11 Tips to Save Money in Tough Times

Here are some 11 things you can do to boost your chances of successfully saving money for your short-term goals, like a holiday, and long-term ones, like building up a home deposit:

1. Make a budget

At the heart of any savings plan is a budget, which helps you prioritize your expenditure and find a balance between spending and saving across a whole year.

By checking your credit card statements, bills, banks statements, and receipts, you can work out all your regular expenses, such as your rent or home loan, transport, insurance and electricity, says MoneySmart.

You then deduct these expenses from your income – your full- or part-time job or casual work, pension, government benefits, child-support payments, investments, etc.

If you’re spending more than you earn, ask yourself what you could cut out or cut back.

“When working out your money priorities,” says MoneySmart, “think about which items you need for your basic living expenses and which are extras or things you could maybe do without if you needed to save some money.”

It’s advisable to update your budget at least once a year, especially if your circumstances change significantly (e.g. getting or losing a job, having a baby). If you’re spending more than you earn, ask yourself what you could cut out or cut back.

2. Track your spending

According to MoneySmart, we can fall into the trap of thinking spending on big things is what gets us into trouble, when often it’s the little things that end up costing us more.

That’s why it’s important to keep track of your day-to-day spending, so you don’t live beyond your means. Your bank statement will tell you how much money is going into your bank account and how much is going out. You can then compare it with your budget to see whether you’re sticking to it or not and, if necessary, identify areas where you can save. Just the thought of having to track our spending can ward off impulse purchases – often the difference between meeting or breaking our budgets.

3. Pay off your credit card

3. Pay off your credit card

With credit-card interest rates in Australia as high as 25 percent or more, it’s easy to see how the rash use of a credit card can undermine even the most modest of savings goals. As simple as it sounds, paying your credit card debt in full and on time is the best way to avoid interest charges as well as stiff late-payment fees.

To avoid missing your repayments, MoneySmart recommends setting up a direct debit payment. And you should pay more than the minimum required, otherwise you’ll end up paying lots more in interest. If you can’t be trusted with a credit card, Canstar recommends taking a leaf out of your grandparents’ book: “No credit, no EFTPOS. Simply withdraw the cash you need for the week, and make it last.”

It may sound counter-intuitive given the advice above, but Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crasher Personal Finance, reckons one creative way to save money is to use your credit card more. But on one condition: “This tip only applies to those who pay off their balance on time and in full every month,” Andrew says.

“Find a credit card with a stellar cash-back rewards program and every few months redeem your rewards and then put that amount of money into a bank account you have set aside for savings only.

4. Open a savings account

By restricting access to your money, savings accounts can give you a higher rate of interest than a basic transaction account. Savings accounts are somewhere you can put some or all of your discretionary income – the amount left over after paying for personal necessities and tax – and any windfalls (e.g. tax refund). You can ward off the temptation to spend this discretionary money by setting up automatic, scheduled transfers from your main account (transaction account) to your savings account. By linking your transaction account to your mortgage account, you can reduce the balance of your loan and the interest payable.

Kylie Travers, the CEO of Occasion Enterprises, which owns and operates several personal finance websites, says rounding down your transaction account balance is a way to glean extra money for your savings account. Round your bank account down every time you check it and transfer the amount to your debt or savings, she says. If I logged in and my account had $109.35, I would round it down to $100 by transferring the $9.35 to my savings account (or debt, when I had it). Some months this resulted in a few hundred paid off without much effort and I didn’t miss those small amounts.

5. Focus on recurring expenses

5. Focus on recurring expenses

While every little bit helps, it’s your large, recurring expenses that provide the most fertile ground for boosting your savings, says the team at The Thrifty Issue. Go over your bank statements and look at all the things you have spent money on over the past year. Then see how much money you can save on them by, for example, refinancing your home loan, comparing insurance providers and other services.

Spend a day going over it all and you can save thousands. While every little bit helps, it’s your large, recurring expenses that provide the most fertile ground for boosting your savings. According to Choice, shopping for a cheaper energy retailer could you cut your energy bill by almost half; you can compare electricity and gas offers on the Australian Government’s Energy Made Easy website.

Because insurance costs typically run into several thousand dollars a year, even an average saving of 10% can equate to hundreds of dollars. Cutting your fuel costs requires constant vigilance: MotorMouth and will tell you which service stations have the lowest prices and the best day of the week to fill up respectively. Even if you’re happy with your mobile and internet service providers, ask them if they have a cheaper plan – information they don’t always volunteer to existing customers.

6. Control your impulses

Credit cards, ATMs, and online shopping make it easier than ever to spend money, including on things we want rather than need; the extent to which we succumb to temptation typically boils down to our willpower. Studies have shown that self-control is a bit like a muscle that tires out with use.

