Are you looking for ways to save money on your monthly budget?
Unemployment is on the rise and many are fearful they might lose their jobs. So there’s never been a better time to look at how much you’re spending each month to find ways to cut back and save.
It’s not always easy to find ways to cut your budget and reduce expenses. Not every tip is useful for every family, so use what works and ignore what doesn’t.
Make Your Food Last
According to estimates by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average weekly grocery bill for a family of four was $167.10 to $298.60 in 2019, depending on the types of foods you eat and the ages of the children. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that food is the third-highest expense for families after housing and transportation.
But there are many ways to save on food and beverage costs.
1. Start Meal Planning
There are many benefits to family meal planning. It saves time, reduces trips to the store, helps you eat healthier dinners, and helps you save money on groceries because you can stock up on sale items and avoid impulse buys.
Begin by making a list of your family’s favorite budget-friendly meals. For the most part, stick with old favorites like spaghetti, meatloaf, and chicken and rice. If you need some inspiration, check out Delish’s comprehensive list or use a service like eMeals.
Once you have at least a week or two of meals, put them on your calendar based on your family’s schedule. Schedule quick and easy meals for busy weeknights and meals that take longer for weekends or slower days. You can also use the weekend to make freezer meals you can unthaw and cook during the week.
Some budget-conscious families also pay for their groceries with cash to reduce the impulse to buy things that aren’t on their shopping lists. But you can also use grocery store-friendly credit cards.
2. Choose Cheaper Proteins
According to the USDA, the average price for ground beef in 2019 was $3.85 per pound, while a round roast was $5.22. Bacon’s average price per pound was $5.57, while pork chops sold for $3.76 per pound.
Beef and pork are expensive, especially if it takes 2 pounds or more to feed everyone in your family. You can cut your grocery costs by choosing cheaper proteins and getting creative with how you prepare them.
It can help to do a direct cost comparison so you can see how much each protein costs per gram.
- Eggs: One dozen eggs cost an average of $1.36, which is 11 cents per egg. Each egg contains 6 grams of protein. So for 12 eggs, you’re getting 72 grams of protein, which costs 0.01 cents per gram. (Source: USDA Summary of Retail Prices and Price Spreads report)
- Ground beef: 1 pound of ground beef costs an average of $3.85, and there are 65 grams of protein per pound. That averages out to 5 cents per gram. (Source: USDA Summary of Retail Prices and Price Spreads report)
- Canned tuna: One 12-ounce (undrained) can of tuna in water costs around $2.50 and contains 58.5 grams of protein. That averages out to 0.04 cents per gram. (Source: CostHowMuch.com)
- Dried kidney beans: One 16-ounce bag of dried pinto beans costs an average of $1.79, and contains 40 grams of protein. This averages to 0.04 cents per gram. (Sources: The Bean Institute and Self Nutrition Data)
As you can see, switching to less expensive proteins like eggs and beans can save you a significant amount of money each week and help you serve healthier meals to your family. And eating less meat overall can also help you save. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that vegetarians save an average of $746.46 each year by not eating meat.
3. Rotate Foods
Food waste is a massive problem in the U.S. It’s also a huge waste of money. CNBC reports that the average family wastes $1,500 per year on food they never eat, which breaks down to $125 per month.
One way to reduce your food waste is to follow the first-in, first-out rule that restaurants use. In your pantry and refrigerator, always store the earliest-purchased food toward the front so they stay visible and you use them first, storing later-purchased food toward the back.
4. Don’t Waste Food
Spending money on food you don’t eat is just like throwing dollar bills in the trash. Using up what you have can help lower your grocery bill each week.
- Write It Down. Keep a list of the foods that go to waste each week. That can help you spot patterns in your buying habits and change those habits over time to save money. For instance, do you frequently buy salad ingredients you have to throw out because you don’t have time during the week to put your salad together? Then start making Mason jar salads on the weekend.
- Eat Leftovers at Breakfast. You don’t have to reserve leftovers for lunch or dinner. Often, they can make a healthy and filling breakfast.
- Use It Up. If your produce starts to go bad, don’t toss it in the garbage unless it’s genuinely rotten. You can easily freeze past-prime vegetables and fruits and use them to season stocks, make smoothies, or put in soups.
For more tips, see our article on reducing food waste.
5. Start a Home Garden
Planting a home garden lets you reduce your grocery bill each month by growing your own produce from inexpensive packs of seeds. According to the National Gardening Association, a well-maintained garden yields 1/2 pound of produce per square foot per growing season. A 600 square-foot garden, which costs an average of $70 to set up and maintain, can yield 350 pounds of produce worth around $634.
Even if you don’t have room for a big garden, you can still start a container garden, which can help trim food costs.
Cut Electricity Costs
The U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) reports that the average monthly electric bill is $117.65. And with a few changes, you can cut this cost by 10% or more.
6. Reduce Phantom Loads
A “phantom load” refers to the energy an electronic device uses after you turn it off but while it’s still plugged in. According to an analysis conducted by NOPEC, a nonprofit energy aggregator in Ohio, the annual cost of phantom loads can add up.
