NEW! 20 Surprising Ways to Save Money When You’re on a Tight Budget
If you search the internet for frugal ways to save money on a tight budget, you’ll come across hundreds of ideas. Sure, it’ll save you money to use coupons, buy generic store brands, and pay down credit balances each month. But what about the things you could start doing right now that might not have crossed your mind?
What about the surprising hacks that aggressive savers and experienced budgeters use to save money but don’t typically talk about?
We’ve put together a list of 20 smart and surprising ways to save money when you’re on a tight budget:
1. Only Buy ONE Item at a Time on Amazon
Amazon Prime is the kryptonite of saving. We know. It hurts. We all want to believe that free shipping will save money all year-round. But let’s be honest. It’s just causing you to spend way, way more than you intended. If you have an Amazon addiction, be extremely careful with your purchases. To stay frugal, specifically try to put only one item into your cart.
You subscribed to Amazon Prime so you wouldn’t have to buy a ton of items to make shipping worth your while. So why are you buying five items every time?
2. Don’t Shop on Amazon When You’re Bored
If you want to save money, don’t default to Amazon when you get bored and don’t get into the habit of two-screening with Amazon while watching TV. Try to avoid shopping on Amazon while you’re doing something else. Make shopping on Amazon its own separate activity, apart from snacking, resting, TV, or having a glass of wine. Don’t let shopping be a gratifying activity. You’ll save money and stay frugal by staying out of that Amazon app!
3. Save Money by Canceling Amazon Prime
Ouch. You had to know that was coming. Yes, you need to cancel your Prime membership before it renews. For awhile Amazon wasn’t posting profits. But there was a vision. A vision for your debit card.
You’re buying too much from Amazon and it’s not saving you money. It’s populating an Island of Misfit Toys in a closet somewhere. Seriously, look around your house. Do you see anything you bought on Amazon that you can’t live without? Cancel Amazon Prime! It makes it too easy to buy on a whim. Pay the shipping each time. It will make you think twice before clicking the BUY NOW button.
4. Don’t Cancel Cable
You heard us right. If you want to save money, don’t cancel cable. At least not if you love TV and movies and watch them regularly. If you love TV and movies, by all means, keep your cable. The worst thing you can do is cancel cable, get bored, and spend your evenings distracted during The Bachelorette buying junk on Amazon Prime. Or adding to your Costco shopping list. Or driving down to the RedBox inside your local grocery store and spending $25 on munchies. Don’t do that. You’re wasting time and money.
If you watch cable, go ahead and keep it. Having a cheap source of entertainment is saving you money. (Just make sure you’re paying as little as possible by having BillCutterz negotiate it down.)
On the other hand, if you have HBO year-round and watch it for only the few months Game of Thrones has new episodes, cancel it now. (Okay, after the season is over!) Don’t pay $10+ per month for a channel you only watch three months per year.
5. Rarely or Never Buy in Bulk
You love Costco. So does every other homeowner who came really close to foreclosure over the last five years. Costco is the brick-and-mortar cousin of Amazon Prime. Yes, it’s tempting. Yes, it’s satisfying like a box of sprinkled jelly donuts. Costco is designed to appeal to the inner nester in all of us. But is it going to save money and cut your budget? Unless you’re feeding a small village, no!
Eight pounds of Cheerios? Two gallons of hair gel? Four bottles of Grey Poupon you couldn’t possibly use in a decade?
You think shopping at Costco will save money. You don’t realize Costco hires the most genius marketers on seven continents. You only think you’re saving money as you empty your pockets like the unfortunate guy on the Monopoly card. Until you see the color graph on your Mint.com that confirms you’ve spent 1/4 of your monthly income on frozen pigs-in-a-blanket.
6. Save Money by Amortizing Your Purchases
Whoa there! We know “amortize” is a big scary word only bankers like to use. But you can use it, too. You should do it more often. When we say amortize: “Think about how long you’re going to use your purchase and figure out what it costs you PER USE or PER DAY.”
No, we’re not saying buy a $13,000 Rolex because you’ll use it for another 40 years and it will only cost you .08 per day. It’s about understanding VALUE.
Whenever you’re about to spend money on an item, think about how long you plan to own it, use it, and keep it. A television is a great example. If you’re going to buy a brand-new 4K television, determine how long you’re willing to keep it. And how much you intend to make in salary per day over the lifetime of the TV. If your household income is $55,000 per year, calculate two values: how much is the TV costing you per day if you keep it 10 years — and what percentage of your annual salary is it costing you?
Is it honestly worth 1% of your annual salary for a 70-inch TV? Wondering where your money goes? Start analyzing through amortizing!
