Saving money is at the top of the list of financial priorities for many yet it seems so hard to pull off. Case in point: approximately 80 percent of Americans are living check to check, notes CNBC. And when you consider the high debt levels with incomes that don’t quite match up, it’s not surprising that stashing away cash is so difficult.

The good news is that by reframing your mindset on both spending and saving, you’ll be better positioned to build up a cushion. 

The First Step: Get Your Spending In Check

Why You Must Have a Budget 

A realistic spending plan that implements financial goals is a must before attempting to execute a savings plan. Why so? Simply put, a budget tells your money where to go so you’re able to reach your savings goals. (If you have no idea where to start or need a little help with your budget, here’s a handy budget guide). 

But keep in mind that you’re not just budgeting for the heck of it. You’re budgeting to achieve some sort of financial goal, which in this case is savings. So you should be more inclined to follow the rules you set for yourself because if you don’t, it’ll take longer to reach the finish line. 

A few budgeting tips: 

  • You always want to pay yourself first. If you wait until the end of the month to set aside cash for savings, chances are you won’t have very much left. 
  • An allocated spending plan that accounts for every dollar before it even hits your account is best.
  • If you have a hard time keeping spending under control, give the envelope system a try. 

Ready to start saving? Below is a comprehensive list of ways to save on just about every expense category. 

How to Save Money On Housing 

Whether you own your place or rent it, chances are housing is the most costly item on your expense list. Fortunately, there are a few ways to cut back and keep more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket. 

If you took out a mortgage, consider refinancing the loan to obtain a lower monthly payment. Depending on when you took out the loan, you may qualify for a better rate if market conditions have changed, thus lowering the monthly payment. But keep in mind that by refinancing, you’ll more than likely be stretching out the loan term even further, which means you’ll pay more in interest over the life of the loan despite the lower monthly payment. If you don’t mind sharing your space with others, becoming an Airbnb host is a great way to earn some extra cash.

On the other hand, if you’re renting your place, you can downsize to a cheaper option once your lease is up. You can also get a roommate if you have an extra room and would prefer not to move because you love your space. 

How to Save Money On Household Expenses 

Utilities 

Does it seem like you’re overpaying for utilities each month or maybe you just want to lower the bill? Reach out to your provider and request an audit. They should be willing to come out and assess your space to ensure there aren’t any major issues that are driving your bill up. During the visit, they will also share money-saving tips to help keep costs down. 

In the meantime, take the following actions to start saving on utilities: 

  • Turn off lights and ceiling fans when you leave the room.
  • Shut off idle appliances and electronics when not in use.
  • Set your thermostat as high as you can tolerate it in warmer months and vice-versa for cooler months (78 or 68 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended in warmer and cooler months, respectively by Energy.gov). 
  • Keep the sun out of your home by closing the blinds and curtains. 
  • Clean your air filters monthly and replace them every 90 days if possible.
  • Decrease the temperature on your water heater.
  • Only use hot water when necessary.
  • Cover pots when boiling water. 
  • Use the microwave when reheating small portions.  
  • Fix leaky faucets. 

Cable and Internet

With the emergence of Netflix, Firestick, and many other gadgets that allow you to watch all your favorite movies, shows, and never miss a beat of live television, it’s safe to say that most have already cut the cord on cable. And you may want to follow suit. But since you’ll still need the internet, it doesn’t hurt to shop around and switch to the provider with the most competitive rate if your current provider isn’t willing to match what they’re offering. 

Not quite ready to walk away from cable? Be sure to bundle your cable and internet package, and shop around to determine if there are better bundle deals elsewhere. If so, call and bargain with your current provider. They may be willing to budge (and will probably do so to keep your business). Otherwise, threaten to walk away and that should get their attention. If not, turn in your equipment and move on. 

Cell Phone

When was the last time you took a look at your cell phone bill? Are you paying for services you don’t need or use? Call up the provider and adjust your services to lower your monthly rate. 

Or maybe your contract is coming to an end and you’d prefer to go to another provider that’s much more affordable? Now’s the time to start doing your homework so you can walk away and cut costs when your contract is up.

Quick Note: If you’re strapped for cash, think twice about the smartphone you choose. Do you need a device with all the latest and greatest technology or will something that’s a few hundred dollars cheaper suffice? While the monthly premium may not seem that bad, those figures start to add up after you’ve been paying for a year or so. 

