17 Effective Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget [2021]

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With the increasing cost of living, stagnating wages, and the slow rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to find the best ways to save money.

In fact, 45% of Americans say they have $0 in emergency savings.

45% of Americans say they have 0% in savings

Source: The Motley Fool

If you fall into this 45% category – you’ll be in for a treat with this blog post.

I am going to show you 17 of the best ways to save money on a tight budget, so you can:

This post will teach you tips and tricks I have personally used to survive while managing to live on a $2,000 monthly income – in Miami (a very expensive place).

Keep reading. 

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17 Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget


Saving money on a tight budget isn’t easy.

In fact, you’ll probably only see progress in small intervals. 

But, if you’re consistent with your efforts, you’ll start seeing a difference soon.

Let’s get started.

the millennial money woman infographic "17 ways to save more money"

1. Get a Free Online Coupon Tool


Who here thinks couponing is a waste of time?

I do.

And that’s why I love the free money saving app, Honey.

In fact, Honey is one of the best ways to save money on a tight budget, because all you have to do is download the app onto your computer (it doesn’t work with your phone), and start shopping.

As you shop online for items ranging from toothpaste to vacations, Honey will pop up and point out when you are scrolling past any:

  • Promo codes
  • Major store discounts
  • Coupon opportunities

This is the best – and the easiest – way to save money on a tight budget.

It’s couponing without actually couponing!

2. Download a Cashback App


I’ve always been a little skeptical when it comes to cashback functions – and I honestly never thought about downloading an app that was 100% dedicated to offering cashback to its customers. 

To tell you the truth, I missed out on free money. 

Here’s one of the easiest ways to save money on a tight budget: Download a cashback app, like Slide, where you can earn money on your regular purchases.

Here’s what you can expect with Slide:

  • Unlimited 4% cashback
  • Partnered with 150+ companies
  • Connect with Apple Pay or another credit card to collect your cashback

The cashback bonus points you earn through Slide can help you reduce your daily cost of living – and over time, those small cashback bonus points will make a difference in your budget.

3. Invest your Spare Change


It’s tough to figure out ways to save money on a tight budget – especially if your income is low (and you live in a high-cost area). 

Don’t you just wish there was a way to simply invest your spare change?

Thanks to modern technology, there actually is a way: With the Acorns investment app.

With Acorns, you can literally start investing with as little as $5. 

The other good news? You don’t need to know anything about investing because Acorns is a robo-advisor, so it can put together an investment portfolio just for you, based on your investment needs. 

Acorns has another cool feature for investors: The Round-Up Feature.

Basically, you invest without even knowing you’re investing!

Related: Top Investing Apps

4. Pay On Time


One of the easiest ways to save money on a tight budget is just by paying on time. 

When you pay your bills for your:

  • Car
  • Mortgage
  • Cell phone
  • Credit cards

…Make sure you pay those bills on time so that you avoid any late fees. 

Late fees are simply a nuisance and can chip away at your overall monthly budget.

5. Shop for the Best Insurance Rates


Insurance can cost 
a lot of money, especially if the rates keep increasing each year (which they did for me, at least). 

The worst thing you can do is keep paying the increasing prices without at least trying to put up a fight – or in this case, a negotiation.

Below, I’ve listed some strategies that could help you lower your insurance bill for the following types of insurance policies:

  • Life insurance
  • Home insurance

Strategy #1: Life Insurance


Especially 
if you carry life insurance, I would suggest to at minimum run a life insurance quote through easy-to-use online portals like Policygenius.

Policygenius fights for you – not for the insurance company. 

Their team advocates on your behalf to find your best fit at the lowest price – and it offers very cheap term life insurance rates

Of course, the cost of life insurance depends on many factors – including your health profile – but generally speaking, Policygenius offers some of the lowers life insurance rates I’ve seen.

Strategy #2: Home Insurance


One of the best ways to save money on a tight budget is by renegotiating your homeowner’s insurance (aka HO insurance) costs. 

Trust me, as a homeowner myself, my HO insurance just keeps climbing – and I’m sure that living in Miami, FL doesn’t help, either!

