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17 Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

It’s easy to get stuck in the habit of overspending. Making quick trips to the expensive corner store rather than planned weekly grocery shopping. Driving your car to places you could walk or bike to. That phone call you never make to cancel a subscription.

Bad habits are difficult to break, but they don’t have to be. Opting for one or two small changes to your spending habits doesn’t seem like it would make much difference. But when you combine many simple ways to save, it can add up to massive annual savings, especially when you combine that with cutting small costs that really add up.

Easy Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

As you take stock of your personal budgeting, try these easy places to trim costs and save extra money.

1. Lower Your Utility Bills

Utility bills can add up if you’re not careful. While you can’t avoid paying for electricity or water entirely, you can slash your bills if you pay attention.

Winter months mean high heating bills, especially if your home leaks energy. Before it gets cold, winterize your home. 

Take shorter showers. Turn off the faucet while you soap your hands. Wash dishes with a bowl of soapy water rather than leaving the tap running.

2. Stop Making Unnecessary Purchases

Manufacturers would have you believe bottled water pours from a sun-dappled spring in the ground blessed by unicorns. But it’s usually just filtered water — the same stuff you can drink at home for next to nothing.

While you’re at it, stop buying sweetened beverages like sodas and bottled teas. Besides being bad for you, they’re expensive.

And if you’re the type to stop at the coffee shop for a $6 latte on the way to work each morning, you can invest in a coffee maker and learn to make your favorite caffeinated beverages at home.

3. Use Cash-Back Apps & Programs

Commission cookies are tracking tags saved to your browser that tell a retailer how you found its site or product. The retailer then pays a commission back to the referral point. These cookies are common on blogs, so if you follow a link from your favorite shoe blog to a pair of killer boots, you’re giving that blogger a commission.

By using a cash-back program like Rakuten, you get your own referral link, and Rakuten shares the commission with you. It’s a simple way to get some cash from your online purchases — just log into your account, shop from the Rakuten site as the access point, and reap the rewards.

4. Download Coupon Apps

Who has time for clipping coupons? Instead, try grocery reward and cash-back apps like Ibotta or Fetch Rewards. You can score extra cash back and discounts on many products you’re buying anyway.

5. Downsize

An oldie but goodie, you can save a lot of money by moving into a smaller, lower-maintenance home.

Most of us don’t need large suburban homes. Condos offer far lower utility bills and zero yard maintenance, and you don’t have to spend your weekends hassling with DIY home repair projects or contractors.

Downsize to ditch all the baggage — both literal and figurative — that comes with living a sprawling suburban lifestyle.

6. Get Rid of a Car

In the beginning, my wife and I each owned a car. Then we moved abroad and experimented with sharing one car. It worked so well that when we moved again, we upped the ambition: We tried living without a car at all.

Living without a car requires getting extremely intentional about where you live. You must choose a home in a highly walkable area where you can walk or bike to work.

Beyond the money savings of not having a car payment, auto insurance, maintenance costs, or gas costs, you may also get into better shape since you walk or bike everywhere (potentially saving on gym membership costs).

If that all sounds like too much to you, start by simply questioning the assumption that every adult in every household must have their own car. Start by sharing a car if you’re not ready to go carless.

7. Consolidate Trips

It doesn’t seem like a big deal to run to the grocery store in the evening and stop by the credit union the next morning. But those separate trips can make a big difference in your gas mileage.

When you run errands, consolidate your excursions to avoid driving home each time you leave a retailer or appointment. As a bonus, you put fewer miles on your car too.

8. Shop Around for Auto Insurance Rates

Believe it or not, changing your car insurance is pretty painless.

Compare price quotes online among the best car insurance companies and see if you can save some money. Don’t forget to research auto insurance discounts like good driver discounts.

You could truly save hundreds of dollars each year simply by making a 15-minute phone call.

9. Find Cheaper Gas

To save money on gas, try the GasBuddy app. It checks your location, tells you how much gas costs near you, and helps you save a few bucks each time you fill up.

