Here’s How to Start Saving Money — Even If You Don’t Have Room in Your Budget

Albert Bell models opposing footwear in downtown Atlanta.
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I won’t sugarcoat it: Saving money isn’t the easiest task.

But I’m here to tell you it’s possible to save money without living off ramen, without recruiting seven roommates and without giving up all of life’s pleasures.


First, implement a strategy. Take a good look at your expenses, and create a budget. Second, cut back your spending.

Ready to get started? Here’s your guide to saving money in 2019.

Table of Contents:

Prepare to Start Saving

Set yourself up for success by tracking your fixed and discretionary spending, setting short- and long-term goals, creating a budget and storing your savings where it’ll grow.

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Not sure where to start? Without a plan, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated.

Don’t worry. Just follow these steps — one at a time, please! — and you’ll discover the money-saving journey isn’t so bad, even if you are on a tight budget.

1. Track Your Expenses

Before anything else, you’ll need to take a look at how much money you’ve spent in the past few months. No, it might not be pretty, but you need to see this so you can identify your problem areas.

Instead of combing through your bank statements, use the Empower app to automate the process for you.

Empower can help you figure out how you’re spending your money and develop a budgeting plan to keep you on track.

Use its fee-free banking account or link to your existing ones, and it will keep track of your spending. It will also categorize your spending, so you can see exactly where you’re overdoing it.

2. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Savings Goals

Now that you have an overview of your spending habits, it’s time to set some realistic short-term and long-term savings goals.

Here’s the difference:

  • Implement a short-term savings goal when you need to save money fast. Maybe you’re saving $200 for a plane ticket home. You could also start an emergency fund and set a short-term target of $500 in three months.
  • If you have a loftier goal, commit to a long-term savings plan. A few examples include saving for a down payment on a home or a college fund for the kids. If you’re looking really long term, think about retirement.

It’s important to have both goals in place, so you enjoy the now while planning for the future.

3. Create a Budget

Personal finance 101: With your savings goals in mind, take a look at your spending. Set some limits for yourself.

The key? Be realistic. If you spend $500 a month on groceries, don’t set your new food budget to $200. That will require an entire lifestyle change.

If you’re not sure where to start, find some structure with these two popular methods:

  • The 50/20/30 budgeting method breaks your expenses into percentages: 50% for living, 20% for financial goals and 30% for personal spending. People like this plan because it offers some built-in flexibility with personal spending.
  • The 60/20/20 budgeting method also breaks down your expenses into percentages. In this case, 60% of your income is for lifestyle expenses (food, water, shelter — your needs), 20% is for discretionary spending (fun money) and 20% is for saving. Financial advisers recommend this plan, because it prioritizes your needs over your wants.

Creating and sticking to a budget takes some finessing, so be patient with yourself.

4. Be Smart About Where You Stash Your Savings

Where are you going to keep the money you’re saving? Consider some options that’ll yield interest or returns, so your money isn’t sitting stagnant.

Here are a few ideas:

  • A high-yield savings account allows you to easily access your savings while also earning some interest. I suggest finding an account that offers 2% APY or higher. It’s great for an emergency fund or vacation stash.
  • A certificate of deposit (CD) will earn you higher interest. However, CDs have fixed maturity rates. That means if you put your money into a five-year CD, you can’t access it early, or you could face penalties and fees. You also can’t add money to a CD.
  • Stocks and bonds are two popular ways to invest. Both are ideal for long-term goals, like retirement savings. Stocks carry a higher risk, and you could potentially lose money. However, if you’re willing to ride out the market’s ups and downs through the years, it could pay off. Bonds tend to be lower risk — but so are the returns. As a general rule of thumb, the younger you are, the more risk you can afford.

22 Ways to Cut Your Expenses and Save Money

OK, OK. Enough talking about it. It’s time to save. One way to get the ball rolling? Find ways to cut your expenses.

Ways to Save Money on Monthly Bills

Thought you couldn’t escape those monthly bills? You can’t, really, but you can find ways to save money.

1. Switch to a Fee-Free Banking Account

Hands hold an Aspiration debit in a urban city setting
Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

If you overdraft about once a month, you’re handing over an average $360 in fees each year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s in overdraft fees alone.

Your best bet is to ditch your fee-heavy bank account and find something that promises to never charge you fees. Use this list of best free checking accounts to get started.

2. Save Money on Your Student Loan Debt

More than 43 million Americans hold nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

We’re not totally helpless, though. Here’s a trick that’ll help you save money on your debt and potentially pay it off even faster: Try getting a lower interest rate on your federal and private loans by refinancing.

