Creative Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget
For most of us mere mortals, saving money is difficult at best. It’s easy to begin with the best of intentions only to give up due to forgetfulness, frustration, or exhaustion. To help you get started and keep going, here are three sets of creative ideas for saving money on a tight budget. The first set will help you get going. The second set will keep you motivated. The third set will help ensure long-term success.
Stage one: getting started
Develop a budget and keep to it: Once you learn how to make a budget, you’ll have a better sense of how much money you need to spend each month. With a budget in hand, the next step will be much easier.
Set a goal: Without a goal, you have nothing to reach for. Determine how much money you would like to save and when you hope to have it saved. Write the amount in a place where you are likely to see it often (a centrally located dry-erase board, a stickie note on your computer, a recurring reminder on your phone, in lipstick on your bathroom mirror—whatever works for you).
Make it automatic: Don’t rely on your memory or willpower to save. Talk to your employer about setting up automatic deposit so that a portion of your paycheck automatically goes to your savings account(s). If your employer doesn’t offer this service, do it yourself by depositing a portion of your paycheck directly into your savings account(s). Set a calendar reminder for yourself to make that deposit every payday!
Create special savings accounts for different savings goals: If you’re saving to reach multiple goals (college, a new car, vacation, etc.), open special accounts for each goal. This will help you track your progress toward each.
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Stage two: keep saving
Weed out the excess: We all spend money on things we don’t need. For some people, the expenses are large (going out to eat every night, buying too many clothes, late-night online shopping, etc.). For others, the expenses may seem limited (Starbucks coffee on work days; multiple paid applications or programs like Spotify, Netflix, etc.; overheating the house during winter, etc.) Regardless of what your over-expenditures look like, get rid of as many as you can. Make your coffee at home, trash the application or program you never use anyway, turn the heat down, and for Pete’s sake, stop buying things you see on social media ads! Cutting out excess purchases allows you to put more in savings. It really does add up.
Only use your credit card if you can pay it off at the end of the month: I would tell you not to use your credit card, but the truth is that using a credit card can actually make you money, as long as your card offers cash back and you pay the balance in full every month. So if you can do that, then use that rewards card for everything! If you find that you’re not able to pay off your balance, either start tracking your spending to make sure you’re not spending more than you have in your checking account, or stop using it altogether and rely only on your debit card or (gasp) checks.
Practice these thrifty habits:
- Shop at second-hand shops.
- Call your utilities to see if you can get a better deal.
- Cancel subscriptions you no longer need.
- Buy no-name brands when you can.
- Don’t overdo it on gifts.
- Don’t reward yourself by spending money (instead, treat yourself to a nice bath, a delicious home-made meal, or a quiet walk by yourself).
- Borrow (don’t buy) when you can.
- Cook/freeze meals ahead of time so you have food for those days you just don’t want to cook.
- Take advantage of free activities and avoid paid activities.
- Check out your local community calendar for free and low-cost events.
- Stay in with friends rather than going out.
- Volunteer! You’ll get more out of it than fleeting entertainment.
- Exercise more.
- Check out the library for coupons. Sometimes they offer free passes to local parks or events.
- Sell your stuff online. (I waver on this one because I tend to give things to local shelters, which helps others save money. You may choose to do both—selling the more expensive items and giving away others. Both help conserve resources.)
- Make it if you can (gifts, food, clothing, etc.).
- Fix it if you can (clothing, furniture, electronics, etc.).
- Swap it if you can (vacation rentals, books, music, clothing, etc.).
- Conserve heat, light, gas, food, water, paper, plastic, and all other resources.
- Wait a few days before you buy larger items. This will keep you from making emotional purchases.
- Find less expensive options for housing, if necessary and possible.
- Need to get somewhere? Share a ride, take the bus, ride your bike, or walk.
- Consolidate your debt.
- Make the most of your employer’s 401k match program.
- Air seal and insulate your home. The initial cost will save you money over time.
- Always think of new ways to save money.
Stage three: take it to the next level
Once you’ve started saving, it’s time to invest. Don’t just save for that new car, boat, vacation, wardrobe update, etc. Make sure you save for your future (aka your retirement). The easiest way to do this is through a 401k plan at your place of work. For those of you who do not have a 401k plan or who want to save above and beyond your 401k plan, you can start by building a savings of at least $1,000. Then speak with a financial advisor to determine the best way to invest your savings. Regular savings accounts are okay for small savings goals but a financial advisor can help you find ways to generate a higher yield on your long-term savings.
About Heidi White
Heidi White is the content and communications specialist at VSECU. She is responsible for communicating information and ideas through the written word for the credit union’s internal and external audiences. Her passion is helping people live more joyful lives through timely, useful, and compelling content. Heidi lives in Barre, Vermont.