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How to Save Money During Lean Times

Saving is especially difficult during rough financial patches, but you can still make smart money moves.

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Saving money is smart, but it isn’t always easy – especially during financial setbacks. The COVID-19 crisis has affected the workforce in unprecedented ways, leaving many Americans with less work hours and lower pay, if not unemployed.

Whether you’re trying to build an emergency fund or replenish a savings account, holding onto income can be difficult, especially for those currently living paycheck-to-paycheck or trying to pay off debts.

From different saving methods to budgeting, here are some tips to help you save your dollars, even when you don’t have a lot coming in.

Start Small

Every penny counts when it comes to saving. If money is tight, saving small increments at a time can be a great way to start. It might not feel like much in the short-term, but saving just $5 or $10 a week can add up to $250 or $520, respectively, in a year. And that’s not counting interest. Another method is to set a specific, achievable goal for yourself, like working toward saving one month’s worth of expenses.

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Consider CDs

Certificates of deposit or CDS are a great option if you already have some money to set aside. While your money will have to stay in the bank for a set period of time – anywhere from one to 60 months – you will be rewarded with higher interest rates compared to traditional savings accounts. The longer the term of your CD, the higher the interest rate will be.

A CD isn’t the best option for your emergency fund, as you won’t be able to access the money before its maturity date without facing a penalty.

Make it Automatic

Life is becoming more digital every day. If you haven’t already set up automatic deposits and transfers, now’s the perfect time to start.

Autopay eliminates the chance of accidentally forgetting to save, giving you one less thing to think about. Automatically send money from checking to your savings weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on what you can afford.

Some institutions also offer certain rewards for setting up automatic payments. When it comes to loans, setting up autopay can save you some money with a 0.25% reduction to your interest rate.

Track Your Spending

Tracking your spending can help you stick to your budget and get a better idea for whether there are things you can cut back on.

Check your account statements every month. Not only will you see exactly where your money is going, you could also catch potential fraudulent charges.

Consider using a budgeting app, or track your spending with a spreadsheet.

Cut Back on Streaming

Many people watch TV shows and movies or listen to music to settle down at the end of the day or on weekends. Entertainment is good, but limiting the number of paid services you subscribe to can save you money.

From Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime to newer additions like Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock, there are too many streaming services to count.

“The average American subscriber watches 3.4 services,” according to Forbes. Try to limit yourself to three or less paid streaming services at a time and/or consider going for cheaper packages. Opting to see more ads could save you money.

If you haven’t already, consider cutting cable to save money.

savings accounts

Cook Your Own Food

Ordering out gets expensive. If you rely on takeout and/or delivery regularly, try mixing in more home-cooked meals.

Breakfast and lunch are typically cheaper to order out, so for the biggest financial impact, try making your own dinners. Consider making big batches of easily-reheatable meals, like casseroles and soups. Enjoy for a few days or freeze leftovers for later.

Slow cookers and Instant Pots are easy options for those who don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have time to stand in front of the stove.

Go for Free Services

There are plenty of options when it comes to free entrainment. All you need is a device and Wi-Fi.

Head to YouTube for how-to videos about everything from cooking and crafting to meditation and yoga. If you would rather read, check out e-books from your local library.

For other ways to expand your mind, go globetrotting virtually or take advantage of free virtual tours through museums, theme parks and zoos.

Resist Risks

When money is tight, it can be tempting to look for different ways to pay the bills. Avoid risky behaviors like using payday loans and high-interest credit cards.

A payday loan is “a short-term, high cost loan, generally for $500 or less, that is typically due on your next payday” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The fees you’ll have to pay along with the high annual percentage rate of payday loans typically make them more trouble than they’re worth.

Credit cards can be helpful for building credit, and some offer decent cashback perks, but high interest rates can make them risky. “More than 189 million Americans have credit cards,” according to Debt.org. “On average, each household with a credit card carries $8,398 in credit card debt.” To avoid risk, try making purchases with your credit card only when you have the cash to cover the cost. This way you’ll be strengthening your credit without adding to your debt.

Learn about all the ways AAA and Discover can help you save. 

How do you save money during lean times? Tell us in the comments below. 

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