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Saving money is an important way to protect yourself from bad economic times. No one ever expects to get laid off from work – until it happens. Many other unexpected things can happen that can totally ruin your day like your car’s transmission suddenly giving out, a burst pipe in your home, an emergency surgery, or something else.
Having an emergency fund for those unexpected expenses can be a life saver. It can prevent you from having to take on debt to see you through the tough times.
But how to you build an emergency fund if you don’t make much money?
While building an emergency fund on a low income may sound like an impossible task, there are ways you can make it happen.
Let’s take a look now at how to save money on a low income.
1. Track Your Spending
One of the best ways to start saving money is to find ways to lower your expenses. If you aren’t sure if there is anything you can cut back on or eliminate, try tracking your spending for a month. Keep a detailed journal of every penny you spend.
At the end of the month, go through your journal and analyze the money you spent. Add everything up to see the total. The results of this experiment can be shocking.
Most people don’t think they spend too much on unnecessary things, but when you see all of your monthly spending written down, it can reveal a lot.
If you notice obvious things in your spending journal that you can either cut back on or eliminate, this is a major step you can take to save money.
2. Start a Side Hustle
Another way to save money on a low income is to earn more money. But how do you do that when your boss won’t give you a raise or more hours?
You start a side hustle.
A side hustle is a small business you operate on the side to bring in extra income. You could mow lawns, for instance, to bring in some extra cash. If you use your imagination, there are many things you can do in your community to earn money.
A great side hustle to consider is flipping used things for profit on eBay.
Many people sell things at flea markets, yard sales, on Craigslist, and other places that are well-below their market value. They just don’t know what their stuff is worth. If you can identify these bargains, you may be able to list them on eBay for a profit.
The best way to make money with this strategy is to go after things you can resell for a lot of money. You don’t want to go after something you can buy for $2 that you resell for $10. The idea is to buy things for $100 that you can resell for $200 – $500 or more.
You might be surprised by how much you can make doing this. Some people enjoy the flipping side hustle so much that they quit their jobs to flip things full-time.
That’s what Rob and Melissa Stephenson did.
Rob and Melissa are now full-time flippers who earn six-figures buying and reselling used things they find in their community.
They also teach others how to get started and build flipping businesses through their online course, Flipper University.
Check out Flipper University to see how you can make money flipping things in your spare time.
3. Save Money on Groceries
Groceries are a major expense for many. After all, everyone has to eat. Thankfully, there are some ways you can save a lot of money on food.
One of the easiest ways to trim your grocery expense is to switch from name brand products to store brands. The store brands are usually much less, and many of them are just as good as the more expensive products.
Shopping at discount grocery stores is another way to save on groceries. These stores are usually much more affordable than the big chain stores because they are very plain and simple. Fancy stores cost money, and this results in more expensive products. By keeping things simple, discount grocery stores can keep their prices lower than the competition.
Planning your meals is another way to potentially save big on groceries. You may not have to buy as much at the store if you plan affordable meals.
One way you can do this is to sign up for $5 Meal Plan. As the name suggests, the service is only $5 a month (an incredible bargain). For that modest fee, you’ll receive meal plans to help you prepare meals that cost $2 per person or less.
Just think of the savings!
If you aren’t sure about $5 Meal Plan, you can try it out for free for 14 days.
Check out $5 Meal Plan to see how it can help you save on groceries.
4. Earn Free Gift Cards to Spend Less
A great way to save money if you have a low income is to use free gift cards when you make purchases so you don’t spend as much.
Free gift cards? Sounds great, you may be thinking, but how do you get them?
They are easier to get than you may think. In fact, you can earn free gift cards online just by doing things that you may already be doing, like surfing the internet.
Swagbucks is a popular way to earn free gift cards. Points can be earned by shopping online, watching videos, searching the internet, and responding to surveys. The points you earn can then be redeemed for free gift cards to Amazon, Walmart, and other places. Points can also be redeemed for cash through PayPal.
Survey Junkie is another great way to earn free gift cards. As the name implies, points are earned on the site by taking online surveys. When you accumulate enough points, you can then redeem them for free gift cards that can be used at Amazon, Target, and other places. You can also redeem points for cash through PayPal.
