When people finally decide they want to get ahead financially, most choose one of two strategies: They either look for ways to earn more money, or they hack their expenses and save the rest. Both options can work wonders for your finances, but slashing your expenses is usually easier to implement — after all, it involves doing less, not doing more.
If you’re already working full-time, raising a family, or both, the prospect of earning more money can seem like a pipe dream. There are only 24 hours in a day, after all, and you may not want to spend every waking hour in the pursuit of extra cash.
That’s why so many people take a cold, hard look at their expenses instead of picking up overtime, getting a part-time job, or pursuing a side hustle. When you’re already struggling to find time to live, the fastest way to save is to spend less.
Five Monthly Expenses You Can Live Without
But, where to cut? Aside from housing, food, and utilities, almost every other expense in your life is one you could probably live without. Here are five monthly bills you should consider axing first:
No. 1: Your Car Payment
Most people see their car payment as a “necessary evil,” but this doesn’t have to be the case. The fact is, plenty of people live healthy and happy lives without making perpetual payments.
There are several ways to create a lifestyle that is decidedly car-payment-free, including saving up for a cheap-but-reliable used car and paying in cash, borrowing the money but paying it down as fast as you can, or even ditching your car altogether and relying on public transportation instead.
With the average payment on a new car surging to $482 a month, you could save a pretty penny if you made one of those strategies work.
The bottom line: A car may be necessary to get to work, run errands, or cart your children around town. Your car payment, on the other hand, is entirely optional.
No. 2: Cable or Satellite Television
Four in five households — 83% — subscribe to a pay-TV service like cable television or satellite, according to Leichtman Research Group. And with the average cable bill surging to $99 a month in 2015, that means most families are forking over almost $1,200 per year for the privilege of having non-stop entertainment at their disposal.
If you want to pad your savings with an extra $1,000 or more this year, don’t be average. Instead of sticking with the status quo, seek out options that provide access to some of your favorite shows, but at a drastically lower cost.
If you’re game to make a change, it’s not that hard to cut the cord on cable. After all, you can easily order a Roku Box off Amazon and set up Netflix for $8 per month. And if you’re really into sitcoms, you can add Hulu Plus for an additional monthly charge. Depending on where you live, you can also try your luck with a basic HDTV antenna to pick up the traditional major networks in free, high-definition; in fact, you might receive more stations than you ever imagined.
Of course, there are other cheap alternatives to cable to consider as well, including a $20 monthly streaming service from SlingTV that offers live broadcast access to many cable-TV mainstays like ESPN, CNN, HGTV, History Channel, AMC, TBS, and more.
No. 3: An Expensive Smartphone Bill
With most of us living busy and on-the-go lives, a cell phone is no longer the splurge it once was. Many of us rely on mobile phones to stay in touch with work, keep in contact with our children, or communicate effectively while we travel.
Still, there are plenty of ways to cut your smartphone bill in half. And if you’re fed up with huge bills from leading providers like Verizon and AT&T, you can usually save a bundle by switching to a low-cost competitor.
Imagine cutting your $100 monthly phone bill to $50, or even $30, and what that could do for your finances. For a rundown of all of the best low-cost cell phone alternatives currently on the market, check out our post: Fed Up with Verizon & AT&T? Try One of These Cheap Cell Phone Plans Instead.
No. 4: Your Gym Membership
January brings droves of new customers to local gyms and community fitness centers. Sadly, a lot of those new subscribers will be M.I.A. and focused on something other than physical fitness by, say, March.
But your gym membership may not expire the moment you give up. If you signed a contract, you’re usually stuck with a monthly payment that lingers for a year or longer.
If you’re not making use of the gym, look into what it would take to break you contract. Run the numbers with respect to any penalty they charge, then decide if ending your contract makes financial sense. Or, at the very least, make sure your contact doesn’t renew! The last thing you need is another 12-month commitment to a gym you never see.
There are plenty of ways to get your workout for free if you’re willing to get creative. Pick up some exercise videos at the library, subscribe to a streaming exercise program for a fraction of the cost, or pick up a new sport or outdoors hobby. When it comes to exercising sans-gym, the options really are limitless.
- Related: The Best $125 I’ve Ever Spent?
No. 5: Unnecessary Banking Fees
If you’re paying late fees, overdraft fees, or account maintenance fees, there are plenty of ways to get this awful habit under control. Start by assessing your financial situation and figuring out where you’re going wrong. Why are you paying late fees, for example? Almost all unnecessary fees are avoidable if you’re able to get on top of your finances – and stay there.
Paying bills late and spending money you don’t have is a symptom is not being organized or disciplined enough to stay on track. To avoid late fees and overdraft fees, you should strive to get on a monthly budget and actually plan out your spending.
To avoid ATM fees and checking fees, you might just need to make some slight adjustments: Choosing direct deposit instead of a physical paycheck, for example, can often eliminate some account maintenance fees.
But if your account requires an exceptionally high average balance to avoid fees, or there simply aren’t enough in-network ATMs where you live, work, and play, you may need to switch banks altogether. Our post on the best free checking accounts in 2016 can help you avoid those pesky checking fees once and for all.
The Bottom Line
While it’s easy to think your monthly bills are a given, it might be time to look again. For every person who pays a perpetual car payment, there is one who banks that $482 per month instead. And for every person who splurges for a premium cable package, there is another who uses Hulu or Netflix and finds they now have a lot more free time – and free cash, too.
If you’re living close to the cuff and want to get ahead, you have two choices: Earn more money, or ax your expenses in a meaningful way. If you can’t do both, slashing your expenses is usually the easiest way to start getting ahead. It may hurt a bit at first, but the savings you score might be the best thing to ever happen to your finances.
What monthly bills do you live without? Do you think any of these bills are necessary? Why or why not?