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If you are anything like the vast majority of Americans, you have probably struggled to make ends meet at some point in your life. Maybe that’s why you are here now, reading this blog, and looking for ways to make the most out of each of your paychecks. If that’s you right now, know that you aren’t alone. A staggering 70% of  Americans have some type of financial problem. While it might be nice to know that it’s not just you, that doesn’t really do anything to help your current situation. So, I put together a list of practical things you can do to stretch your income and make the most out of every dollar you earn. Let’s start saving money!

  1. Shop Second-Hand 

The tip to shop second-hand is not radical or new, by any means. But shopping strategically at the right second-hand stores and at the right times can save you even more money. Here are a few ways I shop second-hand:

  • Check for clearance sales at the end of every season. The second-hand store near me marks items down to 90% off to get rid of extra inventory after a week or so of a clearance sale, so I always stop by! Usually, items will be pretty picked over once only the 90% off stuff is left, but I still check for things I always need like work-out tops, layering clothes, etc. I have gotten several work out tops for less than $1 at these sales. 
  • Head to the stores in higher-income parts of town. I am more likely to find clothes with tags still on, higher quality, or barely worn items. I’ve also had luck finding picture frames, books, and other random things that are barely used and in great condition. This goes for yard sales too! 
  • Keep a running list of things you will need or would like to buy within the next few months and then stop by second-hand stores two or three times per month. It can be hard to find exactly what you are looking for on your first trip to a second-hand store. So, instead of waiting until I desperately need something and having to buy it new or do without, I will check every so often and just see what they have. If they happen to have my favorite brand of jeans or boots I know I will need come winter, I will usually buy then. Sure, I may not need them right away, but it is better to spend $15 now than to spend $50 later on the same thing. 
  • Shop during times when it is most common for people to clean out their houses. Changing seasons, before & after holidays, at the end of a college semester. These are times when it is most common for people to get new stuff, find things that don’t fit or that they don’t like anymore, and upgrade to new things. That means they are donating and selling their items and you can score on the cheap! 

Over the years, I have saved tons of money just by checking out my favorite second-hand stores before I buy anything new. Besides new clothes, I have found tons of picture frames, a toaster, even a small Kate Spade bag! It takes almost no extra time and you can legitimately save a lot.  Just be sure to make sure the items are really what you want and need, and are good quality. There is no sense spending $5 on a shirt if you don’t like how it fits or if it has a weird stain on it! 

Learn How to Meal Plan and Grocery Shop Effectively 

Ok, I will be honest. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says that it is cheaper to get fast food than to buy items from the grocery store and cook at home. Sure, going to the store and spending $20 seems more expensive than going through the drive-through and spending $8. But if you can plan your meals and shop effectively, cooking costs significantly less. Here are some ways I plan and shop effectively:

  • I plan meals that use similar ingredients. For example, if you buy one whole chicken, you can usually plan 3 different meals that will each feed you at least twice. 
  • I browse websites that are focused on cheap and healthy meals to help my planning. 
  • I always keep affordable staples on hand like frozen vegetables, rice, and pasta for quick and easy meals when I don’t have time to cook a full-on meal.
  • Shop your pantry first. You may be surprised by what you forgot you have in your pantry! Reducing the chance to double-buy can save a ton.

Invest in Items That Save Money Long-Term

When you are struggling to make ends meet, it’s hard to think past today. But there are usually a few things we can buy or plan for that will help to cut costs down the road. Some examples include: 

  • Investing in blackout curtains to cut down energy bills in the summer 
  • Spending money to maintain your vehicle and your home
  • Prioritizing your physical health! People who exercise regularly spend $2500 less per year on health care costs, so pay for the gym membership, invest in high-quality running shoes so you don’t hurt your knees, or hire a personal trainer to teach you how to lift weights safely and effectively. You may have to make budget cuts and save up to afford these things, but they are definitely worth it in the long run. 
  • Continuing Education- Paying to grow your skillset and keep learning can make you more valuable at work or help you get a new, higher-paying job. 

What are a few of the things you do to save a little extra money?