By Erik Almon, Content Writer at Credit Karma
This article is being presented in partnership with the Society of Grownups.
No one likes to cut back on the things they love, and the thought of sticking to a strict budget isn't something most of us want to entertain. But if you're looking to grow your bank account without making big sacrifices, sometimes little changes can go a long way.
Whether you've slipped into a less-than-ideal spending approach lately, or you're eager to give long-time money habits a makeover, here are five small things you can do to potentially see a boost in your savings.
Bonus: Some of these switches may have extra benefits, such as making you healthier or boosting your creativity.
1. Embrace at-home food and coffee prep.
All those lunches and dinners out can add up fast. Instead, consider getting creative in the kitchen, even if it's just a few times a week.
If you're strapped for time, consider planning out a week's worth of meals each Sunday (and even getting a head start on any food prep). It's also helpful to load up your bag with snacks so you aren't tempted to grab the nearest treat when hunger strikes, regardless of its price tag.
Free apps like Yummly, PepperPlate and FoodPlanner (in-app purchases available) let you choose the recipes you want to make and even generate shopping lists.
If you want to go the extra mile with meal budgeting, you can also let each week's grocery store sales guide your recipes.
But don't let a good sale tempt you into buying more than you can eat or you may end up tossing out spoiled food at the end of the week. This is a very easy, and common, mistake to make - according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2010 (the latest data available) household consumers wasted about 90 billion pounds of food.
The same goes for your daily caffeine fix. Consider buying a drip coffee machine or stovetop espresso maker and grabbing a travel mug to embrace your inner barista. According to analysis from Square, the average cost of a latte is nearly $4 (not including tip) so you're likely to save, even if you add a milk frother into the mix.
2. Get resourceful about your fitness routine.
Many gyms and studios offer free trials or discounted classes or weeks for newcomers, which is a great way to explore all the options in your neighborhood.
Some fitness groups also offer free community drop-in classes, and doing a little research about offerings in your own town could turn up some unexpected options.
Meetup.com and Eventbrite are great places to look for fitness-focused gatherings, and several athletic stores such as Lululemon and Nike offer no-cost workouts that range from yoga to running clubs (though advance registration may be required).
Finally, if you're the self-motivated type, you might want to set up a home gym -- even if you're short on space. A few weights of varying sizes, some workout DVDs or streaming services, and a yoga mat may be all you need to roll out of bed and into your personal fitness studio.
3. Consider which subscriptions you really need.
Take a close look at what services you've subscribed to. Then, check your bank account to make sure any of those "free first month" trials you signed up for a while ago haven't overstayed their welcome and started drawing from your savings.
Over the span of a year, those prices can add up, especially if you're signed up for multiple services.
For example, Spotify Premium and an individual Apple Music membership both cost about $10 per month or $120 per year, while Netflix streaming and Hulu Plus both cost about $8 per month or $96 per year.
Say you have a membership with all four services. Choosing just one music and one movie service could save you almost $200 over the course of 12 months.
Better yet, is there a free or less expensive alternative that will fit your listening and watching needs? You may even find that being more aware of the services you are paying for leads you to start getting even more out of what those services have to offer.
And while we're on the subject of entertainment, let's talk about that cable, internet and phone bill. It's often helpful to scan your current plans and see if you're actually using all the services (and data) you're paying for.
You may find a call to negotiate your bill is in order, and you can also ask if there are any available discounts.
4. When you need to shop, shop smarter.
We can say we're going to put ourselves on a spending freeze, but sometimes shopping isn't just fun -- it's also necessary.
Whenever a store offers a free rewards program, sign up -- and bring those rewards cards with you wherever you go so you never miss out on special deals. For example, Target's Cartwheel app lets shoppers select the deals they like, access the savings via a barcode on the app and get rewarded for using the service with badges and extra deals.
Just make sure you're applying for rewards and not a retail credit card, which may come with higher-than-normal interest rates and could impact your credit score when you sign up.
Coupon apps such as RetailMeNot and Coupons.com are another resource that may help you shop smarter. Search the apps or websites for your store of choice before buying anything online so you can take advantage of any available discounts.
Online, you can use sites such as eBates or Swagbucks to get cash back and other rewards at places where you already shop.
While savings will vary depending on how much you shop and where, a quick look at the cash back amounts for each participating retailer gives a good sense of how much you can save.
For example, on eBates, Amazon offers up to seven percent cash back on purchases. J.C. Penney offers up to 3 percent cash back.
5. Take a fresh approach to social plans.
Spending time with friends is priceless. It's also an easy way to rack up a hefty dinner bill or be tempted to splurge on concert tickets for a night out with your group.
One way to minimize costs in these areas is to inject some free and inexpensive activities into the mix without sacrificing the entertainment factor.
Consider hosting a potluck or movie night from time to time. Or set up your own beer tasting night -- invite a few friends over and have each person bring a few different bottles to share.
Odds are, the rest of your group will appreciate the smaller impact on their wallet, too, and you might find that you have more quality time to catch up at home than you would normally have going out.
If you really want to get out of the house, research free events in your city. For example, NYCGO, the official guide to New York City, has a full page of events and activities that don't cost a thing.
And National Geographic breaks down free activities by city -- both in the US and abroad.
Your own town or city also likely publishes a calendar of events that includes fairs, concerts, free days at museums and more.
Finally, when you and your friends go to places or events where free isn't an option, ask if you qualify for a group discount.
Break old spending habits
It can take some time to fully adopt new money-saving habits. Instead of cutting out everything you love, consider making slight spending tweaks to soften the impact of a tighter budget.
Pretty soon, you could see the sacrifice-free savings add up. And when they do, that occasional latte splurge or new addition to your wardrobe will be so much sweeter when it's a special treat, rather than a pricey part of your everyday routine.
You can read more advice about budgeting on our blog. What clever things have you done to stick to your budget? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter @societygrownups!
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About the Author: Before joining Society of Grownups, Erik Almon ran his own personal financial planning practice. Erik is a strong believer in balancing financial goals with life goals and creating a clear and simple action plan to keep pushing forward.
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