Are you struggling to make ends meet? You are not alone. Over 40% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Many of these people are caught in a financial cycle of spending money faster than they can make it. But, it’s possible to break that cycle with a budget full of money-saving hacks.
Like a digital hack disrupts a computer program, money hacks disrupt how we spend our money. Money hacks can come in the form of minor tweaks or considerable changes to your life, but in the end, all of them should do the same thing—save money.
Let’s look at exactly which money hacks can change your relationship with your money. If you’re ready to master some money hacks and become a personal finance ninja, read on!
#1 Create a Budget
A budget is a financial plan for using your income to pay your expenses. A good budget prioritizes your spending so that your needs are met. When you view your money through your budget, it becomes easier to track your expenses and see where your money needs to go.
Many people can be overwhelmed by the idea of maintaining a budget. If you’ve never budgeted before, it’s easy to get started. Plus, there are even budgeting apps to help you out. Make sure to do your homework so you know which budgeting apps are right for you.
First, you need to understand where your money is coming from. Gather your pay stubs, bank statements, and anything else that reports your take-home pay. Once you have that information, add up your net income after taxes. That’s the number you’ll need to work with when creating your budget.
Next, categorize your bills by importance. You must meet your housing, food, utilities, and transportation needs first. After that, identify your fixed expenses—like insurance or loan payments—that are the same amount every month. Then, make estimates on your variable expenses—like credit card debt and gas money—based on your monthly usage.
Add up your expenses and compare them to your income. If you make more than you owe, then you’re in good shape. You can then put your money towards your bills when they are due and see how much is left over to spend or save as you wish.
If you make less than you owe, you’ll need to make some changes to your lifestyle. This is where good money hacks can make a big difference in your financial situation. And a budget is the first—and most important—of the money hacks. To save and spend money wisely, you need to start with a budget.
#2 Pay Your Bills Early
Paying bills on time is a good financial habit for everyone to practice. But paying your bills early is even better.
Taking care of utility bills and other regular expenses before their due date can help you avoid late fees and penalties, which can create financial nightmares. The sooner you pay them in the billing cycle, the less likely you will forget them and get dinged with additional charges.
Debt is expensive. Interest compounds daily for many accounts. And the bigger your balance gets, the longer it will take for you to pay it off. When you build your debt-busting strategy, consider these tactics:
If you’re behind on your bills and your monthly budget allows it, consider making micropayments to chip away at your debt. Micropayments are small payments made in between billing cycles, in addition to your regularly scheduled payments. This effort, over time, can make a positive impact on your outstanding balance by making it shrink a little faster. Micropayments are ideal for managing installment loans for bad credit and other types of fixed expenses.
Use the Debt Snowball Method
The Debt Snowball method is a popular way to pay the debt. It involves creating a budget and listing your debts from smallest to largest. You then make the minimum payment on all debts except the smallest, which you pay as much as possible. After you repay the smallest debt, you move on to the next smallest debt and so on.
Many people who struggle to manage debt find that the debt snowball method keeps you focused on small victories. No matter how small the balance, getting rid of a bill will encourage you to tackle the next balance. Financial confidence is one of the best money hacks around!
#3 Pay Yourself: Use Your Savings Account
A savings account is an account to hold money that you don’t need immediately. Unlike a checking account, your savings account isn’t for daily withdrawals or other transactions. Instead, your savings account should be an interest-bearing account that earns money. That means that the more money you put in your savings—and the longer you leave it alone—the more interest you’ll earn.
One of the best money hacks is the simplest one: save money.
Having a healthy savings account means you have a reserve of cash to make big purchases or support you if your income decreases. You can avoid creating new debt with loans or credit cards when you save money.
“Paying yourself first” is a personal finance mantra that encourages you to stash money away in a savings or retirement account before paying your bills. It’s a great way to ensure you’re always putting more money aside for your future.
