Written by Spotloan

Can you save money by never eating out when you’re alone? One savvy consumer thinks so. Her strategy, along with the five others below, can help you reign in expenses and reduce debt.    

  1. Follow the 50/30/20 rule. Or make up your own.

To follow this popular formula, put 50 percent of your income toward things you need, like shelter (in the form of a rent or mortgage payment) and food (grocery money). Thirty percent goes to things you want, like dining out or entertainment. And 20 percent is set aside for financial goals, such as paying off debt or saving for retirement. You can learn more about the 50/30/20 rule on The Balance blog.

This exact formula won’t work for everyone, as Lifehacker points out. If you’re not earning much money right now, for instance, spending only 50 percent of income on necessities might be impossible. The point is, find a simple formula that works for you, whether it’s 70 percent on necessities, 15 percent on things you want, and 15 percent on savings/debt reduction. Consider adjusting the percentages over time, to reflect your current income and expenses as well as any updated financial goals.

2. Use a debit card instead of a credit card.

Whenever possible, pay for items like groceries, gas, and entertainment with a debit card vs. a credit card.

With a debit card, you most likely won’t earn points or cash back, as you can with credit cards. And you’ll miss out on the extended warranties that some credit card issuers offer on merchandise. But paying as you go with a debit card will help keep debt down and minimize the risks of living beyond your means.

Investopedia offers a helpful comparison of debit and credit card usage. The DailyWorth blog has advice on how to tell if you’re living beyond your means. For tips about saving money on credit cards, see our blog post “How to cut your credit card interest rate and fees.”

3. Pay attention to fees and subscriptions.

Little fees can mean a lot, once they’re all added up. For example, your bank may charge a monthly fee if your balance falls below a certain amount. And your cable TV company may charge a monthly fee for an extra converter box or modem/router.

Plus, you may be spending a lot every month on little subscription fees: $10 for Netflix, $10 for Spotify, and so on.

Take time out to look at your bills and statements. Focus just on the monthly recurring fees you’re charged. Some you won’t be able to control, such as the Federal Universal Service Charge on your cell phone bill. But others you may be able to remove or reduce. Example: You could save money in the long run by purchasing your own modem/router, vs. paying the monthly rental fee. 9to5Mac explains how to save money by buying your own cable modem.     

4. Schedule a weekly money date.

It’s easy to sign up for paperless bill delivery and automate many bill payments. But when combined, these two conveniences can cause you to pay less attention to your spending. To minimize that risk, schedule time every week to review your bills and bank accounts. If you work Monday through Friday, consider scheduling a ‘money date’ for one hour every Saturday morning. That way, you can get it out of the way while you’re fresh and spend the rest of the day on something else.

Collective Hub has additional ideas for weekly monthly dates, such as using them to review your budget.

5. Don’t eat out alone.

In responding to a call for budgeting tips from The New York Times’ Smarter Living newsletter, reader Martha Waters shared her no. 1 budget trimming rule:

“No non-social eating out, meaning no takeout, no ordering pizza, no Starbucks on the way to work. If a friend wants to go to dinner? Sure! If a friend wants to get drinks or coffee? Sure! If a friend wants to come over and have a movie night and get takeout or delivery pizza? Sure! But it can’t be something I do alone.”

6. Take advantage of 401(k) plans.

A 401(k) plan lets you defer taxes on income earned while putting aside money for retirement. Some employers match 401(k) contributions, too. So, when looking for a job, take into account whether the potential employer offers a 401(k) plan, and if they will match your contributions.

If money’s tight, focus first on setting aside emergency funds before contributing to a 401(k) plan. For example, you could set a goal of saving one or two months’ worth of living expenses. Then, after you meet that goal, start contributing a small portion of each paycheck to your 401(k). After you have a comfortable amount of money saved, consider increasing your 401(k) plan.

Need more inspiration?

“How to save money eating out” (Spotloan blog)

“How to save money on electronics” (Spotloan blog)

“How to cut the cable TV cord” (Spotloan blog)

“Your Best Tips for Saving a Few Extra Bucks” (The New York Times)

“9 Simple Money Rules All on 1 Index Card” (Forbes)

“How to Save Money: 100 Great Tips to Get You Started” (The Simple Dollar)

“Here are 20 easy ways to save some money every day” (CNBC)