8 Easy Budget Hacks to Help You Save Money

by Chelsey Grasso

With a new year comes a new you — and a brand new, well-kept, penny-saving budget. Tips for saving money tend to be easier said than done, which is why so many of us find ourselves scrambling for spending money at the end of every month. But with a little discipline and a little smart shopping, the end of the month doesn’t have to be spent eating ramen noodles and watching Netflix from home (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Not to mention, having just turned the corner from the ever-so-delightful, yet ever-so-expensive holiday season, I think it’s pretty safe to say that a lot of us could benefit from some penny pinching this time of year, no matter what your financial situation.

Money is a bizarre thing. It’s just numbers, but it’s numbers that make the world go round. The best way to make sure you’re budgeting at your best is to take control of your numbers, literally writing down everything, planning ahead, and shopping around. I know, it doesn’t sound like that much fun, but the benefits of budgeting are well worth the effort. It’s time to say goodbye to over-withdrawal fees, and start saying hello to free flights courtesy of credit card points. Here are eight easy money saving hacks to help you get started.

1. Write Down What You're Spending on EVERYTHING.

Get out a pen and paper (or open up an Excel spreadsheet if you're tech savvy), and write out exactly what you plan to spend on everything during the month. Rent, electricity, gas, water, car insurance, phone bill, Internet bill, cable bill, groceries, spending money — seriously, write it all down. And try your best not to approximate if you have actual past bills you can reference. Get as close to the accurate amount as possible, and if you're not sure, round up. Seeing everything on paper can help you see where you're spending your money, and how much you actually have to spend on after-work drinks and trips to the bookstore.

2. Open a Savings Account

Whether it be a 401k plan or an actual savings account at your bank, make sure you have a secure place to put away money for later in life. The best way to hold yourself accountable is to set up a certain percentage of your paycheck to always be deposited someplace where you won't spend it. Don't commit to more than you can afford, and be sure to account for your "savings" when writing out your spending approximations. Even $20 a week will add up over time.

3. Take Out Your Spending Money in Cash

Once you know how much money you're allowing yourself to spend each week outside of your usual budget, take the amount out in cash. Consider this your "spending money," and use it on whatever you want — eating out, shopping, movie tickets, or anything else you haven't already accounted for within your budget. Even if you prefer to pay with a credit card, still use the cash as a reminder of how much you have left to spend each week (and later deposit it back in the bank if you used a credit card for purchases). Seeing the money in your hands will help you to make smarter purchases, as well as keep you on budget.

4. Never Buy Anything at Full Price

OK, so this rule doesn't apply all the time, but for the most part, you can usually find whatever you want for a cheaper price if you wait a little bit or shop around elsewhere. You know those shoes you really, really can't live without? Odds are that you can find them at 25 percent off if you look for them somewhere else, find a coupon, or wait a month. I know, it's hard to ignore that intense urge to just buy stuff on the spot, but it will pay off in the long run.

5. Find a Credit Card with Helpful Bonuses

Credit cards can be your worst enemies if you're not responsible, but they can also be your best friends if you are. If you can trust yourself to pay your credit card bill off on time every month (and only if you can promise to do this), take your time to pick out the one with the best rewards for your lifestyle. If you're smart, you can get a couple free flights every year, complimentary hotel rooms, or even cash back at the end of every month.

6. Plan Out Your Meals in Advance

You don't have to plan a rigid and inflexible schedule, but getting an idea about what's going on the dinner table earlier in the week can be a huge money saver. Leftovers are such a waste of both food and money, but if you plan your meals to use up leftover portions, you can help prevent anything from getting thrown away. On top of all this, your grocery trips will become a lot quicker, and you won't end up buying food that expires before you have a chance to enjoy it.

7. Pack Snacks and Water Wherever You Go

While it's completely justifiable to purchase street snacks from time to time, if you do it every day, it adds up. Brings snacks with you if you know you're going to have a long day, whether you're going to work or on a weekend adventure. Also, carrying a refillable water bottle with you is not only good for the environment, but it's good for your bank account, because it allows you to stop spending unnecessary dollars at gas stations and minimarts when you get thirsty.

8. Check Your Bank Account Balance Daily

Checking your bank account on the daily can be a little disheartening, but not as devastating as when you take a peek after weeks of neglecting it. Knowing how much money is in your bank account helps to keep you from overspending. It also prevents you from over-withdrawing, which is never, ever a good thing.

Images: Fotolia; Subash BGK/Flickr; (8)