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Make a budget (and stick to it)

Savvy spenders make a budget and commit to it. When you spend less than you make, you avoid the pitfalls of high interest credit card debt and open the door to saving and investing.

If you’re not sure where to start, there are tools designed to help. Start simple: List your income and expenses, including rent or mortgage, utilities, food, transportation and entertainment. Don’t forget items like tuition, car payments, taxes (if you’re an independent contractor) and insurance. Then, prioritize so that you can take care of the essentials first.

Finally, don’t forget to set aside money each month for unexpected expenses, like car repairs or medical bills.

Shop grocery sales and delay gratification

If you love to eat out, you’ve no doubt noticed that prices are going up, up, up — often at a rate surpassing inflation. And guess what? If the bill is bigger, that percentage tip will be as well. If you're not ready to cut out dining out entirely, look for ways to save on this budget item elsewhere.

Those who grew up in tough economic times or in a struggling family will likely have learned the wisdom of buying what’s on sale at the grocery store. You may not want to give up your favorite brand of yogurt. But if an equally good brand is on sale, why not go for it? Multiply this strategy over many food shopping decisions and you’ll notice a difference [at the checkout].

Make a grocery list before you head out; avoid impulse purchases; buy store-brand items.

Plan your meals, too: Dining out frequently is the enemy of every food budget. Take advantage of coupons, or sign up for discount and cash-back programs like Ibotta or Checkout 51.

You may also want to try preparing meals in bulk, so your food is ready ahead of time and you’re less tempted to eat out.

Read more: Want to invest your spare change but don't know where to start? There's an app for that

Automate your savings

Automation makes saving and investing effortless — and it’s the effort that keeps many of us from getting started.

Direct deposit your paycheck into a savings account, or a vanilla money market account that you can tap after a few months. There are also incremental investment apps out there that you can use to round your purchases to the nearest dollar and withdraw that difference from your bank account painlessly.

Putting it all together: Stretch but don’t strain

By following these tips, you'll discover how a stretched paycheck makes your money go farther. But don’t forget to strike a balance between saving money and enjoying life. If you're too strict with your budget, you may find yourself feeling deprived and unhappy.

So have fun and treat yourself every now and then.

Or to quote that 1970s McDonald’s jingle, “You deserve a break today.”

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About the Author

Chris Clark

Chris Clark

Freelance Contributor

Chris Clark is freelance contributor with MoneyWise, based in Kansas City, Mo. He has written for numerous publications and spent 18 years as a reporter and editor with The Associated Press.

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