As inflation soars, we are all trying to find ways to avoid living paycheck to paycheck. As you focus on trying to cut costs, don’t forget the importance of continuing to save, even in tough times.
It’s easy to lose money by making simple errors that can be quickly fixed. What is the point of getting a side hustle or exploring other ways to generate more cash if you also let a few small leaks in your savings rob you of more money than inflation does?
The following 10 steps are crucial to make sure you’re not losing money unnecessarily as you try to save.
Fix your big expenses
The most important thing you can do to keep from draining your bank account is to make sure big monthly expenses aren’t stretching you too thin. No amount of packing lunches or making coffee at home will fix your finances if you can’t afford your housing and transportation costs.
List all your fixed costs for the month so you can determine if you’re already in financial trouble. If you need to cut major expenses, be smart and realistic about it. In other words, don’t spend $5,000 to move to a new apartment just to save $100 a month on rent.
Make a budget and stick to it
Once you have your big expenses fixed, set up a budget so you don’t overspend on smaller things. Any number of apps will let you create a budget and track your spending.
Learning how to stick to a budget today can pay off for decades to come.
Pro tip: For help in this area, check out our list of the best budgeting apps.
Don’t spend money on things that don’t improve your life in some way, or that don’t give you enjoyment or peace of mind.
On the other hand, it can be worth it to spend a little money on something that will boost your emotional or physical health, even if you don’t strictly need the item.
So, every few months, review your budget with the notion of cutting things that don’t have value. Then, use some — but not all — of the money you have saved to purchase reasonable things that have value for you.
Occasionally spending on these treats will make it easier to stick to your budget.
Check your bank statement
In the old days, people used to reconcile their checking accounts every week. That habit has faded, but you should still look at your bank statement every month. And you should check your account online every week.
How many miscellaneous charges are going through your account that you don’t notice? What if some of them are erroneous, or are recurring subscriptions or charges you could cancel?
Going through your account transactions should only take a few minutes each week, but it can end up saving you significant money over time.
Set up autopayments
Late fees and charges can eat up money for no good reason. So, set up autopayments for any bills you pay monthly.
For example, see if your utility company has an option to automatically debit your account each month when your bill is due.
Track when checks come in, and bill payments go out
Many of us find that our monthly costs are close to our monthly income. If this is the case for you, make sure you know when your check will come in and your bill payments go out.
If you are not careful, it’s easy to let a $5 fee go out of your account at just the wrong time, leaving you with inadequate funds when a bill comes due — and possibly resulting in large late fees and other penalties.
You probably have some leeway in terms of when monthly payments go out of your account. So, figure out a schedule that doesn’t leave you vulnerable to overdrawn accounts.
Use cash for small purchases
It’s so easy to run your debit card for a $3 coffee or $2 snack. The problem isn’t spending a few bucks on a little treat, it’s doing so too often.
Give yourself a budget for treats that have value to you. Set aside cash for that amount, and pay for the treats in cash. When you run out of cash, no more treats until your budget resets at the beginning of the next month.
Think twice about borrowing from or lending to friends
While lending friends money — and knowing you can borrow if you’re short — can feel like having a solid support system, it’s a fast way for everyone involved to end up spending more than they can afford.
Share stories, food, rides, and hugs, but keep your money separate unless it’s an actual emergency.
Understand your job benefits
Many employers offer benefits that can end up saving you money, from employer contributions to your 401(k) to discounts on life insurance and warehouse club memberships.
Spending 20 minutes investigating your benefits at work might save you enough money to make a difference in your budget and keep you in the black each month.
Watch your debts
Paying off debts and avoiding unnecessary interest charges is a great way to hold on to more cash. If you must carry a balance every month, investigate consolidating debts with an eye toward lowering your interest rate.
Saving money here can help you build an emergency fund or other savings.
Pro tip: Here’s a list of clever ways to crush your debt.
There are so many ways cash can leak out of your savings. But it’s good to know that with a few smart money moves, you can plug all of those holes.
A little planning and investigative work can make sure you’re not losing money, which will put you in a better financial position in the long run.
Create a weekly appointment to check your accounts and schedule a review of your budget and expenses every few months. Doing so can save you enough money to secure your short-term and long-term financial future.