10 Tips for Saving Money on a Tight Budget
When muscles are tight, you have to work on making them more flexible. When money is tight, flexibility once again plays a key role in helping you find ways to free up funds or earn more income. Especially given that habitual behavior and rigid thinking may have played a role in helping to create your current financial picture.
Here are ten simple tips to help you become more flexible in your approach to saving money. They may stretch you out of your comfort zone, but don’t worry—none of them are too painful.
1. Make a Budget
You’ve undoubtedly come across this suggestion before, and for good reason. If you don’t know what you’re actually spending your money on, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to identify areas in which you might be able to save money. So sit down and spend a few minutes actually writing down how much money you bring in and how much you spend to get a clearer financial picture.
Not sure how to go about making a budget? Check out this five-step process.
2. Cancel Memberships & Subscriptions You Don’t Use or Need
While it may make you feel better about yourself to have a gym membership, if you’re not actually using that membership, it’s nothing more than a weight on your finances. A weight that desperately needs to be lifted, unlike the weights at the gym you haven’t touched in months. Cancel that monthly drain and rattle off some push-ups in your living room instead. Or go for a nice long jog in the park for free.
The same goes for subscriptions or services you’re not using…or using too much. If you’re paying for three or four streaming services, you’re spending good money on a lot of content you’re probably never, ever going to view. If you are viewing it all, then you’re probably spending way too much time in front of your TV…or computer…or smartphone. Cancel any of the unnecessary services, get off the sofa, and go for that free jog in the park instead.
3. Dine and Drink Out Smarter
Eating in versus eating out is an obvious way to save money, so we’re going to do a deeper dive, assuming that you are eventually going to dine out. But there are ways to eat out cheaper. For example, many restaurants, even some of the fancy ones, advertise coupons, both printed and online. Chances are those coupons won’t be valid for Friday or Saturday nights, but why not make date night during the week instead and save a few bucks?
The markup on alcohol at restaurant and bars is typically pretty substantial, so another way to save a few bucks while eating out is to either skip drinks altogether or, instead of having a $12 glass of wine at the restaurant before your meal, enjoy that same vintage at home for a third of the price before heading out. Better yet, if you’re driving, enjoy it after you get home from your dinner to stay alert and unimpaired behind the wheel.
4. Stop Following Social Media Influencers & Unsubscribe from Promotional Emails
You may not think you’re susceptible to the power of suggestion, but social media influencers earned their moniker because they’re skilled at inspiring people to take action—typically in the form of buying things they don’t necessarily need. Why put yourself in temptation’s way? Un-follow them so you don’t find yourself inexplicably ordering the $45 bottle of shampoo they promote when the $7 bottle in your shower cleans your hair just fine.
And those promotional emails you signed up for because you got an additional ten percent off your first purchase with the companies sending them weren’t written and designed by amateurs. They are meticulously crafted sales pieces by marketing professionals who know how to tempt you into buying their products. Unsubscribe and eliminate the possibility of being enticed by their Labor Day sale. If you don’t know about a sale or special offer, you can’t indulge by spending money you should probably be saving.
5. Modify Your Grocery Shopping Habits
If you fail to prepare for a trip to the grocery store, you may be preparing to fail—by spending more money than you need to. Hit the store with a list and a plan and stick to it.
The person in front of you with a stack of clipped coupons in their hand may take longer to get through the checkout line, but they understand that the extra minute or two spent scanning coupons every time they shop could save them significant money over the course of a year. If your grocery store has a price-matching policy, you don’t need to bother clipping coupons—just bring in a flyer showing the competing store’s price and get that price without having to go back and forth between stores. If you have a large or large-ish family, buying in bulk could also stretch your grocery dollars.
It’s an old rule of thumb, but don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. That hunger in your belly may influence you to purchase things you really don’t need, sort of like having a social media influencer in your gut. Also, go with generic or store brands whenever you can. It’ll save you a few bucks, and can you really tell a difference in taste or quality between store-brand canned corn and name-brand corn? Even if you can, ask yourself if it’s worth the premium you’re going to pay.
Finally, every human being needs water, but we don’t all need bottled water. If the water coming out of your tap is drinkable, you could save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a year by eliminating bottled water, which can be nearly 2,000 times the cost of tap water. Plus, you won’t be contributing as much to plastic waste, which has reached alarming levels on our planet.
