Over 40% of Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency. There are plenty of reasons for that.
Some of it has to do with behavioral economics at the individual level.
Some of it has to do with stagnant wages (including the minimum wage) and the continued fallout of the 2008 financial and housing crisis.
In these circumstances, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and give up. But I’m here to let you know you’ve still got power over your situation.
It’s true that cutting back won’t automatically make you rich. But even on a tight budget, there are plenty of things American families can do to earn or save an additional $50-$500 per month.
And when it comes to stress and emotional health, that extra money can make all the difference in the world.
Improve your quality of life.
Saving money for an emergency fund or to pay for an emergency that’s staring you straight in the face is an excellent goal. But when you make savings a regular habit, there can be some great side effects in other areas of your life, too.
Pursuing savings can make you healthier.
When you have a savings goal you’re actively working towards, you may start to see other areas of your life improve independent of finances.
For example, if you decide to slow your dining-out habit in an effort to save money, you’re also likely to see your diet improve as you start cooking at home. Depending on where you’re dining out, the changes in your overall health and energy levels can be dramatic.
Just make sure you’re not taking things to extremes. In our example, you shouldn’t eat less overall to save money. Starvation can give you a temporary high. The money you save may help you keep your bank account in the black for the next few days. But it’s obviously not good for your long-term health –physically or financially.
If you’re struggling to put food on the table, look into programs like WIC and SNAP. The better the care your body receives, the quicker you’ll be able to recover from a low cashflow financial situation.
Decide what’s worth it to you.
A big part of making your money better is understanding how your spending lines up with your values.
A lot of us have deep-seated values we aren’t aware of and don’t understand in addition to the ones we profess in the world around us. When we’re spending money and don’t understand the motivation, our budget can spin out of control.
The simple act of evaluating those values so you can fix your budget gives you an opportunity to unpack other areas of struggle in your life. And identify the trajectory you’d like to take moving forward.
That doesn’t just mean your bank account will get fatter.
It also means you’ll be that much more likely to actually have a life that feels full and meaningful down the line. The first step to achieving those dreams and goals is to unpack the motivation that’s underneath them.
Examples of value-based budgeting tradeoffs include:
- Deciding time with your family is a core value, even if that results in a lower paycheck.
- Deciding you’d rather travel and/or spend on experiences than own Jimmy Choos.
- Aiming to cut your coffee budget in half rather than cut it out completely. Because, yes, caffeine can be a value.
Establish goals according to your values.
Once you have your values established and have integrated them into your budgeting strategy, you can begin to set long-term goals.
If you don’t yet have a robust emergency fund, how can you save for it? Where will the money come from and how much will you be stashing away?
If travel was a goal of yours, how long are you willing to save up? Can you wait longer for big trips, or do you want to spend your weekends taking road trips across your region on a more frequent basis?
Other goals may include:
- Saving a 6-12 month emergency fund to establish financial health.
- Saving for your child’s education.
- Saving for retirement first so those college-educated children don’t have to worry about you in your twilight years.
- Aggressively paying off debt to eliminate stress in your life.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Everyone’s values are different. That means we’re all going to have different goals.
The important part is to set your goals in the first place. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to be able to work towards them and see them become a reality in your life.
Discuss changes with your family.
Most of our financial situations are symbiotic in nature, reflecting the collective ups and downs of chance and lifestyle choices between family members rather than our individual wills to succeed or fail.
That means you need to have your family members on board before you radically change financial habits. Otherwise, your expectations may outsize their willingness to participate, causing familial strife.
You’re also not likely to succeed if you don’t have everyone agreeing to the same goals and values.
Invest your energy in big wins.
There’s a myriad of ways to save money. But you want to focus on the big ones – the ones that will save you huge chunks of change over time.
According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Americans spend the most money on:
- Housing: 33% ($18,886 a year)
- Transportation: 16% ($9,049 a year)
- Food: 13% ($7,203 a year)
- Pensions and insurance: 11% ($6,831 a year)
- Health care: 8% ($4,612 a year)
While you can’t control real estate markets or regional health insurance premiums, you’d be surprised at the large sums you can save over the long haul by changing a couple of habits and/or making a few phone calls.
25 Ways Your Family Can Save $50-$500 per Month
Without further ado, here are 25 ways your family can save $50-$500 per month. It’s doubtful that every single one will apply to you, but the ones that do can rake in some big bucks.
1. Track your spending
The very first thing you have to do before you can really stash away some meaningful savings is to track your spending. If you don’t know what you’re spending, you don’t know what to cut. Get started here.