Check out Swagbucks to see how you can earn free gift cards for doing things you may already be doing.
Check out Survey Junkie to see how you can earn free gift cards for taking online surveys.
5. Negotiate Your Bills
Another way you may be able to save a lot of money is by negotiating your bills to get better rates.
What’s that? You didn’t know it was possible to do that?
You may have heard of the old proverb that says: “it never hurts to ask.” Well, you might be surprised by what you can accomplish just by asking.
There are no guarantees, of course, but you may be able to obtain better deals on your cable TV, cell phone, internet, and other things just by calling customer service and asking if they have any special deals or promotions that you can take advantage of.
They might – or they might not. You never know unless you ask.
Another way to negotiate your bills is to use the Trim App. Trim automates the negotiation process to help you get the best rates possible on many of your bills. It can also help you negotiate with your credit cards or banks to help you lower your interest rates.
Check out Trim to see how it can help you negotiate your bills.
6. Create a Budget
Another way to save money on a low income is to create a budget – and stick to it.
A budget can help you keep your spending in check by limiting how much you spend on things each month. For example, your budget could include certain amounts for food, clothing, entertainment, rent, and other things.
A budget doesn’t have to be so rigid that it can’t be broken on occasion, especially if there is an emergency. Rather, it’s a tool you can use to avoid overspending.
One way you can use a budget to help you save money is to allocate a certain percentage of your earnings each month to savings. For example, you could save 5% – 10% of your earnings each month. It’s also possible to automate the savings where your bank automatically transfers a certain percentage of each deposit into a special savings account.
7. Pack Your Lunch
Do you eat out at lot at work? Maybe you like to swing by the drive-through on occasion and pick up a quick meal when you don’t have time to make something at home.
If you eat out often, this can put a major dent in your wallet. Eating out isn’t cheap, and many are surprised by how much they spend on combo meals, shakes, fries, and other fast food items each month.
You may be able to save money by packing your lunch instead of eating out. If you plan your lunches, you may be able to eat for just a fraction of the cost. Packing your own lunches may also help you to eat healthier.
8. Drop the Cable Bundle
Cable TV bundles are notoriously expensive. It’s not uncommon for some cable bundles to be as much as $200 a month. That’s $2,400 a year!
You may be able to save a lot by canceling your cable TV package. If you have a good internet connection, consider an affordable streaming service instead. Many streaming options are available, and as the streaming competition continues to grow, the services keep getting better and more affordable.
Also, these days over-the-air transmissions are actually pretty good. In many places, broadcasts are in high definition. If you live in a community with a fairly large population, you may be able to receive several great channels for free just by using an antenna.
9. Shop Around for Insurance
If it’s been a while since you’ve shopped around for home, auto, or another type of insurance, it’s definitely worth taking the time to get some quotes. Things change in the insurance industry all the time, and as competition increases, rates go down.
I had been with the same insurance company since I first started driving as a teenager. After more than two decades of driving, I finally decided it was time to see if I could get a better deal.
What was the result of my rate comparison?
I was able to cut my car insurance in half.
I was shocked by how much more affordable other companies were. Just by taking the time to contact several insurance companies (I got six quotes), I found an insurance company that not only was much more affordable, it also offered me a much higher level of coverage.
It pays to shop around.
10. Buy Used Stuff
Whenever you need a new appliance, chair, TV stand, or something else, do you always buy these things new? If so, you may be able to save a lot of money by purchasing used things that are still in good condition instead.
People sell quality used stuff all the time. Also, many used items can be bought for just a fraction of the new price. Why not see if you can find a great deal on a used product before spending more to buy new?
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find used products. There are many websites you can check to look for deals including Craigslist, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and others. Also, many communities now have Facebook groups you can join where people list used items for sale.
You may also be able to find some great deals on used items at yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, and other places. Some people enjoy shopping for great deals on used items – the thrill of the hunt!
11. Buy Used Vehicles
When you buy vehicles, do you always have to have the latest and greatest? Do you only buy brand new cars? If so, you may be able to save thousands by buying used cars instead.
