So you’ve ditched your expensive phone plan, cut down on your cable bill and started packing your lunch every day. Yet when you review your budget, it still doesn’t seem like you have as much money as you’d like to put toward your financial goals. Whether you want to pay down debt, save up for vacation or contribute more towards retirement, reaching these goals fast can be a great motivator. But when there’s nothing left to trim, it can feel like these goals are further from your grasp.
While adding to your income is a great way to boost your savings goals, you might discover more ways to trim your budget from the following tips.
Avoid bank fees. Unless you keep your money stashed in a mattress, you likely have your cash sitting in a bank account or two. Banks make money in part from fees they charge their account holders, including checking account fees in some cases, as well as overdraft protection and even paper billing statements. While some these extra charges are unavoidable, some can be circumvented when you do your research. Talk to your banker and see how you might be able to waive or lower service and account fees. Sign up for paperless billing and keep tabs on your accounts online, and avoid using ATMs that aren’t associated with your bank. You might also transfer your accounts to an online bank that provides better interest rates so you can accrue more money throughout the year.
Don’t waste food. The National Resource Defense Council estimates American households waste around 40 percent of food every year. Considering groceries are among the highest of household expenses, this waste directly impacts your budget. Instead of buying what you crave, plan your meals based on what’s in season and on sale. Stack sales with grocery coupons from sites like CouponSherpa.com, and use SuperCook.com to help you craft meals based on ingredients you already own. If you have even a small amount of leftovers from a restaurant, take them home; you can always make something extra to go with them, or incorporate your leftovers into a new meal.
Buy generic. You might be surprised how much you can save by purchasing the generic or store brand of select items. In many cases, you won’t notice a difference in taste or quality: a 2014 Nielsen survey revealed 67 percent of US participants found generic brands to be a suitable alternative to their name-brand favorites. In fact, some manufacturers of popular brands also manufacture their generic counterparts! Compare the ingredient list and nutrition information of generic and brand-name products to ensure you’re getting the flavors and quality you expect.
Cancel subscriptions. It’s often all-too-easy to let subscriptions auto-renew without even considering if we’re still getting our money’s worth. Make a list of your magazine subscriptions, streaming services, gym memberships and shopping subscriptions. Unless you use them frequently every month, you might consider canceling or downgrading these services to shave a little (or a lot, in some cases) off your monthly expenses. Trim is a tool that reviews your accounts for these charges and cancels them on your behalf for free. And remember you don’t have to do without books, movies or magazines after you cancel these services; you can always borrow them from your local library.
Skip ordering drinks. Since you’re already living lean, you likely don’t spend much on dining out. When you do, however, avoid ordering soda or alcohol. The markups on soft drinks and alcohol in restaurants often exceed 600 percent. This is because restaurants know they can turn a profit on drinks! Instead of splurging on that $10 glass of wine, stick with water and enjoy a glass from your $12 bottle at home!
Socialize at home. Visiting with friends is essential, but going out every time you do so will lead to extra expenses. Try staying in with friends instead. Host a game night where everyone brings a dish or drink, or a movie night with films you already have. You’ll also save on fuel since staying in means you’re not driving as often! If you do go out, try finding free things to do or coupons for activities like bowling or movies.
Conserve energy. Not only is conserving energy good for the environment, it also lowers your monthly bills. Be conscious about turning off lights and electronics that aren’t in use, and keep your thermostat at an energy-saving level (or better yet, invest in a programmable thermostat). Take shorter showers, reuse soapy water while washing dishes, and tend to your plants with leftover drinking water. Even lowering your usage just a little will have a huge impact on your annual bill. You can save up to $83 on your heating bill by turning your thermostat back, or up to 22 percent annually by lowering your water heater temperature.
Take care of your car. When was the last time you put air in your tires? You might want to make a habit of it. The US Department of Energy found that the lower the PSI of your tires, the lower the fuel economy. This means buying gas more often and burning it quicker. Keep your tires filled, air filters clean and oil fresh; routine maintenance like this will not only improve your car’s performance but prevent costly repairs later on.
DIY for special events. One of the worst ways to erase a year’s worth of beneficial budgeting is to overspend during the holidays. Naturally, special events come up all the time, but you don’t have to resort to taking a financial ding just to participate. Embrace DIY gifts for birthdays, weddings and the holidays. Usually they’ll cost a lot less, and the personal touch adds sentimental value.
Cut back on extracurricular activities. Though it’s good to get kids involved in afterschool programs like sports, sometimes these activity fees take a toll on monthly budgets. GoBankingRates estimates average kids’ activity fees can range from $463 to $1,124 per year. They suggest having your kids pick only one extracurricular, and be aware of related fees like transportation, gear, post-game treats and uniforms.