Updated on 04.28.16

Reduce Your Debt and Minimize Your Monthly Bills

Trent Hamm

I usually look for the little things that we can do to reduce our spending – things like installing more energy-efficient light bulbs or preparing a meal at home. Those are nice because they are simple and generally only require one little change to create a benefit for your bottom line.

all your worthHowever, in the excellent personal finance book All Your Worth, the authors (Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi) make the astute point that a person should actually focus on the dollars and not the pennies. In other words, one big change is often worth as much as fifty small ones.

To that end, I’ve compiled a list of sixteen great hardcore tactics for minimizing your monthly bills. Most of these won’t work well in your life – that’s fine. If you can choose just one of these, though, and run with it, you’ll find a lot more breathing room in your financial life.

Transfer all of your debt to something with lower interest
If you’re paying down a lot of debt, it’s definitely well worth your time to see if there are any ways you can consolidate that debt and move it to a lower interest rate. Here are some options.

Call the credit card company and ask for a rate reduction. Flip over your credit card, dial the number on the back, and when you get a live person, ask to speak to a supervisor. Directly ask that supervisor for a rate reduction and, if you don’t get a positive response, suggest you may be moving your debt to another card via balance transfer.

Look for a zero or low-interest balance transfer offer. See if you have any credit card offers available to you that allow for a zero percent balance transfer – or a low interest transfer if your credit isn’t as good. Then use that offer! Transfer your higher interest debts to this balance.

Talk to your local credit union and see if you can get a personal loan or a home equity loan. These may allow you to consolidate at least some of your debt at a lower interest rate, thus saving you significant money over the long run.

Ditch your current car and get a highly fuel-efficient used one
The best bang for the buck you can possibly get in an automobile is a late model used highly fuel efficient car, like a 2005 Honda Insight. With gas prices as high as they currently are, you’re better off switching to such a car sooner rather than later, especially if you’re driving something that’s relatively inefficient in terms of fuel. If you drive 15,000 miles a year and are able to double your fuel efficiency from 18 miles per gallon to 36 miles per gallon, with fuel at $4 a gallon you save $1,667 a year on gas. That’s $138.89 a month.

Ditch your fuel-efficient car and rely on a bicycle and your own two feet
If you’ve already got a fuel efficient vehicle (that 36 miles per gallon one mentioned above, for example), then consider eliminating it if you can and use a bicycle, public transportation, and your own two feet for getting around. This would save $1,667 a year in gas alone over that fuel-efficient car using the mileage situation described above, and that’s not including saving on maintenance, oil changes, potential breakdowns, parking, and insurance. If your current car has a gas mileage worse than that, then the savings are even greater. At this point, if you need a car only a couple times a year, you’re better off getting rid of your car and just getting a rental during those times. If I lived in a large city, I would strongly consider going without a car, getting a carrier for my bike, and just using that for everything.

Form and manage a carpool
If you commute in your car more than even a few miles to work, look into setting up a carpool, or even just sharing a ride with a single other driver. If you can cut your commuting miles in half – and let’s say your total commute is 20 miles, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year – you reduce your driving miles by 2,400. If you’re driving an “average” car with a fuel efficiency of 24 miles per gallon, that’s 100 gallons of gas – $400 a year right there just by riding to work with the guy down the block.

Rent out a spare room (or rooms) in your home – or share a house with another family
For many families, the mortgage (or rent) eats up a major part of the monthly income. One big way to reduce that is to think outside the box a little – take on a boarder or another family to offset some of the cost. Not only could the household additions help pay the rent bill, but they can also help reduce food costs and other bills.

One place to look for such arrangements is within your own family. Perhaps someone you are related to needs a place to live for a while and thus the opportunity could be mutually beneficial. My wife and I have extended offers like this to both of her sisters individually and there’s a sizeable possibility that at least one of them will take us up on the offer.

Downgrade to smaller living quarters
Another option is to look at downgrading the size of your living quarters, though this may be difficult for some in overheated housing markets. If your living expenses are making your mortgage or rent payments difficult, recognize that there are other living options out there that can save you a lot of money in exchange for less space.

Look at your life right now: do you need all of the space available to you in your living quarters? If the answer is no, it’s worth your while to look into downgrading your living quarters a bit.

Buy a deep freezer, fill it with food on sale, and eat primarily out of it
A deep freezer is a fantastic way to save money as it lets you stock up on food by buying in bulk. You can do things by buying a large portion of a grass-fed cow at once, stocking up on beef, or hitting any exceptional food sales at local grocery stores really hard. Even better, you can also freeze things like whole tomatoes quite easily and unthaw them later on. You can also prepare whole meals in advance and store them in there.

These options all add up to significant food savings, and compared to the cost of a deep freezer, can add up to some serious cash over time. Our deep freezer saved us an estimated $200 over the last nine months, considering the bulk cost of the food we were able to store and the savings due to prepared meals that enabled us to eat cheaply at home.

