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There are things you can start doing today that will allow you to save money right away. This article will guide you through a few ways you can have an immediate effect on your wallet.

A graphics showing a hand holding up a circle with a title: how to save money.

You don’t need a budget to start saving money now. Budgets are great tools in your personal finance toolkit, but they are meant to be a guideline and an estimate that works together with good money saving habits.

You may have heard about the 50-20-30 budget, where you allocate 50% of your after-tax income to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings and debt payment.

The 50% is for your rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, health care, debt payments and anything else that is critical such as tax obligations or transportation. 30% for any items that are non-essential, think shopping, entertainment and so on. Finally, 20% for saving, investing and additional debt payments, paying down loans quicker with the goal of being debt-free.

But budgets can be like diet plans that are too restrictive or too extreme, after a few weeks or months you end up bouncing back to where you started. They can be difficult to create and even harder to follow so don’t get discouraged if you haven’t been able to create and stick to one just yet.

Tips for How To Save Money

Use these tips to start building good habits and save money right away:

Get to Know Your Spending

A smiling woman at a square space style cash register checking out a customer with coffee.
We resist a close look at spending out of fear of our bad habits being exposed. Getting acquainted with your spending is the first step to start saving money.

This is my favorite because it’s critical to understanding how you can save, but also tends to cause the most resistance. Many people choose to ignore the details of their bank statements from fear of facing reality.

It’s as if they’re afraid what they find will not match what they should be doing, or like they’ll be exposed somehow. The point is to come to terms and own your spending habits, however good or bad they might be. You have to get to know them first so that you can work on making improvements.

By just going through the process of looking at your expenses you will become more aware of what’s actually happening, it’s no longer a black box where things just happen.

Treat Time as Money

Budget your time like you would money. We often don’t treat time with the same respect that we do our money because it’s extremely easy to take it for granted. But unless you figured out time travel, you only have a limited supply available.

Spend it wisely and assign value to it just like you would to your money. Time is a finite resource and when you start treating it as valuable you will find it easier to break free of time-wasting activities (many of which also waste money), and focus on more important things.

Treat Money as Time

This is the same concept as above just in reverse. Assign a value to your time such as the hourly wage you earn at work. When considering a purchase you can now relate the price to the amount of work it would take for you to cover the cost.

For example, if you are looking to spend $1200 on a new TV, and your hourly wage is $30/hr, that TV will cost you a full week of work. Is it worth it?

That also applies to the time you spend on money-saving activities. For instance, spending two extra hours to find a deal that will save you $120 means you just earned $60 an hour for your effort. Using our same TV example, that is double your hourly wage.

Implement the 30-Day Rule

The 30-Day Rule is a way to get your impulse buying under control. Whenever you get the sudden urge to purchase something, write down the item you desire, the price, and where you intend to purchase it.

Allow the note and the decision to “age” for 30 days. At the end of the 30-day period, if you still want to purchase the item, then go ahead. This is an especially handy rule for items that fall into the “want” category such as extra shoes or a new laptop.

30 days may be too much, but for smaller purchases even a day is enough to step away and reconsider. It’s a great tool for gaining control over your impulses. You learn to make more deliberate and better buying decisions, because delaying the decision means you can approach it without the emotional component.

Prepare More Meals at Home

Woman's hands shown cutting up cilantro on a wooden cutting board
You can save a lot of money by preparing meals instead of going out to eat. Fresh vegetables and salads make for an especially inexpensive meal.

This one is simple. If you eat out for lunch every day try to cut it down to maybe one or two days a week. Maybe you only get take-out once a week, try to skip every other week and make your own lunch for the other days.

Dinners are even better for saving money; eating out for dinner is usually significantly more expensive especially if you order alcohol. Make restaurant trips something you have time to look forward to. As with the 30-day rule, the only way this can happen is if you allow enough time to pass between visits to your favorite dinner spot.

All it takes is some practice and it really isn’t that difficult. But you could make a significant dent in your spending. As an added benefit, when you prepare your own food you control the ingredients and can make your meals healthier. You will also appreciate the times you eat out more. When you do it less frequently, it becomes a treat instead of a routine and you save money in the process.

Make Fewer Grocery Trips

Going less frequently will force you to plan, and planning means you will be prepared when you enter the store and are less likely to purchase random items.

Grocery stores, like any retail store, are designed with sales in mind. They want you to spend money, and everything is finely tuned for exactly that, so if you can limit the number of times you visit the store you are automatically reducing the chances you’ll leave with something you don’t need.

Read more grocery shopping tips here

Plan Your Meals

Planning meals means you know exactly how long the food you already have is going to last. This goes hand in hand with making fewer trips to the grocery store. Start gradually, even planning for a couple of days in advance is better than no plan at all; you’ll figure out what works for you.

