cheapest car ownership strategy featured

We have a love/hate relationship with our cars.  They can mean freedom, opportunity, adventure, and even self-expression.  On the other hand, cars also mean debt, frustration, and anxiety.

I have pretty much always needed car for my occupations and lifestyle.  I appreciate the practical, comfortable service of a well-engineered machine, but my affection for cars goes no further.  I have put a great deal of thought into my cheapest car ownership strategy, and I hope you can benefit as well.

Note: The examples shown are based on generalities.  I did my best to pick average costs for all of the different factors involved.

What not to do: example X

cheapest car ownership strategy example
“Why do I feel like I have lost 9 grand in the last ten minutes?”

The worst approach to car ownership is buying a nice, new car on borrowed money every five or so years.  Nevertheless, millions of people follow this approach.  You will be paying the most to sales tax, depreciation, loan interest, and insurance.  The amount you will save on repairs and maintenance is negligible. As example X shows, you will be spending thousands more every year than is necessary to get from point A to point B.

This example is based on buying a $25,000 car with $1000 down.  It assumes that you pay the average interest rate for a five-year term.

total new car cost

Estimated car value after five years: $10,049

This estimate is based on Money-zine car depreciation calculator. Depreciation will vary based on model, mileage, condition, and even color.

Annual cost to ensure: $1,800

Take this figure with a grain of salt, as there are so many factors in car insurance rates that it is almost impossible to generalize.  When financing a car, you are required to carry certain types and levels of insurance, so you have less wiggle-room to customize your policy.  Generally speaking, the higher the value of the the car the greater the insurance premium.

Annual maintenance and repair costs estimate: $180

Based on Consumer Reports (see the graph below), the maintenance and repair costs on a new vehicle are incredibly low.  This estimate assumes some services are provided as part of a purchase agreement and warranty.

Annual ownership cost: $5758.676

(Does not include down payment or recurring registration, inspection, and fuel costs.)

  • Purchasing costs: $1,959 (sales tax and fees)
  • Financing costs: $2,883.38
  • Depreciation: $14,951
  • insurance: $9,000
  • maintenance and repairs: $900 

Cheapest car ownership strategy: example Y

The cheapest car ownership strategy is to buy an economical, reliable used car in cash, but let’s start by assuming that you must finance a vehicle.  For example Y you will be buying the same car as in example X but as the second owner.

Example Y is based on financing a used car with a value of $10,049.

used car costs
Note: The interest rate on the loan is higher, which is typical for a used car loan.

Estimated car value after five years: $4,459

This estimate is based on Money-zine car depreciation calculator. Depreciation will vary based on model, mileage, condition, and even color.

Annual cost to ensure: $1,100

Take this figure with a grain of salt, as there are so many factors in car insurance rates that it almost impossible to generalize.  When financing a used car, you are still required to carry certain types and levels of insurance.  We can assume for this example that the lower value of the car means a lower insurance premium and obviates the need for gap insurance.

Annual maintenance and repair costs estimate: $545

Based on the Consumer Reports graph shown below, you can expect to spend four to five hundred dollars more annually for your used car over this five year period.

Annual ownership cost: $2,966.76

(Does not include down payment or recurring registration, inspection, and fuel costs.)

  • Purchasing costs: $1,003.43 (sales tax and fees)
  • Financing costs: $1,167.36
  • Depreciation: $4,438
  • insurance: $5,500
  • maintenance and repairs: $2,725

In sum, even when including the additional repair and maintenance costs, you are nearly cutting your car ownership costs in half.  You are saving almost two thousand dollars a year by driving a used vehicle.  At the end of the five years, you can use your car’s remaining value (about $4,500) and the ten thousand dollars that you saved to buy your next car in cash.

False arguments that “they” want you to believe.

car dealer
Photo by Brian Teutsch

As example X and Y show, there is no economical advantage to buying new.  The people perpetuating these false arguments are either trying to sell cars or trying to justify why they should have a new car.  If having a new car is important to you, go ahead, but do not argue that is financially sound.

“Trade in your vehicle while it still has a decent value.”

They best time to sell or trade in your vehicle is never.  There is no magic year when selling is best.  Mailers from a car dealership explaining why your make and model is suddenly and magically more valuable have an obvious ulterior motive.

The most dangerous time for depreciation is when your car is young.  The longer you run your car, the lower the rate of depreciation (e.g. A twelve-year-old car is not worth much less than an eleven-year-old car.)  Instead of trying to cash in on the remaining value, it is better to sock away the money you are saving by delaying.  The money saved and its interest will be greater than the depreciation.

“The interest rate on a used car loan is too high.”

used car loan rates graph

It is true that used car loans have higher interest (as this chart shows), but the difference can be in the hundredths of one percent.  Example Y above includes an increase of .2 percent (greater than the typical difference in a five-year loan).  The difference in your loan would have to be incredible to consume the money that you are saving buy buying used.

“Your older car will cost you so much in repairs that you are better off with a newer vehicle.”

cheapest car ownership strategy repairs graph

People who point to maintenance and repair costs as a reason to re-buy are ignoring the cost savings of owning an older vehicle.

This argument does make sense to a point. It is easy to imagine that a very old and unreliable car would spend so much time in the shop that it no longer serves its purpose in you life. On the other hand, as the graph shows, the costs of maintaining older vehicles starts to level off over time.  Even if your car is averaging $1000 in repairs every year and you are spending $500 in car rentals, it is unlikely that the costs will counteract your savings.

According to Consumer Reports, the most expensive 10-year-old cars are made by BMW and have an annual repair cost of $1,125.

Big Ways to Save on Car Ownership

1) Lose less to depreciation.

Depreciation is the biggest problem with buying a new vehicle. Robert Sinclair of AAA explains, “Depreciation accounts for almost 40 percent of the cost of owning a new vehicle, more than $3,000 per year.”

cheapest car ownership strategy depreciation
Car value lost from year to year.

Everyone is a victim of car depreciation.  Cars are almost always a liability rather than an investment.  The key is to minimize your liability buy buying a vehicle that has already passed through the steepest decline in value.

According to Edmunds.com, the sweet spot of used car ownership is found by buying a car that is 2-3 years old and driving it for 2-4 years.  This allows you to dodge the massive, initial depreciation drop and still get some value when you sell or trade the car later.  This makes sense for people who want to drive new-ish car most of the time, but it is not the cheapest car ownership strategy.

I would argue that the “sweet spot” is found buy purchasing around the five-year mark. A five-year-old car can easily provide you with another five years of reliable service.  The longer you can keep it, the less drastic the depreciation will be every year.