To lower your HO insurance, you can either call up your current HO insurance agent and ask them to give you a better offer – or you can do this nifty trick first: 

Assuming your quote is lower than what you are currently paying, you could either:

  • Call up your current HO insurance agent and see if they would be willing to match your current HO insurance package to your quote
  • Or, accept the quote, sign up for the new HO insurance policy and cancel your old HO insurance policy to save more money

Let’s be real: Insurance is the perfect party pooper topic – it’s boring, it’s bland, and it’s pretty ugly. 

…However, if you find out that you’ve been overpaying potentially $50 to $100 every month in insurance (aka between $600 to $1,200 every year), insurance doesn’t sound that dull anymore, does it?

fiona smith the millennial money woman

The Bottom Line:

There is a lot of money that’s left on the table when it comes to insurance.

If you want to save money on a tight budget, then make sure you scrutinize your insurance costs.

6. Stop Using Credit Cards


Let me start this section by asking you 2 questions:

  • Do you have credit card debt?
  • Do you pay off your credit card debt every month?

If you have credit card debt and you’re not able to pay off your credit card debt every month, then we have a problem. 

“If you use a credit card, you don’t want to be rich.” - Mark Cuban

Although I believe that credit cards are a necessary evil – especially if you’re looking to build credit for big-ticket purchases like a future home, a car, etc. – I also agree with Mark Cuban. 

Specifically, I think Mark makes a great point when it comes to carrying credit card debt.

Not all debt is created equal: There are 2 types of debt.

Smart Debt Bad Debt

Low-interest debt (typically between 1% to 10% APY) used to purchase appreciating assets.

Typically, high-interest debt (typically 10% and more) used to purchase depreciating assets.

Examples of smart debt include:

  • Student loans
  • Business loans
  • Home mortgages

Examples of bad debt include:

  • Car loans
  • Payday loans
  • Credit card debt

If you find that you’re not able to keep up with your credit card expenses – then stop using credit cards.

I’m not kidding when I say this: Cut up your cards and simply go to physical cash.

How?

Every month, give yourself an allowance of physical cash to purchase your living expenses. 

As you spend down your money, you will physically see the cash become less and less (as opposed to a credit card, where you don’t see anything). 

If you’re a visual learner, this budgeting method can be very eye-opening. 

I’ll say it again: If you’re finding that you’re in trouble with credit cards, start a budget ASAP. 

The budgeting app YNAB has helped first-timers save about $600 in their first 2 months of using the app and $6,000+ in their first year of using the app.  

YNAB offers a 34-day free trial, so even if you don’t plan to use the app for the long term, at least download it (you don’t even need to add your credit card information to download the app) and test it out. 

Budgeting can save lives. And retirement.

Related: Creating a Budget

7. Automate your Monthly Savings 


The human brain loves the easy way out – and that’s why you have to play to your brain’s strengths: 
Automate your life

When you automate something – anything – it’s out of sight, out of mind. 

That’s why I suggest you consider automating the following:

  • Your monthly bills
  • Your monthly savings 
  • Your monthly investments

If you’re still figuring out some of the ways to save money on a tight budget, why not consider automatically saving $10 every week in a high-yield savings account like with Axos Bank?

Not only will this strategy help you boost your emergency savings (you should have between 3 to 6 months’ worth of emergency funds saved), but a high-yield savings account can help you earn up to 10x the national average in interest!

I call that a win-win.

8. Find a Roommate


Living in Miami on a $2,000 per month salary is not easy… I think my apartment alone cost about $1,200 per month (and my apartment was only about 700 square feet!). 

That meant I only had about $800 left over per month to pay for insurance, food, necessities, fuel, medical bills, etc. 

I was living a pretty Spartan lifestyle. 

And that’s when I decided to make a small change: I found a roommate. 

Believe it or not, finding a roommate can be one of the most effective ways to save money on a tight budget – because your roommate should pay 50% of your living expenses.

That includes 50% of your:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Miscellaneous

When I found my roommate, I automatically saved $600 per month ($7,200 per year!) and at least for me, that money made a huge difference in my life. 

What did I do with my extra $600 per month? 

I invested it! Obviously!

