If you’re a Republic Wireless member or considering making the move to Republic Wireless, chances are high that you are the type of person who regularly makes smart financial decisions – or that you, at the very least, aspire to make smart financial decisions. You may have read our recent profile of JL Collins, who recommends setting aside fifty percent of your income each month to save for long term financial independence. That fifty percent number, however, can be incredibly intimidating for anyone – even more so for the 53% of Americans who say they feel overwhelmed by financial burdens1.
If you have student loan debt, credit card debt, a car loan, a mortgage, and you’re having difficulty making ends meet on a monthly basis, it may be difficult to know where to start. In fact, 52% of American say they’d like to figure out how to cut back on their monthly expenses – they just aren’t sure where to start1.
While the below tips are not the be-all-end-all answer to achieving financial well-being, they will help you chip away at your monthly expenses, and in personal finance, every little bit helps.
1. Track Your Spending
This isn’t a one-time change, but an ongoing behavior shift. By tracking your expenses religiously, you will inevitably see patterns that will help you curb some of your discretionary spending. Do you find yourself hitting the office vending machine a couple afternoons a week? Instead, buy snacks in bulk at the grocery store and keep them in your desk drawer.
Tracking your spending will also help you identify any ongoing expenses that you might either have forgotten about (I’m guilty of that) or that you don’t take full advantage of. Do you need your expensive gym membership if you have running trails in your neighborhood? Instead of paying for a membership at a yoga studio, can you do yoga using YouTube videos in your living room? If you use your gym membership and the value and experience is worth the expense, great! But, if you aren’t getting the value out of what you are paying, consider canceling it in favor of a more economical alternative.
2. Change Your Influences
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Today, with the power of social media and the breadth of influences in our lives, it’s probably more like, “you are the average of all the people who surround you.” So, surround yourself with people and with resources that will have a positive influence on your spending habits. If financial independence or smarter financial decision-making are goals of yours, spend time with people you admire for their fiscal smarts, listen to podcasts and read books about financial independence (keep an eye on this blog for some upcoming book reviews!), and encourage the people in your life to hold you accountable. When you spend time with people with similar financial goals, you will all have a positive influence on each other’s mindsets and behavior. For example, you may be more inclined to host a potluck and game night at home, rather than going out for drinks and an expensive dinner.
Communication from retailers is another influence you may want to take a look at, to cut down on the temptation of spending. In just one weekend, I received twenty one separate emails from retailers wanting me to spend money, and that doesn’t even count the emails I deleted immediately. And in one day, I received multiple emails from LOFT and LOFT Outlet! With all these great sales going on, how am I supposed to cut back on my spending?
I’ll let you in on a little secret – these sales are not special. Most retailers, especially apparel retailers, use a high-low pricing strategy. This means the retailer sets a high manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) and then deeply discounts their items to a low price using whole-store, whole-category, or clearance sales. You can almost always find something, especially when shopping for clothing, on sale for 40% (or more) off, so unless it’s an emergency, resist the impulse of purchasing at full price.
You may still want to receive these coupons and sale notifications in case you happen to be shopping at that particular retailer, but you don’t want these emails bombarding your inbox and tempting you to spend. We recommend setting up an email filter to route these emails to another folder that you can visit if you need a coupon code – that way, you never see the email unless you go looking for it.
3. Get Smart With Your Utilities
Making small, easy changes around your house can make a big difference in your utility bills. Add extra blankets to your bed in the winter so you can turn down your heat a few degrees at night, and in the summer, embrace the beauty of the ceiling fan so you can save a few dollars on your air conditioning costs. Installing a programmable thermostat will also help – you can easily set “home” and “away” schedules so you aren’t paying to heat or cool your home when you are at work or on vacation.
4. Evaluate Your Entertainment Expenses
Speaking of utilities – cable and satellite television is a major offender in racking up high monthly expenses. Even though streaming services and cable such as Netflix and Hulu have gained in popularity over the past few years, many Americans are still overpaying for that expensive cable bill. And, even more amazing, many are paying for both – cable or satellite television and a streaming service1.
