Saving money can be challenging, especially when sustaining your way of life requires most of your monthly paycheck. Nothing is more frustrating than working hard to never splurge and not spend a dime you don’t have to and still not have enough left over to put anything back.
Oftentimes, our fixed expenses are to blame. When we combine the cost of our monthly musts, we’re often faced with our biggest bill. And reducing those costs is not easy. Yes, you could pack up and move if your rent is too high or live by candlelight and never turn on the lights again, but there are less extreme measures you can take to start saving money within the confines of your mandatory bills.
While there’s no way to go from scraping by to saving big overnight, there are small things you can do to scale back that will gradually make a big difference. In other words, a little bit truly does go a long way, as long as you’re willing to do the work. Here are some small, but effective ways you can start saving money when your paycheck is already spread thin.
Set Your Money Goals
Before you can realistically meet your money goals, you need to be clear about what it will take to achieve them. That’s why one of the most essential steps for saving money should also be the first. In other words, it’s time to build your budget.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the most helpful budgeting methods out there. There are also tons of easy-to-navigate budgeting apps to simplify the process and help you keep track of your spending with ease. But your money goals can’t just be about staying on top of your finances day-to-day. Otherwise, what will you have to look forward to?
Sometimes, the easiest way to commit to saving money is to give yourself incentives. If you are working towards something you want, you’ll muster up more motivation to save than if you’re just endlessly paying mandatory bills with no end in sight.
Time Your Purchases
Certain expenses can’t be timed, especially the unavoidable ones that pop up suddenly. That’s why it’s crucial to start building your emergency fund. But when it comes to discretionary purchases, you can save money by timing your purchases. For instance, knowing when you can get the best deals can result in major savings.
Check out this helpful overview of the best time to buy everything, compliments of U.S. News.
Take Advantage of Free Stuff
Seriously cutting back on spending is one way to save money, but that doesn’t mean you should turn your back on fun as you know it. There are tons of ways to find free stuff and have the same fun as you would shopping, minus the expense.
For example, look into “buy nothing groups” on social media platforms and Nextdoor. That way, before you spend money on a new coffee table, you can have first dibs on the perfectly suitable one your neighbor is trying to get rid of. And let’s not forget about birthday freebies. Tons of websites, services, and even establishments give out free stuff to those celebrating their special day. So don’t miss out when your birthday rolls around. Cash in.
Furthermore, never underestimate the power of barter exchange. Swapping goods or services with someone else can help you stick to your budget, help someone else, and get the thrill of something new without spending money on it. There’s also no time like the present to go on the hunt for free or cheap entertainment with your budget in mind. Go to a museum on its free admission day. Go thrift shopping. Read a book or listen to music. Sometimes, the most valuable time we spend with ourselves doesn’t cost a thing.
Deal With Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt is one of the biggest things holding Americans back from saving money. And the sooner you pay it off, the easier it will be to prioritize your money goals without mounting debt in the way. The trick is finding the strategy that works for you, and there are plenty to choose from.
Here are a few worth looking into:
- The debt snowball method allows you to focus on your smallest balances first.
- The debt avalanche method is designed to tackle the biggest interests rates and work your way down.
- The snowflake method involves micropayments and is best when paired with the methods mentioned above.
- For those looking to lower interest rates, a debt consolidation loan allows you to merge all debts into a single payment.
Lower Student Loan Payments
Struggling to pay off student loans? You’re certainly not alone. Student loan debt is officially in the trillions and only going up. But don’t let that statistic get you down. There are tons of ways to pay down your debt that you might be overlooking.
If you’re struggling with student loan debt, talk to your servicers about various forms of payment plans. If you’re paying on federal loans, look into an income-driven repayment plan. You’ll be able to stretch out your payments for up to 20 years and secure an amount that fits into your budget, as it stands. If you have private loans, lower repayment plans should still be an option. But you’ll need to do your research first. And don’t delay.
Start Meal Prepping
Plain and simple, it’s cheaper to stay in than it is to go out. You don’t have to fully do away with dining out, but smart grocery shopping will be better for your budget. We all know the rule about not shopping while we’re hungry. But it’s also a good strategy to make a list with weekly meal prepping in mind and then sticking to it.
