How to Save Money on a Tight Budget

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May 11, 2017

For a lot of Americans, money is tight. In fact, investor publication The Motley Fool reports half of us are living paycheck to paycheck, so it should come as no surprise that 49% of all employees feel anxious about their finances, according to MetLife. Money problems are stressful, but don’t let these numbers get you down. Take control of your finances with our money-saving tips.

Make a Budget.
Okay, this may sound like a no-brainer, but most Americans don’t have—or don’t stick to—a monthly budget. That’s a real problem. Making a budget is not difficult so there’s no excuse to pass on this chore. Mint and EveryDollar are free budgeting apps you can use, or go old-school with pencil, paper, and a calculator.

Change simple eating habits.
According to this CreditLoan infographic, the average American family spends over $7,000 a year on food with the BLS reporting that $3000 of that is spent on dining out. That’s a lot of take-out and happy hours. Simply cutting back on how much you eat at restaurants can save you big-time. Here are some other ways to cut food costs:

  • Make a grocery list. Yep, your grandma was right: you spend less money at the market if you make and stick to your grocery list. And it’s also true that you shouldn’t shop hungry! Your appetite can increase your purchase amount significantly.
  • Make a monthly meal plan. You’ll save money on your grocery bill and waste less food if you are armed with a plan. We suggest making two or three monthly meal plans you can rotate easily. A quick meal-planning search online will give you a ton of ideas.
  • Eat leftovers for lunch. Daily lunches out with your co-workers adds up fast. Consider an average lunch costing $10+ each weekday, totaling $200+ a month. Instead, opt for packing your lunch from home. Save time by simply making extra dinner the night before and bringing leftovers.
  • Skip the latte. Shelling out $5 a cup for fancy coffee every morning can cost you over $100 a month. Make your cup of joe at home or choose money-saving black coffee without the frills (not to mention the calories), and save the latte for special occasions.

Trading might seem like a lost art, but can be a huge money-saver. Start by considering your skills—professionally as well as personally—and offer to trade services with a fellow professional. Maybe cook and freeze meals in exchange for piano lessons. Or do some accounting for the dentist. Write fresh web content in exchange for a discount off private school tuition. The sky’s limit, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Use the library.
Seriously, libraries are a well of untapped and underutilized knowledge and entertainment. Not only could all of us benefit from watching less TV and reading more books, but libraries offer much more than hardbacks: movies, music, audio books, and even online courses just to name a few. And it’s FREE. All of it.

We live in a culture that tells us we can never have enough, making it difficult to choose when, where, and how to spend appropriately. Dare to be different in this consumer-driven society. The truth is we don’t need a lot to live—food, shelter, water, and relationships. When you realize the rest is extra, you’ll have more success saving and enjoying your money frugally.