99 Budget Hacks That Make Your Money Work For You
If there’s one tactical life lesson my mother has taught me, it’s to “never pay retail.” (Okay, my mom and “The Nanny.”) From Limited Too sale tops, an off-brand purse designed to look like Coach, and K-Swiss sneakers on clearance, I can’t imagine a single purchase in my childhood that wasn’t on sale.
Today, I actually enjoy seeking out coupons and money hacks. I eagerly check in on my monthly spreadsheets and financial trackers, and you’ll never catch me “adding to cart” without also searching for promo codes.
Now I’m here to share my favorite money tips and lessons learned with you. Because those are your hard-earned dollars after all, and you deserve to stretch them as far as they will go. (And if you’re in your 20s, check out these financial wellness tips here that my colleague Kayti wishes she’d known then!)
Budgeting Hacks For Home
1. Moving into a new space? See if you can negotiate a few bucks off your rent or ask for upgrades if the amount seems too high.
2. If you have a reliable track record as a tenant, ask a landlord if they’ll accept a lower security deposit.
3. Or, the most effective rent hack of all: Live with a roommate.
4. If you have very high electricity bills in one season and very low bills in another, reach out to your utility company to see if they offer budget plans. During a particularly cold winter in a basement apartment surrounded by concrete, our heat bill came out to nearly $400. We were able to pay closer to $120/month through a budgeting plan, rather than $400 chunks in the winter and $80 bills in the summer.
“Reach out to your utility company to see if they offer budget plans.”
5. Ask for an electricity audit from your service provider to see where the costs are adding up. A service member will examine your space and show you where energy is most used, and you can make sure they’re documenting your actual use versus estimates. (The US Department of Energy has a DIY assessment you can try, too.)
6. My parents relentlessly reminded me to turn lights and ACs off when leaving a room, to which I rolled my eyes. Now that I have to pay for it myself? I see their point. Turn off and unplug electronics—it adds up.
7. If you own your home, consider switching to renewable energy. There are often tax credits for this as well as lowered utility bills!
8. While you’re at it, think about smart devices to upgrade, like plugs, bulbs, and thermostats.
9. Live in a warm city? Keep the blinds closed in rooms you’re not using to conserve energy. Live in a cool city? Keep them open to stay warm.
10. Buy seasonal produce and avoid meat for extra savings at the grocery store.
11. Cut cable and switch to subscriptions to save money.
12. Save an extra penny by splitting subscriptions with friends or family.
13. If you have standard internet use (aka, you’re not gaming or streaming), save on your internet bill by switching to a lower upload/download rate. You likely won’t even notice the difference in your internet service.
14. Go through your bills and cancel any memberships you’re no longer using. (Cough cough, that gym you signed up for three months ago and haven’t gone to.)
15. Buy in bulk for goods you know you’ll need time and again, like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or laundry detergent.
16. Plan your meals to double up ingredients for two meals. Today’s tacos make for great frittatas tomorrow! Check out these 99 healthy dinner recipes if you need ideas.
“Take produce clippings to regenerate and grow your own.”
17. If you have a partner and share bills, refer one another for extra credit card bonuses, especially on no-fee cards.
18. Take produce clippings to regenerate and grow your own; save on buying basil or tomatoes every week!
19. Borrow books from the library if you won’t reread your books.
20. Buy secondhand books if you want to keep them.
21. The ol’ meal plan is a tried-and-true method for a reason. Stick to recipes you enjoy cooking (rather than dread), and avoid the takeout.
22. Thrift furniture and home decor on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, or these apps for secondhand furniture.
23. Check the weekly ads for grocery stores near you. Compare between multiples if you can.
24. Learn some simple DIY repairs so you can fix or mend things yourself instead of calling in costly contractors or services.
25. Program your thermostat to adjust to natural weather whenever you’re not home.
26. Buy goods that can last in the freezer whenever they’re on sale.
Budgeting Hacks For Transport + Travel
27. Check for a certified pre-owned car rather than a new one. (Also, the personal finance community will suggest always owning over leasing, but you do you, boo. Everyone’s circumstances are different.)
28. Drive a lot? Look up gas apps to find the cheapest gas near you. Google Maps now has this feature, too.
29. Sign up for a gas program if you’re loyal to one place, like the Shell you pass every day on your way to work.
30. Enroll in a rebate app for gas like Upside.
“Enroll in a rebate app for gas like Upside.”
31. See if you can triple-stack those gas savings. The Points Guy has a great primer on this.
32. If you find yourself flying the same airline over and over again—hi, United at Newark Airport—look up airline credit cards. These usually come with generous sign-up bonuses once you hit a minimum spend (i.e., spend $1,000 in two months and we’ll give you 50,000 miles) for purchases you may need to make anyway.
