When bills begin to hide your kitchen table, your mind may scramble for a quick fix.
Can I make money fast on eBay or Craigslist? Should I apply for a personal loan? Maybe I could sell plasma? You could also pull a classic Michael Scott move and declare, “BANKRUPTCY!”… But, I wouldn’t recommend it.
While flipping thrifted goods or selling fluids can certainly help you make more money, another alternative is to make better use of your current income.
If you’re stuck in a cycle of overspending and mounting debt, it may be time to completely rethink your spending habits. Extreme budget methods — like biking to work, moving in with your parents, or even dumpster diving for dinner — can help you free up spare change in your paycheck and make the most of your hard-earned income!
What is extreme budgeting?
If you’ve ever worried about a surprise medical bill, said “no” to a trip due to lack of cash, or purchased a case of ramen to make sure you had enough food till your next paycheck, you’re not alone.
While there is a myriad of ways to achieve temporary peace of mind, extreme budgeting is for the folks who want to stop the I-never-have-enough-money cycle dead in its tracks.
Instead of just eating out only once a week or canceling their monthly manicure, extreme budgeters reevaluate the simplest of routines.
- Do I shop at the grocery store or dig through the trash for dinner?
- Do I buy a cheaper vehicle at the dealer or consider rideshare instead?
They cut costs down to the bare essentials, adopt habits that protect their savings, and create a lifestyle that anticipates and eliminates stressful financial circumstances.
10 extreme budget methods to consider
Start your extreme budgeting by scanning your most recent bank statements for nonessential purchases: your subscription to Netflix, afternoon Starbucks run, gym membership, weekend vacations, drinks with friends, and so on. Ask yourself whether or not the transaction qualifies as a basic need for everyday life. If the answer is “no,” then next time say “no.”
You can also use a service like Money Patrol to set spending limits for yourself and begin developing new, healthy habits. However, the true extreme budgeter will take penny-pinching to new heights.
Listed below are ten extreme ways to save money on everything from transportation to toilet paper!
1. Become a “Freegan”
Freegans are known for rejecting consumerism and reducing waste by making use of discarded foods and goods.
You might gag at the thought of rummaging through garbage for your dinner, but freeganism has certainly proved to be an effective means of cutting costs. In fact, by dumpster diving instead of grocery shopping, Freddy Freegan has saved more than $2,000 a year on food.
2. Try vegetarianism or veganism
Did you know one pound of chicken breast and one pound of black beans have approximately the same grams of protein per serving? The difference is the chicken costs five times as much as the beans!
Next time you’re at the grocery store, avoid expensive items like meat and buy cheap, whole foods instead — beans, rice, potatoes, eggs, etc. Test out this tip for a month and see how you and your budget fare!
3. Stop driving and start riding
For individuals who truly want to adopt an extreme budgeting mentality, trim transportation costs down to the bone and ditch the car! Consider ridesharing, take the bus, or ride a bike. Not only will you save tons of money, but it’ll also be better for the environment too!
Check out PocketSmith’s budget projection tool to see just how much money you can save without your current auto expenses.
4. Practice military showers
Instead of swapping your shower head for a low-flow alternative — or, in addition to swapping out your shower head — save big bucks on your water bill by practicing military showers, or navy showers.
Once you’re wet all over, turn off the water to lather up with soap, then turn it back on once more to rinse. You could save as much as 15,000 gallons of water a year!
5. Downsize your home
Downsizing to an apartment, tiny home, or even a van, may seem intense, but this tip has the potential to increase your savings more than any other. In fact, according to data from ValuePenguin, the average American household spends more than a quarter of their budget on housing alone (including mortgage/rent, property insurance, utilities, and more).
6. Move in with your parents
Living with mom and dad is not a glamorous solution; however, it’s more common than you might think.
Instead of spending thousands of dollars on rent or mortgage payments, redirect those funds to pay down debts, start investing, and even pursue the career path you really want, versus a job that merely pays the bills.
7. Water it down
You heard me. Add a little water to your shampoo, dish soap, orange juice, and even milk to save on grocery costs and make products last a little longer.
8. Use a bidet
If you stood in line for toilet paper in 2020 (right there with ya), this tip may not seem as drastic as it once did. Bidets can cost upwards of $250, or you can pick up a water-spraying attachment for $30. Either way, research suggests you could save $182 a year with this tip.
