11 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

Everyone knows we should all be saving more and spending less.  Rainy day fund, emergency fund, bills, kids, and all the other events and things we need money for.  But do you know how to save money?  There are several easy ways to save money on a tight budget and build up savings and I’ll show you how.  Even if you don’t think it’s possible!

Why Do You Even Need to Save Money?

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, not making minimum monthly payments, and always one catastrophe away from filing bankruptcy, there’s a chance that it’s negatively impacting your quality of life.  I remember “bill time” in my house growing up and it wasn’t pleasant.  There was never enough money, lots of stress, anger, and too much debt.

It can make for a miserable life sometimes when you’re always worried about money.  Or maybe you’re going the other way and just pretending it doesn’t exist.  It’ll catch up to you one day and it won’t be fun.  So if you’ve never had savings to lean on, it’s time to change that. 

But why?

One uncomplicated answer to the question is freedom.

Freedom from worry and anxiety about the next financial disaster.  I wish I had zero savings – said no one ever!  I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t feel more comfortable and more at ease knowing they had a little money to spare in case of an emergency.

And don’t worry if you’re starting from zero.  You aren’t alone.  According to a recent survey from GO Banking Rates, more than half of Americans have less than $1000 in savings.  But you can change that!

Easy Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

Set a Savings Goal

First things first.  Set a money-saving goal.  It’s easy to say “I need to save money”.  But you need to attach an actual goal so you’ll have something to work towards.  This way you don’t have some arbitrary thought in your head that you can keep putting off until later.

What do you want your savings goal to be?  If you are starting from zero and have huge amounts of debt, it’s probably not feasible to say you want a year’s worth of expenses in an account.  Don’t set yourself up for failure.

Don’t misunderstand though – I don’t mean you shouldn’t aim high or set lofty goals.  But let’s set a realistic goal that you can actually achieve and go from there.  You might need to adjust your lifestyle a bit or make some changes, but it will be worth it.

Imagine that something happens to your car or you need your A/C serviced.  Do you have the money?  Won’t it feel great knowing you have a cushion to fall back on when emergencies happen?

So pick a number to start with.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s choose $1000.  If you’re broke, this number seems huge.  I get it.  But $1000 will go a long way when there’s an emergency situation and it could keep you from going further into debt.  Even if you’re struggling with debt, you need savings for emergencies.

Open an Account Just for Savings

If you’re starting an emergency fund or savings account, it needs to live somewhere other than your purse or drawer.  Somewhere that you can access if you need it, but not if you decide you want to go to dinner that night instead of cooking.

Take some time and find out the best place for you to keep your money.  I use either Capital One savings accounts or Discover savings accounts.  You can link each to your bank account and transfer money easily back and forth.  I like these two options because there’s no massive minimum to open an account.  There are many options with no minimum requirement to open an account.

No matter where you choose, make sure it’s labeled savings.  And remember that it’s for emergencies only.  This isn’t fun money or “oops, I bought a new pair of shoes money”.

Emergency money only!

So how do you save money when you’re on a tight budget and when it feels impossible?

Sell Stuff and Add The Money Straight to Your Savings Account!

This might be the easiest way to start saving money.  You don’t even have to glance at a budget for this part!  Look around your house and think of things you don’t need or use that you can sell.  Here are some great examples:

  • Clothing – Do you have mountains of kid’s clothes that need to go anyway?  Bundle them up by size and sell them as a group.  List them on the online yard sale pages.  Make it affordable for someone else, but enough that you’ll make some cash.  Fill a bag with 50 items and do $1 an item.  I know it’s painful considering what you may have paid for it.  But it’s not doing you any good sitting in a closet.  And if you have multiple kids and multiple sizes, you could easily rack up a few hundred dollars quickly!  The same goes for your clothes – do a closet purge and not only will you be more organized but you can make some money!
  • Furniture – Even if it seems useless to you, there might be someone out there willing to pay for it.  And it’s another great way to declutter your house too.  If you live in a college town, July, January, and May are great times to sell furniture.  People are moving and changing apartments and in need of furniture.  Price it accordingly to your area and move some stuff out!  $50 for a side table here or $100 for a dresser and bam – you’re $150 closer to your goal.
  • Cars – This one might be a bit hard to swallow for some.  But if you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars a month for a car payment and you’re in debt, it might be time to unload the car.  Of course, this will depend on how much you owe and how much you can sell for but consider it.  It could bring in thousands of dollars towards getting you out of debt.

