Whether you’re saving up for a big goal or paying down debt, cutting costs is one of the best ways to do more with the money you have.
And you have plenty of options for trimming expenses without feeling like you’re depriving yourself, which isn’t the point anyway. It’s about spending your money in ways that reflect your priorities in life.
After all, the Easterlin paradox has already proved that money makes us happier only up to a certain point — so use it to buy your happiness up until it ceases to do that. And we have many ways to changing our spending to better reflect our values. Some low-hanging fruit: the fact that we under-utilize our gym memberships by 67%.
So cut the fat down to wherever is comfortable for you and spend guilt-lessly on whatever brings you greatest joy.
Because you can cut costs in so many ways across multiple categories, I’ve grouped the ideas for each area of your budget. Use what works for you and discard the rest. If you’re in a real bind financially and have already cut your expenses to the bone, it’s best to earn more. Check out this list of 44 ways to make more money.
For most people, housing will be the greatest expense, taking, on average, 27% of our pre-tax income, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
2. Get a roommate.
If you’re single, or even if you’re a couple, you can cut your housing costs substantially by living with a roommate who will also then chip in for all the utilities, plus shoulder some chores.
3. Move in with family.
Depending on your age, you may have the option of moving in with your parents or other relatives who could host you either for free or very little. There’s no shame in being financially prudent (but a lot, deserved or not, when you’re in debt) — just be sure to sock away your savings so you can eventually get your own place.
4. Refinance your home.
5. Challenge your property tax assessment.
Because years can elapse between assessments, you may be paying more than your fair share in property taxes. You could also make a case for lower taxes if there were mistakes on the last assessment or if certain factors were missed or not considered.
Our second-biggest expense tends to be transportation, so keeping costs low here is where you’ll likely get your next-biggest buck for your efforts.
If you live in a pedestrian-friendly area, this is the cheapest mode of transportation. Absolutely free, and you get exercise!
7. Take public transportation.
If you live in an area with good buses, subways, etc., this will keep your transportation costs to a minimum — plus it’s usually faster than walking.
This is a favorite strategy of Mr. Money Mustache’s, and yours truly is also a fan. It has the advantages of being faster than walking but still providing an opportunity for exercise, and of being cheaper than public transportation and, depending on where you’re going, sometimes even faster. But practice good bike safety and parking it securely with quality locks. The savings you get from a bike become moot if you keep having to buy new ones.
If you do need to drive, save on gas costs by carpooling.
10. Share a car.
Just because you’re a two-person household doesn’t necessarily mean you need two cars. Try getting by with one to save on car costs, insurance, gas, maintenance and more.
11. Search for a better rate on car insurance.
If you shop around, you may be able to find a deal better than what was available when you last searched. But don’t compromise your coverage for a low rate — if you have an accident, you could end up on the hook for a lot more than what you’ll be saving.
12. Refinance your car.
If rates are lower than when you purchased your car, or if your credit situation has improved, you may be able to get a better deal. But your car has to be worth more than what you still owe on it. Find out more here.
13. Buy a hybrid car.
If you plan on keeping your next car for a while, buying a hybrid can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Use this comparison tool by the U.S. Department of Energy to find out your break-even point and yearly savings.
14. Buy cheap gas.
If carpooling, biking, public transportation, walking, etc., aren’t going to cut it for you, at least save on gas with Gas Buddy.
15. Rotate your tires and keep them properly inflated.
Our wheels shoulder the burden from driving differently. Front wheels taking the brunt of braking and weight. The right and left wheels wear differently from a lot of high-speed right turns off highways. Rotate them (along with the spare) every 7,500 miles or so — and you won’t only save less frequent tire replacement but also by improving the handling of your car, which in turn cuts down on gas. Keeping your tires properly inflated can boost gas mileage by 3%.
16. Take excess weight out of the trunk.
An extra 100 pounds there pushes your gas prices up about 2%.
17. Tune your engine.
For a gas mileage lift of 4%.
18. Don’t let your car idle.
It’s almost literally like burning money.
19. Drive less aggressively.
Speeding, quick acceleration and braking are inefficient. According to FuelEconomy.gov, more careful driving cuts your gas mileage by 33% on the highway. Getting a device that gives you feedback may help improve your mileage as much as 10%.
