When most people think of how to save money, they automatically think of starting a budget. However, living on a budget is tough. You’re cutting back on expenses that make it easier to get through each day.
Saving on a budget is even tougher. You’re not just making sacrifices to stay within your budget; you’re constantly on the hunt for ways to stretch your income even further just to bank a little extra every month.
The important thing to remember is this: these smaller savings might seem marginal, but they add up. If you commit yourself to saving money, you can see a big difference at the end of the month. These tips can help you do just that.
Cut your utility bills
Utilities (electric, gas, water, Internet, cell phone service, and other bills) can seem like fixed costs without a lot of room for savings. With a little bit of effort, patience, and sacrifice, though, you can easily find ways to cut these costs. Even a small reduction to a monthly utility bill can add up over the course of a year.
Negotiate new rates
Many people don’t realize that they have the power to negotiate their utility rates. If you take the time to call your providers and shop around, you might be able to find significant savings.
The basic process is this: take a few hours and shop around for new providers. Search the Internet, make some phone calls, and get some estimates.
With that information in hand, call your current providers and ask to negotiate your current rates. Tell them that you’ve already spoken to the competition and found better rates elsewhere. If they value your business, they may offer you better rates. If not, you can switch providers and save money anyway.
There are caveats, of course. Many states have regulated electric and gas bills. In these states, your provider really can’t budge on the rates provided. You might also be stuck in a contract, which can complicate things. Still, if you put some effort in, you should be able to find some savings.
Turn off electronics not in use
Even electronics that are technically “off” can still run up your energy bills. The TV, computer, and other appliances leech electricity day and night. Consider investing in an energy-saving power strip for your biggest energy hogs; or, just unplug electronics when they’re not in use.
Cut out your cable
Many people pay for cable without really thinking about it. It might even be bundled with Internet and phone service.
With Internet-based streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, along with TV streaming devices such as Roku or the Amazon Fire Stick, you might be able to access all the entertainment you’ll ever need without footing the bill for cable service. Consider your entertainment must-haves and research your options. If a streaming service can accommodate your needs, it will almost definitely be cheaper than paying for cable.
Cut your grocery bills
No matter whether you live alone or you’re shopping for an entire family, grocery bills are likely one of your biggest costs each month. Past that, grocery costs can be hard to pin down, since your needs and the store’s prices can vary wildly from week to week. Still, grocery bills can be a great place to find savings if you’re smart about it.
Buy in bulk
It can be tough to start buying in bulk because the upfront costs can be intimidating. Obviously, it’s going to cost you more to buy 30 rolls of paper towels than it is to buy three. Even if you know that buying in bulk is the smart thing to do, it can be hard to pull the trigger.
When it comes to the essentials, however, buying in bulk pays for itself in short order. Get a membership to your local Costco or BJ’s Wholesale and pick up the things you’re certain you’ll need. You might want to avoid buying perishables, since they might go bad before you can use them. Springing for the paper towels, on the other hand, is usually the right decision.
Plan your meals
Planning your meals allows you to be hyper-focused when you go to the grocery store. This pays off in multiple ways. On one hand, you’ll only buy the exact items you need when you go shopping, cutting down on impulse purchases. On the other hand, you’ll only need to go to the grocery store once per week, which saves you gas and cuts down on opportunities to buy things you don’t need.
Cut out the meat
Out of everything you buy at the grocery store, meat is probably one of the most expensive items. It’s also mostly unnecessary. As millions of vegetarians around the world can attest, you can get by perfectly well without consuming meat at every meal.
If you aren’t ready to cut out meat entirely, try cutting down a little. “Meatless Mondays” can be a great way to save while giving you the opportunity to try out new, healthier vegetarian recipes.
Cut transportation costs
Owning a car costs money. Gas, maintenance, and car payments can add up to a hefty sum each month. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for the average car owner to save.
Shop around for car insurance
You probably already know this, but you can save quite a bit on your car insurance if you shop around. Online pricing tools aren’t always accurate, but they can give you an idea of how much you can potentially save. Take an afternoon, find a provider that can save you money, and make the switch.
