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Budget living doesn’t have to be an impossible task. If you want to perfect your spending and saving habits, this list provides easy ways to live life better while on a *super* tight budget.
Chances are, you’re reading this article because you and your family need to tighten up on spending. You’re not alone.
Many people at all different stages of life find themselves in a place where money becomes some sort of concern. There are many reasons why this might happen to a person or a family:
- Income isn’t enough to sustain a family or to get ahead in life
- A sudden decrease in income such as a job lay-off
- Saving money for a big purchase such as a home, car, education, or vacation
- A large expense suddenly appears that hits finances hard, such as a medical bill or family emergency
Regardless of why you need to live on a tight budget, the good news is that people all around the world successfully manage their tight budgets without compromising on the quality of life or the quality of experiences.
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What is a ‘tight budget’?
Every family situation varies because no two families are identical.
However, if you want to find out what is considered a ‘tight budget’ for your family, the best way to do this is to find out your monthly net income.
A monthly net income is the amount of money leftover AFTER all expenses for the month are paid. Here is a simple equation to follow:
Monthly Bills (rent, insurance, etc.)
Monthly Expenses (groceries, gas, etc.)
Miscellaneous Expenses (entertainment, etc.)
Total Income (paychecks, unemployment checks, etc.)
Once you know what your total net profit is, it gets easier to see how tight of a budget you and your family have.
Understanding your monthly net income also helps to clarify exactly how you want to spend your money.
If you simply want to spend money on your monthly necessities, then this part isn’t as important.
However, if you’re like me and you’re saving money for big items like a house or a car, then knowing your net profit puts into perspective how much money you *really* have.
Is it impossible to be happy when budget living?
Of course! In fact, it’s quite easy to maintain a happy and fulfilling life without spending oodles and oodles of money.
‘Living large’ by spending a lot of money is a false, made up concept to trick people into thinking that money = happiness.
As we all know, money isn’t the only source of happiness. (But hey, having money definitely helps alleviate burdens and stresses).
The key is to find happiness and fulfillment with what you currently have while working towards your goals, whatever those may be.
On a more personal note, my husband and I found ourselves living on an extremely tight budget in 2020 when COVID-19 left my husband’s primary job left him without work. While we were blessed to still have some income, it was half of what we were used to earning monthly.
The adjustments we needed to make in order to keep up with our rent and bills put us in a tight spot financially, so we’ve had months and months of practice with budget living.
In fact, when the world gets back to normal, we plan to use what we’ve learned during this pandemic to help us spend less money in the future, even when our income returns to ‘normal’.
12 Simple Budget Living Tips
The following tips are tried and true money saving methods that any family can put into practice.
1. Refillable water bottles
According to research done by The Water Project, the average American household considers bottled water a staple grocery item. On average, bottled waters costs approximately $100 per person, per year.
The math is simple. A family of 4 can easily spend $400 on bottled water.
That’s a lot of money considering all the other cheaper alternatives to get access to clean drinking water.
Instead of buying single-use water bottles, invest in a good refillable water bottle and a filtration water pitcher.
My favorite part about these items is that it not only cuts down on grocery expenses, it also significantly cuts back on plastic usage (which would make Leonardo DiCaprio happy, I assume).
2. Money-Saving Apps
I’ll be the first to admit that I was sketchy about this until I tried them. Here’s what I discovered.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember to use my cash back apps because I shop on Amazon so frequently, but when I remember, I love using Ibotta and Rakuten for the sneaky rewards they offer.
Dosh, however, gives cash back for places like Costco, which makes it easy on me since it automatically gives me cash back every time I swipe my card at a qualifying retailer. Easy money!
Recommended: 3 Flexible Money Saving Challenges Anyone Can Do
3. Don’t neglect your savings account
Is it counterproductive to SAVE MONEY when budget living? Nope. Here’s why.
If you live paycheck-to-paycheck without ever saving money, you’ll struggle to get ahead in life. And possibly the most important thing is that a lack of savings means there is zero room for financial error.
If you’re hit with an emergency (which WILL happen), if there is no money set aside in a savings account, the outcome could be detrimental for you and your family.
Regardless of how tight your budget is, saving money should always be a priority each and every month.
4. Plan your meals BEFORE hitting the grocery store
I break this rule all the time and always regret it. Walking into a place full of food with no game plans means I always end up spending more than necessary.
Don’t be like me.
Instead, make a grocery list 30 minutes before heading to the store. Having a focused list of only the food you need to buy will help you purchase your food wiser and without your stomach and eyes misguiding you.
