16 Simple Ways to Save When Money Is Tight

Everyone goes through tight spots now and then. Unexpected illnesses, loss of an income in a two-income family, or job action and uncertainty like we're experiencing right now in Ontario put an enormous added strain on the wallet. But not to fear... you can still have a good life until things get back to normal and you're feeling comfortable again. Here are 16 simple ways to save when money is tight.

Photo of coins with text, "16 Simple Ways to Save When Money Is Tight."

Caffeinate At Home

If you make one switch to your regular routine while money is in short supply, let it be this one. 

Photo of coffee mug.

If you're a teacher like me, there are approximately 194 teaching days in a year. The average person not working on a contract like ours will work as many as 250 or so, not counting weekends and holidays.

🤔 So, let's do a quick bit of math...

If you purchase one medium coffee each working day for a year, you'll probably spend about $1.85. Multiply that by 194 teaching days, and you're spending over $350 a year. If you're not a teacher, it's probably closer to $460.

Put that cash back in your pocket by making your coffee or hot beverage of choice at home and bringing it with you or taking the time to indulge before you leave home.

You can even purchase some of those top cafe brands in home-use packages!

Pack a Lunch

Eating out at a restaurant or even picking up some lunch goodies at the nearest market is fun. I'm the first to admit that I really despise organizing lunches and would rather grab something fresh and ready-to-go than have to make a sandwich or salad myself.


While I do treat myself from time to time, I know just how expensive this can get. 

When I pop into the store across from my school, I can easily spend $8-$10 on a couple of things for lunch. Multiplied by my teaching days, I'd be spending over $1900 on lunch food alone!
Photo of school lunch.

Now, if I figure out the cost for bread and lunch meat, or the ingredients for salads, or snack foods I might bring, the total cost is MUCH LESS than this.


Go Day Old

Now, related to lunches is another fantastic money-saving tip.

Before you head to the shelf and grab the first package you find, check out the discounted day-olds tucked away in a corner of your grocery store or local bakery.

Photo of baked goods.

Some of my colleagues tease me for it, but I have no problem eating foods that are past their "best before" date. I think they're a farce to get people to spend more if I'm honest! 😂

You can often save as much as 50% or more off of the regular prices, and you'll find that the quality is pretty darn close to the fresh options.

Don't knock it till you try it!

Buy Store Brands

If you're not willing to push the fresh dates on the foods you eat, why not try purchasing the store brands instead of the brand-name items?

Photo of various cans with no labels.

You'll find that the quality is usually just as high, and sometimes even better than the brand-name choices!

If you don't love one, try another, and you'll find a brand you love.

Watch For Sales

You might be stuck on your favorite brands already, but you can still save a good chunk of cash if you watch for sales on the items you purchase often.

Photo of sales flyers.

Peruse the weekly flyers or use an app like Flipp to check for great discounts ahead of leaving the house.

Make a List

Another great way to avoid overspending is to make a list of the things you need and commit to ONLY buying what is on it

Photo of shopping list with computer and tomatoes.

This strategy works well with hunting for sale prices.

If you live in an urban area with lots of shopping locations nearby, you'll want to stick to your list but purchase the items on it at the lowest possible prices.

Uh, oh!

Inevitably you'll find something in the store that you just have to have think you need, or you'll add something to your list that makes you take a second thought.

Ask yourself, "Do I NEED that?" before putting out the money for it. If you don't need it, don't buy it.

Photo of colorful gift bags.

Use Coupons

Some people are embarrassed to use coupons, and I can't understand why. 

If you could purchase the same item as the person ahead of you in line and pay less to get it, why wouldn't you?! 

Photo of fake coupons.

Make collecting coupons part of your regular shopping routine, look for the items in the flyers, and make sure the things you have coupons for are on your list!

Limit Restaurant Visits

Many families make restaurant nights out part of their regular "family time" and have a hard time giving that up when times are tight.

Photo of a restaurant meal.

I can't stress enough how cutting out restaurant meals can reduce your monthly spending and put money back in your pocket.

If you just can't give up the spoiled feeling of not having to prepare a meal, why not consider takeout instead

You can avoid the need to leave a hefty tip for your server, consume your own beverages, and even eliminate a delivery fee by picking the food up yourself!

