1. Advanced Budget-Cutting Strategies: Introduction
  2. Budget Tips: Plan for What You Really Make
  3. Budgeting Tips for Essential Fixed Spending
  4. Budgeting for Essential Variable Expenses
  5. Budgeting for Nice-to-Have Expenses
  6. A Budget That Changes as You Do

Even if your budget is incredibly tight, chances are good that you’ll spend money in at least one of the categories below each month. And for those who aren’t on a tight budget – or who aren’t paying attention to their spending – expenses on nice-to-have items like restaurant meals and event tickets can quickly spiral out of control. Get a handle on these costs with the tips below.


If you like going out to eat, consider going out for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner to save money. Choose restaurants with large portions so you get more than one meal’s worth of food for your money by taking home leftovers. Avoid alcohol; you can pour yourself the same $15 glass of wine at home with minimal effort, and you’ll get an entire bottle for the same price. Avoid places that tend to be pricey, like steakhouses and seafood restaurants, in favor of ones that tend to be inexpensive, like pizza joints and Vietnamese restaurants. Consider ordering an appetizer as your meal or sharing an appetizer and an entree with a friend instead of ordering two entrees. (See How Cooking at Home Can Save You Real Dough and Top 7 Money-Saving Tips for Eating Out.) 

Event Tickets

Whether the event of your choice is a live sports game, a concert or a musical, the cost of attendance can be steep. Searching for details on ticket aggregation sites such as SeatGeek and StubHub can save you money when season ticket holders or undersold venues try to unload their seats at a discount. (See Why the Prices of Sports Tickets Vary So Much.)

When you attend that event, the cost of parking, food and drinks can really break your budget. Bringing your own food and drink to venues that allow it (check ahead for rules such as “sealed plastic bottles only”) and eating ahead of time before heading to venues that don’t will keep dollars in your pocket. Researching parking options online ahead of time can help you scout the least expensive options. You may even be able to take public transportation or an inexpensive private shuttle service.

Clothes and Shoes

Adopting a minimalist wardrobe could be one way to slash your clothing and shoe spending. Perhaps the most well-known method is Courtney Carver’s Project 333, which teaches people how to get through each three-month season with a mere 33 items or less, including clothing, accessories, outerwear, jewelry and shoes. Basing your wardrobe around well-made classics that you love can really reduce the number of items you feel you “need.” If you itemize deductions on your tax return, keep records of the clothes you donate when paring down your wardrobe to lower your income tax bill. (Also see How to Cost Effectively Spend on Baby Clothes and Get the Best Prices on Clothes.)

If you must shop for attire, the deepest discounts are generally available at end-of-season sales. The rest of the time, you can save money by shopping at outlets such as DSW and Marshalls and buying gently used secondhand clothing through high-quality consignment shops such as Crossroads Trading Co. or apps such as Poshmark. Signing up for store email lists may give you exclusive discounts and coupons, but will also likely tempt you to shop more often and buy more stuff. Store credit cards, too, can offer special discounts, but put you at risk of paying interest on credit card debt.


With the average cable bill topping $100 in 2016, television is a clear target for cost cutting in many household’s budgets. Why spend $1,200 a year on TV when you could spend less? For those merely looking for entertainment who aren't attached to specific shows, Netflix has the best selection, with loads of original programming and stand-up comedy specials. For $7.99 a month, Hulu is best for those who want to keep up with current TV shows. For $39.99 a month, Hulu lets you watch live sports, news and entertainment, and has DVR and premium channel add-on options. YouTube TV offers a comparable service for $35 a month that includes a cloud DVR. Other options include Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and many more. Unless you’re hooked on a station you can only get through your local cable provider (such as all the home games for your favorite sports team), cutting the cord can free up a lot of space in your budget. (For more, see How to Stop Paying Cable Bills and Save Money on TV.)


Traveling during your destination’s off season – or in the season in between the off season and high season (shoulder season) – can save big bucks if you’re willing to tolerate less-than-ideal weather, fewer hours of daylight or reduced hours for major attractions. For lodging at your destination, if you can’t plan your trip around visiting someone you know and crashing with them, look beyond hotels to vacation and room rentals through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Save on travel meals by making lunch or breakfast the biggest restaurant meal of the day. Another way to save is by shopping at a local grocery store for prepared hot or cold meals, picnic food and snacks.

When booking your flight, consult a tool like Google Flights to search for the best deals, or consider flying Southwest since you can check two bags for free and change your itinerary for free – and that includes rebooking your flight if a lower price becomes available later. Flights are generally cheaper on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays when demand is lower; the cheapest flight times are very early in the morning or very late at night. What about getting around once you reach your destination? Rental cars can be cheaper if you avoid renting them at the airport, pay with a credit card that provides rental insurance, and book for longer periods, such as an entire week or entire weekend. (For more tips, see 8 Ways to Score a Cheap Flight, How to Use Technology to Save Big on Travel and Shoulder Season: Your Ticket to the Perfect Vacation.) 

Now you have tons of ideas for how to stick to your budget. Can you think of any others?

In our final section, we’ll discuss how to use your budget to achieve financial freedom.

A Budget That Changes as You Do
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