When we finally started budgeting so that we could finally pay off our debt, we knew we had to trim some expenses. Our income barely covered our expenses, so we had to find ways to save money on a tight budget.
By saving money on expenses, we had more to put towards our debt. Finally paying off our debt meant we could put more money towards the things we loved, rather than the debts we owed.
Before we get to our smart money saving tips, it’s important to have a budget in place. Without a budget, you’ll never be able to save money fast on a low income. A zero sum budget will tell your money where to go, instead of you wondering where it went. You can learn more about our budget here.
There are a ton of outrageous and unusual ways to save money out there. Rather than suggest you try a zillion and one oddball ideas, these are the top 11 easy ways that we were able to manage and save money every month:
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.
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 out, and save money than half of our grocery budget. You can read my Grocery Budget Makeover review here.
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. Sign up to their email lists and follow them on social media so you are notified of sales without having to dig for them.
Next, sign up for cash back programs such as Ibotta, Ebates and TopCashBack. Each requires you to submit your receipt or click through their site first to get cash back (when shopping online).
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.
4. Ask for discounts on services you use regularly, like daycare.
While it might seem like a long shot, it doesn’t hurt to ask. 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.
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 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.
Last but not least – get out of the never ending cycle of overpaying for cell phone services. 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!
7. 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.
8. 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!
9. 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, Capital One 360 is a great bank 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 money for different savings goals.
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.
10. 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 auto 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!
11. Do a savings challenge to boost your savings.
Savings challenges are a super easy way to boost your savings 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 10 simple rules for a no spend challenge, and a list of 37 easy money challenges to help you smash your financial goals.
There are a ton of other ways to save money on a tight budget, but these 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.
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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