7. Insulate Your Home, Even If It’s An Apartment
Let’s say you’re living in an apartment while you save for a new house. During the winter you’re unknowingly benefiting from your upstairs neighbor’s heat. And then when the apartment goes vacant in the winter, your heating bill doubles. It happens.
If you’re planning on living anywhere through the winter, consider insulating where you can. Better yet, before you move into your next place, check to see if it has energy-efficient windows, carpets, and sufficient insulation between apartments. In the warmth of summer it may not be as noticeable, but when temperatures drop into the teens, every molecule between you and the outside world will be a money saving molecule.
A few basics for insulating include rolling old towels and blocking drafts from room to room (and from the outside) and installing plastic window covers that add an extra barrier between you and freezing temperatures.
8. Train Your Body to Handle Hotter and Colder Temperatures
Everest sherpas weren’t born in a bucket of ice. They may have genes that give them an advantage in the winter, but they do have to train for the extreme conditions they work in. You don’t have to learn to carry 100 lbs. of mountain gear on your back in sub-zero temperatures to save money on your heating bill.
All you need to do is gradually lower your thermostat in winter and gradually increase it in the summer. Do it in one degree increments and you’ll barely notice it while your body adjusts. Each week, adjust it one more degree. Continue this weekly until you notice you’re feeling uncomfortable, then dial it back one degree.
9. Wear Layers in the House
Or instead of dialing your temperature back one degree while training your body, wear layers in your house and add or remove clothing as you notice the temperature becoming uncomfortable. Altering your thermostat as little as one degree can save money. A lot of it. Imagine what you could save if you could get used to five degrees?
If you spend a lot of money on heat or air conditioning and you own your home, consider the Nest Learning Thermostat. It could potentially save money as well as eliminate the need to micromanage your settings.
10. Save Money by Buying Everything Used
Do you really need everything brand new? Pro tip: Stay out of the stores! If you start buying the things you need second-hand, you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars per year. Need a new dining room table? Search Craigslist for a few months until you see one you love at a fraction of the price of new. Need a bike? Craigslist. Or stop by your local bike shop and ask if they have any trade-ins for sale.
Want a pricey purse? Try Threadflip Want a bestselling book? Shop on Amazon (but be careful not to buy more than you intended or you lose the benefit of savings!)
There are so many items you can get second-hand: Buy a used car. Buy clothes at resale shops. Buy refurbished computers and electronics. Shop Craigslist, Amazon, eBay. But only for specific items, and watch those shipping costs.
You can furnish an entire home with used items, and you’ll be the only one who can tell.
11. Focus on What You’re Spending, Not What You’re Saving When You Spend
One of the biggest mistakes we make when trying to live a frugal lifestyle is getting excited at how much money we’re saving when we shop. But that’s the problem: shopping. And the thrill of “saving.”
If you want to genuinely save money you have to get a handle on shopping addiction and the drug-like excitement of bagging a bargain. Because it’s costing you money. Probably a lot.
12. Don’t Be a Slave to Store Promotions
Instead of letting sale days and promotions control when and how you shop, create an annual purchase list at the end of each year that will help you stay in control. Write down the items over $25 you plan to buy that year. Include household appliances, furniture, tires, wardrobe upgrades, shoes, plants and outdoor items, even pricey cosmetics… anything you plan to purchase that will cost more than $25.
Once you have your list, develop a strategy for each potential purchase. If you prefer an expensive night cream, set up a Google Alert for the brand or follow a coupon site. Wait to purchase until you see a discount. Or use a percentage-off coupon for a store where it’s carried.
If you’re looking to replace your refrigerator and don’t want to buy used, research the models you’d like and set up online alerts or check the weekly store deals until one of your preferred models is on sale.
Keep your list in a spreadsheet program and update it weekly or as you pay your monthly bills. Use it to guide you on your purchases. Only visit stores during a sale when you’re going there to specifically buy an item on your list.
13. Buy Clothes Because You Need Them, Not Because They’re on Sale
Clothing purchases are a little harder to handle. Especially for fashion lovers. It’s hard to know what will fit or look nice until you’re in the store. And before you know it you walk out with an armload of “bargains” that will live out a comfy retirement in the back of your closet. Some with their price tags still attached.
This is what happens when you walk into a store without focus. It’s just too easy to buy things you aren’t crazy about and wouldn’t wear often… because the sale was just too good to pass up. If you look at your wardrobe objectively you’ll see the kind of items you love and wear a lot. And you’ll see the items that you bought because they were on sale. The hard truth is that you will almost never wear most of the items you buy at steep discounts.
Assess your wardrobe at the end of every year and make a list of what you need for the following year. Two new pairs of jeans? Great. Three new work suits? Perfect. Five or six summer blouses? Yes. These are the kinds of things you’ll want to add to your list. And when it comes time to shop those massive sales, you’ll have your list and can be more objective.