20. Don’t speed.
Gas mileage usually decreases at speeds above 50 mph, and for every 5 miles over that threshold, your gas costs increase about 15 cents a gallon.
Regular monthly bills can also add up over the years. Here’s how to keep them at a minimum.
21. Get off a cell phone contract.
If you’re shopping for a new phone, installment plans offer a better deal than a multiyear contract. If you’re in a multiyear contract now with a termination fee, see if it makes sense to move to a different provider and if the company will pay that fee for you.
22. Comparison shop for the best cell package for your needs.
23. Try a smaller carrier or a pay-as-you-go plan.
If you have access to wifi most of the time, if your usage varies and so pay-as-you-go or prepaid makes more sense, or you’re less picky about coverage or device selection, then smaller carriers like the popular Republic Wireless, Consumer Cellular, Net10, Straight Talk, TracFone, Ting, and Virgin Mobile can offer you service for a song.
24. Use Skype, Vonage, Whatsapp and other call and texting apps to minimize mobile minutes and texts needed.
Get smarter about your cell phone usage. Call other Skype users for free, or use Vonage, which also uses the internet to make calls. With texting apps like Whatsapp, your messages won’t count toward the total on your mobile bill.
25. Cut the land line.
As more and more people rely on their cell phones, you may find your hardly use the land line anymore. If so, try relying on your mobile completely, or switch to a low-cost service like Vonage.
26. Unplug unused devices.
“Energy vampires” is the name given to devices that consume energy when they’re only plugged in but not being used. According to a 2011 Natural Resources Defense Council study, keeping cable set top boxes powered when they’re not being used costs households $2 billion a year. Since it is a pain to constantly plug and unplug devices, use power strips to easily turn several off at once. Gadgets to unplug when not in use include desktop computers and laptops, TVs, DVD players, modems, cable TV boxes, stereos and radios, cordless phones, coffeemakers, lamps, toasters, and iPods, iPhones and other mobile devices and tablets.
27. Swap out incandescent light bulbs for CFLs and LEDs.
According to EnergyStar.gov, you’ll recoup your investment on a 60W CFL that costs $6 or less within a year and save yourself $30 to $80 over the lifetime of the bulb. If you have 50 lightbulbs in your home, that’s $1,500 to $4,000, all told.
28. Lower your thermostat in winter and raise it in summer. Or get a smart thermostat.
You can save 10% on your energy costs by dialing your thermostat down by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day, according to Energy.gov. Smart thermostats may be a bit pricy but you’ll break even in about two years (or less time if you get a rebate), and then save more than $100 a year, according to Nest, the most popular smart thermostat.
29. Dial down your water heater temperature.
30. Insulate your water heater.
For a $20 investment, you can cut your water heating costs by 4%-9% a year, according to Energy.gov.
31. Install low-flow showerheads and faucets.
They can drop your water usage by a whopping 25%-60%.
32. Air seal your house.
33. Look into a cool roof.
If you live in a hot climate and your roof needs to be replaced, it could make sense to install a cool roof that will reflect sunlight and not absorb heat, thereby cutting your A/C needs. The summer sun can heat a standard dark roof up to 150 degrees, while a cool one be more than 50 degrees cooler. Calculate whether it makes financial sense for you here.
34. Install solar panels.
Solar could pay off handsomely depending on the location of your home — both for the amount of sun your house receives and because of rebates in your state. Google’s Sunroof Project uses Google Maps’ aerial imagery to model how much sun would hit your roof over the course of the year (taking into account trees and shadows from nearby buildings) plus a database of federal and state tax credits and more to determine how much you might save. (You can also look up those tax credits here.)
35. Use a home dry cleaning kit.
If you have high dry-cleaning bills, you might want to try home dry-cleaning kits for your lightly soiled items. Though prepare for the results to be less than professional.
36. Wash laundry in cold water.
Heating the water comprises 90% of the energy used to run a washing machine, according to Energy Star. And cold water works just fine for everything but oily stains.
37. Line dry clothing.
The savings here are likely minimal, but add up if you factor in not having to buy dryer sheets.
While it’s not easy to cut costs on what is one of the most expensive budget line items for parents, there are a few options.
38. Use a Flexible Spending Account for child care costs.
If your employer offers FSAs, you can spend up to $5,000 year on child care tax-free.