Avoid Alcohol

No, not entirely. Wine is one of my guilty pleasures, and I'm not prepared to give it up completely to save money, but I rarely order alcohol when eating out.

Photo of a wine toast.

If you can't resist the joy of eating out when money is tight, order water (with lemon is my favorite!) or a soft drink instead. You often get free refills of these beverages, they cost a fraction of the price of alcoholic options, and the taxes are much lower as well.

Carpool

Gas. Is. Expensive. 

It actually dropped below $1 per litre here in my part of Ontario last week, and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw it! (For my friends in the US, that's about $2.84 per gallon.)

But most of the time it is fluctuating much higher than that, and I'm sure that's true wherever you live.

If you have a friend at work who lives nearby, why not make a plan to carpool and take turns covering that cost?

Photo of sign that says, "Carpool is Cool."

Gas Up Mindfully

If you're in a position that you don't have anyone to carpool with, you can still save...

Watch gas trends using an app like Gas Buddy and make a plan to fill up on the lowest days. In my area that is usually Monday. Almost without fail, the prices go up significantly on Tuesdays here.

Photo of someone pumping gas.

Sign up for your favorite station's reward program (they're free!) and cash in on the perks they're giving away. Sometimes discounts on gas or sometimes deals on items in their convenience store. Whatever it is, get more for your dollar!

Movie Nights In

While a night out at the movies is alluring, you can have a fun movie night at home for a fraction of the cost. 

Rent a movie online or find one on Netflix since you're probably already paying for that.

Make your own popcorn. I actually far prefer the taste of Costco's Kirkland popcorn over the stuff at the movie theatre anyway, and the cost is about 20x less!

Photo of popcorn.

Stop Funding Your Classroom!!!

I can't stress this one enough. 

I know that putting your own money out for the things that you need in your classroom makes your life easier than not having them. But not only does it put a strain on your personal finances, but you're also sending a message to your government and the public that it is okay that classrooms aren't adequately funded.

Photo of empty classroom.

It is not okay!!

If there are things you absolutely need for your classroom, try:
  • checking with colleagues who may already have the resource.
  • borrowing from a resource library or public library. (Until recently, our local teacher's college had a huge resource library that all teachers in the area could borrow from.)
  • asking your administration to cover the cost.
  • asking your parent council to support the purchase of the resource.
  • using a crowd-funding site such as TpT Class Fund or GoFundMe, if these are allowed in your area.


Buy In Larger Quantities

For the things you often purchase, avoid grabbing small packages at ridiculous prices. 

Don't buy a 4-pack of toilet tissue at the corner store where you'll end up spending a buck a roll. Grab a big bulk package and pay pennies per roll instead.

Photo of bulk toilet paper package.

You'll have to put out more money upfront, but you'll be buying these items far less often.

This is an excellent strategy for things like toiletries, over-the-counter medications or pain relievers that you often purchase, snack foods or meal items that you regularly consume, even wine is cheaper when purchased in a magnum instead of small bottles!

Upsize these items and upsize the cash in your wallet at the same time!

Borrow Instead of Buying

If you're an avid reader like me, books can become a significant expense. I LOVE to read, and I do it daily, but at regular prices, I would easily spend $60 or more per month on my habit.

Photo of piles of books.

One of the best things I've ever done is get set up on my local library's Overdrive account using the Libby app and my Kobo e-reader.

I'm actually reading more than ever by borrowing books for free from the library!

One Bonus Tip!

Spend some time getting to know your benefits package. There are often great wellness services there that are covered for you.

Massage therapy is a great one to take advantage of and use. You are entitled to it, and it is excellent for both the body and mind.

Photo of massage therapy room.

Share Your Own Tips!

You, my reader, are a super-smart cookie yourself, and I know you have some other awesome money-saving tips you can share with me! I LOVE hearing from you, so drop your ideas into the comments below, or even better, contact me here to share!

Together, we can get through tough times unscathed!


Check out the lunch ideas I share in this blog post:

10+ Easy Lunch Ideas That Will Save You Time

You might also be interested in the resources on this Pinterest board:


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Photo of coins with text, "16 Simple Ways to Save When Money Is Tight."

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