Cutting spending is an essential part of everyone’s financial toolbox, especially if they’re just getting started on their own financial turnaround or they’re hoping to accelerate their financial journey.
The usual personal finance advice pushes people to look at the big expenses first. If you can cut out a sizable monthly bill, that’s great! For example, if you can cut out your cable bill, you’re probably saving somewhere around $100 a month, adding up to $1,200 a year. If you can trim your rent by $200 a month by moving and that doesn’t add other expenses to your life, that one single move can save you $2,400 a year. Those big moves really make a difference.
At the same time, it’s a big mistake to overlook the small moves that you frequently repeat. A move that can save you $1 a day adds up to $365 a year, which can make a big difference. Plus, such smaller moves often have much less life impact than a big splashy move.
One great way to see this principle at work is to examine a number of ways that people might trim their spending and see how much it adds up to over the course of a year. Often, a simple move that doesn’t save much on its own but comes up over and over and over again accumulates savings that’s on par with big moves.
Let’s take a look at 10 such moves and how much they save (using a few assumptions to calculate the frequency of repetition).
Order water at restaurants.
Most of the time, when I go out to a restaurant, I order water as my beverage. I actually prefer it to a soft drink as the water allows me to enjoy the food itself more and doesn’t add extra calories to the meal. Water is almost always free, whereas the soft drink ranges anywhere from $1 to $3.
Savings: We’ll go with the price of a large soft drink at McDonald’s here as a “standard” price – $1.49. The average American eats out 1.8 times a week; if that person cuts out that soft drink each time, that adds up to $139.47 a year.
Make your own laundry soap.
I like to make my own powdered laundry soap by putting a cup of washing soda, a cup of borax, and a cup of soap flakes into a container and shaking it thoroughly, then simply using a tablespoon of this mix in each load of laundry. It does a wonderful job.
I can buy a box of borax, a box of washing soda, and a bag of soap flakes at the store for about $14 total, which makes about 6 batches of my mix. Each batch handles 48 loads, so that’s a total of 288 loads for about $14, or about $0.05 a load. A large jug of Tide costs $18 and does 96 loads, or about $0.19 a load.
Savings: If you do a load of laundry a day, mixing your own soap in this way (basically shaking a small container once every month and a half and buying a few things at the store once every nine months versus buying Tide at the store once every three months) saves $51.10 per year.
Eat a grilled cheese sandwich at home instead of a fast food burger.
This is just a simple proxy for “eating at home,” but it was actually one of the exact steps that moved me towards eating out less often and eating at home more often. I would stop at a fast food place and drop $7 or so on a meal before I realized how much it was costing me. I remembered my lifelong love of a good grilled cheese, which consists of two slices of bread, two ounces or so of cheese, and a bit of butter, with a total cost of around $0.80. That’s a $6.20 savings.
Savings: If I make that shift once a week, that adds up to $322.40 per year.
Buy five store-brand items instead of name-brand items per grocery store visit.
Most store-brand items are so similar to (or exactly the same as) name-brand items that you can’t tell the difference aside from the packaging.
Savings: Just by switching to store-brand items on five purchases a week at the grocery store (I buy more store-brand items than this, in reality, but I’m keeping the estimate low), if you can simply save 50 cents per swap (this is definitely a low-end average as well), that adds up to $130 per year.
Check out a book or a DVD from the library once a week instead of buying or renting one.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that you buy a new book or movie once a month for a cost of $15 and then you rent movies three times a month at a cost of $2 per rental, for a total cost of $21 a month. You can replace all of that with a weekly trip to the library, where you have an enormous selection of books and movies to borrow for free.
Savings: If you make that into your new routine and stop buying one DVD or book a month and stop renting movies, you’ll save $252 per year.
Adjust your thermostat temperature by one degree.
This seems like it wouldn’t make much of an impact, but the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a one-degree shift in your home temperature shaves 1% off of your average energy bill.
Savings: Given that the average energy bill is around $110 a month, simply shifting your thermostat by one degree from your normal setting – lowering it in cold weather and raising it in warm weather – will save you $13.20 per year. Every additional degree repeats that savings.
Wash and rinse your clothes in cold water.
Most of the expense of washing and rinsing your clothes comes from the cost of heating the water. Changing from a warm wash / warm rinse setting to a cold wash / cold rinse setting saves $0.49 per load.
Savings: If you do a laundry load every day on average, as our family does, this adds up to $178.85 per year.
Make your own cold brew coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks.
A plain 16-ounce coffee at Starbucks runs $2.10 before tax. Using a simple cold brew coffee maker and a grinder, you can make 32 ounces of cold brew coffee at home for about $0.80 (including prorating 5 years of use of an inexpensive grinder and the maker) and then pour it and heat it in the microwave when you want it in the morning (just before you leave for the day, most likely).
Savings: That means if you buy a 16-ounce cup of coffee each morning, you’ll save $1.70 a day on coffee by making cold brew yourself. If you make that switch every day, you’re saving $620.50 per year. The savings is even greater if you’re comparing a sweetened coffee at the shop versus using your own creamer and sweetener at home.
Make your own broth.
Rather than throwing away leftover vegetables, vegetable scraps, and meat scraps and bones, save them and then once a month put all bones and scraps of one type along with your vegetable scraps into a slow cooker along with enough water to cover everything with a few inches to spare. Add a few tablespoons of salt, a few peppercorns, and a bay leaf and let it simmer all day. Strain it and save the liquid and you’ll have a couple of quarts of broth for any use. This whole process takes a few minutes at most.
Savings: A quart container of broth at the store costs $2. If you do this once a month, you’ll save $48 a year and have incredibly delicious broth.
Ride a bike or walk to work if your commute is less than five miles.
Not only does this serve as exercise for you, it also eliminates the cost of driving your car to and from work. The cost of fuel, oil, tire wear, other maintenance, and depreciation on even a short commute adds up to somewhere around $0.30 per mile.
Savings: If you replace a three-mile commute each way with a bicycle or walking and you do it five times a week for 50 weeks a year, that adds up to $450 per year and a significant improvement in fitness.
The point is this: There’s often a great deal of value to be found in tweaking the things you do every single day. If the new routine is similar in terms of effort, even squeezing out a cent or two each time you do that routine thing can add up to significant cash over the course of a year.
Examine your life. Look for things you do every day or at least a few times a week that involve spending money or using up something that costs money. Is there a better way to do that thing that eliminates or reduces that cost? Whenever you find a way to do that, even if it’s saving only a little bit, you’re saving quite a lot over the course of a year. It’s not a life-changing difference, but it’s one that will definitely show up in your checking account over time, especially if you discover and implement several such things at once.
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