Living on a tight budget can be a difficult task at times, but with the right attitude, and a few good tips, your frugal lifestyle can also be surprisingly comfortable and enjoyable.
Still, I don’t think it’s a secret that budgeting while times are tight, takes hard work and persistence. You can’t just sit on the sidelines and hope your finances straighten out. You have to be intentional with every dollar you earn, and fight for your financial future on a daily basis.
But, what if it isn’t as difficult as everyone makes it out to be? What if you could start your journey with the know-how of a seasoned budgeting pro? And what if living on a tight budget could actually become a life-enriching experience?
It can, and it should. So here they are — 25 practical tips for living on a tight budget.
#1 – Save Before You Spend
When you are living on a tight budget, the last thing to hit the chopping block should be your savings. In fact, it should become your number one priority.
What do I mean?
Well, whenever you get a paycheck, you should put 10-20% of it into a savings account before you spend a single penny. (This includes spending money on things like food, water and housing costs.)
It might seem a little backwards, but it is the first step in taking control of your money. After all, a lack of savings is probably the entire reason you are living on a tight budget in the first place.
Decide how much you want to save, then make the rest of your money behave.
#2 – Work Together With Your Spouse
If you are married and living on a tight budget, you will only succeed if you and your spouse work together. Having one person handle all the finances is an unhealthy dynamic that will lead to financial struggle.
Let me put it this way, how many games would a football team win if only half the players showed up for practice every day? Probably zero.
So what does working together look like when it comes to finances?
- Dream Together
- Dreaming together is one of the best parts of marriage. It is fun, therapeutic, and energizing to talk about the endless possibilities you can achieve with your money.
- Set goals together
- In the immortal words of Shia Labeouf, “Don’t let your dreams be dreams!” If you have any dreams about your finances, turn them into goals, and create a plan to achieve them together.
- Speak honestly
- One of the hardest parts of marital finance is the ability to speak honestly with each other. If you think something isn’t working, or your spouse is getting off track with their spending habits, you need to communicate openly and lovingly. A calm, proactive conversation is much better than a reactive argument.
- Pray together
- I believe this is the most important thing you can do in marital finance. If you put God at the center of your marriage, and your finances, you can achieve anything!
Remember, your marital finances are an adventure, and an adventure is always more exciting with 2 people. Work together with your spouse to build a financial future you can both be proud of!
#3 – Plan Your Meals To The Cent
There are plenty of people who plan their meals for the week, but when you are living on a tight budget, you need to take it a step further. You need to plan your meals to the cent.
This means that you need to plan out every meal you are going to eat for the week, and then create a grocery list with price estimates for every ingredient. This will ensure that your grocery spending comes in under budget.
I will admit that this is not my strong suit, but luckily, this is where my wife really shines! And thank goodness, because this process alone, allows us to put $1,000 of extra savings in the bank each month. Considering the fact that it takes her about 1 hour per week to create a meal plan, it is a pretty awesome return on her time investment.
Oh, also, be sure to go grocery shopping on a full stomach. Even the best meal plan can’t survive the ice cream aisle on an empty stomach.
#4 – Have Fun
You know what will cause you to fail in budgeting? Boredom.
And if you aren’t careful, living on a tight budget can become very boring. So, you need to be sure to have some fun every once in awhile. That’s why I recommend you dedicate 5% of your income to fun.
I know at first, that might not sound like a very big amount, but you will be amazed how far you can stretch that money. In fact, you might be surprised at the amount of cheap, or free fun you can find these days. You just have to get creative, and be intentional about looking for new opportunities.
Take advantage of opportunities like: hiking, biking, two for one dinner coupons (for date night), free concerts, Red Box movie nights, blogging, reading, painting, woodworking, and so much more.
Life on a budget doesn’t have to be boring, it just requires creativity.
Comment below to share any cheap or free activities you enjoy! Also, if you want to read more about fun money, check out our recent post on the subject here!
#5 – Stop Using Credit Cards
When you are living on a tight budget, one of the worst things you can do is complicate your finances. And spending money on credit cards is one of the easiest ways to do just that. Additionally, the more cards you use, the more complicated everything gets.
Instead, try simplifying your finances by only using your debit card to make purchases.
