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Shortly after my wife and I were married in 2009 (we just had our 10th anniversary last week :), we found ourselves in a tight spot financially. I was laid off from work, she wasn’t making enough to support our lifestyle and we were in deep financial trouble.
There are few things that will humble a person like looking down the barrel of not being able to pay rent in a months time. Something needed to change.
The thing is, I didn’t think that we could cut anything from our budget. We weren’t eating out that often, we didn’t have a lavish lifestyle, unless you call living in a moldy, 1-bedroom basement beneath a crazy cat lady ‘lavish’. It was a tough spot.
This is when I really dug into personal finance and started learning everything I could about money management. Not just to get us out of that spot, but to make sure that we never found ourselves there again. I learned a lot, including how to cut from our budget, even when it seems like there’s nothing left to cut.
Below, I’m going to show you what I learned about tightening up my belt, even when there’s not a lot of extra to work with.
45 ways to cut from your budget when there’s nothing left to cut
Attack big budget drains
Check over your budget for major drains. Overspending on certain things (ahem…groceries…), recurring payments that you could drop, expensive internet packages etc.
Refinance your student loans
Why not look into refinancing your student loans? Have you heard of LendEDU? LendEDU is a tool to compare your student loan rates against rates available from other lenders.
Check out LendEDU now.
Transfer credit card balances to a 0% card
If you’re carrying a balance on your credit card and you’re unable to pay it off just now, try transferring it onto a 0% balance transfer card while you pay it down. Be careful with this strategy as missed payments often result in interest being backdated to the date you signed up for the card.
If you’re carrying high-interest debt from a few different sources, you might be able to lower your monthly payments by consolidating all of your loans into one.
Stop paying for banking
I honestly don’t understand why anybody pays banking fees. There are a ton of free options around. Check out offers from local banks and credit unions. These days lots of institutions offer free checking accounts. We’ve had a free credit union account for years and haven’t ever looked back.
Cut grocery bill by making freezer meals
We started doing this last year. On a good Saturday two people can make 20-30 freezer meals no problem. Cooking a lot of meals at once allows you to take more advantage of sales. It also saves you time cooking dinner every night! Here are even more ways to save on food.
Eat before shopping and bring a list
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot more money at the grocery store when I’m hungry. Try eating a meal right before you shop. Then make a list and bring it with you. Only buy what’s no the list!!
Buy meat on sale
Every now and again stores offer great deals on expensive things like meat and cheese. The best way to really take advantage of these sales is to buy larger quantities when they’re on sale and freeze it for later use.
Swap a couple of meat meals for veggie
Why not swap a few meals per week for vegetarian equivalents? There are lots of great veggie protein sources that are less expensive than meat. Chickpeas, lentils and beans are a few good examples.
Trade in your car for something more efficient
Let’s be honest here – many of you are driving big, inefficient cars and don’t need to be. If you’re driving a gas guzzler, consider trading it in for a smaller, more fuel efficient car.
Upgrade your current car rather than replacing it
If you’re thinking of upgrading your car to get a certain feature, why not just upgrade your current car? Power locks and windows, GPS, Bluetooth, heated seats and many other goodies are available as aftermarket add-ons.
Start doing your own vehicle maintenance
An oil & filter change done at home costs around $20. The same oil change done at a shop will cost closer to $60 or more depending on the vehicle. Doing this at home also guards against being upsold things you don’t actually need. Learning how to change oil can save you a good bit of cash this year.
Learn the art of hypermiling
Hypermiling is the art of squeezing as many miles as possible out of your fuel. The methods for accomplishing this range from changing driving techniques to modifying your vehicle for aerodynamic efficiency.
Ride your bike more
Gas is expensive, leg power is free!
Ditch cable for Netflix
It’s not 1993 anymore. If you’re watching cable rather than Netflix, you’re spending a lot of extra money and missing out on some great shows. Love the news? Most news channels can be watched online.
Switch to a VOIP phone
If you’re sick of paying for a home phone, but don’t want to ditch it completely, consider switching to a voip phone. Some plans are only around $20 per year. Magic jack makes a great, cheap VOIP setup.
Negotiate a better cell phone plan
Try calling your cell provider and asking for a better plan. Just let them know that the plan you’re currently on no longer fits within your budget and you need to find something less expensive. I’ve found that the ‘customer retention’ department usually has better deals to offer than the first tier customer service. Just ask for them directly.
Switch to a budget internet provider
3 years ago I switched us to a budget internet provider. They use the same network as the big players, but they’re a reseller and usually considerably less expensive. I pay $30/month less than I would for the same plan on one of the big providers and haven’t had any issues.
Negotiate a better deal on home, life and car insurance
There’s always a better deal out there. If you’re just using the same provider you always have without shopping around, you’re probably spending more than you have to. Before you renew your insurance policies this year, get a few different quotes and bring them with you when you go to renew. You can use them as negotiating leverage for a better rate.
Cut the subscriptions
Have a look over your subscriptions and cancel anything you’re not using. Hosting plans, magazine subscriptions, website tools, Netflix, Dropbox etc. If you’re not using it regularly, there’s no reason to be paying for it when you’re struggling financially.
Sell something that you don’t need to buy something you do
Instead of just buying something new, why not finance the purchase by selling something you don’t use much? This is a great way to buy tools. If you have something that you only bought for one project like a tile saw, why not sell it to pay for something you need right now?
