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When Money Is Tight – 25 ways to save money on a tight budget

When your budget is so tight you can't breathe, 25 ways to save, stretch, and earn more money this year.

“I have way more money than I need!” said NO ONE anywhere ever! It’s always important to make the most of the cash you have, however, it’s critical to save money on a tight budget! It important to save and stretch your dough and earn a little extra wherever you can.

Let’s face it—financial problems are stressful and NOBODY wants to worry about how to make ends meet. By changing some of your habits, implementing some new strategies, and learning new tactics to stretch and save every dime, you can make ends meet even on a tight budget!

Here are 25 ways to save money on a tight budget!

Reduce Energy Costs at Home

Changing a Light Bulb

Statistics show that electric lighting burns up to 25% of the home energy budget. That means your light bulbs are costing you, so anything you can do to cut those costs will benefit your wallet.

Maybe you’ve heard about the efficiency of LED bulbs. They use less energy and last longer than regular light bulbs, like 25,000 hours versus 1,000 hours for an incandescent.

Packaging on the 60W equivalent LEDs I recently purchased claims you will save approximately $138.00 per bulb. I wondered just how much that would add up to for me, so I wandered around my house counting light bulbs. I stopped when I reached 60 bulbs. Multiply that times $138.00 and I save $8,280.00 by using LED. Not a shabby figure, huh? And as a bonus, I won’t have to change light bulbs nearly as often. As bulbs burn out, I’m replacing them with LED. It’s a no-brainer.

LED lightbulb

Warning: At the checkout counter, LED bulbs cost a little more than regular bulbs, but in the last couple years LEDs have become much more affordable, so it’s not a big difference!

And don’t forget to flip the switch! Shutting off lights when they aren’t being used or needed is an obvious way to reduce energy consumption and costs. I have become more diligent about shutting off the lights as I leave a room and reminding the kids to turn off lights and the TV when they aren’t being used.

You can also open the shades and curtains and use natural light during daylight hours and eliminate the need to use the lights at all.

Programmable Thermostat

If you’re the average American homeowner, you probably bought an older home, with an older furnace and an older thermostat to go with it. The old-school units are functional, but not necessarily efficient. Setting the thermostat at one temperature for all hours of the day seems a waste when you think about it.

You don’t need to heat the house to as warm a temperature during the day while you’re at work, nor do you need quite as much heat in the wee hours of the night while you’re burrowed under layers of covers. The same goes for air conditioning. Adjusting the settings to coincide with your hours of need saves energy.

Check online to see if your state or the federal government is offering a tax rebate to defray the cost of a programmable thermostat. A rebate paid for more than half of my thermostat, and the money I saved on my next energy bill covered the rest of my investment.

Make Your Windows, Curtains, and Blinds Work For You

I live in a region where the seasons change, and change drastically. It can be over 100 degrees in the summer and well below 0 degrees in the winter. My energy bill dropped $50.00 a month this year because of a few easy tricks. Along with turning off lights, I’ve begun making my windows and window coverings work a little harder.

cat sitting in a windowsill

On cool summer nights we open the doors and windows and let the breezes from the countryside cool the house. When daylight rolls around, we shut the windows to retain the cool air for as long as we can.

When cold winter days come to stay, I open the curtains and blinds each morning and let the sun pour into the windows. The heat from the sunshine adds warmth to the house. On hot summer days, I close the blinds and curtains to prevent the sunshine from raising my home’s temperature. Let nature work for you, not against you.

When we gave our bedroom a face lift last year, I invested in curtains with a thermal layer to help keep the cold out during the winter months. We immediately noticed a huge difference in the temperature of our room. The next room I upgrade will get thermal curtains too.

Utilizing the windows and coverings might make a difference of just a degree or two, but it’s a degree I don’t have to pay for.

Test Your Temperature Limits

I once owned a rental home and experienced the joy of dealing with tenants for a time. One tenant complained about how high his energy bill was during winter months and asked if we could come check things out. When we arrived at the house wearing our winter coats and snow boots, he was wearing shorts and a tank top and strolling the house in his bare feet. The house must have been 80 degrees at least.