2. Automate your finances
Automating your finances can help you avoid late fees. It can also help you automatically stash that $50-$500/month you’re saving across other budget line items. By setting up an automatic transfer to your savings account every month, you won’t be as tempted to spend it somewhere else.
3. Audit your monthly subscriptions
Monthly subscriptions can add up fast. They’re sneaky, too, because they’re usually set up to automatically draw payment from your debit card, credit card or bank account.
Go through your numbers and see where you stand. With Americans spending an average of $237.33/month on digital subscriptions, odds are you can save at least $50/month simply by going through and canceling services you aren’t using on a regular basis.
4. Shop around for your utilities
In many states, you can shop around for who generates your electricity and gas. The company that delivers the energy will be the same, but you’ll pay a different price per kilowatt hour on your bill if you opt for another company to generate it.
Be careful though, some third-party energy generating companies have shady business practices, offering consumers a low rate for a few months prior to raising it. This is called a variable rate, and you want none of it. Before you sign a contract with a third-party utility provider, make sure your contract is for a fixed rate over the entire term.
5. Move to a discount cell service
While you can attempt to negotiate with cell phone companies, odds are you’re not going to get the big guys to come down to rates equivalent to carriers like MetroPCS or Cricket. These smaller cell providers are more reliable than they used to be, operating off of the Sprint network like MetroPCS, AT&T’s network like Cricket, or whatever preexisting network dominates in your area.
They’re also a lot cheaper, offering unlimited plans for tens of dollars per month rather than hundreds.
6. Negotiate with your internet provider
Yes, the internet should be classified as a utility. But tell that to telecom companies.
When your initial contract with your internet provider ends, your rates usually skyrocket. When this happens, it’s best to call in and negotiate. Doing so can save you up to hundreds every month, which could add up to thousands per year.
Typically, even if you are lucky enough to have competition in your area, you’re not likely to secure rates as low as when you first signed on – even if you threaten to switch providers. But your CSR is likely to have the power to lower your rate to some degree, whether by providing extrapolatory discounts or eliminating services you don’t want or use.
Bear in mind that sometimes getting even just the basic cable package will help you save on your internet bill thanks to bundling discounts.
7. Slow debt’s roll
If you’re feeling nervous about credit card debt, nip your fears in the bud. You can negotiate with your credit card company, especially if you are experiencing financing hardship.
You might be able to negotiate the APR, especially if you holding another offer from another credit card issuer in hand.
If you cannot get them to come down in APR, you can try to secure a 0% balance transfer offer with another financial institution. There is usually a fee somewhere between 3%-5% to transfer your balance from the old card to the new one. But once complete, your new APR would be 0%, allowing you to chip away at your actual debt rather than interest.
When things are really bad, like after you’ve lost your job or gone through a divorce, you might have trouble keeping up on your payments. Most credit card issuers will help you get on a fixed payment plan, which often looks similar to a 60-month personal loan. This plan will have a dramatically lower interest rate, routinely under 10%, and in many instances close to 0%.
Credit card companies engage in these types of negotiations because they know they can’t collect money you don’t have. By paying them back over a longer period of time and/or with a lower interest rate, they might make less than if they continued charging you 27.99% APR.
But they’re also less likely to force you into bankruptcy, in which case they could lose claim to any of your money at all.
Explore the Debt Snowball Spreadsheet from Tiller Money
8. Negotiate your rent or refinance your mortgage
You may not know that rent is actually negotiable, too. While you’re not going to be able to negotiate your rent on a monthly basis, you can negotiate before you sign the contract. Then, if you’re a good, reliable tenant the landlord wouldn’t want to lose, you can negotiate further every time the contract is up for renewal.
Maybe you own instead of rent. If you’re ten years into your mortgage, you’re not going to be able to negotiate better terms. However, what you can do is refinance. This method is likely most advantageous for those who purchased prior to the Recession when mortgage interest rates were considerably higher than they are today.
Be careful that origination and other fees don’t eat away at any savings you’d get via a lower interest rate. Also bear in mind that if you refinance for a longer-term, you may end up spending more money over the long term in interest.
The size of American homes has gotten dramatically larger over the past several decades. While the number of kids people are having has decreased, the average square footage of new builds has ballooned.
If you can downsize, it can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re cutting the number of bedrooms. Running off an average isn’t great, as some cities are far more expensive than others. But generally speaking, if you run off of average American rent, a family downsizing from a 3-bedroom to a 2-bedroom could expect to save $142/month.
Downsizing from a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom could save you $222/month based on national averages.
10. Get others to subsidize your housing costs
Have you ever heard of house hacking? It’s where you buy a house and then get other people to pay the mortgage.
