You ever get the feeling that you’ve got your finances totally figured out? Bills paid, shopping done, and money in the bank? That is, until you look at your savings account. I know it can be hard to save up when spending is so tempting, but saving is definitely a must. A healthy savings account is great for when life throws you a curveball – and even better for when life flips your finances on their head. But finding ways to save money on a tight budget can be difficult at best, and demoralizing at its worst.
But I think you just need a little help getting creative. Below are just a handful of my favorite ways to save money on a tight budget, listed by the time it takes to implement each one. You may be surprised how a few simple, quick tweaks can yield big results!
Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget in Under 30 Minutes
2 Minutes – Leverage the Latest Apps
If you're not using finance apps to make managing money easier, you are missing out. Sure, there is a lot of trial and error in trying to find one or two that syncs up with your groove, but once you find a few you like its pure magic. Magic, I tell you. There are a few different types of money saving apps that work harder than you can to save you money.
- Cashback Apps – Apps that work to get you cash back on money you already spend and purchases you already make.
- Automatic savings apps – That sync with your checking account and sneak away small bits of cash so you can save better and faster. Here's a list of my other favorite money saving apps.
- Survey apps – Where you can get rewarded for your opinion.
An app that I love and love to recommend is Qapital, which has rules you can set to “save the change” from your purchases. I saved over $75 my first month of Qapital, which was really astonishing to me. Here's my full Qapital vs. Digit review.
5 Minutes – Open a High-Yield Savings Account
I’ve learned the hard way that having all your money in one place can lead to dangerous habits. Your savings account should not be a backup to your checking account, and moving money too frequently can lead to fees and low balances.
Want to hear something else totally disgusting? Most savings accounts can only offer between .01 and .02 %. Pennies on the dollar. You want as much as you can possibly get because this is how your money will grow.
I’ve found that online banks typically offer higher interest rates, and having my savings somewhere where I can’t move the money over instantly in just a few swipes helps me avoid dipping into it.
I like to recommend money saving apps like Qapital for short term savings/my rainy day fund (for paying for things like a shopping fancy or a trip deposit) and a high-yield savings account for longer term savings like an emergency fund or saving up for a home down payment.
10 Minutes – Cut Cable
Cable costs are ridiculously expensive these days and, despite massive competition from on-demand streaming, don’t seem to be getting any lower. Cutting your cable and opting for a subscription service is an easy, super fast way to impact your annual bill costs.
The key is to then take those savings and automatically direct them into your savings account for a $50-$70 monthly savings boost.
So, for example, you save $50 a month by switching to streaming services. That's $50 per month x 12 months in a year is $600 for a few minutes worth of work.
30 Minutes – Review Your Entire Budget
I’ve always talked about how making a budget and sticking to it can make a huge difference in your finances, but sometimes a budget can change dramatically due to large life events, like a wedding or moving in together, or a change in your income. Sometimes you have the extra to cover lifestyle inflation, and sometimes you don't. This is why you need to be smart about it.
- Here's my DIY guide to finding extra in your budget.
- Review your budget quarterly (at a bare minimum.)
- Then funnel the savings of whatever you find in your budget into a separate savings account so you don't touch it.
- Watch your savings stack up.
2 Hours (120 Minutes) – Save money on a tight budget by earning more
When I was doing my $8k in 90 days challenge, I did everything I could to hit my debt payoff goal of $2,100 each month, and one month I was able to sell a bunch of stuff for a cool $300 to assist in my efforts. I sell items via Ebay, DeCluttr, or LetGo (and sometimes even sketchy Craigslist) and my clothes on thredUP or Poshmark.
If you're motivated, I estimate it'll take one hour to do a purge and probably another hour to list it all online.
4 Additional Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget in Months
30 Days – Do A No-Spend Challenge
I LOVE money challenges. They’re a great way to change your lifestyle for a short time which leads to increased savings and (hopefully) better habits. When trying to aggressively save, doing a no-spend challenge (i.e. trying to spend no money at all outside of groceries, bills, and gas) can help you meet your savings goals faster.
I love a good no-spend challenge as a way to reset when I've been naughty with my money. They're enjoying to me because they teach me how to stretch myself. I work hard to save money and sometimes, that is what it takes.
Extra Credit: Read how to do a no spend challenge here.
45 Days – Find Alternatives to Eating Out
Obviously going out to eat every night of the week isn’t going to save money. For those who just have trouble with ordering Postmates too much (raises hand), I enjoy using HelloFresh to plan my weeknight meals and we've been able to shave hundreds off our eating out budget. (Get $60 off HelloFresh with my discount, here.)
Other ways to save in this category:
- Order water
- Keep entrees under $10
- Fast Casual instead of Full Service
60 Days – Shop Less
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you probably know how much I love shopping. Correction – loved shopping..until I broke the bad habit. Unfortunately, it can be tough to get the clothes you want on the budget you can afford. That’s why I love the idea of shopping your closet.
Finding a new way to wear your favorite pieces can reinvigorate your wardrobe without breaking the bank.
Pinterest, Like To Know It, and the Finery App offer great inspiration, and you can scout your own closet for similar looks. Buying a new accessory or pair of shoes can totally change up an outfit – typically for less than buying a completely new look. This way they get the stuff you don't want (and vice versa) and everyone gets to breathe new life into their wardrobe.
Other ways to save in this category:
- Only spend between 3-6% of your income on clothing
- Do a Year-Long No Shopping Challenge
- Another great way to implement this is to swap clothes with friends who are also looking for a change.
90 days – Exclusively Save Your Side Hustle Money
Y'all know I have always been a huge fan of having a side hustle, and using the side income to increase your savings is a quick and easy way to pump up the balance. I love this method because it feels like you’re making progress quickly and gets you in the habit of setting money aside from each paycheck. Quick side hustles include:
Extra Credit: How much could you save if you started a side hustle and didn't touch the money for a whole 90 days?
What is the best way to save money?
Okay, so I have two big answers to this question. And if you only take away TWO THINGS from this post, I hope it is what I save below.
The best way to save money is to set up an automatic transfer to your savings account from either your paycheck or from your regular checking account.
By automating your transfer, you’re making sure that you don’t forget or pay your savings last–and as a bonus–automating your savings means you never “see” that money and subsequently makes it sting a little less.The heart doesn't feel what the eyes do not see. (I watch too much British television on PBS, but you get the idea.) It works for love triangles on #Poldark and it works with your money, too.
It’s always tempting to say “Well, I’ll just save what I have leftover for the month,” – but trust me, saving money doesn't really work unless you automate some (or all) of it.
The second best way to save money is to save money on things you already know you're going to spend. My favorite way to do this is with a cashback site like Swagbucks.
Editor's Note: This post was updated in July 2018.