5 Ways to Live Comfortably on a Tight Budget

Natalie Thomas
A man’s hands wrapping measuring tape around a skinny piggy bank.

There are some expenses that are simply unavoidable, and just paying those necessary costs is a struggle for many people. Those who are living paycheck to paycheck may even feel that there is absolutely no room to be made in their budget. However, even within essential living costs, there are almost always means to be more frugal.

Table of Contents

Manage Your Home Expenses

Home maintenance is a basic expense that often accounts for the vast majority of a household budget. Shelter, safety, light, and heat are obviously non-negotiable, but there are still ways to lighten the burden of such costs.

Save on Utilities

In most states, the pricing of basic utilities is regulated and inflexible, set uniformly at a (theoretically) manageable rate. However, in states with deregulated utility costs, pricing on utilities like electricity and gas may be negotiable. Shop around or give the provider a call to discuss options.

Beyond that, there are measures that can minimize energy consumption. Everyone knows that it is helpful to switch off lights when they aren’t being used. Far fewer people are familiar with the existence of energy vampires.

These are devices or appliances that use power when they are plugged in even if they aren’t actively switched on or serving a purpose. Chargers continue to consume energy when the attached device finishes charging, or even when the device is unplugged. Similarly, appliances like televisions and microwaves use electricity even when they are not on. This problem can be combated by unplugging chargers or appliances when they are not in use.

Another way to save on energy costs is through careful temperature regulation. Installing a smart thermostat to control heat and air conditioning usage is one option. However, in some cases, the actual dwelling is the problem. Homes with poor insulation or that lack weatherstripping can’t effectively seal in warmth, which can cause heating costs to skyrocket in the winter. Correcting these issues will likely cost money (and is worth renters having a conversation with their landlord about), but in the long run, it will save more.

How to Save on Rent

Lease renewals are a great time to open negotiations on the cost of rent. If that is not an option, one could offset the expense by renting out a room or a parking space. However, you should always consult the rental agreement first to ensure that doing so isn’t a breach of contract.

The best way to save on rent is before you select the unit you’ll be living in. Large, enclosed community complexes are easy to deal with and come with many perks, but they are also often expensive and heap hidden costs on renters.

Put some time into searching rental sites or classified advertisements for cheaper properties owned by individuals or smaller businesses, and be wary of scams. Try to be prompt about reaching out regarding well-priced homes, as good deals disappear faster.

Saving Money on Food

Food is another unavoidable expense, and there are countless options for how to manage grocery costs. Different people have different schedules, skills, and lifestyles — although, it may be worth considering adjusting a lifestyle that is too expensive.

Use Coupons and Restaurant Deals

Keep an eye on receipts, newspapers, and advertisements. Restaurants commonly offer promotional deals and coupons, and some even have apps that provide loyalty programs. Additionally, do research on ongoing promotions; many restaurants offer discounts for special events like birthday parties or for particular demographics like children, seniors, or veterans.

Split the Bill

Generally, the best choice is to try to avoid restaurants or go with cheap options. When that is not a possibility, suggest splitting the bill. This is a great way to blend finances after marriage or for those in a long-term, committed relationship.

Cook Your Own Food

Cooking for yourself is by far the most economical eating option, although it is limited by one’s cooking skill. Additionally, saving money this way will be most successful with good meal planning. Stick to a shopping list and plan several meals that use similar ingredients. This will circumvent the need to buy a new grocery item for just one meal.

Go Generic

When grocery shopping, look for generic or store brands. They are usually less expensive, with a few exceptions. Take the time to compare brands.

Buy in Bulk

Buying goods in bulk is often cheaper per unit than buying smaller quantities of an item. This may not always be a viable option for people who live from paycheck to paycheck. On the other hand, when possible, it can save a lot of money in the long run. Buy some of the basics that do not expire quickly; beans, rice, and lentils are great candidates. They are particularly cheap in bulk. Furthermore, they can be used in a variety of dishes and stored indefinitely.

This option is especially practical for families. It is more difficult to pinch pennies with mouths to feed. Any food that is used on a daily basis could also be a great choice for buying in bulk. Keep an eye out for short-term bulk deals at your local grocery store, and freeze what can’t be eaten before the expiration date.

Budgeting for Transportation Needs

Transportation costs are also indispensable. Commuting to work, school, the bank, or the grocery store isn’t something one can just say “no thanks” to. Cutting down on this daily cost has the potential to loosen up a budget.

Locate Affordable Gas

Gas prices will sometimes vary depending on the gas station. Comparing them and choosing a cheaper option can save some money. It is worth noting that it won’t save much money (if any) if the gas station is too far away from your daily route. Don’t scope out price differences by driving around, as it will be much cheaper and faster to do research online or through an app.

Compare Car Insurance Rates

Car insurance is necessary for anyone who owns a car. That being said, not every provider offers the same rate, and shopping around can help save a significant amount of money. Another way to save on car insurance is just by driving safely. Involvement in a car crash can cause car insurance rates to skyrocket.

Use Alternatives to Your Car

Walking, biking, and taking the bus are all cheaper alternatives to driving. It is also a great idea to research public transportation in your area.

Save Money on Clothing

Beyond general wear, people need clothing items specific to different occasions. Clothes for work, exercise, church, weddings, cold weather, hot weather — it all adds up. This can be especially frustrating for cases of one-time-wear like wedding attire.


Thrift shops are everywhere. In fact, thrifting has become a whole cultural movement. Thrift shops not only provide a wide array of clothing but also other household items as well.

Shop Online

Sticking to local, physical stores can be limiting in terms of comparative shopping. Online shopping, on the other hand, provides more options for both regular-priced items and for coupons and deals as well.

Budget for Your Medical Expenses

Sudden injury or sickness could surprise anyone at any moment, and it can be incredibly expensive.

Compare Insurances

The key to saving on insurance is research, as there are many types of insurance available at different costs. Which one is best for each individual depends on their own personal health circumstances, preferences, and financial situation. Familiarize yourself with basic health insurance terminology, then compare policies.

Prepare for Unexpected Expenses

Anyone could suddenly fall down some stairs or get food poisoning, and certain circumstances are simply unforeseeable. As such, it is a good idea to have an emergency fund prepared for unexpected health costs like these. It may even be useful to open a health savings account (HSA).

It can be expensive to set up an emergency fund, but it is better than the alternatives: payday loans or check-cashing services. Save now — you’ll thank yourself later.

Buy Generic Medication

Just as in the case of grocery items, generic medications are often cheaper than name brands — although, that may not always be the case, depending on your health insurance provider and what they cover. Furthermore, generic medications are usually no less effective than the name brand.

It is easy to get discouraged when dealing with limited resources. However, despite additional difficulty, it is usually still possible to improve your financial situation within those limits.

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