Don’t like the taste of your tap water? Consider a water filtration system of some sort, which is still typically a cheaper alternative than buying bottled water. Eliminating bottled water from your grocery list should save you money—and it’ll certainly make loading and unloading your car easier!
6. Switch to a Lower-Cost Car Insurance Provider
Complacency can cost you money. And most of us are pretty complacent about maintaining the status quo with our current auto insurance provider rather than shopping around regularly for better rates. Which is hard to believe, given we’re bombarded with television and online ads informing us we may be able to save X% by getting an auto insurance price quote in only a few minutes!
So make a point of taking a few minutes to get quotes from other insurance providers to see if you can actually save the hundreds of dollars per year some of these companies are promising. You may find it wasn’t all hyperbole; that they really do offer more competitive rates.
7. Bring in Extra Money with a Side Hustle
Cutting costs is only one way to save money. Bringing in more money is the other. If you possess a certain set of skills that can be monetized (legally), consider doing so by making it your side hustle. Whether it’s doing handyman repairs, taking wedding photos, party planning, dog walking—whatever you’re good at—if there’s someone out there willing to pay for your service, you may be able to turn it into another source of income.
If you can find a way to turn a hobby into a paying gig, that’s even better, because now you’re being paid to do something you truly enjoy and would otherwise do for free. So if you think you can sell your oil paintings or the funky jewelry you make that all your friends love, why not give it a shot? All you really have to lose is your amateur status.
If what you’re good at is accumulating stuff that other people might buy, then consider selling some of that stuff to bring in extra cash. Do it online or have a yard sale. You may bring in some cash and clear out some space in your storage locker in one fell swoop. And, if you go the yard sale route, you’re almost guaranteed to meet some “interesting” people who seem way more into yard sales and haggling over a nickel or two than you ever thought possible.
8. Purchase Less-Expensive Gas
With the average household cost of gas per month being $250, fuel expenses can eat up a budget quickly. Don’t burn fuel searching for cheaper fuel—that’s counterproductive—but make a mental note when you’re driving around about where the stations with the cheapest gas are located and try to frequent those stations when it’s fill-up time.
Depending on the gas station, you may get a per-gallon discount for using cash over credit. Or, if you have a gas card that earns you a discount, or a credit card that earns you cash back rewards on gasoline purchases, using one of those to buy your gas could save you money.
Finally, unless you’re driving a very specific make and model of vehicle that requires it, chances are your vehicle does not need premium gasoline to run optimally. So, if you’re filling up your vehicle with premium because you think the engine needs it or will perform better, you could be spending an extra 20 - 40 cents per gallon you don’t need to. Check your owner’s manual to verify the octane requirements for your vehicle.
9. Take a Stab at Fixing Things or Doing Maintenance Yourself
That toilet that started making a whistling noise after you flush it? You may not need a plumber to silence it. A trip to your local home-improvement store and a couple of YouTube how-to videos could have you replacing the fill valve for around $15 instead of a $200 plumber house call. Yes, it’s possible you could mess up the job and still need to call a plumber, but even in this worst-case scenario, you’ll only be out an extra $15. But you may end up learning a new skill, gaining confidence, and becoming enthusiastic about trying your hand at other household repairs.
The same applies to certain maintenance tasks, including those to your car. Modern automobiles are highly computerized, making doing repairs yourself a challenge, but the processes for simpler tasks, such as changing the oil or replacing the air filter, haven’t changed that much. If you change your oil three times a year and have several vehicles, that could add up to hundreds of dollars in savings every year—especially if you’ve been taking your rides to a dealership for oil changes.
10. Borrow Instead of Buy Whenever You Can
Need an oil filter wrench to change your oil because you’re determined to save money on routine car maintenance? Rather than purchase one from the auto supply store, ask your handy next-door neighbor if you can borrow his. Did you decide to clean your own gutters but you don’t own a ladder high enough to get to them? Rather than spend $300 or more on a 30-foot ladder, again, see if you can borrow one from a neighbor.
If you can’t, or none of your neighbors has the tool you need, such as a ladder, consider renting instead of purchasing one. Sticking with our ladder example, for around a tenth of the cost of owning a ladder, you can still get the job done. And you’d have to clean your gutters 10 times before purchasing a ladder became a better economic decision than renting one.
Simple, minor changes here and there can free up funds and put you on the road to becoming a better saver. Once you start to build momentum, you can begin tackling harder money-saving strategies, like paying down your debt. But first, concentrate on the easy stuff.
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