No matter where you’re at in life, saving money is almost always a good thing. But let’s face it: it can be tough to follow a strict budget at a time where we’re constantly bombarded with opportunities to consume.
These 10 simple tips will help you to reduce your spending without feeling like you’re making huge sacrifices to your quality of life.
1. Write it down
If you don’t make any effort to track how much money you’re spending, you may be setting yourself up for a nasty shock when your credit card bill arrives – or when you finally decide to check your balance online.
Keep a simple tally of the money you spend each day in a notebook or on your phone. By writing down every purchase you make – big or small – you’ll become more conscious of your spending habits. You might even be surprised to see how much you spend each month on food, coffee or other routine purchases.
Not convinced? Think about a purchase you make every day – then multiply it by 30.
It may seem tedious at first but once you get into the habit, you’ll see that this note-taking is a great way to keep yourself accountable and identify areas where you can cut back.
Find all the scribbling tedious? Great! Another reason to avoid needless spending.
2. Think outside the box
Many fun activities involve spending money.
However, you don’t have to shell out cash every time you want to get together with friends. Instead of going out for drinks, dinner or to a show, try a potluck or dinner in, a board game or movie night, a visit to a museum or gallery (many are free during certain periods) or a casual game of soccer, basketball or volleyball.
You can also try picking up a hobby depending on your interests – like painting or starting your own book club, jogging outdoors or joining a library where you can take out books, CDs and DVDs for free.
Get the elephant out of the room fast. Explain when your budget prevents you from joining plans. Take it upon yourself to organize activities that fit your bill(s).
3. Walk the talk, literally
Transportation can be incredibly expensive.
Pictured: a next-level penny-pinching technique
Sometimes it’s not possible to walk, cycle or skate to your destination, but whenever you can make a journey on foot, do. When you need to find an alternate means of transportation, choose the bus first – it’s usually the cheapest mode of transit. Carpooling is also a good option if you have a friend or colleague with a car.
Cabs are convenient, not cost-effective. Avoid taking a cab unless it is truly necessary, as one trip will cost you a small fortune that you could be spending on something else.
Exercise, fresh air, new sights and money saved? Get walking.
4. Get creative in the kitchen
This one is so obvious that it’s easy to overlook.
Buying ready-made food and drinks from restaurants, take-out joints or cafés is much less cost effective than making your own meals at home. Trust me, it’s a much-touted money-saving tip because it’s true! You can literally save hundreds of dollars each month by preparing all of your own food at home.
You can enjoy a meal out occasionally, but limit yourself to one outside food or drink purchase a week (or every other week, if you can manage it) to see just how much of a difference it can make to your wallet.
To help you make the transition, carry portable snacks like fruit or granola bars with you in case you get hungry on the go. To save time on meal preparation, try doing most of your cooking on a designated day of the week like a Saturday or Sunday, then use the leftovers for lunches and dinners over the following 4-5 days.
You’ll get more use out of your belongings if you treat them properly.
5. Handle with care
The three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) don’t just apply to protecting the environment.
Reducing the number of purchases you make will help you save money, but you can also get more bang for your buck by taking good care of the items you buy. By being careful with your stuff (clothes, shoes, accessories, books, bags, dishes, pots and pans, cell phones and iPods, the list goes on), the longer it will last you and the less often you’ll have to buy replacements.
6. Be thrifty
This is where the “recycle” part comes in.
Try buying clothes, books and household items second-hand. If you’re not used to shopping at thrift stores it can be a bit of an adjustment, but you really can’t beat the prices. You can check out the larger thrift store chains like Value Village, Goodwill or the Salvation Army, or shop at independent thrift or consignment stores.
Make sure you give yourself some extra time for shopping since you’ll probably want to go through the store one item at a time. Consignment stores are also a great place to get rid of unwanted clothes, etc., that are still in good shape since you get some of your money back without having to go through too much trouble.
Still edgy? Try looking for brand new items in a thrift store. People sometimes donate still-packaged items, saving you a hit to the wallet.
7. Buy smart
There are a few ways that you can shop smart: first, stock up on things that you use often when they go on sale.
Paper products, cleaning supplies, toiletries and non-perishable food items are things you’re always going to need – so while it may feel a little odd to buy six tubes of toothpaste, it makes sense to buy extra to maximize your savings. Second, you can buy in bulk. If you or someone you know has a Costco membership, you know that buying some things in larger quantities can save you loads of money (think things like socks, sheets, vitamins, pet supplies and certain grocery items like cereals, meat and produce).
Invest in a few high-quality items that will save you money over the long run, like a good winter coat, well-made shoes, a strong backpack, a reliable travel mug or high-efficiency home appliances.
You may be reluctant to pay extra upfront, but you’re saving yourself the cost (and time) of having to replace these key items in the near future.
8. “Make the presents.”
Monica and Chandler from Friends may have been onto something when they decided to exchange homemade gifts for Valentine’s Day.
Whatever the occasion, making a gift is always more personal and it usually costs less than buying a finished product from a store. There are tons of homemade gift ideas online on sites like Pinterest, for everyone from the novice DIYer to the professional crafter. A few popular gift options include a handmade photo album or scrapbook, a painting or a sketch, homemade treats, recipes in a jar and hand-sewn or knitted scarves, hats, baby clothes or blankets.
People who give you a hard time about making gifts probably aren’t people you need to be giving gifts to in the first place. Funny how that works out, huh?
9. Plan ahead
When you know that you’re going to need to make a purchase soon, like an outfit for a special event or a new car, it pays to shop around.
Start looking early on so that you can compare your options and find the best price. You know those people who start their holiday shopping in September? They know what they’re doing. By getting a head start, they’re making sure that they aren’t left at the mercy of retailers who know that they can charge more when customers have no other options.
Knowing your needs in advance can also help you to make use of sites like Groupon and Dealfind, where you can purchase vouchers for deeply discounted goods and services, such as haircuts and spa services, health and fitness activities, gift items and trips.
If you shop early, you’ll be able to get nearly any item on sale, particularly if you’re buying last season’s stock. If that bothers you, rethink your priorities.
10. Think twice before you buy
Next time you’re about to buy something, ask yourself two questions:
1. “Do I really need this?” 2. “How many hours of work would it take for me to pay for this?”
(Or, if you’re not working, “What else could I use this money for?”). If you’re still on the fence, put the item down and walk out of the store so you can think more clearly – it’s much easier to be objective when you’re somewhat removed from the situation. If you’re still in doubt, follow the old adage and leave it out. You’ll most likely thank yourself later for making the right decision.
Try asking yourself if you’d rather get the item or be given its value in cash. When you pause and reflect, you’ll find the answer is often the latter.
11. Know your limit, stay within it
The best way to make sure that you’re living within your budget is to have a budget. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of your sources of income and your “set” expenses (like rent, utilities, a bus pass, tuition) so that you know how much money you have leftover to cover your “flexible” expenses (things you pay for that don’t have a set cost). This way, you’ll be able to make better decisions when shopping and you’ll know where you can cut corners when needed.
Stay tuned for a piece on budgeting from the author of this post!
When you’re working with limited funds, it can be easy to feel frustrated or like you’re always worried about money. However, by following these tips you should be able to significantly reduce your spending so that you can focus on other things.