Tips for living on a budget enjoying life . 12 categories where you can save thousands

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Living on a budget is possible also enjoying a good life. This article is the result of an intense week research online and many years personal experience.

Table of Contents

It is common to hear “Live life to its fullest”. That is great and it is not the same as spend as much as you can. There are lots of things we can do and most of them have a way to do it spending a lot of money and another way to do it saving money or even free.

The Gist (“Too Long Didn’t Read” version of the article)

This article has many tips. Pick the category you’re most interested in and bookmark this page to read it fully later or when you need to apply another category. It is better to fully apply a tip and once mastered continue with another. The more tips you master, the more you keep living on a budget (spending plan). Therefore, the more you save and the more you can put towards your financial goals.

The following tips are sorted by savings impact. First those triggering biggest savings linked to essentials like shelter. Then those that are non essentials to live but important and fun like sport and entertainment.

  1. Blocking beliefs
  2. Couples
  3. EverybodyMoney management
  4. Shelter
  5. Food
  6. Transport
  7. Grooming
  8. Sport
  9. Travel and Holidays
  10. Shopping
  11. Social activities and entertainment
  12. Other leisure activities
Blocking belief
Psychology: Blocking beliefs

1 Blocking beliefs

  • “The government is blocking my progress”: United States ranks 48 among 158 countries sorted by income tax. [1] On average, it is by far not the biggest taxing country. In exchange, people living in the United States benefit from public education, roads, security, emergency and social services for those in need, etc. As in most countries, the benefit received highly surpasses the amount paid. You get a bargain!
  • “‘Unexpected expenses’ made me not follow my budget”: There are emergencies, like accidents or natural disasters. Those cannot be planned. But Christmas’ gifts happen every year at the same date. Similar cases are birthdays, anniversaries, taxes, new tires for car, children outgrowing clothes. Those can be planned and are not ‘unexpected’. They are just sometimes not planned in a budget.
  • “I do not have time to budget”: It is like saying “I am too busy to manage money”. Most of us are busy. And a budget takes 1 hour to create and 10 minutes to check every month. See our article How to make a budget to help. Besides, after constant budgeting, not applying your spending plan (budget) would take more time than actually following it. That, because you live on a budget and free yourself from activities that only make you spend more without giving you long-term satisfaction.
  • “I do not want to deal with money”: This idea could come from deep beliefs that make you feel bad when you think about money. Be honest with yourself and write what exactly bothers you. Ideas like “money is the root of all evil” have affected many people. Nevertheless, we need to handle money to cover our expenses. Even most basic needs like food and shelter. That’s for sure!
    • Check previous 2 months expenses.
      • Which are you proud of? You could keep those if they make you reach your financial goals. See our article on Financial planning.
      • Which previous expenses bother or embarrass you? Just cut them. Not only you will spend less, you will avoid yourself future bad feelings.
  • “I will never get my money problems solved”: When financial issues are added constantly, the fear of never solving the problem appears. But are those fears based on real unavoidable obstacles? Does your debt amount seem too big? Is your variable income the reason for your money problems? Debt and variable income are tackled in our article How to make a budget. Take a look at it and stay on track to use the right tools. There are also unreasonable fears like “I’ll never be rich”. That needs a plan of action in small bite-size steps. You can do whatever you want if you consistently take action and change your approach if something doesn’t work!

2 Couples

Couples
Couple tips for living on a budget
  • Does your spouse/partner spend too much money? Consider the maxim: “The only person I can change is myself”. Once you change and follow a budget, your partner will be inspired and motivated to change. If bad spending habits persist to a point where your partner is the only responsible for your financial mess, that is a relationship problem. That is not a one person financial problem.
  • You and your spouse are a team. You can dream together. It is fun, therapeutic and empowering to talk and set financial goals together.
    • Speak honestly: Communicate openly and lovingly on things like derailing spending habits. A peaceful and calm conversation is crucial. When talking try to avoid reactive argument. To help you and your spouse be calm enough to start a good conversation, pray or meditate together.
  • Keep romance alive: Do not let budget interfere with romance. You don’t have to spend recklessly to keep romance alive. Just be intentional about marriage. You are together in your budget endeavor. So, you can well enjoy the ride.
    • Get outside for relaxing romance: You can get creative to turn up romance and not spend a lot of money. For instance, go for a picnic with a bottle of wine together.
  • Are you in a couple and/or have children? You could budget together. It is more than beneficial to talk to children about money and budgeting early in their lives.

