Dedicated to young adults everywhere!
A multi-millionaire I know always says, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep that counts.”
With those words of wisdom in mind, this article offers up 11 budgeting tips to help you keep more money in your pocket each month. No matter where we are in life financially, most of us work way too hard to overspend and under budget, so a little attention combined with a bit of effort and a willingness to change habits can add up to some big savings.
Get Prepared for Emergencies
You may have heard it said before, but the first step in getting ahead of your finances is setting up a savings account dedicated entirely to unexpected expenses.
Having an established emergency fund helps your monthly budget from taking a hit if you end up in the hospital or need to pay for some unexpected car repairs.
You can decide the exact amount of money you want to stash away, but a good starting point is $1,000. The hardest part of saving is starting, so once you have that minimum built up, it will be easier to keep going until you meet all of your savings goals.
Find A Good Budgeting Method
Successful money management requires the right budgeting tools. Some popular methods include:
- Handmade budget worksheets
- Online programs like Budgeter
- Budgeting Apps like YNAB or Mint
- Dave Ramsey’s envelope system
You can decide what works for you, but no matter what kind of system you want to set up, make sure you have a realistic budget for your needs.
You don’t want to scrimp one month only to find yourself very over budget in that category next month. And you don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes.
Instead, take the time to set up budget categories in reasonable and attainable amounts for you.
Cut Back On These Expenses
The best way to reach your financial goals (like paying off your student loans or saving enough for a down payment) is to keep your cash flow above your monthly expenses. You can either do that by increasing your income or cutting back your expenses.
In this article, we are narrowing in on the latter.
So without further ado, here are the 11 things to stop paying for right now!
As our lives get busier and busier, we sometimes get comfortable paying for conveniences instead of putting in the effort ourselves. On a one-time basis, the cost can be insignificant, but when it spreads to multiple aspects of our lives, it becomes quite costly. Sometimes, we get so used to paying for convenience that we don’t even think about the dollars we can save by doing things on our own.
Some examples are lawn care, shoveling snow, delivery fees for food, service charges, housekeeping services, dog walking and processed and prepared foods at the grocery store. Eating multiple meals out and daily coffee trips also exact a charge for their convenience.
Just taking the following steps yourself can save over $125 in one week:
- Skip one restaurant meal for two ($40).
- Make your coffee at home for a week ($30).
- Cut your own grass ($30) and skip the prepared foods at the grocery store ($25).
If you’re having your house cleaned once a week, cut it back to twice a month. If you’re sending out dress shirts to the dry cleaner, wash and iron at home a few times to see how much you save.
Make a list of services you use and their cost to determine if there is an opportunity to keep more of that hard-earned money for yourself. Whether you are young and healthy or older and energetic, you should be pocketing this money instead of paying others for convenience!
Fast Food and Unnecessary Restaurant Meals
Not only can we eat healthier and better manage portion control by preparing and eating meals at home, but it is also a huge boost to your budget. Most people say they are reluctant to commit to at-home meal preparation due to time constraints, but in reality, it is the lack of meal planning, proper shopping and preparation that keeps people from being successful in this arena.
Find Some Go-To Recipes
Everyone should have five super quick meals they can put together in 20 minutes or less. Sheet pan dinners, salads with steak or chicken and rotisserie chicken from the market are good examples of easy after-work dinners. Over the weekend, plan what you are going to eat for the week ahead, check the ingredients you have on hand, write your grocery list and shop, either online or in person.
If your job is not home-based, don’t forget to avoid costly weekday lunch meals, too. Bringing food from home will save you almost $50 per week, and your lunch does not have to be boring. Leftovers from dinner and protein-rich treats such as hummus with veggies make for easy lunchtime options.
Cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or fancy. The more you do it, the easier it is, and the faster you will be in the kitchen. In the meantime, you may find that you genuinely enjoy it!
Saving your dining-out experiences for special occasions or when you are craving cuisine that is beyond your ability to make at home will put more dollars in your pocket as well as enhance your dining experiences.
When you are budgeting, don’t forget to account for the hidden costs of restaurant meals, such as increased costs due to Covid-19, tips and the cost of alcohol. These three things alone will add at least another 30% to your bill, once again proving how much cheaper it is to eat at home!
