I’m always on the hunt for better ways to stretch my budget–obsessively, perhaps. But a habit of saving money isn't a habit I need to break. In fact, in my never-ending search to be the biggest cheapskate I can possibly tolerate to be, I've discovered a few ways to consistently shave a few dollars off my monthly budget. Eventually, these small savings will really add up in a big way! Follow these four rules, and you’ll be sure to do the same!

1. Say goodbye to 20-oz or 12-packs of soda

I completely refuse to buy sodas at the checkout line, convenience store, or anywhere else because they’re a HUGE rip off. A 20-oz bottle of soda will cost you more than a 2-liter bottle of soda. Even if you find yourself extremely thirsty at the store, I’m willing to bet you’ll survive until you can make it home to your own fridge. At around $1.29 each, grabbing a quick bottle of soda even twice a month will cost you over $30 a year. That could be a new sweater, a new pair of shoes, or 10-15 pounds of ground hamburger for your family. Is it really worth it?

I know what you're thinking: "a little pick-me-up makes my day a little bit better." Hey, I'm all for pick-me-ups, but planning ahead is easy. Grab your favorite water bottle and fill it with your favorite beverage from your fridge before you leave the house. The same goes for road trips: give everyone a water bottle and bring refills in a cooler. Gas station stops should be for fuel and bathroom breaks only.

Even though buying a 12-pack for the fridge is cheaper than grabbing a 20-oz bottle, a 2-liter bottle is still cheaper. The 2-liter bottles of soda are often on sale for $1.00 or less, and there are over 5.5 cans in one 2-liter bottle of soda. That means that unless you can buy a 12-pack of soda for less than $2.18, buying a 2-liter for a buck is still a better deal. Many Dollar Tree stores sell 3-liter bottles of generic brand soda for only one dollar! We stock up when soda prices on 2-liters are $0.79 or less, which would be equivalent to paying $1.72 for a 12-pack.

2. Start saving your restaurant condiments

As far as I'm concerned, condiments from fast food restaurants could be a form of currency. And no, I don't mean those impossible-to-open ketchup packets. I'm talking about the ever-coveted dipping sauces like Sweet and Sour, Ranch, Honey Mustard and Barbecue. I don't think I've ever consumed more than one packet of sauce with my fast-food chicken strips, but there must be a ravenous group of people in this country who do, because I always receive at least three packets.

By saving the unused sauces, I've managed to pack a few months' worth of hassle-free lunches. Carrots? Veggie sticks? Throw in a packet of Ranch. Shredded pork or chicken leftovers? Throw in a packet of Barbecue sauce. Chicken nuggets or a leafy green salad? Toss in a packet of Honey Mustard. You'll be surprised how plentiful and convenient those little sauces can be.

3. Start planning when to buy perishables

Playing the "Do We Have Milk or Don't We?" is a dangerous game to play (is there anything worse than finding out you have no milk after you've poured your cereal?).  By choosing to buy fruits, vegetables or dairy products at either the beginning or the end of the sale, you can stretch your food and budget a little bit longer.

A few weeks ago, I found a great sale on milk, so I purchased a couple of gallons. When the next great sale came around, I still had a full gallon in the fridge. I didn't want to miss out on the sale, but I didn't want to have too much milk either, so I made a mental note to pick up a couple of gallons on the last day of the sale (one week later). When that day came, I was down to the last few drops in my jug and was able to purchase two new gallons that were still on sale, with expiration dates that extended farther than what they did at the beginning of the week.

4. Ask the butcher to slice and separate

Typically, the bigger the "value pack" of meat you purchase, the greater the discount you receive. The only problem is, you have to make a single dish that not only can accommodate 7 pounds of chicken but that is delicious enough you’ll want to eat the leftovers again. Wouldn't it be nice if you could easily split that roast into two? Or split that pack of chicken breasts into smaller portions? You can! Take the package to your store's butcher counter and ask the butcher to separate or cut and wrap the meat into smaller portions, free of charge.

This is a guest post by Heather from Mundelein, IL.