3 Everybody

  • Ask for the gift you want
    • You might get it. If not, your friends and family could give you cash or a gift card to put toward large, wish-list purchases.
  • Negotiate your bills: Find the cheaper alternative online and show it to your provider to try to lower the bill. The price reduction they propose might not be enough for you. Then pick the best offer matching your needs you can find in an online comparator. You could also use a tool like Billshark to reduce your bills. Billshark website argues it can reduce on 25% your monthly bills in 2 minutes. The tip about negotiating can be applied to almost any bill:
    • Cell phone plan
      • Freedompop provides free cellphone calling plan. Nevertheless it has restrictions like not always being able to receive calls, 500 MB internet, etc.
    • Utilities.
    • Car insurance.
    • Rent or home owner insurance.
    • Cable and internet.
  • Prevent impulse buying and temptation
    • Block ads: Use web browsers like Brave that has Ad-Block integrated. Also, incognito modes prevents web browsers from taking your data and offering you tempting offers. All that reduce your exposition to advertising. Same principle can be applied in mobile phone. A web searching tool like DuckDuckGo is an alternative to Google to reduce exposition to ads also.
    • Curb spending by enforcing a 24-hour waiting period: Sites like Amazon and other online sellers make extremely easy to buy online. This can be a disadvantage if you’re living on a budget. Hopefully, you can search for your products in private mode and without logging into your online seller account. It means, without being tracked by many websites. After at least 24 hours reflection, if you still think you need to buy something, use your browser in normal mode. You can then log into your Amazon or online seller account. Online sellers like Amazon provide special offers like free delivery if you buy an item a few minutes after seeing it. The 24 hours period let you avoid impulsive buying and still enjoy the free delivery offer.
    • Don’t look at sales advertising: Specially when you can’t pass up a bargain, even less if it is something you don’t need. Don’t go look for offers on new cars, houses, watches or whatever your temptation is if you know you can’t afford more payments.
    • If you have to do an effort to spend, your natural reaction will be to not spend. When you get the habit of not spending, you realize that looking for a product or service to buy is time consuming. It takes time to search and find a product that fits your desires. So, you can end up doing the research only for absolutely needed products.
  • Swap services (barter) with friends: Let’s say one of your friends needs help with the computer and has a network of friends. You are maybe computer savvy and need help with your dog. You could guide your friend in computer topics and he/she can help you dog sitting for instance. Friends can also put you in contact with someone whose skills you’re looking for.
  • Take care of things to let them last longer.