2) Pay less interest on your car loan.

cheapest car ownership strategy interest rates

Interest rates are still low compared to historical averages, but that does not mean that you should be excited about paying interest.  Even if you have excellent credit, carrying a car loan adds thousands of dollars to the cost of the car. In example X we added almost $3,000 to the cost of the car with only a modest 4.21% interest rate.

The less money you have to borrow, the less you will be paying in interest.  Paying a hefty down payment might not be in your plans, so you should buy the cheapest car that will serve your needs and borrow less money.  They buyer in example Y pays less than half the interest paid by the buyer in example X (even though the interest rate is slightly higher).

3) Find a way to exit the car lending cycle and start earning interest instead of paying it.

car loan cycle
Photo by Jack Rice

If you purchase a used vehicle as shown in example Y, you can put the money saved into an interest bearing account.  In this case, almost $300 a month.  This money should go to an automatic savings account labeled “CAR FUND.”  If you cannot put aside the entire amount, make sure that you are putting aside some of the savings every month.  Even fifty dollars a month will add up over five years.

Your “CAR FUND” will diminish or even eliminate your next car loan.  If you cannot buy you next car in cash, you will at least be able produce a larger down-payment and borrow less.  If we think about this process in five year cycles, you have to borrow less each cycle until you are paying cash.

When you buy your next vehicle in cash, you have broken the car debt cycle.  You are saving even more than in example Y, because you have eliminated loan interest from the equation.

4) How you can stop worrying about the cost of repairs.

cheapest car ownership strategy repairs graph

A key element of the cheapest car ownership strategy is your “CAR FUND.”  One of the functions of the car fund is to help you stop worrying about repair costs.  If you are setting aside hundreds of dollars every month, a $500 dollar repair or even a $2,000 repair becomes a lot less scary.  Take the money for the repair from you car fund, and remember that you are still beating the system in the long run.

In addition to paying for you next vehicle in advance, you are obviating the need for car repair insurance.  Car repair insurance companies are simply preying upon people who are not so well prepared.

5) Buy a cheaper car to pay less sales tax.

If you live in a state with no sales tax, kiss my bippy.  For the rest of us, the easiest way to minimize sales tax is to spend less money.  The buyer in example Y is saving a thousand dollars in sales tax right off the bat.

Sales tax is a regressive tax.  It impacts the poor more than the rich.  If you want to combat the regressive nature of sales tax, be smarter and spend less.  I would not mind being in a position where paying 7% more for a Lamborghini meant nothing to me, but that is not my current position.

6) How much you will save on insuring a lower-value car?

It is impossible to generalize about how much can be saved on insurance by buying a lower value car.  There are more factors to calculating your premium than in launching a space shuttle.

Your age, gender, the type of car, how much you drive, where you live, your parking conditions, and even the color of your car makes a difference.  Suffice it to say that you should buy a practical, safe vehicle with a lower value.

The estimates in examples X and Y were quite conservative.  The annual saving for my example Y was only $700, and it is likely that the savings would be more.

7) Buy a car with proven reliability.

car mechanic

Whether you are buying new or used, you can reduce car ownership costs buy buying a well-engineered vehicle, but how do you know if a car will be reliable?

In this regard, the used car buyer has a distinct advantage.  The data for the model and year in question has already been compiled by Consumer Reports, AAA, Edmunds, and others.  Conversely, when it comes to a brand new car, the jury is out on how reliable it will prove to be.

When preparing to buy a used car, I recommend purchasing a one month membership to Consumer Reports. (You can easily cancel once you have made your purchase.)  They will give you the data and rating for the exact model and year you are considering.  The $7.95 that you spend will give you peace of mind and might save you thousands.

8) Buy vehicle with a low overall cost of ownership.

Again, Consumer Reports can help.  In addition to helping you calculate what you can expect in repairs, Consumer Reports can give you a complete cost-of-ownership picture regarding fuel economy, depreciation, and more.  SPOILER ALERT! Pick-up trucks are the segment with the highest cost of ownership.

9) Follow the maintenance schedule.

cheapest car ownership strategy reliability

Preventative maintenance will save you money in the long run. A forty-dollar oil change can save you a $4,000 engine rebuild.

Preventative maintenance is not mysterious.  The owner’s manual will tell you exactly what to do and when.  I would suggest that after the oil change increments, the most important mileage number to remember is 30,000.  If you buy a used car, go ahead and get the 30,000-mile service regardless of mileage shown. (You do not know how faithful the previous owners were.)  Now you can rest easy and return to your previously scheduled program.

10) Own fewer cars.

This is obvious, but many households never take the time to consider whether or not they could get buy with one less car.  Think about it, four grand a year buys a lot of Uber rides.  Furthermore, being a one-car household means less paperwork, less maintenance, less environmental impact, and less headaches generally.

11) Keep your car as long as you can.

Imagine that you are the buyer in example Y.  You have completed the five year cycle.  Your car is worth a few thousand dollars and you have a few thousand saved up in your car fund. Time to go buy a car, right?

Whoa there, Spendy McSpenderson! I congratulate you on your accomplishment, but let’s not be hasty.  Cars are lasting longer than ever and modern safety requirements were in place ten years ago.  If your ten-year-old car is still safe, comfortable, and serving your needs, why not keep it around a while longer and allow that car fund to balloon?

Every year extra that you can keep your paid-off car is pure gravy.  You have plenty of money saved (in case the car gives up the ghost) and your savings are earning interest. Furthermore your insurance costs (liability only) are minimal.

Small ways to save on car costs

12) Join a rewards program or use coupons for oil changes and regular maintenance.

Don’t just pull in to the first lube place you see when the odometer rolls over.  Take a minute to print out a coupon.  Hey, ten bucks is ten bucks.

13) Do not pay for repair insurance.

Insurance in all forms is a societal rip-off. Think about it.  If we all put our premium payments back in our pockets, the collective amount saved would be greater than the collective pay-outs.  After all, the insurance companies have to get theirs.

While we may not be able to escape the necessities of car insurance or health insurance, we do not need to add travel insurance, water heater insurance, milk spoilage insurance, or car repair insurance.  By creating your “CAR FUND,” you are creating your own car repair insurance underwriting.  When a repair comes up, take the money from your car fund, and I will be very surprised if you deny your own claim.

14) Give your car spa treatments.

Spend some quality time with your used car.  Vacuum the mats, polish the headlight lenses, spray some fa-breeze, and armor-all the console.  Not only will you make your driving more pleasant, you will also reduce depreciation.

15) Spring for neat accessories.

Use accessories to make your used feel special.  When I bought my used Subaru Forester (even though I really wanted another truck), I bought a roof rack, some cargo mats, a dog gate, and some fun odds and ends.  This made me feel as though nothing I could buy would suit my needs as well as what I had configured.

