How to save money on a tight budget
When you’re facing a financial crisis, it’s easy to let anxious thoughts overwhelm you. Making decisions while feeling scared and worried is a recipe for bad results.
But, if you have a plan for switching gears and shifting down your lifestyle, you’ll feel a greater sense of confidence.
Sometimes tightening up the spending is necessary, other times it can be a choice. Either way, knowing where you can cut costs is helpful information when you’re ever confronted with the need to save money.
So, instead of stressing out, get a pen and paper and start writing out a plan. Look for small changes that add up to big savings.
Also, if you’re not already on a budget, start one today. Taking control of your finances means knowing where your money is going at all times.
To help you get started, here’s a list of 50 ways to save money on a tight budget.
Want to learn even more ways to save money? Download the free 50 Tips to Save More Money checklist!
Day to day expenses can add up quickly, leaving you wondering where it all went. Being intentional and proactive with minimizing costs will leave more room in your budget for other necessities.
#1 Cut out cable
This has become a popular choice for many trying to lower household expenses. Cable TV can easily be replaced by streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix, and at a lower cost. I currently pay less than $15 for both streaming services together, which is so much cheaper than the average $85 price tag for cable.
#2 Adjust your thermostat
The key to saving money with your thermostat is consistency. Wide swings and constant changes in temperature can wind up using more energy and creating a higher bill. Use a programmable thermostat to “set it and forget it” in order to save the most money.
If you can’t afford a new thermostat right now and you can handle temps that are a little outside your comfort zone, roll back a few degrees (warmer in summer, cooler in winter) to save a few bucks. Also, make sure you’re not paying for comfort when you’re not even there. When you’re at work or on vacation, take off 10-12 degrees from your regular temp.
#3 Close the blinds
Keeping the blinds closed will keep your house cooler in the warmer months, especially if you have windows that face the west. This means your air conditioner won’t have to work so hard and your electricity bill will be lower.
#4 Get LED bulbs
Light bulbs have come a long way. The old pear-shaped incandescent bulb, which used almost 90% of its energy for heat instead of light, isn’t even made anymore. The new & improved LED bulb uses 75% less energy and lasts up to 25x longer! They cost more upfront, but will save you money (and time and effort and grief) over the long run.
#5 Turn off the lights (and the TV and the fan and the … )
You can shave off a few bucks from your energy bill just by being mindful of what’s adding to the bottom line. If there’s something in your home that’s using up energy (like a light or an electronic device) and nobody is using it, turn it off. Better yet, unplug it. If the kids can’t seem to understand this concept, install some timers.
#6 Change your sprinkler schedule
Right now, we’re in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. My husband and I are both furloughed and only supported by unemployment income. Things are definitely *tight*. One area we cut back on is our water usage. We are operating the sprinklers at about 50% of a typical summer, and it definitely makes a huge difference in our budget. And we only have a little 1/4 acre. Is our grass as green and lush as our neighbors? Nope, but it’s not brown and that’s good enough for me.
#7 Get energy-efficient appliances
If you’re looking for ways to save money on a tight budget, you likely can’t afford to go out and buy new appliances. But it’s possible you can find a good deal on a used one to replace the energy-eater in your kitchen that’s cooling your food.
ENERGY STAR-certified appliances have been available for several years. Look at online sites like Craiglist or NextDoor to find a good deal on a slightly older model.
And if you want to save the most money, start with your washer and dryer, since they are the most energy-hungry appliances in your home.
#8 Keep up with home maintenance
Write down a list of annual and seasonal home maintenance projects and check each one off as completed. It’s easy to forget everything that needs to be done to keep your house in top shape. But the tasks you neglect now will ultimately cost you more money and time down the road. Minimize your maintenance costs with preventive upkeep.
#9 DIY when possible
If your walls are in sorry need of a fresh coat of paint, or you need to spruce up your landscaping, try to take on the task yourself before hiring a pro. You’ll likely save at least half the expense, but more importantly – you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment! Home improvement stores often hold free classes that teach various projects.
#10 Try to fix it first
My husband is great at figuring out how to fix stuff that’s broken. Usually, he’ll hop on to YouTube and find a video that gives a tutorial. Just recently our washing machine started leaking, and he was able to fix it with a $30 part. That is *much* cheaper than a $200 bill from the appliance repairman, and hundreds less than a new machine. When something is broken, try to figure out how to fix it before taking more expensive measures.
Recreation & Entertainment
As a discretionary expense, you have complete control over how much you spend on things like entertainment and hobbies. But completely cutting it from your budget is *not* realistic, even with a tight budget. We all need a little fun now and then! But what you can do is minimize the expense with these helpful tips.
