You know what they say, “necessity is the mother of invention.” And this could not be truer when it comes to saving money. Sometimes it feels like the economy is trying to kill you with how expensive everything seems.
If you are on a low income then finding ways to save money on a tight budget can make the difference between staying on budget or getting into debt. The good news is that small changes in your monthly spending can make a huge impact on your budget.
Take it from someone who’s been there before, every penny and cent you save DOES help you save money.
In this article, I’ll tell you about 15 real ways you can save money on a tight budget. Clever and simple ways that will help you stop struggling to save money once and for all.
How can I save money with a low income?
It can be hard to save money when you are living on a low income and have many expenses. Sometimes even the necessities are hard to come by.
But there are ways that you can save money and still have enough for your family. All of the following ways to save money will help you make your low income stretch that much further. Start with following my 4 best money saving tips.
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What are the top four ways to save money on a tight budget?
If right now you are looking to focus on just 4 ways to save money as a way to get started then these are my top 4 tips. These will help you get started and see a change quickly, no matter how small your income is.
1. eat in more often
Cooking and eating at home is a huge quick win when it comes to saving money. Eating out can cost you an average of $40 for two and if you are currently eating out 3 times a week, this equals $120 a week and over $500 a month!
That’s a $500 of savings every month if you stopped eating out completely. Cut back your meals out to once a week and you can still save almost $350 a month. To make the most of eating at home, these extra food tips will ramp up your savings still further
Learn to meal plan every week
Make a weekly plan and dedicate some time on a Sunday to planning those meals out for the week ahead. Think of it like homework.
Homework isn’t much fun but if you do it every Sunday then you can relax for the rest of the week knowing that all your planning is done.
Planning your meals in advance enables you to create a shopping list of ingredients you need. That way you’ll know exactly what to buy when you are at the grocery store.
Having a meal plan means you don’t fall into having a “$50 pizza night” because you don’t know what to cook. You know exactly what meals to have and you have the ingredients to make them.
Keep your meal plan simple
If you are struggling to come up with meal ideas , start off by making recipes that use ingredients you already have. That way they won’t cost anything extra and when you see how much money you’ve saved, it will motivate you to get more creative with your meals.
I would also encourage you to take advantage of recipes with fewer ingredients. Less ingredients equals less to buy equals you can save more money.
Many people dislike meal planning because after 5 meals they’ve run out of ideas. That’s where $5 meal plan comes to your rescue. For just $5 a month you get a weekly meal plan of dinners emailed to you.
You get the recipes, the shopping list and the instructions. You also get to choose the type of meals you want to receive e.g. meat-free, gluten free.
2. create financial goals
The first thing you can do to save money is to create financial goals. By having short term and long term goals it will help motivate you to achieve them.
For example, if your goal is to pay off your credit card debt in 2 years then you will be more motivated not to reach for the plastic when you fancy buying something. Here are 3 financial goals that everyone needs to be saving money for.
Everyone needs an emergency fund, even if you are in debt. An emergency fund is there to dip into when something completely unexpected happens.
Something you could not plan for (extra nights out and vacations do not count!). Having an emergency fund stops you from having to take on high interest debt because you have no other way of paying for that emergency.
You never know when something will happen that will leave you short on cash. Start with a minimum of $1000 but the ideal scenario to have thousands of dollars saved to the tune of 3-6 months of your basic living expenses.
Another goal everyone needs is a vacation fund. Everyone deserves to have an annual vacation and travel somewhere beautiful once in awhile. This will rejuvenate you and give you an opportunity to leave your worries behind for a while.
It can be hard to save up for an annual vacation when you are strapped for cash so it helps to automate your savings so you don’t have to think about it.
Planning ahead is a great way to save money on flights, hotels and activities. And of course your vacation doesn’t need to be expensive, it could even be a staycation.
The third goal everyone should have is for a home deposit. Everyone wants to buy their own place, it gives you more freedom and security.
Saving up for a house can take years so finding lots of different ways to save money on a tight budget can really accelerate your ability to save money.
For lots more detail on financial goals check out these posts:
3. Give yourself a savings challenge
Using a money saving or spend challenge is an excellent way to save money on a tight budget.
There are many different challenges you can use, it’s about finding one that works for you. A spend challenge is where you challenge yourself to spend only a certain amount of money.
Alternatively it could be a no spend challenge where you try hard not to spend money, often for a specific time period. Here are a couple of saving challenges you might like to consider.
About as simple as it gets. You save every $5 bill/£5 note you get in your wallet. The downside to this challenge is that since 2020 many of us spend less cash. And it is definitely a cash based challenge.
the 52 week savings challenge
There are many different challenges you can do for a whole year. In my post on 52 week money challenges I give you details of 10 different ways to save money.
