21 Simple Ways To Save Money On A Tight Budget
When we finally started budgeting so that we could finally pay off our debt, we knew we had to trim some expenses to finally improve our financial situation. Our income barely covered our expenses, so we had to find the best ways to save money on a tight budget.
By saving money on expenses, we had more to put towards our debt repayment and credit cards. Finally paying off our debt meant we could put more money towards the things we loved, rather than the debts we owed.
How do you save money when you have no money?
If you’re struggling to save money, you have to look at two factors: your spending and your earning. If these two pieces of the budgeting equation are out of wack, then you’re going to end up with problems. For example, if you have low income, you’re going to have to either boost your monthly income with extra work, or find cheaper alternative options in your monthly expenses. You’ll need to start with small changes that either cut expenses or earn more to balance things out. While it might seem like a monumental task, you can do it. Let’s talk about how to get start saving money.
How can I start saving money on a tight budget?
Saving money on a tight budget means trimming up as many expenses as possible, using a budget to help track them, and boosting your earnings. From cutting cable to buying cheap groceries, there are many ways to trim your spending (which I’ll cover below). The other piece is to boost your earnings – whether you ask for a raise or pick up a side hustle, earning more can be another key piece to loosing up a super tight budget.
Before we get to our smart money savings tips, it’s important to have a budget in place. Whether you decide to use paper, an app, or cash envelopes, you will need to live on a budget to save money. Sorry – but it’s as simple (and as hard!) as that.
Without a budget, you’ll never be able to save money on a low or small income. A 50/20/30 budget or a zero sum budget will set rules to tell your money where to go, instead of you wondering where it went. You can learn more about how to live on a budget and save money with these worksheets.
Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget
Once your budget is in place, the next thing you’ll do is pick out any red flags, these will be the simplest ways to start saving money on a tight budget. You’ll need to learn how to stop spending money on these things by trimming back.
For us, it’s the grocery store that eats up a lot of our money. So we worked on finding the easiest ways to cut our grocery bill. The key to saving money on a tight budget is pinpointing the most obvious overspending first and tackling those. Figuring out where you can save money in your budget (such as your grocery budget) tends to be the easiest wins and can help motivate you to do more.
Now that you’ve tackled the easy ways to save money on a tight budget, next you’ll focus on more creative (but still simple!) approaches.
There are a ton of outrageous and unusual ways to save money fast out there. Rather than suggest you try a zillion and one oddball ideas, these are the top surprising ways to cut household expenses:
1. Exchange services with a neighbor, friend, or family member.
Chances are you have some family members with a very particular set of skills. You know what I’m talkin’ about:
(No, not those skills, but that could be interesting at your next family reunion!)
More like a mechanic, website designer, vet, or chef, to name a few. Offer to trade services with them in order to save money. For example, if your car needs repair work, purchase the parts yourself and offer to mow their lawn 3 times in exchange for them installing the parts. Or something of the sort. You get the picture.
Do not use this as an excuse to get free work out of someone! I know you wouldn’t – but I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been hit up for free website work in exchange for “exposure” or passing my business card around. Uh, yeah – sure. I’ll get to your stuff right after I get through all of these paying clients first!
While this is a great way to get services like oil changes, repair work, or other services cheap, make sure you’re doing an even trade, and don’t burn any family bridges. It’s not worth saving $30 if your grandma will never speak to you again.
2. Limit eating out, start cooking at home, and trim your grocery budget.
Listen, I get it. Grocery shopping, cooking and everything in between is about the last thing I want to add to my to-do list. But it was the biggest money suck in our budget. Being unprepared and hungry is just asking to overspend and overeat.
Buying groceries on a tight budget can be tough. The best way to trim your budget is to organize your grocery shopping and meal planning, so that you are only buying what you need and use. This not only cuts down on food expenses, but food waste as well.
Grocery shopping once a week helped us to keep enough food in the house to avoid eating out, and to meal plan quickly and easily. Figure out what timeline works best for you and start there.
We were able to use the Grocery Budget Makeover to revamp our grocery spending, minimize eating fast food, and save money than half of our grocery budget. You can read my Grocery Budget Makeover review here.
When we did eat out, we used a ton of great tips and tricks to help us save as well as going to these best cheap places to eat out.
3. Learn to coupon and work sales so you never buy anything full price.
Couponing is not difficult and doesn’t have to be time consuming. There are a ton of great sites that will find the deals for you like The Krazy Coupon Lady, Penny Pinchin’ Mom, and Hip2Save. The first step is to sign up to their email lists and follow them on social media so you are notified of sales without having to dig for them.
