18 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget
It’s Friday night, and all your friends are going out to dinner, but once again, you’ve had to decline because rent is due soon, or because payday isn’t until next week. Whatever your reasons, it’s indisputable that being on a tight budget can be a real burden on your life. Living on a low income or trying to get by paycheck to paycheck can make you feel like you’ll never get ahead, but with a few tweaks to your spending habits and financial attitude, you could not only be making ends meet, but also saving as well. Here are 18 ways for you to start saving some money even when you’re on a tight budget.
- Create a Savings Goal – Are you looking to go on vacation next summer, pay off your credit card debt, or set aside an emergency fund? Decide how much you need to save, and then start doing it, even if it’s just a few dollars here and there. Whatever you’re saving for, you’ll find that you have more energy and motivation to put aside money when you have a specific goal in mind. Don’t be afraid to use visual aids, either, like spreadsheets, graphs, or apps like Mint or Qapital. The more you can see your goal, and track your progress, the easier it will be to save.
- Track Your Expenses, and Create a Budget – Using an app like Mint, Spendee, or YNAB (You Need a Budget), or even a simple spreadsheet or notebook, keep track of your spending for at least a month. Record every penny you spend on rent, bills, groceries, coffee, going out, and shopping, and at the end of the month, look at your totals and decide where you can afford to trim them down. Create categories of spending and set budgets for each one, and then use the apps or your other chosen tracking method to help you stick to those budgets.
- Shop Smarter – Keep an eye on your fridge this week. Are you throwing away wilted vegetables or moldy leftovers? If so, you’re probably buying too much food when you shop. Before your next trip to the grocery store, sit down and plan out what you want to eat that week. Look at blogs and foodie Instagram accounts for inspiration if you have trouble coming up with ideas, and make a detailed list of what you’re going to buy. Meal planning and shopping with a list will help you eliminate impulse spending, and will cut back on the amount of food (and money!) that you waste as a result. You should also make sure never to shop while hungry, and keep an eye on prices where you shop, which could mean shopping seasonal for the best deals on produce, or even making the rounds at a few local supermarkets to take advantage of the best unit prices on the items you need. Apps like Ibotta, which offer rebates on grocery store items, can help you get some cash back on some of the items you buy, but only if you stick to your list and don’t fall prey to more impulse spending.
- Freeze Your Credit Cards – When you’re on a tight budget, credit cards and the “I’ll pay it off later” mentality can feel like a blessing, but what you’re actually doing is potentially creating a vicious monthly cycle of financial distress when it comes time to pay that bill. Your Visa or Mastercard might help you out of a bind before your next paycheck comes in, but unless you’re capable of paying off the full balance each month, it’s not helping you in the long run. If you find that you’re treating your credit cards as free money, and those bills are slowly piling up, it might be time to put a literal freeze on your credit spending. Freeze about an inch of water in a small container, and place your credit cards on top. Then add more water and put it back in the freezer. Your cards will be safe, out of sight, and accessible if you really need them, but not without a long thawing period first, which is sometimes all it takes to make you decide whether you really need to use them.
- Entertain at Home Instead of Going Out – Buying a pint of craft beer at a bar can sometimes cost the same as buying a six pack of that same beer at the store, and a few appetizers and an entrée at a restaurant can quickly add up to be more than your weekly grocery bill. Circumvent these costs by inviting your friends over to your place for a potluck-style dinner, or grab a bottle of tequila from the liquor store for margarita night instead of going out to the bars. You can rotate hosting and share costs among your friends for social outings that are just as much fun for a fraction of the price.
- Shop Around for Utilities – Just because you’ve been using the same insurance provider for years doesn’t mean you owe them your loyalty. Search for quotes and promotions on auto and home insurance, internet, phone service, cable or satellite tv, and other utilities to see if you could be paying less. Sometimes if you call the company you use now and tell them you’re thinking of switching to another provider, they might even be able to lower your bill for you. You can also get creative with some of your bills, like for television: consider canceling your cable package and relying solely on your Netflix or Hulu accounts to get your tv fix. If you have a roommate or live with others, you can split the costs of these streaming services, but even if you don’t, it could end up being a lot cheaper than what you’re paying now.
- Save Your Pennies – Find a big jar, box, or other container. At the end of each day or week, empty out your wallet, and drop any loose change into the jar. Saving in such small increments rarely feels like a sacrifice, but that change will add up faster than you think. For even more results, commit to putting all your $1 or $5 bills into the jar at the end of each day or week. You’ll barely notice that it’s gone, but after months of saving when you finally break into that stash, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve saved. If you don’t use cash that often, there are several apps on the market that will do this for you. Digit connects to your checking account and saves a small amount of money for you every few days in little increments like $3.12, or $1.58. The money goes into an FDIC savings account that you can withdraw from at any time. Qapital is a similar app which rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, and saving those spare cents for you. Acorns does the same thing as Qapital, but instead of putting the money into a savings account, it invests your money so that it has the potential to grow.
