I’m sick of personal finance blogs that give helpful hints about expenses to cut, like expensive coffee drinks or takeout lunches. I can’t take it anymore.
It’s not that I have anything against the various bloggers. They are simply talking to their main audience.
But I’m not in that audience.
So this list won’t include “lattes” or other frivolous items that most frugal folks have already nixed. (In my case, coffee has never cluttered up my budget. But don’t let too many people know. I might be tossed out of Seattle!)
Nope, these will be things that apply to even low-income folks or people already on a tight frugal budget.
Okay, we all know about how we should take more public transit to cut down on costs. If you can do this, great. Be sure to check if there’s any kind of discount you can get. Student, elderly, disabled, or just check the cost benefit of a monthly pass.
But most of us probably can’t make buses tenable. You have kids to take to activities, or you need to pick up groceries on the way home. Whatever the reason, you need your car.
So what can you do?
Fill up whenever the price dips down.
1. This may seem trifling, but if you buy as much as you can hold while the price is lower, you can avoid paying for as much gas when the price is high.
2. If you’re really committed, you can get a gas can, to store extra at lower prices
Find cheaper gas
1. Okay, this sounds like a no-brainer but have you thought of all the ways to find it?
2. Try to fill up only where there are several stations. The more there are, the more competitors, the lower the gas price.
3. Sam’s Club or Costco have cheaper gas. In a year, you can easily make up the $50 membership fee.
4. ARCO stations have cheaper gas prices — but you have to pay in cash or deal with a 50 cent card fee.
Have you checked into the possibility of carpooling at your office?
1. Put up a note at work. It’s a long shot, but you never know.
2. If you need a car to pick up your kids, ask around at the daycare or after-school program.
- Maybe you can switch every-other-day with another parent.
- Then you can take the bus some of the time.
Do you need cable?
1. There are a few dedicated individuals happy to live without TV. I am not one of them. Most of you probably aren’t either.
2. Others are fine with simply the basic channels. With two people home all day, every day, Tim and I opt for satellite.
3. But Tim and I still have the second-lowest package available. It’s under $50 a month, including local channels and 2 DVRs.
4. When one of us is pulling in more money, I’ve promised him we can get the next package up ($12/month) which offers G4.
Have you price-shopped?
1. Call up the competition. Get prices. Write them down.
2. Call up your current provider and haggle. Be sure to reference other prices.
- While your subscription prices do help, all providers rely on advertisers. Advertisers are more eager when more subscribers exist. So your provider has an interest in keeping you.
- When my $19.99/month cable modem reverted to the regular rate, I called Comcast and said I needed to cancel. The operator gave me 6 more months at $29.99.
Can you pare it down?
1. Some relatives of mine have been going through hard times. They cut their top-of-the-line package to a lower one — but it still includes premium movie channels and lots of them.
2. If you’re paying for premium channels, even if TV is your main form of entertainment, ask if you’re getting your value.
3. If your library’s movie catalog is too limited, consider one of the lower-cost plans from Netflix or Blockbuster. A premium channel is at least $12.99 and Netflix starts at $9.99
Are you getting your money’s worth for subscription?
1. They sound great but do the math.
- We have 3-at-a-time, unlimited in-store exchange
- I checked our history, some months, we watched fewer than 4 movies total.
- Most months, we traded in 5-10 movies.
- Now that fall TV is on, we’re switching to the 3-at-a-time, 5 exchanges ($15 less)
2. Hidden costs
- If you’re more than a week late returning in-store rentals, your card gets charged
- If you carry a balance on your cards, that probably means double-cycle billing
- So that $40, even after it gets taken off, will affect finance charges for 2 months
- Then there’s the $1.50 restocking fee. How many do you pay a month?
1. I’ve discussed before how to get cheap or free movies
2. Are you using all the rewards programs to their fullest? All these offer movie theater tickets and/or concessions:
- Coke Rewards
- Theater’s own loyalty programs (I love AMC’s)
3. Are you using every possible discount (student, senior, military, etc)?
4. Are you going to matinees whenever possible?
There are no-charge internet services
1. This is dial-up, of course.
2. Do a search.
Check into prices
1. Don’t forget DSL often has equipment charges
2. It can also can involve charges for MSN
3. Be sure to figure these into the price.
4. Clearwire has a price-for-life guarantee
Do a search for “Comcast $19.99 6 months”.