Stack these deals with coupons, sales and cash back apps, and you’ll never pay full price on anything again. Learn more about how to triple stack your savings here. Or, learn more about mistakes to avoid when learning to coupon.
It’s also important to stick to your budget. Try using cash envelopes or this easy hack to help keep you from overspending on your next Target trip.
4. Ask for discounts on services you use regularly, like daycare.
This is one of my favorite creative ways to save money. While it might seem like a long shot, it never hurts to ask for a discount from companies that you regularly use.
When my husband lost his job, our daycare expenses were almost twice our mortgage payment, making it our highest expense. We were receiving a 5% discount for having multiple kids at the daycare, but I thought I’d ask about additional discounts anyway.
While they didn’t have any other discounts available, they were able to move our youngest up to the next class just a little early, saving us $50 a month. It wasn’t a huge savings, but when you’re unemployed, every cent counts.
Figure out what your top three monthly expenses are and challenge yourself to find a discount on them, no matter how small. Every bit helps!
5. Find ways to cut your personal care costs.
If you decide that certain personal care services can’t be cut out of the budget, try to find ways to get them discounted.
For hair, massage, nail and salon services, hit a beauty school to get discounted services. Students are monitored and helped by the instructors, so no need to worry about subpar services.
Many services based schooling will provide discounted services so that their students can practice. Anything from dental work to massages can be found discounted if you do the research for what’s available in your area.
With COVID floating around now, it could be a great time to start cutting expensive salon services like getting your nails done. There are tons of super cute gel nail kits that you can do at home now, and even come with a free UV lamp. It’s an easy way to save a lot of extra dollars while still keep doing the things you love.
6. Cut your technology costs.
I know everyone hems and haws about cutting cable – trust me when I say I was the same. We finally did it almost two years ago, and not only have we saved money, but have learned to spend our time differently in the evenings.
We still have streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, but don’t sit and watching TV to just fill our time. Instead we find ourselves doing other things, like playing games together, reading books, or spending time outside.
If you insist on keeping cable, try using Trim to cut the cost without sacrificing the services you have. We used Trim to cut our Internet bill by $240 a year in about 5 minutes. Trim can help you save on cable, internet, home phone and cell phone services. Read my Trim review here, or sign up for Trim here. Another similar service to help save additional money is Truebill. You can learn more about the differences between Trim and Truebill here.
Last but not least – get out of the never ending cycle of overpaying on your cell phone bill. This was a huge savings for us – $700 a year! We switched to StraightTalk and began purchasing our phones refurbished through Amazon, which is much cheaper than paying monthly on them through a cell phone company.
StraightTalk uses Verizon’s cell towers, so it’s the same service, just a different provider. We just signed up for an account, ordered the correct SIM cards, put them in our phones, and started the service.
StraightTalk is a prepaid service, so there are no surprises when you get your monthly bill. We were also able to take our phone numbers with us, and even use our existing phones. Talk about a win-win!
Don’t forget the cost of internet, which averages about $70 per household. You can learn more about how to get free internet here.
Saving on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy. Just find cheaper alternatives, or cut elsewhere if you don’t want to give up cable.
7. Save on utilities.
Using services like Arcadia power can help you trim your energy costs and score a lower price on utilities. Signing up doesn’t take much time, and they do all the work to find the lowest electric service available in your area. Pair this with a programmable thermostat, and you have two practical ways to cut your monthly budget for energy with little to no effort!
8. Start a babysitting co-op.
Let’s face it – when you’re cutting expenses, date nights are generally one of the first things to go, sadly. At least it was for us. But it doesn’t have to be.
A babysitting co-op is a group of neighborhood parents that exchange babysitting services. You can easily save $500 or more a year, depending on how much you go out.
It’s nice that it’s other parents, and not local teenagers. Some co-ops work on allotted hours per month, while others work on exchanges of hours. Do some research and decide which way everyone agrees to. Additional ideas and guidelines can be found online once you get your group together.
Don’t forget to check out these cheap date ideas to help you save even more money!
9. Cut entertainment expenses.
Now that you’ve got your babysitter squared away, it’s time to cut your entertainment costs. I love to check Groupon for local activities and discounts. They have tons of local activities that are great for date night.
Groupon is also a great place to find activities to do with the kids, as well as discounted products. I’ve found several great Christmas presents on there, as well as discounted tickets to children’s events and holiday activities.
