If you've recently started a budget or have been using one for years, you've probably found at one point or another that it feels like your budget doesn't stretch quite as far as you'd like it to. One of the unfortunate realities of living in the time that we do is that we are constantly bombarded with advertising and temptations to overspend everywhere we look.
Also, companies are just really good at figuring out how to get every dollar out of us that they can. That paired with the ever-looming threat of rising inflation and higher prices can put a pretty significant squeeze on a monthly budget.
It's easy for anyone who has been working on a budget for several months or even years to get frustrated with the process. Truth be told, budgeting isn't exactly fun in the first place. Feeling like you aren't as successful as you could be only makes things worse. Fortunately, there are things you can do every month to get ahead!
Here are 12 ways to find extra money every month:
1. Take a hard look at your fixed expenses
While obviously "fixed" doesn't sound too promising, there is still no harm in trying to find flexibility in those expenses. Line items like rent and insurance can be negotiated down in many cases. Also, take some time and evaluate if you are overspending on your living expenses (i.e., living somewhere that is larger or more expensive than what you really need).
2. Consider finding lower interest rates (while you can)
For almost 10 years, we have seen the lowest interest rates in decades. The Fed has recently started introducing rate hikes, which will have a widespread effect on interest rates for things like houses, cars, and student loans.
If you feel that you are locked into any type of loan with interest that is too high, there is still plenty of time to search for lower refinance rates that may unlock money in your monthly budget. While there are still plenty of "deals" to be had, make sure to do some research and decide if a refinance of any kind is really right for you.
3. Review recurring monthly services
All of us have recurring monthly expenses in the form of cable, Netflix, internet and phone bills, and many others. One of the smartest things you can do to find extra money every month is to look through these discretionary expenses and see if you can either lower your level of service or remove the bill from your monthly costs entirely.
4. Slash the grocery bill
What you eat is important, so the idea here isn't to just change over to the lowest quality food possible. But making simple changes like using the store brands instead of the name brands, or adding more vegetables to your diet instead of meat, can lead to big savings in your monthly grocery bill.
5. Are your utilities too high?
Chances are, yes. Energy costs are specifically a big culprit here, and many times those costs can be lowered with a few phone calls. Double check what you are paying for energy in your home and see if you can find a better rate. Even one or two cents less per kilowatt hour can mean huge cuts in your energy bill.
Also, make sure you turn the lights off when you leave, opt for energy efficient light bulbs, and find areas where air may be moving in or out of your living space where it shouldn't be.
6. Consider your tax strategy
Are you hoping for a huge tax return at the end of the year? While getting a check at tax time may seem like a great thing, it actually means that you may be withholding too much of your paycheck every month. This means that you are giving the government an interest-free loan every year, when you could have that money added back into your budget to spend as you see fit!
7. Can you pay off debt?
If you have nagging debt like credit cards or student loans, consider making larger than the required payment every month to free up that cash permanently. Even if you just attack the smallest amount of debt that you have, you'll be surprised how much money that will add back into your budget over the long term.
8. Make your clothes last longer
While I can't pretend to be an expert on clothing, I can tell you that many people spend far too much money on new clothes. My personal strategy when I was paying off my $40,000 of student loan debt was to own just enough sets of clothing to get me through two weeks of work (you have to be strategic about how you mix and match).
Even if that sounds too extreme, you can still save money on clothing by taking better care of what you already have. Simple habits like washing your clothes on gentle and hanging instead of drying can make your clothes last much longer.
9. Learn to negotiate
If you can learn any skill to save money, negotiating may be the most effective. Most people are unaware that many items like furniture, jewelry, and even monthly subscriptions can be negotiated down.
Remember—businesses would much rather have some of your money than none at all.
10. Share meals at restaurants
Portion sizes are notoriously out of control at restaurants, so why not share? An easy way to cut down on the costs of eating out are to buy one entree, pair it with an appetizer, and share! Another great strategy is to order from the kids menu at restaurants (if they will allow it). The portions can be surprisingly large.
11. Set spending alerts
Most banks and credit card companies have rolled out great apps that feature detailed spending alerts. Many of them are customizable and will send the alerts to you in the form of an email or text alert. These are especially helpful if you want to check in on your budget more often than once a month.
12. Consider starting a side hustle
While this isn't really "finding" money, it's still an extremely effective way to add money to your monthly budget. Side hustles don't have to be complicated. I've seen everything from buying items on eBay and selling them on Amazon for a higher price, to knitting scarves and selling them on Etsy.
The emergence of the internet has created an environment that makes it much easier to make extra money on the side than ever before.
With a little bit of leg work every few months, it's not too difficult to uncover extra money in places that you may have never even considered looking! Whether it's taking a look at your subscriptions or something as simple as opting for store-brand items instead of name-brand ones, there are plenty of places to free up some extra cash in your budget.
-- Bobby Hoyt is a former high school teacher who paid off $40,000 of student loan debt in a year and a half. He now runs the personal finance site MillennialMoneyMan.com full-time, and has been seen on CNBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Reuters, Marketwatch, and many other major publications.