16) Drive less.

Make your car last longer and spend less on maintenance and repairs by driving less.  This can be as simple as planning your errands thoughtfully or taking the train on an upcoming trip.

17) Say goodbye to trucks.

For me, this was a tough pill to swallow.  Trucks are more expensive to register, less economical to fuel, and depreciate quickly.

18) Some maintenance you can do yourself.

When you go to Jiffy Lube et. al., they will tell you that you need a new bulb, air filter, wiper blade, etc.  Make a note of their suggestions, but do not buy the replacements there.  Instead, go to the auto parts place and buy what you need.  Anyone can change and air filter or a wiper blade.

  • Easy: wiper blades, headlight bulbs, air filter
  • Medium easy: oil change, new brake pads, new battery, tire rotation, new fuel filter
  • Not very easy: transmission rebuild, adding hydraulic lifts, installing supercharger, inventing the flux capacitor.

19) Argue with insurance companies.

Every year I drop in to my State Farm agent for a visit.  It is pleasant for no one.

I beg. I rage. I plead. I weep. I argue. I delay. I pontificate.  In the end, the agent gives me a better deal just to get me out of his sight.  Is my dignity worth two hundred dollars? The jokes on them, my dignity is worth much less.

20) Buy tires at Costco.

You can save a lot by buying your tires at Costco.  They include a road hazard warranty, free balancing, free rotating, and nitrogen filling as a benefit to buyers who retain their membership.

21) Don’t smoke.

We have already established that depreciation can be the greatest cost in car ownership.  One of the worst ways to accelerate depreciation is by smoking in your car.  One National Institute of Health study found that smoked-in cars sold for thousands less than there smoke-free comparables.

Conclusions on the cheapest car ownership strategy

You do not need to be a math genius to figure out that a brand-new car is a poor investment.  Do not allow scare tactics, erroneous claims, or fatuous vanity to sway you.  Be intelligent and independent in making the car ownership decision that makes the most sense for you.

If you need more reasons to resist putting your money into an insidious industry, check out season 1, episode three of of Adam Ruins Everything. (The full episode is available on Netflix.)  Do not fund this despicable industry more than you must.

Do you have an addition for the cheapest car ownership strategy? Are any of my calculations or estimates off-base? Did I miss something important? Please, leave a comment.

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making arrest
Photo by Elvert Barnes

If you find treasure where others see trash, take a few minutes consider trash picking laws. Are you breaking the law when scavenging, dumpster diving, curb surfing, free-cycling, or trash picking?  Maybe.  It depends on where you are picking, what you are taking, and your methods.

You are breaking no federal laws by trash picking garbage that was left in a public spaceHowever, you may be breaking local laws that exist in a some areas.  Furthermore, some locales prevent the taking of certain types of garbage (like recyclables).

When you are trash picking, it is much more likely that you will get in trouble for breaking other laws, like laws about trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, health and safety, or parking.

It is always good to know where you stand legally, so here is an explanation of trash picking laws.

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Trash picking and the law

Trash picking is legal (federally)

trash picking and federal law

If you are a trash picker or dumpster diver, you will be pleased to learn that the Supreme Court has defended your right to go through and even take other people’s trash (sort of.)

While there have been no cases about trash picking directly, there have been cases on the legal standing of garbage.  The most important case in this regard has been California v. Greenwood.  In this 1988 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the police had the right to pick through and take from trash left on public space.

In the 1984 the Laguna Beach police department picked through Billy Greenwood’s garbage to find evidence of drug trafficking which they consequently used to gain a search warrant.  After searching the home, the police found lots of marijuana and cocaine.  Greenwood’s defense argued all the way to the Supreme Court that searching his garbage violated the fourth amendment as illegal search and seizure.

The court decided that that garbage left for collection is in the public realm and loses all rights of privacy and property.

Criminals take note, this view has been upheld in subsequent cases.  Your garbage may not remain silent and may be used against you.

Local trash picking laws

trash picking laws and recycling
Is this scrapper committing a crime?

While the Greenwood case tangentially protects trash picking on a federal level, some areas have local prohibitions on trash picking.  You might think that everyone wins when something useful stays out of the landfill or recycling center, but policy makers may not share that view.

Recyclable materials may be off limits

For some municipalities, recycling means big money.  When scrappers, can collectors, or passers by take the intended recycling, the city or its contracted service loses money.  Even though the value of recyclable materials has fallen in recent years, these materials may be jealously guarded.

recyclable materials value chart

Some municipalities have ordinances that make intended recycling the property of the city.  In one extreme 2010 case, a New York City man and his aunt were each fined $2000 for taking a discarded air conditioner from the curb.

It is unlikely that law enforcement will take the time to pursue people taking recycling.  Nevertheless, if you want to obey the law, check your local laws or just skip taking recyclables all together.

Undesirable behaviors and identity thieves

trash picking local laws
Photo by raymondclarkeimages

Some locales have laws to prevent trash picking in any form. Even if the item is not recycling or protected by privacy or property laws, trash picking may be off limits.  The laws are mainly in place to prevent nuisance behaviors and identity theft.

These laws can be controversial. Nobody wants someone “salvaging” their personal documents. Furthermore, nobody wants a bunch of noise in the middle of the night, strangers hanging out on the sidewalk, or a mess to clean up.  On the other hand, it seems sinful to prevent the salvaging of serviceable items that are destined for the landfill.

Whether or not you personally feel that these trash picking laws go too far, they are on the books in many places.

Related laws that you might be breaking

Even if trash picking is technically fair game where you are, there are many other laws to consider.  People who get in trouble for trash picking are usually fined for one of the following issues.

Trespassing

trash picking and trespassing

Garbage on or in private property remains the private property of the resident or entity.  Even if you are a 90-year-old grandma grabbing cans from the garbage at the car wash, that garbage is protected by privacy and property laws.

As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, garbage in the public realm is fair game, but how do you know if the items are in the public realm?  If the garbage is by the side of the house, in a garage, behind a fence, or in a locked container, it is clear that you will be trespassing. But what about when garbage placement gets vague?

Public or private space?

We can talk about tree lawns, road verge, alleys, easements, and curbs, but the key legal term to understand here is curtilage:

“Curtilage includes the area immediately surrounding a dwelling, and it counts as part of the home for many legal purposes, including searches and many self-defense laws. When considering whether something is in a dwelling’s curtilage, courts consider four factors:

  1. The proximity of the thing to the dwelling;
  2. Whether the thing is within an enclosure surrounding the home;
  3. What the thing is used for.
  4. What steps, if any, the resident took to protect the thing from observation/ access by people passing by.”