In addition to banks and credit unions, there are plenty of online savings accounts that you can start with any amount. Even if it’s just a few dollars, make a plan to pay yourself for the hard work you’re putting in now. Your future self will thank you!
#4 Spend Money Wisely
Are you spending more than you make?
Many of life’s expenses are simply unavoidable. However, your budget will reveal the places where you can decrease your expenses. Here are some ways that you can save money on some of your regular bills:
Cancel Unnecessary Subscriptions
Let’s be honest: the past couple of years would have been even MORE challenging if we weren’t able to curl up on the couch and binge a dozen hours of “Real Stepbrothers of Duluth” every few days. But while we’re keeping it real, do you need to have FIVE options for vegging out?
Subscriptions plans—especially streaming entertainment services—give you access to hours of entertainment for a small monthly fee. However, many small monthly fees can add up to be as expensive as cable. Save money by subscribing to only one streaming service per month if you like variety. At the end of the month, switch to another service. Not only can you still watch what you want, but you may also be able to catch introductory offers for reduced or free rates.
Bundle Your Services
Are you looking to save money on your monthly expenses? Bundle your services! By combining internet, phone, and cable services, you can often save up to $50 or more each month. Compare rates and bundles from different providers to find the best deal for you.
Get Your Monthly Payments Lowered
If you’re working on paying off online bad credit loans or other long-term debt, talk to your creditors about getting your installment payments lowered. For example, many borrowers renegotiate auto loans for lower interest rates and longer loan terms. If your account is current, your credit card company may also be willing to work with you to accept lower minimum payments.
However, it’s important to note that smaller monthly payments will most likely mean paying over a more extended time.
Go to the Grocery Store
Many people find that they are wasting money on fast food and dining out. Instead of hitting your favorite restaurant delivery app, consider creating a grocery budget.
Every dollar spent at the grocery store will go much further than one spent at your favorite restaurant. Eating out is expensive, but with a bit of effort, you may be able to recreate your favorite to-go meals in your kitchen.
Creating a grocery budget doesn’t mean you have to become a chef. There are also delivery services that provide tons of ready-to-eat meals that are not only more affordable but healthier than many “convenient” fast food options.
Every grocery store purchase doesn’t have to be food. You will also find that many generic (store brands) personal care products and medications are much cheaper than popular name brands—and typically have the same ingredients.
#5 Hustle Hard: Make More Money
Even after putting a money-saving hack (or two) in place, you may still discover that your budget needs more income to work.
Get a Side Hustle
Amidst the current pandemic, grocery stores, warehouses, retail outlets, and restaurants are vying for people to fill positions. These places operate around the clock, so it’s easy to find a shift that can complement your full-time job. Many businesses hire applicants within a week or, in some instances, the same day. High-demand positions like delivery drivers and cooks offer incentives, like signing bonuses and getting paid at the end of every workday.
Using your current skills to do more freelance work is a great option. Freelancing is a great way to get started in a new industry or gain more experience in an existing one. Almost every industry has opportunities for freelancers, from journalists to chefs.
Reach out to your neighbors and social media contacts to see if anyone needs help with a project. With a bit of marketing, you may be able to turn your skills into a steady stream of income.
Sell Your Stuff
That pile of “junk” in your garage could be a pile of free money!
Your next yard sale could help you pay down your debt by selling your old, unwanted stuff. Not only will you declutter your home, but you’ll also make some money to help pay down your debt. Plus, there are no overhead costs on things you already own, making this a highly profitable hustle.
Instead of a yard sale, you can always take your old stuff to a consignment shop and let the professionals do the work for you. Consignment shop owners are experts at taking your old clothes and calling them “vintage.” They’ll put them up for sale in their boutique, and when they sell, you and the shop will share the profits.
Money hacks are a great way to find free cash in your budget. But for every money hack you use, think about how that quick fix can turn into a permanent solution. Learning how to save money can set off a chain reaction of behaviors that will help you build a better financial future. And if you’re looking for more extra income ideas, check out the rest of the CreditNinja Dojo!