8 Ways To Spend Smartly

Shot of a young woman using a laptop while preparing a healthy meal at home.

If you struggle to make ends meet, you’re not alone. More than half of Americans — 58% — live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to data from CNBC. If you’re among them, don’t despair. There are a number of ways you can spend smartly and create some breathing room in your budget so you can end that paycheck-to-paycheck cycle once and for all. Here are a few of our favorites.

Examine Your Expenses

Spending smartly starts with knowing where your money is going. Things like autopay (not to mention Venmo and Zelle) have made it incredibly easy to lose track of our monthly expenses. This often happens with recurring subscriptions to things like streaming services or other types of memberships you no longer use. To find where your hidden charges may be lurking, start by examining your credit card and bank statements to see exactly where your money is going. (If you’re a frequent user of a Venmo-like app, check that, too.) “Even this simple step could be eye-opening since you may not have realized just how much your cable plan has jumped, or that you’re still paying for a subscription you thought you canceled,” says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

But don’t stop at checking on monthly charges — keep an eye on your year-end statements too, as some charges may only occur on an annual basis, making them easy to overlook. “Cancel unused subscriptions, and turn off auto deliveries if you’re finding that you’re getting items too often,” Woroch adds. “This is causing you to spend more each month on items you just don’t need.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Negotiate

You know that internet plan that you have? Someone is probably getting it cheaper, and there’s no reason you can’t strike a bargain, too. To start, look to see if any service bills that you have (like your cell phone, cable or internet) have increased in price this year. If they have, pick up the phone, call customer service and start negotiating. Even if you’ve never negotiated before, it’s not difficult — just politely ask for a better rate and you may be pleasantly surprised when you get it! 

“Ask about new promos and if you can get a discount for setting up e-billing or autopay,” advises Woroch. You’ll also want to compare prices with competitors. If you find one offering a similar service for less money, let your current provider know. “If you’re really ready to switch, your current provider may magically present a discount without changing your current service,” she says.

Make A Habit Of Meal Planning

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average family of four spends $1,500 per year on food that doesn’t get eaten. In other words, we’re throwing $1,500 right in the trash. One of the best ways to stop wasting food and to spend smartly is to meal plan. With a meal plan, you’ll know exactly what you’re cooking and exactly what ingredients you need to buy.  A quick check of your pantry before you shop will help you avoid spending too much. (Plus, having a list can help you avoid impulse buys, which is a shopping essential!) As you plan, Woroch advises limiting how much fresh food you buy in bulk since it will spoil the quickest  (and because, let’s be honest, we don’t always get around to eating that second head of lettuce.) That said, if you do have fresh fruit or vegetables on hand that are about to go bad — like bell peppers or blueberries, for example, don’t be afraid to freeze them.

“If you like to have fruits and veggies on hand for last-minute meals, stock your freezer with frozen produce, which is great for a smoothie, stir fry or omelet without worrying about these pricey foods going bad,” she adds. Pantry tracking apps, like Pantry Check, can also help you keep track of what you have at home, and avoid buying items you already have in your cupboards.

Steer Clear Of Social Media Temptations

When was the last time you got “influenced”? If you spend time on TikTok or Instagram, you know that it’s all too easy to “add to cart” when someone you follow is advertising something great. Some 48% of social media users say they’ve made an impulse purchase of something they saw online, 68% of those individuals say they regret one of those buys later, according to data from Bankrate.

While we can’t disconnect completely from all ads on social media, we can “unfollow” accounts that regularly tempt us to part with our hard-earned cash. We can also put up some roadblocks to immediate spending. For example, delete any credit card payment info that may be automatically stored in your favorite apps, allowing you to make a purchase with just a few taps, suggests Trae Bodge, Smart Shopping Expert at Truetrae.com. “In the time it takes to enter your info, you’ve had an opportunity to think about whether this is a purchase you truly need to make.”

Also, keep an eye out for other tech triggers that may push you to spend. Namely, push notifications that are sent directly to your phone or email whenever a good deal is on-offer. Simply opt-out or unsubscribe to get away from these temptations.

Use Apps To Your Advantage

Just as tech can push us to spend, it can also help us to save. There are a number of apps that can work to our advantage as we look to spend smartly. For example, Flipp is an app that allows users to browse store circulars, all in one place. “You can even make a shopping list right in the app, and they will alert you if a particular store releases a coupon or new deal so you know where to shop for the lowest price,” notes Woroch. She also recommends Fetch, which has users take pictures of their receipts from popular stores and restaurants (Target, Sephora and Starbucks, to name a few). Doing so will earn you reward points that can be used toward gift cards.

For people who regularly shop online, browser plugins can help with tracking down coupons and finding the lowest prices. For example, the plugin Sidekick from CouponCabin applies coupons or cash back to your cart automatically as you shop. “Just yesterday, Sidekick found me a coupon for 10% off sale items at Athleta and I earned 3% cash back on my order,” says Woroch. “So far, just this month, I’ve earned $68 using the tool.”

Match Your Credit Card To Your Spending Style

Take a look at your year-end statement for your credit card. In which category did you spend the most? Was it food, gas, travel, or something else? Once you have that answer, then shop for a credit card that provides you with the most cash back (or most impressive rewards) for that category. Of course there’s one important caveat here: “Make sure you’re paying off your balances in full at the end of the month, because paying interest on a balance will cost much more than the rewards you receive,” Woroch cautions.

Know Exactly What You’re Saving For

Finally, one of the easiest things you can do for your finances is to build a budget and keep your long-term goals in mind. Doing so will help you spend smartly whenever you’re making a purchase. “I think people often spend money they don’t have, which is where the problem lies,” says Bodge. “When I have extra money, I prioritize my saving goals first. For me, it’s college for my daughter, and retirement, and then I can treat myself if there is money left over.”

For more tips on saving and spending smarter, click here.

Sign Up For Updates
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.