Looking for ways to save money on a tight budget? We’ve got your back!
Saving money doesn’t take super-human discipline or million dollar paychecks. Real people can save money too. It’s one of the most important life skills you can learn, and there’s no better time to start than now!
If you’re worried about where to start, don’t be. Even today’s super savers had to start somewhere. Heck, there was even a time when I was broke, in debt, and barely scraping by.
Once I learned a few simple but effective techniques, my life changed forever. I no longer live paycheck to paycheck. My family doesn’t worry about scraping by. Even if we lost our income, I know we’d be OK because the money-saving skills I’ve learned will carry us through.
What We’ll Cover
When searching for ways to save, you have three basic options for getting ahead – saving more, earning more, and spending less. These are all legit ways to improve your situation, and a combination of all three usually yields the best results.
Since this piece is fairly lengthy, we’ve broken it down into smaller chunks to help you find what you need. We’ve included the most important techniques at the beginning of the piece and followed it up with some detailed ideas on how to save money on certain niche elements. Here’s the breakdown:
- 9 Effective Ways to Improve Your Finances Fast
- Ways to Save Money on Food
- Ideas for Saving Money on Monthly Bills
- Saving Money on Entertainment
- Ways to Save Money on Clothing
- Ways to Save Money on Travel
- Other Ways Save Money on a Tight Budget
Once you’ve covered all the ways to save on a tight budget, check out this list of ways to make extra money as well!
So, what do you say? Let’s get started!
9 Effective Ways to Improve Your Finances Fast
As you probably know, there are a bazillion ways to save money. But get ahead quickly, you need to focus on the right strategies. Here are 8 tips to help you save money faster!
1. Use a budget
I know you don’t want to hear this, but a budget is the most important tool you can use to save money on a tight budget. Luckily, a budget doesn’t have to be scary or restrictive. It doesn’t mean you have to go without. In fact, a budget actually helps you get what you want by helping you use your money more efficiently.
Simply put, a budget is your financial plan for the month. That’s it. You’re creating a plan for how you’ll use your money. With a zero-sum budget, which happens to be my favorite type of budget, you account for every penny you make that month. This helps you:
- Control your money
- Remember and plan for bills
- Avoid overspending
- Prioritize your needs and wants
- Get what you really want by using your money more efficiently
Seriously, a budget is one of the most powerful financial tools at your disposal. Once you understand how to create a budget and control your finances, you’ll learn how to save money in no time!
2. Track your spending
Tracking your spending is your budget’s sidekick. While your budget lays out the plan for the month, tracking your spending provides the actual results. Additionally, it helps you identify and fix any problem areas within your budget itself.
When you know exactly what and where you’re spending, finding ways to save money becomes even easier. You’ll have a clear picture of where your money is going, be able to determine if you stayed within your budget, and have a running total of your expenses throughout the month.
If you happen to spend more than you plan for, don’t fret. By tracking your expenses, you’ll know exactly where to make adjustments next month!
3. Build an emergency fund
When learning how to save money, most people are naturally excited to get started. However, excitement only carries you so far. Unexpected expenses always pop up, and – unfortunately – most people have zero cushion. If these expenses derail your budget, it’s easy to feel defeated and quit, costing you big bucks in the process.
That’s why you need an emergency fund.
An emergency fund is a pile of money you stash away specifically for financial emergencies. (Find our step-by-step guide to building an efund here.) Start by saving $1,000 for when things go wrong. Eventually, you’ll want to keep 3 to 6 months worth of expenses stashed in it. When you hit that mark, you should be adequately prepared to handle almost anything thrown your way.
4. Earn extra money
Everybody loves to make more money, right? Well, if you’re searching for ways to save money on a tight budget, don’t discount the effect a few extra dollars can have on your situation.
When things are tough earning just a few extra dollars a week can pay big dividends – especially when you combine it with some of the other money saving techniques we’ve already mentioned. Here are a few ideas to help start making some extra money fast:
Take Surveys – Taking surveys is never going to make you rich, but this is one of the easiest ways to make extra money on your own time. Depending on the site, you can get paid to answer surveys, surf the internet, watch online videos, and more. Some of my favorites include Survey Junkie, EarningStation, and Swagbucks.
Get Paid to Drive – Use your own car, work on your own schedule, and get paid to drive people around. It’s that simple. Learn more about driving with Uber here.