#11 Stream instead
Streaming services give you thousands of choices for your viewing pleasure. For a few bucks a month, you can watch just about any show you like. Skip the theater and do your movie watching at home. You can make your own popcorn for cents on the dollar, and pause for bathroom breaks at your own convenience!
#12 Play games
Having fun as a family doesn’t mean you *have* to spend money. If the budget is tight, pull out those dusty board games and create some great memories in the comfort of your own home.
#13 Go to the library
A book can keep you entertained for hours – if it’s good. But, with a tight budget, you don’t have extra money to be buying books on Amazon, just to be disappointed in an uninteresting plot. Go to your local library instead, and check out a few that have good Amazon reviews. It’s free, and there’s no risk involved. (Bonus: you can also check out DVDs for movie night!)
#14 Get a low-cost (or free) hobby
When you’re on a tight budget, spending money on hobbies isn’t very practical. If you’ve had to stop doing that thing you love because it costs too much right now, find a free or lower-cost replacement hobby.
Some ideas could be writing, photography (with your cell phone), jogging & fitness, drawing, volunteering, gardening (seeds are cheap!), hiking, blogging, calligraphy, or geocaching. Doing a simple Google search will turn up plenty of options, so find one that sounds good to you. Just because money is tight doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun!
#15 Go camping
If you think a summer vacation just isn’t in the cards, consider a camping trip with the whole family. Look for some used gear at garage sales and take a little road trip for some fun in the outdoors. You’ll likely pay close to $40/night, which is a lot cheaper than a hotel – but the memories made will be priceless.
#16 Use your local rec center
City rec centers typically offer lower-cost activities compared to private operations. Many centers offer a variety of classes, sports leagues, ball courts, fitness equipment and swimming pools. It’s a great alternative to more expensive options, even though there’ll be some tradeoff with quality and instructor experience.
#17 Work out at home
Going to a gym to work out can be really convenient, but the monthly expense might be too much if you’re on a tight budget. If you can cancel without penalty, let that luxury go and save the membership fee for more important things. There are plenty of free workouts online that can get you just as fit.
#18 Review your recurring subscriptions
Check your bank and credit card statements for any automatic subscription fees you’re getting charged for. You may find a service that you rarely or no longer even use, but you’re still paying for. Cancel any that you can live without. Another option is using a service call Trim, which lets you know of your current subscriptions. It’s one way of making sure nothing falls through the cracks.
#19 Buy a state park pass
If you and your family love the outdoors, a state park pass is always a good investment. Many states offer an annual pass which requires a one-time fee but unlimited access for a year. Other states offer passes on a park-by-park basis, and a few states don’t even charge to get in. It’s a low cost way to hike, camp, picnic, and plan day trips.
#20 Don’t gamble
I know it’s fun, but don’t. Just don’t.
Even when money is short, the bills still gotta be paid. However, it’s especially important to minimize even the necessary expenses. Thankfully, there are several ways you can reduce costs and save money without making drastic changes. Here are 10 ways to save money on a tight budget by reducing your monthly bills.
#21 Refinance your mortgage
This one’s a biggie. If you’ve been in your house for a few years, and you don’t plan on moving any time soon, this could be an excellent option for you. We refinanced our ARM loan about a year ago and shaved off about $400 from our monthly payment. Just remember: the goal is to save money, not go deeper in debt. So, if you don’t absolutely have to, resist getting any cash out.
#22 Shop around for insurance
Unless you’ve found a rock bottom deal lately, I can just about promise that you can save money on your insurance policy. Call a recommended broker and get some quotes for auto and homeowner’s insurance. It’s free, quick, and painless, and could save you hundreds over the next year.
#23 Refinance student loans
If you’re still paying off multiple student loans, you can consolidate them into one private loan and possibly lower your interest rate. Job stability, good credit, and excellent payment history will work in your favor to decrease your rate. Having just one payment makes life a little easier, too.
#24 Balance transfer to a 0% card
If you have good credit and multiple credit card balances, look for a 0% introductory rate that you can transfer them to. You’ll need to calculate if the transfer fee will cost you less than the interest you’re currently paying, but if both your balances and rates are fairly high, the chances are you’ll save money by transferring. *Just be sure you pay off the 0% card balance before the intro rate expires, or at least transfer to another low-rate card.
#25 Negotiate with your medical bills
Once your health insurance pays their part, you might still be stuck with a hefty balance from your medical provider. If you think it would take years to pay it off, call up the provider and try to negotiate. Sometimes they are willing to accept up to 50% of the balance if paid in full.
#26 Pay bills annually if you can
This can typically apply to insurance premiums. If you pay the bill in full (either annually or bi-annually) you can save the “convenience” cost of paying monthly. I save close to $100 a year by paying our life insurance premium once a year instead of every month.
