We all have different reasons for wanting to spend less money each month. Maybe you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck or you want to not have to borrow money for your next large purchase.
Regardless of the reason, there are many benefits to frugal living.
If you’re unsure how to spend less money (and still enjoy life), there are many ways to start.
When I took nine months off from working full-time to change career paths, I took an 80% salary cut. Trust me, that time wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t have afforded to switch jobs if I didn’t know how to live cheaply.
Today, I’m sharing some of the ways my wife and I lived cheaply to improve our quality of lives.
In This Article
- How to Live On Less
- 1. Track Your Spending For 30 Days
- 2. Lower Your Bills
- 3. Cancel Cable TV and Stream the Channels Instead
- 4. Get Free Cellphone Service
- 5. Switch Insurance Providers
- 6. Refinance Your Current Debt
- 7. Try Living Rent-Free
- 8. Rent Your Car
- 9. Sell Your Extra Car
- 10. Cook Meals at Home
- 11. Drink Tap Water Instead of Bottled Water
- 12. Buy Secondhand Clothing
- 13. Buy Other Items Used Instead of New, Too
- 14. Shop Online With Cashback Apps
- 15. Save Your Pay Raise
- 16. Invest In Low-Fee Index Funds
- 17. Take a Day Trip
- 18. Save Money on Bigger Trips
- 19. Plan an At-Home Game Night
- 20. Start a New Hobby
- 21. Delay Large Purchases
How to Live On Less
Two ways to improve your finances are to make more money and spend less money.
The sooner you take action, the more money you have to pay off debts and build up your savings. And making extra loan payments sooner means you pay less interest overall. That means less money you give to the lender and more money you can use in the future.
When you don’t have time for a side hustle and can’t get a raise at work, cutting spending is the best way to have more money each month. Spending less money is like getting an immediate pay raise at work. The less you spend, the more money you have at the end of each month.
Limiting your spending can also mean you’re not forced to work more to make ends meet. Keeping our expenses as low as possible is how I was able to afford to take nine months to change career paths. I would have returned to the workforce sooner if I didn’t live cheaply.
1. Track Your Spending For 30 Days
The first thing you should do is track your spending for 30 days. Knowing how you spend each dollar gives you a better idea of where to cut spending first.
My wife and I wrote all our purchases on a piece of paper. But you can also enter your purchases into a free Google Sheets spreadsheet. Another option is to use a free spend tracking app, which can help ensure you don’t overlook a transaction.
When jotting down your spending, include every single purchase. Include those $1 coffees as well as recurring expenses like car insurance and electric bills.
Then, arrange your spending by expense types like food, utilities, insurance and cellphone. You can use our list of common monthly household expenses to help sort your expenses.
The following suggestions will show you ways to reduce your spending in some of these areas.
2. Lower Your Bills
After you know how you spend your money each month, it’s time to lower your bills where possible. There are two ways to do this:
- Cancel unused subscriptions
- Downgrade to a cheaper monthly plan or to a free plan for services you do use.
An app that can help with the latter is Trim, a free service that analyzes your spending and shows your recurring expenses.
After all, those $13 monthly charges impact your spending more than you realize. For instance, I canceled my Netflix and SiriusXM subscriptions when I quit my job. These services were nice to have, but they weren’t essential when living on a small income.
With a single text message, you can have Trim cancel your unwanted subscriptions. For instance, Trim can cancel your cable TV, music or movie streaming services or even your gym membership.
I use Trim to monitor my home internet and cellphone plans. Trim monitors my plan and the carrier’s current monthly promotions. If I qualify for a lower rate, Trim applies the best promotion and I get a discount.
You can read our Trim review to learn more.
Save you money on services like:
- Streaming apps
- Car and home insurance
- Electric bill
If Trim can lower the rate, they keep a success fee that’s 25% of your total savings. It’s also possible to lower these bills yourself. But you need to take the time to call each service provider.
3. Cancel Cable TV and Stream the Channels Instead
Living cheap doesn’t mean you either spends lots of money or no money. In most cases, you only have to spend less than you do now.
One easy way to cut your spending is to cancel your cable TV plan. There are good alternatives to cable TV that let you watch many of the same channels or other great programming for less money. And it’s possible to stream from your TV, computer or mobile device.
The cheapest cable TV alternative for you may be watching Sling TV. For $20 a month, you can watch a basket of sports and lifestyle channels, including Disney, ESPN and AMC. And you don’t pay extra for those random channels the cable company provides but you never watch.
You can add extra package themes starting at $5 a month.