What’s that mean? It means you’re replacing your current loan (or loans) with one that has better (lower!) interest rates.

You can search for better rates through the online marketplace Credible.

It might seem like a small difference now, but a lower interest rate saves a lot of money over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan.

3. Get a Lower Interest Rate on Your Credit Card Debt

If you have credit card debt, you know. The anxiety, the interest rates, the fear you’re never going to escape…

And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 5.99% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

4. Cut the Cord (or at Least the Price)

If your cable bill is entirely too high, consider cutting it and opting for a streaming service or two.

If you’re not keen on cutting the cord? You can still find savings.

The negotiation bot Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you.

It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers.

You can sign up simply with Facebook or your email address. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.

Also, if you have any outages, Trim believes you deserve a credit, and it’ll handle that for you. Trim takes 33% of the savings tab, and you get the rest.

5. Cancel Those Sneaky Subscriptions

In the days of the internet and impulse subscriptions, it’s easy to lose track of products and services you’ve opted into. (Ahem, that long-forgotten gym membership?)

Thankfully, there are apps that can track all your automated transactions and provide a simple way for you to see, manage and cancel those recurring charges.

6. Switch Cell Phone Providers

Woman talking on phone
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Think anything outside the “Big Four” cell phone carriers will be unreliable? You might be surprised that companies like Twigby operate on Verizon’s network. Check out these six affordable cell phone plans.

7. Find a Lower Car Insurance Rate

Here’s the thing: your current car insurance company is probably overcharging you. But don’t waste your time hopping around to different insurance companies looking for a better deal.

Use a website called EverQuote to see all your options at once.

EverQuote is the largest online marketplace for insurance in the US, so you’ll get the top options from more than 175 different carriers handed right to you.

Take a couple of minutes to answer some questions about yourself and your driving record. With this information, EverQuote will be able to give you the top recommendations for car insurance. In just a few minutes, you could save up to $610 a year.

8. Perform a Home Energy Audit

If your utility bills are out of control, consider an energy audit. This in-home assessment will help make your house as energy efficient as possible.

The average U.S. household spends $5,550 a year on energy. Energy-efficient appliances, home improvements and actions every day can save hundreds of dollars. –Alliance to Save Energy

Some utility companies offer the service for free, but they might try to upsell you products and services. Instead, you can perform your own energy audit; follow these simple DIY measures.

9. Hunt Down Energy Vampires

Those sneaky energy vampires — the devices that suck away energy even when you’re not using them — can make up as much as 20% of your monthly electric bill, according to Duke Energy.

Turn any corner, and you’re likely to find a vampire. Your coffee maker, your cable box, your phone charger. Once you identify these lurkers, simply unplug them when not in use.

Pro tip: Invest in a few power strips. Rather than roving around your house and unplugging each device, plug everything into a strip and flip one switch when you’re ready to kill… the vampires.

Ways to Save Money on Groceries and Food

Aside from rent or monthly mortgage payments, food probably tops your list of monthly expenses. And you’re right: Food is an essential. However, you can probably cut back. After all, five wedges of exotic cheese aren’t exactly essential. (Just one.)

10. Use a Shopping List

Woman grocery shopping
gilaxia/Getty Images

Create a weekly meal plan before you go grocery shopping to stay focused on what you actually need.

Keep your shopping list stored in your phone’s notes app. This allows you to add items throughout the week and move them around, according to their location in the store. (Stay focused!) Shopping for a full house? Share your notes with family members so they can add to the list.

11. Earn Cash Back on Your Purchases

What do you usually do with your receipts? You check out, the cashier hands you a mile-long piece of paper, and you frantically stuff it in the bottom of a grocery bag. Pretty worthless.

But a free app called Fetch Rewards will give you gift cards in exchange for your receipts.

All you have to do is upload a photo of your receipt to the Fetch app, and it does everything for you. No scanning barcodes or searching for offers — and you can use receipts from any grocery store.

When you download the app, use the code PENNY to automatically earn bonus points when you scan your first receipt — then start snapping photos of your recent receipts. It’s fun to see how many points you can earn without a single trip to the store!

Next thing you know, you’ll have a free Visa prepaid card that’ll help you pay for groceries.

12. Shop Seasonally and Locally

Shopping at your local farmers market can save you a crop of money on your grocery bill, because the items are often in season and local — no shipping or international freight fees involved.

If you don’t have a farmers market in your area, you can still shop seasonally in your grocery store. For example, avoid buying that $6 carton of strawberries in November. Instead, purchase strawberries in peak season — between May and August, depending on where you live.