Of course you’ll fall in love with items that aren’t part of your plan. That’s okay. You should splurge once in awhile. And you can afford to when you aren’t loading up your credit card with hundreds of dollars in clothes you didn’t actually need.
And don’t forget to look for clothing on resale sites. A few to consider are Poshmark, Dresm, Refashioner, TheRealReal, Bib+Tuck, Tradesy, or even eBay Fashion These sites range from basics to luxury.
14. Plan to Buy Gifts Far Ahead
This tip isn’t so secret, but sometimes it’s easy to forget! Don’t wait until Black Friday to shop for Christmas gifts. Start your gift list for next year when you’re doing budgets at the end of this year. Create a master list of all the gifts you’ll need to buy throughout the year:
- Baby Showers
- Mother’s Day
- Father’s Day
- Office Christmas Exchange
Depending on the size of your family and network of friends, you could end up with a lot of gift-giving obligations. Instead of being a slave to the seasons, create a complete gift list that you can start chiseling away at as soon as the holidays are over. This allows you to buy more thoughtful gifts as you come across them. And it gives you the chance to buy gifts at the price you’re willing to pay… not what a retailer is dictating because you waited until the last minute.
15. Save Your Spare Change
You’re probably not thinking about this tip anymore because you pay with plastic most of the time. Saving coins in a jar won’t net you the kind of windfall it would back in the day (because we pay with plastic so much), but you can still accumulate a tidy sum by saving your change.
Set up an empty coffee can or plastic bucket and ask everyone in the household to throw their coins into it at the end of the day. Even a small household of one or two people could end up with several hundred dollars per year.
16. Don’t Buy a Second Car “To Save on Gas.”
You love your car. But it’s a gas guzzler. So instead of selling it and buying an economy car, you decide to keep the guzzler “for weekends” and buy a cheaper, smaller car for your commute. Bad idea!
Now you have two cars to insure, fill with gas, wash, store, get inspected and registered, put new tires on, change oil, fluids, repair, and maintain! In what universe does having two cars save more money than having one? Do the math and you’ll see that it will cost you less to just keep the car you love. When it’s time to sell, choose an economy car to replace it. That’s how you save money on gas.
17. Make Your Own Coffee At Home to Save Money
Got a coffee addiction? Many of us do. Love those $5 Frappuccinos? Gotta have a daily $2 Tall Americano? Depending on your coffee brand and drink preference, you could be losing hundreds of dollars every year.
This isn’t a surprising tip, but what you’re spending is: If you’re one of the true addicts and you buy one drink per day during the work week, the Americano drinkers are spending $520/year. The frozen drink lovers are spending a whopping $1300. Yes, this is the extreme, but you can see how much a daily Starbucks addiction can cost you over time. No wonder Starbucks stock has been climbing over the years. Put that money back into your bank account!
18. Create a Spreadsheet of All the Stuff You Can Sell
This isn’t so much as a way to “save money” as it is to make some extra cash. Some people make a big business out of selling items on eBay. Why not you? Instead of having a yard sale (which is a great idea if you don’t mind the hassle), do an inventory of everything in your home you’d like to get rid of or replace. Anything of modest value can be sold on eBay, Craigslist, or other resale sites. Here’s a few ideas of what you could sell:
- Auto Parts
- Home Decor
- Kitchen Gadgets
- Pots & Pans
- Baby Items
- Used Phones
- Used Computers
- Vintage Items
- Christmas Ornaments and Holiday Decor
- Used Cars and Motorcycles
- Camping Gear
The list goes on and on. Sell items in good working order and you’ll get a reputation for selling quality items. Which will help you continue to grow credibility and trust. And drive up bids on the items you sell.
19. Rent Out Your Spare Bedroom on Airbnb or VRBO
Why not make some real cash by renting out that extra bedroom or finished basement as a temporary rental? You could rent it out monthly on Craigslist, but you’re likely to make better money and meet interesting travelers if you open your home as travel lodging on Airbnb or VRBO.
Just be sure to check into your local laws. Some cities are becoming aggressive against this type of rental. But if you can do it legally, it’s an excellent source of income and will save money. When you’re making an income on your property, the amount you pay toward mortgage and upkeep can be significantly reduced.
20. Avoid Speeding Tickets
This one might seem obvious, but getting ticketed for speeding is very expensive. If you fight it with the help of an attorney, expect to pay $300-$400 for the privilege, plus court fees. Speeding does not save money!
If you don’t fight it, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200-$500 for the ticket alone — plus the increase the points on your license and increased insurance rates.
Try hard to not get a speeding ticket. If you drive a lot and have a lead foot, cruise control and a radar detector may be very good investments. Just check to find out if radar detectors are legal in your state.
Do you know any other ways to save that you don’t see mentioned often? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!