I may have fallen back into old habits. Several years ago, when I was refreshing my life and beginning to control my finances, I made deep cuts into my expenses. I took on three roommates, paying only $325 a month for my portion of rent. I didn’t own a car and relied on mass transit for most of my transportation. When I did move out on my own, finding one of the least expensive apartments in town, I eliminated all but the most basic cable television.
There was more I could have done had I wanted to reduce my expenses, but I reached the point at which I was consistently investing and saving money every month.
As my income has grown over the past few years, I’ve allowed my expenses to follow. I moved into an apartment I actually like and feel comfortable spending some cash on unnecessary things I like, such as amateur coin collecting, amateur photography, and amateur high-definition entertainment enjoyment.
I’ve already thought of some ways to reduce my expenses by $10,000 a year. Consumer Reports has some suggestions for finding another $6,000 a year, but only a few apply to me. How about you?
Find cheaper auto insurance. I mentioned that several years ago I didn’t have a car. That wasn’t quite by choice; my license was suspended when I was younger for failure to pay speeding tickets. It would be easy to say that I received those tickets thanks to a stressful job working 100 hours a week and my failure to pay was because I had no money, but I should have been more responsible. Until I got rid of the car, my insurance was about $4,000 a year if I remember correctly. Now my insurance is about $1,500 a year, and I could only find that rate by shopping around for a while. It’s been several years since I’ve shopped around, so that’s something I will consider. I need to add renter’s insurance as well — something I’m sad to admit I’ve never had despite its reportedly low price.
Optimize your life insurance. Right now, my cat Rupert is the only living being that relies on my income to survive. I have not opted for life insurance yet as it will be generally unnecessary until I have a (human) family. According to Consumer Reports, insurance premiums have decreased on average, so it may be a good time to replace your policy with a new one. You may be able to get the same coverage for less.
Shop smart for food. Buying food for a single guy is not simple. Food is usually packaged for families. This means I usually end up spending more per meal and eating larger portions that I should be. I don’t enjoy spending time preparing and cooking dinner. I have accepted my failure at brown-bagging my lunch and moved on. Consumer Reports’ advice is tailored to a family, indicating on average an household could save $190 a month by shifting to less expensive food. My entire monthly grocery bill is about $190, though eating out (and ordering in) matches that.
Plan menus around sales on fresh poultry, fish, meat, dairy, and produce, and make use of leftovers. Avoid costly prepared meals. Eat more low-priced, high-nutrition foods such as beans and potatoes… Shop in lower-cost stores such as Aldi Foods, PriceRite, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Club, but be sure to compare prices. Try less-expensive store brands. Sign up for store discount cards. Stock up on sale-priced staples.
Stop paying bank fees. This is one of the most unnecessary expenses for just about everyone in the United States of America. There is rarely a reason that you should have to pay incidental or monthly fees for any basic banking service if you manage your money. Avoid overdraft fees or over-the-limit fees by being aware of your account balances. Avoid monthly or yearly maintenance fees by taking advantage of only free accounts — there are many to choose from if your bank insists on charging you a fee for your banking. Avoid cash withdrawal fees by using the right ATMs.
According to Consumer Reports, 52% of consumers don’t pay any bank fees, but the rest pay lots.
Optimize your telephone service. I don’t spend that much time on the phone. I could probably save a lot of money if I were to choose a prepaid cell phone plan. However, I chose a Blackberry plan with Verizon Wireless, which I use more for business, and I don’t intend on changing the plan.
I’ve helped other people look at their telephone usage habits and choosing a plan that better fits the amount of time they spend on the phone. On many plans, going over the allotted number of minutes can be very expensive. If you’re consistently exceeding your limit, you can save tons of money by switching plans.
Pay off your credit card. According to Consumerism Commentary, “On average, consumers who carry a balance owe $2,200, on which they pay 15.2 percent in annual interest charges.” Paying that much interest negates any progress you may be achieving with your savings or investments. To get rid of credit card debt, stop using the cards and then apply the Debt Avalanche.
It’s been several years since I’ve paid interest on a credit card, but I still pay about $30 a month on my student loan interest. I still have a student loan because several years ago, I applied some tuition reimbursement towards expenses rather than my loan. I probably should have done whatever possible to avoid that, but for whatever reason, it was the choice I made. At the time, the interest on the student loan was about 2% and I was earning more in my savings accounts, but that’s no longer the case. Therefore, I have been increasing my debt repayments every month this year, with the goal of vanquishing the remaining balance by the end of the year. If I decide that goal still makes sense, I’ll have to accelerate in order to achieve it.
According to Consumer Reports, the average family can save $500 by making the changes listed above. I have a feeling that many Consumerism Commentary readers are already optimized.
Cut your spending by $500 per month, Consumer Reports, August 2008 (subscription required)
Updated December 20, 2011 and originally published August 14, 2008.