10 Ways To Tighten Your Budget Without Feeling It

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Most people don’t think about all the small monthly bills in their life, but they add up! Spending an hour or two reviewing your bills and you could easily save hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars a year.

I’m not even talking about things like designer clothes, luxury cars and dining out – you could argue that in some cases those are worth the money. Here I’m just listing 10 items and services that could be replaced or eliminated without feeling any pain.

Bottled Water

If you’re buying bottled water in single bottles (like from a convenience store), you’re probably paying $1 – $3 each. You can save a bit of money buying a case at a time, but you’ll probably still be paying 40 to 50 cents per bottle. If you drink 2 bottles per day, that’s $60 for something that comes out of your faucet for almost free (here we pay about half a cent per gallon). If you don’t like the taste, then just invest in a water filter–the replacement filters will cost you about 8 cents per gallon of water filtered.

How much can you save?

Say you drink an average of just 1 bottle of water per day–you’ll save at least $130 per year (probably more!), and you won’t be creating all the plastic waste.

ATM Fees

When you use a bank that’s not your own, they charge you. Then (in most cases) your bank charges you again. If you’re swinging by whatever ATM is closet every week or two to get cash, those charges can really add up. Make a plan to withdraw enough from your own bank to last you for 2-4 weeks, until you can make the trip again.

How much can you save?

If you’re making a withdrawal from a “foreign” ATM, you’re probably paying at least $2 to that bank, then another $2 to your own bank. If you do that every other week, you’re spending $104 per year!

Lottery Tickets

We all dream about what we’d do if we hit that big jackpot, but let’s face it, the odds are not in our favor. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 175 million – you have better odds of becoming president (only 1 in 10 million)! I tell my kids that the odds of winning the lottery are worse than the odds of a gorilla carrying a suitcase of money parachuting into our backyard!

How much can you save?

It depends on how much you play. Most people buy 3 tickets at a time, just because that’s how they’re set up to sell. If you do that every week, you’re spending $156 per year. If, like many others, you spend $20 per week on lotto tickets, you’re spending a whopping $1,040!

Coffee

Do you stop at the drive-through every morning on the way to work for a cup of coffee? A plain cup of coffee is about $2.75, and more once you start getting fancy add-ins. You can make that same cup of coffee at home for about 20 cents.

Now, I’m not saying eliminate the trips to Starbucks all together–if you’re going there once a while as a social occasion (meeting friends…) or you go there to work for a few hours, that’s different. Heck, I’m writing this post at a Starbucks, but then again I’m drinking a Frappucino (a milkshake, basically) that I can’t make at home.

How much can you save?

Let’s say you buy one cup of plain coffee every work day (minus your vacation days, of course)–you would have spent around $700 (tax included). If you make your coffee at home you’ll spend about $50, a savings of $650 per year!

Books & DVDs

Do you buy the latest bestsellers and blockbuster DVDs, read or watch them once, then put them on your shelf? A typical paperback is at least $9 these days (don’t get me started on hardcover prices!), and a DVD is $18 – $20 or more when first released. How many times do you actually re-read each book in a single year, or re-watch the same movie? And with movies, there’s always something better coming down the road in a few years anyway; heck, I’ve owned some of the same movies in 5 different formats: Beta, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and BluRay.

Instead of buying, borrow or rent. Take advantage of your local library (that you’re already paying taxes on!). You may not be able to get the latest blockbuster on the day it’s released, but you’ll get it eventually. Or try a service like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited – you can borrow eBooks for a low monthly fee. For movies, either get them from your local Redbox ($1.25 vs. $20), or stream them from Netflix or Amazon.

How much can you save?

Let’s say you buy 1 book and 1 DVD every month–that adds up to about $340 per year. If you check books out of your library and hit your local Redbox instead, you’ll save $325 per year.

Extended Warranties

If you’ve ever bought anything electronic from a retail store, you’ve probably been offered an extended warranty. Sometimes they’re priced so low that you don’t even think about it, but is it really worth $4 to “insure” that $25 item that, if it’s going to break, will likely break inside of the regular manufacturer’s warranty anyway? Alternatively, I’ve been offered some outrageous warranties – $99 to insure a $200 printer! And it seems like every time I’ve tried to use an extended warranty, they wanted to tack on some sort of service charge or shipping fee that made it equal to just paying for repairs or buying a new item!

If you’re worried about a product breaking, then try this: every time you’re offered an extended warranty, just stash that money in a coffee can. If you need to repair something that year, use the money, but I’m willing to bet that at the end of the year you’ll have more than a few dollars left!

How much can you save?

It all depends on what types of things you buy, and how much you spend. But let’s say at least $50 over the course of a year.

Smoking

To me, I don’t even know why this could be a debate any more–smoking kills, it’s banned in many places (and socially unacceptable in most others), and expensive. I know it’s not as simple as saying “just give it up!”, but if you’re determined, you can!

How much can you save?

The nationwide average is $5 per pack of cigarettes–more in some places (as high as $14 in New York!), less than others. Going with the average cost, you’ll save $1,825 per year!

