A common theme I’ve discovered amongst the guests I’ve interviewed during the first month of co-hosting the BiggerPockets Money Podcast is frugality. Living a frugal life allows many people to reach financial freedom—or helps them move down the path at an accelerated rate.
In addition to frugality, a common theme amongst my many friends on the path to financial independence is being money conscious.
They are aware of where their money is going and make conscious decisions on where to spend (and not spend) their money.
They rarely just throw out a $20 bill. (Pfft! My friends are all using credit cards to travel hack—no cash for us!) They do splurge, but only on things that truly matter. They cut their expenses every chance they get and regularly review their recurring bills to make sure they have the lowest price or most value for their money.
I asked my friends for their finance hacks—ways to cut expenses out of your monthly budget. Here’s what a few of them had to say.
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1. Don’t just save. Get creative with your side hustles!
Sarah Wilson, YouTube’s Budget Girl has a slightly different take on the question. She says, “The best way I’ve found to save money fast is to make money fast! Selling some stuff online (eBay, Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, or at a local consignment store) both declutters your house of unnecessary duplicates or things you don’t love, it can send them to people who will treasure them while painlessly padding your pocketbook. Be ruthless. Have you ever used those serving trays or extra cute glass pitchers? Same for decor piled in the closet or clothing for a different version of you. I’ve made hundreds of dollars in a weekend by snapping a few pics and listing them online. All that money can go straight to your money goals, and I’ve never missed a single thing I’ve sold. In fact, I always love my space when it’s been decluttered.”
Related: 12 Sneaky Habits That Kill Your Budget in the Night
(Don’t miss Sarah’s BiggerPockets Money Podcast Episode 6, airing Monday, February 5.)
2. Consider refinancing debt.
My fellow daredevil Lee Huffman from Bald Thoughts parlayed his savings into early debt repayment. “I refinanced my student loans and reduced the interest rate by 55%, which saved me over $1,000 a year. I used the savings to help pay off my student loans way ahead of schedule.”
3. Negotiate everything.
Teresa Mears from Living On The Cheap shared her top tip for cutting unnecessary expenses: “Call and negotiate, especially with expenses that are recurring. I knocked $60 a month off my cable bill, $50 off my cell bill, $60 off my daily newspaper bill and $20 off my weekly New York Times bill by switching plans or down-sizing subscriptions.”
I was listening to Clark Howard one day on the drive home, and a caller shared how he had noticed his car insurance bill was up for renewal, and it was going up significantly. He called the company and they gave him a discount of $140 PER MONTH simply because he called them and asked. These monthly cuts have a way of adding up quickly.
4. Don’t be afraid to switch subscription utilities.
Alexander Felice over at Broke is a Choice says, “Subscription utilities (internet/cable/insurance/gym membership/credit cards) don’t reward loyalty; they rely on your complacency. These products don’t get cheaper as you stay longer, it’s cheapest the first year. They expect you to be too lazy to switch every year or two. Defy them!”
Crystal Stemberger from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff agrees. “We saved more than $1,000 the first year after switching from Sprint Wireless to Ting!”
5. Monitor your insurance expenses.
My friend Joel Larsgaard from Pour, not Poor says:
“I saved almost exactly $1k a year by shopping my insurance for my primary residence, cars, and three rental properties. The biggest takeaways are:
- Shop with different companies.
- Get ALL the discounts (like taking a $25 safe driving test that can save you $250 a year).
- Consider letting your insurance company monitor your driving to save even more.”
Rebecca Neale spent a little to save a bundle: “We paid off PMI on our home by getting it appraised and paying extra toward principal, to close the gap. Saved us $235 a month, or $2,820 a year!”
6. Take a long, hard, honest look at your spending.
But being money conscious isn’t just cutting expenses—it’s cutting the RIGHT expenses.
J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly recommends tracking your spending, and I couldn’t agree with him more. “So, one of the first steps is to actually be AWARE of where your money goes. That means tracking your spending—every penny—for a month or two or three. A lot of people are reluctant to do this, but until you do, you don’t REALLY know where your money goes and you can’t REALLY make effective cuts.”
This is so true! I’m a frugal girl, and I shop the sales. But when I started tracking my spending, I was shocked at how much I was spending on groceries. Tracking my spending led me to plan out my meals and go to the grocery store once a week instead of every single day!
J.D. continues, “Once you’ve tracked your spending, the quickest way to trim spending is to go for the low-hanging fruit. Set aside maybe two hours on a weekend to cancel accounts you seldom use or to consolidate duplicate services. (Believe it or not, I once realized I was paying for TWO gym memberships. Dumb.) From my experience working with people, there’s a lot of ‘cruft’ that builds up in our budgets that we just kind of ignore because it’s never the right time to deal with it.
My sister-in-law found she could save a bunch of money by cutting out [blank]of the month clubs. She was getting clothes, makeup, wine, and more. By canceling these recurring fees, she freed up a ton of money.”
It’s never the right time to deal with it. You have things to do, places to go, people to meet. But if you seriously want to get your financial house in order, you need to make the time to deal with it. Take J.D.’s advice.
7. Seriously ask yourself if you can compromise on the larger line items.
But wait! There’s more! J.D. was on a roll today.
“Now, having said all that, you’ll get the greatest impact by shifting your attention to the biggest expenses in your budget rather than focusing on the small stuff. Housing makes up one-third of the average American budget. Transportation is the next biggest expense at 17% (half of housing). These two expenses alone make up half the average family’s spending! If you could cut 20% from housing and transportation, you’d save far more than all the couponing you could ever try to do. The challenge? Getting people to downsize their homes and cars is a hard sell. Rather than scold them, you have to lure them. Carrot, not stick…”
Our very own Scott Trench agrees. As he says in his hugely popular book Set for Life, “Data from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us that 80% of American Household Spending is in the categories of housing, transportation, food, insurance, and healthcare. The other twenty percent include entertainment, apparel and services, cash contributions, educations, and ‘other.’ It’s amazing how much advice out there encourages people to cut back on entertainment spending, lattes, the beer budget, or shoe shopping. Those types of spending aren’t the issue! The problem is your rent or mortgage. The problem is your commute and driving costs. The problem is that you are likely eating out too much as opposed to eating healthy food from reasonable grocery stores.”
8. Lower your expense ratio.
And an excellent money-saving tip comes in the form of cutting investment fees. You won’t necessarily see immediate savings, but the long-term rewards can be enormous! Rich from PF Geeks shares, “Lower your expense ratio. This is one of the most powerful changes you can make to build long-term wealth! Every year your investments get tagged with fees, and the lower these are, the more your hard earned money will grow! Reducing your expense ratio from the average of 1% down to .1% could save you $400,000 more over your working career!”
Not sure what sort of fees you’re paying? You might be shocked to see how much is going toward “maintenance” and “management” fees that could cost you TONS! Check out Personal Capital’s Fee Analyzer to see just how much your investments are costing you.
One of the most frequently asked questions in the forums is, “How do I get started investing in real estate with no money (and bad credit)?” To be honest, you shouldn’t get started investing with no money. Are you able to invest in the stock market with no money? No.
Fix your “no money” situation. Start by tracking what you spend. Look at your recurring expenses and call the companies up to see if they can give you a lower price. The worst thing they can do is say no.
But your financial situation won’t change on its own. You have to do the work.
What tips would you add?