Eliminate most beverage buying – switch to drinking tap water
If you drink soda, considering cutting out that habit and replacing it with water. It doesn’t change your health a bit, but if you can cut out three sodas a day, you’re saving about $20 a month. More than that and it’s gravy.

My technique is simply to fill bottles and put them in the fridge so I can grab them reflexively like I used to do with sodas.

Adopt cloth diapering from the start if you have kids
We’ve looked at real world analyses of cloth diapering and done our own, and we’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re having multiple children and are willing to invest in good cloth diapers up front, it’s way cheaper than doing it on your own.

Here’s the plan: ask for high-quality cloth diapers at any baby showers you have (we love bumGenius) and then stock up on the rest you need before the baby arrives. I recommend at least twenty diapers to start with, then adding more if you find your routine can use them. Then just establish a diaper washing routine – we wash ours twice a week in a careful routine. bumGenius (the ones we use) break even against Pampers Swaddlers (the disposables we used) in about seventy washings or so, and then after that it’s pure gravy, as your cost per diaper just gets lower and lower.

If you’re planning on having more than one kid and can get some of these diapers at a baby shower, jump on board now. This big choice will save you a ton of money over time.

Eliminate all hobbies that require buying new stuff with any regularity
If you’re engaged in a hobby that requires you to buy new stuff on a regular basis, like golf or gaming, consider looking for a new hobby, or at least one that requires less investment. In the past, I had a hobby (Magic: the Gathering) that required significant cash outlay on a regular basis – as much as $100 per month – to stay involved. It was a giant money drain and it took up time that I could have been devoting to other hobbies or to self-improvement.

If you’re involved in such a hobby, take some time to identify some of your other interests – particularly ones that are cheaper – and get involved in those interests. Reading is a cheaper hobby than golf, for example. Jogging is a cheaper hobby than collecting records. Learning an instrument from an older used model is far cheaper than collecting DVDs.

Eliminate your Netflix subscription or monthly allotment of rentals and hit the library
Many people who subscribe to Netflix or hit their local video rental store often are unaware of the free film rentals available to them at their local library. Head over there and check out what they have available – my library has an astounding collection of great films that we’re slowly going through over time. I’ll pretty much check out anything made in the 1940s, for example (that decade was the golden age of film, in my opinion).

If you can take that line item out of your budget, you’ve just whacked off at least $10 a month without any effort.

Avoid the bookstore (and amazon) and hit up your local library and PaperBackSwap
Even though I read several books a week, I haven’t purchased a book in several months. How do I do this? I hit the local library hard, checking out an armful once every other week, and I also hit PaperBackSwap hard as well.

Compared to my previous reading habits, which would have me buying an armful of books at the bookstore every few weeks, this has been a huge cash saver. It turned a relatively expensive hobby into one that borders on free – and is intellectually lifting as well.

Eliminate your cell phone bill and go to a prepaid phone
This works well if you don’t use many minutes at all each month – and I certainly don’t. I just want a cell phone that works in a pinch when I need it and nothing else, so why pay that $60 monthly bill?

Do a bit of shopping around and make sure you find the right offer for you – one with enough minutes for your needs but without that costly monthly bill. For us, I estimate that over the long haul I could easily save $40 a month to make this switch – the only thing keeping me from switching right now is the termination costs on my current contract, which is winding down right now.

Eliminate your land line and go exclusively to Skype
Similarly, I now use Skype for all of my phone usage when at home. I have a wireless phone that I carry around the house and use that for phone conversations, and I have a camera and microphone for videoconferencing. I can call any number in the U.S. and Canada and it only costs $2.95 a month – plus I get some minutes to use calling anywhere in the world.

This is a huge savings for us – about $38 a month cheaper and that doesn’t include any long distance charges that used to come from our landline. I find it just as convenient as our old service and a lot cheaper each month.

Switch banks for your primary checking and savings
Before I switched banks, I was getting hit with almost $20 a month in various maintenance fees and ATM charges – far too much. I eventually switched to ING Direct as my primary bank and haven’t been hit with any fee in over a year – not only that, I’m now earning significant interest on my checking balance and the online banking is much easier.

It’s not as hard as you think to switch, but it does require some effort. If your bank is dinging you with a lot of fees, though, this can be a huge money saver – and it can earn you some money, too.

Do your clothes shopping at a consignment shop
Most people shop for clothes and buy exclusively new stuff, not realizing they can get nearly new clothing for pennies on the dollar by checking out thrift stores and consignment shops. Start your clothes shopping at your local consignment shop instead of at your local department store and see how much you can save – you can often get the same quality clothes you normally buy for much cheaper, or much higher quality clothes for the same prices you normally pay.