Not only is it simple, but using a debit card eliminates the threat of paying interest. Plus, tracking your spending habits becomes a breeze when you only have to log into one account to view all your transactions.
You can imagine how much easier this makes budgeting as a couple too!
No more logging into six different accounts.
No more credit card debt.
Complete financial clarity.
Sign me up.
#6 – Kill Your Debt (As Fast As Possible)
If you are struggling to make ends meet, I’ll wager debt is playing a pretty big role in your life. So, if you want to reduce your financial load, pay it all off. And I mean all of it–student loans, car loans, credit card balances, mortgage–get rid of it as fast as you possibly can.
Can you imaging how much relief you would have if you didn’t have to make any loan or credit card payments ever again?
I challenge you to add up all the debt payments you make each month, and then picture life without those payments. Would it get a little easier? Let me answer that… yes.
#7 – Challenge Yourself To Live On Even Less
One of my favorite secrets to living on a tight budget, is challenging yourself to live on even less.
This might sound a little weird, but when I first started budgeting, I felt like I was playing financial defense all the time. I felt like I was cutting things from my life because my budget told me to, and I didn’t like that restrictive feeling. I mean, the whole purpose of my budget was to take control of my finances–not be controlled by my budget.
So, I decided to play offense, and started treating the budget like a challenge.
Now, if my budget allows $150 of fun money, I will challenge myself to only spend $100. If I have $50 of gas money left for the next 2 weeks, you can bet Katie and I are going to be carpooling for the rest of the month, because I’m only going to spend $25.
This approach to budgeting has been a game changer for me. And honestly, you’ll be surprised how addicting it can become.
#8 – Set Inspiring Goals
As I mentioned in a previous posts–The 10 Steps Of Budgeting–one of the most important things you can do in budgeting is set inspiring goals.
Goals like, “I want to get out of debt,” just don’t cut it. Instead, set goals like, “I am going to pay for a house in cash, 4 years from now. And in order to save that amount of money, I am going to get out of debt in the next 5 months.”
Your goals should inspire greatness. They should drive you forward when budgeting gets a little tight. And when you go to make a frivolous purchase, your goals should stop you in your tracks and keep you from doing anything that moves you further from achieving them.
Don’t waste your life setting mediocre, boring goals. Set your sights on something that inspires you, and use your budget as a tool to help you get there.
#9 – Carpool
Carpooling isn’t just for dropping your kids off at school. Carpooling to work is actually one of the biggest money savers my wife and I have found. To put this into perspective, we actually average around $100 extra in savings per month when we carpool.
I realize this tip won’t work for everyone. But if you have a job that allows you to do this, I highly recommend it.
“When gas prices go up, we carpool to save money. And when gas prices go down, we carpool to save even more!” – Me
#10 – Cut Down On Utilities
This might be one of the most common pieces of money saving advice out there, but cutting down on your utilities can save you a bunch of cash.
Try turning down your heater a few degrees in the winter, and running your AC a little less in the summer. Set a timer when you take a shower to make sure you use less water. Make sure your home is well insulated, and replace the weather stripping on drafty doors.
You’ve probably heard it a thousand times, but I’m telling you, it works. You can save $25 to $50 per month pretty easily if you cut down on utility costs.
#11 – Turn Up The Romance
This is less of a money saving tip, and more of a marriage tip.
If you are on a tight budget, you need to make time for your marriage, because if you aren’t careful, frugality can start interfering with romance. And what’s the point of all your hard budgeting work, if you are growing apart from your spouse.
There is never a more important time to put an emphasis on romance, than when you are living on a tight budget. So, if you need to put a little bit less into savings, or pay a little less toward debt so that you can go on a couple dates together, do that.
Your marriage is more important than any of it. So, buy a bottle of wine and watch a movie together. Take a weekend camping trip together. Go on a nice date every once in awhile. It’s important!
You don’t have to spend like crazy to keep the romance alive. You just need to be intentional about your marriage.
#12 – Cut The Cable
You know what I have found to be a gigantic drain of energy, time and money? Cable.
Between the endless stream of political ads, loud commercials, and news stories that make my blood boil, cable is the last thing I will choose to spend money on. And when you are on a tight budget, it should be one of the first expenses you consider cutting.
