Paying bills is never fun, but it's even less exciting when those monthly expenses: a) keep you from enjoying the cultural events and great restaurants your city has to offer; or b) leave you eating noodles for the last few days before every payday. But you don't necessarily have to sacrifice the lifestyle you want to live in an apartment or home you love. In fact, it's probably easier than you think to eliminate some of those unnecessary household expenses.
So whether you're fulfilling those big-city dreams in a studio apartment in San Francisco, CA, or moving into a family-friendly home for sale in Austin, TX, read on to find out how to eliminate or reduce monthly household expenses like grocery bills, insurance, and cellphone bills without disrupting your life.
1. Head to the grocery store
Sure, you can't eliminate the price of food from your budget (people do have to eat). But do you really need to buy all of your groceries at Whole Foods and buy takeout for lunch every day? "Food is a huge monthly expense for many families," says CPA Philip Taylor, founder of PTMoney.com. "To make a big impact, eliminate all takeout and dining-out meals. Food from the grocer is less expensive and likely healthier than restaurant options anyway. If you crave the occasional meal out, search for local one-time freebies or buy-one-get-one deals." Eating in doesn't have to mean daily trips to the grocery store either. Research local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and talk with your neighbors or co-workers about sharing the weekly offerings -- buying into a CSA with a group still gives you a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables while easing the stress of having to figure out a way to use every piece of produce delivered.
2. Have a plan when you shop
Couponing is one simple way to cut expenses, but it's not for everyone. One top alternative for cutting those grocery expenses, sans couponing, is to know the cost of the top 20 things you buy most often (think milk, eggs, and butter). That way, when you see the prices go up (or down!), you'll know if you're getting a good deal. These little changes in strategic shopping can help you cut down on expenses over time.
3. Quality entertainment
We're not suggesting you ditch your TV altogether (although you could). But we are saying that if you want to save money, you might be surprised at all the options you have. "Consider internet streaming via Roku, Apple TV, or another device," says Steven M. Hughes, chief financial mentor of Know Money. Many streaming services like Netflix and Amazon also allow multiple users under one account, so you can split the price with friends or family.
And as long as you're willing to wait until the current season of your favorite show is out on DVD, Brad Kingsley, co-founder of Maximize Your Money financial coaching, gives a secret tip for watching your favorite shows for free. "When we order Prime items from Amazon that we don't need in the standard two days, we choose the slower shipping option, which gives a $1 Amazon digital credit. These credits can be held for a couple of months and used to rent Amazon movies for free."
You could even challenge yourself to pick up a book from your local library or an online borrowing service and avoid spending a dime. "Amazon's Prime service allows a once-per-month free borrow of certain books," explains Kingsley. "Many local libraries also work with Overdrive, which allows borrowing 'from the library' but straight to your e-reader. This gives a huge number of title options, and you don't even have to visit the library!"
4. Rethink your cellphone plan
Competition is fierce when it comes to cellphone carriers, because the market is saturated with options for consumers. Take advantage of this and "evaluate your phone and data plans and call customer service to negotiate your plan," advises Hughes. "There's usually a new plan that fits your usage better than when you signed your contract. If not, don't be afraid to look at prepaid plans. It cuts out the guesswork of what your phone bill may be month to month, and [the prepaid plans] operate on the same networks as the big carriers."
5. Lay off the landline
Be honest: When is the last time you used your landline? If your phone has followed you from rental to rental, or remained unused in your home for years, it may be time to unplug it for good -- and cut out that expense. However, if you work from home or still require a landline, it may be worth investing in a product like Ooma Telo, which hooks up to your router and allows you to make voice calls around the country for a flat $3.98 per month.
6. Renegotiate your insurance rates
Insurance for your home, rental, car, and health is negotiable -- for all of them. Insurance rates fluctuate often, so you could be missing out on a lower rate if you don't shop around for new insurance at least once per year. Plus, competition is high among insurance companies, and you may qualify for certain discounts based on your age or risk with a different plan. Says Taylor: "You may qualify for a new discount, or you may be able to raise your deductible and see some savings."
7. Gym membership: Not necessary
No, this isn't your excuse to stop working out. Rather, think of it as a challenge to find places to work out for free. Many cities offer free classes at downtown parks, and your bedroom might work in a pinch. Better yet? Take advantage of the gym in your apartment building or work out at lunch with a group of co-workers at the gym in your workplace. Finally, if you have a current gym membership that you use periodically, think about exactly which machines you use regularly and invest in free weights to use at home. You may be surprised that you can get a full-body workout with just one pair of dumbbells.
8. Keep it neat
A cleaning service can tempt even the neatest renter or homeowner, but you may be paying for more than you're getting, especially if you live in a small rental. It's not uncommon to spend $150 or more on each cleaning. If you're paying for a monthly maid service, that could add up to well over one month's rent each year. Instead, dedicate 30 to 60 minutes each week to speed-clean your place yourself and split the time into five to 10 minutes each day. That way, your space will never get out of control, and you won't be tempted to dial your cleaning service for a quick fix.
9. From commuting to carpooling
While it may not seem fair that you have to drive an hour to work or pay for parking at your office, your best bet for trimming your transportation budget is to share the cost with co-workers or skip the parking space altogether. Make a plan to carpool a few days a week with co-workers who live closest to you, or ditch the car entirely and bike or take public transportation to work.
10. Pet expenses
Fido's needs come first, of course, but when it comes to dog spas, doggie day care services, and accessories, it's easy for the extras to pile up. Instead of taking your pooch to doggie day care every day, find a local dog park to throw the ball and let him run loose with other dogs before you head to work. And instead of spending loads on grooming costs, renters can shop for apartment communities that include dog washes and grooming stations as amenities. Homeowners or renters without grooming stations should look into self-service wash shops that can cost as little as $10 per wash.
What household expenses have you trimmed to save money? Let us know in the comments below!