-from The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law

Our physical spaces are complex and varied, and different cities have different rules regarding spaces like sidewalks.  When it comes to curtilage (the protected private space), both the physical space and the intentions of the owner are factors.

To avoid trespassing, simply ask yourself two questions:

  • Do I have a clear, legal right to walk there generally?
  • Are the items clearly being left for disposal?

Invasion of privacy

identity theft
Identity thieves will try anything. Photo by Gale

I have already noted that some municipalities have laws preventing all forms of garbage picking over privacy concerns.  Even if such laws are not in place, a resident or entity retains privacy rights for any garbage within the curtilage of the property.

Privacy rights and property rights go hand-in-hand when it comes to trash picking laws.  If the previous owner has placed the items in public space (beyond their legal curtilage) for intended disposal, they have no legal expectation of privacy.

People may not want you to know that they still read Boy’s Life magazine, eat six cans of spam a week, or never dust their dresser drawers, but privacy rights do not extend to garbage on the curb.

I may not like it when someone takes my picture in public, but their is nothing that I can do about it. Similarly, I may not like it when someone looks at my old furniture on curb, but I have waved my privacy rights and any expectation of privacy.

Health and Safety violations

In rare cases, trash pickers have been fined for health and safety violations.

In Birmingham, Alabama, several men were fined after collecting trash for disposal when the neighborhood trash was piling up (due to unpaid sanitation bills.)  The officials argued that the men did not have the required training or equipment for the disposal. Even though the trash had been sitting around for weeks, the officials claimed that the men were creating a health hazard.

This unusual case aside, if you are salvaging items, make sure that you are not inadvertently creating physical or biological hazards.  If you are leaving dangerous debris or potentially spreading pathogens, a fine is justified.

Littering

trash picking laws and littering

Some people think that you must take possession of an offending item before you can be guilty of littering.  Based on most littering laws, this is simply not the case.

One example (California)

“374. (a) Littering means the willful or negligent throwing, dropping, placing, depositing, or sweeping, or causing any such acts, of any waste matter on land or water in other than appropriate storage containers or areas designated for such purposes.”

Ownership or possession has nothing to do with it. If I pick up a piece of garbage in the park to read the label and then put it back where I found it, I am still littering.  If you are physically leaving, placing, or scattering garbage when seeking trashy treasures, you are littering.

Let’s say I break apart an old desk to salvage the drawers for another purpose.  If I do not properly dispose of the remaining debris, I am littering.

Disorderly conduct / disturbing the peace

There are many reasons not to pick trash in the dead of night.  One reason is that you might be breaking laws regarding disorderly conduct and/or disturbing the peace. In one extreme case, an actual garbage collector was sentenced to jail time for doing his job too early in the morning.

Disturbing the peace is a legal catch-all that is defined as “infringing upon or frustrating someone else’s right to peace and tranquility.”  As you can tell, this is a very vague definition. (My neighbor’s Dallas Cowboys flag frustrates my tranquility on a daily basis.) Laws regarding disturbing the peace and the degree their enforcement vary widely from place to place.

The most important thing to remember is to be considerate.  Make minimal noise, do not stay long, and do not leave a mess.

Loitering

Loitering laws are controversial because they generally target the less fortunate.  A poor person and a rich person can do the exact same thing with very different reactions from shop owners, police, etc.  If you are picking trash, you will not get the benefit of preference.

Some loitering laws focus on the absence of activity (hanging around) whereas other laws focus on undesirable activities. (“But officer, I do have a purpose. I am begging for money and then gambling with it.”) Most accusations of loitering are baseless as the offense is hard to prove.

Even though you may be within your rights to be where you are, why invite a hassle? The easiest way to avoid any concerns about loitering is by going about your business expeditiously.

Related link: A Guide to Legal Loitering

Illegal parking / loading

No matter how great the prospective find, do not commit moving or parking violations.  The money you were trying to save will disappear in a flurry of carbon paper and bureaucracy.  Take your time, park legally, and load responsibly.

Conclusions on trash picking laws

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  This is my understanding based on my experience and research.  You are responsible for checking your local laws.

The take-away here is that much of the time scavenging, dumpster diving, curb surfing, free-cycling, and trash picking is perfectly legal.  You must make sure that there are no local laws prohibiting your activity and that items that you are taking are in the public realm and intended for disposal.

On the other hand, you must keep other laws pertaining to trespassing, littering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, health and safety, parking, etc. in the front of your mind.  It is easy to imagine law enforcement officials using these other laws as a way to curb a legal behavior (trash picking) that has been causing complaints in the area.

For my part, I love finding cool, free stuff, and I feel that it is important to battle our society’s wasteful tendencies whenever possible.  However, I do not want to break any laws nor upset anyone in my community.  The solution is for me to get my free stuff while obeying trash picking laws and acting conscientiously.

I decided to do a deep dive on this trashy subject after writing a post on curb surfing.  If you would like to get my tips, please check out my other post:

Related post: Free Stuff on the Curb: 29 tips for scoring big

Did my post on trash picking laws help you out? Did I miss the mark? Do you want to share your experience? Please, leave a comment.

free things to do in philadelphia skyline

Whether you live in Philadelphia or plan to visit, there is a lot to see and do.  You probably have some must-do-at-any-price activities on your Philadelphia list, but round-out your excursions with some of the top free things to do in Philadelphia.

Many great free things to do in Philadelphia are seasonal (like free yoga classes at the Race Street Pierhanging out at Winterfest, or free recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music), but my list focuses on year-round offerings.

These free things to do in Philadelphia are within the city limits, so nearby attractions like the Valley Forge National Historic Park and The Scott Arboretum do not make the cut.

Location key

free things to do in philadelphia old city = Old City area

Ben Franklin Parkway = Ben Franklin Parkway area

center city Philadelphia= Center City

Top 20 Free Things to Do in Philadelphia overview

free things to do in philadelphia waterfront

  1. Independence National Historic Park
  2. Reading Terminal Market
  3. The Rocky Steps
  4. Elfreth’s Alley and Old City
  5. Macy’s Center City and the Wanamaker Organ
  6. Free First Sunday at the Barnes Foundation
  7. Philadelphia Museum of Art (pay what you wish at certain times)
  8. Institute of Contemporary Art
  9. U.S. Mint
  10. Christ Church
  11. Science History Institute
  12. Rodin Museum
  13. Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
  14. Hike Philadelphia
  15. Play tennis
  16. Free at noon concerts with WXPN
  17. Free at the Kimmel Center
  18. Tour a brewery
  19. The Mural Mile
  20. 30th Street Station

20) 30th Street Station

free things to do in philadelphia station
Photo by Dan Gaken

I am starting with an underappreciated gem.  30th street station (completed in 1933) is one of the few remaining grand stations of America’s rail system.  The Neoclassical exterior and Art Deco interior designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White are breathtaking.  The main concourse is 95 feet tall and almost 1000 feet wide.  There is some public art to view, like Karl Bitter’s sculpted panel The Spirit of Transportation.

