Let’s face it: Unless your last name is Gates, Bush or Trump, you probably don’t have piles of cash lying around with nothing to spend it on.
We all have expenses and a limited income to cover them, and sometimes we run out of money before we run out of month.
When my wife and I graduated from college last year, we had a pretty good idea of our income, but we didn’t expect how much our expenses would grow simply by moving on to the next phase of life.
The average new grad in my field was making around $50,000 a year, or just over $3,600 a month after taxes. With my income in college averaging between $1,000 and $2,000 a month, I figured we were going to be set.
However, I didn’t account for a few extra expenses:
- Renting a house instead of an apartment: about $250 a month
- Our kids started school and needed supplies, lunches, after-school programs, etc.: anywhere from $25 to $50 a month
- A new health and dental insurance plan: $400 a month
- More expensive car insurance because we moved to a new state. Nevada is ranked 25th nationally for average car insurance premiums. Not the highest, but a lot higher than #40, where we were before: $200 a month
- Babysitting. We were lucky and rarely had to pay for it in college: $500 to $600 a month
- And of course, the ever-present student loan payments: after the grace period, $400 a month
A few months after graduating, I realized things just weren’t adding up and started keeping a detailed budget for the first time in my life. What I found just about floored me: My paycheck was not going nearly as far as I had assumed, and our credit card debt kept climbing higher every month.
I immediately started looking for ways to cut costs. And to tell you the truth, I was actually a little surprised at how easy it was to cut some of the red out of our budget.
Here are a few of the easiest ways I found to cut costs, all of which you can do from the comfort of your own home, without even putting on pants.
1. Ask for a Discount
One of the first things I did was call my internet provider and insurance carrier. All I did was ask if they had any specials going on or if I qualified for any type of loyalty discount.
My internet provider knocked $10 a month off my bill, saving me $120 a year. And my insurance carrier discovered I actually qualified for a discount because of my driving record, saving me another $20 a month, or $240 a year. That’s a total of $360 a year in savings, just for making a few phone calls!
Cable, insurance, internet, cell phone, and other subscription-based service companies often offer poorly advertised promotions and loyalty discounts. All you need to do is sit down with your budget or a stack of monthly bills and make a list of every company you pay.
Then, start calling. It’s as simple as that. You never know what discounts you could qualify for, just by asking.
2. Shop Online
This idea can save you both time and money, and can be a lot of fun too. Retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Shopko and Kmart offer free shipping for online orders over a certain amount, making your online order cost the same as a trip to the store.
The savings: You’re done shopping in 10 minutes, rather than an hour and a half — plus you save travel time and gas!
I use this strategy primarily for household and personal necessities such as vitamins, shaving cream, batteries, toilet paper, light bulbs, shampoo, deodorant and diapers. I turned my four or five monthly trips to Wal-Mart into just one online order every month.
Now, to make this method work, you do need to plan ahead so you don’t run out of something (like the toilet paper) while you’re waiting for the order to come in. But keeping a running list of everything you’re almost out of throughout the month makes it simple and easy.
In addition to the time and gas savings, this strategy limits the amount of “impulse buys” that inevitably come with every trip to the store. You know, those items that are on sale or just otherwise seem like great deals at the time. Estimating conservatively, shopping online saves me an average of $20 to $50 a month, just by limiting impulse buys. That’s anywhere from $240 to $600 a year in savings!
If you’re not a fan of shipping delays, you can still take advantage of the benefits of online shopping without having to wait for UPS to show up at your door. Most stores actually offer some type of free “site-to-store” shipping option, and your purchases are often available the same day you make the order.
When you order online and select “site to store,” the store employees gather your purchases for you and hold them at an “Online Order Pickup” desk. All you have to do is show up, pick up your purchases from the desk and go home. It’s still a whole lot faster than walking around the store yourself!
3. Ditch Your Landline
We’d actually always done this one, and I’m glad we’ve been able to enjoy these savings. My wife and I have not had a landline in nearly 10 years of marriage. We’ve both always had cell phones and never really saw the point of having a third line that we would rarely, if ever, use.
Consider how often you use your landline, and whether simply using your cell phone would work. You could easily save $20 a month or more, depending on the cost of your service.
4. Get Rid of Your TV (or At Least Cable)
Are you staring at your screen in shock, incredulous that I would even suggest such a thing? Hear me out.
Not only were we spending way too much time in front of the TV, but we were paying for a lot of channels and services we weren’t using. We dropped everything: cable, Netflix and even going to Redbox. By the time all was said and done, we saved around $70 a month (about $840 a year), and suddenly had a lot more free time!
We started using online news sources to stay up on current events, and spending more time reading and (gasp!) actually talking to each other.
It was really, really hard at first, but has turned out to be the best thing we could have done for our marriage and our family. We plan to turn the TV back on after we’re completely out of debt (I’m looking at you, student loans), but even then, we still plan to limit how much we watch.
5. Quit Paying for Subscription Services
Services such as Amazon Prime, Shoprunner, gym memberships, unlimited data plans, or anything where you pay a certain fee for unlimited access instead of paying each time, may not actually be as good of a deal as you think.
These companies count on you to overestimate how much you’ll use their services, and then to never think about it again.
I understand the allure. I was a loyal Amazon Prime user for years and loved it. Every time I ordered something with free two-day shipping, I would think to myself, “I’m getting such a good deal! Look at how much that would’ve cost me!” I wasn’t thinking about the yearly fee I paid to get that “free” shipping.
When I broke down my spending, I realized I was spending a lot more on Prime than I would have on shipping, even if I selected the two-day option every time. So I (somewhat reluctantly) canceled my Prime membership shortly before it was going to renew, saving myself the $100 membership fee.
Take a quick look at your past purchases to see if these services are really helping you save money. Go back over the last 12 months and look at how much you’ve actually used the service. Whether that’s how many times you went to the gym, how many times you ordered from Amazon or used Shoprunner, or how much data you’ve actually used with your cell phone.
Then, add up how much it would have cost if you had paid each time and see if it really is cheaper to pay for the unlimited access. Most of the time, it isn’t. And if it is, congratulate yourself on being a wise and thrifty shopper.
Your Turn: What’s the easiest way you’ve saved money without leaving your house?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Tom Gordon is a freelance writer and recovering spendaholic living in Las Vegas with his wife and three incredible sons. He has developed a passion for common-sense, real-world ways the average American can save and earn extra money, and wants nothing more than to share that passion with the world.