By Ismat Sarah Mangla and Kerri Anne Renzulli
August 22, 2016

Getting to $1 million takes investing smarts and hard work, for sure. But there’s something else: a personality that looks for savings at every turn.

“Everyone expects wealthy people to be flashy about how they spend their money, but they aren’t,” says George Walper, president of Spectrem Group, which studies and tallies America’s millionaires. “These folks can afford to spend more than most people, and they do, but they’re not exorbitant. They are disciplined about their lifestyles.” In fact, a full 78% of millionaires cite frugality as a reason for their success.

To reach seven figures, you must find the frugality within you, or learn a few spending tricks that will help you act like a millionaire in the making. Don’t go over the top on the big stuff like your home or car—together housing and transportation eat up 50% of of the average American’s budget, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—train yourself to spend less every time you shop, and plug the cash leaks that can drain your budget.

Cherish Your Victories

Next time you’re tempted to splurge, think of when you stayed strong. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2015 reported that people were willing to incur 28% more credit card debt when they recalled two times they had indulged in spendthrift behavior, vs. recalling two times they had abstained.

*Interest savings if your credit card balance is the average of $9,600, vs. 28% more.

Empty Your Fridge

The average family tosses out 25% of the food and drinks it buys, says the Natural Resources Defense Council. Stop throwing money away: Take stock of your pantry and freezer once a month and your fridge about once a week to see what’s about to expire, says Annette Economides, co-author of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half With America’s Cheapest Family. Place anything approaching its end date in the front of the fridge, freezer, or pantry so you’ll remember it. Stuck for ways to use your leftovers? For recipe ideas, plug in what you’ve got at sites like BigOven and Supercook.

*Based on average amount spent on food at home of $3,971, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fire Your Bank

At brick-and-mortar banks, maintenance fees on checking accounts run $14.89 a month. With an average of $3,250 in your account, you can avoid that fee, or, if you don’t want to park that much cash, switch to a bank with no checking fees. While only 11% of traditional banks offer no minimum free checking, 62% of online banks do, including Ally, MONEY’s best online bank in 2015.

*Based on average checking fee.

Aim for Six Figures

“The wealthy like to hold on to their cars for a long time” says Tom Corley, author of Rich Habits. The best thing you can do to break the 100,000-mile mark is to schedule regular oil changes, says Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor of“You want to keep the most expensive item— the engine—healthy. So that means following recommended maintenance guidelines to the letter.” Also, drive gently: Don’t brake forcefully or rush to accelerate.


*Based on average monthly car loan payment.

Find a Keeper Home, Not a Starter Home

“Millionaires make sure they are not house poor so they can do other things with their money,” says Jacquelyn Boyer, senior wealth planner with PNC Wealth Management. So skip the trade-up to a costlier pad and make staying put more pleasurable. According to a survey by home renovation and design site Houzz, 74% of owners who remodeled or redecorated recently say they feel happier overall.

“Kitchens are where fashion and technology move the fastest, meaning this room feels out of date quicker,” says Bruce Irving, a realtor in Cambridge, Mass. In lieu of a full overhaul (average tab: $60,000, according to Remodeling’s “2016 Cost vs. Value” report), Irving suggests replacing the things you touch every day: countertops, sinks, and faucets; with sound cabinets, repaint them. That project could come in under $20,000.

*Staying in a $250,000 home with a $200,000 mortgage, vs. buying a $400,000 pad with a $350,000 loan.

Get Paid to Eat

With the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card, you earn 6% cash back on all groceries. It carries a $95 annual fee, but if you spend more than $31 a week on groceries, you’ll still come out ahead, says NerdWallet credit expert Sean McQuay.

*Based on BLS average spent for food at home.

Know Your Balance

Real-time info activates your self-control. Research by Shlomo Benartzi, a UCLA behavioral economist, and USC assistant professor Yaron Levi found that people who downloaded a financial app looked at their account 12 times a month, compared with going to the website twice a month. The results: Spending fell 15.7% in the four months after people loaded the app, led by less discretionary spending. Dining-out expenses dropped by 19.2%, and grocery bills by 20.7%.

*Based on 21% off the typical grocery bill.

Shrink Your Footprint

When you find yourself with more space than needed, downsize. You don’t have to embrace the tiny-house trend to save: Simply giving up a few rooms and a sprawling lawn can mean a smaller (or no) mortgage and less for utilities and upkeep. Plus, notes Steven Sass at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, if at retirement you swap a $250,000 home for one that costs $150,000, the $75,000 you could clear after selling and moving costs could add $3,000 a year to your retirement income.

*Assumes carrying costs are 3.25% of home value.

