How to Stretch Your Finances When They Are Already Stretched

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Are your finances already stretched to the limit? Are your bills already overdue? Sometimes living within your means just isn’t attainable no matter how hard you try. Combine a very limited income with the holidays and you may find your bills are already overspent.

How to Stretch Your Finances When They Are Already Stretched

It can be VERY stressful when you don’t know how you will pay your bills! I can’t make more money magically appear, but there are a few things we do to help us NOT spend money. 


STOP Grocery Shopping.

Ok – this sounds a little unreasonable – but hear me out. We obviously all need food in our house. But even being frugal with our grocery shopping still allows room for overspending. When things get tight we put a grocery freeze on our house. We take two weeks to eat what we have in our freezer or bottom of our pantry.
We allot a specific amount of money each week for fresh items like milk, bread and produce and that’s all we buy in the store. Do you have random meat stored at the bottom of your freezer? Maybe an extra loaf of bread? Or how about a few extra boxes of pasta in your closet?
Try eating your old stock and skip grocery shopping for a few weeks. If you make this a regular habit not only will you prevent over buying but it will help you save money on your grocery bills.


Plan a Night Out. Or In.

Sound like an oxymoron? How do you save money and plan a night out? I find that when our money is the tightest and we are stressed out all I want to do is go out for a nice night and not worry about things. And if you’re not careful you can easily drop $20-$50 or more! BUT spending money….well…it makes it worse!
Our family spends a night out doing something close to home and FREE (or extremely cheap!). Try having a picnic at a local park, feed the ducks, go hiking, geocaching, craft time at the library – whatever works for you. Sometimes we set aside $2 and each buy a large drink at the gas station or split a large ICEE/slushy. Don’t be afraid to bring your own cups in the car to pour treats off into!
Sometimes we just take the kids to the pet store so they can play with a puppy or kitty. Head to your local bookstore and sit down with a good book. You can even rent movies at your local libraries!


Reorganize and Repurpose.

I am a bit of a freak about organizing although if you walked in my house you wouldn’t notice! My kids have pretty much trashed everything I try to organize (mom life right?!). BUT I do find that organizing and digging through closets and storage containers can often give me new ideas of things to do as a family or for a project – not to mention getting my house cleaner!
I save everything under the sun and try to figure out a way to reuse things – even if it’s just for a kid’s craft that we’ll throw away later. I placed an old pop up hamper in the garage and all of our (washed out) soup cans, shampoo bottles, glue bottles, toilet paper tubes, etc. get thrown into the hamper.
Sorting through your stuff is also a great way to find things you don’t want anymore that you can sell for a few extra bucks!


Keep Your Eyes Peeled.

Keep a look out for freebies. Just this week someone down the road had a pile of stuff in their front yard that said “FREE”. I was able to pick up some new books, a few movies for the kids, a book bag to donate and a small helium tank with balloons for a birthday party – all for FREE!
Driving around town I also saw a doll crib and other random items people are getting rid of. Make sure to check local Facebook groups, Freecycle and Craigslist too! If you’re handy keep an eye out for scrap wood, doors, frames and other items that you can recycle and reuse.
In fact we have a Money Saving Deals Group on Facebook that you can join (for free of course!) to help you save money on everything from necessities like toilet paper to gifts!


Pre-plan and Double Check.

Make sure you KNOW what your bills will be – especially if you use credit cards! Twice a month I sit down and double check all of our accounts. Once to see if we are on track with our spending, and then once to pay our bills. Many people write down exactly what they spend but it is difficult when you’re busy and with kids – I totally get that. There are apps you can use to help you keep track of your spending!
I understand sometimes you can’t help it if something comes up like medical expenses or a major repair. That’s when we really get thrown for a loop! Pre-planning can help a lot here. BUT by double checking your expenses it will help you to stay more in check for the rest of the month.
If it’s REALLY tight we say-  “Let’s see if we can not use our credit cards for anything at all for 5 days starting tomorrow”. We gas up our cars and put the credit cards away – we don’t buy food, we don’t buy toiletries, we don’t go out for any reason. Taking small amounts of time like 3-5 days is a much easier goal than not spending anything for 30 days! Start small and then reset your goal.


Keep $5 and Leave it.

