FinCon Expo, AKA the Financial Blogger’s Conference, is right around the corner and it got me thinking about the basics of personal finances. I’ve always loved posts with tips on trimming your expenses. I don’t normally include posts like this on my blog, but sometimes we have to get back to the basics.
Trimming spending by as little as $200 a month can make a big overall impact in your financial life. This post is meant to inspire you to cut a few monthly expenses so you can allocate $200 a month towards building financial security: paying down debt, building emergency savings, and getting on track for retirement.
If you put some of these ideas into action, let me know! Use the hashtag #CUT200SAVE200 and tweet me your progress!
One idea is to open a Roth IRA with your new-found money and set up a recurring $200 monthly contribution. If you earn 8% over 35 years, you could have over $450,000! That’s the power of compound interest!
Let’s get started! Don’t forget to tweet me use the hashtag: #CUT200Save200 to keep me in the loop on your favorite tips!
1. Cut Cable
If you haven’t eliminated your cable package in favor of Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime streaming services yet, do it now. As in, today. There’s no reason to pay $100 or more for hundreds of channels that you probably don’t watch! (Be honest, you have about 5 to 10 go-tos and ignore the rest — so why pay for what you don’t use?)
Making this simple switch can save some households $100 right off the bat. That’s halfway to saving your $200 per month with the very first item on this list. It’s that big.
2. Cook Meals at Home
Dining out creates unnecessary costs. As much as we all enjoy it, it should be more of a treat rather than a habit. If you’re dining out for more than one or two meals a week, it’s time to cut back on treating yourself and increase the time you spend cooking at home.
Take your lunch to work and plan on cooking dinners in your own kitchen. You don’t have to be a Master Chef in order to enjoy homecooked meals. And doing your own cooking provides an opportunity to learn and hone a new skill. Not to mention, it’s often healthier for you.
3. Be More Energy Efficient
Stop leaving lights on in empty rooms. Don’t allow your water to run unless you’re actively using it. Fix leaks and increase home insulation to avoid wasted energy. Eliminate vampire power. Take a bunch of small steps to reduce your energy usage and enjoy the savings on your next electricity, water, and gas bills!
4. Eliminate Late Fees
Are you a little absentminded? Automate your payments on your bills and never forget to send in your amount due. Late fees add up fast, so this is a quick and easy way to save money.
Look for other types of fees you don’t need to pay, as well. Examine your bills and bank statements for service charges or maintenance fees. If you find any, call your provider to look for no-fee options — or switch services altogether.
5. Stop Shopping at Pricey Places
Yes, I know. It just feels better to shop at a Whole Foods. But plenty of other local, neighborhood grocery stores offer organic foods for lower prices. If you’re focused on saving, stop going to boutique and specialty stores and choose regular ol’ Krogers and Publixes and Safeways instead.
While you’re at it, stop buying brand names and start picking up generic products for additional savings. And don’t forget your coupons that you can find in the weekly newspaper or even online for stores like Target and Kroger!
6. Buy Food Direct from the Source
Depending on your area, prices on produce and other foods may be cheaper if you go to your local farmers markets or sign up for a CSA box of fresh foods. Price check your local markets and produce stands against what you can buy at the grocery store to determine where to shop. Oh, and don’t forget to buy seasonally, no matter where you choose; buying blueberries in the summer is always cheaper than buying blueberries in the winter.
Summer is a great time to shop the local farmers markets to save on fresh produce, so find one in your area and start eating fresh and local – today!
7. Cut Unhealthy Habits
One of the best ways to quickly save on groceries is to cut the crap. That means stop buying sodas, chips, cookies, snacks, and processed food items. Not only do these products beef up your grocery bill, but they’re just not good for you. Do your health and wealth a favor and aim to buy whole, real foods.
Also, keep your vices in check — cigarettes, beer and alcohol, and excessive amounts of food aren’t exactly good for you, and they’re certainly not cheap. Eat only what you need, consider kicking the smoking habit, and reduce your beer runs to once or twice a month rather than every week.
8. Stop Overpaying for Cell Phone Service
In the past, paying for pricey cell phone service was required if you wanted a nice smartphone. Companies like Scratch Wireless, Republic Wireless, Freedompop, and Cricket Wireless are changing the phone game. If you haven’t looked into their offerings lately, do yourself a favor and switch to a plan that costs $40 or less with one of these carriers.
9. Walk (or Bike) More, Drive Less
If you have access to public transportation, make sure you utilize it. Leaving the car at home can save you a ton of money if you do it often enough, in both insurance costs and in gas.
Walk where you can, or bike if your area has the infrastructure for this mode of transportation (i.e., well-marked bike lanes; stay safe!). If you reduce your driving on a regular basis, you pay be able to receive lower rates on your car insurance. The more miles you drive, the more your insurance costs you.
10. Wait Before Buying
Whenever you find something you wait to purchase, wait. Give yourself a week to consider it. Many times, you’ll completely forget you “needed” whatever it was before the week is even over! This is a great way to cut down on impulse purchases and to ensure your spending aligns with your values.