This is a great place to sit and think about the past. The nostalgia-inspiring clicks of the Solari board will have you wondering why Lauren Bacall is running late and looking over your shoulder for the hotel detective.

19) The Mural Mile free things to do in philadelphia old citycenter city Philadelphia

free things to do in philadelphia mural mile
Photo by David Saddler

Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nations largest public art program, has helped to make a Philadelphia a must-visit destination for mural lovers.  You can pay for a tour on foot, trolley, or segway or simply print out the self-guided tour.  I suggest printing the map and reading about the works on your phone as you progress.

There are actually two mural miles to choose from (north and south), but they could be combined if you are feeling extra peppy.

18) Tour a brewery

free things to do in Philadelphia brewery

Professional brewing has been a part of Philadelphia since 1685. John Adams told his wife Abigail, “I drink no cider, but feast on Philadelphia beer.”  Before prohibition there were more than 100 breweries within the city limits.

Even if you do not drink beer, learning about the process is pretty neat.

There are many local beers to sample and many breweries to tour. (Don’t forget closed-toe shoes for brewery tours!)  You can get an excellent tour of the The Philadelphia Brewing Company for free, just check the schedule.

PBC is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, but do not be discouraged.  The Kensington neighborhood is rough around the edged but not without its charms.  If you want to stay on the beaten path, Yards Brewery has an excellent tour for $5.

17) Free at the Kimmel Center center city Philadelphia

The Kimmel Center
Photo by Timothy Vollmer

From kids programs to world music to organ demonstrations, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts does an amazing job making live music accessible.  As a bonus, they also offer free tours of the building.  (The Kimmel center is a beautiful facility including public art, a glass-and-steel barrel vault roof, and massive atrium.)

16) Free at Noon Concerts with WXPN

Public radio station WXPN plays a wide variety of new music.  Every Friday the station in partnership with World Cafe Live offers a free concert.  It is usually an up-and-coming act promoting a new album and the concert is broadcast live.  All you have to do is RSVP for your free tickets.

15) Play tennis

In a world where you pay to careen down a snow bank and need a permit to swim in the ocean, it is nice that some outdoor activities are still free.  For some reason (Arthur Ashe, perhaps?), it is easy to play outdoor tennis for free in Philadelphia, so don’t forget your paddle or whatever.

I live in the northwest region of the city, and I can tell you that the Pleasant Playground courts and the Water Tower courts are well maintained and almost never fully occupied. The website Tennis Philly can help you find a court and a partner.

14) Hike (or bike) Philadelphia

top free things to do in philadelphia hiking
Photo by TheTurducken

You probably do not think of any of the ten largest U.S. cities as a place do do some hiking, but Philadelphia should be an exception.  Philadelphia has the largest municipally managed park system in the U.S. and more park space per resident than any other major U.S. city.

This is actually many free things to do in Philadelphia, but I have selected two hikes to highlight.

Schuylkill River Trail (flat and urban) Ben Franklin Parkway

The Schuylkill River Trail is an ongoing project that will ultimately connect 130 miles of trail for recreation.  The Philadelphia section is ten miles long, but you can have a much shorter hike.

I recommend a short hike starting at the Girard Avenue trail head and heading down river.  You will be sharing the path with bikers, joggers, roller-bladers, etc. This path takes you past Kelly Drive (where Rocky jogs), boathouse row, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the historic Fairmount Water Works, and the Schuylkill Banks.

Wissahickon Valley (natural beauty)

Within the city limits is a verdant 1,800 acre gorge with 57 miles of trails.  If the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia is getting to you, the Wissahickon Valley is the remedy.  Hike, bike, ride horseback, or even fish.  The combination of geological diversity and the meandering of the Wissahickon Creek have made a wonderland.  Check out the Friends of the Wissahickon website to learn more.

Note: Philadelphia Parks and Recreation requires bikers to get a trail permit for all natural surface trails (although this stipulation is ignored by many.)  The permit is $35 for non-residents and the fine for biking without a permit is $25 (Whaaaah?).

13) Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

It should come as no surprise to Baltimorons that the six happiest years of Edgar Allen Poe’s life were spent in Philadelphia (Sick burn!).  The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is a must for any fan of Gothic literature looking for free things to do in Philadelphia. (It also happens to be near Yard’s Brewing.)

If your tastes are a bit off-beat, check out Atlas Obscura for more weird things to do in Philadelphia.

12) Rodin Museum sculpture gardens Ben Franklin Parkway

things to do in philadelphia rodin museum
Photo by Eric Dillalogue

The Rodin Museum is a gorgeous oasis on the Ben Franklin Parkway.  The 150 works of the collection span Rodin’s career.

The inside of the museum is pay-what-you-wish, but the the sculpture gardens are free to all.  Many of the most spectacular works are outside.  You are not going to find a more pleasant way to view “The Gates of Hell”.

It is a great free things to do in Philadelphia add-on as it is located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, The Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more.

11) Science History Institute Museum free things to do in philadelphia old city

The Science History Institute Museum offers “…a journey through the weird and wonderful world of matter and materials.”  The collection ranges from antiquated instruments to informative displays to fine art.  Check out their website for a list of current exhibits.

The Science History Institute Museum is not a whole-day affair. However, it is in the heart of Old City and located near Independence Hall, The Museum of the American Revolution, Elfreth’s Alley, etc.  Even if you are a not wild about science, it makes a great free things to do in Philadelphia add-on.

10) Christ Church free things to do in philadelphia old city

Christ Church Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Miller

This is a must-visit site for both history-lovers and Christians.  This is the first Episcopal Church as the sentiments of the American Revolution induced American Anglicans to reorganize its connection to the Church of England.

Attendees to Christ Church included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross.

Christ Church is open for visitors daily for free (not during services). You will have to pay a fee to visit the burial grounds or take a guided tour.

9) The U.S. Mint free things to do in philadelphia old city

I love to see how things as made.  The Philadelphia Mint is the largest coin factory in the world. The self-guided, 45-minute tour shows you how America’s first mint makes circulating coins and commemorative coins and shows how the sculptor-engravers find inspiration to apply their craft.

The self-guided tour is free, but you may have to wait in line during busy times.  Adults must present photo ID.

