Many Americans struggle financially, living paycheck to paycheck, hoping they have enough to cover all their bills at the end of the month. In fact, according to a report from the Federal Reserve, 49% of American households have about three months of expenses in liquid savings, and only 39% have saved six months’ worth.
Life is easier if you have a cash cushion or an emergency fund, but how do you save when there is not much fat in your budget?
Identify where you are spending your money
Start by tracking all your spending for 30 days and create a budget. Everything, even a pack of gum, should be noted using any tracking method you prefer—a notebook, your smartphone, an online spreadsheet, whatever works best for you. Then categorize each expense. Start with these essentials: rent/mortgage, utilities, food, transportation to get to your job, and healthcare—prescriptions and co-pays.
These five are priorities that must be paid each month. Everything else, like clothing, entertainment, gym membership, etc., are areas where you can cut back and save a little. Writing it down and keeping track of your budget can help you take a holistic view of your spending habits and cut back where you can.
Other cost savings suggestions are as follows:
Entertainment—Look for low-cost ways to have fun.
- If you have a streaming service, discontinue it for a few months. For example, a service that costs $25.00 per month means you’re spending $300 per year—that’s a month’s worth of groceries.
- Get a library card to check out movies and video games instead of renting them.
- Listen to podcasts. There are over a million to choose from on all subjects.
- Learn a new language or start a new hobby. Here again, the library can be your friend by providing free resources.
Food—Try to spend no more than 11% of your take-home pay on food.
- Shop for generic store brands instead of name-brand items. Many generic versions can be up to 60% cheaper.
- Use coupons and download your grocery store’s app for more deals.
- Buy vegetables in their natural form. Washed and cut vegetables can be twice as expenses.
- Buy only what you know you can eat in a week or two to avoid throwing away food. Use a free meal-planning app like Mealime to help you shop.
- Make at least 75% your own meals instead of ordering from restaurants.
Energy bills—Changing habits can save you big money.
- Use a toaster oven, slow cooker, or other small appliance instead of the oven.
- Wait until the dishwasher is full before using it and turn off the heated dry setting.
- Unplug unused appliances and power strips to avoid phantom loads.
- Turn off lights when you leave a room.
Credit Card Late Fees—Missing payment due date comes with a heavy price.
- To avoid late fees and protect your credit score, set up automatic payments to pay at least the minimum payment by the due date.
- If you can’t pay your bill in full each month, then use the card only for emergencies.
- If your credit card has a high interest rate, look for one with a lower interest rate. Did you know that Mid Oregon has a zero balance transfer fee and low-rate credit cards?
By cutting costs even just a little and putting those savings into an account (like a Mid Oregon Savers Club), you will be able to pay bills with less worry and even save for fun trips or a special gift.
The above strategies can help you to cut costs and save for your goals all while allowing for some budgeted fun. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish. Write it down, create the time and opportunity, and make it happen. Whatever your needs, Mid Oregon’s experienced team is a great place to start discussing your money-saving options.
Want to know more? Read additional Mid Oregon blog articles about goals, budgeting, and debt consolidation.
Need more help? View Mid Oregon’s recent webinar recording of “Reaching Your 2023 Financial Goals“, and access the handouts at https://www.midoregon.com/education/workshop-handouts.shtml.