One of the biggest challenges in personal finance is figuring out ways to spend less money — and one of the best ways to accomplish that is to cut down on your monthly expenses. Even though some of our regular bills might seem small and insignificant on their own, their cumulative effect can be enormous – and become a huge drain on our resources.
40 Ways to Cut Monthly Expenses
To minimize the damage caused on a monthly basis, many people look for ways to cut expenses that are both easy to implement and effective. Here are a few ways to save money that you can try one by one without too much hassle, but offer the potential to save huge sums of cash over time.
How to Save Money on Transportation
Let’s face it: Cars are money pits. Not only does their value constantly go down, they also devour fuel by the gallon and require all kinds of pricey maintenance.
Between car payments and interest, insurance, gas, maintenance, and other costs, AAA estimates the price of owning a car to be over $8,600 a year – and that doesn’t even include parking. So how can we reduce the cost of automobiles in our monthly budget?
1. Use public transportation.
If you have access to public transportation, you can save quite a bit of money on gas, parking, and maintenance over time. For a small percentage of the cost of owning a vehicle, you can get from one side of town to the next, to work and back, and to most important events. Each time you’re able to leave the car behind, you’ll be saving money.
And that’s just the money you’d save on gas and maintenance and the like — you’ll save far more if you’re able to forego buying a car completely. Rideshare services like ZipCar, Lyft, and Uber make it easier than ever to live car-free in major cities, allowing you to rent a car or hire a ride for the occasional Costco run, night out, or day trip to the country.
I’ve used this strategy myself: During my earlier days, I exclusively used public transportation to get around and save money, and it was downright painful to add a car to my monthly finances.
2. Sell a vehicle.
If a vehicle you own is rarely used, consider selling it. If nothing else, you’ll save money on insurance. If you’re able to get market price for your vehicle, you could also use the proceeds to beef up your savings account or pay off high-interest debt.
3. Carpool to work.
If you have an opportunity to share a ride to and from work with someone else, you can significantly reduce wear and tear on your car, save on gas, and take advantage of carpooling lanes that might make it easier to get to work.
4. Keep the tires on your automobiles properly inflated.
Once a month, stop by a local gas station that offers free air and check the air pressure in your car tires. If they aren’t inflated to the optimal PSI, fill each one to the maximum recommended amount as stated in your manual. Every two PSI of air you’re able to add to your tires can improve your gas mileage by 1%.
Ways to Save on Debt
Any time you can reduce how much money you owe, it will help lower your ongoing monthly expenses. For starters, paying off debt means fewer monthly bills to pay, leaving you with more money to save. Here are a few ways to cut down on debt and save money over time.
5. Refinance your home and/or automobile.
If you think you might be eligible to refinance your mortgage at a lower rate, contact some lending institutions. Locking in a lower interest rate can not only save you money over the life of the loan, but can also lower your monthly payment and increase your monthly cash flow. Similarly, if your credit has improved a lot since you first purchased your car, you may now qualify for a far better interest rate, so it could be worth refinancing your auto loan as well.
6. Consolidate your student loans.
If your student loans are locked in at a high interest rate, figure out whether it makes sense to consolidate all or some of them. While this isn’t the silver-bullet saver it used to be now that most federal loans have fixed rates, if you do find a good loan consolidation option, it could save you money every single month.
7. Consolidate your debts using a balance transfer card or personal loan.
If you’re carrying debt with a high interest rate, a balance transfer might be a good option. The best balance transfer cards offer perks such as 0% APR for up to 18 months – and some even offer rewards programs. Taking advantage of a 0% APR offer can help you pay down your debt and save quite a bit of money on interest. Just make sure to factor in the balance transfer fees, and pay down the entire transferred balance during the introductory period if possible.
If you have high balances on multiple credit cards, it can also make sense to utilize a debt consolidation loan. These loans allow you to combine several high-interest debts into one personal loan, which ideally has a lower interest rate than your current debts and enables you to pay down your debt faster. As with balance transfer cards, be sure to take into account any upfront fees and make your monthly payments on time.
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Answer a few questions to see which personal loans you pre-qualify for. The process is quick and easy, and it will not impact your credit score.
8. Request a credit card rate reduction.
If you’ve got a fairly large balance on your credit card, call up your credit card company and request a rate reduction. If you pay your bill on time every month, they may be willing to negotiate. If they won’t go for it, get a 0% balance transfer onto another card with a lower rate. If you have a history of late payments, a credit card for bad credit can help you rebuild your credit score and qualify for cards with better rewards and lower rates in the future.
