Saving money is challenging for the vast majority of people, but finding ways to save money on a low income is exceptionally harder making it more important they start somewhere. Let’s learn some ways to save money when it seems like we don’t have much to begin with.
How to Save Money on Food
It is easy to overspend on food especially when our appetite and cravings get the better of us. Afterall, what is life without good food! There are ways to eat well and to cut costs while appealing to those cravings.
1. Plan your meals
While this takes time, it also saves money. Planning meals is more than just preparing lunch for a whole week and you’re all done. It is strategic shopping and cooking. An example of a recent meal prep we did was curry chicken and boneless buffalo wings. It allowed us to buy the boneless chicken thighs in bulk, prepare all the chicken at once and just cook them differently. We had our main protein for our lunch and dinner for 3-4 days.
2. Plan your grocery shopping
Many people will think twice before adding gallons of soda, ice cream and candy bars on their grocery list and will find themselves leaving the grocery store with more junk than they would’ve otherwise done if they’ve written a list and stuck to it. Overtime, making the habit of seeing the snack in the store and not purchasing will leave yourself better off in the future.
3. Do Not Grocery Shop On A Hungry Stomach
This will prevent you from needing to fight the urge of adding new things to the grocery list that you wouldn’t have intended to have eaten at home prior. It will also prevent the urge to stop at your local fast food joint for a quick bite. Usually when we’re hungry and in a tempting environment, we can make less healthy choices.
4. Stock up in recurring items
Make a list of your recurring, frequently used items and stock up! For us, these are the tomato pastes, chicken stock, frozen shrimp, frozen vegetables and fruit for smoothies. This will allow you to limit the need to waste time, energy, and fuel visiting multiple grocery stores during the week to grab all your ingredients, especially some of your more basic items.
5. Eat the deals
While working to pay off my 6-figure student loans, I followed a few rules to save money. That was to never buy anything out of the ordinary if it wasn’t on sale. Picking up the Sunday papers to look at grocery store ads for deals is a helpful habit when needing to save money on a low income. Flipp app is fantastic for scouring the weekly deal
6. Keep a digital Inventory list
How many times have you purchased something at the store only to realize that now you have more than you can eat? Maybe you forgot what you had at home and decided to buy it just in case only to waste it later. Keeping a list of your recurring items in stock is a great way to prevent this from happening while you’re out. We keep track of our inventory and grocery list with the anylist app. Not a sponsored link, but we love it so much that it’s hard not to promote.
7. Clearly label expiration dates on your inventory
While you’re checking your inventory, you might as well see if there is anything that will be expiring soon. The last thing you intended to do when stocking up is to end up throwing it out.
8. Challenge your creativity
Things might be expiring soon. See what you can make with the expired items. Don’t make something so gross you’ll never want to do this challenge again.
9. Revive and incorporate your leftovers
We often end up with leftover vegetables or meat from the night before. It isn’t quite enough for a meal and could otherwise go to waste. Frequently, we easily revive our odl dish by incorporating it into a fried rice which can take minutes to prepare if the rice is already cooked.
10. Stop going out to restaurants
Typically, a well planned home cooked meal that doesn’t include an expensive cut of steak, will cost $2-3 per person per meal. While the cost of our restaurant outing ranges from $15 per person upwards to $25 per person per meal, tip not included. If this is the case for you too, it means that you are spending upwards of 1200% more per person per meal! Where else can you get those types of returns? On top of the cost, it’s time and fuel to travel. If you are on a low income, I would definitely avoid restaurants and possibly only limit it to special occasions.
11. Buy In bulk
Of course, you can only do this for non-perishable items like canned and boxed foods, frozen foods, other dry foods like rice and beans as well as toiletries. For perishables, think about freezing them if possible. If you cannot freeze them, see if you have friends, family, or a neighbor split the costs and you two can share the deal together without worry of waste.
12. Use Generic Brands
Generic brands are often as good as the more expensive branded items. I always check the ingredients before purchasing the substitute.
