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“We just don’t have anything extra.” ...it’s the first thing that comes up after one of my readers writes down their budget + fills out their Debt Payoff Plan Worksheets. They’re already barely making ends meet and then I come along and tell them that they need an emergency fund and to pay off their debt. How overwhelming does that sound!?!
Well for some it’s a huge roadblock and they want to just quit right then and there, but for others they just see it as a good challenge, and if you’re like me...you love a good challenge! So I challenge you to find some extra money in your budget. Usually it’s there, you just have to look for it.
So here’s a few tips on how we created some wiggle room in our budget.
Hit play to watch the Part 1 video version of this blog!
1. PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU SPEND
This seems so simple, but it’s honestly one of the hardest tips on this list! When you do a written budget you know where your money goes. When you’re mindful at the grocery store of every single thing you throw in the cart you don’t overspend. When you plan ahead for Christmas you don’t go crazy and end up paying for it until July.
“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”
2. DO A ZERO DOLLAR BUDGET
Before the month starts you need to write out on paper where you plan to spend every single dollar ahead of time. Give each dollar a mission. Write out your bills, your spending (groceries, gas, extras), then decide how much will be left over and whether it needs to go towards debt or savings. When your month is over you shouldn’t have anything left over...if you do throw it at debt or stick it away in savings...don’t waste it!
Need some great worksheets?
Check out my set of 14 Budgeting Worksheets that have helped families all over the world get their budgets organized!
3. HAVE ZERO DOLLAR challenge DAYS
Challenge yourself to not spending any money for a whole day! If you get really brave you can do an entire week...or even a month with no extras!
4. LEARN TO SAY NO
Our lives are busy, and it seems like every time we turn around there’s another event at school or church, or hobby your kid wants to try, or birthday party invitation, or dinner invitation...does it ever end!?! Well, actually it can! Start saying no! When you honestly can’t afford it or can’t afford to take off of work for it, then say no. I know we hate disappointing our kids and friends, but sometimes the long term goals are more important. Be polite and honest, and regretfully decline if you just can’t afford it.
Here me out on this one...sometimes we cut back + cut back on little expenses (with lots of tips like I'm about to share with you)...but it's just not enough! When your house is breaking you or when your city has an insane cost of living...it's not crazy to considering moving! This is exactly what we decided to do in order to become debt free!
Related Article: Why we're selling our house to become debt free
6. Ditch the car
This could mean simply downgrading your current ride for something cheaper, selling an extra vehicle, or going totally vehicle free if you live in a place that it'd make sense. The biggest takeaway here should be that the vehicle you drive doesn't define you, so it you shouldn't let it have control of your financial future. If you vehicle payment is suffocating you then it's time to ditch the car!
7. Stop with the interest payments
A lot of people carry around debt...and with debt comes interest payments! Paying these interest rates is no better than lighting your money on fire every month! Get mad at your debt, stop using it, + stop with the interest payments.
8. Compare prices
Don't be afraid to shop around, take your time, + compare prices. Often times we're in so much of a hurry that we neglect this helpful step that could save us tons of money!
Ask about loyalty discounts, promotional rates, or cheaper options. This can be applied to almost anything....our bills, our necessary expenses, or even our luxury purchases.
10. CUT THE TV
We got rid of our satellite TV about 5 years ago because we couldn’t afford it anymore! $114 a month seems insane to me now. We do pay for Hulu ($8 per month) and Netflix ($8 per month), which we watch through our Roku (bought on Amazon for about $40). My kids love Netflix for the movies and endless kids’ shows, and we love Hulu for the recent episodes (most shows you can watch the newest episodes the next day after it airs on live TV). So even with paying for both of those services we still save over $1,100 per year!
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11. STOP EATING OUT
Back when we first started budgeting I wanted to get a better idea of how we had been spending our money so I went backwards in our online bank records and added up where our money had been going for the past 3 months. Most of our extra money was being spent on fast-food, restaurant food, and gas station snacks...in fact it averaged out to about $800 per month! Back then I worked crazy 50-60 hour weeks and we rarely ate at home, some days we’d eat all three meals on the go. So this was a no-brainer for us! We needed to eat at home! Obviously our grocery budget went up, but this is where the bulk of our extra money came from.
