10 Smart Tricks to Start Saving Money Today

A woman sits in a restaurant and smiles while taking a photo of the bill with her phone


If you're living paycheck to paycheck, it may seem nearly impossible to save money and stick to a budget. But take solace in the fact that you're not alone. Nearly 54 percent of all Americans find themselves in a similar situation.

So how are you supposed to save money for a rainy day (or a broken-down car or a hospital bill) when you can barely make ends meet as it is? One easy way is to look at your recurring bills to see if you can save money on them or cut them out entirely.

From turning down the thermostat a degree or two to purchasing consignment clothing and lots of ideas in between, these 10 tips can help you start to shave off your expenses and save money.

1. Look for better car insurance rates

To operate a vehicle, you have to have insurance. But that doesn’t mean you have to have the most expensive insurance out there. And, depending on how much you use your car and for what purpose, there are many different insurance options.

Not sure where to start? Try first looking into a car insurance comparison site that can help you easily see the difference in rates and coverage. If you find a better rate, you can take it to your current provider who may be able to match it. (In the end, it’s often better for them to retain a customer.)

There are other ways to lower your monthly rate as well. Ask your provider if they offer discounts for installing anti-theft devices, taking defensive driving courses, or having good credit scores. Ultimately, it costs nothing to check into better rates so go ahead and see what's out there.

2. Turn down that thermostat

For many places in the country, the summer and winter months yield higher gas and electric bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save as much as 10% per year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7° to 10°F for eight hours a day from your typical setting.

That doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortably hot or cold. For instance, consider changing the thermostat for the hours you’re asleep or when you’re at work. Or, better yet, invest in a smart thermostat which can allow you to schedule your system to work less when you're not home and to turn it on or off remotely to save even more money.

3. Review your mobile phone plan

Many of us pay our mobile bills every month without really looking at them. Do you even know what you're paying for? You might have services on the plan that you don't even use. For example, do you really need all the minutes or data on your plan? Are you paying for international calling you’re not using? Are you utilizing your paid apps enough to justify the monthly expense? Check your bill against these questions, and you’re likely to find places to save.

Also, just like you can switch insurance plans, you can also switch providers to add even more mobile savings. Often, providers offer discounts to new customers or will pay termination fees if you switch from a different network.

4. Cut the cord on cable (and streaming, too)

It’s no secret that cable services are costly, and many American households have already saved hundreds (sometimes thousands) per year by switching to streaming services. Whereas you used to only contend with Netflix for streaming, now there are hundreds of players in the streaming game and trying to keep up with all the apps can bring your bill back up to near-cable levels, if not higher.

Sit down with your service bill and decide what you're really watching. Choose a few to maximize your viewing pleasure and cut out the rest. Or, better yet, cut the cord for an indefinite amount of time and see if you can get by without it. Streaming services are incredibly easy to add and cancel, so try a more conservative approach and go from there.

5. Keep an eye out for coupons and sales

Now, that's not to say you have to become a crazy couponer, but many financially savvy families are that way because they take advantage of sales and coupons. And it's really easy to take advantage of coupons and deals these days because the majority of it is digital.

Nearly every major grocery store and retail chain offers mobile apps that show you what’s on sale and allows you to "clip" coupons directly in the app. Then, when you go to check out, you can simply scan a barcode on your phone or enter your store customer ID into their system to get the discounts.

There are also online coupon websites that offer printable or digital manufacturer coupons and online discount codes. Honey, for instance, shows you savings by store and category and provides a browser plugin that alerts you when prices drop on specific items at your favorite stores.

In addition, major holidays and seasons like Memorial Day, back-to-school, and Black Friday offer major savings opportunities in stores and online. Keep an eye out for deals throughout the year.

6. Plan your grocery shopping

How many of us have gone to the grocery store with no list (or worse, hungry)? It's much harder to stay in budget and on task if you don’t have a plan.

If you go to the store with a specific list of needs based around pre-planned meals, you’ll save money by only purchasing what you need and avoiding impulse buys.

Meal planning for home-cooked meals in advance will also decrease your dependency on takeout or delivery while making your actual buying more efficient. Plus, you’re less likely to waste food if you include the quantities you need on your list.

7. Buy used clothing

Fast fashion is everywhere, there's no escaping it. And the thrill of finding an inexpensive piece of clothing you have wanted on sale is amazing. But did you know that all the mass-produced clothing is bad for your wallet (and the environment)?

Instead of constantly buying the newest thing…new, consider purchasing gently used or consigned clothing. Companies like Poshmark and ThreadUP are excellent resources for finding like-new items without leaving your house.

This comes with an important caveat, however: Just because a clothing item is cheap doesn’t mean it’s necessary — avoid the temptation to spend just because the clothes (or anything else for that matter) are on sale. If you need a new piece of clothing or an accessory, consider quality over quantity. If you can, invest in timeless pieces you can wear for years.

8. Don’t impulse buy; consider waiting 24 hours before making purchases over a certain amount

Set a dollar amount limit for yourself as to how much you and/or your family can afford to make on certain purchases ($25, $50, $100) and stick to it.  

That means, if you really want the latest streaming service but it's over $25 a month, you wait 24 hours before purchasing it. The next day you might find that you don't really want it at all anymore. Certain other items might lose their appeal too after you’ve had time to fully consider the purchase, which can help avoid impulse buys and keep you out of debt.

9. Leave the credit cards at home

Although credit cards make it easy to pay, consider leaving them at home when you leave the house. That way all temptation is removed if you should happen to see an item you want to purchase but can't afford. If you’re not comfortable carrying cash, consider a prepaid debit card instead. They work similarly to gift cards in that you preload a balance and can only spend what’s been loaded. Just keep an eye out, tough, as some prepaid cards do charge fees.

When you do need to use your credit card, try to treat it like a debit card whenever possible: i.e., don’t spend more than you can immediately pay back.

10. Be patient

Budget cuts aren’t easy, and they may not always offer a substantial fix right away. Keep assessing your wants (eating out, upgrades, designer or luxury items at full price, and streaming subscriptions) versus your needs (food, gas, rent/mortgage, clothes, and school supplies).

If you end up making an ill-advised purchase, don’t succumb to despair; it will only hurt your progress.  Learn from your error and tighten up your spending habits until you find your new groove.

Starting and sticking to a budget can seem like a daunting task. That's why we recommended starting with just one or two of these steps so you can begin to see the fruits of your effort. Once you start to save a little, that can inspire you to save more as you hone your personal finance skills.

And if you feel a bit too deep in the hole or are currently having trouble keeping up with short-term needs or an unexpected expense, consider an installment loan to help you through the tough times.