Vehicles depreciate at an alarming rate for their first 2 – 3 years. A new vehicle loses value the moment you buy it and drive it home from the dealer. It’s no longer a new vehicle if you try to resell it – even if it only has 500 miles on the odometer. It’s now officially a used vehicle.
You may be able to save big on vehicles by only purchasing slightly used vehicles with relatively low miles. Let someone else take the financial hit from depreciation. You can be the smart one.
Another important thing to consider when you are in the market for a vehicle is the reputation and reliability of the brand. Not all vehicle brands are the same. Some have reputations for needing frequent repairs, while others have reputations for making it to 200,000 miles or more with few repairs.
You may be able to save money in the long run on your vehicles by purchasing brands that are known to be reliable. The less you have to spend on repairs, the more money you can save.
12. Cut Back on Expensive Entertainment
Do you like to go out every weekend and see a movie, go to a concert, or something else? If so, you may be able to save a lot of money by cutting back on entertainment and staying home instead.
Going out is fun, but it can also be very expensive. Dinner and a movie for two, for example, can easily be $50, $60, or more (depending on where you eat). And that amount doesn’t even include snacks and drinks at the theater.
Instead of seeing a movie at a theater, why not watch one at home instead? Just pop some popcorn, curl up on your couch under a comfy blanket, and chill out for the evening.
Another way to save money on expensive entertainment is to limit yourself to going out one weekend a month. The savings can add up fast.
Related: How to Save Money on Fuel
13. Ditch the Gym Membership
Gym memberships can be expensive. And if you’re like countless others who join gyms with the best of intentions and then stop going after a few weeks or months, you’re throwing money away.
If you are interesting in getting back in shape and maybe dropping a few pounds, why not consider an exercise routine you can do at home or in your neighborhood? By starting this way, you can see if exercising is something you will stick with long-term before putting down a lot of money on a gym membership.
There are many different ways you can exercise without spending money. You could go for long walks, for example, or take up jogging or running. You could also buy a used bicycle and take up riding. If it doesn’t work out, you can always resell it and get some of your investment back.
14. Wait for Big Purchases
Have you ever been shopping and suddenly seen a big-ticket item that you simply couldn’t live without? Maybe it was a new TV. Or perhaps it was a comfy chair. Whatever it was, you bought the item, brought it home, and then later realized that it wasn’t something you needed after all. Your old TV or chair did the job just fine.
Whenever you are tempted to buy a big-ticket item when you are shopping, a powerful strategy you can use to save money is to force yourself to wait at least 30 days before buying it. If you still want that item after 30 days, then go ahead and get it.
The purpose of the 30-day rule (as it is called) is to give yourself time to think about the purchase. Do you really need it? Can you really afford it? After waiting 30 days to buy something, many decide they don’t need whatever it was that caught their eye and don’t buy it, thus resulting in money saved.
15. Buy Things When They Are on Sale
If you always buy things at their regular retail prices, you are paying a lot more than you should for those items. Stores put things on sale all the time to entice shoppers to visit and spend money with them. They also put their older inventory on sale to get rid of it to make room for newer inventory.
You may be able to save a lot by purchasing as many items as possible when they are on sale. The savings can be substantial depending on the store and the sale. Discounts vary widely but can be anywhere from 10% – 75% off the regular purchase price.
Be sure to keep watch for sales flyers that stores send in the mail. These flyers tell you which items are going to be discounted and how much you can save. Also, if you need an item and you don’t know if it’s on sale, just call around to different stores in your area to see if they are currently having a sale. And if they aren’t, ask when the next sale will be.
16. Shop Around for Deals on Cell Phone Plans
Cell phones are now considered a must-have for most. They aren’t just handy to have – they are also important for personal safety. If you ever have car trouble while you are on a trip, for example, you can quickly call for help.
If you’ve had your cell phone plan for a few years, you should definitely shop around and compare plans and prices to see which companies have the best deals. Cell phone plans are constantly changing, and as each year passes, they offer more for less.
It’s also possible that you may be paying for a bigger cell phone plan than you need. It’s worth reviewing your cell phone usage to see how many minutes, texts, and data you use each month. If you can find a plan that fits your usage that is more affordable, it might be worth switching.