1. Sign up and then call to cancel, get the $29.99 offer for an extra 6 months
2. After that’s up, use your spouse’s or partner’s (or relative’s) name. Repeat $29.99 deal.
3. By the time you’re done with that, you’ll qualify for the $19.99 offer again.
I assume meal-planning based on sales goes without saying
As does stocking up when items are on sale
The simple fact is: The fewer trips to the grocery store, the less impulse buying you’ll do
Always be sure to have plenty of storage containers
1. If not, food goes to waste.
2. Shop garage sales. I got five tupperware cylinders & lids free.
3. If you’re afraid of forgetting about food, try a leftovers calendar
How much junk food are you buying?
1. The more candy, the bigger the bill. (I should follow my own advice on this one)
2. Aren’t these generally impulse purchases?
3. Try to avoid special trips. You rarely leave with just one bag of candy.
4. Did you know most cravings are temporary? If you can stay busy for 30 minutes, most will go away.
How much soda are you buying?
1. I guess this technically falls under “junk food” but it’s a huge expense at our house.
2. Tim goes through more than a 2 liter a day of Mt Dew. Yep, 2 liters.
3. We shop generic and sales as much as possible & load up at Wal-Mart when we’re visiting his parents.
4. I really don’t get this. I’ve never liked soda much. I just drink water. Why don’t more people?
5. The route I take with Tim when his intake starts creeping up, one glass of water for each equivalent of soda.
6. If you don’t like the water in your area, stop buying bottled water and get a filter. Much cheaper and more eco-friendly
Are you using preemptive solutions?
1. If you know you’ll order pizza when there’s nothing to eat, be sure the cupboards are stocked.
2. If you know you’ll get takeout when you’re too tired to cook, keep simple foods around, like soups, Easy Mac or the makings for a PBJ.
3. If sometimes you just crave pizza, keep some frozen ones around so you can’t justify ordering from a store.
Spices don’t have to be expensive
1. Dollar stores often have inexpensive (and perfectly good) spices
2. Drug stores (Walgreens and Rite-Aid, here) have $1 spices.
3. If it’s a specialty spice, check places like Whole Foods or Top Food, where you can get it from bulk containers. This can often be cheaper than “Spice Islands” etc.
UPDATE: Apparently there’s a whole article about this.
Finally (and strangely) aluminum foil has gotten quite pricey lately.
1. Like Tupperware, be sure to have plenty of foil and clear wrap
2. Stock up on sales.
3. Weird but true: You can find foil cheap (25-50 cents) at estate sales.
Beyond movies, a lot of times going out costs money.
1. Museums have entrance fees
2. Clubs have cover charges
3. Concerts cost money
4. Drinks with friends get pricey
I’ve mentioned some ways around social expenses you can’t afford.
Always be aware of frugal programs
1. Most museums have a monthly free day
2. Try to meet up with friends during happy hour (there’s often a late-night one, as well)
3. Make sure you know of any potential discounts for students/seniors/etc
4. Read through your local Entertainment Book and see if there are any 2-for-1 coupons for museums, entertainment, discounts, etc
5. Find out if local plays have a pay-what-you-can night (they almost all do)
6. If you know someone in a play/concert/club performance, ask if they have any discount passes left.
7. Check out student versions of theater and music. Most are quite good and very cheap.
8. Check out free performances, ala Shakespeare in the Park
9. Try to organize a group for an outing for a better rate
1. Great time
2. Time with friends for free
3. Chips, salsa and soda are about all you need to provide
Girls’ night in
1. No shouting over music in a club
2. No cover charges
3. Cheaper drinks
4. Cheaper than going for mani/pedi
Always complain if warranted
1. Don’t scream or use expletives
2. Use a polite, controlled tone or volume (if you’re writing or talking)
3. Point out the numerous people you can influence: coworkers, friends, family
Always flatter if warranted
1. Write an enthusiastic letter to the company, raving about a product you’re happy with
2. You’ll often get coupons or even small samples.
Want to try a new product? Check your fave freebie blogger for updates on available samples
Want magazines but don’t want to pay?
1. Do a trial offer (“no risk”) and try to cancel in the first 30 days.
2. Most companies will offer you the rest of the year for $1. (Again, they need numbers.)