We told him we could reduce his bill drastically. We turned down the thermostat to a reasonable temperature and advised him to wear winter clothing—long sleeves, long pants, and footwear. I thought everyone understood this concept, but I realized…well, maybe not.

There’s this voice in my head that sounds a lot like my father and it says, “If you’re cold, put on warmer clothes.” Dad was “green” before his time, not because he was worried about fossil fuel consumption or polluting the earth. He just liked saving money—or spending as little of it as possible on energy costs. He kept the heat set low in the winter and the air didn’t run in the summer until temperatures reached the 90s. We were simply required to dress accordingly.

As an adult who is responsible for paying a monthly energy bill, I find myself imparting my father’s wisdom to my own children. We keep the thermostat at the outside edge of comfortable and adjust our clothing to the weather. I have found that just a few degrees makes a significant difference in the energy bill. Test the limits of your comfort. Oh, and invest in a few sweaters and long undies. 🙂 I love me some Cuddl Duds like these.

a thermometer

Turn Down Your Water Heater

Everyone loves a nice hot shower, right? I personally like mine on the verge of scalding, but I’ve learned that all that hot water costs in a couple different ways.

First of all, it takes more energy to heat the water to higher temperatures. Second, it takes energy to keep it that warm. Third, keeping water heated to those temperatures puts more stress on the heating element in the water heater, reducing the overall lifespan of your unit. Ever replaced a water heater? Not exactly cheap.

Solution—try turning down the temperature gauge on your water heater by a small amount, and then maybe a little more. Experiment with the temperature until you find the lowest heat setting that is still comfortable. There’s no cents in washing perfectly good cash down the drain. (Puns are intended and they are free, just like this article.)

When it comes time to replace your water heater, consider installing one of the new tankless style units. They are more efficient than keeping those big tanks full and hot. The plumbing costs to convert to the new style are minimal, and in the long run you will save.

Only Run Full Loads

Maybe this one is obvious to some people, but to others (like my kids) this simple concept needs to be restated…and restated…and restated. Not to worry. Motherhood has given me an amazing tolerance for repeating myself, so I don’t mind saying it one more time. FILL the dishwasher and the washing machine before you run them! Half loads require the same amount of water and energy as a full load, but you have to do them twice as often.

Dry Like Your Grandma

I live in Amish country, where simple living is the norm, and electricity is non-existent in many households. A drive down my country road on a warm day will offer you views of cornfields, soy bean crops, and little farms with wash hanging out on the line.

I remember having a clothesline at our house growing up and mom hanging wash out on the line on warm, breezy summer days. When I moved into my current home and discovered the back porch was already equipped with a clothesline, I decided to give line-drying a try.

wash on a clothesline

It’s so nice to take a load of jeans or towels out there on a nice summer day and let them dry in the sun helped by the western breezes that sweep across the fields. Thick comforters and blankets dry better out there than wadded in the dryer. And my laundry room doesn’t get heated up, keeping the air conditioning from having to work harder than it has to.

Simple retractable clothesline units can be purchased at local home improvement stores for less than $15.00 and mounted just about anywhere. I have one similar to this model which can be purchased on Amazon.

Mine is mounted to one post on the back porch and stretches to a hook on another post thirty feet away. It’s a nice little setup and saves me big. If you don’t have a porch or a way to mount a line outdoors, this hotel style model is easy to set up inside your laundry room or a large bathroom.

Save Money on Bills

Pay Extra to Save!

I know it seems like a misnomer, telling you to pay more money in order to save, but this is an amazing financial principle that can save you tens of thousands over time. Did you know that if you can scrape together enough money to make just one extra mortgage payment a year, then you can pay off a 30-year mortgage in just 19 years?

By making one extra payment each year for 19 years, you save yourself from having to make your last 132 mortgage payments!!! If your mortgage payment is $800.00, you’ve just save $105,600.00 by cutting those 11 years off your loan. Isn’t it worth it to budget to pay that extra $800.00 each year? Even if you have to take a short-term side job or have a big garage sale to get the money, the time and effort are well spent!