From saving pennies each day for a tight budget to saving thousands of dollars in a year. The choice is yours.
save all your coins in a spare change jar
This one is kind of obvious so I saved it for last. Just toss all your loose change in a spare jar and use this to buy some treats or save it for that vital emergency fund.
Again, as we spend less cash, this won’t break your budget because coins form a much smaller part of your spending.
If you are using the cash envelope system, I recommend that you do NOT use this little saving challenge as it will muck up all your envelopes!
4. Buy generic brands instead of premium brands
Generic brands are a great way to save money and still enjoy what you’re eating and drinking. The bottom line is that name-brand foods usually have little or no intrinsic advantage, but a hefty price tag.
Most generic brands taste equivalent to the brand name version. Actually, some generic brands taste better than the premium brand, plus they cost a lot less.
Some of the most popular categories that offer both generic and brand-name versions include cereal, bread, soup, dairy products and frozen foods.
The next time you buy ketchup or cheese (or anything else), check for a grocery store brand in the same product category. You may be surprised at how much you can save on your weekly food shopping.
Getting away from premium branded products is not limited to the grocery store. You can save a lot of money when you shop around for your usual medication. Especially the non-prescription drugs you keep in your first aid kit.
Drugs like ibuprofen, paracetamol, co-codamol. Premium branded these items can cost 400% more (at least). Yet the ingredient list is identical.
11 more simple and effective ways to save money on a tight budget
In addition to the 4 above, these 11 really will move the needle on both your spending and your saving capability.
1. Cut your grocery budget
Your grocery budget is often the most flexible part of your budget. How much you spend on food is very personal and often determined by where you live and any dietary requirements your family may have.
But there are many ways to save money on food when you focus in on your grocery bill. Here are a few tips to get started:
Use what’s already in your pantry
A simple way to start saving money on your grocery bill is to use what you have in your pantry as the basis for future meals. Your pantry holds money that you have already spent in the form of the food it holds. A large pantry holds a lot of money, use it!
Batch cooking is both a time saver and a money saver. It doesn’t need to be complicated, just make double each time you cook a meal. One to eat and one to freeze for another day.
buy in bulk
Buy in bulk when you can. When it comes to buying food, I’m a big fan of freezer and pantry staples. Buy in bulk when the price is at it’s lowest in order save more money.
For example, pasta might usually cost you $1 a packet. When it’s discounted to 75c then buying a lot of packets will save you money in the long run.
Shop only once a week (or less)
This is the ultimate in grocery and meal planning. Shop once a week or less and you have less opportunities to impulse buy. I can guarantee that going to the shop more often will not help you save money. The opposite will happen. You will spend more money.
Have meatless meals in your meal plan
Meat is expensive, especially if it’s the premium stuff. There are lots of options for saving on meat and still eating delicious meals including; eggs, beans, lentils and veggies.
Buy food that’s in season
In season food is often cheaper, fresher, tastier and better for you. It also tastes better when cooked at home because of the freshness. Even better if you can grow your own veggies – they’re practically free and fresh on the day you pick them.
use cash back apps
There are lots of great cash back apps that pay you to shop at your favourite stores. Cashback apps doesn’t make you rich but they do help you make a little cash.
You can get cashback from Ibotta or the Fetch Rewards app when you scan your receipts. It’s as simple as going shopping and snapping a picture of your receipt in order to get paid for what you’ve already spent. Look for deals, look at the prices, then use the cash back apps to return some of your money.
and coupons when you can
Coupons are an amazing way to save money at big box stores. Big-box stores know they can get you in the door with a coupon, a sale or some kind of promo code and then hit you with attractive pricing from their special offers.
I’ve found that buying items using coupons, sales and other promos is one of the most frugal ways to shop as long as you are smart about it. Only use coupons when they help you save real money.
These posts will ramp up your grocery savings even more:
2. how to budget and save money on a small income: Avoid lifestyle inflation
Lifestyle inflation is when you begin spending more money because your income has gone up. This can be dangerous if you have a tight budget to begin with and it can lead to many financial issues, such as debt.
Avoid lifestyle inflation by setting limits on yourself and sticking to them. For example, when you start making more money, don’t go out and buy a new car.
If you already have debt, increasing your expenses will not help you pay it off faster. Keep lifestyle creep to a minimum by keeping your expenses low.
With a higher income you have the chance to be saving more money each paycheck. Use your payrises to pay off student loans or save more money towards your savings goals.
Live below your means
This is one of the best ways to save money on a tight budget because it’s so simple. It basically means that you have to live within your income.
