Living within your means is the foundation of financial health. But, that’s easier said than done. If you find yourself in the red at the end of too many months, you’re not alone. “Sticking to a budget” is the No. 1 financial challenge for Americans, according to a recent GOBankingRates survey.
To get the best savings advice, GOBankingRates turned to the smartest money experts out there — the finalists of our “Best Money Expert” competition, presented in collaboration with Ally Bank. We asked them:
“What are the best ways to stretch a dollar?”
In response, these experts delivered strategies to save more, spend less and make room in your budget for what’s really important. Click through to read their tips.
1. Go on a Spending Freeze
Nicole Lapin, a consumer expert and author of New York Times best-seller “Rich Bitch,” shared this advice for those looking to get more out of their budgets: “Go on a spending freeze with your partner, colleagues or best friends.”
To put this spending freeze in action, Lapin suggested looking for everyday ways to spend less, like staying in with inexpensive bottles of wine over heading to the bar, or hosting a clothing swap with friends instead of going on a shopping spree.
Lapin is a big believer in the power of friends to support each other in creating better financial habits. “Create a support system, and help each other,” she said. For example, if you really want to buy something but you have a savings goal, “save with a friend,” Lapin suggested. “She likely has something on her wish list, too, and it’s easier to commit to saving long-term if you go in on it together.” You can even up the ante, and “create a friendly competition around who is doing best at cutting expenses — think ‘The Biggest Debt Loser,'” said Lapin.
You’ll see big results as you work to curb overspending, but a strong support system is key. “As money issues become more intense, a like-minded community will keep you sane and moving in the right direction,” Lapin said.
2. Stop Mindless Spending
Tony Robbins, a business and life strategist and bestselling author of “MONEY: Master the Game,” said that stretching the value of a dollar means spending it on what will add the most value to your life.
“Focus instead on the returns you’ll reap tomorrow,” Robbins said. “Often you can have the same level of enjoyment, if not more, by doing something simple.” For instance, if you’re getting together with friends, why not skip the $50 restaurant meal and “order in a couple pizzas and beers and split the cost among your group?” Robbins suggested. “Trade one good time for another, save yourself about $40 each time out, and you’ll be way ahead of the game.”
While saving $40 at a time doesn’t sound like much, this kind of mindfulness adds up. “[Save $40] once a week, and put those savings to work, and you could take years off your retirement time horizon,” Robbins said. That $40 a week adds up to $2,000 a year, which you can use “to harness the power of compounding and help you to realize big, big gains over time.”
“How big? How about $500,000 big?” Robbins said. “That’s right, a half million dollars. How? With the power of compounding at 8 percent over 40 years, that $40 weekly savings — $2,080 per year — will net you $581,944.”
3. Always Be on the Lookout for Savings
“Always look for a way to save, and don’t let saving opportunities pass you by,” said Jeanette Pavini, a finance reporter and spokesperson for Coupons.com. Pavini makes it her mission to help readers find easy and simple ways to save a little everywhere they shop. “There are so many opportunities to save out there, and it typically only takes a nominal amount of effort to take advantage of them.”
“In fact, I almost never make a purchase without applying some type of savings,” Pavini continued. “For example, buy a box of cereal on sale, apply a coupon from Coupons.com, get 2 percent back in credit card rewards, clip the box top so 10 cents goes to my child’s school, and use my grocery store loyalty card so I get points toward gas saving. One box of cereal — five different savings strategies.”
4. Try Envelope Budgeting
For those who have trouble sticking to a budget, “I recommend that on payday, you take out the dollar amount you need until the next pay period and split it up among your envelopes,” said Clark Howard, host of popular nationally syndicated radio program “The Clark Howard Show.” “When one envelope empties, you either take money from another envelope or you do without until next payday.”
Moving to a cash-only system can help you cut spending and get in the habit of more carefully considering purchases. “Debit cards and credit cards can be the Bermuda Triangle of your wallet because it’s so easy to lose track of finances when you use them,” Howard said.
If you’re more high-tech, Howard said you can try a method invented by his executive producer, Christa. “She hit on the idea of putting money into different accounts for different purposes,” Howard said. “Today, she has three checking accounts and one savings account.”
5. Stack Discounts to Lower Your Grocery Bill
Kyle Taylor, founder of popular personal finance blog ThePennyHoarder.com, gave this personal finance tip to families looking to stretch their dollars: “Groceries are often one of the largest expenses for families, so it makes sense to start here when you’re looking for ways to cut back.”
For true savings, Taylor’s advice is to look beyond the obvious. “We all know about couponing, but saving money is way easier when you know how to stack discounts.” Instead of settling for using just a coupon to save, you can combine that coupon with other savings strategies to cut your grocery budget down. “Utilizing an all-of-the-above strategy has helped me reduce my grocery bill by more than half,” Taylor said.
A favorite tip that Taylor uses is buying discounted gift cards from sites like Raise.com, which includes cards from grocers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Target. “These gift cards are sold for 1-25 percent below face value, meaning that I’ve saved money before ever stepping into the grocery store,” Taylor said. “I stack those savings on top of my regular coupons and then combine it with grocery rebates from apps like Ibotta and Checkout51.”
6. Get More Money Flowing In
Of course, the advice to “spend less than you earn” is an equation that has two parts — how much you spend and how much you earn. Entrepreneur and performance coach Josh Felber has made it his mission to help people achieve success by following their passions, and in his view the best way to approach the “spend less than you earn” equation is to focus on the second part.
Instead of trying to stretch dollars, “always have a consistent flow so you don’t have to stretch,” Felber said. There’s a limit on how far you can cut your spending — everyone needs to cover the basics. But if you focus and invest in earning more, there’s no limit on how much your income can grow.
7. Put Your Money to Work
Another “Best Money Expert” finalist, Robert Kiyosaki, emphasized the importance of getting more out of your money. “Invest it,” said the entrepreneur and author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” the self-proclaimed No. 1 personal finance book in the world.
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Investing is the key to achieving true financial freedom. “Put your money to work for you … instead of working for money all your life,” Kiyosaki said.
To truly stretch a dollar, never accept an initial price or offer. Whitney Johnson, an investor, innovator and author of bestselling book “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work,” said that you should “negotiate, even when you think you shouldn’t.”
Negotiating is one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting the most value for your time, money or other resources. Johnson suggested following this advice, or “else you will earn too little or spend too much.” Fail to negotiate, and you’ll lose out on dollars you could have saved or bigger paychecks you could have earned.