Inflation is busting everyone’s budget. Try these 7 money-saving strategies

May 26, 2022, 8:47 PM UTC
A woman buys vegetables and fruits at the market
There’s no magic solution for individuals to combat the rising cost of living. But there are strategies anyone can employ to save money.
Dalibor Despotovic

American consumers have been hit with rising prices from all sides, from gas and groceries to clothes and appliances.

U.S. inflation stood at 8.3% in April, close to March’s record-breaking high of 8.5%, according to the Labor Department. Prices for food, travel, housing, and gas were especially high.

So how are consumers coping?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to avoid the rising cost of living. Most people can’t just move to a cheaper apartment to save on housing or stop commuting to work in order to avoid filling up. But financial planners have a few strategies they recommend to clients to help soften the impact inflation can have on their bank accounts and investments.

The first step is to understand where your money is going. Almost all of the financial planners interviewed by Fortune recommended going through recent credit card and bank statements so you can see exactly how you’re spending your money, and how that spending compares to a few months ago. Once you have your spending categorized, it’s easier to see where there is room to cut back, or where to redirect more funds.

“Write everything down,” says Lisa Fischer, chief lending and growth officer at Mission Lane, a financial company that helps people rebuild their credit. “Whether it’s scribbling in a notebook or typing out an organized list, keeping a detailed record helps you visualize your cash flow and cut down where needed.”

After you’ve done that, here are seven more tips from financial planners to help you get by when prices go up.

1. Ask for a raise

Workers have more power in today’s job market than they’ve had in quite some time. Use that to your advantage.

“You have the most abundant job market in your lifetime available right now,” says Matt Atwood, a certified financial planner at TimeWise Financial. “Ensure you are compensated fairly for your role.” Do your research, using a site like Payscale, to see how your salary compares to others in your industry.

At the very least, ask for a cost-of-living adjustment in line with price increases—ideally around 10% or so to keep up with inflation. And if your boss can’t or won’t increase your pay, it might be time to update your résumé and look for something new. Though it’s impossible to say for how long the job market will so good for employees, it never hurts to see what else is out there.

“If your request [for a raise] is not met with a fair response, then use this labor market to your advantage,” says Atwood.

2. Try meal prepping

It’s not for everyone, but meal prepping—setting aside a block of time to make a few days’ or a week’s worth of meals with the same ingredients—can help save money on groceries, food waste, and on Uber Eats when you’re too tired or time-strapped to cook.

“I recommend checking out the r/MealPrepSunday sub on Reddit and knocking out your cooking on Sunday to take stress off your workweek,” says Atwood. The subreddit often features ideas for “diverse flavored meals with similar ingredients to limit the monotony of eating the same thing all week.” 

There are also countless videos on YouTube for budget-friendly meals.

3. Keep (or start) investing

It might seem counterintuitive to invest when the market is dropping. But it’s actually an opportune time for anyone who’s not close to retirement to invest their money.

“Historically, investing is the best hedge against inflation, and you have time on your side,” says Atwood, speaking to Gen Z and millennial workers.

That doesn’t mean going all in: Workers of all ages should have at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses socked away in a savings account in case of emergency. And if you don’t, you should be working toward that goal. Even putting away a few bucks a week can help your savings grow.

But don’t keep too much cash on hand, says Tyler Martin, certified financial planner at Stonebridge Wealth Management.

“Excess savings are losing their purchasing power,” says Martin. “The market is on sale right now.”

4. Know where your efforts will have the biggest payoff

Yes, prices are rising, but not uniformly. The inflation rate is measured by the consumer price index, which comprises a “basket” of goods, including housing, energy, groceries, transportation, etc.

“Focus saving on the items that are inflating the most,” says Martin. He points to gas as a huge driver of inflation that is likely hurting many households more than other cost increases.

“Typically, you can find better gas prices at membership clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club,” he says. “There are also apps, like Upside, where you can earn cash back on gas purchases.”

5. Don’t buy “new” products

Don’t pay the full sticker price for products you can find for less money or no money at all. “Before buying brand-new, consider all buying options from secondhand to trading,” says Andrea Woroch, financial expert and author.

She suggests signing up for Buy Nothing groups and checking sites like to find used (and sometimes new) goods for free. Check Poshmark or Tradesy for gently used clothing, and OfferUp for secondhand home goods and furniture. For certified refurbished electronic goods, use eBay, and peruse Facebook Marketplace for all manner of discounted items in your neighborhood.

Local Buy Nothing groups can offer more than just free stuff, says Lauren Anastasio, a certified financial planner and director of financial advice at Stash.

“You may find someone in the group who is willing to gift their time and help sew [or] mend clothes so you can save money on a tailor or new clothes, or someone who is skilled to help around the house to limit any home maintenance expenses you may have,” says Anastasio. “You can also pool resources, as participants in these groups will often lend out tools, kitchenware, items for entertaining, etc., so you can skip the expense of buying something you’ll only need to use once.”

6. Get cash back on everything else

For even more savings on items you need to buy—say, pet food or groceries—install a browser extension like Rakuten, which gives you cash back on purchases. How much you’ll recoup depends on the store, but everyday retailers like Chewy, Target, and Walmart offer 1%. Some stores offer even more cash back; as of writing, Old Navy was offering shoppers 2% cash back and Nike a whopping 10%. It might not seem like much, but it all adds up.

If you have good credit and pay off your credit card bill in full every month, then take advantage of cash-back cards.

“Think about where you spend most of your money and look to maximize those categories,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at, noting that he uses the American Express Blue Cash Preferred for its 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets. “There are plenty of cards that give 3% to 5% cash back on other popular categories including travel, dining, gas, online shopping, and more.” You can use a site like Bankrate or NerdWallet to research the best options for your household.

Additionally, look for shopping deals through your credit card issuer. American Express, Bank of America, Chase, and Capital One, among others, offer cardholders special deals at certain merchants on top of cash back. These deals vary by issuer and location, but you can find them by logging into your credit account.

“You can’t control the rising prices, but you can take advantage by using cash-back tools to supercharge the cash back you’re earning with your credit card,” says Woroch.

7. Watch out for shrinkflation—and shadow inflation

Be on the lookout for so-called shrinkflation, which occurs when companies give customers less of their products for the same or higher price, says Rob Stevens, a financial planning specialist at TIAA. This is especially common at the grocery store, and it could mean fewer pretzels in a bag or less aluminum foil on a roll.

“To mitigate this, buy generic products, which are typically slower than name brands to use this tactic,” says Stevens.

Another offshoot of inflation to be wary of: shadow inflation, or when the quality of a service or product declines. For example, a hotel may no longer provide free clean towels every day or an expansive continental breakfast. Your favorite TexMex restaurant may start charging for the chips and salsa that were once complimentary. Essentially, you’re getting fewer amenities or less quality service for your money.

These changes in quality are difficult to measure officially, and they’re not included in government inflation statistics. There’s also not much you can do about shadow inflation besides be aware of it, so that you’re not hit with extra charges—making that restaurant bill even more expensive.

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