When you’re trying to save money, it often feels like an uphill battle.
On months where you stop going out to eat so much, your car will break down. Or when you figure out how to cut down on transportation costs, a doctor’s visit eats up the excess savings.
This can feel especially fruitless when you’re trying to hit a certain number in your savings account—month after month, no matter how hard you try, your goal is either no closer or even further away.
Luckily, there are easy ways to start keeping up with your finances and cutting back on frivolous expenses. With careful planning and a little bit of resolve, you can use these four life hacks to reach your savings goal quickly and efficiently:
One of the biggest problems with managing finances is doing so without knowing exactly where your money is going.
If you are one of the millions of Americans that doesn’t utilize either a ledger or a budget, it’s time to get a pencil and piece of paper and start counting.
For at least a week, or even preferably a month, write down each and every way your money is spent. Everything from an afternoon snack to a rent payment or utility bill needs to be on this list.
Next, determine the exact dollar amount of income that made it to your accounts in that same amount of time.
It is often said that merely observing a situation will drastically affect its outcome. By seeing just how much money goes in and out each month, you’ll be able to accurately identify extraneous expenses and balance your budget.
By the end of the experiment, you should find yourself able to uncover three numbers—the amount you pull in, the amount you have to spend, and the difference between those two numbers.
That last number is your maximum amount of savings per month, so making sure all or most of it ends up in the right place at the end of the month is paramount to meeting your goals.
If you found that your maximum savings number won’t get you near your goal in the amount of time you have, we’ll need to make a few simple lifestyle changes.
This life hack is simple—cook everything. Eliminate take out and opt for groceries. For most Americans, this will allow you to eat three meals a day for $300 or less per month. If you tried counting beforehand, you should see a noticeable difference between a month of expensive fast food and a month of home cooking.
One of the fortunate side effects of cooking at home is physically seeing each item that goes into your body. If you’re hoping to lose weight or cut back on unhealthy eating habits, making progress may be a little bit easier when eating the food means making it yourself.
Start Thinking About Your Medication
While medication and prescription drugs may seem like an unwavering part of your budget, there are more ways than one to get that number down and make more room for savings.
Shop around at different pharmacies to find the lowest prices on medication, or consider signing up for a pharmacy card to automatically apply discounts to each purchase. Pharmacy cards are often free— the result of pharmacies working out deals with pharmaceutical companies to make a profit and transferring that excess to you.
Cutting down on Xarelto cost or perhaps the cost of Vyvanse can be as simple as presenting a card the next time you’re in the check-out line.
Start Carrying Cash
This last tip is a little more psychological than our other tips—but no less effective.
Using credit cards and debits cards in the everyday world is often more convenient and simpler than pulling out the cash and counting out the change. However, this convenience comes at a cost. If you’ve ever found yourself in credit card debt, you know all too well the dangers of swiping without thinking.
Whenever possible, head to your bank account and pull out the money you need this month in cash. Then, when it comes time to pay, ditch the plastic and count out those dollars.
While it may seem silly or a waste of time, it actually has a lot to do with the concepts we touched on earlier.
Just as knowing where spent money went makes us more likely to cut back? In the same way, by seeing exactly how much money is going out of your wallet, you might be a bit more careful to purchase in bulk or skip out on name brand luxury.
Plus, if you find quarters and dimes to be bothersome, collect all of your loose change and exchange them for cash at the end of the month. Most supermarkets have machines that do this for a nominal fee, but putting your money in rolls at your local bank and exchanging them that way is often free.
Of course, there are many other life hacks that could be listed here that will save a few dollars here or there. Simple rules like ‘water only’ or ‘use a clothesline’ are definitely ways to make your budget ever-so-slightly better.
However, it’s the big changes that matter the most. By counting your money, you’ll know exactly which small changes you can make. By cutting back on prescription cost, you’ve saved money you didn’t even know you could be saved.
Making bold and confident choices with your budget is the only way you’ll hit your savings goal. Once you’ve matched your golden number, don’t go back to your old ways just yet—keep practicing your newfound spartan lifestyle to make sure you never have to pull out the credit card when emergencies present themselves.
Start working on these simple life hacks today, and develop smart financial habits that will keep you prosperous for tomorrow.