Being broke can teach you how to live very thriftily—trust us, we spent years figuring out how to live well on next to nothing. This is not one of those “Here’s how we saved $ 50k while only earning $ 20,000 a year” stories because, hi, that isn’t a real thing. Instead, we’re here to offer small, actionable steps you can use to help you get your money right so you can go from scraping by to building your savings.
1. Go through every meal kit subscription in the universe.
Seriously, try them all. Just remember to cancel your subscription after those $ 60 off, first-five-meals-are-free coupons have stopped kicking in.
2. Make a list of your luxury items and see what can stay and what can go.
Do you really need a paid Spotify account when the free one also works extremely well? How about your Hulu, Netflix, Mubi, and HBOGo accounts? You can cut back on two and get a library card—most libraries let you rent DVDs and stream movies and TV shows now too.
And ask yourself if some of your other monthly expenses are really that necessary. Is the super-fancy gym membership necessary, or would a more basic gym be Just Fine? (It would. And you can bring your own expensive shower products—worth it).
3. Family plan it up.
And when you decide that yes, yes, you really do need Hulu, Netflix, Mubi, HBOGo, and a paid Spotify account, start up a share system with friends and family. It takes a few minutes of planning, but if everyone in your group subscribes to one service, you’ll all save big bucks.
4. Be the host when you hang out with friends.
If your house becomes the hangout spot, you can avoid spending wildly overpriced bar prices for a glass of wine (and bonus, you don’t have to worry about finding your way home if you party too hard). Or create invites for BYO drinks-and-snacks picnics in the park—everyone shares, and you don’t even have to clean your place after.
5. You can find really, really good stuff used.
If you check out garage sales and secondhand shops, you’ll find plenty of clothes (not to mention furniture and a seemingly endless supply of charmingly mismatched, shabby-chic glassware) for cheap. Try searching your town’s name plus the word “garage sale” in the Facebook search bar to find a ton of local postings.
For furniture, sites like Craigslist and online community boards like Nextdoor are fantastic. You can get practically brand-new, high-quality items by just throwing the name of a brand you’re interested in (“Crate & Barrel”) into the search tool. And check out sites like Thredup that are basically gigantic online thrift stores. You can get really well-made, designer clothes for 1/16 of the retail price, and it’s a far more environmentally friendly way to live.
6. Get your cash right.
While lots of different savings accounts offer interest, credit unions typically have better rates and higher limits. You can also try the Mint app—it can help you figure out what you’re spending where and how to do better—use the discount-code-whiz Honey app whenever you shop online (it’s kind of amazing), and give the cash-back Ibotta app a go, because why not.
7. Check out discounted services.
Groupon hasn’t been as popular in the past few years as it used to be, but redownload it—it’s not just for restaurants. You can find everything from haircuts and spa services to dental and eye exams.
8. Do odd jobs.
This one kinda goes without saying, but if your paychecks aren’t stretching and you have some free time, a side gig is always helpful. You can always opt for Lyft and Taskrabbit, but don’t forget the classics like babysitting gigs (which you can find on Care), dog-walking (Wag!), or using sites like Upwork to make a few extra dollars doing creative tasks. Plus, having a fun side-gig like dog walking to occupy some of your free hours will keep you from overspending (… and the bonus cash doesn’t hurt).
9. Revamp your dining style.
Meal prepping can help you with eating healthy while saving money (and avoiding waste). Also, check out food co-ops to save money on fresh produce, always buy dry goods like paper towels in bulk, and don’t overlook the cheap (and delicious) benefit of starting your own garden.
You can also create budget-friendly rules for yourself, like prepping food for meals you’ll be eating alone, which can create a little room for a dining-out budget with friends. And pro tip: If you start meeting friends for breakfasts instead of dinner and drinks, it’s way, way cheaper—and a really lovely way to start the morning.
If you’re someone who just hates meal planning and is always going to eat lunch out every day, try a service like Mealpal. You can buy a bundle of lunches from local spots for less than $ 6 a meal, and the company has great intro packages (like we’re talking 40 percent off) too.
10. Think before you spend.
It’s really easy to see something you want and drop a stack right then and there. But what if you just… didn’t? Adopt a two-week to 30-day policy before spending money on non-emergencies. Corporations spend a lot of time and money researching the absolute best ways to get you to spend before you have the chance to think, but you can avoid their Jedi mind tricks if you spend some time thinking first, do price comparisons, and assess value. Think first; spend later. It’s less fun in the moment but more fun when you realize you totally have the cash to go on vacation later this year.
11. Dust off your bike.
You can save so much money on transportation (plus give yourself a good cardio workout and avoid using fossil fuels) by opting for a bike ride over taking a train or a car. Don’t want to make the investment in a bike of your own? Check to see if your city has a bike-share program and hop on one of those bad boys—your wallet will feel the relief as much as your feet.
12. Put a personal trainer in your pocket.
These days, there are so, so many different options for in-app fitness, and they’re all super customizable for your workout needs. So even though having the one-on-one attention of a personal trainer is the bomb.com, we guarantee there’s a muuuuuch cheaper way for you to get that workout and still have it be, well… personal. At least until you win the lottery, that is.
13. Two words: Trader Joe’s.
This—and every other brand shoutout in this article—is not an #ad. But the entire Greatist office is obsessed with TJ’s, and we don’t care who knows it. We’ll shout it from the top of a tower of Trader Joe’s almond milk because it’s only $ 1.99 so we can afford it!
Seriously—not only do we love their products (have you had this?! Or this?!), but you can’t beat the prices on typically expensive items like quinoa or blueberries. Trust us when we say that the amount of food you can get for your money will practically double what you’d scrounge together at another grocery store. Long live the Hawaiian shirt!
14. Get scrappy with your movie/festival/concert candy.
Should you break the rules at the movie theater? Of course not! Great, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: Who hasn’t snuck candy into a movie theater? You’ve gotta get crafty sometimes (jackets with pockets on the inside) because bag checks are (rightfully) common at theaters, but hey—drugstore candy is just cheaper and every bit helps. This also applies to festivals, concerts, and plays, so if you need to BYOC… we won’t judge.
15. And it’s OK to fool your friends into thinking you’re fancier than you are too.
Yeah, we’re not above refilling an old Aesop soap bottle with cheaper Mrs. Meyers so the bathroom seems nicer than it is. See also: upcycling the glass containers from nice candles into bud vases and mini planters for succulents (which you’ll kill, but oh well), and serving your friends from carafes of sangria, which you made with a few bottles of TJ’s “Two-Buck-Chuck” cab sauv, an apple, and a couple of oranges (no one ever needs to see the label).
16. Be your own ATM.
You know the saying “out of sight, out of mind,” right? We’re pretty sure that phrase originated when debit cards became a thing. Try taking out cash on Sunday night or Monday morning and let that be your allowance for the rest week—those Jacksons will feel infinitely more real in your hands than they do in your bank account.
17. Go for free.
Take advantage of the free cultural events in your area. You can get into some interesting things this way and, worst case scenario, it’s not the most amazing time you’ve ever had but at least you didn’t get spendy for it. We’re into free museum days, outdoor concerts, improv shows, cemetery walking tours… whatever’s happening, we’re game to try anything twice.