Okay, so maybe you want to try this, but you can’t manage to pull together a full payment? That’s fine! Break the payment up into parts and send it when you’re able. Any extra reduction in the principle of your loan will lead to a notable savings in interest expenses in the long-term.

Use Automatic Payment Services

Most companies that provide services to you and your home now offer an electronic or auto-pay option. Taking advantage of this free service saves you money that you would be spending on checks, envelopes, and stamps, which adds up over time. Using this option will also save you late fees because you will never get busy and forget to send out the payment. But most important, using auto-pay services saves you time that you can spend with your family or friends, engaged in activities you enjoy.

If a company does not have an auto-pay system in place, let your bank pay the bill for you. Most online banking systems offer the option to send a payment on a monthly basis. You just need an address, a due date, and a total. Fill out the form online, and your bank does the rest.

Utilize Rewards Points

Here’s a tip for the person who loves getting free stuff! Sign up for a credit card that offers rewards points for every purchase you make. Use the credit card as your payment method for the automatic payments you make to utility, insurance, and other service companies while you keep the money you’ve budgeted for those bills in your savings account. At the end of the month, pay off the balance of the card, and enjoy using the rewards points you’ve earned by “using” the card.

Warning: This method requires restraint.  This only works to your advantage if you can pay the card off at the end of the month. If you spend more than you can pay, you will end up paying interest fees that will negate any rewards you might earn. So play this one smart. But if you work the system correctly, you can get some decent perks from your rewards points.

I typically redeem my points on Amazon to buy things we can’t find locally. My credit card purchases pay my online shopping bills, easing my budget even further!

Choose Reusable

There are many throwaway items you may be using in your everyday life that could be replaced with a more permanent and cost-effective option. Paper plates, paper napkins, paper towels, disposable disinfectant wipes, disposable dusters, swiffer pads, makeup removal pads and more. All of these items can be replaced with a cloth, wipe, or pad that is washable and reusable. When the budget is tight, reduce your shopping costs by opting for a reusable option and save!

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At the Store

Coupons

Everyone knows about coupons, right? But not everyone knows how to be proactive about finding and using coupons. With the advancements in modern technology, you no longer have to wait for the paperboy to deliver the newspaper so you can leaf through the ads and inserts for your coupons. Sign up for your favorite stores’ mailing lists. The store will mail or e-mail you coupons and sales information, so that you can take advantage of their best prices.

There are numerous websites online that offer free printable coupons. You can run a search for “printable coupons” and finds dozens of them. Look through their listings to download and print coupons for items your family needs.

Or if you’re more technologically savvy, maybe you want to try a smart phone app like Ibotta, Shopkicks, or Checkout51 that gives you rebates on your grocery store purchases. Sometimes you can get a rebate on all of them for the same item. Just read the guidelines and procedures so you know how to make the most of their system.

Use Shopper Rewards Programs

Almost any store you shop at these days has a shopper reward program of some sort, and baby, you can WORK those systems! I use my favorite grocery store’s card to rack up the savings on their in-store specials and earn points toward bonuses in the process. When I have to buy clothes or housewares, I use my Kohl’s and TJ Maxx cards to get coupons, in-store savings, and earn points that I can apply toward later purchases (and I only shop the huge sales and clearance).

When I gave my email to the cashier at Joanns, they started emailing me 40% and 50% off coupons which I put to good use! I use credit card points and Swagbucks to get Panera gift cards—one of my fav places to eat. Then I use my Panera card when I dine to earn rewards like free pastries and BOGO deals. The list goes on…

If you explore the shopping rewards programs at your favorite retailers and restaurants, you will find ways to save big time and drastically reduce the costs or extend the values of those necessary purchases.

Buy Generics

I used to be such a brand name snob when it came to groceries. I would only buy the most popular items, sure that the taste was superior to lower-priced, budget-friendly brands or generics. Then I got smart. Did you know that many generics are bottled in the same factories as the brand names? Some are even the same recipe, just put in a different shaped bottle with a different label.

Do a side-by-side taste test if you need to. I have found that I can’t really tell the difference between brand-name mustard, bread, milk, granola bars, etc. and their generic counter parts. The only difference is in the thickness of my wallet since I started shopping smarter.

