Though inflation is slowing down, high costs are still squeezing a lot of people's budgets. Prices rose over the last 12 months on everyday expenses such as housing (up over 7%), meals out (up over 6%), and auto insurance (up over 19%), according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1
That means saving money could require some creative tactics. We talked to 20- and 30-somethings who are balancing their budgets and saving—without making themselves miserable. Here are their ways to save money and spend less.
1. Set rules for your cash
Javon Pratt, 33, from Utica, New York, decided to never spend a $5 bill. Anytime he gets one, he tucks it away in a drawer. A few times a year, he deposits the cash into an interest-bearing savings account or investment account, where it could grow. After less than a year, Pratt had nearly $2,000. "It's not enough where you're going to miss the money but enough that it adds up," he says.
Detroit-based social media influencer Mark Setlock, 20, makes a different paper play. "Whenever I do odd jobs or side hustles and get paid in cash, I split it in half between 2 wallets," he says. He spends the first wallet's cash on whatever he wants, but the second wallet is for saving. "I save such a large amount without realizing it," he says. "If I consciously had to take that money out of my bank account at the end of every month to put toward savings, it would hurt."
2. Rank your expenses and saving goals
Taking an honest look at what you spend money on can put things into perspective, says Thomas Kopelman, 26, of Indianapolis. Kopelman trimmed his monthly expenses by listing them out in order of importance: essential items, such as housing, gas, and pet food at the top of the list, followed by increasingly less-important costs. "Then look at the things at the bottom of your list—things that wouldn't alter your life if you cut them," he suggests. "Cut out the bottom 3 to 5 items. You may hardly notice they're gone."
Let's say you cut a couple streaming subscriptions ($250 per year), a seldom-used gym membership ($250 per year), and fast-food lunches (about $1,000 per year if you're spending $20 a week). You might free up about $1,500 annually that you could put toward paying down debt or building an emergency fund.
Prioritize your saving too. Washington, DC-area parent Stephanie Kibler, 35, lists her savings goals with the most immediate one on top—currently closing costs to buy a home. Her other saving goals include a travel fund and braces for her kids in the future.
"For each goal, I set a minimum payment that I contribute every month, so I'm always making a little progress on each one," Kibler says. She treats the minimum savings payments like any other monthly bill, tracking the money in a spreadsheet. When she has extra money, she throws it at the top goal to reach it faster. (Tip: You can start tracking and contributing to your goals using Fidelity Goal BoosterSM if you have an account with Fidelity.)
3. Redo your routines
Tweaking your habits could help you focus your spending where it counts. For instance, trading grocery store visits for curbside pickup has helped Elijah Langille, 30, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, save hundreds. While curbside pickup costs $2, supermarket impulse buys were costing him more. If you normally drop $20 on impulse purchases at the store each week, eliminating them would bank you an extra $1,000 each year.
Rethinking your home habits can pay off too. Family finance blogger Pratheeba Paneer, 36, lives in Dallas, where electricity costs nearly twice as much in the early morning, late afternoon, and evening than at other times. So she never turns on her dishwasher, washing machine, or dryer then—a move she estimates saves her about $100 a month. Check your electricity provider's website to find out whether they charge more during certain times of day. Then find out more ways to lower your gas and energy bill.
4. Try DIY
Did something break? You might be impressed by what you can fix on your own with online tutorials. Even if you hire a pro for more complicated or dangerous work, DIYing for simple issues can save you a lot.
Langille says he's not handy, but with the help of social media videos and older tools he finds at yard sales, he can tackle car repairs, plumbing, woodworking, and more. "You learn as you go, and sure, you make mistakes," he admits. But something as basic as changing his own car oil saves about $50 each time.2
Similarly, Setlock has become his own butcher and chef. "I love steak, but I don't love spending the money on restaurant steaks," he says. Instead, he watched online videos and learned how to prepare his own. Now he buys in bulk from his local butcher, cuts the meat himself, and freezes it. Rather than dropping $30 or more on a steak dinner at a restaurant, Setlock digs in at home for about $4 per steak.
5. Think outside the bar
If your go-to hangout is getting food or drinks, or heading to a movie theater, you may be able to save hundreds a month by shaking up your social life.
"I used to throw down my credit card every Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday brunch," says Keira Paget, 26, of Providence, Rhode Island. Between overpriced cocktails, rideshares, late-night snacks, and tipsy cost-sharing promises—"you say you're going to split the bill, and no one ever pays you back"—Paget racked up $20,000 in credit card debt. She knew something had to change. She has since cut back on nights out and given up alcohol. It's made her feel healthier and saves her $300 a week, which she's using to pay off debt. "Just go out once a week and take advantage of happy hour deals," she suggests.
Setlock didn't want to ditch date nights with his girlfriend for sitting at home watching TV. "I realized you can do things that are fun, exciting, and new, but still cheap," he says. One activity: buying cheap art canvases, lipstick, eyeliner, and eyeshadow and staging an art contest. For a few dollars, they put a fresh, memorable spin on their usual night in.