I’ve not purchased a single article of clothing (aside from some socks in a pinch) at full price in more than a year and my wardrobe is doing just fine. Even better, it’s added up to a lot of cash in my pocket.

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  1. Joe says:

    Running out of content much – I’ve seen posts substantially similar to this one numerous times…

  2. Joe says:

    Running out of content much – I’ve seen posts substantially similar to this one numerous time…

  3. Shawn says:

    Since the beginning of the year I have cut out soda entirely, the first couple of weeks were kind of hard but nowadays I don’t miss it a bit. Over time the number of “life hours” I’ll receive (just a little bit earlier retirement) will be worth it by not using them up for habitual empty calories. Before I gave it up I tried to just drink a coke or two each week but I never could, I always wanted more.

  4. zeromoney says:

    some good ideas, but there’s a limit to the extent I would go to save money, cutting out golf? Not one of them.. how am I going to join the SPGA when I retire at 45?

  5. mgroves says:

    I kinda agree with Joe…I mean, how many times have you recommended cloth diapers and ING Direct already? I’m not saying you shouldn’t repeat important points, and I certainly don’t mean any offense (I know how hard it is to come up with new content).

  6. Shawn says:


    You probably read Trent’s post “Rinse and Repeat” already but if not it might give you your answer.


  7. Becky@FamilyandFinances says:

    I’ve always been a used-clothes shopper. The most fun thing is when I buy a shirt at a rummage sale. Then, when I decide I no longer like it, I sell it at a rummage sale and the cost was nothing!

    I’m also considering ditching the cell phone when my contract comes due next year. Skype and prepaid is sounding like the way to go!

  8. Bethh says:

    I think it’s highly ironic that the post complaining of reruns got posted twice.

    I’d like to see something in depth about Skype. Does my computer have to be on for it to work? What do I need to buy? etc.

  9. Sandy Naidu says:

    Debt consolidation is something which people tend to overlook quite often I find…Here in Australia, consolidating all your debt (Credit cards, car loans etc) into your mortgage is usually the best option…But people tend to have multiple loans…

  10. Kevin says:

    When switching to all digital phone services don’t forget the 911 implications.

  11. Laura says:

    I absolutely love using Skype for our landline. One month from the local company can pay for a year on Skype. We got a local number, so those without cell phones could call us at home.

    We’re going to buy a wirelss phone once we see one for the price we want.

    I’d also recommending buying a used washer and dryer instaed of renting one from your apartment complex. We found a pair for $150 on Craigslist. It beats the price the complex is offering.

  12. Jeremy says:

    I am planning on droping the cell contract and going pre-paid as well. Since I don’t make too many calls I think it is going to reduce my monthly phone bill by over 50%. Also, i might be wrong, but I thought any working phone could call 911 regardless of if it was activated by a contract, so if you got a old phone from ebay or something for a few bucks, you could keep it around for that case, right?

  13. Aimee says:

    @ Kevin and Jeremy: I’ve donated old cell phones to a service that gives them to battered women for emergencies. They told me that the phones will call 911 (and only 911) with out the SIM card.

  14. Evan says:

    Cutting soda not only helps your wallet, it is also one of the healthiest things you can do. 3 sodas a day??? Thats over 300 EMPTY calories. Not to mention that the amount of sugars in regular cokes are almost more than you need daily, and both the regular and diet types are FULL of unnatural chemicals.

  15. Luke F says:

    I love this post, regardless if you have someone who wants to hate on it. The two that I do and enjoy:
    Deep freezer (You can save A TON like you mentioned)
    Skype (Just started this and am a huge fan.

  16. Bill says:

    12 ounces of sweetened soda is almost 200 calories.

    Prepaid cellphones are usually cheaper up to around 300 minutes/month.

    The biggest savings IMHO is cutting housing costs.

    I grew up in a family of 4 in a big house – nearly 6,000 sq.ft., and I know what that costs.

    I chose instead to raise my family of 4 in under 1,500 sq.ft. (previous generations got by w/ much less)

    If I had cash flow issues, I’d absolutely move the kids into one bedroom and rent the other to a relative.

    You don’t need 1,000 sq.ft. per person. :)

  17. Lurker Carl says:

    If someone really needs to cut monthly bills, they need to live like it’s 1950. Most of the things people waste money on came into existance within the last 30 years. It’s a hard and painful transition from the lap of luxury to basic necessity. These recommendations sound like mass media fluff.

    Having been a landlord for many years, I ran across a wide assortment of folks in dire financial straits. Most insisted on keeping airs of success while wondering where the next meal was coming from. Keeping a roof over their heads seemed to be a low priority. You’d be shocked at how wasteful folks who can least afford it can be, their unpaid bills kept coming long after they left.