- Become a Mystery Shopper – If you don’t have money to go out and grab dinner with your friends, or take your significant other out for date night, then find a way to get paid to go out. Secret Shopper companies like MarketForce and TrendSource will reimburse your costs and/or pay you to go to breweries, restaurants, and even movie theaters in exchange for detailed reviews about the venue, customer service, or quality of the food. You might be asked to buy something specific, like a burger or a flight of beers, for example, and the survey you fill out will require you to report back on whether the bartender made any recommendations, or whether the cashier asked you if you’d like to add a side order of French fries. It’s a quick process, and an easy way to get out and have some fun even when your bank account has you on a short leash.
- Switch to Cash – A lot of people treat credit and debit cards like free money, even if they don’t realize they’re doing so. Swiping a card is the same whether you’re paying $5 or $500, but the act of counting out and forking over some of your hard earned cash makes a transaction feel a lot more real. Budget and withdraw some spending money from an ATM each week (make sure to use an ATM from your bank, or one that won’t charge you extra fees), and use that for your day to day purchases. The mental shift of using real money instead of a plastic card will help you keep a closer eye on your spending and hopefully allow you to budget wisely, avoid overspending, and use your best judgment when it comes to purchases.
- Stop Using Disposable Goods – This one’s not just good for your budget, it’s also good for the environment. Bring your travel mug to Starbucks and get a ten cent discount on your morning coffee (it will add up, I promise). Rip up an old t-shirt for a reusable cleaning rag, and suddenly you won’t need to buy so many paper towels. Disposable goods waste both money and resources, and cutting back will help to save both.
- Resist the Urge to Buy Cheap Things Just Because They’re Cheap – Look, I know all too well the irresistible feeling of finding a cute shirt on sale for only $5. I know the feeling of satisfaction when you take it home and wear it for the first time, like you’ve somehow cheated the shopkeeper in getting your amazing deal. But unless you were on a mission for a specific piece for your wardrobe, chances are, you didn’t need that shirt. Sure, it feels nice to have new things, but you have other shirts, and it’s important to recognize when a purchase is and is not necessary. After all, that $5 could have been put toward your rent next month, or toward the vacation you’re planning over the summer. Even cheap purchases can add up really quickly, so keep them to a minimum as much as possible.
- Organize a Swap – When the need for something new becomes too much to handle, call your friends and put together a swap instead of heading to the shops. Have everyone collect clothes, books, games, and other goods that they don’t use or don’t want anymore, and bring them together in one place. Spend an afternoon picking out new things from your friends’ old ones, and letting them do the same with yours. Browse through books and kitchenware, try on clothes, and to make a really fun occasion out of it, have everyone bring snacks, drinks, and/or music. You and your friends will all go home with some new-to-you stuff, and at no cost to any of you.
- Bring Lunch to Work – There’s nothing that will drain a tight budget quite like going out to eat. Even if your daily lunch break only costs you $10 per meal, that’s $50 a week, and more than $200 a month. So while the occasional lunch with your coworkers at a nearby restaurant is perfectly fine, make sure that you limit how often you go. Instead, bring your lunch to work each day, and if you’re feeling left out because of it, then encourage your coworkers to do the same. You could even organize a potluck at work, which will provide both a fun, social setting and a huge variety of delicious food for everyone, at a fraction of the cost that comes from eating out.
- Go to the Library – Did you know that your local library has not only books, but also movies, newspaper subscriptions, music, and other resources? If you don’t have a library card, it’s a great (and free!) way to be part of your community and gain access to a ton of entertainment options. If you use an e-reader, most libraries even have a massive selection of eBooks that you can borrow without ever leaving the comfort of your home.
- Unsubscribe – Automatic payments can be a sneaky and devastating influence on a strict budget. If you haven’t used a service in awhile, cancel it. You can always re-subscribe later when you have more money or want to start using it again.
- Use the 24 Hour Rule – Thinking of buying a new couch, or ordering a new pair of running shoes online? Before you head for the shops, or click ‘checkout’ on your web browser, give it some time. 24 hours, to be exact. Studies have shown that giving yourself a day to think about potential purchases will help you make better judgment calls when it comes to spending money. Those 24 hours will give you time to think about whether you actually need or can afford the product, or if there’s another solution. The 24 Hour Rule is amazing for people who are prone to impulse spending, and should be used before any major purchases no matter what your bank account balance looks like.
- Treat Savings as a Priority – When you create your budget, figure out how much you’re looking to save every week, month, or pay period. When that next paycheck comes in, treat it as a bill, and pay it first, because if you don’t, it’s all too easy to reallocate that money to another area. If you make saving a priority, and set realistic goals based on your income and spending, then you shouldn’t have a problem making the rest of your ends meet, but if you treat saving as something you can only do as a luxury, then it will most likely fall to the wayside.
- Tackle Your Debt – Loans, mortgage payments, credit cards, and other kinds of debt can be a real burden on your financial stability. If you’re struggling to make payments, first and foremost, talk to your bank. Set up a meeting or make a phone call, and explain the situation. They may be able to help you by deferring or lowering your payments. If you have student loans, see if you qualify for an income based repayment plan, and if your credit card interest rate is killing you, look into a balance transfer to one of your other cards, which often offer competitive promotions with periods of no interest.