Challenging times call for creative thinking, and our current situation is no exception. It's easy to say, "I'm so broke!" or, "There's now way I can save money with my current salary!" However, barring extreme circumstances, it's entirely possible to save money, pay off debt and build a nest egg if you abandon your old, limiting thoughts, and get a little creative. First, ask yourself what unnecessary goods/services you currently purchase. Here's a list to get you started:
- Cell phone with data plan (do you really need that? A basic, pre-paid phone is much cheaper)
- Internet in your home (could you go to the library instead?)
- Books, CDs, DVDs, movie theater, Netflix (the library also has these for free, or you could do a swap with friends)
- Makeup (why not go au naturale?)
- Hair cuts/color (why not let it grow?)
- Cable (highly unnecessary, and you will find that you have fewer material cravings if you stop watching it)
- Magazine subscriptions (ditto)
- Massages (ask a friend or significant other to give you one!)
- Pedicures/manicures (you can do this yourself)
- Clothing (host a clothing swap among friends, make your own clothing, shop at the thrift store, or keep wearing the same stuff)
- Crafting supplies (try the thrift store or just look around the house/garage - the variety will really get your creative juices flowing!)
- Eating out (try growing a garden, and learn some new recipes!)
- Having drinks at a bar/restaurant (I love it too...but it's so much cheaper to buy a bottle of wine and have friends over to your house!)
Here are just a few great, creative examples I've heard from friends recently:
Get together with a girlfriend or two and have a cooking day. Make large quantities of foods that your family likes and are easily frozen (chili is a great example!). Split what you end up with, and put them in single-serving containers. You'll have readily available meals in your freezer for those busy evenings and hunger pangs.
Hold a clothing swap. Have everyone bring a fun dish (and maybe some wine!) and get together with your friends to trade clothing. The idea is that everyone brings the stuff they don't want anymore, and they lay it out around the room. All attendees are free to dig through their friends' stuff and take freely. The leftovers can be donated to the thrift store.
In the same spirit, you could have a crafting swap. I always accumulate boxes of old fabric, paper and other supplies, but I don't know how to get rid of it. Get all your crafty friends together with some food and libations, and trade away!
Literally freeze your credit cards. If you're often tempted by cute shoes at Nordstrom or other frivolous things, but you don't want to get rid of your credit cards just yet (the whole, "in-case-of-emergencies" thing), put them into a plastic bag filled with water and freeze them. That way, you'll still have them if you need them...but it will take you a while to retrieve and thaw them. Besides, you're much better off getting a bit of savings going so you don't NEED to use your credit card in an emergency.
Look for free entertainment and events in your city. You can often find these in the daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper or a local website. Just be careful - there are often opportunities to overspend at these events on food, crafts, drinks, etc.
...AND my biggest piece of advice for those who are trying to save money on limited funds: don't match your expenses to your income! Instead, figure out the absolute least you can live on, and use that as your benchmark. (Don't make yourself miserable, but figure out an amount you're comfortable with.) For example, if you get a raise that will increase your net pay by $200/month, don't rush out to look for a new, more expensive apartment! Instead, pretend that you never even got the raise, and put that money directly into savings or debt repayment.
For a long time, I had a tiny, printed spreadsheet of my monthly budget that I kept in my wallet. If an item I wanted to purchase wasn't on that list, I didn't buy it. And at the end of the month, whatever was left in my bank account went into debt repayment/savings. Try it out!
Let me know if you have any other ideas or if this has been helpful to you. :)