    Folks in this predicament can’t afford to spend money in order to save money. Anyone who doesn’t know where their next dime is coming from can’t pay $100 for CFLs on the hope of saving $10 on the next electric bill. They need to reduce their HVAC and hot water consumption, lighting is a small fraction of home energy use by comparison.

    I suggest adopting activities that both pay and save money, like cutting neighborhood lawns for cash and ditching the gym membership. Folks need to learn to do things that other’s will pay for. Why waste time gaming when your financial world is collapsing? That’s kin to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

    Skype requires broadband to work properly. Individuals need to determine which is least expensive, a basic landline or broadband? Don’t use a phone for long distance communications, write letters instead. Even with stamps at 43 cents, it’s a bargin.

    Trade the WagonQueen for an Insight? Anyone ever tried to haul the family in an Insight? Either learn to drive what you have efficiently or ditch it for a 10 year old Corolla. A well maintained, used econobox will be less expensive over time than any hybrid when total money outlay is considered.

    ING Direct requires a brick and mortar bank. Most folks in deep debt can’t keep enough cash in a bank account to avoid fees. They’d be better off going to a cash-only lifestyle and purchasing money orders instead of a traditional checking account and the associated fees and expenses.

    Instead of buying a freezer, learn to use dried beans, grains and fresh/canned goods. No up front expense, no increased electric usage.

  18. Debbie M says:

    I’m doing eight of these: transfer all debt to something with lower interest (all my debt is in my mortgage, and I refinanced for a lower rate), form and manage a carpool (actually, I let the bus company do that; my commuting miles are down to zero), rent out a spare room (I have a roommate), downgrade to smaller living quarters (my house is half the average size of a new house in my area), eliminate most beverage buying (I buy only milk and juice and drink mostly water), avoid the bookstore (I purchase less than one book or movie per month now; I only buy things I’ll want to use over and over or lend to everyone I meet), switch banks (I have no fees and a high-interest online savings account), and shop for clothes at a consignment shop (actually, I mostly shop at thrift stores).

    Holy frugality, Batman, I must be rich by now! I guess I sort of am. Just not rich enough to retire RIGHT NOW like I want to.

  19. livvy says:

    In defense of Netflix, I enjoy coming home and having my movies already there instead of going to the library. If you have 20ish bucks to spare (or less!), it can make up for the gas that you need to get yourself to the library in the first place. Also, if you find that you’re too busy for a month or so, they give you the option to postpone your subscription for a few months.

  20. Steve says:

    Sorry, most of these tactics aren’t very hardcore.

    Not hardcore: Get a deep freezer. (at $266 a year it’s going to take multiple years for that to pay off)
    Hardcore: Going vegetarian. Then you don’t need a freezer to put meat in because you’re not eating meat.
    Really hardcore: grow your own vegetables in your front yard

    Not hardcore: Transferring cc balanaces around
    Hardcore: Swearing off credit cards forever and going cash only
    Really hardcore: swearing off cash and going into the barter economy?

    Not hardcore: buying designer clothes at consignment stores
    Hardcore: Living with the clothes you already own, getting your clothes from the per-pound bin at the thrift store outlet
    Really Hardcore: Spending a year in one “little brown dreess”

    Not hardcore: buying a new (even if just new-to-you) hybrid car
    Hardcore: Taking public transit and bicycle and having no car altogether
    Really hardcore: I got nothin on this, you win one. Although you didn’t consider the cost of bus fare/buying a decent bicycle/etc.

  21. !wanda says:

    About smaller housing: In general, I agree about living in a smaller space. But I loved having my own room as a child with a door that could lock. As a child, I constantly felt that my time and my stuff weren’t really mine- my parents could interrupt me at any time and order me to do something or could take my stuff at any time, and that was proper because I was their child. They generally didn’t, but they made it clear that they could, and I was a constitutively paranoid child. Having that door there, even with a lock that one could pick with a toothpick, gave me a lot of psychological relief.

  22. Mary Frances says:

    I’d also recommend dropping cable or satellite tv. That saves us $50 a month and it wasn’t until we stopped watching tv that we had time to pursue side business that are now (early-on) already generating $50 a month of cash-flow. So that’s $100/m improvement to cash flow and we are enjoying life more w/o tv.

  23. Andy says:

    In some areas, you can get a job as a “live-in” staff person serving people with disabilities. I did this for four years when I was in my twenties. I got paid to live someplace for free, how good is that.

  24. !wanda says:

    @Lurker Carl: Your advice and Trent’s advice in this post are both valid for different segments of the population. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Of course you can’t buy an efficient car if you’re living meal-to-meal, but if you can afford to spend more today to save a lot more tomorrow, you should consider doing that. Trent’s readers span the range from on the verge of financial collapse to having no debt and amassing real wealth. He can’t write a post that addresses everyone equally all at once without making it so general that people get bored.

