When I finally made the decision to get on track financially, my husband and I were bringing
home a combined total of $2,900 a month. I was still in grad school at the time making around $700 a month, and he was bringing in the other $2,200 working full-time.
It was a stressful time in our lives. We were newlyweds. I was already starting to feel the pressure of mounting student loan debt. And even though we always paid our credit cards in full, we were riding the credit card float (aka using all of this month’s paycheck to cover last month’s spending.)
We always felt broke and I hated it. We finally got to the point where we decided it was time to make a change.
We got really serious about our spending and found some creative ways to save money fast on a low income. I want to share my most helpful tips with you today, so you can also experience some quick wins on your financial journey.
#1 START BUDGETING
First things first, it’s almost impossible to save money fast if you don’t know where it’s all going every month. A lot of people hate budgets because they assume they’re like a diet for your finances. (AKA: They’re restrictive and suck all the fun out of life.)
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A budget is NOT a diet for your money. It’s simply a roadmap that outlines how you’ll use your money to reach your goals. When you have a budget, you’re in control of your finances. You have the power to ensure you’re making choices that align with your values.
For example, before I started budgeting I had no clue how much I was spending on eating out, subscriptions, and random Amazon purchases. Heck, I didn’t even know I was a credit card floater until I started budgeting. (All I knew at the time was that I felt guilty every time I bought something even though we “had enough money” to pay for it in full.)
I’ve personally been using YNAB to budget since December 2015. You get a 34-day free trial and there’s no credit card required. They also have tons of workshops to help you set up your budget and figure out their software (which I took full advantage of when I first signed up).
If a budget seems like too much work, try a one-week expense-tracking challenge instead.
#2 COMB THROUGH YOUR EXPENSES
Once your budget is rocking and rolling, comb through that bad boy to see what expenses you can cut. Remember, just because you stop buying something today doesn’t mean you stop buying it forever. You can always add it back to your budget once you reach your savings goal.
Your optional expenses are going to be the easiest things to review, so start there first.
See if you can cancel unused subscriptions. (Think Hello Fresh, Billie, BirchBox, Ipsy, Butcher Box, etc.)
Set a limit for how much “fun money” you can spend each month. (You can use the money however you want. But once it’s gone, it’s gone.)
Ditch your gym membership and look for free ways to exercise. (Get outside, watch workout videos on YouTube, etc.)
Once you review your optional expenses, see if you can lower any of your bills.
Shop around for cheaper car, renters, or homeowners’ insurance.
Cut the cable and go with Hulu or another streaming service.
Call up your service providers and negotiate cheaper rates for cable, Internet, trash, or cell phone service. (The worst they can say is no.)
#3 SAVE MONEY ON FOOD
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that your girl loves to eat! (Especially if fried chicken is involved.) One thing I struggled with most early on was getting our eating budget under control.
Here are some tips and tricks that helped us save money fast on food.
We started meal-prepping. (We’d choose four meals, cook them all on Sunday, and eat them for lunches and dinners throughout the week.)
We stretched meals out by adding less meat than a recipe called for and replacing it with veggies, rice, or beans.
We limited our dining out to twice a week.
We bought generic brand items instead of name brand.
We shopped at Walmart because it was the cheapest grocery store in our area.
We bought groceries when we traveled so we wouldn’t have to eat out every meal.
#4 SELL GENTLY USED ITEMS ON FACEBOOK MARKETPLACE, POSHMARK, OR EBAY
Let me tell you…
I was the queen of selling things when we first started trying to save money fast on a low income. My motto was, “If I haven’t used it in the past year, I don’t need it.”
It felt SO freaking good to purge. At least three times a week I was selling gently-used clothes on Poshmark, posting housewares on Facebook Marketplace, and selling electronics on eBay. I had Marie Kondo’d our entire house from top to bottom and was on a mission to sell everything we didn’t use.
If you struggle with giving things away, I seriously recommend reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It does a phenomenal job of helping you reframe your mindset so you feel comfortable (read: not guilty) getting rid of things you don’t use or enjoy.
#5 LOOK FOR FREE OR CHEAP ENTERTAINMENT
I live in Seattle now where there are tons of free things to do. But when I was trying to save money fast on a low income, I was living in a Podunk town in the middle of Nowhere, Georgia. Needless to say, we had to get creative about how we spent our time.
One of the first things I did was get a public library card. Every time I felt the urge to shop (most likely because I was bored or stressed), I’d hit up the local library and check out some books for free.
Here are some other ways you can cut down on hobbies and entertainment if you’re trying to save money fast on a low income:
Host game nights at home with friends instead of going out on the town.
Pack your lunch and have a picnic at the park or beach.
Get outside and go for a hike or a walk.
See if you can find any trade-and-swap groups for your hobbies. (For example, if you’re really into puzzling or gardening, see if there are Facebook trade-and-swap groups for those items.)
Give quality time instead of gifts. (Offer to babysit for a friend or loved one, have a girls-day-in with your gal pals, start a book club with books you rent for free from the library, etc.)
#6 CURB EMOTIONAL SPENDING
I come from a long line of women who love to shop. I can’t tell you how many Sundays from my childhood were spent going to the mall after church. I carried these habits with me into adulthood where I’d pop by TJ Maxx, Hobby Lobby, and any other stores I fancied anytime I got the chance. Even though I was only spending $15 or $20 a trip, it added up to hundreds every month.
Breaking this habit of emotional, habitual shopping was one of the best things I ever did for my wallet. If you’re looking for ways to curb emotional spending, try these tips:
Practice the 24-hour rule where you wait one full day before you buy something non-essential like clothes, shoes, housewares, or electronics. (A lot of times you’ll find the urge to buy has passed by the time you return to your cart.)
Unsubscribe from email lists so you don’t see new arrivals and discounts from your favorite brands.
Return new items immediately if you’re not 100% positive you’ll use and love them.
#7 SWITCH TO A BANK THAT PAYS MORE IN INTEREST AND DOESN’T CHARGE FEES
I hate to say this, but traditional banks prey on low-income families. They charge ridiculously high fees for monthly maintenance, overdrafts, ATM withdrawals, and more. These fees make it impossible to get ahead when you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck.
In today’s digital age, there are so many excellent online banks that won’t charge you ridiculous fees that keep you buried in a financial rut. Some popular options include Ally Bank, Discover, and Capital One.
When shopping around for a new bank, look for these non-negotiables:
No monthly fees
Large ATM network
Interest rate of 0.3% or higher on your savings
ARE YOU READY TO SAVE MONEY FAST?
If you feel overwhelmed reading through this list of ways to save money fast on a low income, don’t panic. I recommend starting with the easiest action you can take today. Just choose one. Once you complete that, move on to another.
Saving money is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. Trust the process and know that even small steps can add hundreds to your pocket every month. You got this, lady!
What’s the one action you’re going to take today to save money fast on a low income? Let us know in the comments below.
Cassidy Horton is a freelance personal finance copywriter
at cassidyhorton.com. She also runs her own personal finance blog at getontrackfinancially.com. She's a bonafide adventurer, cat lover, and money nerd who's passionate about helping people find financial freedom. When she's not sitting at her computer desk, you can find her hiking around the Pacific Northwest.