33. If you’ve had a negative flight experience, speak up. Passengers are entitled to certain rights when they fly—though most don’t take the time to look them up—and airlines will provide flight vouchers, refunds, or coupons if your experience was particularly rough (airline policy actually mandates it). My travel bank currently has $100 from one airline due to a severe flight delay and $100 to another because both the entertainment and charging systems were broken. (If you live in the US, I recommend checking out the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights, which outlines issues around overbooking, delayed, and canceled flights.)
34. Always search for flights, rentals, and hotels in Incognito mode. Most websites save your cookies and change the price, knowing you’re looking for a specific option. If you search on a private browser, the prices will not only stay the same but are more likely to drop. Some will even show you the in-country currencies for international destinations, so you don’t have to worry about conversation rates or fees.
35. Subscribe to flight or vacation deal websites like The Flight Deal, Skyscanner, and Scott’s Cheap Flights; you can often find last-minute steals or mistake fares if you’re flexible! In 2014, a friend and I leveraged a mistake fare from The Flight Deal from NYC to Prague, Amsterdam, and Milan for $179 one-way. These fares do happen, and it’s glorious.
36. Book a flight, car rental, or hotel stay with credit card points. Most times, it’s recommended that instead of booking through a credit card’s travel portal, you should transfer the points to a respective vendor like United Airlines or Hertz to maximize your rewards.
“If you’re looking to travel abroad on a budget, utilize a city’s day pass.”
37. Or, if you want to redeem points but aren’t traveling, leverage cash-back rewards on your statement. Some cards do an automatic percentage back for every purchase, while others offer them in incremental chunks ($25, $50, $75).
38. If you’re looking to travel abroad on a budget, utilize a city’s day pass. You can use Go City to find one in your area or Google for other smaller passes.
39. Turn on tweet notifications for The Flight Deal and similar accounts so you can see deals as soon as they go live (aka before they’re gone!).
40. Consider a home swap if you’re going on vacation, so you can save on the cost of lodging—and get free pet care if you need it.
41. Check out annual companion passes for airlines like Southwest, so you and a friend can fly together for the price of one seat.
42. Public transportation often sells monthly or weekly passes at a discount.
Budgeting Hacks For Shopping
43. Sign up for a Rakuten account to earn cash back on purchases. You can also add the Rakuten extension to your browser for pre-emptive deals. I’ve saved more than $400 to date, thanks to this app.
44. Speaking of browser extensions, add Honey, too. Honey searches the internet for the best coupon codes and promos.
45. Similarly, Fetch offers gift cards and rewards for any purchases made in stores or at restaurants. Simply upload your receipt.
46. Let things sit in your cart without purchasing and exit out. If you’re still thinking about it a day or two (or three!) later, you can always come back and check out.
47. Buy pieces for next winter or summer at the end of your current season when they’re most on clearance. It’ll be cold or warm again before you know it!
48. Ask for discounts, especially if you’re a student, veteran, or teacher. Many brands give them if you ask.
49. Check Poshmark or other secondhand apps for items currently retailing above your budget.
“Let things sit in your cart without purchasing and exit out.”
50. Find multiple uses for one product—Vaseline doesn’t just have to be for your lips.
51. Just because you have a coupon for something doesn’t mean you need to use it! Use your discretion if you truly need an object or not.
52. Use “cash envelopes” for certain parts of your budget. If the money’s gone, you’re out of money to spend that month.
53. Invest in a capsule wardrobe over time, rather than seasonal purchases that fall apart.
54. Have one retailer you love? Try buying discounted gift cards from them if you know you’ll be a repeat customer. You can do this on Raise, the Honey extension, or even in your local Facebook group.
55. Go for generic over name-brand. Most times, you’ll find the same effective ingredients or materials.
56. If you’re short like me, consider shopping in the kids’ section. Both my mother and I have purchased shoes in kids’ sizes that fit just the same but cost half the price.
57. Make some extra money by filling out surveys using sites like Swagbucks.
58. If you enjoy a product or service and can genuinely recommend it, earn referral codes by sharing about them with friends!
Budgeting Hacks To Make Your Money & Bank Work For You
59. Want to invest in the stock market or ETFs but don’t know where to start? Consider robo-advising companies like Betterment which make it easier to invest with just $10—and it helps automate and optimize your taxes. (You can also invest with your values!)
60. Or, if you’re excited to invest in real estate but don’t have thousands of dollars, check out Fundrise, where anyone can help own property starting at $10.
61. If you think you’ll owe on your taxes this year, get a proactive conversation going with a CPA to figure out ways to cut down on that bill!
“Did you know you can negotiate medical bills?”
62. Look at your credit card or bank perks for percentages off purchases with specific retailers; think 10 percent off at IKEA or $20 off $100 at your Gelson’s grocery stores.
