September 23, 2023

Sarah Tew/CNET

Inflation continues to rear its head and give our wallets an intense workout. What does that mean for your monthly budget? This sharp rise in prices is costing US households an extra $276 per month on average, according to an early February report from economists at Moody’s Analytics. And as inflation continues to rise, this estimate is likely to keep increasing. 

Hoping to mitigate the rise in everyday goods, some are seriously considering a side hustle. Our CNET Money video that breaks down six ways to earn an extra $500 a month is our most-watched video this year and offers some actionable advice on how to start side-hustling.

But if you’d rather tackle your budget to unlock savings, consider these road-tested spending strategies that may help offset inflation’s toll.

Food savings tips

  • Consume carefully. As we’ve reported, 40% of food waste comes from our kitchens. But shopping with more precision, consuming leftovers and taking inventory inside your kitchen cabinets before hitting the grocery store are savings strategies that support sustainability while keeping more money in your bank account. 
  • Go frozen. In the past, I equated buying fresh fish and produce with the best possible quality. But in recent years, especially now that our family size has doubled in size, I love opting for frozen options such as filets and greens and berries for smoothies. With advances in rapid deep-freeze tech, the quality is just as good when thawed — and the savings is easily 30% to 50%. To that end, we’ve also invested in a separate freezer where we store breads, cheese and other quick-to-perish foods to boost their shelf life by an extra three to six months.
  • Diversify where you shop. Don’t only hunt for sales at the supermarket. Check for deals at drug stores, dollar stores and even big box retailers (which are expanding their fresh food and pantry offerings), sometimes at a lower price than grocery stores. 
  • Shop store brands. Whether you’re at Costco or Whole Foods or the local supermarket, keep an eye out for the store’s own private label. You can usually find them in the pantry and fresh food aisles. The quality of store label goods is just as solid (in my opinion) as the name-brand variety and sells for as much as 25% to 50% less.
  • Buy discounted gift cards for eating out. Gift card resale sites like Raise and CardCash let you buy discounted cards from a variety of brands. You can often find solid savings on cards tied to chain restaurants, as opposed to grocery stores, which tend to sell out faster. For example, on CardCash I found a gift card to Subway for 10% off.

Fuel savings tips

  • Sign up for fuel savings programs. You can usually shave 5 to 10 cents off every gallon of gas by signing up for fuelsaving programs at your favorite gas pump. They’re typically free and can be accessed via mobile phone. For example, BP has an app-based gas rewards program that saves members 5 cents per gallon. 
  • Search for the cheapest gas. There’s an app for that! Gasbuddy, for example, will use your location to identify the cheapest gas nearest to you.
  • Bring cash to the pump. Some fuel stations offer a small discount for customers that pay with cash, as opposed to credit.
  • Renegotiate car insurance. On a related note, if you’re driving less than you were pre-pandemic and have yet to call your car insurer to ask for an adjustment to your insurance premium, you should. Driving less means that you are at less risk for accidents and flat tires so while this isn’t a way to save on gas, you may be able to earn some money back on car insurance to bulk up your gas budget.

Utilities and cable savings tips

  • Ask for discounts. Negotiating with your providers and billers is always a wise practice — from your cable provider to streaming service to your utilities company. Speak with customer retention and let them know that you want to save money and see what they offer you.
  • Drop a streaming service. With everyone from Netflix to Hulu announcing an increase in monthly subscription costs, consider dropping one streaming service. Maybe it’s one you use the least or the joined simply because of a single show that’s ended its season. You can renew next year when it’s back. If you can’t keep track of your subscriptions, there are apps like Truebill that will scan your bank account to identify all of your subscriptions — and even help you cancel them for a fee.

Travel savings tips

  • Don’t wait. Our colleagues at The Points Guy recommend booking sooner than later for flights and vacation packages. Prices are still relatively good since business travel still hasn’t recovered and they’re seeing some good deals for hot spots like Florida and Mexico.
  • Bank on unused card points or miles. We just used our card points that had been racking up rewards during the pandemic to buy round trip flights to go out west to see our family. The trip was essentially free thanks to card points that had been collecting dust over the last two years of the pandemic.
  • Consider a local trip. If you’re not into flying right now, explore your own community with a staycation. If you moved to a new locale in the pandemic and haven’t ventured out much, this could be a great time to explore surrounding attractions. While you’re planning, take note of your various affiliations to score discounts on car rentals and museums. Students AAA members, and AARP card-holding members can often earn discounts. In New York, residents can apply for the IDNYC card which unlocks so many perks including free entrance to museums. Check your city for similar programs.

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