This may sound too good to be true, but it can work if you have the money to invest in a down payment and closing costs. This may look like a single person getting two roomies for their three-bedroom house, charging the roommates enough to cover the mortgage.
It could also look like a family buying a multiunit and renting out the place next door to help with the mortgage.
If you’re looking for a very 21st century way to house hack, you can rent out a room on Airbnb or another similar platform. If you refinish a portion of your house, like a basement or a guest suite, you could even turn it into a private unit to rent on these platforms, giving you a little more privacy and the ability to charge more per night.
11. Implement the 24-hour rule
A lot of times, we spend money on things we think are essentials, but actually aren’t. We all get that while shoes are necessities, Louboutins aren’t.
But what about less obvious decisions?
Do you need to purchase more plastic bags every time you go to the grocery store? Or could you pack the kids’ lunch with the Tupperware you’ve already got at home?
Do you need to buy that birthday present for your kids’ friend’s party next weekend? Or do you have a Target gift card in that one drawer you could top off?
For decisions that don’t need to be made this very second, start implementing a 24-hour rule. You might love the convenience of plastic bags and hate washing Tupperware every single night. After waiting 24 hours, you decide you’re going to buy the bags.
And recycle them. Of course.
But after waiting 24 hours, you realize that you do, indeed, have some gift cards to top off. In fact, you’ve got one to Build-a-Bear, which will be better than whatever random thing you were going to pick up the day before, anyways.
Giving yourself the time and space to think about spending decisions allows you to save and make smarter money moves.
12. Comparison shop insurance policies
A lot of people stay with the same insurer for years. It takes momentum to switch. To be fair, many insurers will provide a discount for customer loyalty.
But if you haven’t comparison shopped for plans in a while, it may be time. Insurance – whether it’s health or auto or that policy you took out on your wedding ring – is often a wise investment, but it can be an expensive one.
Making sure you’re getting the best rates on the market today can help you save decent amounts of money on your premiums every single month, which adds up to a lot every year. Even saving just $50/month on premiums will net you an extra $600/year to throw at debt payoff or your savings goals.
Home, renters & auto.
13. Swap your vehicle for public transport
Cars are incredibly expensive. But for a lot of us, they’re such a necessity we don’t even allow ourselves to acknowledge the full costs of financing, maintenance, gas, insurance and all the other costs that come along with owning a vehicle.
If you do live in an urban or suburban area with reliable and accessible public transport, selling your vehicle in exchange for a Metro card can save you thousands of dollars every year. And not just because you’ll be getting rid of the note.
The average American household spends $4,054 on their vehicle every year, and then an additional $4,810 on gas and insurance. If you could cut those costs, you could reclaim an additional $738/month.
Look into that trolley pass.
If you need a car to get around outside of work, you could always carpool with fellow commuters who live in the same area as you do. By alternating who drives each day or week, you’ll be able to cut gas costs and prolong maintenance a little longer due to less use.
If you don’t have a car, you may still be able to get in on the carpool action if you’re willing to pitch in towards gas.
15. Ride your bike
Riding your bike is an option for some. Then others — like yours truly — live more than 15 miles from the city center and don’t want to look like Jim Halpert after biking in to work. Or biking anywhere, really.
If you are able to swap your vehicle for a bike, doing so will help you save a ton of money and net you some health benefits. But if you can’t, it’s not a stain on your moral or monetary character.
16. Refinance your vehicle
Alright, so maybe carpooling is great, and you’re all about getting some cardio in, but because of the infrastructure in your area giving up your vehicle just isn’t realistic. While you’d love to purchase a vehicle with cash, that’s gotten progressively more difficult as older models have been taken off the market altogether.
Unfortunately, you needed a car note for your purchase. Such is life.
Your interest rate, though, is a little high. You’ve been making on-time payments and inching your credit score up in steady increments over the past couple of years.
In this situation, you may decide to refinance your vehicle. The goal here is to score a lower interest rate. Remember, though, that when you refinance you are often tacking more time onto the end of your loan. That means that if even if your APR goes down, you could end up paying more interest over the life of your loan.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for origination fees, though these should already be calculated into your APR. Other fees to watch out for which could make your refinance more expensive include:
- Prepayment penalties.
- Balloon payments.
- Variable-rate APR or interest rates.
17. Start meal planning
Meal planning sounds like a pain. But if you can get over your initial disinterest, it’s a great way to find extra money in your budget while getting in more delicious, healthy meals at home.
To make the process infinitely easier, we’ve put together some of the best meal planning spreadsheets on the web. Essentially, you’ll be strategizing ingredients between what you already have at home and what’s on sale that week. Then, you’ll be able to plan out meals you’re actually excited about while staying within your budget.
