Whether you’re trying to dig out of debt or move the needle on your credit score, cutting costs is the way to go. Here are five fool-proof ways to do it.

If you’ve targeted debt and credit as areas for self-improvement, you may be wondering where to start or what exactly to do next. Fortunately, the answer is simple: Learn to manage money differently.

While there’s no guarantee you’ll achieve all of your financial goals with any particular formula, we’ve curated the most straight-forward, no-nonsense ways to reduce your monthly expenses and stick to a spending plan. Over time, your commitment to cutting costs will determine whether you make real progress.

Here are five ways to cut unnecessary, mindless spending and stick to your budget.

1. Locate the “You Are Here” Mark on the Map

Your first impulse might be to take action, but it’s a good idea to get your bearings first. Write down every expenditure you make for a month, whether it’s a necessity, a luxury, or somewhere in between. Then, at the end of the month, take a look at your list. The exercise alone is eye-opening and gives you perspective as you start your journey toward a debt-free life and strong credit. While analyzing old statements may not be a novel idea, it’s the most obvious way to cut costs.

2. Trim the Fat

Target and eliminate your most common spending pitfalls. Start with nonessentials. Grab a highlighter and mark off any items you can eliminate from your future spending plan. Remember, “essential” is relative. Expect the spendthrift inside you to protest, “But your daily drive-through latte is essential!” Be ready to silence your inner saboteur as you slash luxuries.

3. Organize the Rest

Prioritize your spending and set up a budget. Identify your most important costs: rent, groceries, commuting, care for dependents, on-time debt payments, and utilities. Start your spending plan by allocating enough each month for the biggies. Anything leftover should be stashed away into savings, used to chink away at your debt, or for other costs that come up each month.

4. Change Your Definitions

Jot down a few phrases that may enable frivolous spending, and replace them with positive, empowering alternatives. These substitutions will get you started:

  • Nix “can’t” from your vocabulary and tell friends you choose to pack a lunch instead of going out.
  • Replace “If it weren’t for my budget … ” with “I bet we can find a smarter, less expensive alternative.”
  • Pay attention to, “I’ve earned a treat.” If you haven’t truly earned it, think, “My future goals are worth the wait.”
  • Instead of “I don’t have money for that,” say, “I’ll make time to enjoy something that won’t negate my progress.”

5. Educate Yourself

Read personal finance blogs and books, listen to podcasts about frugality, and attend (free) webinars that offer ideas on creative ways to save. Cut subscriptions that cost you both directly (financially) and indirectly (by wasting your time). Join and participate in a social media community that shares tips and ideas for cutting costs.

There’s no feeling quite like climbing a mountain and looking back to see how far you’ve come. Whether your mountain is debt-free living, a rebuilt credit score, or a new SUV, you can get there, and we’re here to cheer you on.

Bethany Johnson

About the AuthorBethany Johnson, Contributor

Meet Bethany Johnson, pop-culture and modern corporate reporter. Before the days of SEO, Bethany was immersed in the professional snowboarding industry. Through sponsorships, interviews, press releases, and public conduct, she promoted gear, brands and concepts. In 2007, Bethany went to the National Championships and won a bronze medal (3rd place) in the SnowboardCross event.  Coming out of the world of professional snowboarding, she chose the office of a private investigator on Capitol Hill.  There, she says her hunger for a good story only grew.   Like many milennials, Bethany is industry certified in (seemingly) random things: Oracle 11g SQL, snowboarding movement analysis, Microsoft Access database systems, and pet therapy.  For years, corporate clients like Tom's of Maine and Purina have relied on her to generate buzz on their sites.  Media consumption for media consumption's sake is finally history. So get to clicking, and enjoy.