Deliver Food with UberEATS – Don’t want to drive people around in your car? I get it. Try delivering food instead. Start driving for UberEATS and make extra money right away!
5. Pay yourself first
If you want to save money, you have to make it a priority. There’s no better way to save than to pay yourself first.
Think of your savings as an expense – your most important expense. Before you pay your other bills, you need to save money for yourself. That means sticking some money in your 401(k), stashing money in your savings account, and putting a big fat check in your Roth IRA BEFORE you pay other bills. That way, no matter what happens, that money won’t disappear. You’ve made saving your most important financial priority.
Also, take advantage of free money whenever you can. If you have access to a work sponsored retirement account, save at least enough to qualify for your employer match. So, if your employer matches 4% of your salary, save at least 4% of your own money to max out the benefit. That’s free money just waiting for you to claim it. Don’t let it go to waste!
6. Make it automatic
If you have trouble saving money, make it easy for yourself. Automate your savings so you don’t even have to think about it. Saving money automatically eliminates the need to make physical deposits. It also decreases the chances that you’ll spend it before you save it. When you automate your savings, it’s almost like you never had the money to begin with.
Most retirement plans allow you to directly deposit money into your account. You can do the same thing with other types of savings accounts too! Just directly deposit money into savings accounts, Roth IRAs, and emergency fund accounts.
If you want, you can even automate the rest of your financial life. After transferring money to the proper accounts, set up automatic bill pay to pay your bills on predetermined days each month. Sure, the initial setup takes a little time, but you’ll spend just a few minutes a week once it’s ready. (Just check in a few times a month to make sure everything is running smoothly!) You’ll save more money, pay your bills on time, and have a good idea of how much you have left to spend each month.
7. Destroy your debt.
One of the best ways to save money is to get out of debt…and to do it fast!
Debt is the biggest obstacle standing between you and the life of your dreams. It crushes your ability to save and clouds how much things are actually costing you. Besides that, you owe interest on all of that debt, so the purchase price is always higher – sometimes by a lot.
So, how do you get out of debt? Paying off high-interest credit card debt is a good start. Try transferring your credit card debt to a 0% interest balance transfer card. Since you won’t have to make interest payments for several months, you’re entire payment goes toward the principal on your debt. Pay it off during the promo period and you’ll find yourself ahead. (Just be sure you don’t use it to dig yourself a deeper hole!)
8. Focus on the big items
Need to save money on a tight budget? Start by tackling the big stuff first.
Yes, clipping coupons and eating leftovers can have a positive effect on your bottom line. But, initially, these small measures aren’t going to save enough to keep you motivated.
Eliminate your credit card debt. Look for ways to lower your rent or car payment. Eat out once a week instead of once a day. Save over $1,000 a year by using a discount cell phone provider. Pick the low-hanging fruit first, then make smaller adjustments. Instead of saving pennies at a time, you’ll be saving hundreds!
9. Track your progress
When you do something long enough, things get tedious. Even for super savers like me, saving money can get boring. That’s why it is important to track your progress.
You need little wins every once in a while. By watching your net worth grow, you’ll get the chance to pop champagne and celebrate. Plus, you’ll be able to tell if all of these awesome changes are getting you where you want to go. (We like to use a free tool called Personal Capital. You can read our full Personal Capital review here.)
Ways to Save Money on Food
One of the biggest black holes in our budget used to be food. Before we got out of debt, we were practically eating all of our savings to death! Here are some great ways to save money on meals.
10. Learn to cook and eat at home.
If you’re not careful, eating out can cost you a small fortune each month. I know, because that is where most of our flexible income used to go. Not only do you have to worry about the price of the meal. There’s also the tip, drinks, and more.
When we realized that we were spending close to $1,000 a month on food, we immediately made the switch to eating at home. By learning to cook and eating in, you can stash that money away and provide an immediate boost to your savings!
11. Brown bag it to work
Grabbing lunch during the work day is habitual for a lot of people. But, those quick lunches could be costing you big time.
Let’s assume you spend just $10 a day on lunch, plus $1 for a drink. That’s $400 a month. If you stopped eating out for lunch, you could save enough for a vacation in just a few months.
That’s real money player, and you could save it just by bringing your own lunch to work! What would you do with an extra $400 a month?
12. Eat leftovers once a week
One night a week, try eating leftovers for dinner. Not only will this give you the night off from cooking, it will save you money as well. Eat what you have and save. How simple is that?