Read our Sling TV review to learn more.
Hulu with Live TV
To get a comparable cable lineup (minus premium channels like HBO), plan on spending at least $39.99 a month to stream cable TV.
Hulu with Live TV is a great option at that price. Although Sling offers a similar channel lineup for $54.99 a month, Hulu with Live TV gives you access to many great cable channels and the entire Hulu video library.
If live TV isn’t important, you can pay $8 a month to watch the on-demand content. Hulu has started producing its own content too, which may appeal to you.
Also, you’re more likely to get more local channels with Hulu than Sling. Hulu offers free cloud DVR, too. Sling charges $5 a month for this feature.
To pick the best platform, decide how much you want to spend each month. Plus, decide which channels you want to stream and any add-on features.
If you only want lifestyle channels, you can save even more money with Philo. For $20 a month, you can stream 43 cable channels, watch on-demand content and enjoy unlimited cloud DVR.
The only downside is that you can’t watch local channels or sports channels.
4. Get Free Cellphone Service
Switching to a prepaid cellphone plan or a free cellphone plan can save you money.
We use a prepaid carrier and are happy with the service. Today, we pay less money each month and get more data than before.
If you need to upgrade your phone, these discount carriers offer refurbished phones for reduced prices.You can also buy used unlocked phones on Craigslist, eBay, and Gazelle.
FreedomPop offers a free monthly plan with 500 minutes of talk time, 500 texts and 500MB of data. You can upgrade to a premium plan if you need more minutes, texts or data.
For $15 a month, Republic Wireless offers unlimited talk and text. You will need to use Wi-Fi to access the internet. Or, you can add 4G LTE data for an extra $5 per month.
5. Switch Insurance Providers
You might be paying too much for your car, homeowner’s, or renter’s insurance. Gabi is a free tool that compares your current rates with quotes from over 40 different insurance providers.
Gabi saves its clients up to $825 per year. If Gabi can find you a lower rate, it helps you switch to the new company as well.
6. Refinance Your Current Debt
In addition to lowering your monthly bills, you should also try lowering your loan interest rates. You can use a loan comparison site like LendingTree to compare rates for these loan types:
- Personal loans
- Student loans
- Auto loans
- Home mortgage
Lowering your interest rate can mean a smaller monthly payment. If you can continue making your old monthly payment amount, you can pay off your loans quicker. You’ll also pay less total interest over the term of your loan.
For example, if your payment drops from $400 to $325 because you refinance your loan to a lower interest rate, if you still pay $400 a month, the extra $75 should go to your loan principal.
Let your lender know that you’ve paid above the amount due and you might see instant savings on the amount of total loan interest you’re expected to pay.
If you don’t alert the lender to your extra payment, it may not apply the extra payment until next month’s due date and you won’t save as much money.
Consider Consolidating Credit Card Debt First
When it comes to debt, you may see the most savings when you combine your credit card debt into one loan. For most people, this debt type has the highest interest rate.
When you consolidate credit card debt, you get a new loan with a lower interest rate and use it to pay off all your higher-interest credit card bills.
Let’s say you’re paying $400 a month on a $10,000 credit card balance with a 15% APR. You consolidate to a loan with a 10% interest rate and a 36-month term. Even if you lower your monthly payment to $325, can save $3,078 in total interest costs.
7. Try Living Rent-Free
Your housing costs can be one of your largest expenses. Why not challenge yourself to live rent-free?
The classic way to enjoy a rent-free lifestyle is to have several roommates whose combined rent covers your portion of the tent. Or, you could move in with friends and family for a short period of time. But you have a few other options in today’s world.
Be an Airbnb Host
One modern idea is being an Airbnb host. You can rent out your spare bedroom or basement. If you have a second house, you can also rent that whole house out. In any of these cases, your rental income helps pay your housing costs.
If you’re more of a nomad, you can also house sit for friends and strangers. By keeping the house clean and perhaps caring for an animal, you can sleep in their house for free. Even if the owner requires you have to pay their utility bills, you’re still avoiding your own monthly housing payment.
8. Rent Your Car
If you have a car that you don’t drive on a regular basis, make some extra cash by renting out your car on Turo. The rental income can cover your monthly car payment or the monthly insurance premium.
Turo protects your vehicle with $1 million in liability insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance.
This can be a better idea than selling a seldom-used car. It may still be cheaper to own the vehicle than have to pay for a rental when you need one.
9. Sell Your Extra Car
On the other hand, if you don’t need a car at all, consider selling yours, or at least a second or third vehicle that you own.