Here’s what I would recommend:

  • If you’re able to save and invest several $100 every month, consider downloading the M1 Finance investing app – it’s very easy to use and is made for investors who can afford to invest $100’s or $1,000’s
  • If you’re at the beginning of your investing journey and aren’t able to invest $100’s, that’s ok – then consider opening the micro-investing app Acorns. You can start investing with as little as $5!

The earlier you start investing, the faster you’ll achieve your financial goals.

The last thing you want is to have an issue with your new roommate, so be prepared to take some time before finding the right person.

9. Cut the Cord


We all love TV, but TV doesn’t necessarily love our wallets.

In fact, the average cost of cable TV is between $45 to $130 per month per customer… which means you could expect to pay between $540 to $1,560 per year just to have the privilege to watch TV.

No thanks.

One of the fastest ways to save money on a tight budget is to cut the cord. 

That doesn’t mean you have to lose your TV-watching ability. In fact, there is a program that’s like TV – just at a much lower cost. 

It’s called Philo, which is live and on-demand TV.

Philo offers you 60+ channels for just $25 per month. You can also record your TV shows, stream on up to 3 devices at the same time and you can create up to 10 profiles per Philo account.

And no, the TV channels don’t suck, either – you’ll get channels like:

  • TLC
  • MTV
  • A&E
  • AMC
  • History
  • Hallmark
  • Food Network

Cut the cord today and you’ll see a major increase in your savings.

10. Cut your Recurring Monthly Expenses


Often, it’s the small expenses that can make a big difference in your budget.

A small leak can sink a great ship.

One of the savviest ways to save money on a tight budget is to cut your recurring, monthly costs. 

When I was living on my $2,000 monthly salary in Miami, I vigorously searched through my monthly expenses and found that I was overpaying on the following:

  • Cable TV
  • Internet bill
  • Cellphone bill
  • Music subscription

In fact, just the other day, I found out that I was overpaying on my internet bill – by about $20 per month! 

So I called my internet provider and negotiated a new monthly rate where I would be paying $25 less per month in exchange for the same internet speed. 

Why?

Because I was a loyal customer and my internet company did not want to lose me.

Now, not everyone has time to reach out to each of their providers – be it internet, cellphone, TV, etc. 

So, you can hire a negotiating company like Truebill, which will negotiate on your behalf with your providers to cut the cost of your service bills.

If Truebill fails to lower the cost of your bills, you don’t pay.

If Truebill is successful, then you pay 40% of what you save in the newly reduced bill.

11. Make Small Changes in your Budget to Yield Large Results


When I was living on a tight budget, I decided that I would try to save $1,000 in 1 year. 

My goal was pretty awesome – but I had absolutely no idea how to achieve it.

It was just a goal with a huge number.

Because I had no idea how to accomplish my budget goal, I actually fell short of saving $1,000 in 12 months – I did not give myself any direction. 

That’s when it clicked: If you want to make a big change, you have to start with small changes first. 

So, if your goal is to save $1,000, you’ll want to break down this large goal into many smaller – and actionable – goals first. 

Here’s how I decided to break down saving $1,000 a year:

  • Saving $83.33 per month
  • Saving $18.23 per week
  • Saving $2.74 per day

Now, the question changes from “how can I save $1,000 per year” to “how can I save $2.74 per day?”

And honestly, when I asked myself if I would be willing to save $2.74 a day, I knew I could make a very small adjustment in my budget to make that goal a reality. 

I am a huge fan of YNAB (aka You Need a Budget), which is what I used to tweak my spending pattern (hint: I canceled a lot of subscription services) to save more money.

Did I achieve my goal?

No. I exceeded my goal – instead of saving $2.74 a day, I saved just around $3 per day and reached my $1,000 goal before the 12 months were up!

12. Eat Before You Grocery Shop


I learned a very important – and very expensive lesson – when I was living in Miami on a $2,000 per month income: Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

One (very long) day after work, I had to go grocery shopping because I had no more food in my refrigerator (I was living a very meager lifestyle) and I was starving. 

Keep in mind that after paying for my rent, I only had about $800 per month to spend on my daily living expenses… and I spent $600 on groceries that night. 

It was a rough month, to say the least.

Here’s what I learned: You buy with your stomach if you’re hungry, and you buy with your brain if you’re full. 

