It's an inevitable occurrence; at some point, you will need money for bills: a new car, health insurance, or expenses for a new home. During these times, it often won't be enough to simply cut back and cross your fingers. This is where the art of learning the ways to find money in your budget comes in handy. No shame in that game.
I've successfully “hacked my budget” twice before. Once when I was twenty-seven and needed to find room in my budget for a car payment (my parental hand-me-down had died and I was in need of something reliable to get to and from work) and a second time over a year and a half later and when I wanted to become my own boss, but needed to shell out for health insurance.
I call finding money in your budget “budget hacking” because you're trying to find fresh and clever ways to reduce your monthly expenses to accommodate for something new.
Below I outline the four primary ways to find room in your budget for new expenses: cutting back each month and hustling for extra cash.
The 4 Ways to Find Money for Bills When You Need it Most
Method #1 – Cut Discretionary Expenses
The first place you should look when you need to figure out how to find money is looking at your discretionary spending: all of those things that fluctuate each month, that you definitely could cut back on: groceries, alcohol, dining out, etc.
At the time (2014) when I needed to purchase a new car I was stealthily plugging away 40% of my income. I was pretty proud of that number and didn't want to reduce my savings rate to accommodate something that didn't retain its value like a car.
- So I took a good, hard look at my budget and found the averages of what I spend each month in most categories.
- By looking at my expenses I realized I was investing a large portion of my monthly corporate paycheck into running and maintaining this blog. I considered that money an investment in myself and my future business, but I figured I needed a working vehicle more than I needed great Pinterest images for my website, so I cut this number way down to about $50 each month, and made the switch to saving for big business expenses instead of trying to cash flow every item in the month it occurred (for example, my Awkward Money Chat videos.) Total Monthly Savings: $250
- I also cut down my bi-weekly sessions with my therapist from twice a month to just once, which is something my therapist and I discussed doing anyway. Savings: $50
Adding the two together gave me a total savings of $300 each month, which was $25 over what I needed to afford the $275 car payment on a sweet 2013 Nissan Rogue. Success!
Method #2 – Haggle Discounts on Fixed Expenses
There are lots of way to save more money. Some better than others. One of my favorite things to recommend is doing a quarterly or bi-annual audit of your utility bills. Why? Because these are “fixed” expenses you pay each month. You know what you're going to spend and companies want to reward you for your loyalty.
At the end of the day, budget hacking will only cost you a few hours of time and a little bit of your sanity. If you don't feel like doing the work yourself, services like BillShark offer a fantastic alternative and they'll negotiate your bills for you.
Here's where I was able to nab additional savings:
- Cable: I finally cut cable and my internet bill went from 117.00 to 84.00/ saving 33.00 per month
- Security System: I negotiated a “customer loyalty” discount – from 48.00 per month to 38.00/ saving 10.00 per month
- Car Insurance: I previously had both home and car insurance with one company, thinking they were giving me the best deal…and that it's, well, you know, easier. After lots of homework, I found out that I did have the best price homeowners insurance with the company, but could get a much better deal on car insurance going with another provider. The switch lowered my car insurance from 163.00 each month to 116.00/ saving 47.00 per month. Try using a car insurance comparison engine like TheZebra.com to quickly and easily compare rates across the various carriers in order to find the most competitive rate.
- Total savings: $90 per month, which adds up to $1080 each year. There's the first $1,000 of your emergency fund right there!
Method #3 – Try Automatic Savings with an App
If you earn decent money and still need to find money in your budget each month, it might not be an earning or budgeting problem. You just might have a really, really hard time saving money.
And that's okay, because I have been there. My secret weapon antidote has been leveraging automatic savings apps that hide my money from me. Using these apps I was able to put away $1,000 in 45 days. So if you need more money, or just have an unexpected expense but can't stop spending… give one of these apps a whirl.