If you get paid $2000 a month then living below your means is about spending less than your $2000 every month, in total. If you spend more than you earn then it’s debt you are building not savings.
If your money feels tight, don’t worry as there are plenty of brilliant tips for living with very little money.
Unsubscribing from retailers emails and newsletters is a simple way to save money easily. You don’t get the fear of missing out on a bargain or get sucked into shopping every month for things you don’t need.
When you need something you can check out available discounts and grab your savings that way.
3. how to live on a budget and save money: Get your personal finances in order
You don’t need professional financial advice to tell you that understanding personal finance, specifically your finances is important. Getting your finances organized will help you maximize all these ways to save money on a tight budget.
create a budget
Everyone needs a budget, especially those who want to save and those with student loans and credit cards that need paying off. A budget is basically you telling your money what to do.
It doesn’t matter how much you do or don’t earn, your budget is about spending according to your income.
track your spending
Tracking money will help bring your spending budget under control. Maybe your $5 impulse buy won’t make a huge difference to your money saving plans. But what if you have 10 lots of $5 buys?
That can ultimately mean spending money you don’t have and mean you resort to using credit cards for day to day expenses. Logging your spending will show you where your money is going and help you refine your budget for future months.
use cash for daily expenses
Using cash for your daily budget is a tried and true way to save you money. You cannot spend what you don’t have when you are using cash.
The cash envelope system is a great way to start saving money when you have previously relied heavily on your credit card. For full details on how to use cash instead of your credit card check out my post on the cash envelope system.
Use the 30 day rule to save money
What is the 30 day rule for saving money? The 30 day rule is a popular way to prevent impulse buys.
The idea is that you tell yourself that if you are thinking of buying something, put it back and wait 30 days before considering whether or not it’s really an item that you need at this time. If after 30 days you still want the item, then go ahead and buy it.
As long as your budget says you can afford it!
have a fun money allowance
Fun money is basically your guilt free spending money. Money that you budget for and are free to spend as you choose.
Everyone needs fun money, even if you are on a tight budget or a very low income. Budgeting every penny for bills is not sustainable long term.
You’re human, you need to feel that you want to save money not have to save. Because you will rebel if you don’t set aside a little money every month for yourself.
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Tips to help you stop struggling to save money
4. Pay yourself first
The idea is simply that it’s important to set money aside for yourself before you spend it on other things. Doing so increases the chances that you will be able to meet your financial goals over time.
Right now you are earning, but the future you may not. Whether that is you in 5 years time or 40 years time. Setting aside money now will help you pay for things in the future. Whether that is a new home, a new car or retirement.
The money you set aside for your future self needs to be prioritized and kept in a separate savings account (and investments) so you don’t dip into it.
The problem with savings is that, well, we don’t like to do it. We’d rather spend money than save it. And the more money we have, the harder it becomes to part with any of it. The easiest ways to save are those that require no action by us.
When you automate your savings you take action once and then sit back and let it happen every month. Set up a direct payment from your checking account/bank account into a savings account of your choosing.
The ideal savings account would be one that is not linked to your checking account. That way you don’t see it when you log into your banking app.
Related post: What’s The Point Of Having A Savings Account These Days?
living on a tight budget tips for shopping
5. always compare prices before you buy
When you need to buy something, don’t just go to your local store to purchase it. Always compare prices before you buy and shop around to see if there is a cheaper place that sells what you’re looking for.
The price of pretty much everything is going up, if you want to save money it’s important that you do your research and figure out which places have the cheapest products.
use thrift stores
There are tons of thrift stores out there that can help you find clothing, furniture and many other things that you might need.
Buying secondhand is one of my favorite money saving tips as it can apply to just about everything you need, apart from food.
Clothes, tools, household items, cars, toys, you name it, I’ve bought it used rather than new. Thrift store/charity shop shopping is my favorite kind of shopping!
use your library and dont buy books
Most people don’t know this but libraries can be a great place to save money on books. You can borrow them for free, and there’s no shipping costs involved if you’re buying online.
Every so often they hold a book sale, getting rid of old stock to make room for new books. I always try to take advantage of these sales as I can get books I want to re-read at a bargain price.
check FB marketplace for bargains
If you’re looking for something specific that isn’t sold in stores, check out Facebook marketplace. There are lots of people selling things like clothing, furniture and appliances.
Some items have been reconditioned to look brand new again and others are only gently used. Your best bargains are likely to be those that require you to pick up. It’s worth joining local FaceBook buy and sell groups to get your pick of the best.
