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In uncertain economic times like these, almost everyone is on the lookout for ways to stretch their budgets. The good news is that with a little self-discipline and some healthy financial habits, anyone can save a little extra every month. And a little extra every month can add up to a decent amount over the long term. If you want to start saving but are not sure where to start, we have some pointers to get you started.

Draw up a monthly budget

The first step to saving properly is to draw up a budget. Take a look at your essential fixed monthly expenses (investments, rent, car payments, etc.) adding these and savings to your budget first. Then, calculate a reasonable budget for your other monthly expenses (groceries, toiletries, etc.) Here it would be useful to have a bank statement on hand to help you see where you’re spending your money. Alternatively you can use a budget app to help you track your spending. If, on completing your budget, you find that you have some money left over, fight the urge to spend it. Rather, put it into your savings account instead.

Track your budget

One way to then track what you spend is to put it all in a spreadsheet. This means that you will need the self-discipline to update it every time you spend. You can make your life easier by tracking your purchases and expenses with a budgeting app like 22seven. The app will also help you to identify the areas where you may be overspending and where you might be able to cut costs further. Make the most of this app by swiping for purchases, as this will ensure that the app tracks your spend. Otherwise, keep a record of your cash purchases.

Put savings away right after payday

The easiest and best way to ensure that you save is to set up a debit order so that your savings automatically get transferred to your savings account as soon as you get paid every month. The benefits of this approach are two-fold: you will learn to live off less money every month, and you will be putting your money into an account where it will be left to grow. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses for not saving. Instead, leverage the power of compound interest by leaving your money in a high-interest savings account.

Reduce the amount you spend on credit cards

Credit cards can be good tools for establishing a credit score and are handy in an emergency. However, they are very easy to misuse, which can get you into trouble as quickly as it takes you to punch in your pin. If you know that you easily get carried away with your credit card, it might help to keep your credit limit low and your card ‘out of sight and out of mind’. Exercise the self-discipline and patience to wait to be able to pay for the things you want.

Save on bank fees

Most people don’t even realise how much they are spending on bank fees. Some people are unknowingly wasting money every time they swipe, draw and transfer. One of the best solutions to this is to swop to a low-cost bank account. With one of these, you are guaranteed low transaction fees, ensuring that you don’t leak lots of money to ‘hidden’ banking charges.

Cook at home

It’s always nice to enjoy a meal out, or to order in after a long, tough day at work. But, make sure that it’s a once-in-a-while habit. If you are trying to save, it’s important to start cooking at home more often – it’s far cheaper (and healthier) to do so. You can even cook in bulk (using big pots) and freeze food to ensure that it goes further and curbs the need to order in when you don’t feel like cooking. Curries, soups, stews and pasta sauces freeze well and don’t take long to defrost.

Become a bargain hunter

Different stores tend to run different specials. Instead of sticking to the same shop every time you go shopping, look around a bit to ensure you are getting the best possible prices. Clicks, for example, often has 18 rolls of toilet paper on special (2-ply!), and you are always bound to find washing powder at a good price at most big stores. Learn to look for bargains when you go shopping for household items and groceries, because the little saves turn into big ones when you start adding them up.

Stick to a shopping list

It’s easy to go to the store and get carried away with impulse buys, things you think you need or things you want, only to get home to find that you didn’t buy what you had initially set out to buy. That’s why it’s best to draw up a comprehensive shopping list. This will help you to focus on only the essentials needed for your meal plan. This will ensure that you don’t waste food, and, of course, money. Make an effort not to deviate from your list by adding items as you walk the aisles.

Sign up for every free customer rewards programme you can

The question should not be ‘why would I sign up for a rewards programme?’, but rather ‘why wouldn’t I?’ From cash back on certain cards based on amounts spent over a period, to discounts on products, air miles or even a free coffee for every nine bought (not nine a day, though), being a part of a rewards programme is almost always worth the signup fee (if there is one).

Cancel that gym membership

How often do you really use your gym membership? Is it worth the monthly fee (even if your fee is discounted)? You can get the exercise you need without paying a cent. Put on that tracksuit or tights and tekkies) and go running or cycling in your area. Alternatively, if you want to do some resistance training and you have the space, buy your own weights, exercise elastics and bench (look at second-hand options). You can even get into calisthenics (body-weight training). Get a friend to join you for your workout. This way, you will keep each other as accountable and motivated as if you had gone to the gym.

Learn more

If you would like more information on how to save, sign up for our Money Mailer. In this free monthly newsletter, we explore a myriad of ways to better manage your finances. If you've ever wanted to know how to save for university, how to reduce your living expenses or how to improve your credit score, the insights in these articles can leave you wiser, wealthier and better equipped to make the most of your hard-earned money.

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