Ironically, it’s the willpower of poorer shoppers that tends to get depleted the most, due to the fact they face repeated, difficult financial decisions. It’s not that the poor have less willpower than the rich,” says the American Psychological Association. Rather, for people living in poverty, every decision – even whether to buy soap – requires self-control and dips into their limited willpower pool.

If you see something you want, says Canstar, wait at least a day before you buy it – 30 days if it’s a non-necessary big purchase. You might find the urge passes. Another way of short-circuiting your impulse to buy is to work out how many hours of work the purchase price represents; chances are you’ll think the item’s not worth it. And deleting stored credit card numbers from sites like PayPal will force you to re-enter them – giving you time to reconsider your purchase.

7. Smooth your bills

‘Bill smoothing’ is a payment system offered by utility providers (electricity, gas, water) whereby you pay them fortnightly or monthly, instead of having to pay the whole bill in one go.

It protects people on tight budgets from bill shock and having to go into debt – and potentially pay interest – simply to keep the lights on and the water running.

Richard from Simple Living Australia recommends you adopt a similar approach with your everyday finances: regularly squirreling money away to pay large bills down the track.

‘Bill smoothing’ is a payment system offered by utility providers (electricity, gas, water) whereby you pay them fortnightly or monthly, instead of having to pay the whole bill in one go.

“This allows you to save money up over time to pay for certain bills annually versus, say, monthly – taking advantage of discounts for paying bills and premiums in one hit rather than in installments.”

MoneySmart recommends you add up how much your big bills cost in total for the year, before working out how much this is per pay or benefit period (e.g. per fortnight).

By putting this amount aside each time you’re paid (perhaps by depositing it into a separate, high-interest, low-fee savings account), you’ll always have money available to cover your next big bill.

8. Plan your meals

8. Plan your meals

Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to save money, says Kalpana Fitzpatrick, the founder of MummyMoneyMatters.

“If you know what you’re eating for the week and have shopped accordingly, there’ll be no need for random visits to the supermarket, which results in your spending more money and even wasting food.”

It will be even easier for you to stay within budget by buying all of your staple items at lower-priced stores like Aldi, says Choice.

Advocates using the food you already have in your cupboard, pantry, garden, and freezer to save money.

If a family of four does this, the website claims, it won’t have to spend more than $21 on its weekly groceries –  roughly $300 less than a household of that size typically spends. Do this one week a month, and in a year you’ll save about $3,600. The key to the ‘$21 Challenge’, says simplesavings.com.au member Mandy Danko, is to do a stocktake, a menu plan, and shopping list.

9. Become a ‘promiscuous consumer’

If you’re a brand loyalist – someone who repeatedly buys a product or service – beware.

Chances are the vendor in question knows you’re less price sensitive than most prospective customers – and could be taking advantage of your loyalty or, worse, taking you for granted by charging you uncompetitive prices.

Instead of allowing your emotional connection to a vendor to get in the way of reason, start using your head and looking for a better deal elsewhere.

Just the threat of leaving may prompt a better offer from your current supplier, who more than likely is aware that retaining existing customers is usually far cheaper than winning new ones.

And if they don’t give you a discount or free upgrade, for example, don’t despair: More than likely, there are other companies lining up to give you a good introductory deal.

Instead of allowing your emotional connection to a vendor to get in the way of reason, start using your head and looking for a better deal elsewhere.

In short, you should become a ‘promiscuous consumer’, says Michael Ginsburg, the founder of Spending Hacker.

“Not only will being loyal not get you a better deal, it’s almost certain to end up costing you more.”

“Make sure you have no brand loyalty and are willing to switch whenever a competitor offers better value.”

10. Avoid a poverty mentality

Many people consider thrift  – using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully – a virtue.

However, while thrift is an obvious way to save, we need to guard against being too frugal, says Emma Johnson, founder of Wealthy Single Mommy.

“Ultimately, the only way to get ahead financially is to focus on earning, saving and investing,” Emma says.

“Focusing on skimping on the grocery and electricity bill will only get you so far, and puts you at risk of a poverty mentality.”

A poverty, or lack, the mentality is one preoccupied with a shortage of money: all the things the person doesn’t have and can’t get, says Randy Gage, writing for getmotivation.com.

These people tend to have self-limiting beliefs and to make decisions based on fear of loss or failure. In contrast, people with a prosperity, or abundance, mentality base their decisions on what the possible benefits are.

11. Use our savings goal planner

Use Budget Direct’s savings goal planner to work out how much you need to regularly set aside to reach your savings target; and what discretionary spending you could cut in the process.

The planner also allows you to upload an image of the thing you’re saving for, which research shows can provide you with added motivation to achieve your goal.

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