Save some green in 2015

You know how New Year’s budget-tightening advice goes. You hear you should make coffee at home instead of stopping at the coffee shop — the one where the barista greets you with your very own personalized joke-of-the-day — and you can save about $3,700 a year. 

But of course you miss your daily joke, and it’s a scramble to make your own coffee every morning in between avoiding the scattered-toy minefield, packing a healthy lunch and brushing off the cat hair. 

If it feels like slashing expenses and tightening belts is all kill and no buzz, I’m with you. There should be more to spending-less tips than, “Spend less.”

We want bonuses. We want fun. We want bonus fun! It’s 2015, why can’t we have it all?

Here are five areas where families can save money this year, and find a little bonus fun to boot: 

 

Exercise

Many New Year’s articles sing the praises of daily exercise and urge you to join a gym. Not me. I say quit the gym. It’s too expensive! You can exercise at home just as easily. A quick Google search turns up dozens of ways to work out at home with no equipment at all. You can also go for runs or hikes in the neighborhood, even when it’s snowy and cold. Make exercise dates with friends to help motivate you and keep you honest. Of course for some, quitting the gym would be blasphemy. If that’s you, you may still be able to save some money by negotiating a lower rate. Ask for a “bare bones” rate if, for instance, you don’t use the juice bar or personal trainers. Or find out what deals they’re offering to new members, and ask for that.

Bonus fun: Exercising at home is a chance to spend time with family. Plus, the dog might lick your face while you’re doing pushups, or your toddler might climb on you while you’re doing yoga. Annoying, but actually really sweet!

 

Television

If you haven’t cut the cord yet, it might be time. Unless you watch a lot of cable TV, cable (or dish) isn’t a good entertainment investment. Digital antennas are inexpensive and pull in the networks just fine. Along with a Hulu or Netflix account, most families can see all the shows they want for a fraction of the cost. 

If you’re not ready to cut the cord now, at least call up the cable company and threaten to. Get the “retention department” on the phone to negotiate a better price.

Bonus fun: For parents of a certain age, manipulating rabbit ears while trying to pull in the Vikings game can induce endorphin-rich nostalgia. Plus, feel like a great parent because your kids aren’t watching Adult Swim while you’re out of the room.

 

Entertaining kids

Buy less, do more. Your community is a rich resource. Go to the library together to check out books, movies and music. Younger kids will want to catch story time. Also check out community calendars and parks and rec boards for free and cheap events and activities. In most cities in Minnesota, kids can play baseball, basketball, soccer or wrestling for less than $50 a season. If you coach, they play free.

Bonus fun: What kids want is our time and attention, not stuff — which happily is the same thing we want from them. So choosing activities over things is a win-win. 

 

Entertaining adults

Not to be confused with “adult entertainment.” I’m talking mostly about going out to eat, which is expensive — especially if you have a couple alcoholic drinks on the bill. One solution, if you’re not into abstaining, is to invite friends to your place. 

You can serve dinner and drinks for roughly the same amount you’d spend going out, and then your friends will likely reciprocate. That’s two nights of fun for the price of one. How about resolving with friends to rotate hosting every few weeks all year? 

Bonus fun: The adults are entertained. That’s you!

 

Household maintenance

Not all of us are handy. I’m not. 

But when I had to replace some tile in my bathroom a few weeks ago, instead of calling a pro, I called a friend who’d done it before. I watched a YouTube video to get some extra guidance, borrowed the tools and my friend and I did the job for the price of supplies. 

I also learned how to patch concrete this summer and shored up my house’s foundation. And I was an English major! 

Though the temptation may be to call someone to fix things, many times you can learn. It helps if you have a friend to teach you, but you can learn a lot online.

Bonus fun: You feel super-savvy.