Have a set dollar amount where you require yourself to wait before buying. Perhaps it’s $50 or $100. Anytime you’re going to make a purchase over that amount, wait, write it down and revisit it in a week.
11. Stop Paying for Convenience
Do you pay to have your car washed, house cleaned, lawn mowed, or gadgets repaired? How much of what you pay for is within your abilities to do yourself? If you want to start saving more per month, stop paying for the convenience of having someone else do the work for you.
12. Engage in Free and Frugal Hobbies
Walking, running, swimming, hiking, biking — all of these activities can be really fun and worthwhile, and don’t have to cost you much at all. If you need equipment for anything you want to do, search for used items first to increase your savings. Or borrow from a friend.
And be sure to utilize the endless source of information that is the Internet and search for free events in your area or cheap activities to have fun with family, friends, and significant others. Enjoying the people you care about and spending your free time wisely doesn’t need to cost you much money.
13. Hack Your Credit Cards
“Credit cards” don’t have to be ugly words. If you use credit responsibly, you can actually make that plastic work for you. Use a cash-back reward card for everyday, necessary spending and receive money back. Then put that cash straight into your savings.
Or if you’re a travel junkie like me, use other reward cards to rack up points to use for airfare and hotels that you already planned on spending money on. Even better if you can use the same rewards system for your business card and personal credit card so you can combine all your points.
14. Use What’s Available to You
Do you have a gym at your office or apartment building? Are there museums in your city that are free of charge (if not all the time, then on certain days)? Have you identified your local library where you can check out books and media?
Whenever you have the ability to use an amenity or service for free, take advantage! Don’t go out and spend money on a fancy gym membership when you already have access to a perfectly good one — for free.
15. Cut the Excessive Gym Membership
Speaking of the gym, you really don’t even need one if you’re looking to save money each month. There are countless free workout resources online, like all the videos provided from Fitness Blender, and you don’t even have to go anywhere special to workout with things like bodyweight exercises.
At the very least, if you’re paying more than $50 per month for your current gym, consider making a change. You can still access all the equipment and free weights you need at a small establishment or a 24/7 gym that you use at a full-service, ridiculously priced place.
Also, there are many great fitness apps out there that can help build an at home yoga workout and they only cost a few dollars. Before investing over $100 a month in a yoga membership, try a few classes from home to see if you like it.
16. Change Up Your Living Situation
Do you live in a two-bedroom apartment by yourself? Are you living in the heart of the city even though moving a mile or two further from downtown could save you hundreds in rent? Question your current living situation and evaluate how you could save money by changing it up. Could you pick up a roommate (or even two)? Could you move to a less expensive location?
Even if you don’t rent, it’s worth asking yourself these questions. Homeowners may need to make a more drastic change, but if your mortgage payment is eating up all your disposable income it’s time to take action. Consider moving closer to work to save on commuting costs, renting out spare bedrooms, or downsizing to a smaller space.
17. Make Your Own Stuff
This one won’t be for everyone. But if you like getting crafty and enjoy DIY projects, consider making some everyday household items yourself. You can make things like your own laundry detergent and cleaners.
I saw a purse that I loved in this trendy shop and my friend reminded me that her mom could make that clutch for a few dollars over buying it for $30. So get crafty!
18. Ditch Your Car
Cars are really freaking expensive and commuting costs often make up a large percentage of a person’s monthly budget. It’s not just the car payment, it’s also the cost of gas, insurance, regular maintenance and unexpected car repairs. If you’re a two car family, can you get by with one car by carpooling with a co-worker to work? Check out public transportation in your area and use ZipCar, Car2Go, or Uber in those times when you really need a car.
19. Take Part in the Share-conomy
The share-conomy, or sharing economy, is a movement where people share goods and resources that no one individual needs to use 100% of the time. Think things like tools, bikes, cars, and even homes. It sounds crazy, but it’s likely that you’ve already participated in this stuff once or twice — or at least, you have if you’ve ever used Lyft, Uber, or Airbnb. You can even rent a tool or truck from Home Depot!. Renting items as you need them, rather than buying them outright only to have them sitting in storage most of the time, can save you a ton of money.
20. Just Ask for a Discount
If you feel like you’ve done all you can to eliminate expenses and cut costs, there’s always one more step to take. Examine your current bills, look up the customer service numbers for each company, and call to ask if they can’t do better on their prices. You’ll be surprised what you can get by simply asking.
You can ask for discounts, cheaper service plans, different rates, or new coverage. The point is to question your current expenses and ask for a change. Most providers are happy to work with you to whittle down your costs, especially if you’re polite and not confrontational. Remember, you’re just asking — and you’ll never know unless you ask.
Hopefully this list opens your eyes to the savings opportunities out there. It really is possible to cut costs and eliminate expenses in order to free up cash in your budget. But don’t stop at “cutting spending.” You need to follow through and actually put away that surplus cash! The easiest way to do so is to set up a monthly, automatic transfer to your savings account or Roth IRA.
So what are you waiting for? Start taking action to save more money today with these tips and increase your ability to grow your wealth with every dollar you contribute to your investments! #CUT200SAVE200