13. Change Grocery Stores

Grocery store loyalty runs deep. When was the last time you gave another store a chance? Penny Hoarder Kelly Smith always loved Winn-Dixie, but she checked out Trader Joe’s and calculated a $57 monthly savings. That’s nearly $680 a year.

If you want to get really technical, fill out a grocery comparison chart so you can see which store in your area has the best prices for the items you frequently buy.

14. Remember: Store Brand Isn’t Always Cheaper

We’ve been trained to think the store brand — or the generic brand — is cheaper. And a lot of times it is… if you’re solely considering the shelf price. But name-brand foods typically qualify for more coupons, members-only discounts or rebates through cash-back apps.

Do the math before you instinctually grab the store brand.

15. Pack Your Lunch

Lunch box with chicken salad sandwiches and carrot sticks
iuliia_n/Getty Images

It’s tempting to ditch your brown-bag lunch and opt for fast food during the work week, but this habit will quickly drain your monthly food budget.

Instead, stick to those packed lunches. If you need to, search Pinterest for more creative on-the-go meals.

16. Avoid Takeout

Takeout or delivery is convenient, so if you need a break from the kitchen, allow yourself a break once a week.

You can opt to dine out for maximized relaxation and to avoid takeout and delivery fees. Or, if you have a crying kid on each hip, then order delivery. Instead of calling in your order, place an order online or within the restaurant’s app, where you can easily apply a coupon code. Don’t have one? No problem — RetailMeNot is a great place to find up-to-date promo codes.

For example, I just found a 30% off coupon code for Papa John’s. Simple!

Ways to Save Money on Shopping and Entertainment

Up until this point, I’ve talked about the best ways to save money on the essentials. Now let’s have a little fun… without overspending.

17. Practice the 30-Day Rule

Next time you’re out and about and spot the PERFECT jean jacket you HAVE to have RIGHT NOW, hit pause… for 30 days. The 30-Day Rule is a simple practice to help you resist impulse buys like this.

Here’s how it works: When you get home from the store, write down the day’s date, the name of the item, the price, and the store, explains J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly. Pin the note somewhere you’ll see it. At the end of the 30 days, evaluate your feelings. If you still want the item and can afford to pay for it outright, go ahead.

18. Get Paid to Skip Going to the Grocery Store

Running errands is the worst. Seriously. After a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is go to the store and deal with the traffic and the crowds.

We get it. That’s why we like a free site called Rakuten — they’ll pay you to skip going to the store and shop online instead.

No, really. They work with just about every online store you probably shop at, and they can make sure you get some cash back every time you buy — up to 15% cash back.

We talked to Denver resident Colleen Rice, who’s earned more than $526.44 in cash back since she started using Rakuten. For doing nothing. She just uses Rakuten for things she already has to buy, like rental cars and flights.

It takes less than a minute to open a Rakuten account and start shopping like you normally would. You just need an email address.

19. Hit up Consignment Shops

When’s the last time you ventured into your local consignment shop? You might be surprised by what you find. Designer jeans for $18? Yes, please!

Heck, you might even find some items to purchase and resell for a profit.

20. Ask This Company to Get a Rid of a Big Chunk of Your Debt 

Trying to stay on top of your debt can be overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just… get you out of debt?

A company called National Debt Relief could convince your lenders to simply get rid of a big chunk of what you owe. No bankruptcy, no loans — you don’t even need to have good credit.

If you owe at least $10,000 in unsecured debt (credit card debt, personal loans, medical bills, etc.), National Debt Relief’s experts will build you a monthly payment plan. As your payments add up, they negotiate with your creditors to reduce the amount you owe. You then pay off the rest in a lump sum.

On average, you could become debt-free within 24 to 48 months.

National Debt Relief has already helped more than 500,000 people pay off over $5 billion in debt.

It takes less than a minute to sign up and see how much debt you could get rid of.

21. Find Free Weekend Activities

Woman looking at art in a gallery
PeopleImages/Getty Images

It’s easy to get sucked into spending money on weekend outings, but there are plenty of free activities happening in your area.

Nab some inspiration from these free things to do in Orlando. Chances are, you can search your local newspaper, magazine or website for ideas.

22. Take Advantage of Your Public Library

Did you know your local library is a treasure trove of freebies? Yup — take a look at some of these unexpected library freebies, including free museum passes, board games and musical instruments.

Ready to Save Money?

Saving money doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Celebrate your successes along the way, forgive yourself for your mistakes and stay persistent.

Your hard work will pay off in the long run; I promise.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Remember that one time she wrote up a list of 353 ways to save money?