Living paycheck-to-paycheck leaves little, if any, wiggle room for unexpected expenses, savings, or the ability to treat yourself every now and then.
When it comes to balancing a budget, most adults find themselves at the beginning of a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, personal finance skills aren’t taught in most schools in a way that prepares us to save and budget effectively.
The good news is there are ways to save on recurring bills that can help you cut costs, keep your budget on track, and free up some money for savings or other expenses.
Here are 10 tips to help you save money right now:
1. Shop for better car insurance
Surprised this is the first item on the list? Most people don’t even think about it, but insurance is an area where you could see significant savings.
There are a number of car insurance comparison sites that can help you see various offers for your needs. If you find a better rate, it could also help you negotiate with your current insurance provider for a lower premium (in the end, it’s better for them to retain a customer).
There are other ways to lower your monthly rate, as well. Providers often offer discounts for anti-theft devices, defensive driving course certificates, and good credit scores . Car insurance is mandatory in nearly every state for a reason, so make sure the cuts you’re making make sense for you.
2. Turn down that thermostat
For many places in the country, the summer and winter months yield higher gas and electric bills. According to the US Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10% per year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7° to 10°F for eight hours a day from your typical setting.
That doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortably hot or cold. For instance, consider changing the thermostat for the hours you’re asleep or when you’re at work.
3. Review your mobile phone plan
Do you need all the minutes or data on your plan? Are you paying for international calling you’re not using? Are you utilizing your paid apps enough to justify the monthly expense? Check your bill against these questions, and you’re likely to find places to save.
Also, consider if a different cell phone service provider could offer more savings. Many give discounts to new customers or will pay your termination fees if you switch from a different network.
4. Cut the cord on cable (and streaming, too)
It’s no secret that cable services are costly, and many American households have already saved hundreds — and sometimes thousands — per year by switching to streaming services. But Netflix is no longer the only player in the streaming game, and trying to keep up with all the apps can bring your bill back up to near-cable levels.
Choose a few to maximize your viewing pleasure, and cut back on the rest. Streaming services are incredibly easy to add and cancel, so try a more conservative approach and go from there.
5. Watch for coupons and sales
Many financially savvy families are already comfortable with the coupon process. If you’re not a regular clipper, it’s never too late to start — and today’s digital savings make the process much easier.
Many major grocery and retail chains now offer mobile apps that show you what’s on sale and allow you to save coupons directly on your phone.
Some coupon websites also offer printable or digital manufacturer coupons and online discount codes. Honey, for instance, shows you savings by store and category and provides a browser plugin that will alert you when prices drop on specific items at your favorite stores.
Major holidays and seasons, like Memorial Day, back-to-school, and Black Friday, offer major savings opportunities in stores and online. Keep an eye out for deals throughout the year.
6. Plan your grocery shopping
If you go to the store with a specific list of needs, based around pre-planned meals, you’ll save in several ways.
Preparing for home-cooked meals in advance will decrease your dependency on takeout or delivery while making your actual buying more efficient.
Bonus points: You’ll waste less food if you include the quantities you need on your list.
7. Buy used clothing
There’s no reason to pay more for clothing when you can get gently used items for less. This is especially true for kids who seem to outgrow everything in a matter of months.
This comes with an important caveat, however: Just because a clothing item is cheap doesn’t mean it’s necessary — avoid the temptation to spend just because the clothes (or anything else for that matter) are on sale.
8. Don’t impulse buy — wait 24 hours before buying things over a certain amount
You can adjust the exact dollar amount to your family and financial situation — it can be $25 or $200, depending on your habits and budget.
The key is sticking to the waiting period. If you find something you want to buy over the budgeted amount, think about it for a day. Certain items might lose their appeal after you’ve had time to fully consider the purchase, which can help avoid impulse buys and keep you out of debt.
9. Leave credit cards at home
Although credit cards make it easy to pay, consider leaving them at home until you are out of debt and able to put away a bit of money each month. If you’re not comfortable carrying cash, consider a prepaid debit card instead. They work similarly to gift cards in that you preload a balance and can only spend what’s been loaded. Just keep an eye out, some prepaid cards do charge fees.
When you’re ready to use your credit card again, try to treat it more like a debit card whenever possible: Don’t spend more than you can immediately payback.
10. Be patient
Budget cuts aren’t easy, and they may not always offer a substantial fix right away. Keep assessing your wants (eating out, upgrades, designer or luxury items at full price, and streaming subscriptions) versus your needs (food, gas, rent/mortgage, clothes, and school supplies).
If you end up making an ill-advised purchase, don’t succumb to despair; it will only hurt your progress. Everyone starts somewhere! Learn from the error, and tighten up your spending habits until you find your new groove.
Starting and sticking to a budget can seem like a daunting task, but if you start with one or two of these steps, you’ll begin to see the fruits of this effort, and that can help inspire you to save more as you hone your personal finance skills.