39. Arrange a nanny share.
If you can’t rely on family or company on-site care to care for your child, and day care isn’t an option, you can share a nanny with another family, slashing your costs.
40. Eat out of the pantry.
If your pantry is full, try going a few weeks just eating out of the pantry and only grocery shopping for produce and other perishables. You could get several meals’ worth of rice, oatmeal, chili or pasta sauce out of it, helping you declutter your pantry while trimming your grocery bill for a while.
41. Buy in bulk.
For items you use in large quantity, drop your cost per unit by buying in bulk. If you aren’t sure you can finish the bulk quantity before the food goes bad, then skip it, as not only your food but also your money will be wasted.
42. Stock up during sales.
If something you buy regularly is on sale, buy several at once, as long as you can freeze some of it or you’re sure you’ll consume it all before it goes bad.
43. For items you buy regularly, determine which grocery sells it cheapest.
For olive oil, meats, milk and other items that are frequently on your shopping list, figure out which local store has the lowest price for it and always buy it there — the savings will add up over time.
44. Don’t buy prepared foods or pre-cut veggies.
Buying whole, fresh produce and cooking yourself is cheaper.
45. Buy produce in season.
Doing so can save you 30%-50%.
46. Grow your own herbs.
Instead of spending $2-$3 every time you want a bit of basil or cilantro in your meal, spend $5 once and enjoy those herbs forever.
47. Check out your pantry and make a list.
Be aware of what you already have when you go to the grocery, and then know exactly what you need so you aren’t distracted by those enticing chocolate caramel chews that cost $10.
48. Don’t shop hungry.
You’ve probably heard that you buy more junk food at the grocery if you’re hungry. Yes, it’s a thing. (In fact, don’t shop at all when you’re hungry, as you’re apt to spend more — even on non-food items.)
49. Buy generic.
The product is usually about the same except in price.
50. Buy a water bottle, don’t buy bottled water.
Why pay for what you can get for near free out of your tap?
51. Shop higher or lower than eye-level.
The most expensive items are on those shelves. Scan the products along the top and bottom for better deals.
52. Grow your own veggies or raise chickens for their eggs.
Spend time rather than money to get your fresh produce and eggs. Growing zucchini, carrots, greens, tomatoes and other vegetables can slash your grocery bill.
53. Shop for whole foods, not processed foods.
At most groceries, these are located along the store perimeter.
54. Get coupons and get cash back online.
Sites like Coupons.com, Redplum.com and SmartSource.com offer printable and downloadable coupons. Other apps such as Checkout51.com, Ibotta.com and Savingstar.com will give you cash back for certain items if you photograph your receipt.
It pays to be prudent when it comes to your financial services so your money is always working for you.
55. Refinance your student loan debt.
In the last few years, a new crop of online lenders has begun offering lower rates for student loans, which, for today’s graduates, averages north of $35,000. Most of these lenders offer rock-bottom rates for people who come from top schools, had good grades, have solid incomes and a strong financial history. The most popular — SoFi, Common Bond, Earnest — tout savings of $14,000-$17,000 for people who refi through their platforms.
56. Buy cheaper investments.
When you put money toward your nest egg or other big savings goals, you don’t want it leaked away to high fees. Opt for index funds, ETFs and other low-cost investments. Follow these 10 secrets to outperforming other investors.
57. Choose a low-cost money manager.
The days of having to pay someone 1% of assets under management are giving way. New services like Betterment, WealthFront and Motif Investing offer investment management services for as little as 0.15% (or, for certain products, free, in the case of Motif).
58. Switch to a credit union or community bank.
Because credit unions are non-profit, they generally offer lower rates and prices for various financial products and services such as loans, and higher rates on, say, savings accounts. Plus, they are likely to have fewer or less stringent requirements for accounts such as minimum balances. Just beware they may also offer fewer perks and features.
59. Get a free checking account.
60. Put your bills on auto-pay.
Late fees can be expensive, plus also lower your credit score, so automate as many of your bills as possible.
61. If you have credit card debt, look into a 0% balance transfer.
Don’t just assume that a 0% balance transfer will immediately lower the interest you’re paying on your credit card debt. Such transfers don’t always make sense because of balance transfer fees and time limits on how long the 0% rate will last. Find out whether it makes sense for you here.