Additionally, did you know that Americans watch an average of 7 hours of television per day? Umm, what!?!? Don’t believe me, check out this post on The Atlantic.
Can you imagine all the things you could get done with an extra 7 hours per day! You could start a business, or learn a new hobby. You could even start a blog. That’s what we did, and I can honestly say it is much more rewarding than cable!
Tight finances and cable do not mix, so go ahead and cut it from your budget. You’ll be glad you did.
#13 – Find a Better Cell Phone Plan
If you feel like you are paying too much for your cell phone plan, then you probably are. So, don’t be afraid to shop around. Chances are, there is a much better option out there.
Give your current provider a call and see what they can do to reduce your monthly bill. It is their job to make sure you are happy with your plan, so I’m sure they will be accommodating.
If not, take your business elsewhere, because you and your budget deserve better.
#14 – Get A Wholesale Store Membership
When Katie first suggested we get a wholesale store membership, I was a little skeptical.
I mean, our fridge wasn’t big enough to fit that 10 gallon jar of pickles they sell. And does anyone really need to buy 3 huge jars of mayonnaise at once?
The thing that finally convinced me, was the price of gas at these places!
The first time I filled my tank, I paid $19 less than I would have at the gas station right across the street. And the best part is, we bought our membership through Groupon on a huge discount. So, after filling up my gas tank twice, our membership had paid for itself in gas savings. Pretty cool.
Now, we won’t buy our gas anywhere else. And as it turns out, our grocery budget goes a lot further than it used to.
If you don’t have a membership to Costco or Sam’s, I highly recommend you go out and get one. And if that initial membership fee is scaring you away, keep your eye out on sites like Groupon, or Living Social. They run wholesale membership deals all the time!
#15 – Use Money Saving Apps
These days, there are tons of apps to help you save money and find discounts, and if you aren’t using any, you should be.
One of our personal favorites is Fetch Rewards. With this app, you to take photos of your receipts and receive rewards points for your purchases at a large number of grocery stores. Once you build enough points, you can redeem them for gift cards.
We also recommend Ebates. It gives you cash back on purchases you make through over 2,500 online retailers. This is especially wonderful for our debit-only lifestyle, because we get the benefits of cash back without ever touching a credit card. Plus, they give you a $10 bonus after signing up and spending your first $25. Also, be sure to add their Chrome Extension to make your life even easier.
If you use any other money saving apps, let us know about them in the comments!
#16 – Be Honest About Necessities Vs. Wants
One of the most difficult parts of budgeting is understanding the difference between necessities and wants. For instance, we all need food, water, shelter and clothing to survive. But just because food is a necessity, doesn’t mean you should go buy a fancy dinner every night. And just because you need shelter, doesn’t mean you should drown yourself in mortgage payments for a house you can’t actually afford.
Here’s a tip: necessities don’t need an explanation.
For instance, if you needed a car to commute to work every day, and you saved up $5,000 to buy one in cash, nobody would question your decision. But if you went to a dealership and took out a $50,000 loan on a brand new car for the same reason, you would probably have some explaining to do.
#17 – Eat Leftovers
Leftovers are one of the absolute best ways to save money when you are on a budget. So next time you are planning your dinners, be sure to make enough to cover your lunches for a day or two.
Compared to eating out for lunch every day, leftovers could easily save you $2,000 per year.
That leftover tuna salad with hard-boiled eggs just got a lot more appetizing! Just be sure to say sorry to everyone at your office when you open that tupperware.
#18 – Cut Your Gym Membership
If your finances ever get tight, I recommend canceling your gym membership, and working out at home.
Exercise is important for every area of your life, but you don’t need to pay a membership fee to get it. Plenty of people get in killer shape every year, without spending a dime.
Plus, there are tons of online resources to help you develop an at-home workout routine. You just have to have the discipline to actually do it.
If you are needing a little at-home workout inspiration, check out diyactive.com
#19 – Cancel Unnecessary Subscriptions
Similar to cutting your gym membership, if you are paying for subscriptions that you don’t consistently use, cancel them as well. The last thing you need when you are living on a tight budget, is a bunch of auto-pay transactions undermining your effort to save money.
#20 – Brew Your Own Coffee
I am an avid coffee drinker.
