None of us really want to make drastic changes to our budget unless we have to. We’ve all grown accustomed to a certain standard of living, and it’s hard to give that up. I think everyone would like to have a little extra money in the budget every month without making any sacrifices, though. So what are some areas where we can cut back spending without lowering our standard of living?
One area where we can all cut back is waste. We all do it, cutting back won’t drastically change our lifestyle, and as an added bonus, it benefits the environment. The most common type of waste is food waste. The USDA says that about 30–40% of food is not consumed, and instead wasted. The goal of the USDA is to reduce food waste by 50%, and I think that’s a reasonable goal. If we hit that goal we’d be wasting about 15–20% of our food, which isn’t perfect, but attainable. And reducing food waste also means reducing the amount spent on groceries every month.
How can we reduce food waste?
There are two ways: buy less and eat more. Pay attention to your shopping patterns at the grocery store; if something is on sale and it looks good, I tend to buy way too much of it and end up wasting some. So now I only buy what I know I’ll use, and go back to the grocery store if I need more (which for me is a two minute walk). I have also been consuming more food that has passed the expiration date, and am more aware of not letting leftovers go to waste. Most food that doesn’t smell sour or spoiled can still be eaten.
Food is far from the only good we waste money on. I have about six rolls of tape and three pairs of scissors in my apartment right now (and two identical copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). Not because I use them all, of course, but because I forgot they existed and bought extras. And typing that out made me realize I’m already turning into my grandma, although my fascination with birds and love for plants should have been enough to tip me off.
Regardless, we all waste money on goods we don’t use. It would be well worth your time to learn what you waste money on, and start taking steps to reduce that waste.
There are some services or products you pay for that you can’t get rid of, like car insurance, internet service, or your cell phone. You may be able to get these services and products for a lower price, though.
Run quotes online for car insurance if you think you might be paying too much. Car insurance costs can vary wildly, so compare with as many different companies as you can. Your car insurance need will depend on your driving record, car, risk factors, and more. For example, if your car isn’t worth very much you may not need full-coverage auto insurance. Several risk factors that might make your car insurance premium higher include being male, having an accident in the past 3 years, length of commute, and reason for driving (business or pleasure).
Internet and TV
If you’ve had the same internet provider for the last several years, chances are you’re paying more than you should be. Research other providers in your area (if there are any; unfortunately in many areas there is only one choice) and compare prices. Call up your current provider and ask for any special deals, like a discount for being a loyal customer. With some providers, they won’t give you a better offer unless they think you’re going to leave or cancel your service. And it doesn’t always work out; I threatened to leave my internet provider for another company and they told me to go ahead, because they knew they had a monopoly on high-speed internet. So I just had to suck it up and pay whatever they wanted.
In a similar vein, don’t let your internet provider charge you an additional monthly fee to rent a router or a modem. Comcast wanted to charge me $13/month to rent their modem/router combo; you can buy your own and it will pay for itself in about 6–12 months.
If you have cable TV, make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. It may be cheapest to bundle cable TV with your internet service, or it may be better to switch to an online service. There are many different online services for streaming TV available now. They all offer a different lineup of channels and different prices, so evaluate which service is best for you.
Cell phone service can be expensive, so make sure you aren’t overpaying for the service you require. There are many smaller cellular companies that use the same cell towers as AT&T and Verizon and charge a fraction of the price. (Note: AT&T and Verizon customers will receive priority, so if the network is congested your service may suffer).
If you have any one of the 4 major carriers in the U.S. (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) and you aren’t on a family plan, you’re probably paying too much. One of the benefits the big carriers offer that small carriers don’t are subsidized phones. This means to switch to a smaller provider you will need to own your phone or purchase one. Every now and then a smaller carrier may offer a deal on a phone for switching, but it may be a model that’s a few years old.
If you’re planning on making a large purchase, or just like shopping around, compare prices with different retailers to make sure you’re getting the best price. Amazon prices can fluctuate wildly, and most products online aren’t priced by people, but by algorithms. Spending time researching products and different prices isn’t fun, so if you make yourself go through it whenever you make a big purchase you’ll ensure you’re only making purchases you really want to.
It might be good practice to have a number in mind that you’re willing to pay for an item, and only purchase when it’s at that price. This will keep you from purchasing something that’s on “sale,” but might not necessarily be a good price.
For small, everyday purchases there are browser extensions you can install that automatically fill in any promo codes or coupon codes found on the internet, so you don’t have to go looking around for deals before you make a purchase. Websites may offer discounts for signing up for their email list, and some websites offer discounts if you leave items sitting in your cart on their website. For example, if you add something to your cart without making a purchase and leave the page, the retailer may email you later with a discount to encourage you to complete the transaction.
There are many different ways to save money online, many of which can be very time-consuming with little reward, so don’t spend too much time making sure you get the absolute lowest price. However, there are many small discounts right there at your fingertips that require little effort, so don’t let those get away.
Hopefully you can save money by implementing a few of these pain-free budget cuts in your financial life. If you’re looking for more than just a few easy ways to free up money in your budget, check out my in-depth article on budgeting.