13 Painless Ways To Stick To A Budget, Even If You Suck At Saving Money
I know, I know: Saving money is hard.
It feels like as soon as you get your paycheck, it's gone. What gives?
Even though I'm sure you've tried everything you can think of to save money, there are definitely some surefire ways to pinch your pennies.
Try these 13 painless ways to stick to your shoestring budget:
1. Track your spending (or create a budget).
This is probably the easiest way to save money on this list because it's the only one that doesn't ask you to change something.
When we measure and track something, we naturally improve it.
When we track our weight, we become healthier. When we track our time, we become more efficient.
And when we track our spending, we spend less.
Write down everything you've spent money on over the last two months. What was necessary, and what could you have gone without?
What could have been replaced with a more cost-efficient option?
Now, keep tracking what you spend money on each month. Over time, you'll become more conscientious of your spending habits and will inevitably spend less.
2. Take your lunch to work.
It's often easier to grab a quick lunch than it is to prepare our lunch before leaving for work.
That's partially why the US spends $200 billion a year on fast food!
Besides, it's just a few bucks, right?
If you spend $5 a day on lunch, you'll spend $1,300 a year. Or, you could do something like a peanut butter sandwich, some fruit and nuts and a granola bar. (With whole wheat bread, it's sustaining and moderately healthy.)
All of that will cost you about $18 to $20 and last you at least two weeks. That just brought your lunch cost from $5 a day to less than $2 a day, saving you roughly $800 a year.
3. Compare auto insurances.
Insurance is supposed to be helpful, but it's too often confusing.
If you need a car, auto insurance is a must, but it's difficult to tell who will really give you the best rate. There are just so many factors.
The easiest policy to get isn't always the best.
Be sure to check sites like TheZebra to compare auto insurance so that you get the best rate for your area and situation.
And since most companies offer bundled discounts, you'll likely be able to save on your renters or homeowners insurance, too. That's a win-win.
4. Give up a hobby or habit.
You'd be amazed how much a routine can cost you.
Do you go out for a couple of drinks with friends every week? That $10 a week adds up to over $500 a year.
Do you smoke? A pack a week adds up to a few hundred bucks. Maybe your hobby is working on crafts, or going to the movie theater with friends.
One of mine is reading, and a couple of years ago I realized how much I was spending on books. I'd get two a month at $15 to $20 a pop, and all of a sudden, I'd spent several hundred dollars on books!
No one wants to make monk-like sacrifices to their leisure time, but be conscious of how much that time costs because it adds up quickly.
5. How many subscriptions do you need?
Netflix, Spotify, Vanity Fair, ESPN Magazine, cable, your local gym, food delivery packages, clothing delivery packages and shaving kits. These are just a handful of the subscription services so many of us have.
And how much does each costs? Do you really need Hulu and Netflix?
How often do you actually go to the gym? Do you need over $50 worth of new clothes every month?
Every brand wants us to subscribe, but if we're on a shoestring budget, we should only pay for things we use constantly.
If you have a magazine subscription, but barely have a chance to read new issues, cancel it.
If you listen to Spotify every day, and only open Pandora occasionally, cut Pandora.
See how many subscriptions you'd be fine without, and then see how much you'll save by cancelling.
6. Create a meal plan.
Impulses are the enemy of thrifty spenders, which is why we spend so much on food. Hunger is an intense craving that we want to satisfy ASAP.
To fight your impulses, create a plan. It's good to plan a few days or a week ahead.
(More often becomes a constant burden. Less often creates room to slip up.)
Know what you're going to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack.
This meal plan will keep you from spending more to satisfy your impulses, which will add up to hundreds of dollars over the year (and probably a healthier you).
7. Get used to comparison shopping.
Most of us are used to finding something we want, and then finding it cheaper on Amazon.
If you're on a shoestring budget, you should probably buy fewer things.
But when you do need something, take the time to find a better price.
We all like Airbnb, but if you need to travel or plan an event, you might actually find better deals through Groupon (which is generally a good resource, anyway).
You might also be able to get essentials cheaper through Jet.
6pm is great for discount designer clothes, but at the very least, you should choose the clearance racks instead of what's in the front window.
8. Set up an auto-draft savings account.
If you're like me, you'll spend what you have. So create a boundary for yourself by automatically setting aside a few bucks.
If your bank doesn't offer a free savings account (or if it has account minimums you can't reach in the beginning), CapitalOne360 can be a helpful savings option.
Just set up your account to automatically withdraw $5 a week, $10, $20 or whatever you can afford.
This way, you won't spend everything you earn out of habit, and over time, you'll have several hundred or several thousand dollars to use for emergencies, vacation or investing.
9. Stop using data.
It's becoming more common for carriers to offer unlimited data.
But even in these cases, it comes with a price. You have to ask, “Do I need it?”
Instead of streaming music and podcasts, you can download them when you have WiFi.
Instead of using navigation apps, screenshot the directions before you leave.
If you're able to use less data, you'll probably be able to save money. The lack of screen time ought to be a nice reprieve for you mind, too.
10. Audit your home and spending.
What could you live without?
If you go through your grocery list and look at what's lying around your home (or other things you spend money on), I'm confident you'll find something you could live without.
Do you really need essential oils or bath salts? Do you really need tubs of gelato or expensive organic — well — anything?
It might be knick knacks or books, food or clothing, subscriptions or bathroom products, but I'm sure there's at least one thing you could cut from your budget.
And I bet after a couple of weeks, you won't even miss it!
11. Give yourself time to make decisions.
A great deal of our spending is impulsive. We think about something, we want it and so we buy it.
You'll be amazed by how much you can save just from making yourself wait.
This helps me all the time. I'll set a guideline that I have to wait at least two weeks (maybe more) before deciding whether or not to purchase.
If I still passionately want it after the waiting period, then I'll look for the most cost-efficient way to get it.
Most of the time, I stop caring about whatever it is within a few days.
Inevitably, waiting to make purchase decisions saves me thousands of dollars a year, and I'm sure it will help you, too.
12. Socialize in instead of out.
When you go out with friends, you pay a markup on food, parking, drinks, tip and entertainment.
It's fun, just not thrifty.
Why not socialize in? You can easily satisfy five people or more with $40 worth of food and drinks from the grocery store, and then rent a movie, play a game or just hang out!
Choosing to have a night in with friends instead of a night out can cut your per person cost by more than half!
And you still get to keep the most important part: quality time with people you care about.
13. Look into DIY or Pinterest options.
DIY crafts can cost you more and take up more time than simply buying the thing new. But in some situations, you could save a great deal!
A new coffee table could cost you $150. Or, you could refurbish a thrift store coffee table for an all-in price of $50 (table, sandpaper, lacquer or paint).
The same goes for most home furniture, and it works for smaller crafts, too.
Let's say you send out cards to people, you want to do something unique in your yard or you would like art for your walls. Chances are, you can find a thrifty DIY way to accomplish your goals.
More importantly, it's always good to check your options and see if you could get more value out of doing something yourself.
One last tip.
The biggest help to saving money on a shoestring budget, and what will make saving painless, is being aware of your actions.
It's so easy to get into a habit of mindless spending, where you see small items as negligible purchases.
Everything adds up over time, and before you know it, you're stressed out about your chronic lack of cash.
To improve anything, you need to measure it. And you need to think about every purchase you make.
Do you really need it? Is there a better way to get what you need?
It might take some time, but being aware of your spending — along with the other 13 tips included here — will help you painlessly save money and create a better future for yourself.
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