  25. Todd says:

    Dude.. I hope you buy new underwear too besides socks.


  26. Lisa says:

    **Even better, you can also freeze things like whole tomatoes quite easily and unthaw them later on**

    Do you not mean *thaw*


  27. April says:

    Did you know that you can also purchase prepaid minutes on ebay for less than elsewhere? It could help, perhaps.

  28. John says:

    The downsizing vehicle suggestion is actually not correct. There have been a couple of analysis done by CNN, Consumer Reports, etc. that show that downsizing your vehicle to a more fuel efficient vehicle will not save more money over the life of the lease or purchase. Fuel is only one factor and it is actually more economic in most vehicle segments to keep your current vehicle and not purchase a new, more fuel efficent vehicle.

  29. boomie says:

    If readers are commenting that they ‘heard that, did that’ already, it’s because we are coming to the end of ideas to keep costs low. There comes a point of ROI, return on investment, where all tactics have been exhausted and you have to face the fact that your quality of life is now in jeopardy. Expect quality of life, standard of living to be reduced when you have reached your own personal ROI.

    President Bush went to Saudi Arabia today to beg the Saudi’s to pump more oil. They ‘slapped’ him in the face and told him no. Expect gas rationing by next year if Americans don’t find and use a solution to get us off our dependence on oil.

  30. Jay says:

    I, too, take issue with a deep freezer being cost effective. Factor in not only the cost of purchasing the freezer, but also the added electricity you’re using ( at least 2500 kW/yr; equaling $300/yr in our area!), the specialty materials needed to wrap foods in, and the inevitable loss of food because of forgetting it or improper packaging. Canning foods and eating seasonally are much more cost efficient, and the experienced shopper quickly recognizes that sales are cyclical and only limited stockpiling of any sort makes sense.
    Of course, if you produced ALL your own foods it might be practical!

  31. Diane says:

    Our 13 cubic foot freezer costs us $27 per year in electricity in Cleveland, Ohio. It has been the biggest moneysaver for us to date. If you buy an Energy Star it won’t cost much at all!

  32. Joy says:

    I’d love to see a post sometime about the pre-paid cell phone options. How good a deal can you really get? I look sometimes online, but have not yet found anything that’s much less than my ultra-basic monthly rate. It would be helpful to know if I’m finding the deals, or somehow missing them.

    And also, more details on using Skype and how the sound quality is.

    I enjoy the blog – keep it up!

  33. Carlos says:

    Hey Trent-

    I have to question how healthy eating frozen foods really is. I personally beleive that eating frozen vegetables is okay, but frozen meat isn’t…

    Going to the farmers market times a week may not save money, but, eating well is one of the best things you can do.

  34. Sense says:

    whoa, 3 sodas a day…! i think you’ve covered that you are a recovering soda addict, but it still blows my mind…

  35. felix says:

    One thing you haven’t mentioned is getting good insulation for your house. Especially those windows. If you don’t have double windows or double-paned windows it is a really good idea to install a set.

    Good insulation really cuts down your heating/cooling costs.

  36. Nora says:

    Something to note:

    Purchasing clothing at consignment stores works very well for children. It works very well for adults on the smaller side.

    If you are woman who wears a size 16 or above, don’t bother. Unless the local store actually sorts the plus size clothing from the smaller size, you will almost NEVER find anything that is age appropriate, work appropriate, or wearable at a price that is low.

    If you are over a size 20? Don’t even bother.

    Even when going frugal, time is worth something. And if you are a large size, you are far better of saving, and buying things on super sale at Lane Bryant, TJMaxx, Ross, or my fave, the Macy’s 65 percent off clearance sale.

    Because otherwise you will spend hours looking through the racks, with nothing to show.

    I assume the same issue applies for Big & Tall men- but consignment & thrift can be a huge waste of time for certain people- it’s easier to get a second job with that time than to spend it pawing through racks to find _nothing_.

    And very few things are worse from a ‘perception of others’ perspective, or make you look extraordinarly poor, than a complete failure to have any clothing that fits.

  37. Jay says:

    Diane: I’d be interested in how you figured $27/year for the freezer. i can’t imagine a freezer running on that little electricity!

  38. Cheapie says:

    If you live in a densely settled area, especially retail/commercial, don’t pay for broadband. Buy a wi-fi dongle ($20 on sale) and use the free wireless that is being piped into your living room 24/7.

  39. Spartan says:

    Move close to work. Save on commuting expense and have more time to yourself. Find a living situation that is free or cheap. Help out an older relative or friend by living in their house and helping them out with the work of owning a home. Pay their heat, electric, gas and water instead of rent. Win/win.
    Learn to cook. Eating out is just paying somebody else to cook, for a big price. Only buy basics and spices. You can eat well for cheap.