Most vehicles depreciate in value each day you own them, even if you never drive them. By selling one of yours, you can use the proceeds to pay down debt or to build up your savings. If you still have an auto loan on the car you sell, first pay off this loan to eliminate a monthly payment.
In some cases, you may still need a car occasionally. In that case, it may make sense to buy an older model to replace your newer car.
I’ve had the most success selling my old cars on Craigslist and Facebook. It’s more time consuming, but you can earn more than the dealer trade-in value. To get a fair price, get a free Kelley Blue Book quote before you list.
10. Cook Meals at Home
Another large monthly expense you might not think about is food. Cooking your own meals instead of going to restaurants is the easiest way to save money on food.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that the average monthly grocery bill for a family of four is between $550 and $1,300.
If you’re single, the USDA estimates your monthly grocery bill is between $155 and $340 per month.
Going to the grocery store instead of restaurants is a good start to saving money. You can save even more when you buy fresh ingredients instead of processed foods. Also, avoid the premade items in the freezer section or packaged snack foods.
Yes, these convenience items save time, but they cost more than cooking from scratch.
Use Meal Planning to Save Money
Our family of four (two adults and two small children) spend roughly $12 to $15 on meals most days. This compares to the $25 a day I spent for myself most work days because I was too lazy to make my own meals. For $10 less a day, we feed three more mouths by cooking at home.
We are able to eat cheap, nutritious meals because of meal planning. Each week, plan ahead what you’re going to eat for the week. Then, go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients.
Also, we only cook what we’re going to eat. If there are leftovers, we keep them for another meal. Avoiding food waste is another easy way to decrease your food costs.
If you need help with meal planning, try $5 Meal Plans. Each Friday, you receive weekly meal plans with recipes that cost $2 or less per person.
Use Coupon Apps Like Ibotta
Another way we save money at the grocery store is with Ibotta. This mobile app helps you save money on name brands and generic items. To enjoy the savings, activate the offers for the items you buy. Then, scan your receipt to claim your savings.
Once your balance reaches $20, you can request payment via PayPal or a gift card.
Also, get a $10 bonus when you redeem your first offer using Ibotta.
Buy Store Brands Instead of Name Brands
Another way we save money in the grocery aisle is by buying store brands instead of name brands. In many cases, the taste and quality are comparable to the name brand.
Stick To Your Shopping List
When you grocery shop, make a list of the items you need for your meal plan. Then, don’t buy anything that isn’t on your list.
These random purchases increase your grocery bill.
11. Drink Tap Water Instead of Bottled Water
Another easy way to save money is drinking tap water instead of buying bottled water.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t prefer the taste of chlorinated tap water. So we filter our water before we drink it. Your fridge might come with a built-in water filter.
Or, you can use a filtered pitcher that you can purchase online or at your local store for under $30. We pack a water pitcher when we travel, to avoid buying bottled water.
For the most similar bottled water taste, consider installing a reverse osmosis unit. When at home, we use this reverse osmosis system. This filtration method also removes more contaminants than most carbon fridge and pitcher filters.
If you choose to filter your drinking water, it’s still cheaper to buy replacement cartridges than to buy bottled water. It’s healthier on the environment too, since you avoid using all those plastic bottles.
12. Buy Secondhand Clothing
Instead of buying brand new clothing each season, consider secondhand clothing. You can shop at local thrift stores or consignment shops. For more upscale outfits, consider Poshmark.
We don’t buy every clothing item used. But we do buy some items that way. It’s possible to find designer labels or major brands in “like new” condition if you look. For instance, I can usually find Land’s End, Brooks Brother, and Jos A Bank shirts and pants at my local stores.
Of course, you can also browse the clearance racks at your favorite clothing chains.
13. Buy Other Items Used Instead of New, Too
Another way we save money shopping is by also buying non-clothing items secondhand instead of brand new. Our favorite site is Craigslist. But you can also use Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp.
We use Craigslist to buy things like furniture, home improvement supplies and used vehicles. If you don’t need warranty protection, consider this shopping hack to save hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars each year.
People sell gently used items for significantly less than the retail price for the same item.
14. Shop Online With Cashback Apps
When you shop online, always use a cashback app like Rakuten. You can get cash back at most online stores. It’s free to use these apps. And the checkout process is exactly like when you don’t use the app.
To earn cash back, you have to activate a shopping session before you check out. With Rakuten, you can activate a session with the browser extension. Or, by first visiting the Rakuten app from your phone or tablet.
