6.5 MIN READ
There are tons of reasons you might be wondering how you can reduce spending. Maybe it’s because you want to invest more for retirement or for college savings. Maybe it’s because you are trying to knock out credit card debt or a car loan. Or maybe you want to give more to a charity or spend more on an upcoming vacation (vacations are still a thing?) Sometimes, cutting back on spending is really challenging because it involves significant sacrifice. For example, spending less on your kids’ activities so you can save more for their college means your kids will experience less enjoyment now in exchange for education later. Spending less on a car now so that you can remodel your bathroom might mean more frustration with an unreliable car in exchange for nice and toasty feet on the heated bathroom floor (or heated toilet seat!)
Saving money doesn’t always involve sacrifice, though. There are ways you can significantly reduce spending without even noticing. Some money-saving articles really get in the weeds and offer recommendations that save you a few bucks a month, and some recommendations get pretty abstract. Recently I read a money savings tip telling me to exercise more, because I’d feel more confident about myself and would, therefore, be less prone to influence by marketers. Um, no. That might be true, but it’s a stretch. I want you to know about some of the easiest ways to save a lot of money in very tangible ways, so I’m going to concentrate on a few ways to save a lot of money in a short of amount of time.
Shop Insurance Carriers
When was the last time you got a quote for your homeowner’s insurance or automobile insurance? If you’re like most people, you might get a quote when you buy a vehicle or a house, and then you just go on autopilot for the next 10 years without thinking about it. That might be an expensive decision. You might be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year by switching to a new insurance provider. I can hear it now: “But I get so many discounts with my current provider, I’m sure I’m getting a good deal!” Not so. Discounts are often just a sales tactic, just like a clothes retailer. A shirt that costs $80 marked down to $60 is still more expensive than a $50 shirt that doesn’t come with a discount.
If you’re not sure where to start, search the web for independent insurance agents in your area. Independent agents aren’t tied to a specific insurance provider or obligated to sell a specific insurer’s products. They can help you shop multiple providers in order to get you the best rates on the same coverage. Alternatively, if you go to an insurance agent who only sells one company’s products, you’re limiting your chances of saving money. It’s like going to the Nike store to buy your running shoes instead of going to Scheel’s. If you buy from the Nike store, you’re getting Nike shoes even if there’s a better pair of New Balance shoes at Scheel’s for less. The Nikes might be great, but you might have missed an opportunity.
Of course, there might be reasons to pay more for the same type of insurance. Maybe you value the expertise or the personality of a particular agent, or you have some loyalty to a certain provider. But shopping rates allows you to discover how much extra you are paying for those value-adds, and then you can make a decision of whether it’s really worth the higher price.
Consider Where You Get Your Groceries
It’s shocking to me how high prices can be at some grocery stores compared to others. Don’t get me wrong, I know that different stores provide different experiences. Shopping in a store with smaller aisles and a variety of specialty items isn’t the same as shopping at a discount grocer with dirty concrete floors. But you’re paying a big premium for that experience. Shopping at grocery stores that have the best prices can easily save you hundreds of dollars a month.
Want specialty items that you normally can’t find at a discount grocery store? Trader Joe’s tends to have odd items that foodies demand at half the cost of some other stores.
Want a great price on basics that you buy every week? Consider buying in bulk at warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or Costco. In my experience, the items they carry tend to be 30-50% cheaper per unit than the identical products at other stores, because the majority of their profits come from membership dues, not marked-up products. You risk buying too much and wasting the extra, so limit your purchases to items you know you’ll use before they go bad.
For basic items that you don’t want to buy in bulk, use a grocery store in your area that is known for low prices. Here in Lincoln, Nebraska those stores are probably Wal-Mart and Super Saver. Again, you’re not getting the same experience as some of the higher-priced stores, but is that premium experience worth hundreds of dollars a month to you? What else could you be doing with that extra money?
