How to live within your means, whatever the size of your salary

Whether you're saving or clearing debt, these ideas can get you there faster.

The key to financial security is spending less than you earn, then saving or investing the difference. This will keep you out of debt and build your assets over time.

A budget is the best way to keep track of your income and costs – although that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours accounting for every cent. If you set aside enough to cover your essentials as soon as your salary hits your account, the remaining balance is how much you can safely spend.

Most banks are happy for you to have several different accounts, just make sure you choose one that doesn’t charge fees. And it’s important to rank saving as an essential along with things like rent or mortgage, transport, phone and power.

If you’re itching to move ahead faster, you can look for ways to spend less or earn more. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Five ways to save money

1. Walk away from impulse buys
You’ve seen something you want, but is it really worth breaking your budget for? Stepping outside the store for a few minutes will give you time to think about what’s really important to you.

2. Use less power
Reduce your bills – and do the planet a favour – by making simple changes. For example, turning electrical devices off at the power point, taking shorter showers and washing your clothes in cold water and hanging them out rather than using a dryer.

3. Shop around
Take the time to compare prices and you could save on everything from petrol and groceries to your phone plan and private health cover. There are plenty of apps and websites to help you source the cheapest offers.

4. Change one habit
Do you buy coffee every morning? Eat lunch at a cafe every day? Buy something new every time you go out? Most of us have a money-leeching habit we could break without too much pain. You’ll be surprised by how much difference it makes over time when you save the money instead.

5. Don’t buy anything at all
Set yourself a challenge – could you go for a week without spending money on anything but genuine essentials? It’s a great way to see where your money goes, and the difference between things you really need and things you want.

Five ways to boost your budget

1. Share your opinions
Some online survey sites such as Pureprofile and Toluna pay cash for your opinion. There are also apps that reward you for a wide range of everyday activities. For example, you can earn cash for shopping online from popular retailers through CashRewards and ShopBack.

2. Attend focus groups
You can also get paid for your opinion by being part of a focus group. These bring specially chosen people together to discuss a wide range of products and services – and they pay up to $100 for a couple of hours of your time.

3. Become a virtual assistant
Do you have the skills and time to help someone run their business? You could make good money as a virtual assistant, or VA. There are also people looking for skills in social media if this is where your specialist talents lie.

4. Use your keyboard skills
If you can type quickly and accurately you could earn money by transcribing audio recordings, such as meetings or presentations. Data entry is another option. In both cases, you should be able to work in the evenings and at weekends.

5. Rent it out
Have you ever rented out an item of clothing, because you only had a one-time use for it? Plenty of websites are doing it these days, so why not jump onboard? Places like Facebook Marketplace allow you to rent out or sell your items. When you’re renting off others, not only can you save on wardrobe space, but you’re avoiding buying new things just to keep up with the latest fashion. When you rent out your own clothing, you’re prolonging the life of your clothes – and doing someone else a favour!

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