13. Try breakfast for dinner
OMG! I love me some breakfast for dinner! Eggs, pancakes, french toast – it doesn’t matter. Having breakfast for dinner isn’t just delicious, it’s one of the best ways to save money on food.
Don’t like breakfast for dinner? (#thatscriminal) Try serving something else that is cheap one night a week. Find a cheap dish you like, and have at it. When a meal is cheap, it makes it all the more tasty!
14. Shop for sales
When you’re at the grocery store, don’t just buy products based on their brand name. Shop for sales and save yo’self some dough! Instead of sticking with Kellogg’s, try the General Mills brand that’s on sale instead. Better yet, go generic. These days, store brands taste just as good as their brand name counterparts.
Better yet, combine sale items with a store or manufacturer’s coupon. You don’t have to go full-on extreme couponing. Just grab the savings where you can and stash it away to use later.
15. Plan meals ahead of time
Saving money on food is a lot easier when you plan your meals in advance. Before you go shopping, browse the weekly ads and look for coupons. Plan your meals around the sale items, be flexible with your plan once you’re there, and you’ll cut your grocery bill in no time.
Meal planning systems, like the $5 Meal Plan, can also save you a lot of time and money. For just $5 a month, you can get an entire month’s worth of meal ideas that save you the headache of searching for recipes. Plus, most meals cost just $2 a person or less. In my opinion, these are definitely worth checking out.
16. Go meatless once a week
Looking for more ways to save money on meals? Try going meatless once a week. Buying meat is expensive and can really increase the size of your grocery bill. Besides that, most of us eat too much meat as it is.
Instead of basing every meal around the meat, go vegetarian one night a week. You’re sure to discover new foods you didn’t even know you liked, and you’ll save money doing it.
17. Use restaurant coupons
When you do go out to eat, make sure to use coupons. Heck, when we go out to eat, we plan where we’re going based on the available coupons.
Just because it’s a special event doesn’t mean you can’t save money either. We’ve even been known to use coupons for birthday and anniversary dinners! It might sound lame to you, but we’re laughing all the way to the bank.
Ideas for Saving Money on Monthly Bills
Want specific ways to save money on bills? Here you go!
18. Automate your bills
Many companies offer a discount if you agree to make automatic payments. Additionally, you should never miss another payment and incur a late fee. Automate your bills and stash that discount away in your savings.
As an added bonus, try paying every bill you can with a cash back rewards credit card. Not only are you getting the discount for automatic payments, you are also getting more money back into your account.
19. Actively seek ways to cut your spending
Nobody is going to save money for you. You need to take action and do it yourself. Every few months, go back through your expense tracking sheets and look for ways to cut out the waste. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for new discounts and promotions. Don’t get complacent with the bills you have. Always look for a better deal.
20. Ask for discounts
Usually, when you want something, you have to ask for it. Again, most companies aren’t going to give you a discount just for being you. However, if you ask, you might find they offer discounts for making your payments on time. Or, you can just flat-out ask for a rate reduction because you’ve been so loyal. The worst they can say is no.
21. Threaten to leave…and mean it
When a company jacks up your rates, the best thing you can do is ask them for a discount. If not, threaten to leave…and mean it. There are plenty of other companies who would love to do business with you. Plus, your current provider probably spent a lot of money to secure you as a customer. They’d rather not see you go. Ask them to reduce your rate, threaten to leave, and then do so if they won’t.
22. Cut the cord to cable
Speaking of leaving, one of the best ways to save money each month is to ditch your cable company. Gone are the days where cable TV is your only option. New technologies and streaming services can help you cut your cable bill by thousands each year. Read all about how you can do it here.
23. Use a discount cell phone provider
Speaking of old habits dying hard, you can also save thousands of dollars each year by switching cell phone companies. The big dogs no longer have a monopoly on good cell phone service. You can leverage new technologies and discount providers to get high quality cell phone service. Heck, you can even get a rad smartphone. Two of our favorite companies are Ting and Republic Wireless. Just click the links to learn more about them.
24. Turn down the heat
One of the simplest ways to save money is to turn down the heat. When it’s cold outside, you don’t need to crank the heat to 75 just to stay warm. Throw on a pair of slippers, cover up with a blanket, and watch the savings roll in.