Money management

Money management
Money management
  • Appreciate your emergency fund: Value it as it grows. Where you keep your emergency fund is as important as building it.
    • Don’t carelessly spend it on non-emergencies. You can set up a special account, perhaps even at a different bank. Making the money harder to withdraw will help you think twice about what an actual emergency is.
  • Automate bill payments and savings: This avoids forgetting due payments. Hence avoiding late fees and money stress. Also, this saves you time. There are people with different approaches. I prefer to see my bank account balance every month and see how I progress. Then, manually do the manual payments. But I admit it takes a few minutes. Automating it would make things faster. Choose what works best for you.
    • Makes easier the “pay yourself first” rule described later in this section.
    • How?
      • Your employer deposits directly in your savings account.
      • Scheduling automatic transfers on a day after you receive your monthly income.
      • Using an app that lets you save on round-ups in every purchase. For instance, Acorns.
  • Be honest about needs vs wants
    • Need: food, water, shelter, clothing, health care.
    • Wants: anything you can live without. Fancy restaurant, mortgage above your means.
    • Better to buy a car on cash and save thanks to only one payment rather than taking a loan to buy a much more expensive car in many small payments.
  • Challenge yourself to live on even less: That, to prevent a budget from controlling you. You are in control and can gamify the process aiming to save more. For example it is possible to carpool and save more than initially expected.
  • Choose a budgeting system that works for you. There are many types like:
    • 50/30/20 budgeting.
    • Cash envelope system.
    • Zero-based budgeting.
    • Half payment method.
    • Values based budgeting.
    • All above except half payment are in How to make a budget. Also, use a budget planner. It lets you track income, expenses, debt payment, savings and progress toward goals. See our article Budgeting apps for further detail.
  • How to survive on a tight budget?
    • Avoid non essentials (“wants”) and save on bare-essentials (“needs”). If you have doubt differentiating them, check our article How to make a budget.
    • Even $1 per day or pay period that go towards savings is important. The key factor is consistency. It brings peace of mind.
  • Look for special discounts: You might qualify for a special rate such as a student, senior, unemployed, local, veteran, club associate or union member. Have your appropriate identification with you as physical card or at least in photo. The photos could be in your cellphone and even online on an encrypted easy to use app like Tresorit.
  • Pay bills in a bigger period.
    • Paying yearly instead of monthly can let you save money in the long-term. Apply this only on services you are sure you need.
  • Pay high interest debt as fast as possible: Picture your life without debts to motivate you. Ending high interest debt will make you save money on interest. Also, having a low debt to income ratio and a solid credit score can help you later down the road when applying for a mortgage for example. Consumer debt like credit card tends to have the highest interest rates. On the US, the average credit card interest was 16.28%. And it has been going up at least since 2016 based on Fed’s Consumer Credit Review [2]. Two common methods to choose the order to pay debts are “Debt snowball” and “Debt avalanche:
    • Snowball: Pay debts from lowest balance to highest.
      • Advantage: Getting rid of small debts faster.
    • Avalanche: Pay debts from highest Annual Percentage Rate (APR) to lowest.
      • Advantage: Getting rid of highest interest debt faster. Once the debt is gone, keep making those payments to your emergency fund. Or towards your goals if emergency fund of 3-6 months expenses is already built. For further details about emergency fund, check our article How to make a budget.
  • Pay yourself first, no exceptions: Its goal is to save before you spend. Savings should be in your budget. Besides, a separate account makes it difficult to spend that money as it would take around 3 business days to transfer. Nevertheless, your emergency fund should be available in a shorter period to let you cover real emergencies.
  • Save your windfalls: Put them in your emergency fund. Some people call it also sinking fund (for medical and accidents). If you’re paid biweekly, save your occasional third paycheck when it arrives. Consider putting it in a high yield savings account or other Passive income ideas. Windfalls include unexpected extra money like:
    • “Found” money you forgot you had.
    • Inheritance.
    • Rebates or refunds.
    • Stimulus checks.
    • Tax refunds.
  • Stop credit cards: If you have no credit cards, spending tracking is easier. You would have only one debit account. If you already have credit cards, try leaving them at home. At least temporarily, to not hurt your credit score due to too much spending
    • If you still want to use rewards credit cards: Spend only what you can afford and pay the same month to avoid interest. Credit cards include rewards for frequent traveler or buyers of specific products and services. You might be a frequent traveler (for work or family), so use a credit card whose rewards are for frequent flights and hotels bought.
  • Track every penny when living on a tight budget: Use what you can stick with. There are many tools like notebooks, apps or spreadsheets. They identify categories you overspent on and can cut on temporarily. Many Budgeting apps include also goal progress tracking. For further details, read our article on How to make a budget.
  • Use money saving apps: See our articles Coupon apps and Budgeting apps for detailed alternatives.
Essentials
Tips on essentials like food and shelter

4 Shelter

  • Activate your Do It Yourself (DIY) mode: For easy home improvements like painting and changing cabinet hardware. On a few cases, a video on YouTube can quickly guide you.
  • Consider finding a cheaper place to live: Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. This can be anything from living in a fancy neighborhood that we can barely afford to opt for the two-bedroom when we only need a one-bedroom.
    • Run the numbers. It could be cheaper to offer to pay for a hotel room for your guests than paying a two bedroom monthly rent when you need only one bedroom apartment. Most guests might choose an air mattress in your living room.
  • Get Roommates: If you have the space needed, consider getting a roommate. This doesn’t have to be forever. For detailed tools on renting, see our article Passive income ideas.
  • Negotiate with your landlord: If you have been living in the same apartment for 2 years, you might want to talk to your landlord. Sometimes, a landlord would prefer to keep their good tenants by providing alternatives. Most landlords do not want to risk getting a new tenant that will cause them problems.
  • Rent a comfortable place instead of buying:
    • It avoids property taxes, maintenance, repairs, etc.
  • Save on utilities
    • Turn down heater a few degrees in winter and use less air conditioning in summer.
    • Change utility provider. For instance, in France, Direct Energie offers low-cost electricity. Checking an online comparator can save you money. See tip “Negotiating your bills” in Money management section above.
    • Energy saving light bulbs: replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL).
  • Use second-hand and vintage home styles
    • Instead of always buying brand-new items or trendy ones.