18. Buy generic
Buying generic isn’t as scary as you think. In many cases, the product is the same no matter who produces it. While something like vanilla extract might be profoundly diluted if you buy generic, there are many other examples where name brand shouldn’t matter.
A pound of sugar is a pound of sugar.
You may find yourself loving the store-brand granola bars more than the national brands.
And regardless of the sticker on the peel, most of the bananas we consume in America today are literally genetic clones of one another.
19. Buy staples in bulk
Costco can be your budget’s best friend.
If you don’t have a membership, your closest friend or family member with a membership is your new best friend.
Costco and like bulk discount membership warehouses are best for the restrained shopper, who knows that the first goal is only buying what they planned to purchase. The goal is not finding a great deal. Because every aisle you roll down, you’ll find a great deal.
If you can stick to the list, buying the things you and your family consume on the regular in bulk can be a great way to save a surprising amount of money month over month.
20. Shop with coupons and rewards programs
Do not dismiss coupons as a huge way to save. When incorporated into your meal plan, coupons for items you were going to buy anyway can add up quickly. Even if you’re just saving $7 on each weekly trip to the store, that adds up to $28/month.
In addition to coupons, many grocery store chains now offer rewards or loyalty programs. When you get enough points, you get $X.XX off per gallon or X% off your grocery order. Once per month, I save about $20 on groceries alone simply by using store rewards. And that’s in addition to store sales that I get with my membership card.
21. Grow a garden
Growing your own garden can help you save a bundle on the cost of fresh produce. It can help you save $50+/month on groceries depending on the variety your grow in your garden. But there are startup costs that will eat into your profit – especially in the first year.
First you will have to build your garden. This may involve building a raised bed, testing your soil, purchasing soil to fill your garden bed if the stuff that’s naturally there isn’t suitable, and more.
You’ll also have to take the time to research fruits and vegetables that grow best in your area. You’ll want big enough of a variety to give you a relatively balanced diet, but if you’re in Ohio you’re probably not going to want to invest in a lemon tree. You have to keep climate in mind.
Additional startup costs may include:
- Garden tools such as gloves or a trowel.
- Potentially increased water bill.
22. Host dinner parties instead of eating out
If one of your favorite pastimes with your friends is grabbing some eats, flip this habit on its head. Rather than going out for dinner every weekend, host each other in your homes. You can switch hosts every week, spreading the costs of preparing a meal for everyone across the entire crew.
Even better: throw a potluck instead of a dinner party.
23. Vacation closer to home
Traveling the world is the hottest millennial status symbol. But if you’ve got the travel bug in you for more than just an IG shoot, you might be surprised to learn that those big trips aren’t necessarily the ones that will make you the happiest.
Studies show that shorter trips taken more often are actually better for your mental health. They make you happier and provide you with something to look forward to more often. You’re also going to have way less stress about coming back and catching up if you’re gone for a long weekend rather than two weeks.
You can’t travel as far when you have less time. The fact that you can’t travel as far is highly likely to save you money – especially if you stay within driving distance from home.
24. Get used baby and kids’ gear when it’s safe to do so
Children can, but don’t always have to be, ridiculously expensive. While there might be only so much you can do about purchasing a safe crib and car seat – these are both items you should never buy used or accept as hand-me-downs – you can save money on a lot of kids’ gear and items by not going new.
Your friend might have a child two years older than yours and have a lot of hand-me-down clothes. You might find an amazing rocking chair at a garage sale. Many areas have communal kids’ consignment sales on a regular basis, and if you look in the right strip mall, you’re likely to find a resale store. At resale stores and consignment sales, you can even make an extra $50-$500 by selling things your kids no longer use.
Items that should be brand new, like a breast pump, are sometimes offered through insurance. A breast pump might be covered as medical equipment, while a crib or car seat might be a reward incentive for attending all your prenatal appointments.
25. Build a capsule wardrobe
After you’ve figured out how to save money on your kids’ clothes, it’s time to take a look at your own closet. Because your six-year-old likely isn’t the one blowing money on brand names.
Okay, okay. That’s not a fair assessment. Investing in quality clothing is a good idea. It’s likely to save you money over time as the pieces won’t wear out as quickly as fast fashion. That means you won’t have to replace them as often.
But maybe you can’t afford to have Louboutins pouring out your closet.
A good solution is a capsule wardrobe. You buy a handful of quality pieces that can be mixed and matched together in a surprising number of ways. You ensure that these pieces make you feel confident, so you’ll be happy every time you wear them.
Because you will be wearing each piece often.