  40. Derffie says:

    That get a more fuel efficient car thing is very misleading.. you had to pick some serious mpg differences to get to a $1667 savings.. but then ignored the loss of income from the money you paid for this highly fuel efficent car.. in my case that would be giving up 6% interest on say $20K or $1200 lost interest income.. worse yet if there were finance charges involved.. and you gave no accounting for the increase in auto insurance for this new car…
    I know you didnt explicitly say geta new car but then again how many fuel efficient cheap vehicles are you aware of just sitting around waiting to be bought for a low price…

  41. Katie says:

    Trent, I’ve been considering buying a deep freeze for a few months now but am holding back in part because I’m not convinced that it would really save us money. I would **love** to see a post from you going in to detail about how your deep freeze saves you money! (BC like some other comments mention, the cost of the freezer, plus the cost of electricity and packaging… seems to negate any cost savings on food.) thank you!

  42. k E n says:

    actually i kind of half agree with Joe.

    I started reading thesimpledollar 2 years ago and have been enjoying ever since. I love the way Trent writes stuff. Yet, ever since he quit his job (couple of months back), lots of posts in thesimpledollar seems to be either a tad too long or repetitive at times. It may not be so obvious but i think Trent had a subtle change to his way of writing post. Perhaps you write better under pressure/time constrains? ;)

    Just my two cents.

  43. Mike says:

    ditto comment number 7. Please explain skype a little better.

  44. Questionable says:

    Trent, I have an ice maker but when I travel, I make my own ice to save money. And if I am thirsty and its melting, I drink it on the way

  45. Helen says:

    I considered a freezer, but my sister said that when she used to use a deep freeze, it wasn’t all that worthwhile. She had monthly deliveries of bulk meat packages, some of which would be poor quality, and almost everything had to be used up before she could re-order. Using plenty of beans and pulses and fresh seasonal veg is a great idea – simple soups, stews and bakes can be cheap and tasty.

    I’m always pleased to find ideas that aren’t based on coupons (which don’t seem to be in existence outside the USA) and debt reduction, since I’ve already done that – the challenge now is saving.

    I don’t mind repeat posts as often I might have missed the original, and they are helpful for new readers.

  46. KC says:

    I use Virgin Mobile for my prepaid phone and love it. I have – it’s only the initial price of the phone ($50 and the phone will probably last 5 years like most phones) and only a $20 charge quarterly. I have no idea how many minutes that is cause I never use them. It’s only for emergencies – I hate to talk on the phone and I don’t want people calling me on it.

    I’m cutting drinks out of my life too. It’s hard, but I’m trying. I live in a city with natural aquifers underneath and that is our water supply – its better than any bottled water – so why should I pay for anything else?

  47. L says:

    I love Skype! I’ve not had a landline for almost 3 years. We have a local skype-in number and a UK skype-in number so our friends and family can call at local rates. The sound quality is excellent, only once in 4 years of using it have I had a problem and I got a credit the next day.
    I would love a chest freezer, but sadly there is no room in our little apartment- one day though!

  48. Tish says:

    My experience with pre-paid wasn’t great. I thought it would really work for me (T-Mobile) because though I don’t have a landline, I was using maybe 150/month on a 600 min/month plan. I bought 1,000 minutes that I thought would last for a long time. Wrong! They ding you for everything, and those things come out of the money you’ve put on your phone as pre-paid, which in turn cuts down on the minutes you have. Also, there is no itemized bill anymore, which means you really just take their word for it as to how many miutes you do actually use. HATE! I ended up paying 2x as much as I did when I had my plan, grrrrr, and found myself like on those commericals where everyone talks really fast so their minutes don’t get used up.. lol.. Well, that was my experience, anyway. It may totally work for you..! Good luck!

  49. Chris says:

    Trent, a post on your experience with Skype would be terrific… we just got it to talk with friends who moved to China, and I’ve looked at switching exclusively to Skype, but concerns about possible differences in quality with a landline have prevented us from making the switch. So a post devoted to Skype would be helpful.

  50. Sparkyk1971 says:

    I cannot overstate the usefulness of taking in a roommate/boarder. My 2 BR condo was too big for me and my bills – I was making it, but tight. Since renting my second bedroom my carbon footprint is smaller and I am further ahead financially than I would have ever been without her. She also very helpful to have around and takes care of my cats when I’m away. If you want to save some real dough and maybe can’t or don’t want to move from your current digs, take in a roommate or two.

  51. Tori says:

    I also am not a great fan of pre-paid cell plans. When I moved in with my boyfriend last year, I dropped my AT&T plan and signed up for a prepaid plan.

    First of all, I had to buy a new phone and SIM card, even though a) I had a contract with AT&T for two years and b) the model of my phone was offered as a pre-paid phone from AT&T. That was an extra $30 right there.

    I found the phone useful through the fall, as I would go on one long-distance trip per month and keep those at my destination updated on my progress.

