16 Quick Tips to Cut Your Everyday Expenses
The first step to reducing the everyday drag on your bank account is the add it all up and see just how much you really spend on day-to-day things.
People often don’t realize how much cash goes toward discretionary expenses like coffee, lunches out, delivery fees and add-on channel subscriptions through streaming services.
Kelly Crane, chief investment officer and president of Napa Valley Wealth Management, suggests tracking those expenses for a week to see which items nickel and dime your bank account toward zero. You might want to use a budgeting app to automate the process.
The Diner Drain
With all your cash vacuums identified, Crane points toward one that sucks up the most of your disposable income: eating out.
While she suggests keeping the periodic nights out with your significant other for your relationship’s sake, you need to scrutinize the “dozens of lunches and grab-and-go dinners you might be consuming because you’re busy.”
While you may not notice it daily, the cost of these grab-and-go meals really adds up. Crane suggests fixing this by cooking in larger batches and freezing the leftovers for nights you’re too tired or busy to cook a full meal.
Everything’s Negotiable — Even Bills
You likely know all about negotiating a new car price or the price of that collection-completing duck-shaped coffee cup you found at a garage sale, but did you know you can negotiate everyday expenses too?
According to Leslie H. Tayne, a debt resolution attorney at Tayne Law Group, P.C. and author of “Life & Debt,” you can talk your way to cheaper utility and cable bills too.
Cable companies are often the easiest of the bunch because you almost always end up on a cheap introductory plan that eventually increases. If the price is too much, you can call the cable company and try to get a lower price or get the introductory price reinstated.
This is not a sure-fire route to savings, but you can always switch to another company’s introductory plan. When you call to cancel your current plan, the cable company will likely offer you a lower price to keep you.
When Negotiating Fails, Cut the Cord
Tried negotiating to no avail? You can always cut cable altogether.
Jacqueline Devereux, a financial expert with SproutCents, recommends that with streaming services like Hulu, YouTube TV, DirecTV now, PlayStation Vue offering packages at a fraction of the cost of cable packages, cutting the cord is catching on.
Keep in mind you must keep a standalone high-speed internet subscription from the cable company, but your net cost is often lower.
For example, I use YouTube TV and pay $40 per month for every channel I need. I also pay $65 per month for 150 Mbps internet for a total cost of $105 per month. Before cutting cable, my bill was $189 per month — a $84 monthly savings — plus my cable package goes where I go thanks to the YouTube TV smartphone app.
Free Boredom Relief
Cutting everyday expenses can feel like a prison sentence as boredom sets in. You can’t go to the movies because that would bust your budget, and you cut your cable package with HBO or Cinemax on it, so “free” movies are out. So what are you to do?
Denise J. Nostrom, chartered financial consultant and financial advisor with Diversified Financial Solutions, suggests checking out books and movies at your local public library. Most libraries have surprisingly robust collections, for free.
Slice Those Sneaky Subscriptions
We’ve all done it: Signed up for that subscription service on a whim because it was only $1 per month but never used it. These auto-renewing subscriptions can quietly wreak havoc on your budget.
Tayne suggests going through the services you subscribe to and figuring out which ones you actually use. “If you haven’t used it in three months, cancel it,” he says.
Don’t have time to go through them yourself? There are several apps out there that will find the subscriptions your paying and list them for you.
Spend Money to Save Money on Electricity
Sometimes you have to spend a little money now to save a lot of money in the future.
Tayne sees investing in ways to make your home more energy efficient, including replacing standard lightbulbs with LED bulbs, installing a programmable thermostat and setting timers on electrical devices, as great ways to reduce your everyday expenses.
According to Stephanie Schill personal finance expert at Wynninginlife, saving money on daily expenses is all about breaking the habit of willy-nilly spending. Schill suggests breaking the vicious spend cycle by creating no-spend days, weeks or months.
Not only will it help you save now, but this forceful frugality can help curb habitual impulse spending and make you cognizant of your bad spending habits. And with these habits in plain sight, you can make additional adjustments in normal months to reel in your frivolous expenses.
During no-spend periods, Schill suggests eating what’s in the refrigerator and freezer instead of going out to eat and participating in free activities like going to the park or heading to the library. She also suggests avoiding shopping triggers, like your cellphone, to avoid online impulse shopping.
Convenient but Pricey
Quick trips to the convenience store for a snack or drink are big draws on your everyday budget.
While it is convenient to pop into the store and grab a bag of chips and a soda, Jason Kay, CEO of Retreaver, says, "Most of the food and drinks at these stores are considerably marked up compared to grocery stores.”