Do yourself – and your budget – the favor of going shopping on a full stomach.

Related: Frugal Living Hacks

13. Sell Old Stuff


Almost everyone has junk lying around somewhere. If you want to save money on a tight budget, then it’s time to get rid of your old stuff.

For me, old stuff just:

  • Wastes time
  • Wastes money
  • Takes up space

Thanks to technology, you can sell your old stuff using well-known platforms like:

For those of you who have old technology (like old DVDs, CDs, or ancient gadgets), you may want to check out Decluttr.

Decluttr specializes in buying used technology to help you make space and money.

You can enter your tech items’ barcodes into Decluttr’s valuation calculator (desktop or smartphone) and receive an instant offer

Nevertheless, a few $1’s invested can make a big difference in the future.

14. Stop Going Out to Eat


Eating out can cost you 
a lot of money in the long run. 

And what I’m about to tell you may hurt – especially if you’re a foodie – but you need to hear it from someone who went through the same experience (aka me). 

Living in Miami, you’re exposed to some of the best (and most expensive) foods in the world. 

That’s why eating out in Miami is so much fun – especially if you’re working and you barely have any time to cook and clean the dishes. 

But eating out can drain your budget. 

In fact, the average American spends around $3,000 per year just eating out.

The average American spends around $3,000 per year just eating out

Source: Money Under 30

Don’t be like the average American.

Instead, consider meal prepping every Sunday for the week ahead. 

Meal prepping might be a little boring (and bland), but it’s very budget-friendly and can help you cut out time that’s wasted on just wondering what you plan to make for dinner or lunch. 

Always review your budget to make sure that you’re still on track to hit your goals. 

And – if you are on track to hit your goals – then you should treat yourself once in a while to a lunch or a dinner out! You have to enjoy life after all 🙂

15. Monitor your Budget


The trick to becoming a master budgeter is to remain flexible. 

Why?

That’s because life happens.

There will be days when you’ll need to spend extra money on things like a:

  • Flat tire
  • Vet bill
  • Leaky roof

So, if you have an extra expense in one category (like a vet bill), you should expect to adjust your expenses in another category (like groceries). 

adjusted budget example

The picture above is a perfect illustration of how a flexible budget can keep you in good financial shape – even when life throws curveballs your way. 

If you’re ready to take the next step and join forces with a budgeting app that has helped first-time budgeters save $6,000+ in just one year, consider YNAB [aka You Need a Budget].

YNAB is a budgeting app that is based on 4 pillars:

  • Give every dollar a job
  • Embrace your true expenses
  • Roll with the punches (aka flexibility)
  • Age your money (aka spend last month’s money)

The only guarantee in life is change itself.

Be prepared for the curveballs, budget appropriately, and plan ahead.

16. Make Short Term & Long Term Goals


Living in Miami, it’s easy to get carried away living on a $2,000 monthly salary when all you see is the people living on a $200,000 monthly salary. 

You see the Lamborghinis, the mansions, the glitz, and the glam. 

…And then you see your own, measly 700 square foot apartment and your very empty refrigerator 🤦‍♀️

So, it’s only natural that you start thinking about your big, long-term goals, like:

  • Buying a sports car
  • Traveling the world
  • Buying a $5,000,000 mansion
  • Buying the latest designer clothes

These goals are great – but it’s important to break down your financial goals into mini, actionable steps. 

Some mini-goals include:

  • Save $1,000 by the end of this year
  • Pay off credit card debt in 6 months
  • Invest $10,000 every year for 5 years 
  • Build a side hustle to earn an extra $500 per month
  • Negotiate salary or find a better job if my salary does not increase by 20% within 12 months

Stop trying to guess where your future will be.

Instead, create your future one step at a time.

17. Earn Money while Watching TV


I picked up this trick back in college, from one of my roommates.

You can literally earn money while watching TV on a lazy Saturday morning… all while in your pajamas and your bed.

How? 

By taking paid online surveys through platforms like Survey Junkie.

Survey Junkie is an online survey platform where you take surveys (which can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 25+ minutes) in exchange for money.

Getting paid to take surveys (while watching TV!) is probably one of the most fun ways to save money on a tight budget. 

