Feeling strapped for cash can be stressful. If you’re in a position where you feel like you have to choose between paying your electricity or water bills, simple money-saving hacks like giving up takeaway coffee won’t move the needle much.
Before figuring out ways to save money on a tight budget, remember that you are worthy of living a life of financial security. Your set of circumstances might not be ideal, but they’re no reflection on you and there’s no reason to feel ashamed. Let’s focus on solutions.
» MORE: Budgeting 101: How to budget money
Working with a tight budget
Generally, to save money and feel more empowered by your financial situation, you need to do these things:
- Make more money.
- Spend less money.
- A combination of both strategies.
Of course, making more money is easier said than done. But it’s likely worth some time and effort to search for a higher-paying job or side gig. (Check out these 25 ways to make money.)
Tax-wise, you might also be eligible to adjust your rate of withholding via MyGov.au. This could help you keep more cash in your paycheque now, rather than in your refund later.
Ideas for spending less
To tackle the second part of the equation — spend less — we’ve rounded up several ways to save money. If you’re living paycheque to paycheque, try these tactics.
Audit your expenses
Set aside time when you’re feeling good to print off and review your bank and credit card statements. Or use a budget app. Carefully review each expense to understand how much you’re spending on what. After all, what you think you spent and what you actually spent can often be different amounts.
Your ultimate goal is not to eliminate every unnecessary expense and live a spartan, joyless life. Rather, aim for your spending to align with what you value. To do this, try distinguishing between expenses that support your mental health and those that do nothing for you.
You don’t have to cut all discretionary spending. So if that streaming subscription provides hours and hours of entertainment and helps you relax at the end of a stressful day, maybe that expense is worth keeping. If your statements reveal that you’ve regularly spent $50 per week on fast food that you barely remember eating, that may be a “nothing” expense worth trimming.
» MORE: Tracking monthly expenses: The first step to money success
Call lenders and service providers
For any bill you pay — to lenders, service providers or insurance companies — call customer service to see if your payments can be lowered or deferred until you’re in a better position to pay. There’s absolutely no shame in doing this — it costs zero dollars to pick up the phone, and the worst thing they can do is say no.
While it might be tempting to send an email or message, calling tends to be more effective. Before you jump on the phone, think about the outcome you want from the call and keep relevant information handy, like your account numbers and payment history with the company.
You don’t have to go through this period alone. There are services to support you with food, housing and utility bills, plus the emotional toll money issues can take.
Start by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 — it’s free to call, and agents are available on weekdays from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can call the Mob Strong Debt Helpline on 1800 808 488 during the same timeframes.
Local charities and community organisations also offer emergency relief, like help covering food and transport costs as well as paying bills. The Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society are excellent resources.
In addition, low-income earners can potentially access special no-interest loans offered by one of Australia’s oldest charities, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, when unexpected expenses pop up.
» MORE: Financial counselling: What it is and how it can help
Taking steps to save
Saving is an action, not an amount. Even if you save only $10 per month, every little bit counts. Making the decision to set aside money is the first step, and doing that on a regular basis will help you develop a habit.
Set it and forget it
If you don’t already have a savings account, now is the time to open one. Aim to open it at a different institution than where your everyday account is. Otherwise, it could be a little too quick and easy to transfer money from your savings.
After setting up an account — preferably a high-yield savings account — contribute as often as you can. Think of it as paying yourself.
And if you can, set up automatic transfers from your everyday to the new savings account so you’re not tempted to spend the money. In other words, get that money away from “easy access” as soon as possible.
Do your future self a favour
It won’t always be easy to save money when it feels like you have none. To stay motivated, try remembering that you’re not cutting expenses and stashing cash as some sort of punishment or due diligence. Rather, you’re looking ahead and creating financial stability for yourself a couple of years or decades from now.
If you’re in the United States, read this article on the NerdWallet US site.
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