Eliminating your cable or satellite television bill is one way to save beaucoup bucks over the course of the year. Now, what’s tricky is that these providers have mastered the art of selling by tempting customers with the attractive “double” or “triple play.” You are almost certainly going to buy high-speed internet service, so why not add on cable television, or hey, even home phone service, for just a few dollars more? It makes sense in theory, but in reality, those dollars add up. On average, the introductory rate for a TV + internet bundle is just over $107 per month. If you were to purchase internet service on its own, however, you’d be looking at an average introductory rate of approximately $50 per month. By cutting cable, you could save $57 per month – or $684 per year!
But you want live TV for sports or the news… We get it. Luckily, there are many ways today to access live television coverage without the expensive cable bill.
For local channels, you can consider purchasing an indoor over-the-air (OTA) HD antenna. For a one-time cost as low as $10 (up to $90+), you simply plug the antenna in to your television’s HDMI port, and scan for local channels. Depending on where you live, you will be able to access local channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, and more.
For premium channels, you can consider a streaming service such as Sling TV. Sling has two different channel packages for $25 each – if you want both packages, enjoy a $10 discount and pay just $40 monthly. If you are into sports, we’d recommend the Orange package, which gets you ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, TNT, and much more. Right now, they are offering a new customer promotion for a 3-month introductory price of $15 per package, or $25 for both packages.
One important thing to pay attention to is how much money you spend across all the various a la carte providers. If you can survive on just Netflix and one Sling TV package, that’s probably a good option for you, because you’ll be spending less than $30 per month. If, however, you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and both Sling TV packages, you would probably be better off with a traditional cable subscription.
If you do decide to stick with traditional cable or satellite television, there are still ways to cut back. Check out your extra fees – if you have multiple cable boxes throughout your house, are you paying a rental fee on each of those, and can you cut down on the number of boxes you have? This same technique can be used to reduce your high-speed internet bill. Many companies charge a monthly rental fee for the modem and wireless router. Purchasing your own may be an initial outlay of $60-100, but will save you money over the long term.
Also, it never hurts to call and try to negotiate your monthly fee. All it takes is 15 to 20 minutes of your time, some patience, and a friendly demeanor. Do some research beforehand so you know what types of offers they are giving to new customers – and ask to be considered for one of those offers “as a gesture for your long-time loyalty.”
5. Negotiate Your Insurance Rates
Speaking of negotiation, you should regularly revisit the rates you are paying for car and homeowners or rental insurance. Scott Sherman of I Dream of Fire recommends calling your auto insurance company annually and checking out the competition to see if you can get a better rate. One of our team members recently reduced her auto insurance bill by over $1,740 per year just by checking out competitive rates and switching her insurance provider!
Many companies will also offer bundle discounts if you bundle your homeowners/rental insurance with your car insurance. Unlike the cable TV and internet bundles, you actually need these 2 types of insurance, so it’s worth exploring the bundle.
6. Shop Smart(er)
There are so many ways you can save money while buying the necessities – there’s no way we will be able to hit them all here. But, here are some of our favorites:
- Save online. When shopping online, consider using a couponing or money-back tool such as RetailMeNot, Honey, or Ebates. See our full post about getting paid by Ebates here. If you don’t want to use a plug-in when doing your online shopping, you can always do a quick Google search for a promo code before checking out.
- Institute a mandatory consideration window before you make any big purchases. Sherman recommends a 3-day or 7-day rule, where you hold on making a purchase above a certain dollar amount. He says, “if it’s going to cost me more than $100, I’m going to wait a solid 72 hours before I make that purchase. That gives me the time to talk myself out of it, do some more research, or find another place that sells it cheaper. And then anything over another threshold, say $250, I’m going to wait 7 days.”I recently implemented a 24-hour consideration window for myself, which isn’t the 3 or 7 days Sherman recommends, but has considerably reduced my impulse purchases. As Sherman says, “It’s really about being intentional. We’re just so bombarded with ways to part us with our money that you really have to be very vigilant about it.”