Also, use the lowest octane unleaded option unless your mechanic or car manual specifies otherwise. The Federal Trade Commission notes that most of the time, using a higher-octane gas than recommended does nothing to improve performance, speed, or gas mileage. It also doesn’t make your car run cleaner.

10. Buy in Bulk (some things)

There are some things you shouldn’t buy in bulk. But nonperishables like paper towels, toilet paper, and staples like dried pasta? Bulk-buy away, assuming you have enough storage space.

Just come up with a system to prevent you from forgetting what you have.

11. Plan Only One Weekly Grocery Trip

The more often you go to the grocery store, the more opportunities you have to buy things you don’t need. And that says nothing of the gas and time expense.

Fortunately, careful meal planning can save you money. Every week, plan every single meal for the week. Draw up a shopping list based on your meal plan, check what you already have in your pantry and refrigerator, eat a heavy snack to avoid shopping on an empty stomach, and go grocery shopping.

No midweek cheat trips to the convenience store. No back and forth. Just one organized trip in which you buy everything you need — and nothing not explicitly on your grocery list.

12. Buy Generic

Often, the store brand is literally the same product as name-brand products repackaged and marketed differently. They’re even manufactured in the same plant to take advantage of an economy of scale.

For example, many of Costco’s Kirkland Signature products are manufactured by some of the most popular brands. Reynolds makes no secret of the fact that they make Kirkland aluminum foil — its name is right on the box.

Even when the products aren’t identical, they often taste just as good or work just as well. So try store-brand products before writing them off as inferior — because they’re often not.

13. Cut Cable in Favor of Streaming Services

Why spend $100 per month on cable TV when you could spend $10 per month on Netflix or Hulu? Cut the cord and keep only your favorite video streaming service to save significant money each month.

14. Switch to a High-Deductible Health Plan and Health Savings Account

When you pay for expensive health insurance, you pay one high bill (the premium) to avoid the possibility of other high bills (medical expenses).

Instead, you can pay a low premium with a high deductible and put the monthly savings in a health savings account (HSA). Think of it as a dual-purpose medical emergency fund and investing account.

These accounts come with the best tax benefits of any tax-advantaged account, allowing you to save and invest tax-free for your future. In doing so, you keep more of your own money in an account you control rather than lining insurance corporations’ pockets.

15. Negotiate Lower Rates

If you live in a regulated state (meaning energy contracts are awarded to one or two providers), your electric and gas bills won’t budge. If you live in a deregulated state, there’s more competition for utilities, which means there’s room to negotiate or seek a new provider.

Get out your recent bills and customer service numbers for each utility, and start making calls. Explain that you plan to change providers unless they can offer you a better rate.

Note that this tactic works much better if you’re currently outside the contract term or your contract expiration is approaching soon.

16. Switch to a Truly Free Checking Account

Most banks advertise free checking with a series of asterisks and other mysterious symbols next to it. When you dig through the fine print, you discover you must do things that are simply impossible for many Americans to avoid bank fees, such as maintain a minimum daily balance of $2,500 or have your paycheck direct-deposited.

Instead, switch to a truly free checking account with no fine print, such as Chime or Go2bank.

17. Pay Off Your Credit Card in Full Every Month

Pay off your credit card balances in full every month to avoid paying excessive interest rates on them. If you can’t pay them all off immediately, try the debt snowball method to knock them out quickly.

Final Word

The greatest opportunities for saving often mean the greatest impact on your lifestyle, such as buying a multifamily property to house-hack.

But not always.

Many ideas can save you thousands of dollars each year with only minimal change in your behavior. Start with one idea this month, and watch the savings trickle in by the end of the month. Then pick up another next month, then another the month after, and watch the savings snowball.

Before you know it, you’ll be debt-free and building wealth faster than you ever thought possible.

G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor, personal finance writer, and travel addict mildly obsessed with FIRE. He spends nine months of the year in Abu Dhabi, and splits the rest of the year between his hometown of Baltimore and traveling the world.

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