    This winter, however, was particularly brutal. I didn’t travel from Christmas through mid-February. I had refilled my phone with $15 worth of minutes during the holidays. Imagine my surprise when I found out during a trip in February that AT&T had canceled my pre-paid account. I didn’t read the fine print that said I had to use the phone at least once a month.

    That cost me another $13 or so – nearly as much as one month of my former cell phone plan! I hate cell phone companies, but cell phones have their uses – I’m probably going to get a monthly contract again.

  52. Johanna says:

    About beverages: If you get sick of drinking water all the time, try iced tea. Take any kind of tea bag, put it in a bottle of water, stick it in the fridge, and a few hours later you’re good to go. You don’t have to just stick to the kind that say they’re for iced tea. And for the love of god, do not use the Celestial Seasonings “cool brew iced teas” – they are vile. Any kind of tea bag will do. White tea and fruity herbal tea are some of my favorites.

    About going carless: If you don’t live in a place where you can get by on bikes and public transportation, move to a place where you can. (Or, the next time you find yourself moving anyway, choose a new location where you can get by without a car.) This doesn’t have to be as extreme as moving from rural Iowa to New York City. It could be as simple as moving from the suburbs to a different part of the suburbs. It may just be a mile or two that separates a house that’s on a convenient bus route to your workplace and one that’s not.

  53. Lisa says:

    Love to see a post comparing skype, prepaid, and magic jack.

  54. LoveandSalt says:

    My hardcore idea: give up wine. Much more expensive than soda, which I don’t drink anyway. But giving up my nightly two (three?) glasses will require a real shift. I figure to save $50 a week on this one alone. (I’d rather quit drinking than drink cheap wine, I admit.)

  55. PChan says:

    Hardcore: Going vegetarian. Then you don’t need a freezer to put meat in because you’re not eating meat.

    Yes, because no one freezes produce they grow or buy from the farmer’s market at all! And stores don’t sell frozen vegetables and fruits, like, ever.

  56. brooke says:

    Over the past year, I have disovered the benefits of putting my Netflix account on hold. I only have my account activated for four or five (non-consecutive) months a year. During those months, I watch anything I am interested in that has been newly released during the months my account has been on hold.

    This allows me to stay fairly current with new movies without paying for Netflix, year-round. Additionally, I find myself excited to watch movies during my “activated” months and don’t let them sit around collecting dust…I get my money’s worth.

  57. KellyKelly says:

    Question about renting out the spare room —

    Do you have to claim the rent as income? Thus, pay taxes on it?

    If so, I guess that should be factored into the amount you will charge for rent.

    I have never seen this issue addressed in discussions about renting out spare rooms.

  58. jonathan says:

    There are AMERICAN vehicles that get good gas mileage too… the more people who buy Japanese cars, the more Americans in Detroit are losing their jobs. It may save money for Americans who go this route, but if keeping that money in the American economy means spending a little bit more, so what?

    Don’t forget to spend your economic stimulus checks at Wal*mart too so we can line China’s pockets too.

    I really like the advice in this blog, I read it every day as I am a young person with very limited knowledge of how the world works (financially) but don’t tell me Americans should be discouraged from buying an American product just because it costs a little extra. If more Americans did it, it wouldn’t cost so much…right?

  59. George says:

    I vote Lurker Carl for secretary of the treasury!

    Can you live in today’s world like it was the ’40s or ’50s? Maybe, but it would be dull. Unless… you can borrow game time from your friends/neighbors (heck, isn’t that why you have friends? to have interactions with them?), use the cellphone that work supplies you, cruise the internet from work, get your videos from the library, own a well-used stylish car, hang out in parks, be a pedestrian for enjoyment and exercise.

  60. Bill says:

    Freezer economics:

    Large chest freezer (15 cubic feet): about $350 new, I got mine for $25 used.

    Looking at the energy rating, the above (new) uses about one kilowatt-hour per day (about 10 cents/day).

    Buying in bulk: I buy skim milk 6 gallons at a time at Costco, saving at least $1/gallon over even “loss-leader” milk at the convenience store.

    I just bought 6 loaves of pre-sliced sandwich bread at the “dead bread” store – again, saving at least $1/loaf over the cheapest grocery.

    Both of the above freeze and thaw nicely.

    That doesn’t count the free food we freeze (berries, etc.)

    Freezing food takes less energy and less time than canning (very time and energy intensive), and I’m sure one loses less nutrients freezing vs. canning.

    Buy your own food – delivery services such as Schwann’s are very high-priced.

  61. Ryan says:

    @ Steve (# 20)


  62. vicki says:

    I would love to have an apartment sized freezer if it was second hand. I cook just for me and don’t care much to cook every day..when I do I like to be able to make batches and freeze them. My small apartment fridge doesn’t have a big freezer nor does it freeze very well.