- Buy generic. There are some products that you are probably super brand loyal to (for me, it’s paper towels and toilet paper). There are other products where brand might matter less. For those products, consider buying the store brand or private label, which is often just as good as the brand name – and in some cases, is actually made by the same manufacturer!
- Pay attention to unit pricing while grocery shopping. On the grocery store price tag, the retail price is the price you pay at the register for the item when you check out. The unit price is the price per unit – it could be per item, but is generally per unit of measurement, such as ounce, pound, quart, etc. By comparing the price per unit, you can identify where you are getting better value for the money.
In the example above2, the 6 ounce yogurt is only 72 cents to purchase, compared to the tub of yogurt at $1.62. But, if you look at the price per ounce, the tub of yogurt is clearly a better deal – it’s just 5 cents per ounce, compared to more than double that at 12 cents per ounce for the small container.
When looking at unit pricing, make sure the two labels you are comparing use the same unit measurement. Also, don’t get too carried away using unit pricing. Don’t buy bulk for better value if you won’t use it – then you are just wasting food and your hard-earned money.
7. Plan Your Meals
Meal planning has myriad benefits beyond just saving you money – but we’ll focus on savings here. By planning your meals for the week ahead on Saturday or Sunday, you can:
- Write out a strict grocery list, eliminating the temptation of impulse purchases (and extra expense) while you are at the store.
- Take advantage of weekly sales and any coupons you have by planning meals around the items that are on sale (if boneless, skinless chicken thighs are on sale this week, plan on lots of meals that center around this protein!).
- Reduce food waste because you haven’t bought any groceries you haven’t planned a use for, thereby reducing money waste.
- Plan on cooking enough to bring to work for lunch, saving you $6+ per day on buying lunch outside the home (that’s $30+ per week or $1,500+ per year if you work fifty weeks a year!).
- Reduce the temptation of last-minute meals out. When you know what you are having for dinner, you won’t be tempted to pick up takeout on the way home or order delivery because you don’t have the energy to plan, shop for, and cook at home after a long day at work.
8. Look At Your Interest Rates
This one’s a bit trickier, but worth researching if you have credit card debt with high interest rates. For credit cards, high monthly interest rates are just adding insult to injury. If you are making only the minimum payment each month, your interest payments are eating up most of the payment. By reducing (or even eliminating) that interest rate, you can dedicate more of your payment to paying off the balance.
Step one could be to simply call your credit card company and ask for your interest rate to be lowered. Many credit card companies, especially if you have a clean, on-time payment history, will honor these requests.
Step two would be to consider a balance transfer to a 0% interest rate credit card – consider this if and only if you will be able to pay off your full balance within the balance transfer window, and if and only if you can resist the temptation of adding more debt to the card. Many of these cards have a higher interest rate than you may be paying today once the 0% introductory period has expired.
9. Assess the Fees You Are Paying
Speaking of credit card caveats, pay attention to the fees you are paying to your financial institutions. We don’t believe you should have to pay money to save and access your money.
Some areas where hidden fees can creep up on you are:
- Credit card fees. Not all credit cards have annual fees, but those that do can charge an annual fee anywhere between $25 to $500. Typically, these are credit cards with rewards points or other premium benefits. It’s ok to pay an annual fee if the benefit you enjoy from having that credit card exceeds that fee. For example, if you have a rewards credit card with an annual fee of $195, you should earn more than $195 per year in rewards – otherwise, you are overpaying.
- Account fees. Some banks charge a monthly maintenance fee for your checking or savings account. Different banks have different ways to get around this fee, and with an average monthly fee of $9.60, we think it’s worth investigating how to avoid them.
- Keep the required minimum balance in your account. Some banks will waive the fee if you keep a minimum balance in your account. If you can afford to keep this money in there, do it.