17. Carpool Whenever Possible
Gasoline is expensive.
You may be able to save money if you have to commute a long distance to and from work. If a coworker lives near you, you could offer to drive one week while the other person drives the next, and so forth.
Another possibility you may want to consider if you drive a lot and have a vehicle that gets poor gas mileage is to trade your vehicle for something that is much more fuel efficient. Trading vehicles can be expensive, and for this to work you really need to drive a lot for it to make financial sense.
18. Use Coupons
An old standby method for saving money that is still valid today is to use coupons as much as possible when you shop. You can think of coupons as free money. If you don’t use them, you have to pay more for the products you buy.
Many people dismiss coupons because they don’t think they can save much with them. But the savings can really add up if you have to buy several items at a time, like when you are grocery shopping.
Some people are really good at couponing and can buy products for pennies on the dollar with this method. You may have read about people who are really good with coupons buying hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise for very little. Yes, it’s certainly possible, but it takes experience and time to cut out all of the coupons to do this. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save some money with coupons.
One way you can save even more with coupons is to find out which grocery stores will double the value of your coupons. You could shop at that store and buy only the products you have coupons for and do the remainder of your grocery shopping at a discount grocery store to maximize your savings.
19. Attend an Affordable College
Aside from buying a home, earning a college degree is now one of the most expensive things that people pay for in their lives. It’s unfortunate, too, because it didn’t used to be this way.
Over the past few decades, the cost of earning a college degree has increased at an incredible pace. It is even increasing faster than the cost of healthcare.
You can very easily save thousands by skipping expensive schools and choosing affordable in-state schools instead. Before you select a school to attend, be sure to do some comparison shopping to see which schools have the best deals on tuition.
Tuition prices are all over the map. One school may have very low tuition, for example, while another costs $50k a year. Because of this, it’s vitally important to choose an affordable school so you don’t graduate with tens of thousands of student loan debt.
It’s also important to consider attending your local community college for your first two years and then transferring to an affordable state college to finish your four-year degree. Community colleges are usually just a fraction of the cost of other schools, and credits earned at these schools are routinely accepted in transfer.
Another way you can save money on college is to earn your degree online. Online degrees are now very common. By going online, you can compare tuition prices from schools all across the nation and go with the one that gives you the best deal.
Another benefit of earning your degree online is that you won’t have to quit your job. Most online degree programs are very flexible, allowing you to keep working while you take college courses in your spare time.
20. Reduce Energy Costs
Using less energy in your home is another way you can lower your expenses to save money. There are several ways you can do this.
One way is to lower your thermostat by one or two degrees during the winter or raising it by the same amount during the summer months. By doing so, your heating and cooling system won’t have to work as hard, thus saving you money.
Another way to save money on energy costs is to use a smart thermometer. If it’s summertime, for example, you could program the thermometer to not cool your home as much during the hours that you are away at work. You could program it to start cooling your home about 30 minutes before you come home after work to make sure it’s nice and comfy for your arrival.
Changing your light bulbs from inefficient incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent or LED bulbs is another way to save money on electricity. Incandescent bulbs use a lot of electricity and don’t last very long. Compact fluorescent and LED bulbs, in comparison, use just a fraction of the electricity and last much longer – sometimes years longer.
Washing your laundry in cold water is another way to save on energy. About 13% of your home’s energy costs are from heating water. If you can reduce your consumption of hot water, you may be able to save money.
Lowering the temperature on your hot water heater is yet another way you can reduce your energy costs. If the hot water in your home is very hot, you can probably turn it down a little and still enjoy comfortable showers.
Finally, wrapping your water heater with an insulating blanket can help to reduce energy costs by helping the heater to retain heat. Insulating blankets for hot water heaters can be purchased at most home improvement stores.
How to Save Money on a Low Income – Final Thoughts
Did you realize there were so many ways to save money? Not only that, but many of these strategies are very easy to implement.
Whatever your reason for saving money – to build an emergency fund, save for retirement, or for a down payment on a home – there are ways you can make it happen. You just have to be willing to pinch your pennies a little and cut back on unnecessary expenses.
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