Never Miss a Deal

Check and for coupon codes. Install Honey, a browser extension that tracks coupon codes for hundreds of retailers and applies the highest-value one to your cart at checkout, no matter where you shop. According to the site, the average user saves more than $100 a year.

*Average saved by CouponCabin users.

Be a Part of History

Refinance to slash what might be your biggest monthly outlay. Historically low rates are still available for strong borrowers with good credit scores (740 and up), says Keith Gumbinger of HSH Associates. Today the average rate for a 30-year-fixed mortgage is 3.5%. If you’re going to stay in your home for three years or more, even a half-percentage point drop can pay off, says Gumbinger.

*By refinancing a $200,000 loan at 4% that you took in June 2013.

Learn to Love Haggling

Frugality isn’t about denial. It’s about never paying more than you need to, says Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything. “Virtually everything is negotiable, including price,” says Cohen. Don’t be afraid to ask. Even stores like Best Buy and Nordstrom will quietly negotiate. Make the salesperson your ally. “Always open up a negotiation amiably,” says Cohen. Present it as a problem you need help solving, he says. “I want to buy this thing that costs $1,500, but I only have $1,100 in my budget. How can you help me?” And be willing to walk away.


*What you could knock off the price of a big-screen TV.

Stay in Season

For lower prices on fresh food, check the calendar. “You can save 40% to 60% on produce by buying what’s in season,” says Annette Economides, co-author of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half With America’s Cheapest Family. Visit for a guide. Go with organic only when it’s likely to be “dirty” or contain pesticides; the average premium is 47%, Consumer Reports found. Foods that need to be peeled, like pineapples, mangoes, avocados, onions, and corn, are lower risk, according to the Environmental Working Group.

*Assumes the average spent on produce is cut by 40%.

Travel Freely

Stop coughing up an extra 1% to 3% on every purchase abroad. A new study finds that 61 of 100 popular cards levy foreign transaction fees, down from 77 of 100 last year. If yours still does, switch. A top no-fee option: the Barclaycard Arrival World.

*Assuming $3,000 in charges overseas.

Rethink the Fancy Gym

The average gym membership is $58 a month. In cities like St. Louis, New York, and even Charlotte, it’s north of $100. But two-thirds of would-be exercisers never use their gym membership, according to Statistic Brain, based on data compiled from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more. For the rest, the equivalent of $39 a month goes to waste because of underutilization. Stay fit for less. Your health insurer or employer may subsidize a gym membership. At Blue Cross Blue Shield, for example, members get access to some 9,500 fitness centers nationwide for $25 a month. Or try a discount gym. Planet Fitness has opened locations in 48 states, and memberships start at about $10 a month. It doesn’t offer all the benefits of a fancier gym, but if you’re looking for a place just to jump on the treadmill or lift weights, it’s a good bet. Or join a gym at the end of the month, when many clubs offer discounts to hit monthly quotas.

*Based on switching from a gym charging the average membership fee to a low-cost one.

Take a Not-So-Hot Shower

Your water heater is the second-biggest power hog in your home, accounting for 18% of electricity costs, says the U.S. Department of Energy. For every 10 degrees you turn down the tank’s thermostat, you’ll save 3% to 5%. Most heaters default to 140° F, but the typical household can make do at 120° F, according to the Energy Department. Plus, low-flow fixtures ($15 each) can reduce the amount of hot water you use by up to 60%. Ready to spring for a new water heater? An Energy Star certified water heater may be eligible for a $300 federal tax credit.

*Based on $781 average electric bill and 20-degree change.

Know Your Limits

Cell phone overage charges are at record highs, and one in five cell phone users reported paying them, a survey from financial research firm Cowen & Co. found. No surprise, given that data-hogging streaming video and music apps are becoming more popular. You pay about $15 for every gigabyte of usage over your limit. The fix: Find a plan that matches your typical usage (our cell phone picker tool can help). Then set up alerts. Verizon will email or text you when you’re close to your limit. Or monitor your usage with an app like My Data Manager. On many phones, if you’re near your max you can turn off cellular data so that certain functions will work only on Wi-Fi.

*If you pay for 1GB extra a month.

Test Drive New Car Insurers

Only 33% of drivers shopped around for a new auto policy last year, a J.D. Power study found. But those who switched insurers saved hundreds on premiums. When your renewal is up, get quotes from at least four companies. You can check any insurer’s customer complaint history at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ website.

*Average savings for policyholders who switched, via J.D. Power.

Remember What You Set and Forgot

Maybe you signed up for a $30-a-month credit-monitoring service three years ago when you were shopping for a home. Or a monthly $50 Gogo Air in-flight Internet subscription is buried in your credit card statement, even though you haven’t flown in a year. Recurring subscriptions can easily suck up hundreds of dollars a year. Trim ( is a free service that scans your credit card bills, shows you what you’re paying for, and cancels unwanted services. You give Trim your credit and debit card log-ons (it uses bank-level security, but if you don’t feel comfortable, you can send copies of your statements). You’ll get a text message listing your recurring charges, and you can tell Trim which ones you want to drop and which you want to keep (though some services, like Dropbox, need to hear directly from you).