9. Sign up for automatic debt repayment plans.
Many installment plans, particularly those associated with student loans, offer an interest rate reduction if you sign up for automatic monthly billing. You should never pass these up – not only do they save money automatically each month, they’re also incredibly convenient and ensure you won’t miss a payment or incur a late fee. If you have any installment payments (particularly student loan debt), see if such an offer is available to you.
10. Sell unused items.
Dig through your closets or attic and look for items you no longer use that may have value, then sell them on eBay or Craigslist. You can then use the money you bring in to pay off debt and put it behind you once and for all. I did this myself with a number of items, including my baseball card collection, when my debt load became almost unmanageable.
Ways to Cut Down on Energy Bills
From hot summers to cold winters and all the gadgets we plug in, Americans spend a lot of money on energy bills; in fact, the average household spends about $2,060 a year. Fortunately, technology has brought us a few effective ways to improve energy efficiency and lower that figure.
11. Install CFL or LED light bulbs.
If you’ve never updated the lightbulbs in your home, consider switching to either CFLs or, better yet, LEDs. These bulbs are about four times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and last for many years. One tip: When comparing bulbs, use the lumens number to compare bulbs, not the equivalent wattages. Lumens indicate the actual amount of light emitted by the bulb.
Remember also that under normal usage (four hours a day) and average electrical rates ($0.12 per kilowatt hour), replacing a 60-watt bulb with a 14-watt CFL or LED saves about $0.66 per month. Now multiply that by all the bulbs in your house to see how much you’ll save every month. Even switching just the five most-used light bulbs in your home could save you upwards of $40 a year on your electric bill.
12. Install a programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat allows you to automatically change the heating and cooling of your home when you’re not at home, when you’re asleep, and so on, saving significantly on your heating and cooling bills. You can also set it to heat or cool your home right before you arrive home from work.
13. Unplug all unused electrical devices.
Are there any electrical devices around the house that stay plugged in, but that you rarely use? Most electronic devices constantly draw a small amount of electricity, a phantom charge, that can add up quickly when you consider just how many devices and small appliances you own. To eliminate that usage, unplug any items or power strips you use infrequently.
14. Utilize timers and power strips.
Along those lines, consider utilizing power strips and power timers to turn electrical devices on and off. A power strip with a switch on it, when turned off, blocks the phantom charge on those devices; a timer can automatically turn off the charge going to a power strip (or anything plugged into it) at a certain time each night.
“Smart” power strips can even manage electricity flow based on a control device — for instance, your DVD player will only receive power if the TV is turned on first. These are all great ways to eliminate phantom charges on your home electronic equipment at night or when they’re not in use.
15. Lower the temperature on your hot water heater.
The hot water heater is a major energy drain in most homes, accounting for about 14% of energy costs. Often, the water is kept hotter than most people ever need, plus the heat is constantly lost to the environment, meaning you have to burn more energy than ever to keep the water so hot.
Solve both problems by dropping the temperature down to 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit (around 60 degress Celsius) and also installing a water heater blanket to keep in the heat – a blanket can pay for itself in about a year, after which you’ll be saving money monthly. While you’re at it, insulate any exposed hot water pipes as well for additional savings.
16. Air seal your home.
Air sealing your home can prevent drafts — common efficiency culprits in older homes. The loss of cool air in the summer and the loss of warm air in winter can both increase your utility bills substantially. Here’s a great guide to this weekend project from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reduce Your Entertainment Expenses
Many people look at entertainment as the first thing to cut when trying to trim costs, but they often forget to look at the regular expenditures that slowly eat away at your financial foundation month in and month out. Here are some things to consider that you may have overlooked before.
17. Cancel club memberships.
Look at expenses such your gym membership, your membership with the local country club, and so on. How often do you really use these services? If you’re using a gym membership less than once a week or a country club membership less than once a month, you’re likely throwing away money. Try canceling any memberships you’re on the fence about, and see if you really miss them.
18. Reduce or eliminate your cable bill.
Most people could find a cheaper way to gain access to their favorite shows if they tried hard enough. Perhaps you could downgrade from premium to basic cable, or maybe you could even eliminate your cable bill entirely (we finally did). Cutting cable and watching less television can also cut down on your electricity bill and expose you to fewer commercials tempting you to buy stuff – a double savings whammy.
