Having a well-paying job or a perfect budget won’t help you if part of that money isn’t going toward savings. If you ever face layoff, illness, or injury, you’ll need savings to get by while things go back to normal. Even when you aren’t worried about losing your job, savings can help with repairs when your car or home needs them or medical costs for more minor issues.
If you have a job that doesn’t pay as well, it can feel like you just can’t save money. Being broke all the time is difficult and stressful, especially since you feel like you can’t build savings.
Looking up tips for saving money when you are broke can be even more frustrating. Many articles on saving money seem to assume that you’re already wasting tons of money on non-essentials. When your paycheck is already stretched thin, these articles are totally unhelpful.
The good news is that saving money when you’re broke is possible. When you lay out a plan, getting started with saving is easy. You will go from nothing to thousands overnight, but there are lots of little ways to start adding up.
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Money Saving Tips
Here are some helpful tips for saving money (even if you’re broke):
Step 1: Budgeting When You’re Broke
The first step is budgeting. If you have a budget, it’s time to look it over. If you don’t, it’s time to make one. A budget lets you see where all your money goes down to the penny. Once you know where your money is going, you can find out where to start saving.
Changing some habits will be important when saving money, but first, you need to know where the money you have is going. Most of your paycheck is likely to be billed, but where is the extra? Everyone has something they automatically spend on. Some people enjoy getting Starbucks every morning, others like shopping, others like to spend money on activities with friends, and so on.
Don’t worry! You won’t have to give up doing things you enjoy to save money. In fact, setting up a budget means you can do those things and feel good about them. How? When you have a budget set up, you can grab Starbucks or go to the bar AND know that you will be paying bills and saving for the future.
If you’re new to budgeting, a zero-based budget like YouNeedABudget (YNAB) is a great place to start. YNAB helps you set up your budget step by step and keeps track of your long-term budgeting.
YNAB has a 34-day free trial before you enter your credit card information. You can get a feel for the system risk-free, and it’s more than worth it. YNAB has the software to help you with budgeting, but that’s not all. You can set up savings goals, and they’ll give you tips and encouragement along the way.
If you’re looking for an entirely free app, check out Mint. Mint is another budgeting app that helps you track spending and savings goals. Mint will notify you if you’re over budget in a category or if it sees any suspicious purchases. It even lets you check your credit for free without negatively impacting your score.
Since the app is free, it makes money off partnerships with other financial institutions. This means there are ads in the app, and there isn’t a paid option to remove them. If that’s something that won’t be a problem, Mint could be a great fit for you.
If apps aren’t your jam at all, you can set up your budget with a plain spreadsheet or a regular old pen and paper. Pick your ideal budget format, and you’ll be good to go! This option can be a bit more time-consuming to set up, making tracking changes month-to-month harder.
If you’re the DIY type, this may be the way to go. It’ll give you even closer control over your budget, and you can switch up the kind of budgeting system you use without switching apps.
No matter how you set up a budget, the important thing is that you know what’s happening with your money. No matter how you set it up, make sure you’re looking back at the last couple of months expenses so that you know what “normal” looks like. Once you know where your money is going, you can move on to step two.
Step 2: Cutting Expenses When You’re Broke
Now that you can see where your money is going, you can start to cut some expenses. As we already covered, you won’t have to give up everything you like. The trick will be to plan them a little more carefully.
Believe it or not, planning to do fun things will help you stick to your budget. When you don’t feel like you’re missing anything, saving and budgeting will be easy. Planning out how much money you’ll spend on fun is also a good way to start saving.
A Starbucks’ Example
Say you look at your budget and realize you spend $45/mo on Starbucks. Now that you know that, you can plan ways to cut down without cutting out. Maybe you’re like me, and that $45 was only two trips, and you got a sandwich, a pastry, and a coffee. (Guilty.) Cutting down without cutting out might mean you skip the sandwich and pastry and only get coffee. You can still make your Starbucks trip, but your savings account isn’t hurting.
No matter what your particular spending “vice” is, the trick is planning ahead. Do you stop at fast food places rather than eat at home when you’re drained? Meal prepping can keep you eating healthy and cheap, even when you’re tired.
Do you like to shop away from your stress? Set a specific dollar amount for shopping and plan to keep yourself busy at home or doing free things once you hit that.
Groupon is a household name at this point, but it holds up. Signing up with Groupon can help you cut back on your spending without giving up fun outings or shopping altogether.