8) Institute of Contemporary Art

The ICA has a special place in the history of cutting-edge and controversial art.  It hosted the first museum shows of artists like Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, and Andy Warhol.  It is located on the University of Pennsylvania Campus and is free to all.  Open your mind and check out the avant garde.

7) Pay what you wish at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Ben Franklin Parkway

free things to do in philadelphia rocky steps

Admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is normally $20 and is worth every penny.  The collection is extensive and includes everything from a complete Hindu temple to Picasso to Rubens to O’Keefe to Van Gogh to a Japanese tea house to Renoir to Saint-Gaudins, to arms and armor, to Cassatt, to colonial furniture to…you get the point.

So how did the museum make it on to the list of free things to do in Philadelphia? The first Sunday of the month (10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.) and every Wednesday evening (5:00–8:45 p.m.) is pay what you wish. Do not forget to check out the museum’s events calendar as some of the events are free.

6) Pay what you wish at the Barnes Ben Franklin Parkway

The new Barnes museum created quite a controversy here in Philadelphia when it was moved to the city from Lower Merion, but you can’t argue that the new location is shabby.  The Barnes offers a world-class collection of impressionism, post-impressionism, modernist, Native American, and African works.

Do not forget to check out their calendar of events as many of the events are free to all.

5) Macy’s and the Wanamaker organ center city Philadelphia

Macy’s Center City is housed in the Wanamaker building and is a national historic landmark.  John Wanamaker was a pioneer in department store retail and built this temple of consumerism in 1877.  Check out the breathtaking spaces, the grand court organ (the largest functioning musical instrument in the world), and the bronze Wanamaker eagle. (Paid tours are available.)

4) Elfreth’s Alley and Old City free things to do in philadelphia old city

free things to do in Philadelphia Old City
Photo by Stephen Downes

One of the top free things to do in Philadelphia is simply walk around Old City. Elfreth’s Alley is the nation’s oldest continuously occupied residential street.  It is like stepping into a time warp without the bother of smallpox.

As you walk around Old City, you will see horse-drawn carriages, historical figures, and buildings like Carpenter’s Hall (site of the first Continental Congress), the First Bank of the United States, the Betsy Ross house, and the Declaration House (where Jefferson completed the most important homework assignment in U.S. history).

3) The Rocky Steps Ben Franklin Parkway

Free things to do in Philadelphia Rocky Steps
Photo by Ahd Photography (yarn bombing by Jessie Hemmons)

Climbing the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is obligatory.  You can sheepishly jog up the steps with your hat pulled down over your eyes like you are too cool for school, or you can own the moment. (Do not claim that you are just excited to see the new exhibit. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they climb the Rocky steps.)

Don’t forget to take your picture with the Rocky statue.  (If the prop-masters from Rocky III had known that this prop would have such a legacy, I think they would have tried harder.)

2) Reading Terminal Market center city Philadelphia

Reading Terminal Market Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Miller

The Reading Terminal Market is not named for the number of people who have terminally clogged their arteries here but due to the site’s former use as a terminal for the Reading Railroad.  Philadelphians have been arguing about the price of cheese in this building since 1893.

Whether you are looking for Pennsylvania Dutch confections, an amazing lunch, or the city’s best prosciutto, the Reading Terminal is the place.  Reading Terminal Market volunteers can help you find your way (look for the green aprons).

1) Independence National Historical Park free things to do in philadelphia old city

free things to do in Philadelphia Liberty Bell

If I do not put this as number one on the top free things to do in Philadelphia, I risk being tarred, feathered, and left in New Jersey.  See the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, reflect on the hypocrisy of revolution-era slavery at the President’s House Site, and take a “bellfie” with America’s most beloved piece of defective junk.

Almost everything in the park is free. (The Constitution Center and the Benjamin Franklin Museum are the exceptions).

Tips:

  • Be prepared for crowds during touristy times.
  • Stop by the visitor center to get a map and info.
  • Independence Hall gets very busy, and you need timed tickets.  Stop in to the visitor center early to get your ticket or reserve in advance. (Reserving in advance has a $1.50 fee.)
  • Be ready for security screenings.
  • Do not forget about Carpenters’ Hall (the site of the first Continental Congress).
  • The portrait gallery in the Second Bank is a must-see for art lovers.

Free things to do in Philadelphia honorable mentions

Bartram’s Garden

This is a great place for reflection, observation, rejuvenation, and recreation.  Learn about medicinal plants, native species, tidal environments, and more. Bartram’s invites you to bring a picnic, your bird-watching gear, or even your sled.

The grounds at Bartram’s Garden are free to the public all year long.  A guided tour will cost you $12.

Woodmere Art Museum

The Woodmere Art Museum, dedicated to the art and artists of Philadelphia, has free admission on Sundays. The museum often hosts fascinating photography exhibits.

The Woodmere is located in the charming and well-heeled neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, so leave time to sip lattes on Germantown Avenue.

Fireman’s Hall Museum free things to do in philadelphia old city

Philadelphia was the birthplace of America’s volunteer fire companies (the first in 1736). This renovated 1902 firehouse houses cool equipment and displays.

Laurel Hill Cemetery

According to the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery, the national historic landmark is “an outdoor sculptural garden, a horticultural gem, and a truly unique historical resource.”  You are encouraged to picnic, bike, walk your dog, sketch, visit graves of note, etc.  The cemetery hosts neat events, but they are rarely free.

Skateparks Ben Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia has a rich skating history.  Check out SkatePhilly.org if that’s your jam.

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul  Ben Franklin Parkwaycenter city Philadelphia

Visit the largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania (also the largest brownstone structure in Philadelphia) which opened its doors in 1864. Cathedral ambassadors are available to give tours, but they also offer self-guided and audio tours.

Dream Garden free things to do in philadelphia old city

Art lovers should stop in to the Curtis Building and see Maxfield Parrish’s masterpiece “Dream Garden”.  Designed by Parrish and executed by Louis Tiffany, the work is a stunning glass mosaic fifty feet wide.

Chinatown center city Philadelphia

Chinatown is a bit of a misnomer, this vibrant community is very diverse.  Check out some Asian cultures, and don’t forget the bubble tea.

First Fridays free things to do in philadelphia old city

On the first Friday (evening) of every month, Old City galleries and shops go all out.  Check out the works, people watch, and enjoy free goodies.

Well’s Fargo Museum center city Philadelphia

This is a cute little museum of Wells Fargo history stuff.  The main thing is an authentic Wells Fargo stagecoach.  It is a nice free things to do in Philadelphia Center City add-on.

Organizing your excursion

free things to do in Philadelphia Ben Franklin Parkway

Many of top free things to do in Philadelphia do not take much time (after all, they’re free).  So you will probably want to group sites geographically. Sites like Free Tours by FootGPS My City, and The Constitutional can help.