PS – don’t forget to invest your pocket change through apps like Acorns!

Budgeting Rules to Help Save More Money


Budgeting is an art – and not really a science. 

In fact, to become a successful budgeter, you’ll need to embrace the art of flexibility. 

That’s because life happens. 

Sometimes, you’ll have to spend more money in one area of your budget (like an unexpected vet bill), and other times you’ll have to spend more money in another area of your budget (like gifts, because it’s the holiday season). 

The point is this: Stay flexible with your budget.

So, to help you in your budgeting journey, I’ve created a small outline of the best budgeting rules of thumb that you can implement while you save money on a tight budget:

Type of Expense Rule of Thumb

Monthly housing debt

< 28% gross monthly income

Total monthly consumer debt

< 20% of net monthly income

Total monthly debt payments

< 36% of gross monthly income

Retirement & savings

> 20% of gross monthly income

Housing debt includes expenses geared toward some of the categories below:

  • Rent
  • Taxes
  • Interest
  • Principal
  • HOA fees
  • Insurance

Total monthly consumer debt includes expenses like the following:

  • Lines of credit
  • Cash advances
  • Credit card debt

Total monthly debt payments include expenses in the following categories:

  • Car loan payments
  • Mortgage payments
  • Credit card payments
  • Student loan obligations

Of course, retirement and savings include any “payments” made toward your employer-sponsored retirement plans (like 401ks), your individual retirement accounts (like IRAs), or your savings accounts – just to name a few examples.

fiona smith the millennial money woman

The Bottom Line:

The earlier you start saving, the more likely you’ll reach your goals – whether you want to achieve early retirement, build long-term wealth, or simply go on that family vacation you’ve always dreamed about.

FAQs

Here are a few ways you can save money with a low income:

  • Stop eating out
  • Find a roommate
  • Download savings apps
  • Stop using credit cards
  • Pay off high-interest debt
  • Budget early & budget often
  • Automate your savings strategy

You can save and invest money with a low income. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s certainly a doable feat. You just have to commit yourself.

First, save between 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses in a high yield savings account. This is your emergency fund. Next, aim to invest a minimum of 20% of your total monthly income. If your goal is to retire early, 20% isn’t going to cut it. You may need to save at least 30% or more.

Here are a few ways you can save 1000 a month:

  • Stop eating out
  • Create a budget
  • Pay bills on time
  • Find a roommate
  • Start a side hustle
  • Sell your used stuff
  • Download savings apps
  • Pay off high-interest debt
  • Download cashback apps

Just remember that you can save money – it’s not going to be easy, but it can be done.

Here are a few tricks to save money on a tight budget:

  • Cut the cord
  • Stop eating out
  • Pay yourself first
  • Find a roommate
  • Stop using credit cards
  • Download coupon apps
  • Pay off high-interest debt
  • Negotiate recurring costs
  • Automate your investments

Closing Thoughts


Believe it or not, there are so many different ways to save money on a tight budget.

Is it going to be difficult?

Absolutely. 

The good news, however, is that saving money on a low income can be done – I’ve done it myself when I was earning $2,000 a month in my early 20’s.

Personally, I saved about 30% of my expenses by just cutting the cord, and by dedicating myself to the budgeting app – YNAB (aka You Need a Budget).

You can save money on a tight budget if you are:

  • Consistent
  • Disciplined
  • Committed

As you set out on your journey to save money on a tight budget, just remember that it’s important to understand why you are doing what you are doing. 

Are you saving money to:

  • Buy a new car
  • Buy a new home
  • Save for retirement
  • Pay off credit card debt
  • Pay for a family vacation

If you understand the reason behind your money savings goal, you’ll be much more likely to accomplish that goal – because you have a purpose.

When you protect your purpose, your purpose will protect you.

And in this case, your purpose will likely serve as the fuel to help you reach your money savings goal. 

Start today because your bank accounts will thank me tomorrow.

What were some of your favorite ways to save money on a tight budget? Let me know in the comment section below.

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Fiona Smith
Fiona Smith
The Millennial Money Woman was founded by Fiona Smith. She holds her Master of Science Degree in Personal Financial Planning and has co-founded a local non-profit community teaching financial literacy to young professionals.

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