My husband and I are both very careful with money and thankfully neither of us are impulsive spenders. But when money is tight we put $5 cash in each car, put our driver’s license in our wallets, and leave our credit cards at home. Keeping $50 cash is a better idea in case of a car emergency like a flat tire but if you will spend it don’t put it in there!
If we have an emergency and run out of gas we have $5 to put in the tank to get us home. Without our credit cards or any other cash in our wallets we are not tempted to run in the grocery store for that one last item, we’re not tempted to stop for a quick drink, or stop at a yard sale or thrift store just to see what’s there!


Envelopes and Cash.

Some people use a “cash only” system without credit cards at all. If you are an impulsive shopper this might be the way for you to cut your expenses. I also know some people who have gone so far as to put their credit cards in the freezer and freeze it into a large block of ice.
We have an envelope for each person in the family – when that person receives birthday or Christmas money it goes in their envelope and they have that cash to spend on their purchases.
We also use the envelopes to save up for our date nights, Christmas budget, vacations, house projects, and any other category that we feel we need. Nobody is allowed to touch the envelopes unless they are using it for that specific purpose.


Keep it out of your Checking Account!

We have learned that if we put money in our checking account it somehow disappears! We always have bills to pay so if we put extra money in our checking account to “save” for later – it doesn’t happen. It gets eaten up by our bills. I HIGHLY suggest opening at LEAST 1 savings account, even more if you need! Not only are they usually free but you get a higher interest rate in a savings account compare to a checking account. (even though it isn’t a huge amount)
There are TWO WAYS we save money instead!
  1. One is by automatically withdrawing a small amount each month ($5-$10) and putting it into another account. An ONLINE ONLY bank account that’s at a different company than our main banking. It trickles over there and we NEVER touch it unless we’re ready to pull all of the money out.
  2. I use my Acorns app (you can sign up here!) to automatically move a couple dollars a month into an investment account. I’ve also chosen to allow it round up my bills to the next dollar and put that pocket change into investment as well.


Keep it Rolling.

If you DON’T have any savings plan NOW is the time to start! Make a goal of $1000 and do everything you can to keep that goal – even if it’s only $10 at a time. It’s there for an emergency. If you have to use it – start saving for it again. I know it’s really tough to build it up when you don’t have it. If you DO have a savings account and have more than a few thousand dollars consider opening up several CD’s and stacking them.
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  1. Karen Greenberg says:

    All great ideas! It's tough to remember these tips sometimes, but there are ways to make money stretch when needed. I try to not shop one week out of every two months.

  2. Great tips!! We have been utilizing a cash envelope system because like you if it's in the checking account it's gone. It's much more "real" to hand over cash instead of plastic and really makes us think twice.

  3. Very good ideas. I've been freecycling and using Craigslist for a year or more. I only really use Craigslist for big things — like trying to find my son a train table (successful). But, freecycle I use for EVERYTHING — craft supplies, fabrics, clothing for my son (I figure he's still so young he doesn't wear things long). And I don't buy clothes for myself until I know we have a little "extra", and that's only because of how much some items cost (but they last for so long it's worth the extra cost).

    I also keep all of our change to the side. I have previously used Coinstar to change it into cash, but discovered that you can have that done at your bank (they have the same sort of machine) for free, and without losing a percentage!

    And the shopping thing, for groceries – right on.

  4. Sippy Cup Mom says:

    These are all some great ideas! We need to do a cash envelope, I think that would help us a lot!

    And just like you said, sometimes when we are stressed and don't have the $$ we go blow it on a night out anyway! Must stop!

  5. Great tips! I like the idea of purposely getting your family out to have fun (even on a budget). I know that if we build fun (and free) activities into our schedule, we're much more likely to stick to our budget and won't "splurge" on a pricey night out later on!

  6. Tiffani Rose says:

    Those are great tips!!

    I am much more an impulse spender with cash that I am my debit cards. It is so easy to spend money when you won't see it again, but I hate when I impulse at Wal-Mart and then check my account online!!

    We have NO savings and that is one of our goals for this year, to build up one. We are screwed if we ever have an emergency!

  7. JDaniel4's Mom says:

    Great tips for really tought times!

  8. LOVE MELISSA:) says:

    THESE are some really great tips! Thank you!

  9. QueensNYCMom says:

    thanks for the great tips. i love the freebies. i get such a feeling.

  10. Great tips..I am definitely one that should STOP grocery shopping. I have plenty of food in the freezer I need to cook. What a great tip, thanks!

    Still Dating My Spouse

  11. Emily faliLV (@FamilyNLifeLV) says:

    Great Tips! We need to stop grocery shopping an clean out the freezer!

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