We were able to get our daughter into a karate class for 75% off of the normal 10 session price. The great thing about Groupon Specials is that sometimes you can buy them again – so we continued to jump on the karate class special while the business still offered it.
Any time you have a local business or service in mind, check out Groupon and see if they (or a similar company) are offering any Groupons for discounted services. It’s definitely worth the discount!
Try these fun and frugal at home date night ideas to help save money on entertainment as well!
10. Stop giving your money away. Avoid bank fees – whether overdraft or interest charges, or monthly fees.
ATM fees, overdrafts, annual credit card fees – all of these can add up to be quite expensive and such a waste of your hard earned money. With a little planning, you can avoid all of these fees easily.
I personally believe there is no reason whatsoever to pay for having either a checking or savings account with any bank. There are more than enough banks around that pay you interest to avoid having to pay account fees yourself.
If you’re looking for a new bank, CIT Bank is a great bank account to check out. It is solely online, but also has higher interest rates than any local bank I’ve checked out. They also allow you to make multiple sub-accounts, making it easier to earmark extra money for different savings plans and even set up an emergency fund.
As far as overdraft fees, we all make mistakes. But there’s no reason to keep making them. Plan ahead by keeping a $100 – $500 cushion in your account, and take the time to look up ATMs without fees.
11. Bundle insurance to save money and look into switching companies every year.
Insurance companies give better discounts the more services you bundle with them, much like cable companies do.
Whether you need home insurance or renter’s insurance, see if your insurance company will provide discounts if you bundle your other insurance with it. Most insurance companies will bundle any type of insurance you can get.
Also look for discounts through your employer, credit union, or even hit up a an ELP through Dave Ramsey’s site. An ELP is a Endorsed Local Provider that has to go through certain certifications to be endorsed by Dave Ramsey’s website.
We used one when my husband lost his job and we needed health insurance. It’s free to speak with them and get signed up for insurance, plus they’re wonderfully honest.
The provider we spoke to could not get us cheaper car insurance, but forewarned us about our insurance company’s coverage on roofing. Turns out the info he gave us was true when our roof was damaged several months later.
Also make sure to check into insurance prices once a year. It might not be the best way to spend an evening, but with an ELP doing the work for you, it’ll save you a ton. Don’t forget to ask about discounts for paying your insurance in 6 month or one year increments!
12. Do a savings challenge to boost your savings.
Savings challenges are a simple way to boost your savings journey and cut your spending for a quick amount of time. Think of it like a one week diet or fast.
The best thing about savings challenges is that you can do a different one each time, so you avoid becoming bored with them. Spend a month not eating out. Save all your $5 bills for 2 weeks. Stash all your change at the end of the day in a jar. Save only quarters.
Whatever your whim, your savings challenge can be however short or long you want, and with whatever rules you like. Here are my favorite money saving challenges to try:
- 10 simple rules for a no spend challenge
- 37 easy money challenges to help you smash your financial goals
- $1000 Savings Challenge + Free Printables
- Five Ways to do a 52 Week Money Challenge + Free Printable
- How to Do the 100 Envelope Challenge & Save $5,050
Don’t forget to print out some motivational quotes on finances to hang around the house to keep you inspired and on track!
13. Back away from the sale. Seriously.
I know I’m not the only one who loves a good sale. But its important to stop and consider if what you need is a necessity, or if you just want it.
I know, I know, what’s the fun in that? However, chances are, if your budget is already tight, and you need to save more money, this purchase will go on a credit card. Which means, more debt.
Try working around the siren call of shopping by trying the 30 day rule. Write down everything you want to buy, when you see something sparkly that you want. Wait 30 days. If after 30 days you still want it, you can buy it.
I’ve tried this, and really, there ends up being very few things I still want after 30 days. Often the purchase was a passing whim, or was just a boredom killer, or the thrill of getting something on sale.
This also teaches us how to learn to live with less, and be happy with what we have, which is one of my favorite frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
14. Use cash.
If you’ve never tried it, using cash envelopes can be an effective way to put down the credit or debit card and learn to better live within your means. You’ll withdraw cash and divvy it up (based on your expenses) into different labeled envelopes. Once you’ve spent the cash in that envelope, you’re done. This is a great way to help stop impulse buys as well as help you spend less money. You can learn more about using cash envelopes here.
