Do you hate the idea of brown-bagging it as everyone else in the office goes out for lunch? Do you dread parking your old-school Camry in a lot full of BMWs? Do you hope no one sees you with your coupons in the grocery store? If so, you're not alone.
“We have a very big problem with perception in this country,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com. While he doesn’t think anyone should be ashamed of saving money, he knows there is pressure to conform.
If keeping up appearances is important to you, there are plenty of ways to do it without falling into debt.
Here are 15 frugal tips to look like you're living large without overspending.
Before you can buy all the items you think will impress your friends and neighbors, you need to make some room in your budget. The easiest way to do that is to eliminate monthly subscriptions.
“Often, subscriptions are set on auto-pay, which can be convenient to avoid missing payments, but it will cost you more if forgotten about,” says Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashback.com, a cash back website.
While apps like Truebill and Trim can automatically find and cancel subscriptions, you can do it yourself by scanning your bank and credit card statements for recurring charges. “Every few months, review your finances to ensure you aren’t paying for services you don’t use or need,” Gramuglia says.
As you review your monthly subscriptions, consider how often you use each one and whether it duplicates another service. Rather than paying for multiple streaming services, news websites or beauty subscription boxes, pick the one you use most and cancel the rest.
Shop for New Insurance
Insurance is another area in which you can find savings to make money available for priority purchases.
“Check your insurance to make sure you have the right amounts and compare free quotes online to get the best coverage for less,” advises personal finance expert Laura Adams.
Changes in your age or circumstances could mean lower rates, or in some cases, new insurers may move into a market and bring with them more competitive premiums. Using an insurance agent who works with multiple providers can be a convenient way to obtain and compare quotes from several companies.
Reduce Prescription Costs
For those with serious or chronic medical concerns, the cost of prescriptions can add up. Save money without sacrificing your health by looking for generic medications and utilizing discounts.
“When possible, work with your doctor to identify generic drug options,” says Ramzi Yacoub, chief pharmacy officer for SingleCare, a prescription savings service. “They are just as good as brand name medications and a fraction of the cost.”
Filling prescriptions for 90 days, instead of 30, can also save money and may improve adherence to taking medications as directed, according to Yacoub. That can keep people healthier and lower overall health care costs.
Using a discount service like SingleCare can also provide savings of up to 80% off a drug’s cash price. Some manufacturers also have patient assistance programs and coupons that can lower costs.
Buy Used Items
From designer clothes to luxury cars, you can buy high-quality goods at a reduced rate simply by opting for secondhand items.
If you're looking to buy a car, keep in mind that new cars depreciate significantly in the first year, meaning there are deals to be found if you're willing to buy something previously owned. In many cases, models don’t change much from year-to-year, so a vehicle’s age won’t always be obvious to others.
“I don’t know who said you have to trade in a car every three to four years,” Dvorkin says. “Buy a nicer car and drive it for longer.”
Barely used, brand-name electronics, jewelry and furniture can be found at pawn shops and Facebook sales groups as well. However, if you're buying an item from a private seller, be wary of counterfeit goods and conduct transactions in a public place.
Rent, Don't Own
Sometimes you only need to use an item briefly to make a good impression. In that case, consider renting rather than buying.
You can rent designer clothes through Rent the Runway, or try Mine for Nine to get fashionable maternity wear. There are also rental companies for baby gear, jewelry and handbags. These websites will let you borrow specific items for a certain number of days at a set price.
Purchase at the Right Time
If you do want to own something, research when the best time is to buy. There are sales cycles that allow consumers to estimate when prices may be lower, and some categories of goods reliably follow certain pricing patterns.
For instance, fitness products are often cheaper in January, home prices generally peak in the summer and the weeks leading up to Black Friday in November are generally prime time to buy electronics.
“Shop during your state’s sales tax holiday to save money on various items,” Adams advises. States may have specific dates when no tax is charged on purchases ranging from back-to-school supplies to clothing to generators and disaster preparedness products.
Buy High-Quality Products
In addition to buying at the right time, be discerning about how you spend your money.
Buying an expensive item that you'll use frequently could cost less overall than if you end up buying a series of cheaper goods that don't get as much use. Plus, you're more likely to use something that works well or wear clothing that fits you right.