Buy higher quality clothing
I’m terrible for buying low-quality clothes. This year I’ve started buying fewer, higher quality items and committing to take care of them. A nice pair of leather boots can last years and years if cared for properly.
Purchase clothes that are more useful
Basically, maximize your investment by purchasing clothing that goes well with lots of things. A bright red jacket might be nice for one occasion, but if you wouldn’t wear it to work or out with friends, you’re not going to utilize it’s full potential..
Learn how to cut your children’s hair
It’s not that hard to cut kids hair. I had never cut hair prior to trying it out on my 3 year old son a while back. I just watched some YouTube videos and gave it a go. It looks pretty good too!. Get a decent pair of scissors and a comb and you’re good to go.
Know what stapes to buy at Costco
Some things are way cheaper at Costco. Diapers, wipes and TP are all things that I only buy from Costco. Cereal and cheese are good ones as well.
Take a staycation
Going to Hawaii or Mexico is really expensive. Why not do a staycation this year? Offload the kids to their Grandparents place for a week and explore your own town. Eat out, watch movies and save money while doing things you typically wouldn’t in your hometown.
Learn to negotiate
Almost every big purchase is negotiable. Even some smaller things like thrift shop finds can be bartered down. Honing your negotiating skills can save you a fortune over time.
Cancel your fitness membership
The great outdoors is free and for most of us, it’s warm for a good part of the year. If you want to keep going to the gym you can cut your cost in half by exercising outdoors in the summer and keeping the pass for the winter.
Give up Amazon Prime
That’s right, I said it. Amazon holds your credit card information so it’s easy for you to make purchases. If you have Prime, it’s easy to justify the cost by spending more than you would typically. If you’re buying a lot of stuff that you don’t really need on Amazon, consider giving up your Prime membership.
Rent out space in your home
Ok so this isn’t exactly cutting from your budget, but can be a great way to earn some extra cash. There are lots of ways to do this. AirBNB, VRBO, roommates, renting out a garage etc. Renting out space in your home can be a great way to bring in some income whether you’re home or on holidays.
Stop spending money entertaining your kids
Trampoline parks and theme parks are fun, but why not reserve those experiences for birthdays and special occasions? Most cities have nice parks, trails beaches and libraries that can entertain kids for hours and don’t cost a dime. There are lots of cheap or free ways to keep your kids amused year round.
Trade babysitting with friends
I don’t know what happened between when I was babysitting at 15 and now, but I wasn’t making the kind of money we’re paying our sitter! Instead of hiring a babysitter why not do an exchange with a trusted friend? They get a night out, you get a night out, it’s a win-win.
Do group gifts rather than individual
For Christmas and birthdays, try to organize group gifts rather than buying individually. The person you’re buying for gets a better quality gift and everybody saves money and a trip to the mall. It’s a win-win.
Make a gift calendar and buy deals in advance
If you can plan out who you’re going to buy for this year, you can keep an eye out for good deals while you’re out and about. This can save you from spending too much on last minute gifts.
Start making some gifts rather than buying
Are you crafty? A good builder? Why not try making something for somebody this year? Refinishing an old piece of furniture, building a picture frame or even gifting an oil change are great, practical ways to give that don’t cost much.
Start using the library
Libraries aren’t just for books anymore. Libraries have movies, magazines, audiobooks and our local library even ‘loans’ a pool pass for the family.
Install a programmable thermostat
Granted, this will cost money up-front, but if your electricity bill is super high, it might be worth it. Smart thermostats are getting really good. Learning thermostats such as Nest can save you a lot of money. It’s an up front investment, but if you have a large home, you will see the savings fairly quickly.
Maintain your appliances
Your old appliances can last a long time if maintained and treated well. Check over your appliances regularly. Empty drain traps, clean out your dryer vent, check for leaking seals and worn out cords. Learning how to repair your own appliances can save you a lot of cash as well.
Turn down your water heater
Did you know that the temperature setting on your water heater is adjustable? You can save money on your electric bill by turning down your water heater a little bit.
Insulate your home
A can of insulating foam is only a few bucks at the hardware store. It’s a good idea to find places where air can escape to save money on your heating bill. Last year I found several places around my front door where air was escaping. A can of foam fixed it up quick.
Replace your lights with LEDs
LED bulbs have dropped in price over the last few years. Good quality LEDs can be bought in packs for around $3 per bulb now. Replace a few per month and you’ll have your whole house switched over in no time.
Take advantage of your company’s benefits
Use up your health benefits! You never know when you’re situation might change so you should be using up your dental and other benefits every year.
Negotiate a pay raise
Negotiating a pay raise is probably the simplest thing you can do to improve your finances. Making more money for doing the job that you’re already doing is a great deal! Learn how to negotiate a pay raise and actually get it.
Negotiate another benefit in lieu of a pay raise
If your boss won’t go for a pay raise at this time, try to negotiate something else instead. Use of a company vehicle for commuting, more vacation time or a future raise at an agreed upon time are a few possibilities.
Stop buying lunch out
Spending $10 on lunch just once per week is $520 per year. It’s a lot of money to spend. I find that I can actually make better lunches at home if I put a bit of effort in!
Question for you:
Do you know of any other clever ways to cut from an already tight budget? Let us know in the comments!