63. Put aside at least 10 percent of your income towards savings (if not more). This can be across your emergency fund, retirement account(s), or sinking fund if you’re saving for a special occasion.
64. Max out your 401K if you have a company match.
65. If an employer-offered 401K is not an option, max out an IRA. Check the tax implications for a traditional, Roth, or even mega-backdoor IRA depending on your income.
66. Shop around and compare rates when looking for a new service. Car insurance companies, contractors, and photographers all have wide ranges, and you should find the one that is most optimized for your needs and budget.
67. Did you know you can negotiate medical bills? Ask for an itemized bill to understand each expense, and check out these negotiation strategies.
68. Are you a student? Apply for scholarships. Millions of dollars go unclaimed every year, and there’s a scholarship opportunity for just about anything—like being left-handed.
69. If your credit card has an annual fee, consider downgrading to a free card from the same bank or asking for a retention offer. A retention offer is an incentive they’ll offer you, like free miles or a reduced fee, so banks can retain you as a customer.
70. Don’t skimp on insurance. Whether for your iPhone, your newly adopted pup (congrats!), or your apartment, there’s usually a related and worthwhile insurance to think about. Emergencies happen, and even the best budgeter can be caught off-guard.
“Set up auto-pay and mark those dates on a calendar.”
71. Set up auto-pay and mark those dates on a calendar. Auto-pay ensures your most important expenses are covered no matter what, especially in an emergency. And in addition to never having to wonder if you paid rent or your phone bill, some providers will give you a discount for setting it up as well. T-Mobile, for example, gives us five dollars off our plan each month thanks to auto-pay.
72. Ask for cheaper options if services you love and consistently use are truly out of reach (i.e., NYT subscriptions can go for as low as $4/mo.).
73. Consider an ATM fee-free account or bank if you need cash on hand often.
74. Have an FSA? Use that for daily hygiene and menstrual needs. It’s tax-free!
75. If an FSA isn’t an option, but you have a high-deductible health plan, you can also try an HSA for tax-free medical needs.
76. If you have credit card debt with a high APR, consider moving your balance to a 0% APR card to avoid paying extra interest. This calculator from Affirm is helpful for seeing any loan amount, interest rate, and payments from three to 36 months.
77. Sell gently used goods or clothes you no longer use and save anything you make.
Budgeting Hacks To Shift Your Mindset
78. Consider working with a financial coach or therapist to deal with fear around money. The Financial Gym is a great place to start.
79. Make checking your budget a ritual so that it doesn’t cause you stress. Pair your check-in with your favorite wine or dessert.
80. Remember, it’s okay to say no to asks that might break the bank! The Financial Diet has great posts on setting boundaries and reframing your financial priorities.
“Remember who you are saving for.”
81. Avoid expensive social events and opt for free or low-cost hangouts instead.
82. Remember who you are saving for: Your future self, your children, your future generations. Consider it an heirloom.
83. Order water at restaurants. Drink costs can add up quickly.
84. Forgo the gym membership and use the great outdoors or a fitness subscription to work out from home.
85. If you are going out to eat, go out for lunch instead of dinner—similar portion sizes, way more affordable.
86. Did you get a raise recently? Congratulations! Use that extra money to buffer your savings.
87. Instead of splurging on expensive gifts, go the DIY route for loved ones and hone a craft you enjoy. A handmade card, cookies from scratch, or a pet portrait will be just as meaningful.
88. Download an app like You Need A Budget or Mint to understand your cash flow.
89. Follow these finance newsletters written by and for women.
90. Check out these personal finance accounts on Instagram from women.
91. My mom’s second-most important piece of tactical advice is one I will scream from the rooftops: Pay your credit card in full every month. This way, you’ll always remember to spend within your means and only carry minimum debt (read: the monthly statement balance).
92. Turn your checking account into your “cash” account and only use what’s in there instead of ever touching your savings.
“Try a no-spend day, week, or month, to avoid tempting purchases.”
93. If you only need something once or twice (like a saw or special occasion dress), consider renting or borrowing over buying.
94. Celebrating your birthday soon? (Our happiest wishes to you!) Don’t forget about birthday discounts, meals, and treats.
95. Save spare change for a “rainy day” fund. My parents did this over the years, eventually accumulating $800.
96. Don’t sleep on buy-nothing or local swap groups.
97. Try a no-spend day, week, or month, to avoid tempting purchases.
98. Keep a photo or Post-It around of what you’re saving up for as extra motivation.
99. Talk. About. Money.
Have a budget hack of your own? Share in the comments below to add to this master list! 💸
Henah Velez (she/her) is the Senior Editor at Money with Katie at Morning Brew, as well as a writer at The Good Trade. She holds a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship and is a proud Rutgers grad. Originally from NJ, Henah’s now in the Bay Area where she loves shopping small, hanging with her pets, or traveling. Say hi on Instagram!