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If your budget’s been a bit more strained than usual in the last few months, you’re not alone.
High inflation last year, and into this year, and the resumption of student loan payments are some of the reasons why saving money might be getting more difficult.
Still, being on a tight budget doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to set aside money to build a savings account. Here are 13 tips to help you build a healthy nest egg.
1. Focus on small changes in various budget categories
Being on a tight budget means every spending decision adds up, but you can start saving money by making small changes. For example, the money saved by making lunch instead of buying carryout or eating out can easily add up. The same is true with brewing your own coffee rather than stopping for a cup at a coffee shop.
Some other changes include:
- Turning lights off when you’re not using them.
- Cutting the cord on cable and opting for cheaper streaming services. Streaming services often have shared or family plans that you can split between multiple people to lower the cost even more.
- Withholding from impulse purchases. One way to help do this is by writing down wants and waiting a week before buying them, so you can see if you still want them.
One way to budget is to use the 50/30/20 rule, which means allocating 50 percent of your income to essential expenses, with the remaining half — known as discretionary income — going to things you want (30 percent) and savings (20 percent).
2. Automate your savings into a high-yield savings account
It’s easy to forget to save. That’s why automating the process is the best way to save money.
Some mobile banking apps come with automatic savings features. But if not, you could always download a third-party savings app, such as Chime, which estimates how much you can save each month and moves that money into your savings account.
Have your employer deposit part of your paycheck into a high-yield savings account to separate it from money used to pay bills. Compare rates to ensure your savings are earning a competitive yield.
3. Earn interest on your checking account
A checking account is likely the account where you pay bills out of. But there are interest checking accounts that can offer a competitive yield, if you choose the right one.
Look for an interest checking account (also known as an interest-bearing checking account) that doesn’t have any minimum balance requirements or monthly service fees. For a competitive yield, you might have to have a minimum direct deposit, make a certain number of debit card transactions or have some sort of other requirement.
4. Use those three-payday months to save more
Generally, for those who receive a paycheck every two weeks, there are two months of the year where you’ll receive a third paycheck in a month. Because you’re likely used to living on two paychecks a month, consider allocating some of the money from the third paycheck toward paying off high interest credit card debt, with some of the rest going to start, or add to, an emergency fund.
5. Keep a budget
To take advantage of the right savings opportunities, you first have to understand where your money’s going. That’s why budgeting can help you plan your spending and assess what money you have to spend.
Looking back at your previous month’s spending can help you decide how much you can realistically budget for the next month in different categories. Making a budget can reveal areas where you didn’t realize you’re spending a lot of money.
A budget might also help you catch recurring expenses that you’re not using. Consider canceling a monthly gym membership at a gym you never visit, a streaming app that you never use or other subscriptions that you no longer use.
6. Shop around for insurance rates
It’s smart to compare prices on auto and homeowners insurance every few years. An accident-free discount or other loyalty discounts may help you save by staying with your current company. But other times you’ll save more by switching or merging both auto and homeowners insurance with the same company.
Also double-check to make sure you’re receiving any discounts you’re entitled to, such as discounts for insuring multiple cars or being a safe driver.
7. Refinance your mortgage
Refinancing is an opportunity for some people on a tight budget to save money. It might be worth considering refinancing your mortgage if you can reduce your mortgage interest rate by 0.5 percent or more. Refinancing a mortgage could save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
But generally, most people might not be able to find a mortgage rate that’s worth refinancing in this current high rate environment.
Closing costs, which average about 3 percent of the refinanced amount, are an important consideration when refinancing a mortgage and weren’t included in these calculations. These calculations are for illustrative purposes only and are meant to provide general guidelines for refinancing your mortgage. See how much you could save with Bankrate’s mortgage refinance calculator.
You might also be charged a loan origination fee, which is charged by a lender or broker upfront to process a loan application.
Even without considering the savings of paying less interest over time, saving money on monthly mortgage payments could help someone on a tight budget without affecting the home’s payoff timeline.
8. Find a way to save on rent
Renters may want to consider moving to a smaller place or a less costly area to save money. Moving to a cheaper place could shave big bucks off your housing costs since housing expenses are often the largest expense in a household’s budget.
Changing jobs or not having to commute every day can also impact where you live.
You could also try negotiating your rent or the term of your lease to potentially save money on rent.
9. Get a bank bonus
Some banks offer a bonus for opening a new account and meeting a few basic requirements like setting up direct deposit or maintaining a minimum balance. Some of the best bank bonus offers let you earn about $250 or more within a span of just a few months.
Read the fine print before signing up for a bonus so you’ll know how to earn the bonus and how long you need to keep your account open. Also watch out for minimum balance requirements that might make it difficult to open or maintain your account, as well as account fees that could eat away at your bonus amount.
10. Take advantage of pre-tax savings options
Set up automatic contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), which uses pre-tax dollars to fund your retirement and can lower your taxable income. What’s more, some employers offer to match employee 401(k) contributions, providing essentially free money to help build your retirement savings. Employer-match programs typically require workers to contribute a minimum amount to qualify.
11. Take stock of food spending
Food can be one of the most expensive categories of budgeting, but it’s easy to control spending by making your own meals and cutting down on dining out. Learn how you can save money on your groceries.
12. Find cheaper ways to travel
If you’re planning a trip, make sure to establish a budget ahead of time to avoid splurging.
You may be able to save money on air travel, for example, by booking a red-eye flight or flying with a budget airline.
You can also save by staying at a budget-oriented hotel or an Airbnb, picking up some groceries instead of eating out for every meal and using a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
13. Check your paycheck withholdings
Getting a tax refund each year may feel like found money, but the truth is you’re overpaying the amount you owe in state or federal taxes. That money could be put to better use during the year, by paying down high-interest debt, building an emergency fund or adding to a rainy day fund.
Check with your accountant or use the IRS withholding calculator to see whether changing your tax withholding makes sense for you.
What experts say about saving money on a tight budget
Here’s what financial experts say about stretching your money.
Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst: “Trying to save when there is little or nothing consistently left over is challenging, so flip that around and do the saving first. Set up a direct deposit from your paycheck into a dedicated savings account and contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement plan via payroll deduction. While saying ‘you won’t miss what you don’t see’ sounds cliché, it’s true. Anybody I’ve ever counseled to do this that followed through came back and sang the praises of how well it works.”
Malik S. Lee, certified financial planner, managing principal and founder of Felton & Peel Wealth Management: “I think there are two things you must do to save while on a tight budget. One, you need to stay on budget and eliminate impulse purchases. Two, you need to utilize pre-tax employee benefits. Saving to vehicles like 401(k)s and HSAs pretax via your paycheck allows you to hit your savings goals while keeping more in your pocket versus saving after-tax.”
Malcolm Ethridge, certified financial planner, executive vice president and fiduciary financial advisor with CIC Wealth Management: “People who rent an apartment or house, they may not know it’s possible to negotiate their next lease when the landlord makes an offer to renew. This is especially true for those who rent from an individual or a smaller property manager. It’s also a good idea to try and lock in a longer lease now if they plan to be there for a while. And the landlord will likely be even more flexible on rate if they know they have you locked in for 24 or 36 months instead of 12.”
— Bankrate’s René Bennett contributed to an update of this story.