5 Food

Average American spends between $4k and $14k per year according to the United States Department of Agriculture [3]. Hence, food is a category on which you can make important savings with your budget that benefit you.

  • Brew your own coffee.
  • Eat leftovers: Cook a quantity needed for 2 days. You could keep it in the fridge and use microwave to warm it and eat it when you want. Cooking every 2 or 3 days will also save you time. Aim for zero food waste. Even more important as there are 144 million children under 5 stunted according to the United Nations [4].
  • Eat well on less
    • Check local farmers for best prices. It is wise to visit them at the end of the day when farmers want to discount their remaining products.
    • Check portion eaten. You can save more and stay in shape at the same time.
    • Get needed nutrients and stay on budget: Check which type on categories below are the cheapest in your preferred hard discounter supermarket. For instance:
      • Fruits (bananas, oranges).
      • Vegetables (potatoes and carrots).
      • Milk and bread.
    • Easy to do frugal recipes exist like pancakes for breakfast. They need mostly flour and a fruit. Many other alternatives exist. For example, here below a few ideas on rice complements to be delicious and still be frugal:
      • Tomato, potatoes, onion, cilantro and bell pepper.
      • Above ingredients’ variant removes potato and cilantro but adds a white sauce. A basic sauce can be done using flour, milk and butter. Add cheese if possible.
      • Another variant adds veggies and a jar of sofrito. A pinch of cumin goes well on it.
  • Plan your meals and pack them to work and for children: Prepare your food as frequent as you can. As food is already prepared it avoids the desire to buy more food or go to a restaurant.
  • For eating out
    • Test quality over quantity. Instead many fast food, save for a nice restaurant once a month. It could be one way to celebrate a milestone in your budget progress like an emergency fund creation.
    • Prefer lunch instead of dinner: Prices are lower at launch than at dinner.
  • Groceries: Use Couponing apps.
    • Avoid impulse buying
      • Go to buy with a groceries list.
      • Don’t shop when you’re hungry.
      • Have a refillable bottle of water: It avoids the temptation of eating, keeps you healthy and you can refill it in many places.
    • Buy generic and in season products: Every magazine, even hard discounters, have their own brand products. They are mostly cheaper than others. So, prefer off-brand stuff and in-season items.
    • Frequent items and in discount stores (Lid’l): Once you identify the frequent items you buy you can:
      • Have a list of prices for them to avoid being over-budget at check-out counter.
      • Stock up when they are on sale.
    • Perishables: Buy once a week on weekends perishables like veggies and fruits. The less frequent shopping, the less impulse buying. If you throw food because it perish, then buy less or less perishable.
    • Weekly sales: Check those from your preferred low-cost supermarket.

6 Transport

You might choose public transport instead of using a car. Or even a bicycle can be good for your budget and your health. If you still determine you must use a car, then:

  • About auto costs
    • Lower auto insurance (lower premium paid by increasing deductible). A bigger deductible should be covered with your emergency fund.
    • Bundling trips saves you money on gas and keeps you focused on reasons you are drive for.
  • Carpool: For taking kids to school, commuting to work and other errands.
  • Prefer used cars: Ensure it is in good conditions to avoid frequent repairs.
  • Use a wholesale store membership: Main benefit is in gas station. Verify its costs are cheap enough to justify the membership price.
Non essentials and entertainment
Tips on non essentials and entertainment

7 Grooming

You can pamper yourself for a cheaper enjoyable spa and hair cut. Or get a low rate at salon schools and student spas.