Join A Rebate Program

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Rakuten (Formerly Ebates)

If you’re going to be buying necessities anyway, why not make some cash back in the process?  You can sign up for Rakuten and earn cash back on purchases from Amazon, travel, department stores, makeup, gift cards, restaurants, and so much more.  A few examples – 15% cash back on Shoes.com, 3% cash back at Macy’s, 4% cash back from Ulta, and on and on.

All you have to do is install an extension on your computer or phone and it’ll pop up every time you go to a site that is eligible.  It’s genius.  You don’t even have to search.  Or you can use their website to find offers.  Either way works great and I’ve used both.  

**Just don’t buy stuff just because you can get cash back.  Only use it if you were going to be buying the item anyway.

Ibotta

Ibotta is another rewards program that I used to find a bit clunky to use at times because of scanning the receipts, but now you can connect certain accounts like grocery stores and it does it automatically for you!  It’s not going to make your $1000 savings appear like magic, but it’s free money.  Once you get into the habit of using it, it’ll be second nature.

It can seem very insignificant at times – $1 here, $5 there, but those little amounts add up over time and it’s free money.  It takes a bit of time to get in the habit, but it’s worth it.  

Make yourself a promise that whatever dollars you earn from Ebates or Ibotta go straight into your savings fund. 

Save Money On Utilities

Utilities are a necessity.  Water, gas, electric, cell phones, or any other bill that you require to keep your household running.  But there are ways to save money on utilities.

  • Budget billing – this option may not be available to everyone or every utility.   However, if it is a choice in your area, I’d look into it as a possible way to budget your money more effectively.  We use this for our power bill.  It works out better for me not to get hit with a $400 power bill in the summer months (which seem to last forever here in the South!).  However, my gas company offered this and it wasn’t a great deal.  It didn’t work out to a good average of spending on our gas bills for the year.  You might have to do some research on what you’ve spent over the past year, but it could help.  It’s not technically a cost-saving, but it could free up an extra $50 to $100 this month to go towards your savings goal.
  • Ditch the Expensive Cable – there are so many less expensive options other than the premium cable that you can use.  Netflix is our favorite and I right now it’s around $15.99 per month.  I rarely watch TV so it’s a non-factor for me, but if you’re a TV buff, you can look into YouTube TV or other streaming sites that will let you watch what you want for much cheaper than a $200+ cable bill each month.  Cut the cable and this month transfer that savings immediately into your new savings account.
  • Set Your Thermostat Appropriately – If you can stand it (and I know there are some people that just won’t do this), set your thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.  I can live with the summer part, my family can not.  I can’t deal with 68 degrees in the winter, so this tip doesn’t help us much.  But, it could save you $10-20 each month.  $20 x 5 months = $100 in savings!

Eat at Home To Save Money

This could potentially be a huge boost to your new savings account if you’ll commit to eating at home.  Yes – it’s not as easy and sometimes life is just too crazy to cook a meal but think about it as temporary.  Especially if you’re accustomed to eating out several times a week, you could save hundreds in one month!  This might be one of the easiest ways to save money on a tight budget as long as you do some planning and prepping.  

Here are a few examples based on my area and our actual experiences:

  • Family of four – Casual Mexican restaurant that we love to frequent:  4 meals but my kids only eat tacos and not the whole meal, one appetizer (because – cheese dip!), 4 drinks, and the tip is around $35.  If we skip the drinks and have water for the adults instead, we’re around $28.
  • The same family – my kids love to go to Freddy’s.  It’s a hamburger/custard joint that’s a guilty pleasure of mine.  Once you add up the meals and then the custard dessert, we’re looking at $45 or more for all of us to eat one meal!
  • Again – our family of 4 – Steak restaurant.  Four meals (my son is 11 so he’s graduated to the more expensive meals at most places instead of the kids’ meals).  If we all get steak, an appetizer and a drink, we could be looking at $80-100 after tip.

So let’s just say that’s what we’d normally do in one month.  This doesn’t happen every month, but it wouldn’t be unheard of it did.  All three meals could add up to $175!  And that’s if we only ate out 3 times that month at a few of our favorite places.  Yes – there are plenty of places you can eat for much cheaper, but I’m giving a few real-life examples of ours.  So if we skipped the $175 each month and did nothing else to save money, we could have our $1000 in 5.7 months.

But ideally, you don’t want to spend 5.7 months getting your $1000 in place.  So make a deal to cut the eating out for a while.  Make a meal plan and stick to it.

If you look back on how often you eat out each week, there’s a high chance that you can easily save a few hundred dollars or more by committing to eating at home.