No matter what system you set up, the important thing is to have a plan. Have a plan for staying within budget, and have a Plan B for when you slip up. You probably won’t completely change your habits overnight, but a Plan B can help you get back on track.
On the other hand, maybe there’s almost nothing you’re spending money on outside of absolute necessities. It might seem like there’s just no way to cut costs on those.
You can still save money. Some of these options might take a little extra time, but most will integrate seamlessly into your everyday routine. First off, you can sign up for rebate programs.
GetUpside is an app that helps you save up to 25c/gallon on gas. When you check in somewhere with the app, it stores the rebate you get, and you can cash out via PayPal, check, or digital gift card anytime.
GetUpside does occasionally offer incentives for places that have higher initial costs. To ensure you’re getting the lowest possible price, use GasBuddy to compare prices in your area.
For groceries, toiletries, and other essentials, check out Ibotta. Ibotta links on your browser or through an app to help you get rebates on everything from bread to alcohol to hotels. Searching through the offers can take a little extra time, but you start earning instantly. You can cash out through PayPal or a digital gift card after you hit $20.
Next, look at ways to lower those bills you can’t avoid. Insurance is always a big wallet drain, so start comparing prices. Gabi helps you compare your insurance prices to ensure you’re getting the best rates possible. It’s a big help compared to researching every site by yourself.
Electric and Gas Bills
Electric and gas bills are also unavoidable. Arcadia is a great way to start helping the environment while saving a bit on your energy bill. Arcadia may not be helpful for every area because some areas only have one energy provider. Also, it helps you save money by comparing prices for energy companies in your area and automatically switching you to the lowest price.
Finally, don’t feel bad about calling up your utility companies. Take a close look at your bill and call about any charges you don’t understand or haven’t noticed. Tell them that you’re looking for ways to save money. If you let them know you’re shopping around and may switch companies, most of them will offer you a reduced rate or a different plan.
Step 3: Making Side Income When You’re Broke
The last step is using those extra dollars to make some side income. You might be tired from working and think there’s no possible way to make extra money. When you’re broke, ways to make money that don’t take extra investment and time are essential.
One of the easiest ways to get your money to make money is by having a dedicated savings account. Savings accounts often have higher interest rates, which means the more money you have in your account, the more your bank will pay you annually. Aspiration has a savings account with up to 1.00% APR. That means that with only $1,000 in savings, you make $10 without doing anything at all!
Besides that, you can also invest. Even if it’s only a little, that little investment can compound faster than you might think. The app Stash* will give you a $5 bonus just for joining, so you can start immediately. You can put those initial earnings back into your investments when you start investing, so things compound even faster.
Bonus tip! Using the Microsoft Rewards program, you can earn rebates, gift cards, and prizes just by using Bing instead of Google. (Yes, seriously.)
Breaking The Cycle
It’s hard to break the cycle of “broke.” The longer you’re stuck in that cycle, the more impossible it can seem to break free. Many financial tips make it sound like you’ll have to change your life before getting started.
The truth is, getting started is easy. A small step toward financial freedom is better than no steps at all. If you have even a couple hundred in savings, that can go a long way toward a car repair or medical bill. Any of the tips on our list here can help you get that couple hundred, and putting them all together can start to add up.
The most important thing you can do financially is, start saving. Those savings can go almost anywhere. We’ve already mentioned emergencies, but saving can even help you with positive things. You can save for vacations, better housing or vehicles, and “treat yourself’ items.
The more you save, the easier it gets to save. Good habits are hard to form, but maintaining them is well worth it once you have them. Gathering ideas and structures that work for you means you’ll be on your way to a better financial future in no time.
- Start a budget and review it often.
- Cut expenses by negotiating bills and working with coupon and rebate programs.
- Cut back on fun spending, don’t cut out fun spending.
- Use savings accounts and investment options to help your money make money effortlessly.
Learning how to save shouldn’t be restricted to people with a certain income. Anyone can start saving money when they are broke for a more secure future, and everyone should.
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*Offer is subject to T&Cs.* *You must complete within the specific time period included in this offer: (i) successfully complete (or already have completed, or re-apply for and complete) the registration process of opening an individual taxable brokerage account (“Personal Portfolio”), (ii) link a funding source to your account; AND (iii) deposit at least $5 from your funding source into your Personal Portfolio. *T&Cs