This is especially important because groceries are one of the largest monthly expenses a family faces (aside from housing).
By keeping your grocery list tight and focused, you’ll spend less at the store and will still eat well for dinner.
5. Have ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ fun
This isn’t some groundbreaking piece of advice, but the reason it’s on this list is because sometimes people need to be reminded that it’s okay to have fun for free.
For example, when I started dating my husband many years ago, he spent upwards of $300 on our very first date. We were both in college at the time and I knew he didn’t have that kind of money to spend on a girl.
When I told him it was okay to have fun for free, it took the burden off of him to plan these extravagant and expensive dates.
After that $300 splurge, he and I have been having a great time going to the beach, going on hikes, watching movies at home, making dinner together, and going for walks.
Basically, we love having fun on a budget.
In fact, we have the same amount of fun on our free dates as we did on our $300 date.
6. Understand the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’
I NEED an oil change versus I WANT a new car. Do you see the difference there?
In our modern society, it’s so easy to get everything that we WANT that we end up spending money on those things rather than on the things we NEED.
While each family is different when it comes to their needs, as humans we all have basic necessities in common such as food, clothes, and shelter. Beyond that, it’s up to you to decide your wants versus your needs.
Once you get clear on what those needs are, you’ll be able to spend your money on needs first and wants second, assuming your finances allow you.
If you can’t afford a ‘want’ right now, save up rather than put the expense on a credit card.
7. Ditch the gym for home workouts
My husband and I got sucked into buying personal training that ended up costing us 2k for the year. Two. Thousand. Dollars. Thinking about it still makes me cringe.
Don’t be like us. Workout at home.
There are so many amazing and free resources on YouTube to help you get into shape that if you can avoid the gym and workout at home, you’ll save tons of money.
If you’re like me and working out isn’t quite your thing, walking briskly for 30 minutes a day is proven to be a highly effective form of exercise.
8. Brew coffee at home
I drink coffee every single morning. I used to buy my coffee at starbucks (oh, to be young and in college again…) but since getting married, I knew there was no space in our budget for a $4.50 coffee everyday.
So, I bought this coffee maker.
Now, the most I spend on coffee is refilling my grinds every few months.
9. Start a side hustle
Sometimes budget living isn’t a choice.
If you’re someone who flat out does not make enough money to get ahead in life, consider starting a side hustle.
I’ve tried many hustles over the past 15 years, and the one that has been the most rewarding is blogging. If you’re interested in finding out if blogging is for you, check out my quick start blogging guide.
If blogging isn’t your thing, don’t worry, I have a list of 70 other money-making side hustle ideas: Epic List of Side Hustles.
10. Bag it
In the words of my dad, “BAG IT” meaning pack a lunch.
Eating out can suck all your money away in just a few meals. Instead, put those groceries to use and pack your lunch.
When I used to work a full-time desk job, packing my lunch was a routine that I rarely skipped. It helped that I had an awesome lunch pail that held plenty of food and snacks and kept everything cold for 9+ hours a day.
Recommended: 5 Green Smoothie Recipes for the Work Week
11. DIY Beauty Things
I’ll admit that this isn’t for everyone. However, it’s my FAVORITE budget living tip.
I’m a huge DIY person because I know how much ‘bang for your buck’ you can get when doing things yourself.
Here is a list of things I DIY at home:
- Eyelash Perm: Yep, I perm my own eyelashes with this affordable kit.
- Wax: I 100% wax my entire body (and sometimes my husband’s chest) with this wax.
- Chapstick: Here’s how I make my chapstick among some other things like toothpaste.
- Cleaning products: I use white vinegar for pretty much everything. Seriously. Here’s how.
- Nails: I don’t go crazy, but I do use this polish, which gets me tons of compliments (mainly from my mama).
- Hair cuts: I get my hair cut professionally about once a year (Um, curly hair probs). In the between months, I’ll trim up my split ends with some cheap hair cutting shears. And, when I’m in the mood, I’ll cut my husband’s hair with these clippers.
12. Cut back on alcohol
I say this often, but I’ll say it again. Alcohol is EXPENSIVE. It’s expensive in restaurants. It’s expensive at bars. It’s expensive at the club. And it’s expensive at the grocery store.
If you are budget living, truly budget living, cutting back on alcoholic could save you significant money. If you can’t cut it out entirely, at least reserve it for a special occasion (the weekend counts, right?).