How To Save Money On A Very Tight Budget


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
Coming off the holidays and all the spending our family did on presents, special food, and treats, I have to admit feeling that budgetary pinch as we enter the new season. Add to that our recent kitchen renovation project, and I’m left here wondering how to save more money on a tight budget. Fortunately, this is not a new experience for my entire family and I. We’ve had lean moments occasionally, but we make sure we know how to deal with them head-on.

For starters, we’ve set aside a financial safety net that will keep the wolves from the door. As long as we have food, shelter, and clothing, my wife and I think we’ll be fine. We are still learning more lessons as we grow as a family. So far, here are five of the best and most practical ones we’ve come to rely on upon through the years (which I hope you can find useful, in turn).

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Nix the credit card

My mom handed me this particular advice when I asked about saving money on a tight budget (after receiving a hefty credit card bill back in college). While a credit card offers the kind of temporary convenience we can enjoy on a shopping spree, a drunken night out or an expensive purchase, it will eventually present more significant problems in the long run. Interests and penalties add up on top of what you need to pay monthly, and before you know it, you’re deep in debt and working just to pay off your credit card bills.

So I learned from my mom never to bring my credit card if I think I will be tempted to use it for anything I can pay with cash, anyway. With that in mind, I’ve learned to bring just enough money (and a couple of coupons) when I go grocery or clothes shopping, or make sure to work towards saving up for an item we want. I’m trying to pass on this practice to my kids, and as a result, piggy and coin banks have become some of their favorite playthings.

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Downgrade and downsize what you can

As a disclaimer, this is not to discourage you from working towards your goals and dreams at all. But if certain things are proving to be frivolous and expensive, by all means, suspend them or downgrade your lifestyle a bit. It doesn’t have to be forever – just until your finances get back on track. Financial belt-tightening doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself of little pleasures, either.

When we had to pay for a car-related emergency which we weren’t prepared for, my wife and I discussed the things that we can forego for the time being. The first to go was our cable TV subscription, which admittedly didn’t get much use even with the hundreds of channels it offered. Then we cut off food deliveries and takeaways, relying instead on home-prepared meals (more on this later). But I think it was my wife who made the ultimate sacrifice by downgrading her mobile data plan. She used to pay over $50 a month just so she can have space for her numerous apps and games, but after switching plans, she almost cut her data fees in half!

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Love (and work with) what you currently have

This is perhaps the most complicated accomplishment on how to save money on a tight income. It appears pretty doable on paper, but for some reason, a lot of us can’t seem to avoid trying to keep up with the Joneses (my teenager calls it FOMO, or “fear of missing out”). I do admit to feeling a twinge of envy whenever I see our next-door neighbors getting new appliances or furniture delivered to them occasionally. I can’t help it – it’s human nature, I guess.

But then I take a look around me and see the collective fruits of our thrifty labor – a full pantry, a clean home with modern amenities, art and books we love, well-fed kids (and pets!), and dreams of traveling and seeing our kids grow up happy and healthy – and my heart gets full. Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes of being grateful for what you already have, and making do with them. Our kitchen appliances may be a couple of years old, but they still function well enough to help us come up with delicious meals. And while our car isn’t the latest model, we nevertheless love it because it has helped us create so many fond vacation and road trip memories.

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Take on online streams of income

A while back, I tried to sell stuff online via specific e-commerce platforms, but I found the work involved too tedious and demanding. I gave that up for the meantime and decided to look elsewhere for supplemental income – but my wife beat me to it!

She discovered the magic of online rewards sites a couple of years ago, and wouldn’t shut up about it since. She demonstrated to me how easy it was to earn some extra pocket money by doing practically what she does online, anyway. We’re talking about answering questionnaires (she calls them “surveys”), watching short videos until the end, downloading apps, and even visiting websites. She showed me a site called ZoomBucks and how it works – basically, the site partners up with brands that need engagement. To get the kind of valuable market research that will propel them forward, these brands need the opinions and feedback of consumers like you and me.

As a reward for these tasks, she gets to choose from a vast array of gift cards like Amazon, Walmart, Gap, and Lowe’s – even gaming ecards that my kids just love. But ZoomBucks also has a cash-out option via PayPal, so that’s an excellent way for us to save money on the side!

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Stick to your meal plan

I wrote a lengthy post on tips for family meal planning a couple of weeks ago. In it, I mentioned buying only enough fresh produce as you need them and sticking to weekly meal plans. Doing these seemingly simple tips will help you save so many dollars otherwise spent on “convenient” food delivery. Yes, it means preparing stuff in advance, but it beats having unhealthy fast food eat away at your meal budget (and healthy lifestyle aspirations).

As you can see, saving money on a tight budget doesn’t have to be complicated or become an act of supreme sacrifice. Everybody has to tighten their belts at some point in their lives, after all. Many times, it’s just a simple matter of being practical, trimming away the unnecessary things, and having your family cooperate with working towards your financial goals.

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