I know there’s a lot of dual income families, both spouses are exhausted at the the end of the day, and nothing sounds nicer than no cooking and no dishes...I’ve been there...but this tip can be the difference between being debt free or not!
Think about this...a batch of spaghetti costs about $6 to make at home, versus $12 per adult and $5 per child at a restaurant...for 2 adults and 2 children that’s a $28 savings, not counting drinks and a tip! If you did that 4 times a week for a month you’d save about $450!
It’s honestly not faster either...by the time you drive to a restaurant, wait for your food, actually eat, wait to pay, and drive back home...it’s pretty time consuming.
So take advantage of your crockpot, make freezer meals for the whole week on Sundays, make double batches and eat leftovers, teach your kids how to help in the kitchen, use paper plates when you don’t feel like washing dishes, swap out dinner duty with your spouse...get creative people!
12. SHARE MEALS AT RESTAURANTS
When you do decide to eat out at a restaurant, think about what you’re ordering, how hungry you really are, and how much food will come in one order. At most places the serving sizes are plenty for two people. Usually I share a meal with the kids or the kids share with each other. The only thing about this suggestion is...don’t let this affect the tip you leave for your server! I heard Dave Ramsey say once that if you can’t afford to tip well, then you can’t afford to go out to eat.
13. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FOOD AT SOCIAL EVENTS
Don’t take this tip the wrong way...I’m not suggesting mooching off of your family and friends. However, if you have family or close friends who often invite you over for dinner or parties then take advantage of the free food that they’re offering.
For example, my Grandma...she loves to have us over for dinner and she always insists on us taking home leftovers...that’s two free meals and quality time spent with family...it’s a win-win.
Or, if you get invited to a party and they have food set out, then eat it! Obviously don’t start shoving crackers in your purse, but it’s actually more polite to eat at a social event than to shyly decline.
14. SAY GOODBYE TO STARBUCKS
Please don’t hate me for suggesting this one! I love to get my day started with an iced caramel coffee just like most normal Americans, but you shouldn’t break the bank to stay caffeinated. Let’s crunch some numbers…
If you spend $5 on a coffee, 5 days a week for entire year that’s $1,300!
If you’re a true addict and you buy a coffee every single day for an entire year that’s $1,800!
If your spouse buys one too that’s $3,600!
If you both had a coffee every day for 5 years that’d be $18,000!
If you invested that $18,000 in a mutual fund for those 5 years it’d grow to about $22,000!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like coffee that much! Instead, my husband brews his own hot coffee, and I drink the pre-made cold coffee from either Starbucks or International Delights that you can buy in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. A half gallon costs only about $3-$5.
15. BRING YOUR LUNCH TO WORK
Oh fast-food, why must you be so tempting?!? We know it’s expensive and we know it’s not healthy, but we can’t resist! I know all of the reasons behind eating out at lunch time, but you’ve got to sacrifice something to get ahead financially, and lunch time is an excellent place to do that!
The reasons behind going out to lunch on a work day:
I want to get out of the office...take off to the park and get some fresh air or hang out in your car and read a book or listen to some music.
I don’t have time to pack a lunch...it takes just as long, if not longer to buy your lunch versus packing your lunch. It takes me 3-5 minutes to pack sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for my family of 5. Try driving to McDonalds and waiting in line for less than 5 minutes.
I want a hot lunch...most offices have a microwave, pack a cooler and warm up some left overs. If your work doesn’t have a microwave, ask your boss if you could get together a collect to buy one. I bet your co-workers would chip in a few dollars towards one.
16. BRING YOUR OWN SNACKS
This is my favorite tip! I have a small purse-sized cooler that I bring with me everywhere for drinks and snacks. I toss in an ice pack, and then add bottles of water, Capri-Suns, sippy cups of juice, granola bars, crackers, apples, oranges, candy, sandwiches, and all kinds of easy snacks. There’s no telling how much time and money this has saved us. Ever tried going into a gas station with kids and leaving with less than a $10 receipt? It’s not easy!
This tip also works great for festivals, fairs, and basically any kind of outing where they would be selling refreshments.
17. LEARN TO LOVE WATER
It’s taken me a few years, but I can finally honestly say that I love water. The good thing about water is that it’s the healthiest drink and also the cheapest drink. When I’m at home I drink water from the water dispenser on the front of our fridge, and usually when I’m out to eat I order water. So you can drink throughout the day practically for free.