Instead, Kay suggests hitting up the snack and drink aisles on your next trip to the grocery store and picking up bulk packs of your favorite munchies and drinks. You can then keep them in your car or office for a quick bite as you need.
Eat Your Way to Savings
The grocery store is a financially dangerous place, as there are tons impulse-buy opportunities dangling in your face throughout the store and at the cash register.
According to Andrew Schrage, CEO of Money Crashers, this danger increases when you don’t plan your meals ahead of time.
Schrage suggests advanced meal planning so you can minimize trips to the store, which also lowers your transportation expenses. With meals planned ahead of time, you can also clip coupons and shop during sales.
Meat is an important part of a balanced diet for some, but it is also expensive. According to Schrage, meat-free days a few times a week can reduce your overall grocery expenses.
Get Cash Back on Everyday Items
There are zillions of cash-back apps and websites in today’s more frugal world. Find one or two that work with stores and websites you frequent for everyday items and use them to save a few cents here and there.
Sure, that 10 cents you are getting back for milk may not seem like much, but if you buy milk once every three days as my family does, you can save $12 per year.
Now, spread that out across all your everyday expenses, and you can see how this can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Stack Your Savings
Using cash-back apps is great, but that’s still not enough to max out your savings. You can also stack other savings on top of these cash-back offers.
Using the milk example, you are getting the 10 cents in cash back from the app no matter what, so why not clip a 75-cent-off coupon and use a cash-back credit card when you buy it? You just saved more money, earned the normal cash back, and got extra cash back on your credit card. That’s triple the savings and can add up quickly over time.
Unplug Electronics and Appliances
Personal finance expert Andrea Woroch reminds us that TVs, laptops, coffee makers, printers, space heaters and cable boxes consume energy, even when you turn them off.
“Get in the habit of unplugging all these electronics and appliances when you aren’t using them — especially when you leave your home for vacation,” she says.
Don’t have time to walk around your house plugging and unplugging things? Power strips make quick work of unplugging a group of items with one flip of a switch — some even have remote controls. According to Woroch, this can save you up to 5 percent on your power bill.
Save on Fuel
Unless you prefer public transportation, there's a good chance you have a nice-size budget for fuel. Using apps like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas is a great start to saving at the pump, but there are many other ways.
First is to get whatever fuel-savings card your local gas stations use. I have a Shell Fuel Rewards Network card that saves me at least 5 cents per gallon. Next, pile on more savings by getting a gas station credit card that offers a few cents off per gallon on fill-ups or gas-savings cards that link to your bank account. I use the GasBuddy card, which saves 5 cents per gallon on every fill-up at most gas stations.
I usually stack my FRN and GasBuddy benefits for at least 10 cents off per gallon. With a 15-gallon tank, that's $1.50 per fill-up, amounting to $78 in savings per year if you fill your tank weekly.
Work in Your Pajamas
No, Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist at FlexJobs, does not suggest waltzing into the office in you Spider-Man onesie. She suggests asking your boss if you can work from home part- or full-time.
According to Reynolds, “the average person could save at least $4,600 annually by working from home full-time.” Sure, a lot of those savings come from not commuting to work, but you also save big on laundering and dry cleaning clothes, buying lunch and coffee while out, and maintaining a professional wardrobe.
If your boss will only agree to half-time remote, Reynolds says you can still save $2,300 or more per year.
On top of the savings, there are also mental savings you get by working from home. Reynolds notes, eliminating the daily commute would give the average commuter an extra 225 hours of free time per year to do things they enjoy instead of fighting traffic.
Pay Per Year and Save
When the average person — myself included — signs up for a payment plan, they tend to go straight for the lowest payment number, which is typically a monthly installment plan. But many of these companies offer discounts for paying an entire year or half a year in advance.
Ben Watson, CPO and virtual CFO at Dollar Sprout, says insurance companies as some of the biggest discount givers in this area. According to Watson, you can save 5 to 20 percent just by switching to a six-month or yearly payment schedule instead of a monthly plan. Sure, it’s a lot of money up front, but we are talking hundreds of dollars in savings each year.
Pick Grocery Stores Carefully
Next to your house and car payments, most famlies’ third-most expensive bill is food. This is an area where you can save a ton just by switching stores.
Michael Kern, CPA and founder of Talent Financial, says, “You can choose to get ketchup from a high-class grocery store for $5 or Aldi for $3.”
That doesn’t seem like a ton of money when looking at just one item, but Kern says it can add up as much as $200 per month in savings when you spread it out across your whole month of grocery shopping.
My wife and I are great examples of this, as we made the switch from a high-end grocery store to Aldi many years ago and dropped our grocery bill for a family of four from $500 per month to $350 without really trying. Plus, we still get mostly organic and food-dye-free foods.