Table of Contents
Table of Contents
It can be challenging to start saving money if your monthly income isn't much more than your monthly expenses.
If you're wondering how to save money, the key is having a plan and following through. You can help to get yourself on the path toward saving more with these strategies.
- Create a Budget: Track your income and expenses to understand your financial standing and identify areas where you can cut expenses and save more.
- Build an Emergency Fund: Save at least six months' worth of your salary to cover unexpected expenses like job loss, medical bills, or car repairs.
- Pay Down Credit Card Debt: Paying more than the minimum amount on your credit cards can help you save on interest and free up money for saving.
- Utilize Coupons: Take advantage of digital coupon options offered by grocery stores or browser plug-ins to save money on your purchases.
- Plan Meals Ahead: By planning meals in advance, you can reduce food costs and resist the temptation of eating out.
1. Create a Budget to See Where You Stand
It's hard to know where you stand financially if you don't know what you're making and spending each month. Creating a budget can help you get a complete picture of your finances, making it easier to see where you might be able to cut expenses and squeeze more into your savings.
Start by creating a spreadsheet. Google Sheets is free to use, or if you prefer to use an app, there are several good free options available. From there, look at your expenses and list them in the order of priority. Pay your living expenses first and make sure you're covering at least the minimum on debt payments. Then look at your spending habits — which includes going out to eat and clothes — and see what other unnecessary expenses you might be able to cut.
2. Start an Emergency Fund
If you're on a tight budget and slowly building your savings, the last thing you want is to have to dip into what you've set aside because of an unexpected expense. In order to keep what you've saved for the long term, consider building up an emergency fund. It's a common best practice to save at least six months of your salary or more to cover the cost of an unexpected job loss, medical bills, car repairs or other emergency.
3. Pay Down Credit Card Debt
Paying the minimum on your credit card might be easier to maintain in the short term, especially when you're short on cash. But tackling credit card debt can help free up money and you'll likely end up paying less interest over time.
For example, if you paid $25 each month toward a credit card with a $3,000 balance and a 17% APR, it would take you over 10 years to pay it off and you'd pay $2,241.14 in interest. But by doubling your monthly payment to $50 per month, you could pay off the entire balance in less than seven years and reduce your total interest payments to $1,797.89. That could help open up more room to start saving money.
4. Use Coupons
The idea of clipping coupons may seem outdated and unrealistic, but now there are convenient digital options. Your grocery store may have a coupon app that applies your savings when you check out or a browser plug-in that automatically applies a discount to your online shopping order.
5. Plan Meals Ahead
The average American household spends an average of $7,869 on food per year, which includes $3,424 on dining out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. One easy way to trim food costs is to plan meals ahead of time. When you have ingredients and recipes on hand, you might be less tempted to visit the drive-through. You could use free time on the weekends to come up with dinner ideas for the week and then make a full grocery shopping list.
6. Clean Out Your Closet
Decluttering will not only help you feel more organized, but it can also be an opportunity to boost your income. By having a yard sale or selling clothes or other items online, you may find that your trash is someone else's treasure. Consider donating anything you don't sell. In some cases, you may be entitled to claim a tax deduction for your donations.
7. Cancel Recurring Subscriptions
Whether it's a meal delivery service, beauty box, entertainment streaming or wine club, subscription services can throw off your monthly budget. What seems like a small cost of $10 or $20 each month can really start to add up over time. Take some time to carefully review your subscriptions and cancel anything you don't use.
8. Visit the Library
Libraries aren't just for books. Many local libraries offer free special events and classes, discounted museum admission and personal development workshops. If you have kids, the library can be a great source of free entertainment.
9. Make Saving Automatic
Automatic savings plans are a great way to save money on a tight budget. You can schedule recurring deposits from a linked checking account or through direct deposit if your employer offers it. Even modest amounts such as $10 to $20 per month in a savings account could earn interest and add up over time.
If you haven't already, you might also consider starting a retirement plan to save up for after you've stopped earning money in a full-time career. This investment account is distinct from saving for emergency expenses, as this money is intended to make up a portion of the funds available to you specifically in retirement, but it could be helpful to start sooner rather than later.
10. Automate Your Bills
The next step is to look at automating your bills. Most companies let automate payments, such as for credit cards or student loans. This will help to simplify your finances so you stay on track, and help you ensure that your bills are paid on time and that you avoid late fees. Even with a tight budget, doing so can make a difference.
11. Negotiate Your Loans and Credit Cards
If a chunk of your paycheck always goes toward paying down debt from credit cards or other loans, you can try approaching those companies to negotiate better rates. Gather some information, such as your lender's name, the amount you owe, the interest rate and the minimum payment. Then contact the lender to see if you can potentially get better terms. If you feel nervous, you can write yourself a script and keep it handy.
12. Negotiate With Utility Companies
Cell phones, internet and cable can eat up a large portion of your paycheck. But these bills are often negotiable. Don't be afraid to call your providers and ask for a cheaper plan. In many cases, there may be promotional offers or rebates you qualify for, but you'd never know if you didn't ask. If they won't budge, consider other options or competitors. Switching providers might save you each month, which you can then apply to your savings.
13. Add to Your Income
When you have a set income, there are only so many costs you can cut. However, there's another option that can help you save — bringing in more money. You may want to consider taking on more hours at your current job or negotiating for a raise. You can even explore new employment options that make more money.
14. Pick Up a Side Job
A side job could help you earn extra money outside of your full-time job. You can then save or use this money to help pay down debt. Whether you become a ride-share driver, a pet sitter or a freelance consultant, keep in mind that your income will most likely have to be reported to the IRS, so it's important to keep good records.
15. Look for Help
There are many social support programs designed to help people living paycheck to paycheck.
If you feel like you're falling behind, check your state or local government websites to see what help you can access right away. If you've got a lot of debt, consider exploring a debt management plan to help you get your finances on track over time.
If you're struggling with student loans, you may be able to refinance or apply for deferment or forbearance, which can delay your payments for a period. Or, you could try to renegotiate your payment plan with income-based repayment options, which can potentially reduce your monthly payment.
Interest can still accrue, so you likely want to weigh the pros and cons for your situation before making a decision.
The Bottom Line
These strategies are just some of the ways to save money. Once you start cutting costs, you may realize you are able to save even more money than you originally expected. As you develop a plan, watch your budget and stay focused — seeing yourself make progress toward building up savings can be incredibly encouraging and motivating.
It's not always quick and easy, and there will be ups and downs, but sticking to your plan and seeing your savings add up over time can make a real difference to your financial health.