- Add direct deposit to your account. Many banks will waive the monthly maintenance fee if your paycheck is regularly deposited into your account via direct deposit. If your employer offers this, it will also make your life easier (in addition to saving you money).
- Use your debit card. Some banks will waive the monthly fee if you use your debit card regularly and frequently – usually 10 or more times per month.
- Avoid ATM fees. Paying $2-3 every time you use the ATM is incredibly frustrating. Avoid these fees by using your bank’s owned ATMs or by banking with an institution that refunds you the fees you pay for using another bank’s ATM – many online banking institutions offer this as a perk.
10. Save on Your Cell Phone Bill
We’ve heard 52% of Americans say they are paying too much for their cell phone bills1 – and we want to help change that. Republic Wireless is a great option for people who don’t need access to gigabytes and gigabytes of high-speed data. And, you’re probably paying for more data than you need – fully one-quarter of those who are paying for an expensive unlimited plan are using less than 2GB of data each month1. This means they are paying for 20GB+ of data that they don’t even use! Rather than that unlimited cell phone bill that could be costing them almost $100 a month, wouldn’t it be better for them to pay just $25 on Republic Wireless?
“The thing that is interesting about Republic is that it has the potential to be almost a gateway drug into some of these other [financial] changes.”
If you are using more data, reducing your consumption (and therefore your spend) doesn’t require much work – just a few easy changes:
- Limit your data usage on common apps by doing things like downloading music, podcasts, and videos to play offline, limiting autoplay on social media apps, downloading your maps for offline use, and more.
- Set your apps to auto-update only when on WiFi
- Make sure that your phone is set to automatically connect to remembered WiFi networks, such as those at home, at work, and at trusted locations you visit frequently
Switching your expensive plan to Republic Wireless is a good way to save up to $1,000 per year on your cell phone bill3, and, as Sherman points out, a good start to your savings journey. Thinking about the time he’s spent as a Republic member, he says, “The thing that I think is interesting about Republic is that it has the potential to be almost a gateway drug into some of these other changes. Smartphones have not been around very long, but they quickly became the thing. They quickly became our most prominent piece of electronics, entertainment, and communication. They became our calendars, our music, our connection with our family. They represent this enormous part of our lives. And when you decide to be more intentional about how you are using your smartphone, it has the potential to inspire you to be more intentional about how you are doing other things in your life as well.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!
So You’ve Started Saving… Now What?
When you start making these changes, you’ll notice you have quite a bit of extra money lying around… Sherman warns that unless you have that money earmarked for something else, it will be tempting to squander that money away on dinners out, the latest and greatest new gadget, or any number of other things.
“It’s not difficult to spend less money on your bills month to month or year to year. The trick, though, is to save that money.”
He says, “There’s a caveat here that I think is really important. It is not difficult to spend less money on your bills month to month or year to year. The trick, though, is to save that money. So what most people do is they decrease their bills by 20 or 30 bucks a month, but they don’t allocate that money towards something important. Instead, they let it sit in their checking account and then they just spend it on something else.”
So, Sherman recommends (and we agree!) to have a specific use in mind for all of the dollars you end up saving with these changes – whether that’s dedicating extra funds to pay off debt, extra funds for your long-term investments, or even extra funds to sock away for your next vacation or a rainy day. However you do it, make sure you know what you’ll be doing with these extra funds.
Share Your Expense-Cutting Tips
We’ve collectively saved a lot of money by following these practices – but this is by no means exhaustive. What are some of your favorite ways to save on your monthly expenses?
1 Source: Nationally representative survey of N=1,323 adults aged 18+ conducted by Republic Wireless, March 2019.
2 USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov “Understand the Price Tag”
3 Based on comparison between 1GB Republic Wireless plan ($20 + taxes and fees) and Verizon Wireless Above Unlimited plan for a single line ($95 + taxes and fees + $30 activation fee)