Frugality is a skill that anyone can cultivate, regardless of their income level. Yet, when the bank account is at or near zero, people learn to scrape by with what they have. This resilience only comes from having experienced low funds firsthand.
People that have been there share the best hacks in an online forum. Many of them have to do with food since staying fed is one of the biggest concerns for people in poverty.
1. Drink Water
In the US, water is free practically everywhere, including restaurants. For major savings and better health, skip the juice, soda, and alcohol, all of which can drain your wallet in no time.
Not only is water good for your health, but it’s also good for your wallet. Instead of buying expensive beverages, stick to drinking water when eating out or at home. This simple habit can save you hundreds of dollars each year. If needed, invest in a small water filter if there are concerns about water quality.
2. Find the Cheapest Carbs
Depending on what part of the country you are in, certain carbs may be cheaper than others. For example, one man shares that he swapped bread for tortillas for their versatility and how much cheaper they were at his local store.
Others shared that they always buy whichever bread is on sale or learn to make their own bread or tortillas (which are basically just flour and tortillas anyway).
3. Start a Garden
Having a small garden with easy-to-grow vegetables like onion, garlic, herbs, zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumber can be a game changer for eating on a budget. A man shares he has lived off of rice and beans most of his life. What made it much more enjoyable was being able to add fresh flavor from the vegetable garden he grew in his backyard.
4. Dumpster Diving
For the desperate, there are a surprisingly large number of people who find quality food in dumpsters behind grocery stores.
Endless bags of fruit, vegetables, bread, and other items are thrown away daily due to bruising or being past their sell-by date. If you do try this tactic, make sure it is legal in your area and that you are not trespassing on private property. Plus, take extra care to keep yourself safe and sanitize your loot well.
5. Cook at Home and in Bulk
It’s well-known that cooking at home is more cost-effective than eating out. But, to take it a step further, try cooking in bulk. Cooking a large batch of food can provide several meals for the week, saving both time and money.
Many people admit cooking at home cost efficiently is an art that takes practice. Find blogs and YouTube channels for guidance on how to make tasty meals out of the ingredients you can afford.
6. Use Public Transportation
Cars are expensive to maintain and use. And depending on where you live, public transportation can be a cheap option for getting around. It may be more of a hassle, but it will never come with insurance costs, gas, maintenance fees, and other unexpected costs of having a car.
7. Find a Bike
Using a bike can save money on gas and provide exercise. Look for free bikes online that you can fix up or snag a low-cost option that you can start riding immediately.
8. Shop Secondhand Whenever Possible
The majority of things people and families buy are unnecessary. However, it’s inevitable that certain items like clothing and household goods will need to be replaced at some point. Instead of buying new, consider shopping secondhand at thrift stores, garage sales, or online marketplaces.
9. Hunt for Quality Items
Not only can you find great deals on gently used items, but you can find prices for higher quality items. For example, finding a good pair of winter boots from a trusted brand for $20 at a thrift store is significantly more cost-efficient than buying a cheap pair of boots at Walmart for $15 that’ll fall apart after just one season of use.
10. Find Free Entertainment
Entertainment doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Look for free community events, concerts, movie nights, and other activities in your area. You can also check out books, movies, and games from the library for free.
When money is tight, there’s no reason to pay for an exorbitant cable bill or buy brand-new video games.
11. Learn to Be Handy
Unexpected costs for home and car repairs can put a big dent in anyone’s budget. Learning basic handy skills and being able to fix things yourself can save a significant amount of money in the long run.
Follow handyman channels to learn how to unclog toilets, change the oil in a car, or repair a leaky faucet. The knowledge and skills gained can be useful and save money for years to come.
12. Cut Down on Utilities
Utility costs, such as electricity and gas, can add up quickly. Take steps to reduce these costs by unplugging unused appliances, adjusting the thermostat, turning off lights when not in use, and being mindful of water usage.
13. Prioritize Your Expenses
When money is tight, it’s important to keep enough money to pay all the essential bills, such as rent and utilities, to avoid ending up evicted or without power or water. Then work with the budget to prioritize other expenses such as groceries, transportation, and entertainment.
14. Use Coupons and Discounts
Coupons, discounts, and reward programs can be great ways to save money on everyday purchases. Collect coupons from mailers or newspapers, sign up for store loyalty programs, and use discount websites and apps to find deals on the things you need.
15. Seek Out Financial Assistance Programs
If you’re struggling to make ends meet, there are various financial assistance programs that can provide temporary relief or long-term support. Look into food assistance programs, housing assistance, and job training programs in your area to see if you qualify for any help.
16. Change Cell Phone Companies
Cell phone bills can be expensive, but there are many budget-friendly options available, such as Tello, Mint Mobile, and Visible, for under $30 per month. Consider switching to a different cell phone company or choose a prepaid plan to save money on your monthly bill.
Also, consider a plan that doesn’t include data, which is one of the biggest costs of a cell phone plan. Instead, use “free” Wi-Fi at home or in public places to stay connected.
17. Avoid Late Fees
Late fees on bills can quickly add up and make a dire situation feel worse. To avoid these fees, make sure always to pay bills on time. Set reminders or enroll in automatic payments to ensure you never miss a due date.
18. Don’t Do Loans
Many people share the holes they got themselves into by taking out payday loans. Unless it’s a matter of life or death, people strongly advise against it. The interest rates and fees are not worth it, especially when there are alternative options to consider.
19. Use Your Negotiating Skills
Negotiations can be an uncomfortable experience for many people; however, if you’re struggling financially, learning how to speak up for yourself is essential. Ask your landlord if they can reduce the rent or negotiate with creditors for better terms. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to work with you if you ask.
20. Invest in Yourself
One of the best long-term financial decisions someone can make is investing in themselves. Take a class, learn a new skill, or earn a certification that will help increase your earning potential and provide more opportunities for career advancement or a side hustle.
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JayDee Vykoukal is a writer, author, mom, and Doctor of Physical Therapy. She has been writing about everything motherhood and health-related since 2018 when her first daughter was born, and she wanted to stay home. She loves to research new topics and fun facts with her kids to teach them about the world.