19. Look for inexpensive entertainment options.
Do you take advantage of your local library? Do you attend local community events like music festivals and art fairs? Are you aware of local volunteer groups and organizations? Your community may offer plenty of options for inexpensive or free entertainment of all kinds. And any money you save is money you don’t have to spend on entertainment. Fore more inspiration, here are more than 100 free things to do.
20. Find new ways to reduce travel expenses.
We live very far from our extended families, so we’re well aware of the costs of travel. To save as much as possible, we cut down on the amount of travel we do and use travel credit cards for everything from free hotel stays to airfare.
21. Cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
If you get a magazine or newspaper in the mail but simply don’t read it, cancel that subscription when it comes up for renewal without a second thought. An unread subscription is nothing more than expensive clutter. If you need reading material, hit up your local library instead.
22. Consider reducing/eliminating other regular paid services.
Look at the services you pay for each month and determine if the money you’re spending is truly worth it. If not, just drop the service and look for other options that can accomplish the same thing for less.
Have you examined your subscriptions lately? If you’ve cut cable TV, it’s great to take advantage of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu+, and Amazon Prime — but you probably don’t need to be paying for all three at once. Do you need your gym membership, or could you get by with a home exercise routine? Or if you pay someone to mow your lawn, could you eliminate that expense completely by mowing it yourself?
There are even apps to help with this now — for example, TrueBill can review your purchase history and look for unused subscriptions and other recurring charges, and help you cancel them.
Ways to Save Money on Food
Food is one of the most common problem areas in the average American budget. We either eat too much, spend too much on groceries, or eat out so often that it costs our budgets (and waistlines) to swell. Here are some ways to save money on food and eliminate waste.
23. Cook (and pack) your own meals at home.
When you cook at home, make a lot of whatever you’re preparing so you can freeze some of it for future meals and, even better, take some leftovers into work for lunch. Some people may shy away from leftovers, but there are some secrets to making any leftovers as good as the original.
24. Reduce or eliminate eating out or getting take-out.
Take-out and dining out can be a nice luxury and huge time-saver for a busy family, but the expense can be tremendous. Instead, look at other options to make dining at home more convenient — for example, prepare lots of meals at once and freeze them for easy cooking later. Meanwhile, focus mostly on simple recipes, and choose recipes that use the fresh produce in season in your area.
25. Buy nonperishable items in bulk and use coupons.
Many people never even bother to look at some of the larger packages of nonperishable items – they think it’s just too much. Try looking at the cost per unit of all of the sizes and choose the one that’s the best deal. Check for coupons and coupon codes for items you use all the time, and if a good enough coupon presents itself, buy it in bulk.
Spread out over months and over a lot of items (think of all of the nonperishables in your home, from salt and sugar to soap and shampoo – food is just the beginning), this can add up to a lot of trimmed fat.
26. Start a garden.
Vegetable gardening is a splendid hobby that can often turn a profit if done right. Focus on vegetables that are easy to grow and produce abundant fruit, like tomatoes, and learn how to can and store the excess.
Opening up a jar of tomatoes in the winter that you grew yourself in the summer and canned in the fall is a wonderful experience – and it can really help with trimming the food bill. If you’re ready to start gardening, here are some good strategies for reducing your gardening start-up costs.
27. Buy generic when you can.
Many products (not just food) are available in a store-brand or generic form for significantly less money. Look carefully at the ingredients in generic and name-brand products to see how similar they are. If they’re close, go with the generic one on a regular basis to consistently trim money from your shopping bill.
I tend to try the generic version of a product at least once — and if I like it, I’ll continue buying it. (There are a few products where the generic version hasn’t passed mustard for me, though.)
Ways to Cut Insurance Bills
We all need insurance to protect against the unexpected. But when we overpay for insurance, we leave ourselves vulnerable in a different way. Look into these options for ways to reduce your insurance premiums.
28. Downgrade your health insurance.
Ask at work about the various options available to you that might reduce your insurance costs, and don’t neglect to look into family options if you have children – if you do, all working members of the household should look at family coverage.
If you want a lower monthly premium, consider a high deductible health insurance plan — this is particularly fitting for people who don’t rely on regular medications or go to the doctor all that much, and simply need coverage for a health emergency. Just make sure to weigh the expected savings against the additional amount you may have to pay out-of-pocket each year.