Cleaning Supplies

Unless you have a housekeeper coming in to take care of all the cleaning, you’ll have to purchase cleaning supplies at some point. And depending on which items you use, your pocket could take a hit each time you replenish your supplies. So the next time around, take a few minutes to clip coupons or try ordering on Amazon to cut costs. 

If you have time on your hands, you can also write your favorite manufacturers to tell them how much you love their products. Chances are they’ll respond to your brief note with a token of appreciation in the form of free samples or a coupon for a free item.

Another Option: Make your cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. You’ll save a fortune by doing so and may even enjoy the process. And if you don’t know where to start, check out Pinterest. 

Repairs

Routine maintenance on appliances and major systems will keep most issues at bay. And if a problem does arise, you’ll be more likely to catch it before it gets out of hand and becomes a four-figure repair. 

This could be as simple as signing up for an HVAC maintenance plan that costs you a few hundred dollars per year but includes routine inspections of your heating and cooling systems. Some maintenance plans also weave in discounts for members in the event an issue does arise.

Live in a relatively new home? Always check with the builder first if you need a repair to determine if it’s still covered under the warranty. 

How to Save Money on Transportation

Car Payment

It’s not always as simple as selling your ride and getting a cheaper one when trying to save money on a car payment. Why so? Well, if you’re underwater, you’ll take a hit at the time of sale. The lender will either demand payment for the difference right away or roll the unpaid balance into the new loan, which sort of defeats the purpose. A better option: look into refinancing options and once your head is above water, consider selling and exploring cheaper options. But while you’re waiting, enjoy the more affordable car payment and stash away the difference between what you were paying and what you’re paying now.

But what if you have plenty of equity in your ride? You can always sell the car and use the money made off the sale as a down payment for a much cheaper vehicle with a lower monthly payment. 

Another Tip: If you purchased your car when your credit was in shambles, consider refinancing for a lower interest rate. 

Gasoline

Gasoline prices can vary drastically by location and brand, so use the GasBuddy app to find the best prices in your area. Furthermore, condensing trips will also save you quite a bit on gas mileage. And if public transportation or carpooling is an option, you may want to consider them as well to cut costs. 

Repairs and Maintenance

Not only does maintaining your vehicle get you better gas mileage, but it also lowers the likelihood of needing a major repair on your vehicle out of the blue. While it may seem like a headache each time you take the car in for maintenance and the customer service representative recommends a service that you hadn’t anticipated, having it done can prevent costly issues later on down the line. 

Auto Insurance

It’s a good idea to sit down or schedule or call with your auto insurance provider to review your policy. You may find that you no longer need some of the coverages you’re paying for. Furthermore, they may be offering a more competitive rate or discount that you aren’t currently taking advantage of. 

Also, consider increasing your deductible to lower your premiums. But only do so if you have the cash on hand to cover the higher deductible should you need to file a claim. 

It’s also not a bad idea to shop around for more competitive rates semi-annually. You don’t necessarily have to switch providers, by you can go to your provider with what you found and request an adjustment based on rates from competitors. 

How to Save Money on Food

Groceries

Groceries are another expense that can take a big bite out of your budget if you’re not mindful of your spending. The good news it’s possible to eat well balanced and scrumptious meals, even if you’re on a strict budget or money’s tight. Here’s how to pull it off:

  • Perform a pantry purge and consume all the items that remain before making another major grocery run.
  • Create a meal plan that coincides with the sales for the week. You can use apps to find the best deals. 
  • Devise a list that only includes the items you’ll need from your meal plan.
  • Head to the store on and only buy what you need.
  • Rinse and repeat each week. 

Dining Out 

Specials anyone? Practically every restaurant offers some sort of special, so you want to take advantage. Whether it’s a loyalty rewards program or kid’s eat free night, tailor your outings to those days to soften the blow on your wallet. If the portion sizes are large, don’t forget to get doggie bags so you’ll have food to eat for the next day. 

But if money’s tight, skip dining out and whip up your favorite dishes at home using copycat recipes. You can find them all over Pinterest. 

How to Save Money On Insurance

Health Insurance

Take care of yourself! Regardless of your premiums, you’ll spend less if you’re healthy because you’ll take fewer trips to the doctor. But if you do fall ill, don’t just throw back a bunch of Tylenol and call it a day. Go get checked as it could be a more serious issue. And if the physician prescribes medications, inquire about generic options as they are generally much cheaper with or without insurance. 

Life Insurance

Do you need whole life insurance or will a term policy suffice? It’s a good idea to speak with your insurance provider to determine if a term policy is a good fit for your financial situation. Their premiums are substantially lower than what you’ll find with whole life products and it may be ideal if you’re young and in good health. 

