If you don’t earn much and you can barely pay your bills, the idea of saving money might seem laughable. When you only have $5 left at the end of the month, why even bother to try saving? Because everyone has to start somewhere, and if you work at it, your financial situation is likely to improve over time. Saving money is worth the effort. It gives you peace of mind, it gives you options, and the more you save, the easier it becomes to accumulate additional savings.
15 Practical Ways to Save Money
1. Say goodbye to debt.
Monthly debt payments are the biggest money suck when it comes to saving. Debt robs you of your income! So, it’s about time you get rid of that debt. The fastest way to pay off debt is with the debt snowball method. This is where you pay off your debts in order from smallest to largest. Sounds kind of intense, right? Don’t worry, it’s more about behaviour change than numbers. Once your income is freed up, you can finally use it to make progress toward your savings goals.
2. Cut down on groceries.
Most people—after they do a budget—are shocked to find out how much they’re actually spending at the grocery store each month. And if you’re the average American family of four (with two kids 5 and under), you’re probably spending around $929. Yikes! It’s so easy to walk through those aisles, grabbing a bag of Oreos here and a few bags of chips there, and then top it off with the fun goodies at the register. But those little purchases (aka budget busters) add up quite a bit and end up blowing the budget every single month.
Save money on groceries by planning out your meals each week and taking a good look at what you already have in your pantry before you head to the store. Because why would you want to buy more of what you already have? And if you really want to stick to your list—leave the kids at home.
Want to save money and time? Try online grocery or pickup delivery. Most major grocery stores offer it these days (sometimes even for free), and it can save a ton of money. Picking up your groceries gets rid of the temptation you would’ve had when you caught a whiff of those freshly baked chocolate chip cookies floating through the aisles. In other words, you’re forced to stick to your list and avoid those impulse splurges.
3. Cancel automatic subscriptions and memberships.
Chances are, you’re paying for multiple subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, gym memberships, trendy subscription boxes and Amazon Prime. It’s time to cancel any subscriptions you don’t use on the regular. And make sure that you turn off auto-renew when you make a purchase. If you cancel it and decide you can’t go without it, subscribe again—but only if it fits into your new and improved budget.
And for those subscriptions you do want to keep around, think about sharing memberships with some family or friends. A lot of streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, let you watch your favourite shows from two or more screens (with an upgraded account). That way, everyone wins—and saves!
4. Buy generic.
Hands down, one of the easiest ways to save money is to give name brands the boot. In most cases, the only thing that’s better about brand-name products is the marketing. I mean, look at that box! The logo is so fancy! And that’s about where it ends. Generic brands of medicine, staple food items (like rice and beans), cleaning supplies and paper products cost far less than their brand name, marked-up friends—and they work just as well too.
5. Cut ties with cable.
It’s no secret that cable prices are rising like crazy. The average monthly price for cable TV is about $107 a month—which adds up to over $1,200 a year! Here’s the good news: Cable isn’t the only way to watch your favourite shows these days. Cut the cord and find out how to save big with alternative cables like network apps and streaming services. But remember—don’t go subscription service happy here. Only sign up for the streaming services you’ll actually use. If you sign up for everything out there, you could end up actually spending more than cable!
6. Save money automatically.
Did you know that you can save money without thinking about it? Yup—you can set up your bank account to automatically transfer funds from your checking account into a savings account every month. If that sounds scary to you, you can also set up your direct deposit to automatically transfer 10% of each pay check into your savings account. Boom!
7. Spend extra or unexpected income wisely.
When you get a nice work bonus (way to go!), inheritance or tax refund, put it to good use. And when we say “good use,” we aren’t talking about adding that fancy new stamp to your stamp collection or even just putting it in the bank to camp out.
If you’ve still got debt in your life, you’ll be better off using those funds to pay off your student loans or the balance on your credit card instead of stashing that money away. If you’re debt-free, use those extra dollars to build up your emergency fund—you know, for emergencies.
Bonus tip: If you get large tax refunds every year, it’s time to adjust the withholding on your paycheck so you can bring home even more money each month. Plus, you don’t want to give the government any more of your money than you have to, right?
8. Reduce energy costs.
Did you know that you can save money on your electric bill just by making a few tweaks to your home? Start with some simple things like taking shorter showers (nope, we didn’t say fewer), fixing leaky pipes, washing your clothes in cold tap water, and installing dimmer switches and LED lightbulbs.
While new, energy-efficient appliances are a great way to save money on your electricity bills, they’re expensive! But if you work it into your monthly budget, you can save up and pay cash for those improvements over time.
9. Unsubscribe from emails.
Email marketers are really good at what they do. They know the irresistible temptation of a 24-hour sale or exclusive coupon. And talk about those flashy GIFs!
If you just can’t resist shopping when you see a special offer, click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. Do it! You’ll be less tempted to spend, and your inbox will be a lot less cluttered. It’s a win-win!
10. Check your insurance rates.
No, really. Did you know people save an average of $700 when they have an Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) check over their insurance rates for them? $700! You owe it to yourself to at least have them look things over for you and see what savings they can dig up.
11. Pack lunch (and eat at home).
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average household spends approximately $3,459 on food outside of the home each year.3 That’s $288 per month! Buying lunch a few times a week may seem harmless in the moment (especially when your favourite restaurant is walking distance from your office), but you can save quite a bit of money just by packing a lunch!
Not only that, a lot of times you can buy a solid week’s worth of groceries for the same price as two dinner meals out. Instead, prepare your food at home and watch your savings pile up, month after month.
12. Ask about discounts (and pay in cash).
You never know until you ask—and you should always ask. Next time you’re getting tickets at a movie theatre, museum or sporting event, check to see if they have any special discounts for seniors, students, teachers, military or AAA members. If not, never underestimate the negotiating power of cash!
13. Take advantage of your retirement savings plan.
If your employer offers a 401(k) match and you aren’t taking full advantage of it, you’re missing out big time! Talk to your HR department to set up an account. But remember, you should wait until you’re completely debt-free (except your mortgage) and have a fully funded emergency fund of three to six months before you start saving and investing for retirement.
14. Lower your cell phone bill.
If your monthly cell phone bill competes with your monthly grocery budget, it’s time to find ways to cut back. Save money on your cell service by getting rid of extras like costly data plans, phone insurance and useless warranties. And don’t be afraid to haggle with or completely switch your provider! It might require a little persistence and research, but the savings are worth it.
15. Try a spending freeze.
Don’t buy any nonessential items for a week—or even a month! Think about it as a contentment challenge. While you’re at it, take inventory of what you’re grateful for each day. This should help kick your “want-itis” in the pants!
Make your spending freeze work by prepping meals with the food you already have, avoiding stores where you tend to impulse buy (did someone say Target dollar spot?), and saying no to anything that isn’t a basic necessity.