Make sure you do a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry, there are items there you may not even know existed. Then you can plan around all the ingredients you already have, reduce waste and save money on your grocery bill.

Cancel Your Cable Subscription

I resisted this one for years, but it turned out to be a great decision. Cable TV has a way of sneaking into your life and establishing itself as a necessity. You start thinking of it as indispensable, just like you would of utilities.

But really it’s just an expensive distraction you can easily live without. A simple high-definition amplified antenna (mine cost around $30) gives you local channels, news, TV shows, and sports. Just about everything else you can think of is going to be available online. There are lots of free movies and free TV shows to pick from.

The antenna is a one-time expense and you will save money almost immediately. Check out our guide on how to cut the cord.

Cancel Subscriptions You Don’t Use

A woman and a man sitting at a table and reviewing their subscriptions on a tablet
Periodically checking your paid subscriptions allows you to remove anything you no longer need or downgrade to free or alternative services and save more money.

You should review the subscriptions you are paying for to see if there is something you no longer use. Or maybe you could drop down to a lower priced-tier because you haven’t been utilizing some of the features. Some subscription services have free versions that provide fewer features or have advertisements. This is true of entertainment subscriptions like Spotify and Hulu, and for delivery services like Imperfect Foods.

Get a Public Library Card

It only takes a few minutes to get your library card. You are typically required to show proof of address, so bring an ID. But to be sure check with the library’s website for their specific requirements.

Besides being able to read books for free (check out the WorldCat site to find books in libraries near you), you can also take advantage of free audiobook offerings that are available through numerous apps for your smartphone, such as Libby, which uses your library card number to borrow audiobooks.

Many libraries also offer events, art exhibits, book sales, and many other perks you can discover if you check their website or just pop in. It’s all free, and book sales are usually really great deals, too.

Buy Used Books

Buy used books whenever you can, assuming you favor printed books to e-books and audiobooks. New books are expensive, and once read often end up on the shelf collecting dust. There is a pleasing aesthetic to a full bookshelf, but that bookshelf could just as easily be filled with second-hand books and at a fraction of the cost.

Buy Used Items On Sites Like Craigslist

To paraphrase an old saying: one man’s trash is another’s treasure. There are bargains to be found, often high-quality items they simply have no need or room for.

Use craigslist or similar sites to find your new treasures. I’ve purchased lots of items, including a beautiful modern solid-wood desk, for a fraction of the original cost. Not everything will be top quality, so feel free to be picky. I think you’ll be surprised at what you can find.

Find Deals at Thrift Stores

Don’t be put off by the idea of a thrift store, they are great places to shop for deals and save money. They frequently have good-quality items for great prices. Many of them are also non-profits that donate proceeds to various charities, so you are also helping those in need.

They are great places to find used books, for example. I’ve purchased several awesome books for under $1. Not all thrift stores are created equal, so look around and find ones that have more of what you’re looking for. Ideally, ones that also support a cause you care about.

Buy Used Cars Instead of New

There are few better ways to throw money away than purchasing a new car from a dealer. Yes, it’s beautiful and new, and fresh with all the new features one could ever want, but it will drop in value literally the moment you drive it off the lot.

You can lose more than 20% of the car value in just the first year, which is $4,000 on a $20,000 vehicle in just 12 months. That’s about $333 per month; if that looks like a whole separate car payment, it’s because it could be.

Keep Your Car Longer

Drive the car for as long as it is safe and reasonable. This could be 10+ years. Keeping the car longer means you will pay it off, and that car payment can go directly to your savings or towards other needs.

Your car will need repairs, but under most circumstances the savings from not having a loan payment will easily exceed repair costs.

Use Public Transportation

While this may not be feasible for many of us, consider using public transportation. Cars come with expenses like auto loan payments, repairs, maintenance, insurance, registration, gas, and parking. They also depreciate, losing value fast, especially when new.

If public transportation is not an option, consider downsizing to one car, or fewer cars if you have multiple. It may require better planning and coordination with family, but will save money.

Refinance High-interest Loans

High interest rates cost a lot of money, especially when it comes to larger loans such as a mortgage. Lowering the interest rate by even half a percent can save tens of thousands of dollars.

A $400,000 mortgage with a 4.5% fixed interest rate, for example, will cost $329,627 in interest over 30 years (tax and fees not included). The same loan with a 4% interest rate would cost $287,478. That’s savings of over $42k.

You can use a loan payoff calculator to see how your loan compares, and how much you could be saving.

These are just a few ways to start saving money. For a more systematic look at saving and budgeting, check out our article.