Each quarter, Rakuten sends you a cash or gift card payment when your rewards balance is at least $5.01.
15. Save Your Pay Raise
Whenever you get a pay raise or bonus, don’t increase your monthly spending. Instead, save or invest the difference and continue to live on your old income.
For instance, let’s say your annual salary goes from $40,000 to $41,200. Instead of spending the extra $1,200 on things or experiences, save it for the future.
Of course, you can also use the raise to pay off high-interest debt. This is any debt where the interest rate is greater than the potential interest you earn by saving or investing.
For most people, that means using your raise to pay any debt that has an interest rate above 10%.
But, if you can earn more money by saving instead of paying off debt, you can do one of the following.
Put Your Money In An Online Bank Account
You may choose to put your money into an online savings account from a bank such as Aspiration Bank. Aspiration Bank’s accounts are fee-free and earn one of the industry’s highest interest rates.
Aspiration Bank only requires you to make an initial deposit of $10 to open an account.
16. Invest In Low-Fee Index Funds
Depending on how you currently invest, you might be paying too much in fees. There are ways to save money within your 401k and personal investing accounts with a passive investing strategy.
The less you pay in broker fees and fund fees, the more money you can invest in each trade. In most cases, index funds have the lowest expenses. That means you can buy more shares, which can earn dividends and appreciate in value.
Many brokers let you trade index fund shares for free. Index fund fees are low because index funds try to track market performance instead of trying to beat the market.
Yet, your results with index funds may be the same or even better than with funds that try to beat the market. Studies show that most actively-managed funds don’t beat their benchmark indexes.
Optimize Your 401k with Blooom
If your employer offers a 401k retirement plan, this might be your primary investment account. Direct paycheck contributions and the employer match make the 401k an easy way to save for retirement.
But you should still make sure you’re choosing the best funds in your 401k plan for your retirement goals. Blooom offers a free 401k analysis. It can also manage your portfolio to have the ideal stock and bond mix for your age.
All the while, Blooom will work to keep your 401k fees to a minimum. That means you have more cash to invest.
Learn more at our full Bloom review.
Automate Your Investing
One benefit of investing in index funds is that you save time by not having to research different stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Most brokers offer free trades for their in-house index funds. For example, Vanguard is a broker known for its index funds. You don’t pay trade fees on any Vanguard index funds.
If you’re a DIY investor, you can pick Vanguard or any other online brokerage. Or, if you want to save time investing, you can automate the process with an investing app like Betterment. It invests your cash in several stock and bond index ETFs.
To reduce your taxable investment income, Betterment also uses tax loss harvesting. That’s a strategy where they sell investment losses to offset your annual gains.
17. Take a Day Trip
Not every trip has to cost thousands or even hundreds of dollars. Simple day trips can be a fun way to explore your local area and satisfy some of your adventure lust so you need fewer out-of-town vacations.
You might try searching for jogging, hiking or biking trails within a 2 or 3-hour radius that can also double as your exercise routine. Or, you might research local historical landmarks and other key points of interest.
18. Save Money on Bigger Trips
In the meantime, set aside money to pay cash for your next out-of-town vacation. If you have a flexible travel schedule, you can save money by traveling during the school year and avoiding major holiday weekends.
19. Plan an At-Home Game Night
Instead of going to the movies or bars this weekend, stay home and host a game night. Games are cheap and can provide hours of fun. With your family or friends, decide whether you want to play card games, board games or both.
20. Start a New Hobby
Games aren’t the only source of cheap entertainment. There are many cheap hobbies you can pursue. Maybe you can learn a new skill or even rekindle a long-lost interest.
21. Delay Large Purchases
Now, for possibly the most important “secret” for how to live cheaply: Wait at least 24 hours before making a large purchase.
For instance, do you really need a new flat screen TV, pair of shoes, or iPhone today? If you wait two or three months, you might be able to get the same item on sale at a store or on discount shopping websites. Or you may lose interest altogether.
We live in a society that thrives on the feelings of instant gratification and the fear of missing out (FOMO). If you don’t spend your money right now, we’re made to feel that we’ll be left behind while our friends are having fun.
It’s okay to say “No” to large and small purchases. At first, it can be hard to distinguish wants from needs. Thankfully, it gets easier with practice.
Every person is going to define “large purchases” differently. My wife and I consult each other before either of us spend more than $100. Your limit can be higher or lower than ours.
As you can see, there are many practical ways to save money today. Most of these ideas only require a few simple changes. Once you start seeing the benefits of spending less, challenge yourself to pursue more of these ideas.