    I’m vegan and saving some money not buying dairy and meat. Lots of goodies you can make without animal products in them.

    I think this is a really great blog! And some things do bear repeating…new readers will appreciate the suggestions we’ve already read. When I see topics about diapers, I scroll through fast :) Easy.

    Keep up the good work Trent! Much appreciated.

  63. Rob Madrid says:

    k E n: I thought the opposite, Trents writting has improved since he quit his job. Still how he manages to come up with 2 posts a day is quite amazing.

    Regarding a deep freeze if you childless you don’t need it. Wife and I bought one when we were first married and then sold it after it sat empty for a few months. An average sized fridge has more than enough freezer room for everything. My freezer currently contains 15 single portion meals (that I made myself), 2 large packages of hamburger, several packages of frozen veggies, you get the point, loads of room.

    I don’t understand how a anyone short of a large family could fill it.

  64. Erica says:

    Even though you have mentioned alot of these things before, I loved that you put them all together this way. Just wanted you to know that I have linked a post to your blog and this article, so my readers can learn from you, too. I have been reading your blog daily for quite a while and enjoy your ideas and perspective. Thanks! And BTW, I just received a used freezer (we are missionaries in Mexico) and have been working to fill it up with bargains and extra meals that I cook while cooking for each day. It has been a HUGE blessing to us and is saving us lots of money!

  65. nuveena says:

    Re: Freezers.

    Freezers will save you money in the long run a couple of ways. As mentioned in the article, you can stock up on food when it’s on sale or buy things in bulk and keep it in the freezer. Freezers will also save you money because when you make meals, you can make extra and freeze the leftovers. Then during the week, when you’re tired from work and you don’t feel like cooking, you have a home cooked (and healthier) meal you can just heat up instead of eating out or getting take out.

  66. KoryO says:

    You want hardcore savings ideas? Ok…..

    Get a reel push mower. Yup, the “people powered” kind, the kind that doesn’t need electricity or gasoline to operate.

    I’m friendly to the environment (no emissions), I don’t drown out the lovely sounds of local birds, I don’t even have to spend money on a gym. I occasionally have to sharpen the thing, maybe give it a squirt of WD40 once a year.

    And did I mention it’s generally much cheaper to buy than an electric or gasoline model??? (I admit, went for the “expensive” $110 model. I’m such a spendthrift.)

  67. lorax says:

    What makes me wonder though, is that these authors tend to focus on the big 5 – house, car, health insurance, education, and insurance (IIRC). In _The Two Income Trap_ expressed the opinion that consumption in the US is fine as it is. I’m not sure they’d agree with Trent. (For what it matters, I think his list is fine.)

    Maybe they changed their tune with _All Your Worth_? I haven’t read it.

  68. Wendy says:

    The books mentioned (All Your Worth) changed my life. It was the one that finally got me on the road to financial responsibility. The idea of balancing your your income between saving, necessities and disposable income really struck a chord with me and actually got me to change my ways. I recommend this book to anyone struggling with their budget and spending. Trent – not sure if you have devoted a column to a review of this book, but if not, it would be an excellent one to write a column with a summary of the concepts. I can’t imagine anyone NOT being moved by the message and ease of applying the concept.

  69. Vanessa says:

    @Tish. I have a T-Mobile prepaid plan as well. My only complaint is the coverage. I live in a fairly good-sized town but the surrounding areas are rural and I have no reception when I travel to them. I buy 1,000 minutes at a time since at that amount they don’t expire for a year. They last me about 6 months but I can stretch them out as long as ten months if I’m careful.

    As far as “dinging” you for everything, it depends on what you use the phone for. Mine is mainly just for emergencies, but if you like to text, IM, or surf the web, yes it will cost you and a prepaid plan probably isn’t the best for that kind of useage. I try to keep up with how many minutes I use and while it seems like I should have more than they claim, I don’t doubt that they’re accurate. When I really pay attention at the end of each call, I’m surprised by how many minutes I’ve just used.

  70. Wendy says:

    Um, did you just say that NOT drinking 3 cans of pop a day and replacing it with water wouldn’t affect your health and you’d only be doing it for the monetary savings? Or did I read that wrong?

  71. Carolyn says:

    The water idea seems like the best for me personally, and we have a Britta filter on our tap, but I’m confused about the bottles. I’ve been hearing about not reusing the plastic bottles because of chemicals that leach into the weater. So, is there a type that is safe?

    Also, I love to buy clothes from thrift stores. Sometimes they are brand new with tags still attached, but there is an advantage to the clothes that are not new, because you see exactly what you get after they are washed. I hate it when I buy something new and the first time I wash it it shrinks into an odd shape or just doesn’t fit like it did the first time I wore it.

  72. Alex says:

    Carolyn, