It’s rare that people think of saving money as a science. And it’s even rarer that they consider it an art form. But the truth is that it’s actually both—once you know how to optimize how to save money to best suit your current needs and budget.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re already in the process of tightening your belt. Perhaps you haven’t begun to do so yet but are actively considering it. There’s a certain balance you have to maintain between actively saving money and knowing how much you can afford to save. And sometimes that balance seems like a virtual impossibility; an ideal instead of reality.
Saving money begins with pragmatism. But what if you’ve already stretched your budget as thin as you can? Believe it or not, there are ways to stretch it even further. Here are a few tips we’ve learned on the art of penny-pinching and how you can start learning it today.
Choose Your Yardstick
Whether it’s $100 a month or $1,000, choose the largest increment you can which won’t cut into your daily necessities and bills. This is going to be your ideal goal; but the reality is, you probably won’t reach it. At least not right away. But little by little, you’ll be able to maximize your savings to come close, if not top it altogether. It can (and likely will) mean sacrifices. But the reward is greater. Think of it as a competition—only your opponent is yourself.
Prioritize and Reprioritize
Compile a list of your monthly expenses, right down to the most seemingly insignificant ones. Divide it into two categories: necessity and luxury. You’ll probably find that the luxury category is actually larger than you thought. Did you really need those daily Starbucks runs? Those weekly deliveries from your favorite pizzeria? Could you possibly even learn how to cut your own hair? Don’t eliminate all of your luxuries; no one lives on budget constraints alone. But even with necessities, are there any ways you can cut corners? Are you paying more than the monthly balance on your credit cards? Clipping coupons for your weekly groceries? Buying bulk necessities to save more later—even if it means spending more now? Prioritization is about making the right choices right now so you can relax in the long term.
DIY—But Know Your Limits
We love plumbers. We really do. But they can charge an exorbitant amount for very basic problems that you could have fixed yourself. The same goes for auto mechanics. In fact, it’s been estimated that the average homeowner spends over $9,000 a year on basic home repairs alone; many of which could have been fixed by ingenuity, materials, and a little elbow grease. It’s not the materials that eat at your savings when it comes to repairs. It’s the cost of labor.
But with that in mind, complete home renovation and engine replacement are tasks better left to experts. And you probably don’t want to completely rewire your home’s electricity based on a YouTube video (please don’t.) Basic repairs are one thing. Complexity and safety risks are another. Don’t try to be a handyman if you can’t figure out how to use a wrench socket. And if there’s a repair that can be put off until tomorrow, put it off until the day after.
Find Ways to Augment Your Budget
In the past, it was easy enough to take on a second part-time job. And it still is. It’s just both competitive and obtainable; specialized and accessible.
Right now, the gig economy has never been hotter than ever. In fact, people are making a full time living doing everything from driving for rideshare companies like Uber to freelance writing. But even if you have neither the time nor desire to join the gig economy, there’s surely some skill you possess to augment your budget. Can you teach English as a Second Language? Are you surprisingly talented at jewelry making? Mow lawns? Virtually any task you can think of can be transformed into a moneymaker. It may only earn you $15 this weekend. But little by little, your savings will grow. More importantly, you’ll earn a reputation as an expert in your field. And that alone is worth can turn that initial $15 into $1500.