- Two laptops and one cable modem costs $36.14.
- One game console, one desktop computer and monitor, one inkjet printer, and one cable modem costs $20.04.
- One coffee maker and one microwave costs $4.60.
- One LCD TV, two tube TVs, one DVR, three cable boxes, one cable modem, and one audio system costs $90.89.
To save money on phantom loads, plug your electronics into one power strip and get into the habit of turning off the strip when you’re not using the devices. That’s especially important at night.
7. Turn Off the Dishwasher’s Heat
Your dishwasher uses a lot of energy to heat-dry dishes at the end of the cycle. You can lower your dishwasher’s energy usage by turning off the heat-dry setting and letting your dishes air-dry instead.
8. Cut Back on Air Conditioning
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that air conditioning accounts for 10% of total global energy use. However, that’s the average. Hot, humid climates rely on air conditioning far more than cooler climates. The EIA also notes that in the Deep South, air conditioning makes up 27% of total monthly expenditures, while in the Northeast and Midwest, it makes up only 5%.
So someone living in Atlanta, Georgia, needs a lot more air conditioning than someone living in Kennebunkport, Maine.
No matter where you live, there are a few ways to reduce air-conditioning costs and save money on your monthly bill.
- During the summer, set your thermostat at 78 degrees F or higher.
- Use a smart thermostat.
- Use fans to circulate the air. Fans can make it feel 4 degrees cooler, and they use much less energy than an air conditioner. Using ceiling or tabletop fans in conjunction with an air conditioner set at a higher temperature can be an efficient way to stay cool for less money.
- Change your air filter every 30 days to ensure your air conditioner is running at peak efficiency.
- Keep curtains closed on sunny days to reduce thermal heating. You can also invest in thermal liners for your curtains. They reflect more heat out the window.
- Make sure your attic is adequately ventilated so heat can escape easily.
- Don’t overheat your kitchen by turning on the oven. Instead, use your grill to cook outside on hot days. Or use appliances that produce very little heat, such as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or sun oven.
- Your dryer can also add heat and humidity inside your home. Instead, hang your clothes outside to dry. That helps keep your home cooler, saves money on your electric bill, and reduces laundry costs.
- Humidity makes the air feel hotter, so do what you can to keep humidity out of your home. Avoid boiling water or taking hot showers on days when the humidity is high.
9. Cut Back on Heat
Heating costs can get astronomical during the winter, especially if you live in a cold or damp climate. However, there are plenty of ways to spend less and still stay comfortable.
- Dress in layers instead of turning up the thermostat. Adding a sweater and scarf can make you feel significantly warmer, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
- Invest in flannel sheets and a warm quilt for your bed. You can turn the thermostat lower at night and save money all winter.
- Keep curtains and blinds open during the day to let sunlight heat your home.
- Change the air filter every 30 days. That helps ensure your furnace or heat pump is operating efficiently.
- Reverse your ceiling fan blade’s rotation so they turn clockwise. That pushes the hot air down from the ceiling and helps the room feel warmer.
- Make sure your home has enough insulation. Use the Department of Energy’s insulation map guide to see how much insulation you need in your area.
10. Use Your Refrigerator Efficiently
Your refrigerator is one appliance that’s running 24 hours per day. Fortunately, newer refrigerators are much more efficient than they used to be. However, there are still ways to make your refrigerator more efficient and cut down on its electricity usage.
- Don’t put hot foods directly into the refrigerator. It just uses more energy to cool it down. Let the food cool on the countertop and then put it inside the fridge.
- Set your refrigerator’s temperature to 38 degrees F and your freezer at 0 degrees F. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration says these temperatures keep your food safely cold while reducing your energy use.
- Your freezer is most efficient when it’s packed two-thirds full. Less than that and the freezer has to work harder to keep it cold. More than that and some foods might get overfrozen while others are underfrozen. If you don’t have enough food to stock the freezer to this capacity, pack it with water bottles that are two-thirds full (to allow for ice expansion) until you do.
Be Water Wise
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average person in the U.S. uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. That usage includes activities like taking showers, flushing toilets, washing hands, and cooking. And all this water use is expensive. CBS News reports that the average monthly water bill in the U.S. is $104, which is up 31% from a decade ago.
However, some areas around the country see steady annual increases. According to a 2017 report compiled by the Department of Energy, in some regions, increases are in the double digits. For example, the annual increase in Erwin, Tennessee, is over 16%, while Naperville, Illinois, is over 15%.
Cutting back on your water use can lower this considerable expense and help the environment at the same time.
11. Don’t Let the Faucet Run
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average bathroom faucet uses 2.2 gallons of water per minute when it’s running, while a WaterSense-labeled faucet uses 1.5 gallons of water. The EPA developed the WaterSense label to make it easier for consumers to find water-saving faucets and accessories.
Either way, letting your bathroom faucet run while you’re brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing your hands uses a lot of water over time. So turn it off.