For girls, a manicure and pedicure with close friends can be an interesting idea. And for toiletries:

  • Use Coupon apps for skincare and hair products that are not cheap.
  • Instead of buying face scrubs, make your own.
  • Soap can replace shaving cream and disposable razors last longer when not left in the shower.
  • It might be hard but worth it to avoid getting your hair colored temporarily.

8 Sport

  • Barter for workouts
    • Help the gym owner after your gym classes by checking visitors, running front desk, answering phone, etc.
  • Cut gym membership
    • You can exercise at home. There are many free apps to workout that do not require equipment like Home workout. If you still want to use weight training like dumbbells you could get thousands of detailed routines with videos on Muscle and Strength.
  • Take advantage of nature
    • Run, walk, hike or swim depending on your surroundings. Nature landscapes beat any gym’s wall.

9 Travel and Holidays

Vacations can be satisfying and not expensive. Your own city has certainly many attractions. Even if they are closed, nature and surroundings can be a good reason to stay in your city instead of traveling abroad. Avoid travels now due to Covid. Once vaccinated, respecting governments regulation and using flexible dates flights you could:

  • Check alternative accommodations: Instead of a hotel consider AirBnB, Couchsurfing, Home Exchange.
  • Test airfare savings apps: Hitlist monitors fares from your home airport and alerts you when hot deals arise. Hopper analyzes historical airfare data and lets you know whether to buy now or wait until there is a great deal. Skiplagged reveals potential savings through strategies like hidden-city.
  • Try advantaged exchange rate travel
    • Your currency could be worth a lot in other countries. Consider countries where high inflation has devalued their currencies. Like Lebanon, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba [5].
  • Short trips instead of long vacations: It could be easier to unplug from work if you take long weekends and not 1 or 2 weeks straight.
  • Use your network to travel: Visit your friends and ask for accommodation advice where they are. They might accept to accommodate you or put you in contact with other close friend.

10 Shopping

There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars to feel rich with your dressing. You can choose to dress well every time you leave the house. If you still think you need new clothes:

  • Host a high-end clothing swap event: You can establish the swapping rules or ask your friends what they prefer.
  • Opt for accessories rather than outfits: One accessory is cheaper than a full outfit. Both can be impacted by passing trends styles and you might end-up swapping, renting or selling them once not anymore interested.

If ideas above are not enough, you could also rent luxury fashion and not buying. It is possible with sites like Lending Luxury or Bag Borrow or Steal. And if after trying all mentioned before you keep willing to buy something:

  • Buy designer items used: Beware of imitations and check sites like like eBay and ThredUp. Even discount stores might have a few designer jeans and bags.
  • Shop out of season: Swimwear in fall, beach clothes in winter, pulls in summer and boots in spring are at clearance rates.

Buying, selling and swapping are also possible in many sites like Facebook Market Place.

11 Social activities and entertainment

First of all, don’t let others control your time. Have the determination to say no when you have something else more valuable for you to do.

That said, free entertainment is available in places like local libraries, museums and public parks. Also, websites like Meetup show free in person and online events. You can find book clubs, zen activities, language sharing, and many others. It is a great way to enjoy your city, try different activities and make new friends without busting your budget.

If besides the free activities, you still want others, check your social activities frequency. If you go out 5 times a week, how about trying 2 times a week. Do you still feel fine? Maybe you don’t need all those outings.

On any case, remember 2 things: you can do lots of things at home and you don’t have to give up on your social life to save money. Here a few ideas:

  • Replace a date night out with a date night in.
    • Movies: choose an old movie you have, one you downloaded or that is online. Make some pop corn and don’t forget your preferred beverage.
    • Fancy dinner: No need to spend a lot of money for fancy food like surf and turf. Buy some steaks and lobster tail in hard discount supermarket and make your own fancy meal.
  • Replace the bar and host friends at home: Everyone can bring a dish. Tell them what to bring to not end up having too much of same thing: like only drinks. Other ideas include:
    • Game night: Lots of games are available: pokeno, poker, Cards Against Humanity, Monopoly, twister, bingo, etc.
    • Dish making party: pizza, or many other dishes friends might want to prepare in small groups. How about a pizza contest on which team can make the best one?
    • Brunch: Great for holidays and weekends. Make some french toasts and prepare a cocktail. There are lots of cocktails ideas online like sparking wine to prepare mimosas.