25. Open the windows
In the summertime, nature provides a great way to cool off your house. It’s called a breeze, and you can take advantage of it by opening up your windows. Just crack those babies open, enjoy the fresh air, and save money on your electric bill. If you want to get really wild, create an awesome draft by opening a door or using a fan! Now that’s some serious savings!
26. Question everything
At least once a year, take a look at everything you spend money on and question it. Do you need it? Can you find it cheaper? Is there a better option? This includes entertainment, insurance plans, investment programs – everything you have. Question it, shop around, and find more ways to save money!
Saving Money on Entertainment
Everybody loves to have a good time. Even if you’re paying off debt, you need to let loose every once in a while. Here are a few ways to save money on entertainment.
27. Don’t let others spend your money
First of all, there are a lot of people who love spending other people’s money. They’ll invite you to expensive events, ask you to buy expensive clothes and items to prepare for them, and then ask you to do it all over again next weekend.
Don’t let them.
Sometimes, you just have to say no. They may be OK with carrying $15K in credit card debt, but you’ve made the change to save money and get ahead.
Explain what you’re doing and why. Don’t let them guilt-trip you into spending on what they want. Stand firm. The people who care about you will understand. You might even inspire some of them to join your new journey!
28. He who has the most toys doesn’t win
We spend far too much time working our butts off to buy stuff we don’t need (and can’t afford) to impress people we don’t even like. Somebody will always have more. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. You’ll never win.
29. Save money on nights out
When I was younger, I spent countless thousands of dollars at clubs and bars…and what did I get for it? A headache and a case of the runs.
It’s easy to spend a couple hundred dollars each weekend on entertainment. But, that frivolous spending is keeping you from being able to afford doing the things you really want. Eliminate it, and save money.
30. Invite friends over for a night in
Rather than going out, invite your friends over for a night in instead. Turn on some Pandora, have a few drinks, and enjoy each other’s company. Play some cards or have a game night. Staying home can be a blast! Plus, you’ll actually get to hear each other when you talk.
31. Hit a matinée or rent a movie
Still want to do dinner and a movie? How about lunch and a matinée instead? I love going to the movies, and seeing a matinée is an easy way to save. Prices are generally several dollar cheaper, so you can still see the show at a pretty steep discount.
Better yet, rent a movie and save even more. Now, you don’t even have to go to the video store. Just use your Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription to watch great movies on a dime.
32. Cut back on expensive hobbies
If you’re really looking for ways to save money, cutting back on some of your most expensive hobbies can be a game changer. Look, I like golfing as much as the next guy; but, if I’m trying to get out of debt or save for a huge goal, I’ve got to cut out the most expensive hobbies. Maybe you love shopping or perhaps going to concerts is more your thing. Find out which expensive hobbies are costing you your dreams and get rid of them…at least for now.
33. Budget for it
All of this isn’t to say that you can never have any fun. The best thing you can do with your fun money is to schedule it in your budget. If you budget it in, you’re being deliberate with your money. You’re not committing random acts of spending. Save on the things you don’t want so that you can spend on the things that you do. Stop spending. Start living.
Ways to Save Money on Clothing
Shopping for clothes is an addiction that many of us can’t kick. Here are a few ways you can save.
34. Don’t buy into the fashion game
Ah, fashion…it’s such a shell game. Designers are constantly changing what is “in” and creating cool new trends for one reason only: To move more product. Don’t fall for the trap. You’ll spend thousands trying to keep up with this season’s new trends. Plus, they’re going to change in about 3 months. It’s a hamster wheel you’ll never be able to get off. Just say “no” to the fashion game.
35. Use a shopping portal
Shopping portals are an easy way to save money shopping online. Not only do they provide discounts, some of them even give you cash back when you click through their link!
My favorite site to use is Ebates. Just head to the site, decide where you’re going to shop (like Amazon.com, Kohls, Target, etc.), claim great discounts, and earn cash back for shopping. Use this link and Ebates will even give you a $5 bonus for signing up!
36. Shop at garage sales
Garage sales and consignment shops are a great place to find fashionable clothing at a huge discount. Why pay $40 for this season’s look when you can pay $1 on last season’s fashion and still look great? Garage sales are also a great place to find kids clothing, used furniture, and kid’s toys. Some places are hit and miss. Others are a gold mine.
37. Save on kids items
Speaking of kids, don’t go out and blow your entire paycheck on kids clothing and toys. First of all, they don’t care what they wear or play with. They’ll be happy with anything you give them. Second, kids are hard on clothes and they grow out of things quickly. Save your money, buy used, and let somebody else take the sticker price hit instead.