13. Brown bag your lunch
My wife and I have been packing our lunches for the last 8 years. Each Sunday we batch cook an entire meal which usually lasts 4 days. On Thursday nights, we make sure there is more than enough food to go around on the dinner table and pack the rest for Friday’s lunch. It has become a routine, it keeps our wallets fat and our waist thin.
14. Buy a Filtered Water Pitcher
While you can save money by drinking tap water, we don’t enjoy it as much. It was either filtering our own water or lugging in cases of water into the house each week. The savings from filtering tap water is a nice bonus though. We use this Brita filter you can buy from Amazon.
15. Start a Small Garden
You don’t have to have a green thumb to grow common expensive herbs like Basil. Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, and Mint Leaves. My family grows all 4 in small gardens outside and never again do we pay $5 for a few leaves and stems. We haven’t tried it, but if you grow enough and would like to store it for the winter, just freeze them. Finally, gardening can be quite therapeutic, so that’s a point for health!
16. Use Gift cards
I know one of the tips earlier said to avoid restaurants except for special occasions. Whether or not we stick to that rule, everyone goes to a restaurant eventually for a change in scenery. If you want to save money while doing so, sometimes you can purchase gift cards at a discount of their value through your credit card portal. Discover is a great one that I use.
17. Take Advantage of Kids Eat Free Nights
Did you know there are restaurants that have special nights where your kids can eat for free? Of course, you have to dine in to get this deal, but do a quick google search and you’ll be sure to find some in your area. Just don’t forget to return to this page for some more cool tips on how to save money.
18. Sign up for the reward system at your favorite food spots
While you might not want to make your birthday meal something from Wawa or Dunkin Donuts, often those birthday coupons last an entire week and can supplement one of your meals.
19. Take Note of common items you can buy at the Dollar Store
I’m always baffled at how expensive aluminum trays are at the grocery store, sometimes 3-4x more costly than at the dollar store. This is one of the items I will always buy at the Dollar store if nearby. Can you think of some other dollar store go-to items for yourself?
20. Use coupons and special deals
If you never heard of krazycouponlady.com you’re missing out. This site will tell you everything you need to buy an entire grocery cart full of things for next to nothing. Warning, it does take some time, but some deals are too good to pass up. Also, Uber Eats often have great deals where you can have food delivered or picked up at half the menu cost. There are coupons and deals all around if you’re willing to take the time to research them.
21. Use Credit Cards
Credit cards typically have great reward programs. Look for ones that offer rotating categories that will often include 5% back on groceries or restaurants. I honestly have nearly 10 credit cards which allow me to redeem anywhere from 3-5% on all my purchases. In some chases 10% back. I then use those rewards and invest them immediately into a brokerage account. I described my whole process here.
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How to Save Money on Healthcare
Health is your wealth as they say. It is not more true these days when a hospital stay has the potential to cause someone to spiral into financial ruin. Here are some tips to save money on your health care.
22. Look Into Benefits From Your Insurance
Your Insurance may offer more benefits than just providing coverage for when you get sick or for preventative visits. I learned that my insurance provides new parents with 3 types of child care starter kits which came with everything from diapers, infant bottles, home safety devices, and nipple cream. I didn’t know it was a thing, but we’re using it!
23. Look Over Your Medical Bill Invoice
Surprise, hospitals can do a horrible job about communicating that needs to be done. You may be billed twice or have certain work done on you in the hospital a second time when you were only supposed to have it done once. It happened to me and It can happen to you. Make sure to have a written account if you believe a duplicate test is being performed on you in the hospital so you can have it with you when you dispute the bill.
24. Check With Your Insurance Before Paying The Bill
If you are going through a lot of medical appointments, claims are being sent from your providers to your insurance at all different times and you’ll never know which bill applied to your deductible. We overpay enough into the current US healthcare system, let’s stop it there.
