How much money do I really need to live?

Living Within Your Means

Coupons can take a large chunk out of your weekly grocery costs.
Coupons can take a large chunk out of your weekly grocery costs.
Andersen Ross/Iconica/Getty Images

Whatever your financial status is, if you want to make ends meet, it always helps to become more financially educated. There are several ways to do this. Thanks to the information superhighway, we have countless resources right at our fingertips to help us. Shopping around and finding budget-saving secrets is easier than ever. Here are a few ideas:

Buy generic: Maybe they don't look fun and appetizing at first, but if you examine the ingredients, you'll find that generic products are often almost identical to brand-name ones. Even if it means saving the old brand-name boxes and planting generic products inside to fool your family (or yourself), buying generic is a smart choice. Keep this in mind when buying prescription drugs: Generic drugs and brand-name drugs are chemically the same but have different names [source: FTC].

­Use coupons: Most likely, you can find coupons for many of the items that you buy on a regular basis, taking a chunk off the cost. Investing a few minutes in finding coupons will save you money. But just because you find a coupon for double-chocolate-chunk cookies doesn't mean you should buy them, which leads us to the next point.

Don't buy it just because it's on sale: Whether you are on a weekly grocery store trip or are clothes shopping at the mall, you're probably going to spot a tempting sale. Even if the sale is a great bargain, it's still best to pass unless you really need it or it's likely to save you from buying a similar item at a much higher price later.

Cook: Rather than eating out at restaurants, cooking at home can save money. This doesn't just apply to dinner, either. If you prepare lunches to bring to work, you can save a good deal more -- some people estimate $960 a year on lunch alone [source: Kiplinger].

One of the challenges of buying food on a budget is making sure that you and your family get a proper diet without breaking the bank. Healthy foods notoriously cost more. But there are ways to eat nutritiously on a budget. For example, some cheap-but-healthy choices include an egg per day for protein and canned rather than fresh tomatoes, as canned contain more of the antioxidant lycopene [source: Fortin].

These tips are just a taste of what you can do to save money. Once you know how to save, the key is to stay disciplined. Check out 10 Tips for Staying on Budget for ideas. Conquering bad spending habits is always harder than it sounds. When you're on a strict budget, it's wise to ask yourself every time you pick up an item, "Do I really need this?" How Discretionary Expenses Work will help you decide.

For even more budgeting and savings articles, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


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  • CSM. "That Elusive Poverty Line." The Christian Science Monitor. Jan. 16, 2008. (Aug. 29, 2008)
  • Fortin, Judy. "Stretching your food budget with healthy choices." Updated May 19, 2008. (Aug. 29, 2008) html#cnnSTCText
  • FTC. "Generic Drugs: Save Money at the Pharmacy." Federal Trade Commission. (Aug. 29, 2008)
  • IRP. "How is Poverty Measured in the United States?" Institute for Research on Poverty. Dec. 6, 2004. (Aug. 29, 2008)
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  • U.S. Census Bureau. "Poverty Thresholds for 2007 by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years." U.S. Census Bureau. Updated Aug. 26, 2008. (Aug. 29, 2008)