62. Ask for a lower interest rate on your credit card.
If you’re carrying a balance and your rate is 13% or higher, you could ask for a reduced rate. Mention that you are considering transferring your debt to a 0% interest rate card as leverage in your negotiation. Even if your rate goes from 20% to 15%, you’ll save quite a bit on your balance. According to Creditcards.com, about two-thirds of those who request a rate reduction are approved.
63. Bundle your insurance policies.
If you’re buying your auto, home/renter’s and life separately, bundle them with one company to save roughly 10%-20% for each policy bundled.
Health and Fitness
64. Get a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account.
Pay for your health expenses tax-free with an HSA or FSA. If you have employer-sponsored insurance, ask your employer if they offer such a program, or lobby for one if they don’t. If you’re buying your own health insurance, you qualify for an HSA if you have a high-deductible health plan with a minimum deductible of $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family. In terms of how much you can contribute, the limits are $3,350 for an individual and $6,750 for a family, with an additional $1,000 in catchup contributions for those 55 or older. More information here. With an FSA, you can put $2,550 toward medical expenses with pretax dollars. Read here for more on FSAs.
65. Check your explanation of benefits and bills for errors.
To make sure you’re not paying for services you haven’t received (and that you haven’t been the victim of medical identity theft), check all documents you receive from your insurer and dispute errors.
66. Negotiate expensive medical bills.
If you have a big bill, ask the hospital or facility for a discount in exchange for a quick lump sum payment. If you need to ease the hit on your budget, request a payment plan.
67. Ask for generics.
For prescriptions, ask your doctor if the generic would also be effective.
68. Look into mail-order pharmacies for your long-term medications.
Some online pharmacies charge a fraction of what your local pharmacy would charge.
69. Request samples.
If you need a medication short-term, ask your doctor if they can provide it to you via samples.
70. Make sure you’re paying a fair price.
Don’t overpay for health services. Use HealthcareBlueBook.com to find out what is a reasonable price for a particular medical service in your area.
71. Exercise for free or on the cheap.
Ditch the pricy gym membership. Run, walk, play tennis with a friend, go swimming, take free yoga classes online or use fitness DVDs to replace that membership you never use. Staying in shape has the added financial benefit of keeping your body healthy so you don’t incur as many medical expenses.
When it comes to the rest of your spending, a lot of it comes down to your own personal priorities in life. What do you value? Does your spending align with your goals? Monitor your expenses using a service such as Mint to find out. Here are some tips for not frivolously spending in the most fun budget category.
72. Use a 48-hour waiting period.
For any and every major purchase you buy, say, over $50, $100 or $200 (whatever threshold makes sense given your budget), impose a 48-hour waiting period to weed out those usually regrettable impulse purchases.
73. Pay with cash.
Studies show we spend less when we pay with cash than with credit cards. So if you’re trying to cut back on your spending, try using cash for a bit so you think more carefully about every dollar.
74. Use coupons and promo codes.
Before you hit checkout, look for a promo code for that retailer. Saving 10-20% on a quarter or a third of your purchases every year adds up.
75. Cancel email deals and sale alerts, or send those emails to a dedicated address.
If you’re constantly receiving offers on discounts or flash sales, you might be tempted to shop all the time. Instead, cancel such emails and seek out promo codes when you definitely need something, or have those deals sent to a specific email address that you check only when you actually have to buy something.
76. Delay spending.
Money has a time value, and holding onto it longer can save you money. If you pay for most of your expenses on a credit card, wait to make big-ticket purchases until after your billing cycle ends so you don’t end up having to shell out for that item until almost two months later.
77. Check out list-serves and bulletin boards like Freecycle, Nextdoor, Craigslist’s free section.
If you can afford to wait, monitor Freecycle, Craigslist and other local sites and apps like Nextdoor to see if what you want becomes available there.
78. Time purchases to the season they are on sale.
Buy things when they’re off-season or during big sales. Get that gas grill or A/C in January and nab a swimsuit in August. Conversely, take advantage of, say, big back-to-school sales to get school supplies. Get more tips here.