How to Save Money On Childcare and Extracurricular Activities

Childcare

Childcare is another cost that catches new parents off guard when they realize just how steep the rates are. But there are a few ways to lower costs, including nanny sharing or in-home childcare centers. Or it may be a better idea to explore work from home opportunities so you can be a stay-at-home parent and cut a bulk of childcare costs altogether.

Extracurricular Activities

It may seem harsh at first, but have a conversation with your children to determine which extracurricular activity is most important and communicate that they can only participate in one at a time. Doing so alleviates the pressure on your wallet and prevents you from stressing yourself out driving all over town for a ton of activities.

Bonus Tip: If your children will be on a traveling sports team, run the numbers ahead of time and start allocating money now for the season. The earlier you make travel arrangements, the more money you’ll keep in your pocket. 

Birthday Parties

Three words: keep it simple. No need to go all out when the kids are small. Chances are they won’t even remember the first few birthday parties. And once they’re older, a sleepover or day out with friends will be more appealing and save you a fortune. Joint birthday parties are another great way to save money. 

How to Save Money on Clothing

Rule of thumb when shopping for clothing: always shop the clearance rack. The finds may blow your mind and you’ll save a fortune. You can also try buying clothes that are out of season to cut costs. And you can’t go wrong with secondhand items from consignment, thrift shops, and, yard sales. 

Quick Tip: By shopping in the secondhand stores in high-end areas, you’ll increase the odds of landing killer deals on apparel from all of the top designers. 

How to Save Money On Banking Fees

It may seem convenient to stick with a bank you’ve patronized for years. But are you getting the best deal on your checking and savings account products? By conducting a quick search, you could find that it’s time to ditch the bank accounts with high fees for more enticing banking products offered elsewhere. 

How to Save Money On Debt Products

Improve Your Credit Rating 

The lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate. So it’s worthwhile to spend some time working on your credit score before applying for debt products. Start by identifying errors and filing disputes with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Next, move on to each section of your credit report and devising a plan of action. Focus on the sections that have the greatest impact and move right along until your score reaches the desired level.  

You can find more detailed tips on raising your credit score fast right over here. 

Student Loans

Explore income-based repayment plans to lower your monthly payments. If you have private loans, can your loan servicer to inquire about special payment or hardship programs that can save you money or be a better fit for your current financial situation.

Shop Around 

Whether you’re buying a home, car, or applying for a personal loan, never settle for the first offer that comes your way. Instead, shop around for the best rates and only move forward when you’ve found a loan product with a competitive rate that best suits your needs. 

How to Save Money On Miscellaneous Expenses

Subscriptions

Sign up for Trim and let them do the legwork for you. But what is Trim? Simply put, it’s a service that identifies and notifies you of any recurring subscriptions so you can decide whether it makes sense to keep paying or cut the cord. 

Vacations and Holidays

For vacations, map out a plan far in advance and start saving early so the debt monster can’t take advantage of you. Or consider staycations and only do what you can afford; no need to go all out if money’s tight and definitely no need to get a vacation loan.

The same rule applies for holiday travel. Start now so you won’t stress yourself out as the time draws near. And keep the gifts to a minimum by setting a strict budget for each person on your list and sticking to it. 

Other Money-Saving Strategies

A few more money-saving tips to get you started or keep you on the right track: 

  • Participating in savings challenges to make the process more exciting
  • Automating your saving efforts using automatic transfers or mobile apps

The Bottom Line

It all boils down to your mindset when you’re attempting to save money on a tight budget. Are you committed to the cause and willing to endure short-term pain for long-term gain? If so, you should be in good shape and meet your goals in record time. 

Consider getting an accountability partner that will offer a source of encouragement when times get rough. And always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. 

Final Thought: If you want to reach your savings goal faster, explore other income-earning opportunities. You’ll also have a little more peace of mind knowing more money is coming in, which means more wiggle room in your budget. That’s a win-win for you! 

Author

Allison Martin is a syndicated financial writer, author, and Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI). She has written about personal finance for almost ten years and holds a master's degree in Accounting from the University of South Florida. Allison's work has been featured on The Wall Street Journal, ABC, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, Fox Business, Credit.com, MoneyTalksNews, Investopedia, The Simple Dollar, and a host of other reputable publications. She also travels around the nation facilitating financial literacy and business workshops to individuals from all walks of life. In her spare time, Allison enjoys traveling, cuddling up with a good book, and spending time with family. She lives in Florida with her husband and two young sons.

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