25. Attend Regular Doctor Visits, Get Blood Work Done Annually
If you have a single chronic diagnosis or over the age of 50, it is important to see your physician annually. Catching things early is often less costly and easier to overcome than catching it when it’s too late and will need to deal with a huge medical bill. While it isn’t recommended for me to see my physician annually, I do so anyway, mainly because I want blood work drawn and it’s free when I pair it with a physical. Pay attention to trends in your blood work. I frequently look at my cholesterol levels. Though it is within normal limits, it has been trending up and something busy primary care physicians will miss. Want more details, check out this article.
26. Look Into Employer Benefits
Frequently, employers will have employee assistant programs which typically come with at least 6 covered visits with a licensed psychotherapist to talk through problems. I personally used this benefit once during a trying time in my life and wouldn’t hesitate to use them again should I need one.
27. Quit Smoking
If you have habits that are negatively affecting your financial well-being and your physical health, it might be time to quit. Doing so will also save you money at the end of the year. Every little bit adds up.
28. Limit Drink To Socially
Just like eating out for special occasions, you can make it a rule to never drink alone. You’ll consume less alcohol and have more fun when you actually do have a drink. Want to add some cost savings? Only drink at home because alcohol at restaurants and bars are marked up by multiples. That doesn’t mean you should throw parties every night!
29. Exercise Regularly
Finding an enjoyable exercise routine that works for you will keep your entire body and mind healthy to prevent costly diagnosis or health issues in the future. It will also make your annual physicals something to look forward to because you will ace it. It will also make you less likely to put toxins like nicotine and alcohol in your body.
How to Cut Down On Housing Costs
30. Cut the Cable
Why pay over $100 per month to access hundreds of channels you don’t watch. With youtube, Netflix, Apple TV etc, you can get plenty of content at a fraction of the cost of cable. Plus, you shouldn’t be watching too much TV anyway.
31. Reduce Home or Renters Insurance Costs
Whether you’re renting or owning a home, it is important to make sure you’re properly insured from a disaster. Often switching insurance providers every couple of years can do wonders in keeping your premiums low especially if rates continue to rise. Policy genius is a great place to start.
32. Reduce House Utility Bills
It would be challenging to live without heat and impossible to live without water. A little bit goes a long way. Double check insulation at your windows and doors. Even a small draft can make a difference in your gas bill. inspect your light bulbs and unplug unused charging blocks. Small changes can add up to big cash savings. Check for leaky faucets
33. Refinance Your Mortgage
One of the easiest ways to reduce your monthly expenses is by refinancing your mortgage. I refinanced my mortgage from 4.25% at 15 years to 2.25% at 15 years which reduced our monthly payments from $700 to $500. Refinancing often comes with closing costs, so please do a break even calculation to determine if it’s worth it.
34. Keep Your Rent Low
These days, rent is anything except low, but there are ways to prevent your rent from going up. That is to keep the house tidy both on the inside and out. Also, take care of the small things like changing out your light bulb or unclogging the toilet. The more work you are saving your landlord time and energy, the less likely rent will be increased.
How to Save Money On Transportation
35. Carpool with friends or co-workers
Chances are that you’re not the only one trying to get somewhere. Talk to people you know who may be going to the same place you need to be and ask to catch a ride.
36. Consider Taking Public Transportation
If you’re working in an area where subways and buses are plentiful, it may be worth looking into taking public transportation which is often more affordable than maintaining a car, paying for gas, insurance, and registration. I delayed car ownership for more than a year after my first professional job. I believe this allowed me to help pay off my 6-figure student loan debt fairly early and helped me achieve other financial goals.
37. Buy Used Vehicles
One of the best ways to save on transportation costs when it comes to cars is to buy a used car. The purpose of a vehicle is to take you from point A to point B and often a well maintained used car will do just as well as save you on car insurance especially if you have a bundle with home and auto.
38. Buy a Car With Good Fuel Efficiency
If you’re strapped for cash and plan on purchasing or replacing a vehicle, try to focus on high fuel economy so you’re not emptying your wallet everytime you decide to go for a joyride.
39. Do your own preventative auto maintenance work
While changing your oil is a maintenance item you could save, I often like to leave it to the professionals. Also, many times I find that it is done for free with a coupon. Other maintenance items you can do to save money is to inspect your air tire pressure.