79. Use resold gift cards to get discounts at major retailers.
Comparison shop for used gift cards at GiftCardGranny.com to knock, say, 7% off your next Nordstrom purchase or 12% off your next Home Depot run. But be careful. Gift Card Granny sends you to the original reseller, so be sure to check out reviews and choose a site that offers protection for buyers so you don’t end up shelling out for a card whose value has already been spent.
80. Sign up for membership and loyalty programs at your favorite stores.
For any stores you regularly frequent, get rewarded with discounts, coupons and special deals through the loyalty program. This also applies to online stores, such as Amazon’s %%%77%%% program or ShopRunner, which offers free two-day shipping from 70 retailers.
Eating out can be a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family, but don’t let the wine flow to your head, causing you to blow your budget. Here’s how to keep this area of your spending in check.
81. Cook as much as you can.
If you’re finding that all your socializing is done at restaurants, suggest potlucks, host guests at your home, or propose another activity not centered around a meal so you spend $5 dinner on dinner, not $50.
82. Pack lunch.
While eating at Chipotle or Panera may seem cheap, even these fast food lunches add up. Make a large meal for dinner and save the leftovers to bring to work, get creative with Mason Jar salads or keep a loaf of bread and other sandwich fixings at the office so your sandwiches are fresh instead of soggy.
83. When you go out, plan your meal ahead of time.
If you do hit up an upscale restaurant, decide what limit you’d like to keep your spending under and check out the menu online beforehand. See what meal you’d like that best fits your budget and decide whether you can afford any extras like a drink, dessert or an appetizer.
84. Don’t order drinks. (Or BYO.)
Alcohol and drinks are typically where restaurants make their biggest profit, so it also means you’re getting the least bang for your buck. Find good restaurants that have a BYO policy, or just enjoy a drink at home, where a bottle of wine can cost you as much as one glass in a restaurant.
85. Learn how menus try to get you to spend more.
Restaurants and menu designers employ tricks to get you to spend more. For instance, items set off in boxes are generally the most profitable or most expensive. Read about all the tricks here.
86. Make your own coffee.
It’ll save you about $2.50 a day, and cost you only five minutes, according to the Simple Dollar.
Clothing and Accessories
87. Check out thrift and consignment stores — both in person and online.
88. Hold a clothing swap.
Instead of buying new or browsing thrift shops, invite your friends over along with their best, still-wearable clothing discards and have a swap. Take whatever is leftover to Goodwill and get a donation receipt for the tax deduction.
89. Avoid dry clean only items.
Since dry cleaning bills can add up quickly, try not buy dry clean only items in the first place.
Grooming and Personal Services
90. DIY your own manicure, wax, hair color, etc.
Search online for videos and tips on doing all these things yourself.
91. Join the Dollar Shave Club.
If you’re spending a ton on razors, both men and women can get a membership at this online subscription service that will send you razors monthly for a fraction of the typical cost.
92. Instead of spending on tampons every month, buy a Diva Cup.
Despite the upfront cost, these silicone menstrual cups last for years, so overall, they’re a pittance compared to tampon costs over the same time period.
93. Use cloth diapers.
Do some number-crunching to see if it will really save you money (check out this methodology for guidance), but if you have multiple kids, the savings will likely add up.
94. Cut cable.
If you’re spending a ton of every month to watch a few channels, get an online service that meets your needs for much less. Research what is best for your viewing habits among popular services like Sling TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and PlayStation Vue.
95. Use the library.
Entertain yourself for free using your local library, where magazines, books and movies can all be had for the price of a library card.
96. Time your purchase right.
The conventional wisdom is that booking ahead will get you the lowest fares, but how far ahead? Kayak’s Hacker Tool tells you exactly how far ahead depending on your destination.
97. Vacation off season.
If you travel when the other tourists are safely in their cubicles, you can not only have a less crowded experience but also pay less for everything from your flight to hotel to activities. And if you go during the shoulder season — for instance, in late May just before the summer crowd in the northern hemisphere, or in September, after the August rush, you’ll still enjoy nice weather too.
98. Travel on off-days.
Yes, tickets tend to be cheaper for mid-week flights.
99. Sign up for special deals or mistake fares.
100. Get the lower fare if the price drops after you buy.
Sign up for Yapta.com, which will let you know if your airline ticket becomes cheaper than when you bought it and if that drop is greater than the cost for you to rebook.
101. Let your search engine choose for you.