by Robin Hartill, CFP® (Senior Editor)
Updated July 26, 2022
Do you ever wonder why it’s so hard to save money — even when you’ve cut the cable and the meals out, and you’ve never even had a latte habit?
One reason it’s so hard to save is that your fixed expenses — the ones that stay the same each month, like your rent or mortgage, car payment, property taxes and insurance premiums — tend to be your biggest bills. These aren’t exactly easy to reduce. Sure, you could lower your rent by moving to a smaller place, but moving itself is also expensive.
We don’t have a magic money-saving trick that will send your bank account balance soaring, but there are plenty of small ways you can scale back. And the little things do add up. Read on if you’re ready to start saving.
How to Start Saving: Set Your Goals First
We get that making a budget ranks right up there with a dentist appointment or trip to the DMV in terms of things you’d rather do. But it’s your essential first step when you want to start saving money.
Fortunately, the best budgeting apps make it easy to keep track of your spending and identify areas where you can cut back. Just be sure to comb through several months’ worth of expenses to get a true sense of where your money is going. Don’t forget about the expenses you don’t encounter every month, like holiday gifts and car registration.
If you don’t set goals, the only thing that budget will do is make you feel terrible about just how little money you’re saving. To get motivated to make saving a priority, spell out why you’re saving.
Think about the short-term goals you’re hoping to accomplish within the next year or two. Building an emergency fund for your family, making a down payment on a home or saving for a vacation may fit in here. Also consider your long-term goals, like putting more money in a 529 plan for your child or saving for retirement.
25 Tips for How to Save Money — Even When Times Are Tight
Here are 25 ideas for saving more money. The good news is that there’s no one thing you have to cut out. If it really matters to you, go ahead and keep spending on it. You can find other things to eliminate that won’t cause too much pain.
1. Time your purchases like a pro.
You may not be able to time a car repair or vet bill, but with discretionary purchases, knowing when to get the best deals can mean big savings. Need a TV? Wait until January, when last year’s models are discounted to make room for the new ones. Looking for new furniture? Retailers often clear out their stock around Independence Day, making July prime time for scoring cheap furniture.
2. Master the art of getting stuff for free.
Becoming a hermit isn’t the only way to save money. There are plenty of ways to get free stuff or have fun on the cheap. Some of our favorite ideas:
- Use Facebook and Nextdoor. Before you shell out for things like furniture or baby gear, check out buy- nothing groups on platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor to see if one of your neighbors is looking to get rid of something similar.
- Score free food by downloading an app. Plenty of restaurant chains offer freebies or BOGO deals for downloading their apps. You can always delete them after you take advantage if you don’t want temptation at your fingertips.
- Get free stuff just for being born. You can score tons of birthday freebies if your big day is coming up — often not just on your actual birthday, but any time during your birth month.
- Check out your local library for free entertainment. Your library card isn’t just a pass to check out books made from dead trees. Plenty of free library apps allow you to access ebooks, movies, music and more without paying a cent.
- Swap goods or services with someone else. Learning how to barter can help you get what you need without spending money.
3. Smash your credit card debt once and for all.
The average APR for people who carry credit card debt is well over 16%. Your bank jumps for joy when you don’t pay off your balance because it’s getting rich off all that interest. Quit padding your bank’s coffers and break up with your credit card debt forever. Some tactics to try:
- The debt snowball method, where you attack the smallest balance first.
- The debt avalanche method, where you focus on the card with the highest interest rate.
- A debt consolidation loan, where you merge your debts into a single payment. This is only a good option if you’re lowering your interest rates.
- A balance-transfer credit card, where you transfer your balances to a card with a 0% promotional interest rate. That zero-interest period typically only lasts 12 to 18 months, though, so this approach is best if you don’t have tons of debt.
4. Flex interest rates to your advantage.
Although they may be on the rise, interest rates are still low, especially if you haven’t refinanced your mortgage in a number of years. One good rule of thumb: Refinance when you can lower your interest rate by 1 percentage point or more, since you’ll have to pay closing costs.
5. Lower your student loan payments.
If you’re struggling to pay off student loans, take advantage of the freeze on interest and payments during the forbearance period to talk to your servicers about whether an income-driven repayment plan is an option for your federal loans. These plans will stretch out your repayment over the standard 10-to-20 years — and if you still have a balance after 20 years, it will be forgiven, though you’ll still owe income taxes. If you have private student loans, check with your servicers about whether there’s a way to lower your debt payments.