What can we tell you about saving money on a tight budget that you don’t already know? You don’t need another source advising you to ditch cable television, use coupons, find more people to share housing expenses with, or—God forbid—get a side hustle.
You’re already busy and tired, but you’re still motivated to save more money, whether your goal is paying off debt, building your emergency fund, contributing to your IRA, or something else. Let’s try to dig deeper and offer some money-saving tips you might not have thought of yet.
- Saving money on a tight budget requires creativity and confidence.
- You’ll have to reject many mainstream ways of doing things.
- Focus on cutting recurring expenses but allow yourself a few affordable indulgences.
1. Shift Your Electricity Use
Your electric company may offer free tools for assessing your home energy use and suggest ways to lower your consumption or lower your bill. For example, if you’re not on a time-of-use plan, and it’s an option where you live, switching to one could save you money. If you are, changing when you use energy-intensive appliances such as clothes dryers, clothes washers, and dishwashers could lower your bill.
2. Check Your Eligibility for Low-Income Utility Programs
The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program works with states to help people stay warm in winter and cool in summer. Qualifications and levels of assistance vary by state to provide assistance with heating and cooling bills. Some programs will even replace a broken furnace or boiler or help weatherize your home to reduce energy bills.
3. Search YouTube Before Paying a Professional
Some tasks are too dangerous to DIY. Other times, you might make a problem worse and more expensive to fix if you try to do the work yourself. But some tasks we might hire people to do are surprisingly cheap and easy to handle ourselves after we’ve watched someone else do them. From changing your car’s air filter to replacing your oven’s heating element, the next time you have a problem you’d normally pay a professional to fix, do some video research first.
4. Switch to a Prepaid Cellphone Plan
Most of us think about the big three—T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T—when we think about cellphone providers. But their recurring monthly plans are expensive and may provide more data, faster speeds, and newer phone technology than you need.
If you switch to one of their prepaid plans, you may be able to cut your monthly bill in half. Moving to a smaller provider such as Republic Wireless, Ting, or Mint Mobile can also lower your bill. So can paying up front for at least three months of service. Plans get super cheap if you ditch cellular data altogether and stick to talking, texting, and WiFi.
5. Allow Yourself One Subscription
Newspapers. Television. Movies. Music. Cloud storage. Photo editing. Word processing. Exercise classes. Sometimes it seems like every company uses a subscription business model these days. Getting someone to sign up for a service and pay for it forever is a great way to make money. That means you need to do the opposite if you want to save money.
Out of all your subscriptions, which one do you use most? Allow yourself that indulgence, and cut the rest. Many have free alternatives. Also, you don’t have to pick one subscription and stick with it all year. For anything that’s month to month, you can switch it up: Hulu this month, Netflix next month, Spotify the month after that.
6. Buy a Bidet
If the pandemic-induced toilet paper shortage didn’t already convince you to try a bidet in 2020, now’s the time to think about one. It doesn't sound like a budgeting idea, but entry-level models that attach to the side of your toilet seat cost just $30 to $40 on Amazon and will quickly pay for themselves in toilet paper and wet-wipe savings. Bidets are efficient, so they won’t run up your water bill. The low-end models don’t use electricity. And cutting back on your use of disposable products is good for the environment.
7. Do a No-Spend Challenge
You might believe that forcing yourself to not spend any money for a week or a month would just create a lot of pent-up demand. If you don’t buy groceries now, won’t you just buy more later? Maybe. But you also might find yourself reevaluating those purchases you postponed.
If you survived for a week drinking ice water with dinner because you ran out of Coke Zero, maybe you can kick your can-a-day habit, or at least cut it in half. You won’t make any impulse buys of unnecessary items. And you might find a free way to hang out with a friend. Whether you try it for a day, a week, or a month, a no-spend challenge can kick your account balance up a notch.
8. Accept Help
There’s so much wealth and generosity in the United States that we should all feel comfortable accepting help when we need it. We’re talking food banks, pet pantries, free farmers markets, community gardens, school-supply giveaways, healthcare clinics, sliding-scale mental health services, Medicaid, hospital charity programs, and more.
Granted, these resources are more abundant in some areas than others. But whatever you have access to, take advantage of it. When your circumstances improve, you can always return the generosity of the organizations that served you by donating your time or money.
9. Don’t Skimp on Insurance
It’s so tempting to raise your deductible or decrease your coverage to lower your insurance premiums. But remember why insurance is there. If your car gets totaled, a pipe bursts in the upstairs apartment and floods you out, or a windstorm pulls off the roof of your house, good insurance coverage will get your life back to normal much faster without messing up your finances.
And if you’re a pet parent, spend the $20 to $50 a month on pet insurance for your furry best friend. When they need emergency surgery, you’ll thank yourself.
10. Give Yourself an Allowance
It’s miserable putting every penny of your income toward necessities and saving. You’ll stretch your willpower too thin and risk setting yourself back with a spending splurge. Instead, make a conscious choice at the beginning of every week, month, or pay period about how much money you’ll allow yourself to spend on fun things—within your overall budget, of course.
Then, enjoy those treats guilt-free. And if you want to save up for something bigger, roll over your allowance from one period to the next. A cash envelope or dedicated savings account can help you manage your fun money and keep it separate from your essential spending.
The Bottom Line
Some expenses are almost impossible to eliminate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce them. In particular, lowering your recurring expenses can be a big help because it will give you savings every month, not just one time.
Also, don’t forget that saving money is a long-term goal. Don’t make short-sighted decisions like slashing or forgoing insurance coverage that might cost you big in the long run and undo all the progress you’ve made. At the same time, many small savings choices can pay off big in the long run.