Finding more money in my budget every month is certainly a goal of mine. More money to sock away in my savings? That works for me!
Essentially, managing your budget — and finding more dough in doing so — boils down to two core truths:
- Spend less than you earn.
- Save the difference.
Now, those truths can get distorted depending on how much you make, your financial responsibilities and your lifestyle. If you need to send money to family members or if you live in a hot real estate market where rents are sky high, your ability to save might be impacted.
Let’s take a look at how we can cut money from your budget to ramp up your savings rate. This applies to all budgets. Whether you make the same amount of money or your income fluctuates monthly, there are a few ways to find more money there.
Step 1: Make a Budget
The first thing we need to do is to assess our budgets. If you don’t have one, you may want to make a budget. You can use an Excel spreadsheet or an app like Mint or YNAB — whatever works best for your style. (Personally, I use a spreadsheet to track my freelance income and Mint to track my spending.)
On your budget, list everything that you spend money on. And I do mean everything. This includes your essentials such as rent and food, as well as all the little things that make a claim on your money, like cigarettes, Amazon orders or Lyft rides.
I also like to include a row for my savings accounts. I find that keeping my savings accounts on the same page as my budget helps me remember the reason I’m budgeting in the first place. Seeing a line item for “Travel” or “Retirement” makes cutting out another section easier.
Once you’ve got all the information in front of you, it’s time to decide what needs to stay and what can go.
Step 2: Separate Needs From Wants
The second step is to decide what is an absolute need and what is simply a want.
Things like housing, food, transportation and utilities are usually essentials. We all have to have someplace to live and something to eat! Things like movies, clothes, meals out and travel are usually simply wants.
Differentiate in your budget between a need and a want. If you’re using Excel, highlight needs in one color and wants in another. Make it clear to yourself what you need to spend on to live and what you spend on to please yourself.
If you need to find more money in your budget right away, simply slash all “wants” as much as possible. This requires willpower and commitment, but it’s a surefire way to free up more money right away.
Step 3: Tweak Your Lifestyle
If you’re looking to implement lifestyle changes that free up more money in your budget permanently, you’ll want to go over every single line item with a fine-tooth comb.
There are lots of expenses that can be easily slashed. For example, if you shop smarter, you can spend a whole lot less on food. Off-brand items are cheaper than name brands. Buying in bulk and skipping meat and pre-packaged foods are other ways to cut your grocery bill.
You can cut your utility bill by using energy-efficient light bulbs and tools, as well as by insulating your home better. Housing might be tricky, but see if your landlord needs help in exchange for a lower rent rate. If you own your home, consider renting out a bedroom or even space on your driveway to someone who owns an RV.
In the “wants” area of your budget, try to implement cheaper versions of your favorite things. For example, if you’re a movie lover, you can save by looking for free screenings in your town. Often, libraries or community organizations do free movie nights. If eating out is your weakness, try to recreate your favorite recipes at home or switch from fancier restaurants to cheaper ones.
You can also implement trades for things and services you love, rather than shelling out money. If you have an in-demand skill, offer that in exchange for something you want. For example, offer your landlord Spanish lessons for $150 less a month in rent. Or change your friend’s oil in exchange for a meal out on them.
Get creative with your budget, skills and lifestyle! You know yourself best, so customize your spending as much as possible.
Step 4: Increase Your Income
If you’ve already slashed your budget to death or if you simply don’t want to live a life devoid of some of your favorite things, you can put more money into your budget by increasing your income.
Ask for a Raise
The simplest way to increase your income is to ask for a raise. If you’re a W2 employee working full time for a company, the summer season is a good time to start gathering data to ask for a raise. Look back over the first two quarters of the year and list your accomplishments.
Did you land a big client? Increase page views for three months straight? Sell the most retail in your entire department? These are all things that you can use to ask for a raise. Gather the information and store it in a file.
Besides that, start doing some market research on your position. You should know how much people in your same position are making in your city and across the country. Combine this with your personal accomplishments to ask for a raise in your annual review.
Increase Your Freelance Rates
If you’re a freelancer or a contract worker, you should also raise your rates with your clients. As a freelancer, it’s important to keep pace with inflation and the high tax rate. Asking for a raise isn’t something that you should be afraid of!
Freelancers can use the same basic formula as regular employees. If you don’t have access to how your work might have benefitted the company (such as page views), focus on what you bring to the table. If you have a large social media following and you know that your name on a client’s website is valuable, use that to explain why your rates are increasing.
If you offer new services, new perks, better quality or more of your time to a client, these are all reasons to raise your rates.
Or if you compare all your client rates and notice a low-paying outlier, inform that client that the rates are going up because you know you can be making more elsewhere. If they want to keep you, they’ll pay your increased rate. If not, you can find a new client at that higher rate.
Outside of asking for a raise there’s always the option to pick up additional work. Bringing in more money through more work is time consuming but can make a huge difference to your budget.
I always tell people to pick up work that aligns with their larger career goals. If you’re a tech worker, it doesn’t make much sense for you to pick up a bartender shift. It makes much more sense to pick up freelance design, coding or IT work. You can list that freelance work on your resume or use it to pivot work positions.
If you’re a teacher, pick up tutoring gigs or work with a company organizing educational events. Find work that interests you as well as moves you further along in your career.
It’s easy to find more money in your budget once you know where to look. And by taking these four steps, you may surprise yourself with how much extra money you can find to increase your savings. Even if you’re microsaving with an app such as Stash, over time, you’ll enjoy watching your money grow.