Tighten your budget with these tips

If you're working toward a life goal of buying a home, going back to school, moving or taking the vacation of your dreams, saving money should be a priority. One of the most effective ways to increase your savings is to take a hard look at your budget and find areas where you can trim your spending. That doesn't mean you'll have to change your life completely, forgoing dinners out or socializing with friends. In fact, tightening your budget may be easier than you think. Here are a few ways you can save by cutting out unnecessary expenses:

Budget for entertainment

Small things can add up to large expenses, especially when it comes to entertainment costs. Instead of going out to pricey dinners two or three times a week, try subbing in a less expensive option for one of those outings.

These can include free events in your area such as movie nights, street festivals or free museum days. Whether or not you decide to participate in free events, take a look at your budget and see just how much you're spending on nights out. You don't have to cut out your social life altogether. Remember, saving just $30 a week adds up in a big way. At the end of the year, that can result in more than $1,000 in your savings account.

Cut down on shopping

Shopping may be fun and can give you a rush in the moment, but it can also be a major blow to your budget. Consider how often you're buying unnecessary clothing, home decor or car accessories that you don't really need.

Whether you tend to make purchases during trips to the mall or during online browsing sessions that turn into mail orders, it's tempting to overspend. It's especially easy to trick yourself into thinking that something on sale is actually a great deal. But if you don't need something, it's never a bargain. Sure, that shirt is 50 percent off, but when it's still sitting in your closet a year later because you never really loved or needed it, it may become clear that it wasn't a steal after all.

Again, you don't have to forego shopping completely. Start by cutting down a little at a time, and after a while you may realize you don't miss it that much after all.

storefrontsShopping without discretion is an easy way to fall into a budget trap - so don't.

Cancel memberships

Streaming services, gym subscriptions, monthly wine delivery services, beauty boxes and even a steady stream of new socks coming your way in the mail - it's definitely the age of memberships. Examine your budget and face the facts to acknowledge you're spending a lot on monthly memberships. As with many expenses, they don't seem that pricey when you sign up. And they may not be.

But do you really need Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime? What about that clothing subscription service that clutters your closet? Have you made any progress on that New Year's resolution to go to the gym five days a week, or is it draining your bank account and making you feel guilty every month? If you cancel just one $15 membership per month, that's an extra $180 at the end of the year. Apply that to your savings and, along with the other ways you'll trim your budget, that savings goal will be closer than it was just a few months prior.

Cook at home

Ordering takeout is easy to do, and buying lunch at work instead of packing a meal is a tempting habit to fall into. However, if you're trying to save, those small expenses can be a killer. Try to cook at home more often, both in the evenings and by planning to bring your lunch to work every day rather than running out to a sandwich shop down the street.

Instead of spending $10 on lunch each day, you can easily spend just $2 or $3 by packing your own instead. The same goes for ordering pizza at night instead of making a quick dinner. In fact, by saving on weeknights, you'll not just add to your savings account - you can also apply that saved money to weekend activities that are more worthwhile.

Cut down on energy bills

You can't cut avoid paying your utility bills each month, but you can find ways to save a bit on your energy costs. If you haven't already, switch to LED light bulbs for your light fixtures. They're far more energy efficient and while they're more expensive upfront, they also last for years, meaning you'll reap the financial benefits of switching long term.

"If you haven't already, switch to LED light bulbs for your light fixtures."

Turn off lights when not in use and consider switching to timers and programmable thermostats. These are particularly beneficial during months of extreme cold and heat. Rather than keeping your heat running all day in January while you're at work, or on the flip side, keeping it turned off and coming home to a freezing home at the end of the day, a programmable thermostat gives you far better options.

Set your thermostat to turn the heat or air conditioning on an hour or so before you get home so you can get the best of both worlds - a comfortable temperature when you open the door, and a more reasonable bill at the end of the month.

Compare expenses

You may not be getting the best bang for your buck for common expenses if you haven't shopped around in a while. If your cable, internet or phone bills feel too high, for example, spend some time comparing prices with other service providers. You can also compare what you signed up for a couple of years ago versus what you need today. With the rise in streaming services, you may be watching less network TV. If that's the case, it may be worth it for you to cancel your cable altogether and opt to use an internet package alone.

No matter your financial and spending situation, if you're trying to increase your savings, there are always ways for you to trim your budget. From small changes to large, take a hard look at your spending and watch your savings grow.

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