12 Ways to Put Cash Back into Your Budget

If you decided that you wanted to reduce your everyday spending, what would be the inspiration behind that move? Putting together a down payment for a house? Saving up for a big vacation? What about having cash on hand in case you have to deal with an emergency?

While it’s fun to imagine the amazing things you can do with freed-up cash, the truth is most Americans do not have an emergency fund that they can tap into in case of, well, an emergency. In fact, nearly half of all Americans don’t know where they would turn to find $400 to pay for an emergency. That amount is a veritable drop in the bucket considering most experts say you should have six months worth of living expenses saved, just in case.

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If this has scared you just a little bit into thinking about setting money aside in an emergency fund or simply reducing your expenses overall, good. But you don’t have to panic about where that money is going to come from. I’ve put together 12 ways that you can cut your everyday expenses and come up with thousands of dollars you could put back in your budget.

  1. Brew your coffee at home. It might not seem like a big deal to spend a few dollars each day when you stop at your favorite java joint for a cup of Joe, but over 52 weeks, it really adds up–to the tune of $1,092 each year by some estimates. Start brewing your coffee at home to save big time. Also, invest in a travel mug so taking coffee with you won’t be a huge hassle.
  1. Get cash for old cellphones. Currently, there are more than 30 million unused mobile phones in the U.S. If you have one in your home, get cash for it. You can do that using ATM-like machines in malls and supermarkets as well as online retailers that specialize in paying for phones–often to the tune of hundreds of dollars. In fact, we recently sold two old iPhones and got close to $200 for them.
  1. Earn free gift cards. Many credit cards allow you to earn free gift cards from the spending that you’re doing with the card anyway. So while it is important to avoid taking on additional debt, if your current credit card spending allows you to get free gift cards that can help save you money on future purchases, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?
  1. Consign your clothes. Thrift shopping has never been more popular, and these days you’re likely to find brand-new clothes–some with tags still on them–at resale shops. This helps you to get your shopping fix and sometimes save more than 50 percent over retail. Even better, consign your own clothes to put extra cash in your pocket. I recently covered this topic for Parade.com, in a story about how folks on Social Security, who will not receive a cost-of-living increase in 2016, can find more cash in their budget.
  1. Switch to store brands. You’re probably familiar with store brands. But did you know that switching to them could save you, on average, 25 percent on your grocery bill each time you shop? You can do a blind taste test with your family to make sure this savings suggestion passes muster at the dinner table.
  1. Use online bill pay. Besides convenience, the biggest bonus to online bill pay is the peace of mind knowing that, having set up auto pay, your bills will be paid on time. This means no late fees or interest charges from missed payments, which can really add up. (The average credit card dings you $25 for a late payment.) Also, paying your bills on time can improve your credit score, which may make you eligible for better interest rates in the future.
  1. Use coupons when dining out. You’re probably no stranger to cutting coupons for grocery shopping. But you can also get coupons to help you save money on dining out, for those occasional splurges, of course. Sign up for a restaurant’s “email club” and wait for coupons to start rolling into your inbox. You may even be able to eat for free on your birthday or wedding anniversary.
  1. Change air filters regularly. With a forced air system, you should replace the air filter every month. Why? Because a dirty filter makes your HVAC system work harder and cool (or heat) less efficiently. By changing your filter monthly, you could save as much as 15 percent on your annual energy bills.
  1. Cook from your pantry. When was the last time you threw away leftovers or lettuce that went from a solid to a liquid? Just last week? You’re not alone. We Americans throw away over $900 worth of food each year, some estimate. To keep that money in your wallet, use apps to figure out how you can make a meal from food you already own, or how to turn yesterday’s leftovers into today’s meal.
  1. Save for retirement automatically. An easy way to start building your nest egg is to have your employer automatically deduct money from your paycheck and deposit it in a retirement account every time you get paid. Make sure you’re taking advantage of employer matching programs–that could add, on average, more than $1,300 extra each year to your retirement reserve.
  1. Install a programmable thermostat. You probably know that you should adjust your thermostat while sleeping or out of the house to save energy and money by not heating or cooling your home unnecessarily. A programmable thermostat does that temperature adjustment for you, making it perfect for busy (or forgetful) homeowners. Plus, it could save you as much as $180 a year on your energy bills.
  1. Look for free checking. If your bank charges you a fee for having a checking account or using another bank’s ATM – the average fee is about $3 per transaction – find a bank that offers really, truly free checking.

The author was compensated by Springleaf for this post.