If you’re worried about your finances, you’re not alone. A survey by CNBC and Momentive found that 70% of Americans are stressed about their personal finances these days. More than half said their financial stress has increased since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
One way to reduce financial stress is to create more wiggle room in your budget by reducing your spending. Of course, spending less can feel restrictive—like a diet—which is why it can be so hard to cut back.
However, there are plenty of ways to spend less without feeling deprived. Follow these five money-saving tips from consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch to keep more of your cash and feel less stressed about your finances.
Audit your bills to uncover savings
You might be spending more than necessary on your monthly bills without realizing it. That’s why Woroch recommends scrutinizing the services you pay for to get rid of wasteful spending.
“For example, a study found that 90% of mobile users waste money on unlimited data plans,” she says. “Ask yourself if you really need unlimited data, and look at your actual usage. You may be able to save by switching to a lower-tiered data plan without impacting your service.” Or you might save by switching to another wireless carrier such as MintMobile.com, which sells wireless service in bulk, offering talk, text and data for just $15 per month.
You might find savings on other bills, too. You can reduce your auto insurance costs by shopping around for a new policy from different providers, bundling auto and homeowners coverage with one insurance or increasing your deductible. Even simple tricks like unplugging unused gadgets can reduce your energy bill by 10%, Woroch says. And using an account monitoring service such as Carefull will alert you to duplicate services you’re paying for and potential discounts.
Buy used to save big
Look at used options before buying anything new. For example, you can save up to 80% off sporting goods at Sideline Swap, up to 80% off clothing at sites such as Poshmark, and up to 60% off on refurbished electronics and home appliances, Woroch says.
You could even download an Internet browser extension such as Beni that finds the same or similar gently-used options for whatever products you search for online. Better yet, you might be able to get items you need for free by joining a Buy Nothing group on Facebook to connect with people who are giving away things they no longer need or are willing to swap items.
Get cash back on purchases
You can take some of the sting out of rising prices by taking advantage of opportunities to earn cash back on purchases. For example, you could download an Internet browser extension such as CouponCabin.com’s Sidekick to automatically alert you to cash back offers and coupon codes when you shop online. “You can earn anywhere from 1% to 25% cash back depending on the site's offer,” Woroch says. “I recently earned $55 last month, and the money was directly deposited to my PayPal account that I transferred right to my bank account.”
You can also turn receipts into cash back by taking pictures of them with a free rewards mobile app such as Fetch. With Fetch, you earn points that you can redeem toward free gift cards to a variety of stores, including Target and Amazon, to offset future purchase costs.
You also could use a credit card that lets you earn cash back on purchases. Woroch recommends using a card that offers a flat percentage back on every purchase rather than a card that offers cash back (or a higher cash back rate) only on certain purchases. Also, make sure the card doesn’t have spending caps that limit the amount of cash back you can earn.
Lower the interest rate on your debt
You likely know that interest rates have been rising, including rates on credit cards. If you carry a balance on your credit card, that means you’re likely paying even more on that debt each month.
“High interest credit card debt is likely eating away at your monthly budget,” Woroch says. “While paying down debt is key, you can get ahead much faster when not paying any interest at all. To accomplish this, transfer your debt to a 0% balance transfer card, which will waive interest for up to 21 months, depending on the promotional offer.”
You can compare balance transfer cards at sites such as CardRates.com to find the best one for your needs and credit profile. To save the most money with a balance transfer, make sure you pay off your balance within the 0% interest rate period.
Eliminate impulse buying
“Consumers are spending over $300 a month on impulse food purchases,” Woroch says. And it’s not just food items that people buy impulsively. There are plenty of small items you might be purchasing on the fly that can add up quickly.
Woroch recommends identifying what triggers you to spend on impulse and to find ways to avoid those spending triggers. “It could be as simple as paying with cash rather than using a credit card or avoiding walking into stores like Target, where you are bound to overspend,” she says. Instead of going into stores, place an order online for curbside pick-up to avoid temptation.
To eliminate other spending triggers, delete payment information that you’ve stored in retail accounts to force yourself to find your credit card and give you more time to think over a purchase, Woroch says. Turn off text message notifications from retailers and unsubscribe from retail newsletters to avoid sale temptations. Finally, look for ways other than retail therapy to cope with stress or negative emotions, such as taking a walk.