower-interest-rate loan. There are two benefits: you’ll have to pay off one bill instead of multiple ones and you could pay thousands less in interest. However, it’s still important to pay those debts off, even at the lower rate.
Save first, mortgage second
You may make more money over the long term by investing in a retirement account than paying down a mortgage, says Robert McLister, founder of RateSpy.com. If your mortgage rate is, say, two per cent, but you can make four per cent in the markets, then you’ll get further ahead by investing. “If you have a decade or more before you retire, you might find that making tax-deductible RRSP contributions is a more economical and higher-return use of spare cash,” he says.
Break your mortgage
You could save big bucks by breaking your mortgage and refinancing at a lower rate. There can be a hefty penalty for breaking it early, so do your homework. But depending on what you owe and the term you have left, it could be worth it, says McLister. “Anytime you can lower your rate by a point or more, refinancing can make sense.”
Eliminate bank fees
Bank fees are annoying, but there are ways to eliminate them. First, check your account, as many banks waive fees for maintaining a minimum amount at all times. Second, negotiate account fees if you have a mortgage or other investments with that bank. Third, shop around. Banks are always competing, and similar accounts could come with different fees.
Find a digital bank
Digital banks are financial institutions that have no branches and offer basic services, like savings accounts. With lower overhead, they can offer better savings-account rates than the traditional banks. According to Ratehub.ca, EQ Bank currently pays 1.5 per cent interest in its high-interest savings account, compared to 0.05 per cent for an equivalent account from Scotiabank.
Take advantage of deals
When travel guidelines become less restrictive, you may find some stellar deals on flights and hotels. One recent Air Canada sale offered a $400 family vacation package. “It’s not hard to find rooms for 25 per cent off due to lower demand right now,” says travel expert Barry Choi.
Try credit-card churning
Want to travel the world when the pandemic’s over but don’t want to pay for flights? Try credit-card churning, which involves signing up for a credit card, getting the bonus points, cancelling that card before the year is up and then signing up again for more points. It’s entirely legit, and it doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot.
Photo: Chris Robinson / (Suitcase) ISTOCKPHOTO/Damir Khabirov
Carefully exploit travel-reward cards
You can save big on travel expenses by using a travel-reward card. Patrick Sojka, founder of RewardsCanada.ca, says that while there are many cards out there, most people want a rewards program that’s flexible and gives them multiple flight options. You get about two per cent of total credit-card spending, on average, to put toward travel, which could add up to a free flight or two. The key is to pay the balance off every month to avoid interest charges.
Reduce your Internet, phone and cable bills
Wish you could spend less on Internet, mobile and cable? Try haggling with your telecom provider, says Mohammed Halabi, founder of Mybillsarehigh.com, who adds that with a little pushing, you can get up to 25 per cent off the posted price. Escalating your call to a supervisor can result in discounts, too. But don’t be mean about it—give the rep a hard time and they may not slash the price.
Join an association
Many association memberships come with discounts on everything from computers to stationery to travel, so if you’re an accountant, doctor or other professional, sign up. Also consider the Canadian Automobile Association, which offers discounts on health, home and life insurance, and on travel costs.
Pay no interest
One advantage of living in a low-interest-rate world: no-interest financing. To encourage you to buy their product, many companies, from auto dealerships to Peloton, are eating whatever interest costs you’d have to pay. If you need to buy a big-ticket item, then look for this kind of deal and pay off your purchase over several months or years instead of all at once.
Cancel your tech subscriptions
In our tech-dependent world, it’s highly likely that you’re paying for software, cloud file storage or a streaming service that you don’t use often enough. One company found that the average person wastes $347 on unused subscriptions. Review what you’re signed up to and ditch the subs you’ve forgotten about.
Buy a car instead of leasing
It’s the age-old debate: lease or buy a car? Buying is generally more cost-effective over the long term because at some point your payments will stop. Monthly leasing payments are usually lower than those you pay when you finance, but leases come with mileage limits that, if exceeded, could increase your costs. The best option? Buy used.
Cut your car insurance
What you pay on insurance will mostly depend on where you live and what you drive, among other things, but there are ways to reduce these costs. People who drive to work tend to pay more than those who don’t. If you’re home during COVID-19, ask for personal, rather than business, insurance. Also, increase your deductible or remove collision coverage on older cars.
Reduce risk, save on home insurance
Squeezing out savings on home insurance isn’t as easy as it is with car insurance, but it can be done. The easiest way to save is to increase your deductible—going from $500 to $5,000 could save you a few hundred dollars—but also consider ways to reduce risk to your home, such as by installing a sump pump if it doesn’t already have one.
Next, check out our safety checklist to improve every room in your home!