9. Cut your own hair
Depending on your hairstyle, this may be a no-go; however, this tip could save you hundreds of dollars a year in salon costs. If you’re not ready to attempt a trim yourself, consider volunteering to have your hair cut by a stylist-in-training for cheaper or free.
10. Practice “no spend” weekends
No spend weekends — which are exactly what they sound like — can help you steer clear of impulsive habits like eating out and shopping with friends. Instead, this trick motivates you to plan ahead.
Pack your coffee in a travel mug, invite your friends on a walk or a picnic, host a game night, etc. You could also set aside any cash you would have spent during the weekend and save up for a larger goal instead, like a down payment on a home or a summer vacation.
How does extreme budgeting help your finances?
“Couple Pays off $100,000 in Loans in One Year!” “Man Retires at 35: Here’s How he Did it!” The dramatic nature of extreme budget methods certainly grabs our attention, but the real draw is that they offer us a means of accomplishing significant personal goals quickly.
As referenced above, money is one of the biggest stressors for modern Americans, occupying our thoughts and impacting the lifestyle we’re able to pursue. In the midst of this chaos, extreme budgets offer an attractive alternative. They can help you cut down debt, save up for a house, retire early, set aside money for your kid’s college expenses, and more. You reclaim the reins of your financial circumstances and, in the process, set yourself and your family on track towards independence.
How does extreme budgeting hurt your finances?
While extreme budgeting may effectively address your current needs or help you pursue an ambitious goal, sometimes they neglect the big picture.
You may have plenty of money to put food on the table, but you ignore saving for retirement. As you divert spare change towards student loan payments, you forget to build an emergency fund and aren’t prepared for a surprise dental bill.
An extreme budget puts an immediate need or single goal in the spotlight, but a balanced budget accounts for a variety of costs today and tomorrow. Before you adopt any extreme budget methods, make sure you’re prepared for unexpected expenses and future needs.
Who should (and shouldn’t) practice extreme budgeting?
As mentioned previously, extreme budget methods can sometimes distract us from managing a variety of financial needs well.
If you have an “all-or-nothing” personality, for example, extreme budgeting may make you laser-focused on one goal, like stretching your paycheck to cover food, housing, and transportation. In the process, you might struggle to prioritize your student loan debt.
In the same way, extreme budgeting habits may help you make ends meet but also prevent you from addressing a larger problem — like excessive credit card usage. No matter how much you penny-pinch, that hefty bill will continue to find its way into your inbox every month.
With this in mind, extreme budget methods can be particularly beneficial for individuals who want to accomplish a specific goal in a specific amount of time. Biking to work or only buying discount foods, for example, can help a college graduate save money for a down payment on a house. An engaged couple may temporarily forgo dining out to collect cash for upcoming wedding expenses. Or, a young family could put every $5 bill earned into a jar to save up for a Disney vacation.
Remember: the primary goal of extreme budget methods is to help you regain control of your finances. So if your intense financial regime becomes oppressive or distracts you from future needs, those habits may not be a helpful means of achieving financial freedom.
How to start extreme budgeting
The best place to begin your extreme budgeting journey is by developing a clear understanding of your current financial situation.
- How much income are you bringing in?
- How much are you spending and on what?
- What areas of your budget have been neglected?
As you dive into your bank statements, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, there are a variety of personal finance and budgeting apps available to help you get organized.
One option to consider is PocketSmith, which connects with more than 12,000 financial institutions worldwide. Once PocketSmith has imported your personal information, the app presents you with several tools to categorize and organize your finances. You can break your current budget down into more manageable chunks, such as weekly or even daily budgets, and even forecast your spending and saving habits up to 30 years in the future.
» MORE: Read about our experience in our full PocketSmith review.
If you want a tool to help you monitor and manage your investment portfolio, consider Empower, previously known as Personal Capital. Empower provides a “skimmable” version of your investments with a color-coded, visual representation of your asset allocation. Empower also has resources to help you budget, prepare for retirement, develop an estate plan, refinance your mortgage, and more — so you can keep all your finances in one location!
» MORE: Check out our full review of Empower.
Extreme budget methods are not for the faint of heart.
You may bike to work in the rain to avoid spending money on gas. Or, perhaps you’ll miss trying that new local bistro with your partner and opt for a dumpster dive out back instead. However, the discomfort you feel forgoing creature comforts and adjusting ordinary routines is a small price to pay for financial independence.
Next time you pull your credit card from your pocket, first ask yourself, “Is there a cheaper way?” Sign up for one of the best budgeting apps like Empower or PocketSmith and start reevaluating your spending habits today!