Cancel Subscriptions You Don't Use
Here’s a simple suggestion. Look through your transactions in the past two months and find all of the charges for subscriptions. Have you used them in the past three months? If not, consider cancelling them. If you haven’t used them but you think you might soon, consider cancelling and then re-subscribing when you want to resume the service. Sometimes we keep subscriptions because we have intentions of using services (gym, car wash, TV streaming service, etc), but we go months without actually using them. That’s wasted money.
Cut the Cord
Speaking of wasting money on subscriptions, are you paying for cable or satellite TV? If you’re getting 873 channels, how many do you actually watch on a regular basis? Recognize that you’re paying for all of those channels you don’t watch, and that you might be able to save hundreds of dollars each year by making a change. Cable companies provide discounts for bundling services, so you might think it’s more expensive to unbundle. Maybe that’s true…or maybe not! Bundling discounts are sometimes just another sales tactic, like when I mentioned insurance discounts.
Consider alternative ways to access the content you already enjoy. Popular streaming services like Netflix or Hulu have plans that start at $8.99 and $5.99 per month, and Amazon Prime members don’t have to pay anything extra to watch Prime Video content. Those three providers have seemingly endless amounts of content. In fact, it would take you more than seven years to watch everything that’s currently on Netflix if you watched TV for approximately 14 hours per day, seven days a week. Other providers like Disney+, Apple TV+ or CBS All Access have less content, but they might have something you’re specifically looking for, and some are cheaper than the established streaming services.
There are plenty of streaming services that won’t save you quite as much money. Package services like Sling TV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV are all options that include multiple channels, but won’t get you as big of a discount as something like Netflix or Hulu’s basic option. But if you really demand something like HGTV or the Food Network (or other channels that don’t typically have their content available on cheaper streaming services), those packages are still usually cheaper than traditional cable or satellite.
What if you really want local channels and you can’t part with your DVR? After all, there are tons of sports on networks like CBS, NBC and ABC, and sometimes you want to record the latest episode of The Voice because you want to skip the ads or because you’ll be away from home when it airs. I want to make something abundantly clear: you don’t need a subscription of any kind to do this. You don’t need cable, satellite, or premium streaming packages to get those channels or record their content.
How do you do that? First, get a premium over-the-air antenna. Then, get an Amazon Fire TV Recast. You’ll be able to get local channels for free, record any episodes, and watch the content from anywhere. There are other free DVRs you can purchase, but the Fire TV Recast is a good one for people who already use Fire TV devices. Managing a DVR like the Fire TV Recast can get a bit technical and isn’t for everyone, and it involves setup costs. Some people would have a better experience paying for local TV through a premium streaming package. But if you’re looking to cut costs in the long run, consider DVRs that don’t have an ongoing cost.
Refinance Your Mortgage
Last but not least, you might be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars each month by refinancing your mortgage. Is it always the right decision? No, definitely not. There are lots of factors to consider, but if it’s an appropriate decision, it can be one of the highest-impact ways to save money. You don’t have to change you spending habits or lifestyle one bit, aside from the time it takes you to sign documents to refinance.
If you’re in the position to reduce your insurance costs, refinance your mortgage, eliminate unused subscriptions, and switch grocery stores, you might be able to save thousands of dollars each year. There are certainly other ways you can reduce spending, but these are some high-impact ways to cut costs quickly so you can put that money elsewhere, whether it’s to save for retirement, replenish your emergency fund, or buy a new RV.
About the Author
Dan has worked in the financial services industry for more than ten years, and has been a financial planner since 2015. He grew up in Lincoln, majored in Finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and earned his Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration in 2008. In 2013, Dan earned his Master's of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. Dan and his wife, Kate, enjoy spending time with their two Balinese cats, Neville and Luna. They also enjoy riding their bikes to the Haymarket, discovering new restaurants, and traveling to new vacation destinations. Dan is also an audio enthusiast, a gardener, and a pianist. He would love to travel to the Grand Canyon, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden within the next ten years.
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