Get into a habit of making a grocery list and meal plan each week and stick with it.  Check what’s on sale, use your Ibotta or Ebates, and start saving money on food each month.  I’ve got a few tips on saving money on groceries each month that work well for us.

Skip a few meals eating out and transfer that money straight to your savings!

Evaluate Your Insurance Premiums

Do you still have the same insurance you’ve had for an eternity?   You might be able to save money by shopping around.  It’s not fun and I hate this part of trying to save because it’s boring and tedious to me, but it’s worth it.  Sit down one day with your current premium information and start shopping.  Call a few trusted companies and get some quotes for comparison.

  • Bundle your homeowner’s and auto insurance.  You’ll often get a better rate by combining the two policies together.
  • Increase your deductible.  Can you save money by going from a $500 deductible to $1000?  Usually yes.
  • Drop Full Coverage Auto Insurance – Especially if you’re driving an older car anyway, do you need full coverage?  Make sure to discuss this carefully though.  If you decrease to liability insurance only and have a wreck that totals your car, you won’t get a replacement check.  If you don’t have the means to get a new car, this could be worse for your financial situation.  But it’s worth discussing with your insurance agency.
  • Shop Around – Just because you’ve been with the same company for eternity doesn’t mean it’s the right one for your situation now.  Shop around and see what kind of rates you can get, especially if you have a clean driving record.

Pay Yourself and Your Savings First

When you get your paycheck, take out a set amount each time to automatically transfer to your savings.  Even if you start with just $10-20, it’s better than nothing.  And if you’re actively working with a budget each month, this will naturally become part of your budget.

Gradually increase that amount as you can.  If you don’t miss the $10 each check, up it to $15 and so on.  Chances are that if you left that money in your account, you would’ve found something to spend it on anyway.  If you get paid weekly, that’s $40 extra bucks a month going to savings that you won’t even miss!

It’s overwhelming at first especially if you’re starting from zero and you feel like you’ll never be able to save anything.  That’s why paying yourself first is so important.  Use one of the online savings accounts and set up an auto-draft on every payday.  Even if you start small, just start.  Chances are you won’t even miss that $10 or $20 if it automatically goes to your savings account.  

Use a 24 Hour Rule for Spending Money

When you have loads of debt and you’re attempting to build savings, it’s tough to stay focused at times.  It’s hard to continually tell yourself no when you’re accustomed to spending.

But try the 24 Hour Rule.

If you see something online or out in a store, give yourself 24 hours to really think about the purchase.  Ask yourself if you really need it or do you just want it?  If it’s a want and not a need, skip it until later.  You might say to yourself “well, it’s only $20”.  But that $20 could get you that much closer to your savings goal.

Remember why you’re doing this.  Living strapped with debt isn’t pleasant.  And particularly if you’re using a credit card to buy stuff, you’ll end up paying more than $20 over time with interest.  Really think about what it is.  Why do you even want it?  If you give yourself at least 24 hours to think it over, you’ll make the right choice more often than not.

And when you make the right choice and pass it up – transfer that amount immediately into your savings.  And pat yourself on the back!

Save Money on Kids’ Activities

If you don’t have kids, you can skip this section.  Kids’ activities can add up to tremendous amounts of money each month.  If you are so overscheduled with this sport and that activity, it might be time to take a good look at what’s going on.  Do they even want to do all that stuff or is that us thinking it’s for their own good?

If they are gone every day from 6 am to 10 pm at night from school and traveling every weekend with sports or activities, it might be a good opportunity to cut something.  Now don’t get me wrong.  If you have plenty of money and no debt and your kids enjoy everything they’re involved with, then rock on.

But if you can’t pay the mortgage or don’t even have $1000 in the bank to fall back on, something has to give.  I love sports and activities for kids.  They build character, teamwork, discipline and so many other great benefits that kids need.  Have them pick a favorite and ditch the rest until you’re in a better financial spot.  You could potentially save hundreds each month by narrowing down the playing field a bit.

So pick one and put what you would’ve spent on the other activities into your savings.

Track Your Savings

Give yourself a way to hold yourself accountable.  Track your savings in an Excel spreadsheet, on a piece of notebook paper, an app, or on a dry erase board on the fridge.  No matter how you do it, keep up with it.  It’ll make you feel like you’re accomplishing something (which you are!) and you’ll be motivated to keep going.

You can do it.  It’s possible to save money even if you’re on a tight budget.  And don’t get discouraged if all you can save is a small amount at first.  Anything is better than nothing when it comes to saving money.  

Choose a goal and work towards it. 

Good luck saving!

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