As I've mentioned, I'm a big fan of tracking your monthly expenses. It's easy to overlook overspending when you aren't paying attention. It's also easy to get complacent about your monthly expenses... housing payments, utilities, transportation - they're necessary right? Well, sure you're going to have expenses each month, but there are ways for you to be proactive to cut those bills and save for your future.
I really recommend using a monthly budget worksheet to track your spending for a few months so you can notice trends and decide which areas you can scale back in. Once you have a good handle on where you money is going you can formulate a plan of action to decrease your spending and cut your monthly costs.
Here are 10 ways that you can lower your monthly bills:
1.) Cancel non-essential memberships. Do you have a gym membership that you rarely use? Cancel it! I had a health club membership a few years ago and the membership fee was automatically deducted from my checking account each month. The fee was $59 and I went over a year without going once. I simply overlooked it because I wasn't paying attention to where my money was going... that oversight cost me over $700. Along those lines, are you a member of a social club or country club with dues? Do you truly utilize them? If you aren't attending regular events then cut these memberships from your budget.
2.) Decrease or eliminate cable from your home. For some people, cable is absolutely a must-have. For those that are just lukewarm about television, consider going with just the basics. Cancel any premium channels you have and DVR services if you don't use them. If you're feeling brave, eliminate cable altogether and opt for a streaming service like Netflix. Netflix will cost you about $9/month for their streaming services and they offer a wide selection of television shows, movies, and original series.
3.) Call around for better rates. This one is a must-do for every family. Don't be complacent about the services you pay for. There are certain things that you probably don't have a choice about - like your utility company or water and sewer companies - but you could very well be overpaying for car insurance, cellular service, cable, banking, and many others. Look at your car insurance bill and compare rates online. Look at other cell phone providers to see if you can get the same or better plan for less. Along those lines, look at your cell phone plan and actual usage. Can you get away with downgrading your plan?
4.) If you have credit card debt, call your credit card company and ask about lowering your interest rates. If you make regular payments they may be able to work with you and every little bit helps. If they won't budge, look into opening a new credit card that has a 0% balance transfer and a lower rate. Also, see if you can rework your finances to pay more than the minimum due each month. Paying off that principal balance is SO important and just paying only the minimum each month can cost you big in the long run.
5.) Evaluate your utility use. Doing a few small things can add up to big savings when it comes to utilities. Adding a programmable thermostat can save you a significant amount of money each year. If the majority of your family members are gone during the day, setting the thermostat a few degrees higher in the summer or lower in the winter can help decrease your electric bill. Also, unplug and put away any non-essential electronic devices that remain plugged in at all times. We had a wine cooler plugged in at our house with one measly bottle of wine in it for well over a year before we unplugged it and packed it away. Obviously, we weren't using it much and haven't missed it. Along those lines, unplug that Kitchenaid mixer or toaster that's sitting on your counter - they only need to be plugged in while in use, otherwise they're just draining your electricity and costing you money. As your light bulbs burn out, consider switching to energy-efficient light bulbs - they will cost you more upfront than traditional bulbs, but they use ⅔ less energy and can last 10 times longer, ultimately saving you money in the long run. Is your water bill outrageous? Evaluate your routines including laundry, bathing, and sprinkler use. Our water bill was increasing little by little each month until it was so high I couldn't take it anymore. I finally called the utility company and they suspected we had a micro leak in our sprinkler system and we were able to call someone to inspect it.
6.) Stop dining out. Nowadays it seems like the majority of people are eating many of their meals away from home. When I was a kid eating out was rare (gosh, I sound old), and it was more of a treat or special occasion sort of thing. Now it seems to be a regular occurrence for many families, but eating out can add up quick - even if you're limiting yourself to fast food options. If an average fast food "value meal" is $6 or more, then a family of 4 is spending at least $20+ at their local burger joint. If you were to take that same $20 and head to the grocery store you could easily get two dinners out of it, and possibly leftovers for lunches.
7.) Start shopping the sales and couponing. I've mentioned this before in my Couponing for Beginners post, but shopping smarter can save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on groceries each year. Check out the grocery stores in your area and see which ones consistently offer the best sales. Stockpiling when products are at their absolute lowest prices can save you big money in the long run. The key is buy enough of the item when it's on sale to last for 6-8 weeks (the typical sale cycle at most stores). That means when your favorite brand of coffee is on sale at the rock bottom price, buy enough to last your family for 6-8 weeks. It may seem hard to shell out that much money at once for only one product in your cart, but it's way better than buying the product at full price week after week. Even if you only shop the sales and stockpile when the items at their lowest price you'll save a lot each month, but pair those savings with coupons and you can really make a dent in your shopping budget. Check out my couponing post for tips on how to do this.
8.) Buy generic. Did you know that a lot of the time generic products are manufactured in the SAME exact processing plant as your name brand product? Many times the only difference is the label. Even though the difference in price may seem small, buying generic or store brand products can add up to hundreds of dollars of savings each year. Consider this for food, cleaning products, and even prescriptions medications. It's worth trying!
9.) Consider becoming a one car family. Vehicles are inherent money-suckers. They depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot and require maintenance to keep them running efficiently... not to mention the fuel costs. If you're a single income family or if only one person works outside the home, is it possible to live with only one car? You could try using only one of your cars for a month to see if this realistic. Another option would be to try to increase your use of public transportation or carpooling when possible.
10.) Homeowners, consider refinancing your home if your rates are high. Also, if you have at least 20% equity in your home you don't need private mortgage insurance - are you still carrying this coverage even though you don't need it? When was the last time your home value was assessed? If it's been awhile and your house has lost some value then you may be able to appeal your property taxes to lower your annual bill.
What are you best tips for lowering your monthly expenses?
I'd love to hear them!
If you'd like to stockpile a little money at a time, be sure to grab our 52-week money challenge printable.