Consolidate trips to save gas
As a rule, planning well helps you save money. Consolidating errands into a single trip can cut down on your gas expenditure over the course of a month. Even better, since you’re making fewer trips, you’re reducing the wear and tear on your car as well.
Consider walking or biking
If your destination is within 5 or 10 miles, you might not need to take your car out of the garage at all. Walking or biking is great exercise, it saves gas, and it often doesn’t take much longer than driving would when you factor in traffic.
Cut recreation costs
Recreation isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. With that said, entertaining yourself and your family is often an enormous unfixed, one that can be difficult to budget for. With the right mindset, though, you can enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.
Look for free or low-cost events
No matter where you live, there are likely free or low-cost events going on all the time. Do a quick Google search for “free events near me” and see what you find. You can also check out your town’s website and look for events and programs sponsored by your local government. Since these programs are subsidized, they are often much less expensive than private programs.
Stay in when you can
Obviously, nothing is going to be less expensive than just staying in. Even if go out one fewer time each month, you’ll save up quite a bit of cash over the course of a year. Besides, if you’re like most people, you’re probably looking for more opportunities to stay home in your pajamas anyway. Just do it in the name of saving money.
Hunt for deals when you do go out
There’s nothing wrong with using coupons. If you’re determined to go out somewhere, take five minutes and look for a deal on the Internet before you leave the house. Sites such as Groupon can be goldmines for bargain seekers who still like to go out on the town.
Cut back on eating out
These days more than ever, people spend a lot of money going out to restaurants. While eating out represents a huge expense each year for the average American, you don’t need to stop treating yourself to meals in order to save money.
Buy lunch, not dinner
If you really want to try a new restaurant, stop in for lunch. Lunch is usually less expensive and less busy than dinner. On top of that, you’ll be less tempted to order drinks at lunch, which should keep your total cost down. If you’re really looking to save, you could even try breakfast. It’s a little less exciting, but it’s typically the least expensive meal of the day.
Don’t spring for drinks
Ordering a fancy cocktail with your dinner makes it that much fancier, but also that much more expensive. A premium drink off the cocktail menu will run you at least $10 at most establishments, often more. Once you loosen up with one, you’ll be more likely to want to order another. You’re much better off saving the cocktails for before or after dinner and sticking to water at the restaurant.
Find discounts where you can
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s no shame in taking advantage of discounts and coupons. Before you head out, check the restaurant’s website for discounts, and check Groupon for deals. You could save quite a bit.
Making saving a habit
Choosing to save is tough. Making saving a habit can make it a little easier to stay on track.
Bank your change
Put a jar in your kitchen. Each day when you get home, throw any loose change that you might have in your pocket into the jar. When it fills up, roll the coins, take them to the bank, and deposit them directly into your savings account. You’ll be shocked at how much money you can save this way.
Automate your savings
If paid at regular intervals, then you should have your pay dates already mapped out in your budget. Set a savings goal for each pay date, and then automate the savings process. Your bank likely has an online banking portal that allows you to automate transfers from your checking account to your savings account, making the process easy. By automating savings, you can ensure that you’ll stay on track.
Take advantage of employer matches
If your employer offers a match on money that you contribute to your retirement savings, make sure that you’re participating to the fullest extent possible. That match is free money and you don’t want to leave it on the table.
Set a structure for how to save money
If you’re serious about saving for the long haul, then make sure that you’ve built a structure for yourself that maximizes your chances of success. Without a structure or a plan, it’s easy to fall off track.
Build an emergency fund
For most of this article, we’ve been thinking about saving for the long term. Before you can do that, though, you have to save for the short term. Namely, you need to start an emergency fund.
An emergency fund gives you a financial cushion that you can rely on if times get tough. Emergencies such as car accidents or medical issues happen to the best of us, and without some level of savings, you’ll be financing these emergencies out of your paycheck, or worse, by using credit. Even a basic emergency fund of $1,000 can be the difference between weathering the storm and suffering serious financial consequences.
Don’t take on new debt
Most importantly, do your best to avoid taking on any new debt when you’re trying to save. If you’re saving up money but spending on credit cards to maintain your lifestyle, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. While the credit cards might make it easier to save money now, you’ll have to pay those bills eventually, with interest.
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