Saving money is hard, especially when it already feels like you’re barely making ends meet each month. I shared a little of our story with debt and money management here. We had a tight budget and there was just no financial margin to save money or snowball our debt payments. When we started to really look at our budget with intensely frugal lenses, we realized that there were plenty of areas we could save money to create financial margin. Ultimately we were able to create $1500 of margin in our tight monthly budget. Keep reading for some practical tips on how to save money when your budget is tight.
Before I tell you how we did it, let me preface it by saying that we didn’t have big, obvious things to cut in order to create margin. If we had expensive hobbies or lavish lifestyles, it wouldn’t have been that hard to figure out how to create some margin. But we didn’t have obvious areas to cut back on. I budgeted, I shopped sales, I used coupons, I shopped at Aldi, but it didn’t feel like we could ever get ahead of our finances.
Finally I checked a very dated version of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University out of the library and got inspired. We were ready to make a change even if it hurt.
We started dreaming of financial freedom and the crazy goal of being completely debt free.
That led to us taking a long, hard look at how we were actually managing our money. We realized that even though it felt like we had absolutely no margin, by making some changes we were able to create an average of $1500 of margin in our monthly budget. I’ll tell you in a minute how we did it, but first I want to mention one vitally important piece when it comes to meeting your financial goals: planning. You have to have a plan, and you have to put habits in place that will get you to your goals.
Since I’ve realized how important that planning piece can be, I’ve created a planner just for moms like you! You can use your FREE Unhurried Planner to identify your specific goals, identify your “why”, and make a plan for how to get there. It includes weekly and daily planning sections as well as habit trackers so you can see how you’re improving on each habit over time! Make sure you grab this amazing tool by subscribing to the Unhurried Mom mailing list in the box below!
How to save money on a tight budget principle #1: Cut everything that you can live without.
Cell Phones – saved $127
We had debt on both of our phones and we had poor service through TMobile. When the balance was low enough on our phones, we paid them off in full and switched to Xfinity Mobile where we pay by the gig. We have super old phones but they are paid for and if we can stick to using only 1 gig of data between the two of us, our total cell phone bill is $12 for the month. Many months we do use 2 gigs but that’s still only $24 for cell service for the month.
Cut Netflix – saved $15
We already have Amazon Prime and Hulu and we don’t even watch much TV. I was becoming less and less impressed with the options of kids shows available on Netflix anyways, so cutting the service was a no brainer.
Cut Back on Eating Out – saved $150
This is a hard one to stick with, especially when life gets busy, but we’re doing the best we can. We basically trimmed our eating out budget to a bare bones number that essentially allows for one date night and a (small) handful of lunches on the go for my husband when he’s at work.
Started Using a Realistic Grocery Budget – saved $300
We value health and for much of my daughter’s first three years of life she has been on a severely restricted diet that was also super expensive. We averaged $900-1000 on groceries per month before we got serious about paying off debt. Some people would balk at that figure, and others probably are spending somewhere in the same boat. Healthy food can be expensive! I’ve learned lots and lots of lessons about how to feed my family real food on a realistic budget, which I share in this post, but through lots of practice I have managed to cut about $300 from our monthly grocery budget. Now it feels like a challenge against myself to get our total grocery spending each month lower than the previous month. We still eat healthy, but I’m not willing to spend beyond my means to do so.
Switched Health Sharing Programs – saved $192
We were using one health sharing program that promised certain things, but it wasn’t delivering on the promises. We shopped around and ultimately concluded that it would be better for us to switch to a different health sharing program that had a lower monthly cost and save the difference in a medical sinking fund to spend on medical expenses when we needed it.
Paid off one car – saved $156
We used some of the margin that we had created along with some savings to pay one of our cars off completely. The goal is to sell the other car and be a one car family for a while, which would add another $243 to our monthly margin.
Total Savings = $940
How to save money on a tight budget principle #2: Look for ways to make more money.
In addition to looking for ways to save money, we also looked for ways to earn extra money. It’s amazing the kind of opportunities that present themselves when you let it be known that you are working on big financial goals and would be willing to do odd jobs. I averaged the past several months together and realized that we bring in an AVERAGE of $600 per month from various sources. This has included things like yard sales, consigning kids clothes, as well as other random odd jobs.
So there we have it, approximately $1500 of margin per month. I call it margin because, as much as I would like it all to go into savings or onto our debt snow ball, some of it has had to go to other budget categories because the budget we had been using wasn’t realistic. (Stay tuned for a future post on lessons we learned about creating a realistic budget for our family!)
If you feel caught and feel like you never have the financial margin you desire, it IS possible!
Five questions to ask yourself in order to save money on a tight budget:
1. What am I willing to live without?
Can you pack a lunch instead of buying it out? Can you make homemade snacks instead of shelling out extra bucks for pre-made ones? Can you paint your nails at home instead of getting a manicure? Can you make your coffee at home instead of driving by Starbucks? It’s amazing the things I thought were “necessities” until I started adapting a more radically frugal mindset.
2. What am I currently paying too much for?
For us it was cell phones and our particular healthcare sharing program. For you it could be cable or car insurance.
3. In what areas can I find a less expensive workaround?
This one truly is my favorite. There have been so many times I have thought “I need to run to the store for _______,” but then I ask myself “What would happen if I wasn’t able to purchase this? How could I solve this problem another way?” Many times there are creative and less expensive or free solutions sitting right under your nose!
4. What might I be able to cut out of my schedule to create time for extra income producing activities?
We cut out watching television. Watching mindless shows used to take up an embarrassing amount of my time once upon a time. I have been amazed the amount of things I have been able to do with that time that was once spent mindlessly consuming garbage.
A NOTE OF CAUTION:Do not cut out the IMPORTANT things in favor of making a few extra bucks. Your family, your faith, your health, your mental self care… all of these are things that you need to PROTECT in your schedule. Look for areas where you can reasonably cut back on one activity in favor of adding in an income producing activity.
5. Is the additional income that I would be making worth it?
This is a really important factor to consider. If you want to live frugally, you have to protect some margin when it comes to your TIME. Consider the amount that you will be making per hour versus the amount of stress it will put on your time. If you say “yes” to an opportunity to earn an extra $30-40, but it makes you rushed so you run through the Chick-fil-a drive through to feed your kids instead of cooking dinner, was it really worth it to say yes to that extra income? You probably spent almost all of the additional income by going through the drive through, and whatever might be left over probably wasn’t worth the stress it added to your schedule. Only say “yes” to opportunities that you really do think will be worth it without overwhelming your schedule.
Use your Unhurried Planner to look at how busy your schedule already is and determine if you can take on an extra commitment without it causing more stress than it’s worth. If you haven’t already grabbed your FREE planner, make sure you snag yours below!
Obviously, everyone’s situation is different and the shifts and sacrifices that you are able to make in any given season will be different than the ones we are able to make, but I hope that this list of things will inspire you to believe that you can save EVEN IF you have a tight budget!