#27 Pay more than the minimum
For any bill that is accruing interest, you’ll always save money by paying more than the minimum required. Even if it’s just $20 extra, you’ll be ahead in the long run. With your mortgage payment, you might save some by making two 1/2 payments each month. Talk to your mortgage lender and find out their policy for this type of repayment plan. (Bonus tip: by adding an extra principle payment each month, you’ll save even more!)
#28 Pay on time
There’s no room in a tight budget for late fees. Always try to pay your bills on time so you’re not stuck with this added expense. Better yet, automate your bills through your bank’s website so you don’t even have to think about it.
#29 Switch cell phone plans
If you’re not currently in a contract, you are free to find a cheaper plan. I switched to Ting about a year ago and cut my bill by $50. I’m only charged for what I use and I’m not tied to a contract.
#30 Get rid of the car payment
I left this one last because it’s more extreme than the other tips listed. If your car payment is like a heavy burden that keeps you up at night wondering how you’re going to cover all your bills, I’ve got two simple words for you:
Then, get an older model that you can pay cash for. Believe me, you’ll sleep easier at night.
Eating is not a choice, but how much we pay for our food is. Your grocery bill is one of the easiest places to cut back, and dining out is totally an option. Once you get a solid game plan and set some strict spending limits, you’ll be surprised how much money you can save on a tight budget.
#31 Have a meal plan
This is one of the most effective ways of sticking to your food budget. Just choose 10-15 recipes you enjoy eating (and making) and write them down on a calendar. If you cycle through them 2-3 times over 30 days, you’ll have dinner planned for the whole month. This will cut down on spontaneous restaurant visits and unnecessary grocery items.
#32 Eat before you shop
I have made the mistake of grocery shopping on an empty stomach too many times. Inevitably, I walk out with more items than I went in for and a higher bill. Grab a snack as you walk out the door so you’re not tempted to buy everything that makes your mouth water.
#33 Don’t throw out the leftovers
Even if you just have one serving left, keep it for later. Over a week you’ll have enough leftovers for a whole meal and you won’t have to cook!
#34 Try meatless Mondays
Meat is definitely the most expensive part of our grocery budget. By having a meatless dinner a few times a month, I can stretch my grocery dollars even farther. If you (or – ahem – your husband) just can’t go without a little meat, then buy some low-cost options for the occasional cheap(er) meal.
#35 Price match
I’m not much of a couponer, but if I know there’s a lower price somewhere else, I’ll ask the store to price match. Browse through the weekly store flyers to see who has what on sale. Take the flyer when you go shopping and show the cashier to save a little money.
#36 Do an inventory first
Don’t you hate it when you’re putting the groceries away, and you see something in the pantry you just bought more of? Make it a habit to take a quick review of what you already have before heading to the store. Then, cross off any duplicates on your list. Which, reminds me …
#37 Always have a list
Going to the store without a list is like flying blind. I have a list on our fridge that I add to throughout the week, and my family knows to write down the stuff they want. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart. This keeps me from making spontaneous purchases that I don’t really need, and helps me stick to the budget I’ve set.
#38 Grocery shop online
Although I still do some of my grocery shopping occasionally in the store, most of the time I now order online. Knowing what I’ll owe before I check out gives me the option to easily make adjustments before I pay. If the total is more than I planned, I just delete an item or two to stay within my budget. Ordering online and choosing store pickup is free, but you can also pay for delivery if you choose.
Ordering my groceries online has been a game-changer for me. I save time *and* money by having more control of my spending.
#39 Check out the clearance section
Many grocery stores have a section for food items that are close to expiring, so they’re offered at a discount. I like to see what’s on clearance before I take my usual course through the store. Occasionally I’ll find something on my list, which saves me a little money.
#40 Skip the appetizers, drinks & dessert
On the occasion you do decide to splurge on a restaurant meal, decide ahead of time what’s allowed and what’s off limits. If I left the options wide open for my husband and son, they would order the $10 artichoke dip, $8 beer, and $5 dessert. These extras can easily double the cost of what was just intended to be a main course. Before we head to the restaurant, I make sure we’re sticking with water and dinner *only*.
Just because your budget is tight doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat out. By setting a spending limit before you go, you can still enjoy a good meal without a high bill.
So far I’ve shared a lot of ways to save money on a tight budget. But cutting corners can only go so far. If you want to reach your financial goals, you’ll probably need to bring in more income. Here are 10 tips to help you make more money.
#41 Ask for a raise
This might be the lowest barrier to increasing your income. If you’ve been at your job for a while, and you think the quality of your work supports it, then ask your boss for a raise. You might just be surprised! Even if you don’t get one now, he or she will know what your goal is and will pay more attention to your work performance.
#42 Apply for a promotion
Perhaps you think you’re ready for the next step in your career. Let your supervisor know you’re looking to advance with the company, and ask what steps you can take to increase your chances of a promotion. Maybe you need to get an additional certification or learn a new skill. Get the ball rolling now so you can start making more money sooner.
