Recently, JLP discovered that if he needed to, he could “find” an extra $13,000 per year by cutting back some of his discretionary expenses. By eliminating beer, soda, and a number of other unnecessary but nice expenditures, the savings can add up quickly. (I’m a bit surprised that JLP spends $50 per month on beer. But I’m not a beer drinker, so I’m unfamiliar with those types of expenses.)
My situation is similar. Once I was able to dig myself out of a hole and began earning income outside of my day job, I decided I should allow myself some of the more enjoyable aspects of life rather than wallow in extreme frugality.
But if I had to cut back, could I still do it?
Cable television and movies
I have a Netflix subscription I could cancel if necessary. In fact, I’ve considered getting rid of the service already, as I’m not an optimal user. I initiated my subscription while I was starting to earn more money but didn’t want to make the jump to another cable television service beyond the basic 13 channels. Netflix currently costs $15 per month, or a savings of $180 each year if I cancel.
I’m currently paying about $20 for an extended Comcast cable television service including all the standard channels plus an HBO package, the basic high-definition package, the sports high-definition package, and a digital video recorder. The $20 price includes the high-speed broadband internet connection, as well. I could drop HBO and the HD sports package to reduce this cost to $0, a yearly savings of $240. Even paying $0, I could still have my internet connection, which is important for continuing my extracurricular activities.
Meals and dining out
Based on my progress so far, I expect to spend about $1,400 dining out and ordering delivery from local restaurants. That includes off-campus lunch with my co-workers. I could shave this expense by making smarter choices at the groceries, forcing myself to cook, and motivating myself to bring in homemade lunches to the office. For a full year, I could probably save about $1,500 by cooking more and eating out less.
After purchasing a BlackBerry 8830 to keep me connected to the world when it’s probably inappropriate to be so, Verizon Wireless suggested the unlimited data plan for a total, including both voice and data, of $80 per month. This saves me from being charged per byte for every email or text message I transmit or receive and every web site I browse. Those charges would add up, but $80 per month isn’t slim, either.
I do not have a land line and I have no intention of getting one. I recently signed up for Skype so that can be used in some cases, but I believe I’ll need to keep a minimum cell phone if driven to extremes. I could choose a prepaid cell phone option and reduce my $80 per month expense to $20 every three months. If so, I could save $880 throughout the year.
I spent over $200 at the Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival this past weekend, including admission, snacks, gifts, and tee-shirts which functioned well for a change of clothing when we were drenched in sweat. I’ve spent several hundred dollars on Broadway shows so far this year. I intend on seeing more concerts and shows this summer. I’ve also spent close to $200 on the “Goodbye Shea” package of 7 tickets to Mets games during the last season at Shea Stadium, with the first game scheduled for this upcoming Saturday. I expect I’ll spend more this summer on souvenirs and stadium food.
I see perhaps an average of one movie a month with my girlfriend, though that may be overestimating. We aim for matinées but they’re not discounted much.
Let’s just estimate that I could probably save about $2,200 throughout the entire year by cutting out my live entertainment expenses, including related travel.
I haven’t purchased my tickets yet, but I plan to visit my family in California for Thanksgiving again this year. The flight will likely cost around $600. My girlfriend and I haven’t solidified details surrounding our summer vacation yet, either, but I would expect what we decide may cost from $600 to $1,000. Add in my spring visit to the west coast, and we can estimate $2,000 spent on vacations per year.
The little things
I buy books, music, and videos (DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, etc.) to enjoy. I also slowly work on a coin collection which involves purchasing new releases from the U.S. Mint and perhaps some coins from shows or eBay. I purchase miscellaneous electronic equipment and gadgets occasionally, such as last year’s TomTom GPS device, last year’s Sharp Aquos HDTV and last year’s now-extinct HD DVD player.
While I haven’t spent as much this year, I could see looking for a new computer by the end of the year. Let’s say I could save about $3,000 a year by cutting all of this out of my life for a while.
$10,000 may not be enough if I’m faced with a crisis. I’m glad I have a healthy emergency fund which can help me recover. I intend on reducing expenses when possible before tapping the emergency savings accounts, however.
What would you do to find an extra $10,000 or more over the course of a year?
Updated September 8, 2011 and originally published June 10, 2008.