Saving money can be really challenging — sometimes after basic necessities like food, phone, and rent, it can seem like we already don't really have anything left to put away. However, there are actually plenty of ways to cut your spending this week alone, and they're usually in places that we don't even think about.
In an article on cutting your spending in U.S. News and World Report, CPA and bestselling author of Save Wisely, Spend Happily Sharon Lechter said, "Either you are a master of your money, or a slave to it. Use your mind and have fun." On her personal website, Lechter suggested many tips for saving more, and the bulk of them come down to small, everyday tips as opposed to huge, life-altering changes. It usually just comes down to becoming aware of the places we spend money without even really thinking about it — like going to an evening movie instead of a cheaper matinee, or buying books when we have a library right down the street.
If you've recently taken stock of your finances and decided that you want to spend less and save more but don't know where to begin, don't fret. I've compiled nine extremely simple tips that you can try for a week or two to cut your daily expenses — and they almost all entail minimal self-sacrifice.
1. Figure Out Where You Spend
OK, this one isn't really a tip as opposed to a necessary first step to tracking your savings. In an article for U.S News and World Report, Senior Editor of the financial advice site Wisebread.com Meg Favreau said, “Making a budget is the most important thing you can do because then you will be able to understand where your money is going and where you can afford to make cuts." After the big things, like rent and loan payments, write down everything you spend money on each week — from a morning cup of coffee to dinner out with friends, and tally how much you're spending "extra." This will enable to you to know how much you'll be saving once you begin making adjustments (and for real motivation, multiply how much you spend each month by four and then by 52 to see how much you're spending in an average month and year).
2. Pack Your Lunch
Packing a lunch may seem incredibly simple, but I know from personal experience that this can be one of the hardest habits to break (anyone else ever realized they spent $15 on lunch every single day for the last 14 days, and then sometimes also eaten out for dinner too?). In an interview for a Bustle article about meal prep, registered dietician Sumi Tohan said it's important to be real with yourself about what you'll realistically eat for lunch each day. "If you plan meals that are too restrictive, full of supposedly good-for-you foods that you hate, it's more likely that you won’t eat these meals," Tohan says.
Instead, she recommends including at least one of your favorite foods with each meal and says to "avoid cutting out major food groups, such as carbohydrates, as doing so can leave you feeling hungry, unsatisfied, and with unbalanced nutrition." So pack things you're actually looking forward to eating each day, and not running around the corner to grab that $14 salad won't seem like such a big deal.
3. Cancel Your Cable
In that same U.S. News and World Report piece, Cameron Huddleston, contributing editor of the personal finance news site Kiplinger.com, recommended canceling your cable altogether. “There are so many other options out there for less, like Netflix and Hulu,” Huddleston said. This is a particular tip I can also personally endorse: After moving apartments a couple years ago, my roommates and I collectively decided to not set up a new cable account since we paid $100 a month for about 300 channels we mostly didn't even use. Now we rely on an antennae for basic channels, and Hulu and Netflix for everything else, adding up to a personal monthly cost of about $7 a piece. As much as I love my channel surfing, paying a ton for cable just feels obsolete now.
4. Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs
Trent Hamm, founder of the financial advice site The Simple Dollar, recommended switching out your regular light bulbs for the energy-saving kind (and also recommended to always be conscious of your thermostat use). It's super simple and easy, and is a money-saving tip you literally never have to think about once it's done.
150W Equivalent Bright White, $8.37, jet.com
5. Buy Staples In Bulk
Hamm also suggested always buying things you use every day in bulk. It can feel really hard to put down $25 for something like toilet paper at one time, especially when there are smaller options for $5 nearby. However, buying in bulk can hugely reduce costs in the long-term. Plus, who likes running out of toilet paper?
Quilted Northern Ultra Soft & Strong Toilet Paper, $24.99, Staples.com
6. Watch Out For ATM Hidden Fees
A piece on BankRate.com on areas you can cut costs fast recommended making sure you are always aware of your bank's hidden fees. For example, my bank charges about $5 every time I use another branch's machine — and that's in addition to the dollar or more service fee on an out-of-branch machine. Taking 20 bucks out for dinner can become taking $27 out — and that's a significant difference when you're on a budget. Try taking larger sums out at a time when you're at your own bank so you always have cash on hand.
7. Make Coffee At Home
This is another one that I know first hand can be a challenge — I love my morning, store-bought coffee. In another U.S. News and World Report piece on ways to cut costs today, retail expert Hitha Prabhakar said, "While a $4 morning coffee can satisfy the soul, it can also hurt the budget." She recommended investing in a home coffee-maker, saying, "It's a larger out-of-pocket expense, but it will easily pay for itself over time." I'd also recommend investing in some handy coffee-to-go cups so you can have something to carry and drink on your morning commute as well as when you get into the office — this definitely helped curb my desire to buy a cup on my morning commute.
8. Invite Friends Over Instead Of Going Out
Hamm also recommended inviting friends in for dinner and drinks instead of going out. He noted that while this might seem like legwork, make it a team effort. Everyone can bring one thing and a drink of their choice, and you can make something large and cheap — like a big pasta dish. You'll almost definitely end up spending significantly less than doing dinner and drinks out.
9. Remember: Exercise Is Free
In the same U.S. News and World Report piece about cutting costs today, Wisebread blogger Sabah Karimi reminded readers that exercise doesn't have to equal a costly gym membership. "You could sign up for fitness classes at a neighborhood recreational center, join the YMCA, take advantage of a corporate wellness program or commit to following DVD fitness programs at home," Karimi said. There are also a ton of 100 percent free workout videos to be found from fitness experts all over YouTube for a super simple, cost-free way to exercise.
Spending less doesn't mean a life of rice and beans or saying no to every social engagement that comes your way. It's often just about greater awareness of some of the hidden places we spend money and working towards changing simple behaviors. Try some of the above tips and see how much you save.