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Four Easy Ways to Save Your Hard-Earned Money

 A whopping 61 percent of renters are spending more money than they make each month, according to a recent survey. Even if you have savings, consistent overspending is sure to lead to debt. If you’re feeling helpless when it comes to managing your finances, we’ve got four easy ways to start saving this year.

Build a Budget

The absolute best way to save money is to know where it is going each month. Monitor your spending closely and organize it into categories, such as rent, transportation, utilities, groceries and entertainment. Determine where you are spending the most money and where you can cut back. Create a realistic budget that you can stick to, and don’t forget to set some money aside each month for those inevitable, unexpected expenses such as car repairs and medical bills.

Get Creative with Entertainment

Socializing is the hardest part about saving money for 17 percent of 18 to 24 year olds, but there are plenty of fun things you can do with your friends for free or very little money.

Here are just a few ideas: Get outside and go for a walk; hike or bike ride; have a potluck-style dinner or picnic to spread the meal cost; host a board game night; or start a book or movie club to discuss the classics. Remember, most of the time, it’s who you’re with that really makes the difference, not where you went or how much you paid for dinner.

Make a Meal Plan

If dining out every night is your downfall, you need to put a plan in action. Planning your meals in advance is a money-saving triple threat that will keep your savings account in the black. First, save by avoiding unnecessary purchases at the grocery store — choose your meals for the week and make a grocery list of just the items you’ll need.

Second, save by only buying what you know you’ll eat for sure; you’ll end up wasting less food and less money. Bonus savings assignment: think of ways to re-use key ingredients across meals, so nothing is wasted.

And third, save by planning and cooking ahead of time so your lazy bone doesn’t get the better of you after a hard day’s work. You’re less likely to order out if you’ve got good meals waiting to be made or reheated at home.

Utility Futility found that 10 percent of renters are spending the biggest chunk of change on utilities. Take small steps to cut down on energy and utility costs: unplug appliances when they’re not use; use CFLs (compact fluorescent lights); weather strip your apartment; and close central heating and cooling vents in rooms where you spend less time.

Cable and phone services can also take a chunk out of your budget. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of renters told us they canceled standard phone or cable to save money last year. How often do you watch live TV? If you’re already recording your favorite shows to watch on your own schedule, consider canceling your cable. There are plenty of online services that are a fraction of the cost, and many major networks provide full episodes on their websites…

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