10 Tips & Tricks: Living on a Tight Budget

Our budget has been strapped this month. We were having a very difficult couple of months since an individual my husband did several jobs for was stalling on paying him. Luckily, we got through it. No harm, no foul, as they say. There are a lot of things you can do to keep costs minimal. Here are just a few guidelines I apply to my life daily to live on a tight budget. After how the recent weeks unfolded for me, I thought I should share! Everyone is different, and so maybe all these guidelines are not realistic for you. But that doesn't mean you can't still use what would work for you!

#1 - Make all your meals at home, lunch included. Restaurants and take out is expensive. Even cheap take out. The $5 at Taco Bell that would be good for one person for one meal, makes two meals for one person in my house. Eating out can even encourage you to eat more, considering that you may see several things on the menu that you can't resist. By making your meals at home, and sticking to a meal plan, you can avoid those impulsive eats.

#2 - And while you're at it, make from scratch. While they can be time-saving, processed foods also get expensive. The portions tend to be small, which can mean you buy more individual servings as a result. Even for the processed foods that aren't that expensive (or even the ones that are) are not good for you anyway. I make 95% of our meals at home, and of that, almost all of it is from scratch. I plan ahead to make meals big enough so there are leftovers for lunch the next day. A bonus to this is that you'll also, without a doubt, burn more calories whipping up cookies from scratch or cooking a meal than taking the wrapping off the top of frozen mac & cheese and putting it into the microwave.

#3 -When you can: buy in bulk. It's important to only buy things in bulk that you know you'll use, because if half gets wasted, there was no point in buying it at all. However, for household essentials, there's a lot of things you can save on. Rice, Annie's Mac & Cheese, vegetables, cheese, Ecos laundry detergent, Kirkland eco-friendly dish soap, and Kirkland frozen pizza are a few things we buy regularly. We try to stay away from processed foods (the frozen pizza!), but we keep them on hand for emergencies, since it is still cheaper than eating out, and possibly even healthier, too.

#4 - Find what you're willing to compromise on. When you can, buy used. I'll buy important products new... But I'll buy used shoes (if they were hardly or never worn), books, clothes (sometimes), and sometimes toys for Baby E. That being said, I save the splurges and big expense for important items that will last (computer, car seat, stroller, etc.).

#5 - Quality, not quantity. This is a very overlooked aspect of living on a tighter budget. Not all products that are "cheaper" are the same quality as more expensive products. So the quality is important to take into account, considering that a poorer quality item will not last as long, and therefore you'll have to replace it sooner (spending more money!) than a better quality item. My rule of thumb for an item obviously made cheaply is to double the amount on the price tag. Is it then still much cheaper than the more expensive item?

#6 - Use the library! A lot of people forget that the library doesn't just have books. They have DVDs, music CDs, newspapers, and magazines, too! So you can cut down on some expenses by checking the library for books you want to read, magazines you like to buy, or movies you want to watch. They won't always have what you want, but every time they do, that's money saved.

#7 - Be earth-friendly! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Another great thing, which is great for the environment, and great for your wallet, is going with products that are designed to be used over, and over, and over. Almost all the stores here in Edmonton now charge $0.05 cents per plastic bag. If you buy or receive a reusable bag, put it to use! The $0.05 cents will add up! If you go to Starbucks or another cafe on a regular basis, buy a tumbler and bring it with you every time you go (you can make it a rule not to go if you don't have it too, which may save you money a couple of times). It varies from cafe to cafe, but you can get anywhere from $0.10 cents to $0.25 cents off each time you visit, just for using your own cup. Use cloth instead of paper towels. The list goes on and on, because the possibilities are endless!

#8 - Repair, not replace. We're so used to throwing things out as soon as they start malfunctioning on is, we forget that there are lots of repair shops out there. And a lot of times, they're not as expensive to repair as one might think. It's often much cheaper to repair something than to replace it. Another thing to consider is that if you have something that's good quality and just has something wrong with it (a dress that needs a facelift, or a pair of shoes that need new soles), it's worth fixing rather than throwing out! A very nice lady was kind enough to give me a beautiful antique sewing machine worth hundreds of dollars, since she said it needed some repairs. I was a little concerned about how much the repairs would cost, but it ended up costing just $15 to purchase a replacement belt and light, and my husband installed them himself. Now I have a perfectly functioning antique sewing machine that I have only invested $15 in, when buying a new one would be $50+ (or much higher for better quality).

#9 - Budget it out. Set aside money for everything, and unless there's an emergency, don't splurge! I will sometimes scrimp on one budget in order to make another budget for that month bigger---that's okay! The point is to keep overall monthly expenses within reason. It helps to give everyone a set amount of "fun money" to spend as they choose, too. Having a set amount will make each person think harder about what to use the funds on.

#10 - Think on it. When you go shopping, stop to ask yourself if you really need it. Or, occasionally, when you don't really need it, if you really love it. Make sure you think long and hard about a purchase beforehand. When you do make a purchase, keep it in the bag and in all original packaging for at least a day to make sure you really do love it. If it's clothing, try it on and make sure it looks just as good at home as it did in the store (lighting, mirrors, etc. can affect how you feel about it in store). Then, if you decide you are truly happy with it, keep it. I find this works for me really well. I grew up doing a lot of impulsive shopping, and once I moved here, I started to realize how often I actually bought stuff I didn't really like that much. Now it hardly ever happens, but it took years of thinking this way to finally get where I am now.

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  1. thank you for all these tips...i am sure going to following up on it.

  2. Our budget is going to be awful this month because I was off for 7 days for vacation...no paid vacation in the land of preschool teachers! I'll have to really work on stretching the budget. It is not fun! Thanks for the tips!!

    1. Sorry to hear that, Christy! I know that teachers often get the short end of the stick (and for that, I am sorry, you all certainly deserve better!), but I did not know they don't get paid vacation! Hopefully your finances look better next month!