Consider an audio tour

I love using audio tours; you get all of the info and are in complete control. (The time I went to Gettysburg and couldn’t find anything that they were talking about is an exception.  Based on my visit, Picket’s Charge occurred in a 7-11.)

Finding free events

Do not forget to look for free events.  PhillyFunGuide, WXPN concert calendar (sort by price to see the free concerts), and Philly.com events calendar can point you in the right direction.

Related Post: Reducing the Costs of Fun

Conclusion on “Top 20 Free Things to do in Philadelphia”

I am not suggesting that you should limit your experiences to free attractions and events.  Some of my favorite things to see and do in Philadelphia are well worth the price of admission. On the other hand, one should not assume that free attractions are without merit.  Include free things to do in Philadelphia to round out your itinerary.

How did I do?  Did my top 20 miss the mark?  Did I forget your favorite? Leave a comment, and let me know.

money saving grocery list main image

This article is not about downloading apps, stacking coupons, timing sales, registering for rebates, or joining rewards programs.  There are tons of articles out there if you want to play these types of games.  I find such maneuvering tiresome and frustrating.  Furthermore, learning to include money-saving grocery items in your weekly shopping is a long-term solution.

Money-saving grocery list summary:

  1. Brown rice
  2. Chicken thighs
  3. Store-baked bread
  4. Popcorn (old-style)
  5. Potatoes
  6. Frozen veggies
  7. Eggs
  8. Oatmeal
  9. Tilapia fillets
  10. Fresh sausage
  11. Cabbage
  12. Pasta
  13. Bananas (and/or apples)
  14. Onions
  15. Sour cream

Why you should care about a money-saving grocery list

We are extremely fortunate when it comes to food costs.  Americans today have the cheapest food costs in the history of the world.  We spend a smaller percentage on groceries than any other nation and spend a smaller percentage than Americans in the past.

USDA chart on grocery spending
The low cost of food in America makes food insecurity even more tragic.

That being said, food costs are one aspect of your household budget where you have great control.  Your rent, transportation costs, and health-care costs may be fixed, but your grocery budget is not.  By habitually buying high-value items, you can dramatically cut the cost of groceries.

Related post: Top 7 Grocery Store Rip-offs

Money-saving item 15: Sour cream

money saving grocery items sour cream
This is a lot of sour cream for $1.99.

I don’t know why sour cream is so cheap, but it is.  My wife and I use it in soups, sauces, side-dishes, and baking. Not only is it tasty and versatile, it also has a decent shelf-life in the fridge, so don’t feel like you need to consume mass quantities.

I like to use a big tub of it to make french onion or ranch dips for football get-togethers.  Take a tub of sour cream, add some of that powdery mix stuff and a few veggies, and you are ready for kickoff.

Related link: Sour cream dip recipes

Money-saving item 14: Onions

Money-saving grocery list onions

I have one drawer in my kitchen reserved for onions, potatoes, garlic, and shallots.  I am never without onions when I am making pizza, grilled skewers, salad, breakfast skillets, tacos, etc.

You can buy onions individually, but it is much cheaper to buy the big bags.   If the bulbs come in plastic bags, make sure to remove them so that they will last longer. A big bag of onions for five bucks will last you a long time when stored properly.

Money-saving item 13: Bananas (and/or apples)

save money on groceries bananas

The photo above shows that bananas are only 49 cents a pound and only ten cents more for organic.  In the fall, apples are almost as cheap, so there is no excuse not to have some fruit included in your lunch.

Environmentally speaking, should people in New England be able to buy cheap bananas year-round? Probably not.  But there is no denying that bananas and apples are economical on a daily basis.

Money-saving item 12: Pasta

money-saving grocery list pasta

I am not trying to get you to revert to an all pasta and ramen noodle diet as you did in college, but you can include pasta in your weekly shopping without becoming a culinary low-life.

Typical dollar-a-box pastas can be very good when dressed up.  Try making your own sauce with fresh tomatoes.  Make a pesto sauce with fresh garlic and garnish with basil leaves.  Try adding some spinach, kale, or spiral-cut squash.  Make a bruschetta and spoon it over your pasta with some extra olive oil.  Do not feel like you are stuck with boiling the noodles and dumping on some Ragu.

My Favorite additions:

  • Onions
  • Pressed garlic
  • Black olives
  • A splash of red wine vinegar
  • Goat cheese
  • Edamame
  • Walnuts or almonds
  • Arugula (Careful! It’s powerful.)

Money-saving item 11: Cabbage

money-saving grocery item cabbage

Never buy store-made or commercial coleslaw.  It can be slimy and/or loaded with sugar.  Keep a cabbage in the fridge and make your own coleslaw or even sour kraut.  Stuffed cabbage leaves and boiled cabbage (New England boiled dinner) are also in my rotation.

Slaw-some weekly coleslaw

  • Rinse a cabbage and remove the outermost leaves (too tough and bitter).
  • Cut the cabbage in half, and put half back in the fridge.
  • Carve out the hard, rooty base of the cabbage.
  • Shave off slices of the cabbage with a sharp knife, cut the shavings into your desired sizes, and toss them into a large bowl.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to shave short strips of carrot into the bowl.
  • Add vinegar, mayo, salt, pepper, and other spices to taste.

What could be simpler? I like the vinegar to dominate the taste, and I avoid the sugar completely.

Money-saving item 10: Fresh sausage

money-saving grocery list sausage

Nobody thinks it is very special to have hot dogs for dinner (except me, because my wife doesn’t allow them in the house.)  Grilling up some fresh Italian sausage, on the other hand, makes a great dinner.

Meat is expensive.  It should be expensive (because we eat too much of it and it has a huge environmental impact).  However, when you want meat, some well-made sausage can be almost as satisfying as a thick steak.

Money-saving item 9: Tilapia fillets

money-saving grocery list tilapia

I am determined to eat more fish, but I am not very good at cooking it, and it can be pretty pricey.  In addition, there are always concerns about freshness and whether or not it was harvested responsibly.

I like to eat tilapia fillets because they are cheap, tasty, healthy, and farm-raised.  I typically buy a bag of them to keep in the freezer.  They are pretty thin, so they can thaw out between the time I get home from work and when I am ready to make dinner.  I usually use an egg-wash and some seasoned bread crumbs before baking or frying them up.

Money-saving item 8: Oatmeal

cheap groceries oatmeal
This is a lot of breakfasts for $2.79.

I will admit that I do not want to eat oatmeal porridge every day for breakfast, but it really hits the spot on a cold, winter morning.  Adding some dried fruit, yogurt, or nuts makes for a big improvement.

