6 Painless Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

August 24th, 2007.

It cracks me up when people tell me it’s impossible for them to save money. I always tell them the same thing: “Give me a copy of your pay stubs, your bills, and a month’s worth of receipts and I can find money in your budget to save. I can squeeze blood from stones.”

Generally, people aren’t as overextended as they think they are and most could reach their financial goals pretty painlessly if they only got a little creative.

Following are a few of my most common recommendations.

Save All Your Receipts for a Month

The majority of people really don’t know exactly how they spend their cash. Time and time again, someone will tell me they never waste cash and only spend money on the bare necessities. However, their tune usually changes when they add up the tally at the end of the month.

All the small ways you treat yourself on a daily basis might not seem like much at first, but it really does add up quickly. Save your receipts for a month and I’m almost positive you’ll be shocked at what you find.

After all, there’s a difference between, “I only grab a cup of coffee every now and then” and “Holy shit! I spent $140 on lattes!”

Prioritize

In America, people are continuously living outside of their means. Of course it’s impossible to save money if you’re living a $120,000/year lifestyle on a $35,000/year salary. So prioritize what is important to you and chuck the rest. You may want to indulge in a few packs of cigarettes and a belly dancing class, but you can’t afford both. So suck it up and pick one.

Get the Children Involved

People are always complaining to me that they can’t keep their energy bills down because the goddamn kids always leave the lights on. My suggestion is simple: make the electric bill the kid’s responsibility.

If your electric bill is usually $150/month, sit the kids down and tell them you’d like the electric bill to remain $100/month. (Or whatever other dollar amount you personally find reasonable) Let them know for every dollar the bill runs over $100 gets deducted out of their allowance. However, every dollar that the bill runs under $100 gets added to their allowance. In essence, you are creating a situation in which your children earn or lose money strictly on how careful they are to turn off the lights when they leave a room.

After awhile, you can expand this technique to include the other utilities. Not only will your bills shrink, but you’ll be teaching the kids how to conserve energy.

Leave the Debit Card at Home and Start Carrying Cash

I was watching a commercial a couple of days ago that insinuated that carrying cash was obsolete and strongly hinted that if you didn’t carry a debit card, you were pretty much a caveman. I thought to myself, “Of course companies want to encourage people to use debit cards. It’s easier for them to spend (waste) money that way.”

Not only do I carry cash, but I usually ask for big bills. It’s downright easy to buy a smoothie when you know you can just hand someone a debit card. It’s a little more mentally difficult if you know you’ve got to break a $50 for it.

If you carry cash, you’ll find you spend less money. However, do not ever carry more cash than you can afford to lose. The last thing you need is to lose your purse and your mortgage payment with it. Instead, just slip a couple of bills in your pocket and consider those your budget for the day.

Walk

After you’ve used your receipts to tally up your spending for the month, I expect you’ll be crying bitter tears when you find out exactly how much you’ve been spending on gasoline. If that number isn’t enough to get you to walk to the fucking corner store, then you are one lazy son of a bitch.

I have a rule: If it’s less than 5 miles away, I can walk. (or bike) Not only do I save massive amounts of money that way, but it’s a nice way to keep control of my weight.

Utilize Craigslist, Goodwill, etc.

Personally, I think it is pretty skeevy to buy clothes secondhand, so if you don’t want to go school clothes shopping at a garage sale, I totally understand where you’re coming from. However, there are plenty of things you can buy secondhand that won’t gross you out.

For example, books. I always buy books from goodwill. They cost a fucking quarter and what do I care if they’ve been read before? It’s no different than going to library.

When I got my dog, I needed a dog crate. A crate her size when she was fully grown would have cost me $125. I found one on craigslist for $35. Considering how much her vaccinations were running me, the money I saved there was a welcome relief.

If I’m not planning on ingesting it or wearing it, I’ll attempt to buy it secondhand.

Anyway, these are some of more painless ways I typically suggest to people who would like to save money, but can’t figure out how. Trust me, I can think of more aggressive ways to save, but I’m a firm believer that a novice saver should start slow. Sometimes, going from not saving a penny a month to living on $70 a week and socking away the rest can seem daunting to those lacking in money management skills. So start off by cutting back a little, build a little nest egg, and see if the inner peace and security you gain by having a little something extra in the bank doesn’t far outweigh the pleasure you used to get from being a spendthrift.

With that said, I am much more frugal than my husband. He read my list and was actually horrified by it. He said (and this is a direct quote), “You want me to walk 5 miles to the store to save a little money? Oh hell no! What if I want to buy a TV?”

Sometimes he may not realize it, but he’s lucky to have me.

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