Find the Best Health Insurance
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29. Shop around for homeowners and auto insurance (or bundle them together).
If you haven’t shopped around for homeowners or auto insurance lately, now’s a good time to get a few quotes, especially if your credit is strong. If you can save a substantial amount and maintain your current level of coverage, it’s well worth switching to another provider — but give your current one a chance to match their quote.
Most insurance companies also offer a good discount if you bundle your homeowners and auto policies together. If you currently use two separate insurers, ask what kind of discount each would offer if you bundled the policies together.
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30. Consider term life insurance.
If you’re paying for whole life insurance or universal life insurance, consider a cheaper term policy instead. The cost per year will be significantly less expensive – even if you buy similar coverage.
The only difference is, your policy will terminate eventually with term coverage — typically after you retire, when, presumably, your family is no longer so dependent on your work income — whereas whole life policies are for a lifetime.
Find the Best Life Insurance
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31. Raise your deductibles.
If you’re paying a large premium in order to have a small deductible, you might want to consider switching that, particularly if your claims are infrequent. Raising your deductible can often significantly reduce your annual premiums, easing the monthly strain on your bills.
Ways to Save Money on Everything Else
If you’re still looking for ways to reduce your monthly expenses and save money, it’s time to dig a little deeper. These suggestions can help you find all of the potential savings in your monthly budget.
32. Lower your cell phone bill.
Ask yourself how much you really use your cell phone’s data plan. If it’s not all that much, look for ways to downgrade to a cheaper cell phone plan without all the bells and whistles. If you do use it a lot, look at the features you’re paying for on your bill and see if you can trim any of those. Even a $10/month savings — say, for a couple gigabytes less data per month — adds up to $120 a year.
33. Consider cheaper childcare options.
We paid a lot of money for our childcare, but there were other good options available to us. Compare childcare options in your area to see if a cheaper alternative would be a better value. Or get creative in trying to cut back your existing childcare by a day or two — for instance, look into a nanny-share arrangement, or try working a later shift once a week so you can be home during the day. If you’re lucky enough to live near grandparents, they might be willing to watch the kids part-time while you work.
34. Reduce or eliminate organized child activities.
The high cost of children’s sports can spiral out of control if you don’t keep it in check. To minimize these costs, look at the real expenses involved with any sport or activity before you let your children sign up. Meanwhile, keeping kids in only one activity at a time can also help you save as much as possible.
35. Insource everything.
If you hire out household services to others, consider trimming back or eliminating them. Instead, put aside some time each week to do them yourself – not only will you save money, but you’ll find that many activities can get the whole family involved (like housecleaning).
36. Stop tithing, at least temporarily.
If your budget is bursting at the seams, consider cutting back on your religious tithing. If this spiritually troubles you, talk to the leader of your religious group about the issue – they’ll usually be very supportive of this if you need some time to get your own house in order. Once you get back on your feet, you’ll likely be in the position to give even more than you did before.
37. Stop buying so much clothing.
I have a close friend who spends a significant amount of money on clothes each month. I challenged her to trim her spending in half – and she’s never looked back. If you need to dress well for work, that’s okay. You can still save plenty by buying fewer but high-quality pieces and really utilizing the wardrobe you already own.
38. Reduce grooming expenses.
Instead of having your hair cut and styled weekly, cut back to every other week. If you have your nails done twice a month, cut back to monthly, or have manicure parties where you do it at home with your friends instead. If you buy expensive shampoos, look at lower-cost options. It doesn’t have to cost a truckload to look good.
39. Reduce or eliminate consumable habits (such as smoking, alcohol, etc.).
Any consumable habit, whether it be smoking or excessive drinking, can be a constant drain on a budget without any real benefit. Give the habit a kick in the pants and your wallet will breathe a serious sigh of relief.
40. Move to a less expensive area.
Many people leave out this option when looking at trimming their budget, but if you can find work in another area, it may be worth considering. Look around at other areas of the country where you can find employment, see what your salary would be there. Then look at the housing costs and see how they stack up. Quite often, you’ll find yourself significantly ahead by looking at rural or suburban areas versus city options.
Trying a few of these strategies could lead to huge savings down the road. Meanwhile, trying all of them could literally transform your financial future – one dollar at a time.