Enlist Your Friends
There’s a good chance that you’re not the only one in your friend group who is looking to cut back financially.
“Suggest making tweaks to group traditions, like setting a spending cap for holiday gift exchanges,” says Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. “Everyone will appreciate not having to spend a fortune on each person anymore.”
Friends may also be willing to barter lawn care, child care, meals, transportation or photography for other services or goods. It's ideal if you can barter with someone you know and trust personally, but sites like BarterQuest can help you find bartering partners throughout the world. To avoid scams, be sure to look for user reviews and be wary of new bartering websites with few users, which could be a front for scammers.
Choose Low-Cost Experiences
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create Instagramable moments that you'll enjoy. Heading to the park for a picnic with your significant other can be just as enjoyable as buying an expensive lunch or dinner at a restaurant. Plus, the great outdoors can provide photo opportunities that are perfect for social media sharing.
Many metropolitan areas also have museums and attractions that can be inexpensive. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., for example, is free alongside other Smithsonian museums. Outside the nation’s capital, many museums, parks and zoos offer free admission days or reduced rates for residents.
Travel in the Off-Season
When you’re ready for a getaway, traveling in the off season can be a good way to not only save money but also avoid the crowds. That means heading to Europe in the winter or Hawaii in the late spring or fall.
Scheduling travel during the shoulder seasons, when the weather is still good but the prices are lower, is also a good strategy. VRBO, a website listing vacation rentals, notes prices for property rentals at beach and lake destinations drop as much as 30% after Labor Day.
Use Loyalty Programs
If you worry that using coupons will make you look like a cheapskate, check out the latest store loyalty programs. For groceries, chains like Kroger and Target have apps that let you clip coupons digitally and then enter your phone number or scan a device at checkout for savings.
Meanwhile, the drugstore Walgreens lets customers accumulate points with its loyalty card, which can then be redeemed for discounts. Starbucks, Panera Bread and a host of other chains also have loyalty programs that reward visitors with discounts and free food.
In addition, you can get online savings by installing a browser extension from a deal site like CouponCabin.com, Honey or Rakuten. “You can do this for your regular online shopping, but you can also use this tactic when you are ordering takeout for a group,” Bodge says. “Offer to place the order on your computer using a platform like Grubhub or UberEats, and available savings and cashback offers will pop up.”
Maximize Travel Rewards
To stick to your budget, use loyalty rewards programs to earn points toward award flights, free hotel stays and complimentary upgrades. Travel credit cards can offer additional perks and points but make sure you're able to meet the minimum spending threshold on your credit card to reap the most rewards and benefits.
“Some credit cards have exclusive partnerships with retailers and travel companies,” according to Bodge. “You might be able to save on your flight, hotel, rental car, and no one will be the wiser.”
As with any credit card, only charge as much as you can comfortably pay off each month. Otherwise, you could pay more in interest than you’ll reap in travel benefits.
Embrace DIY Projects
You don’t have to spend a lot to keep up appearances. No one will know if you wash your car yourself or use the expensive carwash in town. Similarly, looking fit and healthy can be achieved by working out at home rather than paying for a pricey gym membership. Dress shirts can be ironed rather than being sent to a cleaner, and basic yard work can be done by most homeowners at little cost.
Be Strategic About Presentation
Sometimes people can create the illusion of luxury while still saving money. Couples can purchase a small professionally decorated cake to display at their wedding but then serve guests a less expensive, yet still delicious, sheet cake from the kitchen. Similarly, they may splurge for an attention-grabbing bridal bouquet while using less expensive cut flowers for the bridesmaids and centerpieces. Similar strategies can be used for birthdays, graduation parties or other events.
Skip Spending More to Elevate Your Status
Some items that used to be impressive are not as important anymore. The days of a Rolex watch being a status symbol are rapidly diminishing as fewer people wear traditional watches. Expensive pens and cuff links are other examples of items that formerly were status symbols and now are largely overlooked by others.
If you want to impress your friends, spend your money on what matters to them. Or, better yet, don't worry about what's important to them and buy what's important to you instead.