Money-saving item 7: Eggs

money-saving grocery list egg price chart

Even though the price of eggs has spiked recently as compared to many other food staples (up about 20%), eggs still represent a very inexpensive source of nutritious protein.  They are so cheap you can even upgrade to free-range or organic.

It is easy and delicious to include more eggs in your meals. Even on busy weekday mornings I still have the time to poach eggs in the microwave. (It only takes about a minute.)  Hard-boiled eggs are great with lunch.  Have a fancy chef’s salad as an easy and satisfying dinner.

Related link: Poaching eggs in the microwave

I even put eggs on pizza.  Crack the eggs right on to a pizza when it is about 6 or 8 minutes from being completely baked.  Eggs on pizza go great with feta cheese, bacon, Kalamata olives, spinach, hot sauce, and lots of other goodies.

Medical science has largely redeemed the beloved egg.  The cholesterol in eggs does not go straight into your system as previously thought; it is digested in your stomach.  In fact, it looks like eggs raise good cholesterol more than bad cholesterol.  Eggs are very nutritious, and some recent studies indicate that even eating an egg every day does not increase the risk of heart disease.

Related Link: “Is It Really OK to Eat Eggs Every Day?” from Health.com

Money-saving item 6: Frozen veggies

money-saving grocery list frozen veggies

There is no substitute for fresh, local veggies, but frozen veggies come pretty close.  While canned vegetables are economical, they can have a stale, weird taste.  Frozen veggies taste great and can hide in the back of the freezer for a long time just waiting to help out when all you have planned is kielbasa.  (Don’t just eat a whole kielbasa for dinner; you will not feel good about it.)

When it is my turn to make dinner, I typically try to put a protein, a starch, and some veggies on a plate together. (What can I say? I’m boring.) Frozen veggies fill out the plate cheaply and easily.  I would love to meet the person who invented “steam in the bag” and buy them a drink.

Money-saving item 5: Potatoes

money-saving grocery list potatoes

Maybe it is written into my Irish DNA, but I love potatoes.  I love them at breakfast (e.g. home-fries), lunch (e.g. potato salad) and dinner (e.g. potatoes au gratin).  They are as cheap as they are versatile.  I have even been known to give potatoes top-billing at dinner time with my epic baked potato bars. (Don’t forget the sour cream).

Caper crusader potato salad

  • Cube several potatoes (to the size you like in your potato salad).
  • Boil the cubes to medium-softness.
  • Drain the water and let the potatoes cool in the fridge for a while.
  • Put the cooled potatoes in a large mixing bowl and add the following to suite your taste:
    • mayonnaise
    • apple-cider vinegar (just a bit)
    • capers
    • salt and pepper
    • chopped red onion

Money-saving item 4: Popcorn (old-style)

money-saving grocery list popcorn
This two-pound bag of popcorn goes a long way at $1.79.

Snack foods are typically very expensive by weight.  Old-style popcorn is easy, cheap, and healthier than most other snacks.

Making old-style popcorn is superior than microwave or pre-popped in almost every way. Once you go old-style, you will never go back. It is so easy, and you don’t need a special popper.

  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with corn oil.  (I like to add the salt to the oil so it is dispersed evenly on the popcorn.)
  2. Pour the kernels into the pot.  Add enough so that you have a single, even layer across the bottom; every kernel should be touching the oil.
  3. Put on the cover and give the pot medium heat.  The popping action will automatically stir the corn and prevent scorching.
  4. When popping slows, turn off the heat.
  5. Once popping has stopped, stir the popcorn so that the popcorn touching the metal doesn’t burn.
  6. Add flavor. (My go-to addition is a bit of onion powder.)

Money-saving item 3: Store-baked bread

money-saving grocery list store bread

If you have ever tried to bake French or Italian-style bread at home, you know what a great bargain store-baked bread is.  The quality is often excellent, and the store is saving you hours of effort for a buck or two.

A fresh loaf of bread makes any meal a special feast – even it is just some massive hoagies.

Money-saving item 2: Chicken thighs (or drumsticks)

cheap chicken dinner
This is my go-to weeknight chicken dinner.

Our society is fascinated with breasts.  (Have you ever heard a commercial for a chicken sandwich that wasn’t bragging about their breasts?)  Since chicken breasts and white meat are so desirable, chicken thighs (and drumsticks) are a great bargain.

Dark meat is flavorful, juicy, and hard to over-cook.  I often buy chicken thighs (with skin and bones) for 99 cents a pound.  (How is this possible?)  I usually remove the skin of a large family pack of chicken thighs and put much of the meat in the freezer.

Weeknight chicken dinner (as shown)

  • Remove the skin (leave the bones) and put the chicken thighs in a large, oiled pot.
  • Add 3/4 cup or so of your favorite marinade. (For the meal in the image I used Lowry’s Sesame Ginger marinade.)
  • Cover and put on medium heat
  • Remove the cover occasionally to release steam and stir the chicken.
  • It is hard to over-cook dark meat, but you can check with a thermometer if you wish (165 degrees is cooked for chicken).

Money-saving item 1: Brown rice

money-saving grocery list brown rice

I do not want to hear anyone complaining about the cost of groceries if they do not have a huge bag of rice in their cart.  In some cultures, everyone (not just the lower class) have rice with every dinner.

Whole-grain brown rice is incredibly healthy because it retains the grain’s fiber and endosperm (where the nutrients are).  The enriching process (as in flour) removes these nutrients because it makes the product more shelf-stable.  The bacteria does not have what it needs to flourish (but neither do you).

Because the nutrients are intact, whole-grain brown rice is less shelf-stable.  It is more difficult to find large bags, and you may not want a large bag anyway as it is more likely to spoil if you do not consume it quickly enough.  Never fear, a five-pound bag will cost you about three dollars and last a long time.

Related link: Health benefits of brown rice

Money-saving grocery list conclusions

Spending money on groceries is almost always cheaper than eating out. Further, once you are used to money-saving grocery list, you can probably justify getting some fancy steaks, seafood, cheeses, etc. (I am making myself hungry.)

On the day that I took some of these photos, I happened to be shopping at Wegman’s in Montgomeryville, PA.  That fact is unimportant, as I tend to rotate between different grocery stores.  These items are good deals regardless of where you are shopping.

You probably noticed that big bags of frozen burritos, take and bake pizzas, and the like are not on the list.  Not only are processed or prepared foods unhealthy, they are more expensive.

There is nothing revolutionary about this list.  Your grandmother knew that these items were a good value and so do you.  It is likely that these items will continue to be affordable for the foreseeable future.