15. Stop buy a new car every 2+ years.
If you’re leasing or buying a new car every 2ish years, just stop. Cars are one of the more expensive items that literally immediately depreciate the second you drive off the lot. It’s a painful way to spend a lot of money with little to show for it in the long run.
I get it – the siren call of a fancy new car is strong, and hard to resist. But there are plenty of ways to get a great used car that won’t pile on to your monthly bills. The best deal we’ve found for used cars has been to buy them through a rental agency like Hertz. They’re under 30,000 miles, have a warranty, and are only a couple of years old – but thousands of dollars less than a brand new car. So far we’ve bought three cars this way, and it’s been a better deal than any other vehicles we’ve purchased.
16. Make your coffee at home.
Yeah, I know – it’s so nice to float into the coffee shop and get a whiff of that sweet, sweet caffiene. However, at an average cost of $3.15 (that seems low to me, but this is what Google says), you can save $2+ easily per cup. Have 2 cups a day, 7 days a week, that’s $112 a month you’ll save. In two months, you can afford a fancy espresso maker yourself!
17. Ask for and use gift cards.
For your birthday or any holidays, ask for gift cards for the grocery store, oil change or tire shops, anything to help out. I know, it’s not very fun, but you’ll feel so much better when you hit the end of the month with no new credit card debt.
18. Use your local library.
Stop buying books and paying for an Audible subscription. Once I had kids, I started back to the library – though I avoided it for a bit because it was strangely intimidating for some reason. However, once I got over my random anxiety, I found that was so easy to check out books and movies online and pick them up. Some libraries even have tools that you can check out, like sewing machines! Being able to try out new tools for free? Sounds like a good deal to me.
19. Consolidate student loans.
If you have federal student loans, you can easily consolidate them to a lower interest rate with a quick comparison shop with lenders. This can save a ton of money on your student loan debt, and even keep it from growing if you’re only paying the minimum. If they’re private, changes are you’re stuck with the interest rate you have. For these, your best bet is to consider a personal loan to pay it off if you can get a lower interest rate. If not, you’ll just have to tackle them faster to pay less interest.
20. Build an emergency fund.
I know, you’re thinking – but if I can barely make ends meet, how the heck am I going to build an emergency fund?! However, unexpected expenses can end up more costly if you have to put them on a credit card. It doesn’t have to be much. First thing, open a checking account and set up a direct deposit of $10 every paycheck to help you build your savings. Find additional ways to fund it, like selling household items on Facebook Marketplace or eBay for a little money. While it won’t be enough money at first, you have to think long term and how it’ll help you with unexpected expenses down the road that are bound to happen.
21. Try frugal living tips from the Great Depression.
Our grandparents (or great grandparents) knew how to make every dollar stretch, and use every bit food and supplies they had. Some of them can be kind of out there, but there are plenty of amazing tips that we can incorporate to help us spend less: growing vegetables, fixing what we already have, cooking meatless meals, making your own cleaning products, and more. You can learn more about my favorite Frugal Living Tips from the Great Depression here.
Or, try one of these places to dumpster dive to find everything from clothing to electronics!
Bonus: Try out the the 30 day rule.
What is the 30 day rule? It’s an easy way for you to stop impulse spending. When you want to make a purchase that isn’t a necessity, write it down on a sheet of paper (or in your phone) and wait 30 days.
If you still need or want the item (and have the money for it), you can purchase it. Often, you’ll find that the need to buy that item was a fleeting idea and you don’t really need it, or can live without it.
There are a ton of other good ways to save money on a tight budget, but these are my favorite ways that we learned to save money each month. We chose to address those items that are the biggest budget busters (say that three times fast!).
It’s easier to cut those bigger expenses first – it’s a great motivator and you’ll see results really quickly. When you’re learning how to budget and save money on a small income, you need some quick wins to help you hang in there.
If you’re looking for more help with budget organization, try a budgeting software like YNAB or Mint. Remember to work this so that it fits your needs as you learn how to save money on a tight (or low) income.
It’s not going to happen all in one day, and it tends to work in stages. Give it time, and you’ll find more and more easy ways to save money on a tight budget as you progress!
Want to learn more about what to cut from your budget? Check out 13 Quick and Easy Ways We Saved Over $700 a month
How do you save money each month? Do you have any other creative ways to save money? If so, add them in the comments below – I love to hear how everyone else approaches challenges like these!
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A forty-ish web designer/developer by day, a budget & financial fanatic by night. I’m a mom, wife, avid reader, and DIY enthusiast who’s tracking our journey to debt freedom. Read More