Hit play to watch the Part 2 video version of this blog!
18. MAKE A GROCERY LIST
When you make a plan for your groceries you’re less likely to go crazy and just start grabbing things because you’re hungry. Take a few minutes at home to make a meal plan, look through the fridge and the cabinets, see what you actually need, and then go shopping.
Related Article: How to Grocery Shop Smarter
19. CLIP COUPONS
Another frequently used tip, but it does work if you have the time to spend on it. I personally use some coupons, but I don’t extreme coupon, for one it’s very time consuming, and for two it can be wasteful if you get carried away.
Even if you only use store coupons and you shop the sales, you can easily save $10 a week...which would be $520 per year, and that’s without even putting in much effort!
Related Article: Couponing Basics
20. USE GENERIC BRANDS
I don’t go too crazy with this tip, but it has helped me a lot.
There are some things that you honestly can’t tell the difference between name brand and store brand...some cleaners, milk, bread, diapers and baby wipes, formula, most medicines, soap, meat, cheese, snacks, pasta, bottled water, and juice.
I don’t completely go off the deep end on this one, I do buy name brands when the generic brands just don’t work as well for my family…paper towels, toilet paper, yogurt (the kids will not eat the store brand), makeup, and toothpaste.
Compare and contrast, and try to save money on the generic brands when you can.
21. SHOP SALES
Obviously I don’t want you to buy things you don’t need, but when you do need a present for a birthday, wedding, baby shower, or other holiday...browse the clearance and sale items first!
22. PLAN AHEAD FOR HOLIDAYS
This is another one of those don’t go crazy and overspend tips. Just plan a set amount, make out a shopping list, and stick to it. If you’re struggling to pay minimum payments, you don’t need to throw your child a $400 birthday party…which is what I used to do! Now I stick to about $100-$150 for a birthday party, including decorations, food, an outfit, and a gift.
Whatever you decide your budget is going to be for each holiday, put it in your budget and save up for it.
Related Article: Planning for Christmas on a Budget
23. STOP BROWSING THE MALL
I heard Dave Ramsey say once that if you’re a recovering alcoholic you shouldn’t hang out in bars, and that same goes for recovering shopaholics, you shouldn’t spend your free time walking through the mall. It’s pretty simple...just stop going! Don’t tempt yourself!
24. STOP GROCERY SHOPPING AT WALMART + TARGET
This used to be me! I’d grocery shop at Walmart and end up buying about 10 things I didn’t actually need. Now I grocery shop at the grocery store, I also shop there for all of my toiletries, cleaning supplies, and pet items. I very rarely go to Walmart or Target anymore because my budget just can’t handle it! If I need something like new towels, a birthday present, or an electronic item I’ll shop there, but if I walk around in the store too much I usually grab something that I didn’t go in there for. It’s just like the mall tip...don’t tempt yourself any more than you have to!
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25. ONLY SHOP SEASONALLY FOR CLOTHING
This one kind of goes back to the “stop browsing the mall” tip. I started doing this a couple of years ago and I love it. I shop twice a year (because we’re in Texas and we really only have Summer and Winter) for clothes. We buy all of the girls’ clothes and our clothes that we need for the upcoming season all at once. It ends up saving you so much time because you don’t spend every other weekend at the mall, you know for sure everything matches, and you can budget in the clothing more accurately if the purchases don’t trickle in one by one over the course of the season. Of course, I have real kids..they grow, they ruin shoes, they need special outfits for a certain event here and there...but 95% of their clothes and shoes for each season I buy all at once.
Related Article: How to Make a Wardrobe on a Budget
26. HAVE AT HOME DATE NIGHTS
We do this pretty frequently. We have three kids, 5 and under, so going on extravagant romantic date nights just doesn’t happen very often. A date night can easily cost $100 or more...once you buy dinner, drinks, and do an activity like watch a movie or go bowling...this can break the budget pretty quickly!
So, we do at home dates more often now. We feed the kids an early dinner, send them to their room with a movie and popcorn, then we enjoy dinner alone, a movie, or drinks outside. When you have kids even an hour alone watching each other eat can count as a date night!