Cell Phone Service

I’m not talking about giving up your smartphone and switching to some pre-paid plain with an old flip-phone, but are you really using everything you are paying for every month? Take a look at the amount of data you use every month versus the amount you’re actually paying for. We had a family plan with unlimited data, but found we were only using 2-3 gigs every month. By switching to a 4 gig plan, we saved about $25 per month.

Another item to (possibly) get rid of is insurance on your phone. You could be paying $6 per month (or more) for damage insurance on your device, but have you ever actually used it? I never paid attention to it, but we were paying that every month on both of our lines for the past several years, and never used it. We probably spent at least $700 over the last five years on insurance, and never needed it.

How much can you save?

By switching to a plan with less data every month, and removing the insurance from both of our devices, we saved $37 per month, or $444 per year.

Cable TV

Are you paying for the “platinum” level of cable TV and only using it to get your weekly fix of The Walking Dead? These days, there are all sorts of streaming services like Amazon, Hulu Plus and Sling TV that deliver the major networks as well as channels like AMC, TNT and TBS.

Another option is an indoor HDTV antenna, the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned “rabbit ears”, which will give you free access to all your local stations. You won’t be able to record them the way you can with a DVR from your cable company, but you can buy a stand-alone DVR starting at around $50 (although some may come with a monthly fee).

How much can you save?

You’ll have to do some research to determine what the best combination of packages are for your family, but it’s likely you’ll save at least $30 per month, or $360 per year.

Premium Gas

A quick way to save at least about 20 cents per gallon is to stop pumping premium gas and switch to regular. But is it really safe to do so? Will you be losing performance, or harming your engine?

In most modern cars, the engine control system can adjust to fuel with different levels of octane. You shouldn’t get the knocking and pinging that were common in older vehicles when you ran a lower octane fuel. If the owner’s manual recommends premium, you may see a slight drop in performance by switching to regular – you may lose a half second on your zero to sixty time, for example. But that’s a fair trade for saving money!

Years ago, premium gasoline contained more detergents and additives to stop carbon deposits and clean your engine. But today, due to government regulations aimed at cutting emissions, all grades of gas have plenty of additives to both protect engines and cut pollution.

Edmunds.com has compiled two lists: “premium recommended” and “premium required” for vehicles from the 2010-2015 model years. If your car is on the “premium recommended” list, you’re OK to try switching to regular unleaded gasoline. If, on the other hand, your car is on the “premium required” list, then you have to run premium fuel.

How much can you save?

That depends on how much you drive, and the mileage per gallon your car gets. If you drive 15,000 miles every year, and your car gets 30 miles per gallon, you’ll use 500 gallons of gas in a year. If you save 20 cents per gallon, that’s an annual savings of $100.

Check for things you don’t use

Review your monthly bank and credit card statements to uncover repeating charges that you just don’t use–things like magazine and newspaper subscriptions, gym memberships, and subscriptions to web sites you no longer access.

How much can you save?

You’ve probably got at least one repeating charge that you no longer use, so let’s say at least $10 per month, or $120 per year.

So, are these steps really worth the effort (or to some, the inconvenience…) to do? They were for us. We cut out bottled water, fancy coffees, purchasing books & DVDs, adjusted our cell phone plan, and got rid of cable TV. Those five changes saved us around $1,700 per year, enough for a family vacation! And those savings will continue every year!

What did we miss? Please let us know in the comments!

 

  • Rowena Philbeck says:

    I do almost all of these suggestions. I do have dish network. Also I save with my utilities. When the weather gets around 70 I turn off my air conditioning and open windows. I also have my heat set at like 68 in the winter. That saves lots of utility bills costs.

  • Mike the Gardener says:

    Excellent article! People don’t realize that the little things do add up. One of the best things I did was cut the cable cord back in 2008 and I have never looked back and will never go back. It was tough at first, but now I am use to it.

    Another thing I like to do is buy in bulk and use my food saver. Not really a little thing of course, but buying in bulk and vacuum sealing portion sizes helps save tremendously.

    I also want to echo your portion on using the library. The local public library has become such a forgotten source yet they have everything there you need. I make sure I get my books and research material from the library. It’s not that far from me and their helpful staff is like a group of highly qualified employees.

  • Kathy Tignor says:

    A little more on the public library. Our library has multiple branches that if I want to see if I want to buy a book, I check out the book from the library. If my local branch doesn’t have it, I can request it be sent to my local library and pick it up there. I especially do this with cooking, canning, dehydrating and food processing books. If I like the book, and will use it often, then I buy it for my own use.

  • Hannah says:

    Great article! My husband and I are trying to tighten purse strings. I’m going to ditch my premium gym membership for the basic one (I do go regularly but I don’t often use the premium facilities). Also we’re paying for two data plans–one for my iPad and one for my phone–but the phone can provide wifi to the iPad, so two lines are really not needed. I’m also going to go through our monthly Patreon donations and weed out those artists who are no longer producing content.

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