Build an emergency fund. It can make all the difference. Low-income families with at least $500 in an emergency fund are better off financially than moderate-income families with less saved up. Learn more about emergency funds here.
Establish your budget. Are you looking for an easy way to begin? On the first day of a new month, get a receipt for everything you purchase. Stack the receipts into categories like restaurants, groceries, and personal care. At the end of the month you will be able to clearly see where your money is going.
Budget with cash and envelopes. If you have trouble with overspending, try the envelope budget system where you use a set amount of cash for most spending. And once the cash is gone, it's gone. Learn more about the envelope budget system here.
Don't just save money, save. There’s a difference between saving money and saving money for your future. So don’t just spend less, put the money you save into a savings account to plan for college expenses, retirement, or emergencies that can leave you financially better off. Learn more about what you should be saving for here.
Save automatically. Setting up automatic savings is the easiest and most effective way to save, and it puts extra cash out of sight and out of mind. Every pay period, have your employer deduct a certain amount from your paycheck and transfer it to a retirement or savings account. Ask your HR representative for more details about how to set this up. Or every month, have your bank or credit union transfer a fixed amount from your checking account to a savings or investment account. Learn more about automatic savings here.
Aim for short-term savings goals. Make a goal such as setting aside $20 a week or month, rather than a longer term savings goal. People save more successfully when they keep short-term goals in sight.
Start saving for your retirement as early as possible. Few people get rich through their wages alone. It's the miracle of compound interest, or earning interest on your interest over many years, that builds wealth. Because time is on their side, the youngest workers are in the best position to save for retirement. Learn more about different options for saving for retirement in your workplace or on your own here.
Take full advantage of employer matches to your retirement plan. Often as an incentive, employers will match a certain amount of what you save in a retirement plan such as a 401(k). If you don't take full advantage of this match, you're leaving money on the table.
Save your windfalls and tax refunds. Every time you receive a windfall, such a work bonus, inheritance, contest winnings, or tax refund, put a portion into your savings account.
Make a savings plan. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully.
Save your loose change. Really! Putting aside just 50¢ over a year will get you 40 percent of the way to a $500 emergency fund. And some banks and credit unions or apps offer programs that round all your purchases to the nearest dollar and put that money into a separate savings account.
Use the 24 hour rule. This rules helps avoid purchasing expensive or unnecessary items on impulse. Think over each nonessential purchase for at least 24 hours. This is particularly easy to do while shopping online, because you can add items to your cart or wish list and come back to them a day later.
Treat yourself, but use it as an opportunity to save. Match the cost of your nonessential indulgences in savings. So, for example, if you splurge on a smoothie while out running errands, put the same amount into your savings account. And think of it this way, if you can't afford to save the matching amount, you can't afford the treat either.
Calculate purchases by hours worked instead of cost. Take the amount of the item you're considering purchasing and divide it by your hourly wage. If it’s a $50 pair of shoes and you make $10 an hour, ask yourself if those shoes are really worth five long hours of work.
Unsubscribe. Avoid temptation by unsubscribing from marketing emails to the stores you spend the most money at. By law, each email is required to have an unsubscribe link, usually at the bottom of the email.
Place a savings reminder on your card. Remind yourself to think through every purchase by covering your card with a savings message, such as "Do I really need this?" Write the message on a piece of masking tape or colorful washi tape on your card.
Participate in a local Investment Development Account (or IDA) program. If your income is low, you may be eligible to participate in an IDA program where your savings are matched. In return for attending financial education sessions and planning to save for a home, education, or business, you typically receive at least $1 for every $1 you save, and sometimes much more. That means $25 saved each month could become several hundred dollars by the end of the year. Find an IDA program near you.
Banking, Credit, and Debt Savings Tips
Pay off credit cards in full each month. The miles and cash-back are only valuable if you're not falling into debt or paying interest. Learn more about debt and credit here.