*Based on dropping two services charging $30 to $50.

Cut the Cord

You’re probably paying about $100 a month for cable, according to the Leichtman Research Group. Tack on $9 a month for Netflix too (about two-thirds of Netflix subscribers also pay for cable). It’s not hard to pay a lot less to watch TV, including live news and sports. Sign up for Sling TV. For as little as $20 a month, you can stream channels like CNN, Comedy Central, and ESPN. For another $5, add local NBC and Fox stations. A $50 digital antenna can connect you to the big broadcast channels like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, and PBS.

*If cut cord and switch to Sling TV.

Stop Renting

Even without cable, you’re spending some $50 a month on broadband Internet. You can bring that cost down, says digital expert Kim Komando. Are you being charged a $5 to $10 rental fee for your modem and router? Buy your own for $75. Also see if you’re paying for more speed than you need. Your provider may push 15 to 50 megabits per second for another $10 to $40, but for most viewers 10 to 25 is fine, even for video. To make sure you’re getting the speed you’re paying for, check your connection at Speedtest.

*No modem rental, saving $20 a month with slower speed.

Stay in Network

Banks charge, on average, $2.46 each time you get cash from an out-ofnetwork ATM. The ATM owner levies a fee too, bringing the total to $4.52, on average, according to You’re not alone if you’ve been hit: A third of all ATM withdrawals are out of network, banking tech company Personetics Insights found. Use the ATM look-up service on your bank’s app to find nearby machines, or switch to a bank that doesn’t charge fees to stray. At 64% of online bank accounts, you won’t be charged.

*Assuming one out-ofnetwork visit a week.

Don't Protect Your Clunker

Once your car turns 10 or is worth less than 10 times your annual premium—get an estimate of its value at— you can scale back on insurance. Ditching collision coverage and keeping just injury and property damage coverage could save you as much as 40%.

*Based on the average auto insurance rate of $1,325, according to

Ditch Rewards

Paying an annual fee on your credit card in the hope of scoring a free vacation? Only 7% of Americans used rewards points to pay for even part of a trip last year, a new survey by the American Institute of CPAs found. Don’t be lured in by perks. Only pay for rewards you’ll actually be able to use.

*The average rewards card annual fee, per NerdWallet.

Hit the ATM More Often

Because the pain of parting with money isn’t immediate, you are more likely to overspend when you pay with plastic. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that shoppers who use cash feel more of a pinch than chargers. And researchers at MIT showed that people were willing to pay twice as much for stuff when they were paying with a credit card. Another study from 2011 reported that you pay more attention to a product’s price when paying with cash, while you focus on a product’s features when paying with credit.

*Buying lunch with cash every day, vs. paying with plastic.

Build Up an Appetite for Apps

Double up on the cash back you can earn by using apps like Ibotta, SavingStar, and Checkout 51. These services offer weekly cashback deals on a range of goods. To collect, upload a photo of your receipt showing what you bought. For other chances to save, download your food store’s app. “These apps have digital coupons, special promotions, and rebates, and work as your loyalty card,” says Stephanie Nelson, founder of “The apps also start to learn your preferences and tailor offers to your shopping habit.”

*Based on recent savings by Ibotta users who shop for groceries weekly.

Buy Another Driver's Loss

Once you do need new wheels, your best value is a car that’s two or three years old. Let someone else take the 20% hit from driving a new car off the lot. A certified pre-owned 2013 Honda Accord LX sells for $15,750, vs. $23,840 for the 2016 model. And you’ll pay less to insure a slightly used car..

*Difference in insurance costs for a 35-year-old married man.

Brag About Your Cool, New Stuff

Any work you’ve done on your home that makes it safer, from installing a burglar alarm or smoke detector to storm shutters and a hail-resistant roof, could earn you a sizable discount on your homeowners insurance. With a home security system, for example, Allstate and Nationwide offer up to 15% off.

*Based on the average homeowners premium of $1,096, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Program Yourself

Heating and cooling your home is your biggest energy outlay. To slash that bill, start with a no-brainer fix: a $25 programmable thermostat, which lets you easily adjust the temperature when the family isn’t home (or is asleep). Plus, make sure the weather stripping around your doors and windows is up to date—as much as 12% of a home’s heat loss occurs in those spots. In the summer, install solar screens or window films to prevent the sun’s rays from heating your home while the AC is running.

*EPA estimate for programming your thermostat.


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