When money is tight, stress tends to run high. We hate the feeling of helplessness. For some, lack of money leads us to be hypervigilant, cutting every extra expense possible to save money.
For others, spending is a form of self soothing that only gets worse when money is tight. But even if you’re struggling with finances there are some ways to manage your expenses to help you get through this difficult time without losing your mind.
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Save Your Spare Change
Take a lesson from older generations and, every time you make a purchase, round up to the nearest dollar and put the difference in a jar.
This can be done with actual change and a jar or in your budgeting or tracking tool of choice. In YNAB* (my favorite budgeting and tracking app ever), I save my spare change by creating a split transaction.
I created a spare change category and for every purchase, I split my transaction, round up to the nearest dollar, and add the difference to my spare change category.
I’ve been able to save hundreds of dollars to use towards debt, savings, or to just help me cover unexpected expenses.
Start Planning Your Meals
One of the biggest money leaks in a lot of families is the food budget. Either we end up eating out way more often than we should or we buy food and never use it or the food goes bad before we get to it.
Sometimes we end up buying tons of stuff we don’t need because it looked good on the shelf and so we add it to the cart not realizing just how much extra money we’re spending. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things.
But with a good plan in place, you can grocery shop with confidence knowing exactly what you need and not getting distracted by what you don’t need.
If you stick to your meal plan, you’ll buy only what you’ll use and nothing will go to waste. But even with a meal plan, things can get expensive if you don’t plan well.
So in order to minimize your grocery costs, here are a few helpful tips:
- Choose meals that use a lot of the same ingredients for each week, this way you’ll spend less money and have less leftover food.
- Plan to use your leftovers. For instance, a big pot of chili can be used a million different ways throughout the week, meaning you won’t need as many different meal ideas.
- Get creative with low cost items like rice, beans, fresh fruits & veggies, & eggs.
- Have more meatless meals, since meat tends to be one of the biggest grocery expenses. If you can’t go without meat, try subbing chicken, which is typically cheaper (and healthier).
- Base your meal plan on themes. For instance, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Pork Thursday, Pizza Friday, Soup Saturday, Leftover Sunday
- Take into consideration what you currently have in your fridge and pantry when planning your meals. Try to use up what you already have before buying new.
- Buy a few good cookbooks to help you come up with cheap but tasty meal ideas (I love Good And Cheap by Leanne Brown)
- Use a meal planning tool, like Emeals, if you need some help getting started!
Take Advantage Of Rewards & Coupons
Many stores offer a rewards program where you earn cash back or points on certain purchases and can then use those rewards towards future purchases (like Target Circle).
And if you know you can responsibly handle credit cards, many offer rewards like cash or travel credits. One caution though, if you are not able to pay your credit card in full every month, the rewards you earn will quickly be outweighed by the interest you’ll pay on your debt.
Start Using Only Cash
There’s just something about handing over real cash at the register that really makes you think a little harder about what you’re purchasing.
Swiping a card or hitting “purchase” online has become like second nature to so many of us. We don’t really think about it anymore – especially on smaller purchases.
A $20 purchase is a lot less painful when you don’t physically see and feel the money leaving your possession. But hand over a $20 bill and suddenly you’re a lot more aware of what you’re actually spending.
Put this psychology to good use and set up a cash only system. It’s not just the psychology that will benefit you, but the convenience (or lack thereof).
When we have a card at our fingertips 24/7, we never have to worry about being without money. Impulse purchases are super easy because you’re not forced to stop and think about it.
But if you only carry enough cash with you to buy what you plan to buy, then it’s a lot harder to end up with stuff you didn’t plan on (and probably don’t need).
If you come across something you’d like to purchase, having to go back home or to the bank to get the money to pay for it gives you just enough of a mental break to think through whether this is a purchase you really want to make or not.
Plan A No Spend Day, Week, Or Month
The best way to save money is to just not spend it! Of course this is a lot easier said than done – but implementing a no spend time period can actually be a lot of fun!
It forces you to get creative with what you already have and to learn how to do without things you may not need anyway. Plus there’s a built in reward of having extra money in savings at the end!
My suggestion is to plan ahead. Decide on a specific time period and date you’ll start. You’ll also need to make a plan for what you can or can’t spend money on.
Obviously you’ll still need to pay your bills and buy necessities (like food & gas) – but set a very specific limit on these things and make sure you stick to it.
During your no spend period, every time you are tempted to make a purchase, write it down to reconsider once your no-spend period is over.
Put what you would have spent into your savings account to be used towards your big financial goal (paying off debt, building up your emergency fund, or whatever other goal you may have)!
Use Technology To Help You Save
Apps like Digit analyze your spending habits and your income and help you save money you didn’t even know you had.
These can be super helpful, especially if you don’t particularly like to budget or track your expenses. These apps help you keep tabs on the most important things so you can cut unwanted and unneeded expenses and save some extra money!
Check out some of these other great options, too:
Bonus: Create & Use A Budget
You knew I wasn’t going to give you an entire article about saving money without mentioning the amazing power of a budget!!
Using a budget, or a money management plan, as I now like to call it, is all about knowing what your money is doing, when it’s doing it, and why.
Keeping track of your spending and planning how you’ll use your income is, by far, the best way to make sure you’re making the best financial choices for whatever situation you’re currently in.
If you’re ready to set up your budget, try out YNAB for FREE for two months! It’s literally the best budgeting app ever and I promise you won’t be disappointed (if you are, it’s probably because you didn’t actually learn to use it – tough love, my friend).
Most of us will find ourselves in a tight spot financially at some point in our lives. It doesn’t matter how or why you got to where you’re at, what matters is finding a way out. (Ok, it matters a little, but that’s a topic for another time.)
The best way to survive when money is tight is to cut your spending as much as you can and now you have some creative ways to help you do that!
Just remember that wherever you’re at now doesn’t have to be where you stay. Work hard and make good choices and maybe you’ll find your way to a better life! What’s your favorite money saving tip?