The average annual rate of inflation in the United States usually hovers from 1-3%. For most people, it’s not something that normally affects their everyday lives. However, when inflation reaches levels like we’re currently experiencing (above 8%), it can start to cause budget problems—especially for those living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Are you feeling the weight of inflation at the pump? In the grocery store? Through your monthly bills? Here are a few tips to give you a little breathing room in your budget.
Plan: Prepare (or Adjust) a Formal Budget
Now’s the time to sit down and put together a formal monthly budget. If you already have one, it might be necessary to adjust it with inflation in mind. There are tons of great apps out there to help you create a budget and track your finances—many of them free or close to free, like Mint® or Honeydue®. After you establish your budget, constantly look for ways to trim the fat and save a few extra bucks. Give these quick tips a try:
- Track how often you leave home and how much you spend while you’re out
- Look for patterns in your budget, to see where you under- or over-shoot goals
- Examine recurring subscriptions to decide if they’re still worth paying for
Fuel: Ease Your Pain at the Pump
With gas prices soaring to more than $5 per gallon in some areas, filling up can feel like pulling teeth. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to ease your pain at the pump. Sign up for gas rewards at local stations and start earning for every gallon you pump. You can also double up the savings by using grocery rewards fuel points to knock the cost per gallon down. Here are a few more fuel-focused budgeting tips:
- Combine trips to avoid unnecessary travel when running errands
- Participate in free ridesharing, such as your work carpool program
- Use an app like GasBuddy before you fill up, to compare fuel prices
Utilities: Make Efficiency a Priority
Bills are anxiety-inducing enough without the added stress of inflation driving them up. And, while you can’t stop them from showing up in the mail, you can fight higher costs by making a few adjustments to your HVAC, water, electricity and phone usage. If your provider offers it, be sure to enroll in a budget plan program to create predictability and consistency. Then, give these efficiency tips a try:
- Electricity/water: Conserve whenever possible and try to reduce usage
- HVAC: Participate in energy saving hours and change filters regularly
- Phone/Internet: Switch to a cheaper prepaid or capped data plan
Grocery: Shop With Intent to Save
If your grocery bills are starting to look like your mortgage, you’re not alone. Food products are usually the first to rise in price, and every trip to the grocery store can feel like a budget-busting experience. Clipping coupons, making a list and buying generic are all great ways to keep your grocery bill under control. If grocery shopping still causes you budget anxiety, consider a few more money-saving tips that can help you trim the fat:
- Look up meal prep recipes and buy food in bulk at a lower cost-per-serving
- Shop the outer perimeter of the store for healthier, fresher, more affordable food
- Grocery delivery services are often cheap and can prevent costly impulse buying
Fun: Affordable Entertainment Is Everywhere
Too many people think tightening their belt means cutting out extracurriculars. You’re stressed enough; you need ways to take a break, relax and enjoy yourself. There are plenty of ways for you and your family to have fun with little-to-no impact on your budget, no matter how you want to spend your time. Here are a few budget-friendly entertainment tips that can help you enjoy your downtime, without anxiety over money:
- Outdoors: Spend time at the park, go camping or visit local landmarks
- At home: Enjoy a staycation with movies, self-care, snacks and friends
- Destination: Look for discount admission to museums or visit a local festival
Income: Pick Up a Side Gig
In addition to cutting back and rebalancing your budget, it never hurts to bring in a few extra bucks to help your inflation budget go a little further. In today’s gig economy, it’s easier than ever to create a new source of income without picking up another full- or part-time job. Side gigs let you work on your terms, and they’re a great way to bring in money for specific expenses. Just make sure to avoid MLMs or other schemes that actually cost you money! Try these side gigs instead:
- Driving: Uber® and Lyft® for rideshare, or DoorDash® and Postmates® for food delivery
- Handiwork: Task Rabbit® and Handy® for assembly, errands, handiwork, moving, etc.
- Sitting: Rover® for pets, MindMyHouse® for house sitting, Sittercity® for babysitting, etc.
Savings: Good Habits Go a Long Way
You might be surprised at how simple it is to sock a few extra dollars away when you have a good budget behind you. Even in times of outrageous inflation, a few dollars make a difference. Saving while you spend can add up to big savings in your bank account. And, if you invest that extra in the right place, you’ll find yourself with a nice buffer in case of emergency. Here are a few savings tips that any budgeter can practice:
- Take advantage of any discounts you apply for, including military, student or employer
- Shop sales and buy discounted whenever possible, and put the difference in savings
- Set monthly savings goals for your emergency fund by treating it like an expense (a necessary expenditure rather than a smart choice that you could make if you wanted)
We're Here to Help
If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck or struggling to keep up with inflation, Navy Federal Credit Union is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about Personal Finance Counseling and how we can help you regain control of your finances.
Don’t Let Inflation Deflate Your Finances
Everyone feels the sting of inflation in different ways, and it can be disheartening to watch your monthly expenses rise at rapid rates. Give the above tips a try and remember that every little bit helps. A few dollars saved and a few extra earned can be enough to help you make ends meet—or even put a little extra away in savings.
- Sit down and make a monthly budget that includes your income and all major expenses. If you already have a budget, go over it again to account for the rising costs associated with inflation.
- Look for ways to cut back on spending or save money while you spend. Then, consider ways to bring in more money through side gigs. Think of your budget from both sides: money coming in and money going out. Maximize money in; minimize money out.
- If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck or are overwhelmed by the crush of inflation on your finances, reach out to Navy Federal Credit Union to learn more about Personal Finance Counseling.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.