Stop living paycheck to paycheck
I've also been a financial counselor teaching women how to create a budget and stick with it, the first thing I always emphasize is to build a $500 emergency fund and here's why. I've seen it where they are just barely surviving but they are working and keeping up with the bills and something as small as a dead battery or hole in a tire can totally throw off their entire budget and set them back months because of missed work and unplanned expenses. If you had a $500 emergency fund you would be able to replace that battery or get that tire fixed or take care of some other small expense without turning your life upside down for months trying to get back on track. Unfortunately it's not always less than $500 to fix things but it's a start or it's a down payment on something.
So how do I stop living paycheck to paycheck and put $500 into an emergency savings account? The simplest thing is to go to your bank if you have a bank account and set it up so a fixed dollar amount comes out of every paycheck and goes directly into your savings account, even if it's only $5 or $10 to start out with, it's painless and you don't have to think about it and before you know it you'll have a substantial amount and you'll want to see it grow even more. LEAVE IT ALONE, don't touch it, don't dip into it to buy anything else unless it's an absolute emergency, pretend like it's not there.
If you don't have a bank account force yourself to take $5 or $10 and put it in a separate envelope and hide it or put it away somewhere that you won't take it out and use it. When you are tempted to use it think about how amazing it would feel to have a little bit of savings and not feel so stressed out and worried every month.
Having an emergency savings is just one small step, you will have to make cuts, I'm sure you've cut out a lot of things already but you can always take another look. A no brainer is coffee, everyone always says stop buying coffee every day and make coffee at home but think about things like energy drinks or sodas. If you are stopping everyday at a convenience store to buy an energy drink or soda I can guarantee you are paying at least 3 times more than if you bought larger quantities at the grocery store and brought it with you every day. Look for sales on cases of energy drinks or your favorite soda, keep them in the fridge and just grab one on the way out the door.
Lunches are another huge expense that you might not think about, even if you get cheap fast food you are still spending more than if you packed your lunch and it's better for your health. You will also save on gas and wear and tear on your car if you aren't leaving work everyday to go buy lunch. Where I work I don't have enough time to leave and get lunch so I pack my lunch every single day, it takes extra planning and time in the morning or the night before but I like the feeling at the end of the week when I can say I didn't spend a cent all week long.
Shopping could be an entire post of it's own but here's a few of the highlights: stop buying convenience food and packaging, you save so much money by doing things like cutting up your own carrots instead of buying single serve bags of carrots or cut up your own apples instead of the single serve apples, buy the big tub of yogurt and put it in a small reusable container, buy big bags of chips and make your own snack bags instead of the singe serve bags. Anything that is in the single serve packaging is more expensive and fills our landfills with tons of plastic and packaging. I wrote a couple great articles with lots of money saving ideas... Simple changes to your shopping to reduce your grocery bill.
When you are cooking meals try to use real ingredients instead of opening up packages, something as simple as roasted potato's and chicken thighs and a steamed vegetable not canned can cost $5-$10 depending on the size of your family and you might have leftovers for someone to take for lunch the next day. See how I cut up a whole pork loin and make meals for $5 or less for an entire meal. Here's another article I wrote with some more interesting money saving ideas..... More quirky ideas to save money.
When I grocery shop, I look for deals on items that I know I'm going to use eventually so I stock up when it's cheap. I always have it on hand so I don't run out and have to go pay full price for the item. I'm not always a brand snob, some things I might be picky about but if it tastes the same and I can get it cheaper by purchasing another brand than I will do it.
I also shop seasonally, in the fall apples and different kinds of squash are in season so I buy those, I don't usually buy items that are not in season and are really expensive. In the summer, berries and watermelons are fresh and inexpensive so we eat a lot of those. Some things like bananas and broccoli and celery and onions are year round so I buy those every time.
Download the grocery store apps, most stores have them now and they offer additional savings and coupons that you can load ahead of time, some of them start tracking the items that you normally buy so they send personalized deals for those items.
There is a lot of apps out there that you can use to make extra money on groceries, the 2 that I use most of the time is ibotta and Checkout 51. I've earned $639.52 back from ibotta over the last couple of years, go ahead give it a try, here's my ibotta referral link. I've earned $199.70 over the last couple of years from Checkout 51, I can get cash or pick out a gift card.
Start thinking about things that you don't need to absolutely to survive, you don't need paper towels....yes they are nice to have but you could survive without them, start using rags and washcloths and see how much you could reduce your paper towel habit. Paper napkins is another thing you can live without, fortunately I am able to sew my own napkins and I used inexpensive fabric from the thrift store so I use very few paper napkins, I could probably quit using them altogether I just have a few on hand for guests.
Fabric softener and dryer sheets are other items that you can do without, you shouldn't be using fabric softener for a lot of things like towels anyway, use vinegar in the wash, it doesn't leave a bad smell and it softens clothes without leaving all the chemicals in your clothing. I don't use or buy fabric dryer sheets, I just don't need them. When it comes to laundry soap I only use about 3/4 of the recommended amount on the bottle, my clothes come out just as clean and my washer isn't working so hard to get rid of all the suds. You can try this with shampoo and conditioner, try to use just a little bit less when you pour it in your hand, it may take a few seconds longer to lather up but it gets your hair just as clean, more doesn't always mean better or cleaner.
Buying cleaning products is expensive but you can clean most things in your house with vinegar and baking soda and both of those items are very inexpensive to buy. Make a window spray with equal parts vinegar and water, clean your microwave with a small bowl of vinegar and water, heat it until the liquid boils and it makes all the stuck on food particles soft and easy to wipe off. Freshen stuffed animals and pillows that can't be washed by putting them in a large plastic garbage bag with a few sprinkles of baking soda, shake well and then let it sit to absorb odors. Shake well to to get rid of the baking soda when you are finished. Make little sachets, take a coffee filter and fill with baking soda and tie it closed, put them in places like shoes and closets to absorb moisture and odors.
These tips are not going to make you a millionaire but if you can make it a way of life you can start putting the extra into your savings account even if it's just small amounts it will give you the incentive to try to save more and before you know it you could have a substantial amount to start paying off debt or pay for braces or buy a house.....it's your money to do whatever you want with it.