27. WAIT FOR MOVIES TO COME OUT ON DVD
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been to the movies since we started budgeting. Who can afford that? The times that I have been, I usually spend the whole next week freaking out because we spent over $40 to watch a movie one time that we could own in a couple of months for half the price, or rent for a $1. The snacks alone are enough to break my weekly budget!
28. TRADE BABYSITTING DUTIES WITH FRIENDS
One of our good friends is a single dad and also a college student, babysitting is a necessity for him when his daughter isn’t at school. So I babysit for free for him when he needs it and he returns the favor for us when we need it. I’m sure just about any of your friends with kids would do this trade with you!
29. BECOME A DIY-ER
I know a lot of people will say they’re not a Pinteresty person and they can’t DIY, but there’s plenty of ways to cut costs that don’t involve crafts.
Cut your own grass, paint your own walls, look up how to fix something before you just replace it (Google is a powerful thing), bake your own birthday cakes and Christmas cookies, do your own nails, get brave and cut your own hair (or at least your kids’ hair), groom your own dog, clean your own pool, wash your own car, and then of course all of the Pinteresty crafty stuff.
30. BUY USED STUFF
You can look around my house and see that probably about 80% of my furniture and decor items I bought used! I love auctions (I’m an auctioneer, in a family who owns an auction house), garage sales, Facebook classifieds, and resale shops. I’d much rather have a vintage piece of decor than something modern...that’s just me! I think that sometimes people get “champagne taste on a beer budget” syndrome when it comes to decorating their house.
We started off our married life with a $180 a month furniture payment! That’s crazy to me that we paid so much for just furniture! My absolute favorite piece of furniture, my yellow China hutch, I only paid $200 for at an auction. So don’t think that used equates with junk. And remember to shop around before buying...especially for furniture. Don’t be too proud to own something used when that’s all you can actually afford...it’s not worth acquiring debt over.
31. SELL THINGS
I started getting into Minimalism a few months into our budgeting journey, and I found out pretty quickly how well the two go together. We sold around $2,000 worth of junk! We cleaned out our storage building, our garage, our kitchen cabinets, our toy boxes, and our closets. We sold jewelry, furniture, and household items at auctions and garage sales; clothes at garage sales and Facebook classifieds sites; and toys and baby items at auctions and Facebook sites.
Just remember to set a time limit, and if the item hasn’t sold in a certain amount of time then you need to donate or trash it..don’t let this be an excuse to hold on to the clutter!
32. FIND A SIDE JOB
I know that every family is different, but with the Internet and technology there are so many ways to create extra income. Look into online sales, part time jobs, weekend gigs, or start your own business. Get creative!
I’ve heard of people delivering pizza on the weekends, selling firewood out of their driveway, becoming a consultant for a direct sales company, and taking up babysitting in the evenings.
33. TREAT YOURSELF
No, you didn’t read that wrong...“treat yourself” is one of my money saving tips. If you never do anything fun you’ll get burnt out and start to feel defeated...that’s just human nature. I think it’s very healthy and important to treat yourself to something nice (and within budget) every so often.
My favorite examples are: a date night, a bottle of nail polish, $5 flowers from the grocery store, a candy bar, a magazine, a new lipstick, a new candle, your favorite snack, or a steak dinner cooked at home.
There’s plenty of free things that you can treat yourself to also. For example: giving yourself a manicure, walking in the park, practicing yoga, reading books from the library, etc.
Notice that all of these things are pretty affordable (or free)! I also recommend not going crazy with these things...these should be treats that don’t happen too often, maybe once a week or once a month depending on your personal budget. Just enough to keep you motivated!
I hope that my ideas help you find some wiggle room in your own budget!
“You can tell me you won’t, but don't you dare tell me you can’t”
-Chris Hogan (author of Retire Inspired)
HEY I'M SAMI WOMACK
I'm the wife to my high school sweetheart, Daniel, + homeschooling momma to our 3 girls. I'm the Budgeting Coach + Motivational Speaker behind
A Sunny Side Up Life.
My family used to be in $490k of debt + living paycheck-to-paycheck, but after we hit rock bottom everything changed for us!
Now that my family has become debt free + gained financial freedom, I want to help your family do the same! My passion is inspiring women to live abundant lives through budgeting, intentional living, and positive thinking.
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