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Let’s face it: The cost of living is kicking our butts. If you’re wondering why you’re having trouble getting ahead, it’s because the game is rigged against you.
While wages have gone up over the past couple of decades, they haven’t kept up with inflation. To add insult to injury, the cost of big-ticket purchases, like houses, cars and college degrees has increased faster than the pace of inflation. In other words, the cost of everything is rising a lot faster than your salary is.
The government has a handy way to measure this — a thing called the Consumer Price Index, which is essentially the price of common things we pay for all averaged together. The Bureau of Labor Statistics just compared prices in February 2021 to those of one year before, and found that grocery prices had increased by 3.5%!
In the big picture, the cost of living has essentially doubled over the past 30 years, according to a number of studies and this cost of living calculator from the American Institute for Economic Research.
Having trouble keeping up? We’ve got some money moves you can start making today:
1. Cut Your Food Budget by Planning Ahead
Groceries are a huge part of the high cost of living, so they’re a big target for savings. Try preparing for the week ahead with some meal planning.
This goes beyond just making a shopping list. Real meal planning helps you save money because it helps you use what you buy, preventing food — and money — waste. It also prevents you from spending extra cash on emergency lunches or late-night takeout.
First, figure out how many meals you’re responsible for making every week. If it’s just you, your answer might be 21: seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners. If you have a family, count meals per person — a dinner for three people counts as three dinners, even if you all eat the same thing.
Now figure out how much food you’ll need to buy to make it until your next grocery trip. If you buy the same items repeatedly, you know which ones to stock up on when they go on sale. Stocking up on sale items also helps you freeze meals for the future. If there’s a way to buy in bulk and prep the foods you eat the most often, do it!
2. Get Paid Every Time You Buy Toilet Paper
No matter how strategic you are, groceries still account for a good chunk of your budget. Everybody’s got to eat. You may as well earn a little money back while your groceries are being bagged up.
A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying toilet paper and more than 250 other items at the grocery store.
Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.
You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards.
Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something.
3. Stop Overpaying for Stuff Online
With the cost of everything rising, you have to watch every penny. Wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert any time you’re shopping on Amazon or Walmart.com and you’re about to get ripped off?
That’s exactly what this free service does.
Just add it to your browser for free, and before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Walmart, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. Plus, you can get coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even see the item’s price history.
Let’s say you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes, and you assume you’ve found the best price. Here’s when you’ll get a pop up letting you know if that exact pair of shoes is available elsewhere for cheaper. If there are any available coupon codes, they’ll also automatically be applied to your order.*
In the last year, this has saved people $160 million.
You can get started in just a few clicks to see if you’re overpaying online.
4. Get Paid Every Time You Fill Up Your Tank
Having to fill up your gas tank these days is downright painful. Prices for a gallon of regular unleaded top $5 in some states and it doesn’t look like there’s relief coming any time soon.
But a free app called Fetch Rewards will relieve some of that wallet-draining frustration by rewarding you with gift cards just for buying gas (and more than 250 other items at the store).
Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased gas from one of the stations listed in Fetch. You’ll earn 25 points for each purchase, which can be redeemed for a Visa gift card and can help you pay for your next tank.
You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards. Over 13 million people already have, so they must be onto something…
5. Knock $715/Year From Your Car Insurance in Minutes
Every dollar counts here. Cutting necessary expenses can make a huge difference. So when’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?
Chances are you’re seriously overpaying with your current policy.
If it’s been more than six months since your last car insurance quote, you should look again.
Use a website called EverQuote to see all your options at once.
EverQuote is the largest online marketplace for insurance in the US, so you’ll get the top options from more than 175 different carriers handed right to you.
Take a couple of minutes to answer some questions about yourself and your driving record. With this information, EverQuote will be able to give you the top recommendations for car insurance. In just a few minutes, you could save up to $610 a year.
6. Add $225 to Your Wallet Just for Watching the News
Keeping up with the cost of living is a little easier when you can add a little more income. For example:
It’s been a historic time for news, and we’re all constantly refreshing for the latest updates. You probably know more than one news-junkie who fancies themselves an expert in respiratory illness or a political mastermind.
And research companies want to pay you to keep watching. You could add up to $225 a month to your pocket by signing up for a free account with InboxDollars. They’ll present you with short news clips to choose from every day, then ask you a few questions about them.
You just have to answer honestly, and InboxDollars will continue to pay you every month. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s already paid its users more than $56 million.
It takes about one minute to sign up, and start getting paid to watch the news.
7. Leave Your Family up to $1M
Since the cost of living keeps rising, have you ever thought about how your family would manage without your income after you’re gone?
How would they pay the bills? Send the kids through school? Now’s a good time to start planning for the future by looking into a life insurance policy.
You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But this takes just minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.
We hear people are paying as little as $16 a month. (But every year you wait, this gets more expensive.)
It takes just minutes to get a free quote and see how much life insurance you can leave your loved ones — even if you don’t have seven figures in your bank account.
In summary, keeping up with the cost of living is tough. But following these steps can give you a leg up.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He, too, is struggling to keep up with the cost of living.
*Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the extension using the links provided.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.