6. make more money
When you’re living on a budget, it’s incredibly easy to only focus on expenses. But there are many ways that you can actually make money – rather than losing it! – on a tight budget. Here are a few ideas to make money for you.
Ask for a raise!
If you’ve been at your job for a while and/or are doing a great job, there’s no time like the present to ask for a raise. It may not work and it will probably take awhile, but every little bit helps. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Become a freelancer
If you have a skill or expertise that other people need, why not make some money out of it? There are many websites that offer freelance jobs, such as Fiverr and Upwork.
These are great for people with specialized skills and expertise who want to make money on the side. I’ve used Fiverr myself, not to get paid but to acquire help for technical stuff I didn’t know how to do.
If you’re not sure where to start with a side hustle or becoming a freelancer check out these FREE training options. They will help you decide what to do to make more money.
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Buy and resell items
Some people make a living by buying items and then reselling them online for more. You’ll need to spend some time doing research and getting the best deals on items that can be resold – such as electronics, books, DVDs etc.
I did this myself with some success a fews years ago when I needed money to pay off my credit card and a pay rise wasn’t an option.
Have a yard sale
If you have things lying around the house or garage that you no longer need and/or use, have a yard sale or car boot! You can sell many items online these days – such as clothing, books etc., but having a real yard sale is fun and you may even make a few bucks.
Sell stuff online
If you don’t want to go the yard sale route, you can use sites like Craigslist or eBay to sell your things for more – especially if they’re in good condition. Just be sure that everything’s clean and free of cigarette smoke etc. when selling.
For many more ways to make more money check out these posts:
7. Get your money mindset right
Your money mindset is all about your beliefs and feelings towards money. It determines how you see yourself, the world around you, and what type of financial success you will have.
A positive money mindset sets you up for success in the long-term. That’s why it’s important to change your beliefs and feelings about money if they’re not helping you achieve your goals.
Many people swear that using positive affirmations for money bring them financial success. When you believe something, it’s a very powerful thing.
If journalling is your thing than check out these journal prompts to manifest money, you could be onto a winner!
Understand your spending triggers
If you want to achieve your savings goals, the first thing to do is understand your spending triggers. As in, what triggers you to spend?
Do you spend when you are down, when you are happy, when you are hungry, when you are trying to impress someone? Knowing what triggers you to spend is the first step in overcoming your spending habits.
8. set up sinking funds for irregular but known expenses
Sinking funds are like a savings account, except you put money into it every month or paycheck and take money back out. The definition of a sinking fund in it’s simplest form is that it is a (temporary) savings pot.
One where you put aside money every month and then spend from that pot on certain expenses. Your sinking funds are expected expenses as you know they are going to happen.
set a gifts budget
Gift giving can amount to a tidy sum over a year. If you don’t plan in advance, Christmas and birthdays can end up on your credit card and cost you more money in high interest rate payments.
Gifts are a perfect example of expected but irregular expenses so create a sinking fund for them. Save money every month into a separate account and use this money to buy gifts.
For example, if you calculate that your spend $600 on gifts each year then saving $50 per month into your gifts sinking fund means you won’t need to resort to credit to buy them.
9. save bonuses and windfalls
A quick way to boost your savings is to save rather than spend any bonuses or windfalls you receive. These aren’t part of your budget so in theory you don’t need the money.
Think of your bonus as being free money. If you’ve always spent your bonus on treats for yourself and the family, try spending less and putting at least 50% of it into savings.
10. talk about money
Many people shy away from talking about money. Personal finance seems to be one of those topics you don’t talk about in polite company!
Especially anything to do with debt! But talking about money, to your spouse, to family and to friends is how the average american, or Brit is going to learn about money.
As a couple you and your spouse need to be on the same page when it comes to your savings and every other financial decision you make. To do so you need to talk money, to discuss the best ways to achieve your money goals.
11. stop using credit cards
When you use your credit card to spend, it doesn’t feel like you are spending money. You don’t get the bill until the end of the month and you have another month to pay off your credit card bill.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I’ll pop it on the credit card and pay it off immediately”, only to find you don’t. If you are using your credit card for regular purchases in order to grab some cash back, that’s great.
As long as your pay off your bill in full every month. Instead, use cash or debit cards as much as possible and only swipe the plastic if it’s absolutely necessary.
clever ways to save money on a tight budget
These are just a few of the many ways to save money on a tight budget. It’s not easy living on a low income, but it is possible. What have you found that has helped you stay within your financial means?
Have you any tips for living on a low income or saving money when it seems like there’s little left in the bank account? Share with us below!
Start taking back control of your money by grabbing your copy of the Money Saving Starter Guide today.
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Last Updated on 18th October 2021 by Emma