How to Save Money on a Tight Budget

Here’s a quick reality check for you: You can have a well-paying job and still be on a tight budget. In fact, according to recent research, more than half of all Americans (54 percent!)—or 125 million U.S. adults—are living paycheck-to-paycheck. What’s more, 21 percent of these individuals say they struggle to pay their bills and have little- to no money left over after satisfying their expenses.

Perhaps even more surprising, these sentiments come from people in all income brackets. While those in lower income brackets tend to struggle a bit more, even higher earners are finding themselves in this predicament. Unbelievably, nearly 40 percent of those with annual incomes over $100,000—particularly millennials—live paycheck-to-paycheck, including 12 percent struggling to pay their bills.

“The perception that only low-income individuals are living paycheck-to-paycheck simply is not the case today,” Anuj Nayar, financial health officer at LendingClub said in a statement. “Half of Americans in this country are not building a reserve or saving for retirement. They are on a treadmill daily deciding whether every dollar they make will help them live or weather a financial storm. On top of that, they are financially vulnerable, and, like we’ve seen for so many over the last year, if there is any disruption to their income-level, they won’t have sufficient savings to absorb the hardship.”

So what can you do to save more if you’ve found yourself in a similar spot? Can you save more?

Thankfully, the answer is yes—you just have to think strategically and creatively. Here, a handful of places to help you take your first steps on the path to financial wellness:

1. Set a budget

Creating a budget is one of the most important things you can do to keep your spending in check. When you set a concrete dollar amount to adhere to not just from month to month, but also from week to week, you’re less likely to spend blindly. You’ll be shopping with intention, keeping your eye on the overall goal.

2. Try frugal February

Start the year off on the right foot by trying this fun annual tradition. It’s simple: During the month of February, commit to a money diet. Since it’s a short (and generally rather dreary month), February is a great time to limit non-essential spending, like dinner out.

It doesn’t have to be a drag, either—as long as you can get a little creative. For example, rather than go to your favorite restaurant, cook up something special with your partner. Think homemade pasta or pizza, or even sushi.

At the end of the month, run your totals to see how your spending compares to a more typical month. As you move forward, see what learnings you can apply to future months, even if not quite as drastic as the February exercise.

3. Save your spare change

Acorns is a clever platform that automatically rounds up any purchases you make on linked credit or debit cards to the nearest dollar. Then, you can save or invest that money. You’ll be surprised how quickly those incremental deposits—20 cents at a time, for example—add up, but they’re still small enough that you won’t feel the sting

4. Use cash

Are you a swiper? Resist the urge to whip out your credit card every time you head to the store. Since a credit card is a more abstract form of money, you’re more likely to overspend. Once you have a budget number in place, take out cash. Use that money as your spending money for the week. This way, you’ll be able to watch it dwindle. Try to stick to the mindset that once it’s gone, it’s gone.

5. Use cash back services

There are lots of browser extensions and websites that essentially pay you to shop. Sure, the payouts are small, but every little bit helps. One of the most popular is Rakuten, which offers cash back from over 2,500 stores. You simply activate the browser extension and shop as normal. When you make a purchase, stores pay Rakuten a commission for the referral, then they share the commission with you in the form of cash back.

6. Sell your stuff

Don’t think of this as liquidating your personal belongings. Instead, take a hard look around. chances are, you’ll find lots of perfectly good, usable items—clothes, baby gear, or even furniture—your family has out-grown or simply never uses. List these items on sites like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or Poshmark, or bring them to local consignment shops. Put any money you earn directly into your savings account.

7. Negotiate new rates

Take a look at your insurance policies—homeowners and auto policies are a great place to start. What are you paying? Very comparable insurance policies can vary by hundreds of dollars, so shop around. Take the time to get quotes from competitors to see if you can save.

Even if you don’t switch, it’s worth exploring any potential discounts your current insurer may provide. For example, you can earn significant savings on your auto policy for taking a defensive driving course or installing a monitoring device in your current vehicle. And when it comes to homeowners insurance, you can save if you have things like alarm systems or hard-wired smoke detectors.

8. Ask for a raise

The more you earn, the more you can—theoretically—save. Though asking for a raise can seem daunting, it’s often the only way to get more money. Do your research—come to the conversation prepared with a clear understanding of the market value of your job and what you bring to the table. Even if you don’t get the raise immediately, you may be able to work with your employer to create an action plan that eventually leads to that pay bump you’re looking for.

9. Start a side hustle

Alternatively, you can try to add an additional revenue stream. Do you have a penchant for photography, design, or just love to knit? Maybe you have a sizable social media following from which you can earn affiliate revenue? Take advantage of your hidden talents, and make an effort to scale them into something that can earn you a little bit of extra income.

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