Limit Eating Out. It sounds simple but people usually don't realize how often they eat out or buy things "on the run" and how much that adds up to. I used to be a big fan of Starbucks (still am actually, but I just don't go there often anymore). That is until I realized that I was spending $4 a day there which translated into $28/week, $112/month, or $1344/year. Once you see how it adds up, you start to ask yourself, "is that mocha worth $1300 a year? What else could I do with $1300 a year?" And now Starbucks is about a once a month thing, replaced with coffee from home for about $10 a month.
That's the easy stuff though. Fast food starts to adds up too. At $5 to $10 a meal per person, it is easy to see the costs, however, you are probably saying "but it costs more at home to make food." The answer is if you are buying a ton of processed foods, it may (actually if you use coupons and shop well, it is still cheaper usually). However, learning to cook and prepare your own food, even to bring with you to work, will help you dramatically cut down on costs as you learn to do it.
To illustrate the point, my wife and I make our food and take it to work. Usually, on Sunday night, we will cook a dish and again on Monday night. We will rotate through those dishes for lunches as left overs throughout the week. In the end, our lunches now cost us under $3 each and usually we end up under $2. We rotate dishes so we don't eat the same food everyday. Compared to eating $5-10 a day at fast food, we have saved at least $520 each this year for a total of $1040 or more.
If you are eating out for lunch at sit down restaurants, you can probably add a lot more to your savings than this. I realize that some jobs really "require" sit down lunches or Starbucks meetings to function, but in those cases, it is probably paid for by the company or is tax deductible anyway, so it really doesn't fit this case. But on other days, where it isn't covered or an important meeting, bringing lunch can save.
There are fringe benefits to doing this on top of the savings and ability to use that money elsewhere:
* Learning to cook. If you are married, this can be fun because it is something you and your spouse can do together for more relaxing and fun time. If you have kids, this is a great skill to help your kids learn once they get to the right ages (my mother insists I started before I was five. That might be a little over exaggerating on her part). And if you are single, it is just one more way to impress your dates (trust me, my wife loved that I knew how to cook and is now learning to cook more, but still likes to cook with me).
* Healthier food. Once you start seeing what is in your food, you start to realize all of the fats and preservatives that are often in fast foods. You also start to figure out ways around things for a healthier diet. For example, my father is at the age where the doctor says restrict your salt intake. My wife worries about my health (she's a worrier, what can you do?), so we have really limited salt in our foods and found other flavors to replace the loss of salt. It probably makes my doctor happy and it makes her happy, and the food still tastes great.
Now, don't get me wrong. I still enjoy an occasional trip to Jack in the Box or some other fast food place, but once every month or two saves us a lot of money and is far healthier than the alternative.
If you need recipes (this is how you learn to cook, find recipes, follow directions... over time you will learn to deviate, but start with the recipe and master that first!), I recommend family and friends as one starting place if they have them written down.
The other place I go is http://www.foodnetwork.com. Why? Not only do they have fairly good recipes, but you can read the reviews! Just like buying a computer or a camera, people don't have the same tastes or wants in their foods. Reading the reviews can tell you if a dish really didn't meet expectations, if it was really good, or if it wasn't great but by changing one thing, you can make it great. I can't tell you how many times I used the reviews to change a recipe and struck gold!
The bottom line is this: By making your own food at home and buying less processed food in fast food places, you can save a significant amount of money and eat healthier saving you health care costs in the long run. The money you save can be used for other things that you want. Mine paid for this laptop this year and contributed to our month long vacation overseas that we have coming up. Where will you spend your savings?