Start with a goal of reducing your credit card debt by just $1,000. That $1,000 debt reduction will probably save you $150-200 a year in interest, and much more if you're paying penalty rates of 20-30 percent.
Use only the ATMs of your bank or credit union. Using the ATM of another financial institution once a week might seem like no big deal, but if it's costing you $3 for each withdrawal, that's more than $150 over the course of a year.
Check your credit report for free once a year. Use your annual free credit report from the three credit reporting bureaus to look for inaccuracies or opportunities to raise your score. Credit scores are used by loan providers, landlords, and others to determine what they’ll sell you, and at what price. For example, a low credit score can increase the cost of a 60-month, $20,000 auto loan by more than $5,000. Learn more about your credit score here.
Pay all of your bills on auto-pay. This ensures they are paid on time, in full to avoid late charges. As a bonus, some loan providers offer a small interest rate deduction if you enroll in auto-pay.
Get free debt counseling. The most widely available help managing your debt is with a Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) counselor. CCCS’ network of non-profit counselors can work with you confidentially and judgement-free to help you develop a budget, figure out your options, and negotiate with creditors to repay your debts. Best of all, the 45-90 minute counseling sessions are free of charge and come with no obligations. Get started here.
Freeze your credit, literally. If you are having trouble controlling your credit card use, but don't want to cut up your credit card in case you need it at some point, freeze your credit card in a bag of water. Needing to thaw your card will force you to really consider the purchase before you make it.
Entertainment Savings Tips
Take advantage of your library. More and more libraries are offering e-books, so you don't even need to visit in person. Many libraries are also part of an intra-library loan system where you can borrow anything you want, but that they don't have, for a minimal shipping charge. Just ask. And some libraries allow you to borrow things like tools and sewing machines.
Get unadvertised theater ticket discounts. Call, email, or tweet your nearby theater to ask about discount options that are often not well-advertised. Many theaters offer discounted seats for seniors, students, and young adults, such as pay-your-age or pay-what-you-can programs. Or they'll offer rush discounts of any unsold seats immediately before a show.
Volunteer at local festivals. Cultural festivals and events often offer free admission to event volunteers. Contact the organizers of your favorite event to ask about volunteer opportunities and benefits.
Family and Friends Savings Tips
Create a family spending limit on gifts. Discuss placing spending limits on gifts within your family and/or a system where you only purchase one gift for one person over the holidays. These limits tend to reduce expenditures and be greatly appreciated by family members with less financial flexibility.
Plan gift-giving well in advance. That will give you time to decide on the most thoughtful gifts, which usually are not the most expensive ones. And if these gifts are products that must be purchased, you will have the opportunity to look for sales.
Start saving for college at the baby shower. It's never too soon to start a college savings account for junior. Ask for contributions to a college fund instead of clothing and toy gifts for your new baby.
Don't buy cheap clothes for cheap's sake. It sometimes make sense to prioritize quality over price when purchasing clothes for the family. An inexpensive shirt or coat is a poor bargain for older family members if it wears out in less than a year, but could make sense for quickly growing children. Consider fabric, stitching, washability, and other quality related factors in your selection of clothes.
Organize a neighborhood swap meet. Here’s how it works: gather your friends and neighbors with kids around the same age and everyone brings gently used clothing, books, and school supplies, toys, etc., and receives a ticket for each item they bring. Each ticket entitles you to one item from the swap meet. If you contribute six books, you can leave with up to six new-to-you books. If you contribute seven items of clothing, you can leave with up to seven new-to-you items of clothing. All leftover items are donated.
Designate one day a week a "no spend day." Reserve one night a week for free family fun. Cook at home, and plan out free activities such as game night, watching a movie, or going to the park.
Food Savings Tips
Brown bag your lunch. The reason you hear this tip so much is that it works! If buying lunch at work costs $5, but making lunch at home costs only $2.50, then in a year, you could afford to create a $500 emergency fund and still have money left over.