Meal prepping will eliminate overspending on meals, but it may also become boring after a while. The silver lining will be that when you do decide to mix things up or dine out, it’ll feel like much more of a treat than if you were going out to eat a little too often. Set a reasonable and manageable goal when you start. Try to do daily meal prep for breakfast and lunch, but only two or three nights a week.
Push For More Money at Work
Asking for a raise and/or negotiating a higher salary are invaluable steps for bettering your financial situation. And while it might be uncomfortable, it’s up to you to take the initiative to be compensated for your true worth and hard work. However, there are things you can do beyond asking for more money to get more out of your employer.
In other words, make sure you’re not missing out on free money. For instance, many employers will match whatever you’re putting into your 401k. Also, those with HSA’s often have the option of matching contributions too.
Read More: How to Ask For a Raise 101
If You Do Get a Raise, Don’t Spend it
Any extra money should turn into money saved, not money spent. If you get a raise, it can be dangerous to view it as having more money to play with. This common misconception is sometimes called lifestyle inflation. And buying into it can severely put a dent in your plans to save.
In the long run, you’ll get more out of taking that pay bump and putting it directly into your savings account. Budget in your pay increases before you’ve received them. This way, you can make the conscious decision to put some of it away with the future in mind.
Cancel Automated Subscriptions
At one time or another, we’ve all subscribed to something we really didn’t need. Over time, many of those things proved themselves non-essential. And if it won’t be missed, you’re likely better of unsubscribing. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how many things we have automated payments set up for.
In part, that’s because it’s so easy to set up automated payments without many, or any, hoops to jump through. It can be a lot harder to find the button that allows us to cancel, but it’ll prove worth the hunt to find it. Look to your spam for answers as well. Some of those long-forgotten subscriptions might be hiding in overlooked places.
Manage Your Tax Refund Wisely
One of the most constructive things you can do with your tax refund is figuring out constructive ways to save and spend it. Make a plan that will have long-term benefits. Here are a few savings-oriented options to consider:
- Put half of it into your emergency fund.
- Pay off (or pay down) your highest-interest credit card bill.
- Make an extra payment on one of your recurring bills to get ahead.
- Contribute all of it to your retirement fund.
- Start building your travel fund.
Read More: Smart Things To Do With Your Tax Refund
Try a Few “No-Spend” Challenges
If saving money was as simple as choosing not to needlessly spend it ever again, we’d all be rich by now. But it takes more discipline than that. That’s why committing yourself to a no-spend challenge can be useful. By deciding not to spend money over a certain period of time, you can reign in your spending with a decided limit to respond to.
Doing challenges like this repeatedly can help you build up your saving stamina. And you can mix it up in various ways to meet micro-goals.
Earn Extra Income
Sometimes, saving money just isn’t possible on our budget. There’s no way around certain fixed costs, recurring bills, and emergency expenses that take a chunk out of all of it. And if you can’t seem to save with any budgeting strategy under the sun, it might be time to earn extra money.
Switching jobs or getting promoted may not be realistic. But finding a side hustle is always possible. You just need to start looking. Even if your schedule is slammed, there are plenty of low-maintenance gigs that require little time and allow the freedom of working from home, like selling and reselling items online.
Treat Yourself (in Small Ways)
A healthy budget should have some wiggle room. Therefore, any good savings plan has some built-in flexibility. Saving money shouldn’t feel like a punishment with all work and no play. It’s also more difficult to save money when you’re too strict on yourself. So budget in shopping for non-essentials, just be sure to do so with saving money in mind. If you keep it small and financially smart, you’ll be able to treat yourself consistently.
Talk to Other People About Money
A little support can go a long way. That’s why telling others you’re saving money might actually help you save it. Not only will it help with accountability, but it’ll also alert those you normally spend money with that you won’t be joining them, especially when the outing or event is expensive.
Talking to others might be useful in another big way too; you’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. We’re all struggling in our own ways to save more money. Friends, family, and colleagues are some of our best resources for saving tips, lessons, and words of encouragement, so be open to money discussions.