Overpaying at the Grocery Store
Many years ago, I noticed that my best friend could feed her family of four at considerably less than I was spending for just me and one other. What was her magic? I found out that it was not complicated or restrictive at all. She simply checked her local market ads for whatever cuts of meat, produce, and grocery items were on sale and then planned her weekly menu accordingly.
These grocery market ads are almost always available online, although some markets still send them out in a mailer once a week. Online, you can sign up for the market’s loyalty program and electronically clip coupons for their sale items. These savings add up quickly, and you don’t have to remember to bring coupons with you when you shop.
Find the Best Prices
Your preferred grocery store can also factor into being a drain on your budget, so if Walmart has the best prices in your area, but it’s a little further away, it’s still probably worth it to bypass the boutique market and shop at the store that is going to have the best prices.
Don’t turn up your nose at generic food items. These can result in significant cost savings without an accompanying lack of quality. In recent years, private-label goods have improved significantly, and it really is possible to buy an identical grocery item at a reduced price. According to Forrest McCall, personal finance expert and owner of Don’t Work Another Day, making this small adjustment can save you over 20% on your grocery bill, which can amount to well over $1,000 per year.
Steer Clear from Pre-Packaged Foods
Pay attention to the extra expense you might be paying for packaging or food preparation. Shredded cheese is usually more expensive than buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself. Individually packaged snack items will always be more expensive than buying items in a large package. If the meat counter sells skewers of meat and vegetables together as shish kabob, you are going to be able to save almost half the price by cutting the meat and vegetables yourself.
Many people find shopping online for groceries a good cost-cutting tool. If you are the type of person who is tempted by the treats you see in the market and find yourself buying a lot of things not on your list, then this might be helpful to you. Since we are already cutting back on our convenience costs (no delivery fees, please), the best way to do this is to participate in a grocery store program where you can shop online and then go and pick up the groceries yourself.
Unused and Forgotten Subscriptions, Streaming Services and Membership Fees
These small, automatically renewed expenses add up quickly. If you’ve cut the cord with the cable company, you are probably participating in several streaming services. Are you watching all of them routinely? If not, cancel the ones you are not using or, at the very least, put them on “pause.”
Take an Inventory
Since we typically pay for these services by credit card, you may not even be aware of how many subscriptions you are being charged for each month. Check your credit card statement monthly, and make sure you are only paying for the services you wish to use.
You may have signed up for subscription services that auto-renew for things like background checks, genealogy research, access to research publications and membership organizations. If you are not routinely accessing these services, it would be wise to look at your annual credit card summary to identify these things and cancel before they automatically are charged for another year of service.
Just recently, I received an email auto-renewal notice for a magazine that I subscribed to years ago. I had not received the publication in months, but it was time for renewal, and there was a charge that was about four times what I would pay if I were a new subscriber. Fortunately, I had a few days’ notice and was able to cancel the subscription before it auto-renewed. If you enjoy reading materials in print rather than online, it’s time to get a library card!
Workout From Home
Seriously rethink club, pool and gym memberships. Are you really getting the value for these fees? With Covid-19 restrictions still in place for many areas, are you able to access the club when you want, under the conditions that you want and for as long as you’d like? If not, put your membership on hold and save your money!
We are all buying so many more things online now, and unnecessary shipping charges can be a drain on your budget. Many stores offer free shipping routinely, or at least with a minimum purchase. You can sign up for Amazon Prime to receive most Amazon items without a shipping charge. You can also access free shipping with services such as Shoprunner, a no-cost service that provides free shipping for a variety of retail stores.
Plan your purchases in advance so that you do not have to pay for expedited shipping if there is not a free ship option.
Store loyalty also creates opportunities for free shipping, so if your favorite store offers a loyalty program with that benefit, be sure and sign up!
Utilities, Cable TV and Internet
I hate to say it, but my dad was right. Turn off the lights when you leave the room and keep the thermostat set at 68 or lower in the winter and 74 or higher in the summer! Overpaying for indoor climate control when a sweater will make a difference is a waste of money.
Take advantage of smart technology and adjust the temperature when you’re not home, and you will be surprised at how much you can save throughout the year.
If you’re working from home, see if your employer will cover the cost of your internet access. If you’re not at home a lot or there’s only one of you at home, consider forgoing your internet plan for hotspot usage from your mobile phone.
