I spend a lot of time trying to save money. I clip coupons, I buy gas when it is less expensive, and I try to make meals out of less expensive items. And no one would disagree that this is important.
However, there are are other things that are MORE important, and easier, if you are trying to cut costs. One or two big wins in the savings department can equal the effort of all the little things that we do each day. Big wins are larger and have ongoing benefits without requiring any extra work along the way.
So, where can you find big wins? I suggest you start with the three categories where most families have their largest expenses.
HousingHousing is the single largest expense for nearly all families. Lowering your housing costs has an immediate and ongoing impact on your monthly fixed expenses.
If you rent an apartment, did you try to negotiate your rent when you moved in? Even if they aren't offering specials publicly, many apartment complexes will give you a lower rent or a free month if you ask. This is particularly true if you know that similar neighborhoods are renting for a lower rate, or offering promotions. The very first time my husband and I rented an apartment, I wasn't even trying to negotiate a lower rate. I was simply explaining to the leasing agent that I really liked their neighborhood, but I just couldn't manage the rent and I was probably going have to go get an apartment at (name of different neighborhood.) She then offered to give me the apartment we wanted, at the price we would pay in the other neighborhood. I forget the difference, perhaps $30 per month, but that was 20 years ago and it was 5% of the rent. What if you could get your rent lowered by 5% now? I would have an extra $100 per month, and I rarely save that much cutting coupons.
Similar savings can be found in home purchases. There are many strategies for lowering monthly mortgage payments: finding a lower interest rate, selecting a better loan product, choosing a less expensive home or negotiating a lower purchase price will all result in a smaller payment.
TransportationAgain, transportation is usually in the top three expenses for any family, and again there are many ways to save.
If possible, choose a home that allows you to use public transportation for at least one family member. This can potentially mean that you need one or no cars - what a huge savings! I would be positively delighted if we had only one car - less insurance, fewer registration fees, whoohoo!
Unfortunately, cutting out a car isn't always possible. The next best choice is to buy a practical car: high gas mileage, high reliability and low maintenance costs. You can search out these cars on Edmunds.com or KBB.com. As a newly converted Prius owner, I am loving the 50 miles per gallon that I get, versus the 18 miles per gallon that my last car guzzled. I bought it used and it was relatively inexpensive, and I'm pretty sure that I've paid for it in lower gas bills in just the 8 months since I bought it. From here on out, the gas savings are pure savings which can go right towards another purpose.
Check out your car insurance, and see if there are places where you could lower costs. If you have a good emergency fund, you can increase your deductibles to decrease your premiums. Also, consider dropping collision coverage if your car is older and you no longer have a loan against it.
Carpooling, while often unpopular, can also be a great way to save. Even if you can't carpool to work each day, maybe you could manage two days a week? That would still cut your commuting costs by 20%, which can be a lot.
Last, but certainly not least, use your car wisely. A series of short trips can use more gas and create more wear than one long trip. Consider walking between errands, when you can, and definitely combine your errands to minimize your driving. If you've neighbors who are friends, combine certain trips with them. In one former neighborhood, we would combine trips to popular-but-not-close destinations such as Costco or Walmart.
FoodOn the surface, it seems hard to decrease food costs. Because food is usually in a family's top three expense, even a small percentage savings can mean a large dollar savings. Could you spend 10% less at the grocery store? Way to lower food costs include:
- paying attention to prices
- eating in season
- organizing your menu by sale items
- cutting coupons (here we go again!)
- buying fewer prepared foods
- buying less meat
- experimenting with different brands
- using frugal recipes
- planning menus to eliminate food waste
- making sure that leftovers get eaten