Cook Smart

Cook once, eat again and again. For years I utilized a system of cooking that allowed me to prepare dinner for every night of the month all in one day. I would make a large grocery shopping trip, then spend four hours in the kitchen cooking up large batches of food and freezing family-sized portions for later use.

I was able to make food to feed my family for weeks on that one day. This allowed me to save time, money, and effort that I could invest in other things. While I don’t do a full month’s worth of cooking in a day anymore, I still employ many of the principles of this concept. Double or triple recipes and put the extra in the freezer so you don’t have to cook a night next week.

Make Your Own “Fast Food”

One visit to the drive-through with my family usually costs about 15% of what I spend on groceries for a week. Fast food is expensive, and it’s the antithesis of healthy eating. But sometimes you or your kids need a quick meal. I can have lunch ready with 60 seconds of effort on my part, and here’s how: I have discovered that numerous recipes that my family loves to eat are “freezer friendly.” By that, I mean they freeze and reheat well and taste just as good, if not better, the second time around.

I make large batches of these recipes, serve the meal for dinner, then divide up the leftovers into portion-size freezable containers. The next time I need a quick meal, I pull a container or two from the freezer, pop them in the microwave, and by the time I’ve set the table, dinner is ready. Pack your “fast food” meals for lunch, and save yourself the cost of a “value meal” from a fast food restaurant. Better taste, better nutrition, and better use of your money. Is there a down side to this idea?

Eat Staples

How often do you eat rice or beans? Potatoes are also inexpensive and very versatile. These dietary staples are often forgotten in many kitchens, but they are tasty, nutritious, and just pennies per serving! I love brown rice as a side dish!

Did you know you can make large batches of brown rice, divide it up, and freeze it? Same for beans. Soak a batch of beans, then freeze the unused portions for the next meal or recipe. Learning to cook a few recipes or side dishes with these low-cost foods can make a serious impression on your budget.

Grow Your Own

Have you ever tested your thumb to see how green it might be? I recently priced garden plants and found that for less than the price of a head of broccoli at the store, I could buy three broccoli plants that would give me fresh vegetables for months. Tomato plants are just a couple dollars and they will yield pounds and pounds of tomatoes. One $5 bag of potatoes will produce a harvest of 75 lbs of potatoes! Gardens can be as big or as small as you’d like, but they are always a big savings.

vegetables in a basket

We have a few acres, so there’s plenty of room for a garden at my house. But even with all that land, I still grow a few strawberries and tomatoes in pots. There are pepper plants with mini-bell peppers that look beautifully ornamental in a windowsill. You can even plant herbs in your landscape and enjoy their beauty and fragrance for most months of the year. Why not let mother nature help you extend your grocery budget? One day of playing in the dirt plus some daily watering, and you will have a fridge full of fresh produce. Freeze, dehydrate, or can what you can’t eat and enjoy the bounty year round.

Stretch Your Budget

Air Up Those Tires

Did you know that the air pressure in your tires affects your gas mileage? When your tires’ air pressure falls below the recommended levels, they become mushy and soft and create increased resistance against the pavement. In the winter, cold temperatures can cause your PSI to drop by five to ten pounds, making a big difference in your fuel economy. Periodically check the air pressure in your tires and keep it within the manufacturer’s recommended levels. You will go further on less gas and save!

fueling up an automobile

Monitor Gas Prices

Have a smart phone? I highly recommend you download an app like Gas Buddy which allows you to search prices at all the local gas stations and find the best deals. Don’t have a smart phone? That’s okay. GasBuddy.com will give you the same information. Just get online before you leave home and determine the best place on your route to stop to refuel.

Barter

Bartering with trade goods or services is a concept the human race has utilized for as long as we have been on this Earth. People have traded food items, animals, or work for centuries, and in some cultures, trade goods are the only currency of any value.

If you sat down and brainstormed, I bet you could come up with a dozen or more goods or skills you possess that you could barter. Don’t be afraid to approach people with the idea. Many times they are looking for ways to save just like you are, and would rather swap favors with an acquaintance than pay a stranger out of pocket.