Method #4 – Try a quick weekend side hustle
There are many reasons you might need a biiiiit more money thatn what you make on a monthly basis. Paying down debt or saving up for a big purchase are some of the most common reasons for wanting to make extra money. But with rising healthcare payments and cost of living, sometimes just finding enough cash to pay a bill can be difficult.
Instead of pulling out your hair, and frantically searching your couch for spare change, try your hand at a side hustle, which is important when it comes time to find money for that next bill payment.
Don't worry – there are plenty of ways you can hustle some quick money.
The next time you find yourself in need of some extra cash, check out some of these options and see what works best for you.
#1 – Writing articles
Whether we like it or not, our world has gone online and shows no sign of going back. You can use this trend to your advantage and use your internet connection to make a little extra money this month.One of the most potentially lucrative ways to make money online is through freelance writing. There are thousands of companies out there who don't have the time or staff to fill their writing needs, and the online content beast needs to be fed.
#2 – Put your graphic design skills to work
There are dozens of ways you can make money off of your more artistic talents. From selling photo or art prints on sites like Redbubble or Society 6 to selling merch with some of your designs on them, this is a great way to make some passive income. Make sure you take some time to market your goods, so other people can discover your talents and pay you for them.
Related: 10 Best Side Hustles for Busy People
#3 – Take online surveys
Are you going to get rich taking online surveys? No way, but if you need between $50-$100 to pay a bill before it goes to collections (and shows up on your credit) online surveys can get the job done. Read our five favorite survey sites here to start with ones you know are legitimate and have a good payout.
Working online can be great, but sometimes you need a break from the screens. If you work at an office job where you're in front of the computer all day, maybe you want to look for something you can do offline.
#4 – Baby/Dog Sit
No matter where you live, there's no shortage of busy moms who need someone to watch their kids. With some research and good references, you can find some people in need of kid watching services. Some of them are willing to pay you well for your time, too! If you're a mom yourself, you could offer to watch another child or two and set up some play dates for your kids.
Don't forget – you can also find good work dog sitting for furkids too. And maybe that's a little less pressure.
#5 – Deliver food and meals
Like grocery shopping or going to stores? Sign up through the Instacart app to become a personal grocery shopper. Like other gig economy apps, you can control the schedule and how many jobs you take – making it the perfect side hustle when you're looking to make some scratch in your free time.
Or, you could become a food delivery driver and deliver takeout via the Postmastes app. It's perfect for those with full-time jobs because the busiest hours happen outside of the 9-5 window.
#6 – Give tours of your city
If you've lived in the same place for years, chances are you know your way around. The tourist business is a booming industry, filled with people who want to get an insiders view of what it's like to live in a certain place. You can start advertising your own tourism gig, or sign up with sites like Vayable, Shiroube, or ToursByLocals
#7 – List a spare room
Speaking of the tourism business, travelers are always looking for a place to stay. While many of them choose hotels, services like Airbnb are becoming more popular, as they give people the feeling of staying at home. You can sign up to be a host with Airbnb, or rely on more traditional advertising methods like the newspaper, signs, or word of mouth to spread awareness about your spare room for rent.
Travelers from around the world use the home-sharing site to find unique places to stay— spaces just like yours—and Airbnb does a lot to help hosts feel comfortable and confident welcoming guests.
Everyone who travels on Airbnb needs to submit a profile photo and confirmed phone number and email address. For extra assurance, hosts can also require their guests to submit a government-issued ID.
Even if you're not a fan of strangers coming and going through your home, if you have a spare room, consider a roommate in order to add more money to your monthly budget.
#8 – Hustle extra cash over the weekend by driving for Lyft
The TL: DR
It's super unenjoyable to have to increase the amount you're paying each month for the “must haves” while cutting back on the fun stuff and maintaining your financial goals, which is why it is important to save on the mandatory things where we can.
Chances are good that if you can think of an activity, there's a way to make it into a side hustle. Try out some of the methods listed above, or if you can think of other ways to hustle, you'll likely be able to make some extra cash doing it!
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Financial Best Life on February 24th, 2016. It was updated in July 2018.