When I sit down with a nice cup of joe in the morning, I feel enriched and rejuvenated. The combination of the quiet morning, steam rising from my coffee mug, and the sunrise peeking through the window is poetic. And the best part is, I get to experience this moment every morning for the low price of 40 cents. Why? Because I brew my own coffee.
And if you are living on a tight budget, you should do the same.
If you replace your morning Starbucks with a home brewed cup of coffee, you can easily save an extra $75 per month. Talk about enriching!
#21 – Read A Lot
If you want to be successful in any area of life, reading is one of the best things you can do.
Unlike television and video games, reading books stimulates your mind. It lengthens your attention span, expands your knowledge, builds your critical thinking skills, and heightens your ability to focus.
To put it bluntly, reading makes you smarter, wiser, and more disciplined. And all of those things lead to success when you are living on a tight budget.
Related Post: 10 Inspiring Books To Read While Getting Out Of Debt
#22 – Find Daily Inspiration
Budgeting can become kind of dull at times, which is why I’m a firm believer that you need pursue inspiration on a daily basis.
For me, that means watching youtube videos and reading good books or blogs by people I respect and admire.
There are too many inspiring stories out there to allow yourself to become bored. So, figure out what inspires you, and give yourself a daily dose of it. This will keep you focused and excited about your journey at every stage.
#23 – Get Your D.I.Y. On
Let’s face it, sometimes you just need to update your home. But the cost can be prohibitive when you are living on a budget. Whether you are in need of some new furniture, art, home renovations, or landscaping, if you are willing to do it yourself, you can avoid paying big chunks of cash.
For example, Katie and I were in need of a new coffee table, and we didn’t want to get something that looked cheap. So, for a total of $18, I built a table out of a slab of wood, and some old beams I bought from a guy on craigslist. It turned out pretty cool, and we didn’t have to spend $300 at a furniture store. I’d call that a budgeting success!
Do you have any DIY projects that have allowed you to stay under budget? Let us know in the comments below!
#24 – Start A Blog
This is obviously one of our favorite tips, because it’s exactly what we did.
When you are living on a tight budget, we highly recommend starting a blog. It’s a fun way to stay accountable to your goals, and create a community of like-minded people. Plus, if you stick with it long enough, you could even make a little money (or maybe even a lot)!
If you are serious about starting a blog, here are the services we recommend:
Domain Name Registration (i.e. Website Name)
GoDaddy – this is my go-to domain name registrar, because they make the process incredibly simple.
Bluehost – If you decide to host your blog with Bluehost, they offer free domain registration for 1 year with the purchase of a website hosting plan. Their plans start at $2.75/month, which is hard to beat for the service they provide!
WordPress Hosting (We Only Recommend WordPress)
Bluehost – If you are just starting out with WordPress, Bluehost is a great option, and one the recommended hosting providers by wordpress.org. Their hosting plans start at just $2.75/month, and they have a 1-click WordPress install that makes starting a blog very simple. They also have great customer support, so if you ever have a problem, you can easily get ahold of them for assistance.
Siteground – This is also one of the WordPress.org recommended hosting providers, and an all-around wonderful web host. Their plans start at just $3.95/month, and they offer a free WordPress install, as well as a ton of other great features. Their customer service is also very responsive and helpful.
If you do start a blog, be sure to let us know! We would love to follow your blogging journey.
#25 – Find Ways To Make Extra Money
When you are living on a budget, there comes a point when you just need to make more money. All you have to do is get creative.
Do you have a marketable skill that people are willing to pay for? Do you have a passion that you could turn into a few extra dollars every month? Do you just need to go deliver pizzas, or work nights as a server at a restaurant for awhile?
There is no shame in taking an extra job to make ends meet. In fact, I think it’s one of the most honorable things you can do.
So, get out there, get creative, and make some extra money! It’s time to show your income who’s boss.
So there you have it, our top 25 tips for living on a tight budget. I know it was a long post, but I really hope it will help you in some way along your financial journey.
Also, I would love to hear how these tips work for you, as well as any other tight budgeting advice you would like to share with the BeTheBudget community. Post in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe. We have some cool ideas for our subscribers in the upcoming weeks, and months, that you won’t want to miss!