Check online and see what the cost would be if you were a completely new customer to your cable and internet providers. If it turns out that it would be cheaper to be a new customer, it’s time to make a phone call and get your loyalty rewarded by a discount. Renegotiating cable and internet bills is worth that time on hold to get it done. Many providers will give you an immediate discount on your bill just for switching from paper to paperless! Don’t forget to look at the cost-benefit of bundling those services, too. While you’re at it, if you have one, get rid of the landline!
Finance Charges and Credit Card Errors
Many of us have gone paperless for convenience and the ability to pay our bills no matter where we are. However, an online bill requires the same scrutiny that you should have been doing each month with a paper statement. It’s important to review your detailed charges as you may find errors and gain insight into your spending habits that can help you save money.
Checking your bill is also helpful in getting late charges and interest charges removed from your account. For example, I recently noticed that although my online bill paying service said the payment was delivered on the due date, the credit card company did not post the payment until the next day, which resulted in both a late charge and a finance charge! A phone call to the credit card company got that adjusted, and I now make my online credit card company payments at least one day before the due date.
As for finance charges, it’s time to cut that completely out of your budget. Credit card debt will cost you anywhere from 9% to 29% annually, and it will erode many good savings habits. If you currently have credit card debt that cannot be paid off in full, it’s time to put your cards in a water filled Tupperware container in the freezer! Stop using your cards, and start focusing on ways to pay off your debt.
If you’ve been disciplined about your credit cards, use them for routine purchases and always, always, always pay them off in full each month. This way, you are establishing the habit of living within your means, and at the same time, improving your credit rating and keeping access to credit open in case of a serious emergency.
Brand Names and Luxury Items at Full Cost
If you are the type of person that always wants the luxury brand item, it will be worth your while to explore opportunities to buy these types of items at a discount. You can save money by using a service like Rakuten to access merchants and department stores directly to receive a rebate percentage based on your purchase price. Rakuten offers special bonus percentages on certain stores periodically, so if you have your eye on Ray-Ban sunglasses, for example, check with Rakuten and wait for a double-digit rebate special.
There are online brand name and luxury brand discount stores that offer quality goods at a reduced price. Some of these are RueLaLa and HauteLook. If you’re shopping in stores, visits to outlets or stores like TJ Maxx, Saks Off 5th and Nordstrom Rack can result in great bargains.
Don’t forget to check your credit card offers for rebates and discounts. Most cards offer special deals that will trigger if you use your linked card to pay for the item. Just recently, I was able to combine a 15% Rakuten rebate with a $30 American Express statement credit by using my enrolled card to pay for a special gift for someone.
On the other hand, do you really need to overpay for a “name”? I know a young adult who has adopted the black t-shirt and jeans look as an almost daily uniform. This can be a cost-saving move, but for this person, he insists on the Armani $300+ black t-shirt, when a $40 item from Express would probably create the same stylish impact. Remember, clothes wear out and overpaying for basics doesn’t make sense!
Rent and mortgage payments take the biggest chunk out of our budgets, but there are ways to mitigate this. First and foremost, do not automatically buy the most house you can afford. Your realtor and banker may encourage you to do that (that’s how they make their money), but in the end, it is you who will be paying the bills. Buying more space than you need for more than you need to spend is a waste of money.
Don’t forget about the true cost of homeownership. Beyond your mortgage payments, you will pay taxes and insurance. In addition, there may be improvements you wish to make, and there will be maintenance needs you wish to address. Once you factor those costs into your decision-making, it will help you determine exactly what your housing cost parameters should be.
Look Past First Impressions
Think smaller, consider older homes and plan on improving your property over time. When I was a single mom, I purchased a small two-bedroom, two-bath home for me and my teenage son. It was in a safe neighborhood in a small town, and it had been in the same family for over 60 years. It needed a new roof and siding, but it was structurally sound and had a lot of charm. We tore out the wall-to-wall carpeting, refinished the hardwood floors, replaced outdated lighting, got rid of paneling, updated the bathrooms and replaced old linoleum flooring. After my son graduated from high school, I moved and converted the home to a rental. Last fall, I put it on the market, and it sold within a couple of days for more than 20% above the asking price.
If I had been focused on buying the biggest home I could afford, I never would have chosen this little charmer. But with a mortgage cost of less than $500 a month during a time in my life when I unexpectedly got seriously ill, it was a fortunate decision. By the time the house was sold, ten years after purchase, it was fully paid for.