And keep your ears open for opportunities. For example, a friend mentions that her carpets are stained from her kids spilling juice around the house. You happen to have a really nice carpet shampooer. You also need someone to babysit your kids so you can attend your class reunion next month. Offer to come over and help her shampoo her carpets in exchange for some babysitting. You both get a need met. It’s a win-win. I’ve done this many times and found people are often very receptive to getting something for nothing, or just a little time or effort on their part.

You can also create opportunities to make trades. The church I attend has a table in the lobby all summer. People are invited to bring the extra vegetables from their garden and leave them on the table. They can take something else they need more. People who don’t have the space or ability to garden can enjoy the overflow too.

The church also has an advertisement board where people can post a notice of items they have for sale/free or they can post about something they need. So ask a church or school administrator if you can set up a bulletin board or table for these types of exchange programs and help others swap and save too!

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Earn Extra With a Side Hustle

Resale/Garage Sale

Everyone has clutter hiding in the backs of their closets and in basement storage areas. Why not turn clutter into cash? Spending a few afternoons going through boxes and piles and pulling out items you don’t use anymore can provide you with a healthy array of items for a garage sale. Or if you aren’t up for the work of a garage sale, resale shops are becoming a popular option. Clothing items that are in good shape will usually find a place on the shelf of a resale store. Some are consignment, while others buy the items outright. Check around to find out about the options in your area.

If you can’t find a good consignment shop in your area, look online. ThredUp.com is an online reseller that will buy brand-name clothing that’s in good shape.

Sign Up For Cash Back Programs

If you’re going to shop, why not earn a little cash back from those purchases? With apps like Ibotta, Ebates, Swagbucks and Shopkicks you can get cash back on groceries, housewares, gifts for weddings and showers, and more!

To make this work for you, you need to only use these programs for items you NEED and were going to purchase anyway. Don’t use the apps as an excuse to become a shopping addict! However, when used responsibly, they can put money back in your pocket! I save $5 – $10 each week on groceries … and more when I have to purchase that occasional houseware or wedding gift!

Get Your Swag On

We all get online and search for information and websites that can help us. Why not get paid for that activity? Swagbucks is a service that rewards you points for using their search engine. When you’ve accumulated some points, you can redeem them for gift cards!

I earn around $5 a month for my search activity and love cashing in my points for gift cards to Amazon or local restaurants and stores.

Swagbucks also allows you to earn points for shopping through their deals, taking surveys, playing games, and watching videos, etc.

Do Some Affiliate Marketing

Did you know you can get paid to recommend products and services? You totally can! It’s called affiliate marketing and many people make a full-time income from promoting awesome products and services they use and love.

Many companies that you use on a day-to-day basis have affiliate programs. In order to become an affiliate you need to fill out an application and set up your affiliate account. Once you’ve been approved, they will assign you a “unique link” you can use to promote the product or service. When someone clicks on that link and makes a purchase or signs up for a service, you get the credit.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fun and easy side hustle, check out my article What is affiliate marketing and how do I get started?

Start a Side Hustle Online

There are so many ways to earn income online that I couldn’t begin to share them all, but here are some ideas for other ways to make a little extra dough on the side.

  • Sell crafts or unique creations on Etsy
  • Build and create websites
  • Offer a service on Fiverr
  • Hire out your graphic design skills
  • Become a freelance writer
  • Find Virtual Assistant jobs on Upwork
  • Become a coach or consultant
  • Create printables or other digital products
  • Write a book and self-publish it on Amazon
  • Become a website tester
  • Develop an online course
  • Teach an online class
  • Start a YouTube channel and monetize it
  • Flipping items for a profit

Want to start a side hustle that’s quick, fun, and easy?

Click here to learn more about Social Media Side Hustle. Start earning by the end of the week!

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Lisa Mills

My name is Lisa Mills and I heart my life! I'm a wife, mom, and blogger who loves the freedom of working from home. I believe every person deserves a life they're passionate about, and I want to help you build yours if you're ready. Check out my Free Resources page to get started!