Other ideas based on your specific interest:

  • Cocktails and alcohol
    • Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB): Find a restaurant that lets you bring your own wine. Even with corkage fee it is cheaper that paying the wine glass at restaurant rates.
    • Happy hours deals: most places offer them to get lower price drinks at certain times during the night.
    • Host a cocktail making party: Ask everyone to bring a bottle and a snack. Add karaoke for a more enjoyable night.
    • Pregame: Many recommend taking a few drinks at home before going out. That might sound good but you get a higher likelihood of getting drunk.
  • Netflix, Disney+ and streaming services
    • Consider selecting one or two streaming services at a time. If you mostly watch one and rarely the other, just cancel the less watched one.
    • If you are signing up for just one show, ask family members or friends to split the cost.
    • Plan a night with a friend who has access to the show or the movies you are dying to watch.
  • Eating out: Look for restaurant’s specials as they are typically cheaper. Skip costly complements like appetizers and dessert.
    • Lunch is usually a lot cheaper than dinner in most restaurants.
  • Movies and theaters: Dollar theaters are a way to get cheaper tickets. Look for discount days. For instance, cinemas can choose to offer lower price tickets on Tuesdays. They know less people go to cinemas those days and in exchange you can go and enjoy a film with less people. If cheaper tickets are not offered maybe cheaper snacks.
    • How about a movie night at home? Instead of cinema tickets and snacks spending, maybe Netflix is enough, or free content online.

If you still want to do expensive entertainment activities, check sites like Groupon and Living Social. There you can find deals on spas, dinners, tours, paint nites, wine tastings, etc.

12 Other leisure activities

Have fun to prevent boredom. A bored person can be more prone to fail in following a budget. As mentioned in section before, there are lots of free outdoor activities. Outdoors ones like hiking, biking and going to free concerts. Also indoors ones such as going to museums, blogging, painting and woodworking.

  • Are you a smoker? Not only is it bad for your health but it is too expensive. Many websites like smokefree can help you with that.
  • Cut the cable: Between 2009 and 2019, Americans watch TV daily between 2 and 5 hours on average according to Statista. It is a drain of energy, time and money as TV services keep climbing [6].
    • If you watch mostly local channels then replace cable with a digital antenna.
    • If you are more a movie person then consider a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu but share subscriptions with friends or family.
  • Enjoy introductory specials: Check fine print to ensure you can cancel at anytime or you comply with conditions under which you can cancel.
  • Get a membership on the place you frequent the most: Do you go weekly to a museum or zoo with children? That is a good opportunity.
  • Reading: It makes you smarter, wiser and more disciplined. That helps while living on a budget.
    • Opt for downloaded audio books and free audio books and podcasts instead of audiobook subscription. A good audiobook is like a good book, its teachings are so useful you can revisit it again to constantly apply their principles.
    • Sign for free at the public local library: Then you can access free digital audio books, books, and other resources to borrow.
  • Save on event tickets: Many are free, but if you want that event and can afford it based on your spending plan (How to make a budget) then use sites like Vivid Seats to get a cheaper price.

What is the next step?

You know now how to live on a budget and save money while enjoying your life. Keep in mind there is a limit on how much you can save but none on how much you can earn. Do you want to make more money? Check our articles Make money from home and Passive income ideas. Your hobbies and mastered marketable skills can make you money also.

Sources

[1] Trading Economics, List of Countries by Personal Income Tax Rate; at https://tradingeconomics.com/country-list/personal-income-tax-rate (visited June 26, 2021).

[2] Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Consumer Credit – G.19; at https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/ (visited June 27, 2021).

[3] United States Department of Agriculture – Economic Research Service, Food spending as a share of income declines as income rises; at https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58372 (visited June 27, 2021).

[4] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Goals 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; at https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal2 (visited June 27, 2021).

[5] Trading economics, Inflation Rate – Country list; at https://tradingeconomics.com/country-list/inflation-rate (visited June 27, 2021).

[6] Consumer Reports, Cable TV Prices Are Climbing for 2020; at https://www.consumerreports.org/tv-service/cable-tv-prices-climbing/ (visited June 27, 2021).

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