#43 Get a side hustle
A second job might sound like more effort than it’s worth, but it doesn’t have to be. These days, opportunities abound for generating extra income with a flexible side gig. From being a driver with Lyft or Uber to delivering packages for Amazon, you can significantly increase your income with whatever schedule you choose.
Maybe the best idea is to do something you already love doing, but get paid for it at the same time. Tutoring kids, walking dogs, baking cakes, taking pictures – you can set a price on these services and make a little money on the side.
You never know, you just might discover your second career.
#44 Save the extra checks
When you get that surprise windfall of money, put it in the bank. Talk about *easy* savings!
Tax refunds, bonus checks and birthday money are all sources of extra income that you typically don’t rely on. Instead of “treating” yourself to some impulse purchase, save it instead. Someday, when you really need it, you’ll be glad you did.
(Bonus tip: decide *before* you get any surprise money what you’re going to do with it – that way the choice has been made and temptation averted.)
#45 Have a yard sale
I bet you have enough stuff you don’t need/want/use to make $100. Dig it out of your closets and drawers and sprawl it all out on the lawn. Then, put up a few signs and start selling.
It’s a free and easy way to get rid of clutter while building up more savings.
#46 Sell individual items online
While a yard sale attracts local neighbors interested in a chance bargain, an online platform like Craigslist or NextDoor can draw in buyers that are actively looking for something specific. If you have a valuable item or something only a certain group of people would be interested in (like musicians or woodworkers), try selling it online.
You’ll probably have a better chance of finding that person who’d be willing to pay more than a typical yard saler, *and* they’ll pick it up themselves. Win-win!
#47 Try freelancing
If you have any skills that you think will help somebody else’s business, try freelancing. Experience in writing, marketing, accounting, bookkeeping, and graphic or web design are always needed and in demand.
Set your rates and start spreading the word. Take as much or little work as you want, and accept only the jobs you prefer.
#48 Create passive income
Passive income is income you generate while you’re not actively working. Sounds pretty awesome, right? It is – once you get that extra money flowing in. But it does require some resources on your part first. This means you have to be willing to either invest money or time into the passive income opportunity.
If you’re looking for ways to save money on a tight budget, you likely don’t have $10k lying around just waiting to be invested. But, if you have some extra time, you can definitely build a passive income stream with a little sweat equity.
Many opportunities are online and can take significant effort to create and market. But, once you build a following of people that want your product, you’ll be making money in your sleep. Ideas include affiliate marketing, blogging, selling digital products, having a YouTube channel, offering an online course, and writing an e-book.
#49 Rent a room
If most (or all) the kids are gone and you have an extra room or two, consider having a paid tenant in your home. This can work really well if you have a basement bedroom or separate area of the house that puts some distance between you and the renter.
Make sure you screen thoroughly, have a contract, and set some rules before someone moves in. A mature, single professional or someone who works an opposite shift as you would be ideal.
#50 Donate plasma
If you’re healthy and don’t faint at the sight of a needle, you could be a good candidate to donate plasma and make a few bucks. It’s a much needed resource for plasma protein therapies, and your donation could be used to save someone’s life.
There are some low risks involved, such as an allergic reaction or feeling dizzy, and you need to commit 1.5-2 hours of your day to the procedure. But, it’s a meaningful way to give back while also being compensated financially.
The U.S. currently has over 800 plasma donation centers. Find one near you and contact them with any questions you might have (such as donating eligibility & rules, how much you’ll get paid, etc.). If this is something that interests you, here is a FAQ page for more information.
Don’t forget to grab this free 50 Tips to Save More Money checklist!
Ways to save money on a tight budget (during a world crisis)
The world is currently going through some major changes. A major health crisis, an elevated awareness of racism, and all the consequences that result from new choices people are having to make based on shifting circumstances.
Many have been furloughed or gotten laid off. Small businesses are struggling, and some have had to shut down. Schools are closed and people are stuck at home, trying to get by on unemployment.
If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or worried, I totally get it. Just yesterday my husband wasn’t sure if he was going to get laid off from his job of 21 years. (Thankfully he wasn’t, but sadly many of his co-workers were.) Times are scary and unpredictable right now.
I want to encourage you to take some deep breaths, clear your thoughts, and stay in the present moment. Give your brain the chance to think clearly and strategically. (And if you’re a person of faith, prayers work wonders, too.)
Then, use this list of 50 ways to save on a tight budget in your own financial situation. Remember: you have choices. You can be in control of your money. You can cut things out, spend less, make sacrifices, and even increase your income.
Take the initiative to do what’s necessary for your own financial health. It’s going to be okay.
And as you face your fears, take control, and move forward, you’ll be amazed at the strength that’s been in you the whole time.
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