Ways to Save Money on Travel
Traveling can be really expensive, but it doesn’t have to be if you know a few simple tricks. Here are some of our favorite ways to save money on travel.
38. Use credit card rewards
Using credit card rewards is by far the best way to save money when traveling. We’ve used points and miles to take more than 20 domestic and international trips over the past 21 months…and for just pennies on the dollar. You can find our current list of the best travel credit cards here.
39. Travel off-peak
One of the best ways to save money on flights and hotels is to travel during off-peak times. By traveling during the “slow” season, you can save up to 50% (or more) on some flights and hotel stays. For Europe, this means traveling between November and March. If you want to travel to the Caribbean, try May through November.
40. Pick the cheapest days to fly
Just like traveling off-peak, certain days of the week are cheaper to fly. Generally speaking, Tuesday and Wednesday flights can save you a ton of money. Also, try flying out first thing in the morning!
41. Don’t commit to just one points program
Be flexible with your favorite travel brands. You don’t necessarily want to commit to a single points program because they don’t always have the best deals, especially if you’re traveling on credit card rewards. Drop the brand loyalty and save money.
42. Set a travel budget…and stick to it
Setting a budget while you’re on vacation can be difficult. Sticking to that budget can be even tougher. However, if you want to save money you’ve to to stay strong!
Plan ahead and start a travel savings account. Doing so could allow you to take two trips a year (or three or four!) instead of just one.
43. Drive when possible
Flying to a destination, especially when you’re traveling with kids, can get expensive fast. If you have the option, try driving instead. For the cost of gas, you can reach your destination with some cash still in hand. Use that savings to enjoy your stay…or book another trip.
44. Fly coach
45. Go to expensive destinations but book cheap hotels
One of our favorite ways to save money on travel is to go to awesome locations but book cheap rooms! Why book a ridiculously nice room in Rome or Rio when you can stay for much cheaper. You’re traveling there to see the world…so get out of your room and do it!
46. Don’t eat at the airport
Airport food is expensive and (usually) not very good. Pack some snacks, save some money, and don’t eat at the airport.
47. Buy a sightseeing pass
If you’re traveling to a large city with tons of tourist attractions, try using a city pass to save money. These passes can help you get discounted admission to some of the city’s best sites, plus it may give you a few ideas of places you didn’t know you wanted to see. Additionally, these passes can usually save you a lot of time by giving you “skip the line” access.
We’ve got a ton of city pass reviews available on this site. Follow the link to see if there’s a sightseeing pass available for your next destination!
48. Visit the welcome center
Another great way to save money when traveling is to visit the welcome center. There, you’ll be able to find information about area attractions, entertainment, and restaurants. More importantly, they usually have a bunch of coupons you can use for discounts all around the area.
49. Get the Southwest Companion Pass
Earning the Southwest Companion Pass allows you a companion to fly with you for free on any Southwest flight you book with cash or points. We’ve used it to fly all across the US and the Caribbean – including flying our kids to Jamaica. Of course, earning it takes a little work. You can learn all about how to get it here!
Other Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget
Need some more ways to save money? Here are a few more random ways to save!
50. Try “no spend” days
Every few weeks, try having a “no spend” day. A no spend day is exactly what it sounds like – a day where you don’t spend any money. If you really want to get cray cray, challenge yourself with a no spend week!
51. Do your own taxes
Using an accountant to do your taxes can get really expensive. With modern tax prep programs, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do your taxes yourself. You can even start your taxes FREE with TurboTax Online Federal Free Edition. Start off free and upgrade as needed.
These programs are cheap, easy to use, and will save you a ton of money. Your taxes aren’t that complicated. I do my own and have for years.
52. Use a discount broker
Don’t let your retirement savings get gobbled up by high fees. Use a discount online broker instead. There are several online brokers with a great reputation that can save you huge money by charging fees that are far less than typical brokerage houses. The best part is that a lot of them make saving for retirement completely automatic. Learn more about our favorite online brokers for beginners here.
Learning to Save
Saving money isn’t complicated, but it can be hard to do. Focusing on the right ways to save helps you see big results fast. This keeps you emotionally invested, which means you’ll save even more. And, once you understand how to save money, it’s a skill you’ll take with you for the rest of your life.
So, what are you waiting for? Use these tips to start stashing mad cash in no time!