40. Consider Biking
There is always biking, especially If all else fails or if you decide to be a little more adventurous one day. Not only will it help you save money, but it will help you stay in shape.
Money Habits To Help You Save on a low income
41. Take a monthly Inventory of your assets and liabilities
A step most people skip is figuring out what they own and what they owe or net worth. How much is in each bank account, investment account, how much do you owe on your credit cards, mortgages, student loans. What are their associated interest rates, etc. This step helps build your relationship with your money to make sure it’s in peak health. Checking regularly will keep you alert for opportunities to improve your net worth.
42. Write down your short term and long term goals
Writing down your goals makes you 42% more likely to succeed. With those odds, everyone should be writing down their goals. Work on your financial goals, career goals, and recreational life/family goals. When creating the goals, write them with the end in mind. Where do you want to be in 5 years and work backwards.
43. Pay yourself first
The best way to do this is to set up an automatic deposit into a separate savings account where you can either refill your emergency fund bucket, or your reserve bucket where you would be taking money from for discretionary expenses, like vacations. There are many ways to pay yourself first to save, but one of the best ways to not only save and invest is to use the Acorns app. It rounds up the cost of each purchase from credit cards you link to the account and invests the difference automatically.
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44. Revisit Your Budget Sheet
One of the most effective ways to save money on a low income is to budget early and often. I recommend you revisit your budget at least once a year. Each time we revisit our budget, we find costs that have snuck into our monthly expenses that shouldn’t have been there to begin with. It helps keep our spending in line with our values.
45. Control your cash flow
If you often use credit cards to pay for expenses, make sure you set the due date to coincide with when you receive your paycheck. This is often either weekly or biweekly. That way, you are more likely to have enough money to pay your bills. Have trouble with credit card usage? Stick with cash. After all, You can’t spend what you don’t have. For those that are on a very strict budget and find themselves frequently overspending using credit cards, it would be best to stick to a cash-only budget until you can increase the gap between your income and expenses.
46. Track every expense
We often know how much we earn, but not how much we spend. How much we think spend and where is often different than reality. I recommend using apps like personal capital to help you do this automatically and all that is left for you to do is to review it regularly. I review my expenses both monthly and annually.
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47. Protect yourself from emergencies
Saving money on a low income is easier when you’re protected from emergencies. The idea of building an emergency fund might seem impossible, but if you can’t find a way to save a few bucks now to put away for a rainy day, it would be even more impossible when your car breaks down and you can’t get to work. An emergency fund will save you money later so you’re not forced to hold off paying other bills that month that might be accruing so much more in interest. Work by saving your first hundred, than thousand, than 3 to 6 months of expenses.
48. Tracking and controlling Your Debts
The only debt I feel that is okay to carry without prioritizing pay off is low interest debt. I would consider this less than 6%. If you have debt, find out what your options are for consolidating, refinancing, working out a fee-free payment plan, or settling for less than you owe.
49. Downgrade your technology – control for lifestyle inflation
It’s surprising when I hear of people on payment plans to make their splurge on the latest smartphone or TV more affordable. With evolving technology it is much more reasonable to spring for the more generic or cost effective option which will get the same barebone tasks done at a fraction of the costs.
50. Adopt minimalism mindset
Imagine having more freedom by owning less things. A cluttered house is a cluttered mind and a cluttered mind is an unproductive mind. Start by looking around to see what you would rather have the cash value for than to keep. Start making a list or attaching a post-it. Your job will be to sell it, donate it, or trash it by the end of the week. Repeat this process until you no longer have any post-its.
Most of us have experienced difficult times living on a tight budget, but simply by applying a few tips from this article, you are working towards making your situation a temporary one. There are 52 weeks in a year leaving you with the opportunity with at least 1 week to apply each of these tips. Good luck!
Art is the founder of Flexcents, a blog created in 2018 to help others reach their fitness and financial goals through sharing insights as a physical therapist, personal finance nerd, and self-directed investor.