The Best Ways to Reduce These 10 Monthly Bills and Expenses
For many households across America, making ends meet each month can be challenging at best. From Miami to Dallas-Fort Worth and particularly San Francisco, which is experiencing the largest increase in the cost of consumer products and services of any U.S. city, it is becoming ever more challenging to pay for the variety of recurring monthly expenses that are part of life. With that in mind, Cheapism gathered tips from personal finance experts to help you save on everything from power bills to groceries.
With the proliferation in internet streaming television providers, it may be time to cut the cord with big cable companies in order to shave a few dollars off of your monthly expenses, says Arizona-based personal finance coach Kalen Omo. "Just have an internet connection with a good download speed that supports streaming TV, and get rid of cable," Omo said. "Services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime are great affordable replacements for cable TV." Netflix, for instance, ranges from $8 to $14 per month, while Hulu plans start at $8 per month.
When it comes to cell phone expenses, it's a good idea to keep tabs on the plans being offered by the competition, says Omo. Use that information to negotiate with your current provider. "See if they can give you a loyalty discount," Omo said. Yet another option is to join a family plan, says Jamie Young, personal finance expert at Student Loan Hero. Such plans typically allow for adding a second or third phone line at a substantial discount. What's more, family plans are not limited to blood relatives. Even friends and roommates can set up a multiple line phone plan. Verizon, for instance, offers an Unlimited For All plan that costs just $40 per line for four lines. T Mobile offers a similarly priced plan. Whatever you choose, be sure to avoid these cell phone ripoffs, too.
If mortgage payments are eating up a significant chunk of your monthly budget, try refinancing, suggests Darla DeMorrow, author of a book designed to help people organize their lives and save money in the process. "You'll want to check with a mortgage broker or bank to see if today's historically low mortgage rates might save you money on monthly payments," suggests DeMorrow. In addition, if you've paid off more than 20 percent of your mortgage principal, you can cancel your mortgage insurance (otherwise known as PMI), further reducing recurring mortgage-related expenses.
Go in and personally meet with your insurance agent, DeMorrow advises. "It's easy to apply for insurance online, but by meeting in person with an insurance agent, they're likely to find out things about you that can help with your monthly bill." For instance, the agent may have a plan that offers a discount for graduating from certain schools or being associated with a particular type of profession or employer. Combining policies like home and auto insurance, also known as "bundling," can yield savings, too. At the very least, you should be comparison shopping every year to find out how much the competition is charging.
To help cut down on power bills, make sure the majority of your usage happens late at night, suggests Sarah Hollenbeck, a savings expert with Offers.com. "Many power companies offer non-peak hour discounts, saving you money just by waiting a few more hours to throw your laundry in or take a shower," explained Hollenbeck. "Call your company to see if this is an opportunity you can take advantage of and what they consider non-peak hours, as it can vary by location." To save even more money, switch to using cold water for your laundry. Not only does this cut down on the expense, it's better for the environment, preventing carbon pollution. The process of heating water accounts for about 90 percent of the energy your machine uses to wash clothes, while only 10 percent is related to the electricity used by the washer motor.
You might love the convenience of having someone clean your house or mow your lawn, but try calculating how much that's costing you each year, says Trae Bodge, who was named a top personal finance expert to follow by FlexJobs. "If you have able-bodied children, consider asking them to do the work," Bodge said. "The allowance will be miniscule compared to what you're paying now. Then, take that money that you've saved and drop it in a college fund." When your kids realize that they have money for college, they'll be happy they pitched in all those years.
Water is precious and using less of it can help protect the environment, while also reducing your water bills, says Elizabeth Dodson, co-founder of HomeZada.com, a personal finance platform for homeowners. There are several ways to manage water usage and cut back on your monthly bill including installing low-flow fixtures on shower heads and toilets. Also consider watering your lawn later in the evening and early in the morning when the most water will be absorbed into the lawn, rather then evaporating in the bright sunshine. Another option is to change your landscaping entirely, replacing grass with low-irrigation plants.
While power bills were already mentioned, the air conditioning and heating costs tied to this monthly expense warrants a discussion of its own, as each can raise an electric bill significantly, says Dodson. There are several ways to tackle this problem and reduce your bill. For instance, replace your thermostat with a programmable model that cools your home only when you're in it. In addition, have your air conditioning units checked. If they're overworked, generally a simple repair can reduce usage. To save on both air conditioning and heating costs, check your home for any leaks near windows and doors, where air may be getting out or in. Simply caulking these areas can make a difference, says Dodson.
Search online for better deals for local gym memberships. Sites such as Living Social, Groupon, and even fitness websites may offer discounts. You can also try to negotiate a good deal with the gym manager or sales representative, perhaps requesting a month free or a waived initiation fee. There may be a discount for paying annual dues up front, rather than on a monthly basis. In addition, some gyms offer discounts when you join as part of group, such as through your employer or an educational institution. And finally, many gyms offer family or household discounts when you sign up two or more people. If you do sign up for a gym membership, be sure to make the most of it.
For many households, groceries are one of the most significant recurring monthly expenses, often costing hundreds of dollars each week. There are numerous ways to cut down on this expenditure for those willing to put in a little extra effort. Coupons are one of the most straightforward ways to reduce food spending. Sites like Coupons.com, which offer printable coupons, are a great place to start. Skipping the brand names is another simple way to lower grocery bills. It's also a good idea to take the time to create a grocery list before heading to the store and stick to it, ignoring the impulse buys. Yet another option for saving a few pennies is the app Ibotta, which will pay you cash via Venmo or PayPal for taking pictures of your grocery receipts.
Like many other monthly expenses, one of the best ways to lower your internet bill is to be armed with information about competitors' prices. You can use a price comparison tool such as Cut Cable Today to compare internet providers in your area. Yet another approach is lowering your internet speed. Sometimes premium, high-speed internet can be a waste of money. Streaming television shows for instance, only requires about 5 megabits per second, per stream. If two people are streaming programs on separate devices at the same time, about 10 mbps would be required. Many providers also offer discounts for bundling services such as phone, internet and television. And while this isn't always the best deal, sometimes it can pay off. Finally, tell your provider that you're going to cancel, which often prompts the company to offer a lower price.
For many of the monthly bills mentioned here, negotiation skills can go a long way. But if calling and asking for a discount is not your cup of tea, there are services that will do it for you, says Alexander Lowry, a professor of finance at Gordon College. BillFixers.com will act as your agent, calling phone, cable and many other providers to negotiate better deals on your behalf, Lowry said. "BillFixers claims a 94.9 percent success rate," Lowry explained. "In exchange for this service, customers hand over half of the next year's savings, a $20-a-month reduction yields $120 for BillFixers." If BillFixers can't save you anything, they won't charge you anything.
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