Commit to eating out one fewer time each month. Save money without sacrificing your lifestyle by taking small steps to reduce your dining budget. Start off with reducing the amount you eat out by just once per month.
Plan your meals in advance and stick to a list while grocery shopping. People who do food shopping with a list, and buy little else, spend much less money than those who decide what to buy when they get to the food market. The annual savings could easily be hundreds of dollars.
Shop by unit price. Many grocery stores list a cost per unit of each item, such as the price per ounce or pound. Use these stickers when comparison shopping for the same product, just in a different size.
Stick to water. It’s standard in the restaurant industry to mark up the cost of alcohol by three to five times. So an easy way to cut down on your restaurant spending without changing your habits too drastically is to skip the beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Save time and money by doubling the recipe. Next time you make a family favorite, double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for another day. That way you can get two meals out of one and use the ingredients more efficiently with less waste. Aluminum pans of various sizes can be purchased on the cheap, especially when buying bulk, and make freezing and reheating a snap.
Health Savings Tips
Don't skimp on preventive healthcare. Routine dental checkups, for example, help prevent fillings, root canals, and dental crowns, which are expensive and no fun.
Go generic. Ask your physician if generic prescription drugs are a good option for you. Generic drugs can cost several hundred dollars less to purchase annually than brand-name drugs. And since physicians often don't know the costs you incur for a particular drug, you often have to ask.
Comparison shop for prescription drugs. Don't just rely on the closest drugstore because the cost to you can vary significantly from pharmacy to pharmacy. Make sure to check out your local pharmacist, supermarkets, wholesale clubs, and mail-order pharmacies.
Purchase store brand over-the-counter medications. Store brand medications often cost 20-40 percent less than nationally advertised brands, but are the exact same formula. The premium you're paying on brand names is for nothing but the marketing.
Home Savings Tips
Comparison shop for homeowners insurance. Before renewing your existing homeowners insurance policy each year, check out the rates of competing companies.
Refinance your mortgage. Explore if you have the option to refinance your mortgage to a lower interest rate. On a 15-year $100,000 fixed-rate mortgage, lowering the rate from 7 percent to 6.5 percent can save you more than $5,000 in interest charges over the life of the loan. And, you will accumulate home equity more rapidly, thus increasing your ability to cover large emergency expenditures.
Audit your home energy use. Ask your local electric or gas utility for a free or low-cost home energy audit. The audit may reveal inexpensive ways to reduce home heating and cooling costs by hundreds of dollars a year. Keep in mind that a payback period of less than three years, or even five years, usually will save you lots of money in the long-term.
Weatherproof your home. Caulk holes and cracks that let warm air escape in the winter and cold air escape in the summer. Your local hardware store has materials, and quite possibly useful advice, about inexpensively stopping unwanted heat or cooling loss.
Keep the sun out. Keep your blinds or curtains closed during hot summer days. Blocking the sunlight really does help to keep your house cooler.
Use less water. Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to reduce your water usage and water costs.
Cut laundry detergent and dryer sheet use in half. The laundry detergent sold today is usually highly concentrated and powerful. Use the smallest suggested amount, and often you can use less than what's on the bottle and still get clean clothes. In many cases, using less actually washes more effectively because there’s no leftover soap in your clothes. And tearing your dryer sheets in half gives the same result for half the price.
Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees. For every 10 degree reduction in temperature, you can save up to 5 percent on water heating costs.
Transportation Savings Tips
Comparison shop for auto insurance. Before renewing your existing auto insurance policy each year, check out the rates of competing companies.
Invest in car maintenance. Keeping your car engine tuned and its tires inflated to their proper pressure saves money in the long run. Doing both can save you up to $100 a year in gas.
Check multiple sites for low airfares. Don't rely on a single airline search engine to show you all inexpensive fares. Some discount carriers do not allow their flights to be listed in these third-party searches, so you need to check their websites separately.