12. Fix Leaks
The EPA reports that the average household wastes 10,000 gallons of water per year just on leaks. And 10% of households have leaks that waste at least 90 gallons of water each day.
Taking time to fix leaking faucets and toilets can help reduce your water bill each month and ensure you’re not wasting water needlessly. And, the EPA says it could save you 10% or more on your water bill.
13. Lower the Hot Water Heater Thermostat
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that the average person uses 64 gallons of water per day. This level of use costs $570 annually.
Many homes have their water heaters set at 140 degrees F, which is higher than most people need. The DOE reports that at this temperature, your water heater could be wasting $36 to $61 annually in standby heat losses and more than $400 annually in demand losses.
Standby losses refer to the energy lost from keeping all that water hot, on “standby” for when you need it. Demand losses, also called distribution losses, refers to the energy that’s lost after the hot water leaves the tank and travels to the faucet. Larger homes require additional pumps to keep the water hot as it travels through the pipes.
You can save money by turning your water heater down to 120 degrees. Mr. Rooter Plumbing has a video tutorial on how to adjust your water heater’s temperature.
14. Take Fewer Showers
Yes, this is a real suggestion. Most people in the world don’t shower every single day. So why do we? Try taking a shower every other day. Or take a quick rinse-off shower one day and a longer shower where you wash your hair the next day.
Another option is to use a kitchen timer to take shorter showers. Try for five minutes or less.
If you love taking baths, save them for a special treat. Baths typically use 35 to 50 gallons of water. However, a five-minute shower with a low-flow showerhead using 2.5 gallons of water per minute uses only 12.5 gallons.
15. Don’t Water the Grass
The EPA estimates that the average American family uses 30% of its daily water on outdoor activities like gardening and watering the grass.
Watering a home garden is worth the expense since you’re growing food to feed your family. However, spending money to water the grass is unnecessary, especially when money is tight.
16. Don’t Hand-Wash Your Dishes
Most modern dishwashers are incredibly efficient at washing dishes. According to the National Resources Defense Council, you use an average of 27 gallons of water when you hand-wash dishes compared to 3 gallons for an Energy Star-rated dishwasher.
To save even more water, don’t prewash your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Simply scrape off the excess food and put the dishes right in.
Cut Costs Elsewhere
In addition to lowering your utility bills and trimming food costs, you also need to look at how much you spend on entertainment and unplanned purchases. These additional expenses could be costing a lot more than you think.
17. Cancel Television
According to a 2020 report by Decision Data, the average cable bill in the U.S. is around $217 per month. That’s higher than many of the utilities you depend on for basic living, including water and electricity.
Cutting this expense out entirely by canceling your television could save you a significant amount of money very quickly.
One alternative is to cancel cable and instead sign up for a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu that carries the shows you enjoy watching the most. The most expensive Netflix plan costs only $15.99 per month. And a comparable Hulu plan costs only $11.99 per month (but be careful — you can start racking up charges on Hulu quickly as they try to entice you to buy other add-ons, such as live TV and premium channels). Or you can sign up for a bundled package for even more savings. As an example, you can get Disney +, ESPN, and Hulu for $12.99 per month.
18. Avoid Impulse Buys
When times are tough, it can be hard to give up shopping and buying little treats for yourself, especially if you sometimes use retail therapy to feel better.
According to CNBC, American consumers spend $450 per month, over $5,400 per year, on unplanned purchases. That’s why having a plan for every dime you spend can lead to significant savings over time.
Instead of caving to an impulse buy and regretting it later, try this tip from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. He suggests creating a 30-day list, which is a system of forced waiting for unnecessary purchases.
Using pen and paper or a spreadsheet, write down the purchase you want to make along with the date and then check back 30 days later. Don’t let yourself purchase anything on the list for 30 days. When you check back, chances are you won’t want it anymore. If you do still want it, then you can start saving for it.
Keep in mind that saving money doesn’t have to mean forgoing every little pleasure. Find frugal ways to treat yourself like having a nice coffee on Saturday morning, having a DIY spa day, or occasionally cooking a gourmet meal at home.
19. Let Trim Help
There’s an app that can help you save money on your monthly expenses. It’s called Trim, and it connects all your accounts to look at spending patterns and identify where and how you can save money. It can also automatically cancel subscriptions you don’t want and renegotiate rates with providers of services like cable, Internet, and cell service. The app also uses bank-level 256-bit secure sockets layers encryption for the highest security.
When New York Times journalist Ron Lieber used the app, it found several subscriptions he didn’t remember he had, resulting in three-digit-per-month savings.
If you’re looking for more ways to save money each month, talk to someone older than you are. We can learn a lot of money-saving tips from the past simply by talking to our parents and grandparents, who often know a whole lot more about frugality than we do.
If you can, talk to a senior you know and find out what they did to live frugally when they were younger. Ask them about their experiences saving money, and you can learn a surprising amount. For example, ask them questions like:
- What meals did they cook?
- How did they save money at the grocery store?
- How did they get more produce out of their garden?
- What did they make themselves, and how did they do it?
What are you doing right now to find more money in your monthly budget?