Rethink Your Condo
If you live in a condo, chances are you are saving some money on exterior maintenance and lawn care, but you are paying for it through your Homeowner’s Association dues. Many condo fees are used to pay for development amenities such as a pool, tennis court, party facilities and gyms. If you are not using these services, or if they are closed due to Covid concerns, you might want to think about taking advantage of this incredible seller’s market and putting your condo up for sale! Pocket your profit, and then downsize to a place that is in a less expensive area, even out of state!
My husband and I were living in a Chicago suburb, in a smaller home, but in a neighborhood that was in demand and filled with some beautiful, older homes. Our house was older, smaller and fit that adage of being the “cheapest house in the best neighborhood.” We lovingly renovated it and enjoyed it for three years. Then, my husband’s employment changed, and we decided to go south for warmer weather. By making the move, we were able to buy two properties, one a loft on a river and the other a small house on a recreational lake, for considerably less than what we were paying for our Chicago home.
You can save on rent in several ways. If you’re single, have a roommate and share the cost of things like utilities and internet service. Also, don’t be afraid to move, whether it’s across town or to another state. If your job recently changed to one where you will be working remotely 100% of the time, there is no reason to stay where costs are high! Overpaying for a luxury rental is a waste of dollars because you are not building equity, and your month over month costs truly exceed the benefits you can derive from renting. Finally, if you’re going to rent, don’t seek out the newest and best-looking apartment. For most of us, it should be considered a temporary step until home/condo ownership is a possibility.
In our family, we are fans of what we call “The Bold Move,” meaning that nothing is out of bounds, and we will make and take the opportunity to do something differently in order to benefit our family in the long run. Keep that philosophy in mind as you begin to consider whether you could significantly save money on housing by moving to a different area of your town, state or the country.
Mobile Phone Service
Seriously, do you REALLY need to upgrade your phone every time an updated model is released? Of course not! Each time you do that, you put yourself in a position to have monthly phone payments (when you could stick with your older, fully paid off phone), and you also subject yourself to higher deductibles for phone insurance. So instead, enjoy the $25-$35 monthly reduction in your phone bill by using your fully paid for phone for a few more years.
What does make sense to look at your phone bill is to see what you are paying for forest data usage, texting and other services. Wireless providers, not unlike cable TV companies, are constantly modifying their plans. As an existing customer, you should be able to get the best plan benefits at can get a reduction in your monthly costs!
Cars still depreciate the moment you drive them off the lot, so buying a used car can result in considerable cost savings. Taking on a 72-month car payment will eat up a big portion of your budget for many years, so if you can buy used and pay cash or finance less, then you will be ahead financially.
Furniture items purchased through sources like Facebook Marketplace or your local thrift store can result in terrific bargains. If you are handy and can repair or reupholster furniture, your opportunity to buy used and save big bucks will result in great savings.
Hobby and seasonal items are great things to purchase used since many people buy these types of items and then don’t have the time to use them.
If you have a good local thrift store, it’s often worth it to make periodic walk-throughs to see what types of items are available. For example, thrift stores are often a great source for books, “new with tags” children’s clothes (the kids grew out of the sizes before they had a chance to wear them) and outerwear.
Slow And Steady
I have not always been thrifty or smart with my money, but I have learned quite a few things along the way. By learning how to manage my spending, I was able to retire early and achieve most of my financial goals. I think there are two key lessons that can make a difference in your personal money management style.
Needs vs. Wants
If you are in debt and are overspending, the most effective thing you can do is spend some time assessing your “wants” vs. your “needs.” Too many times, we purchase things we want but really do not need, and that can result in increased debt and lack of emergency savings. Unfortunately, this creates a cycle of overspending and debt that is difficult to overcome.
Saving money takes time.
If you forego spending money on conveniences, you will need time to do what you were paying to be done by others. For example, if you want to make sure you are paying the lowest price on an expensive item, it will take time to find the best deal. If you want to get cashback, it will take time to sign up for and shop through a rebate service. If you want to save at the grocery store, it will take time to plan your meals, shop the sale items and prepare your food. Finally, if you want to correct errors and overcharges, it will take time to go through your bills and get them corrected.
In the end, the opportunity to move to a path of greater financial freedom is completely worth the patience and the time invested!
You might also be interested in: 10 Things Money Can’t Buy That Will Make You Happy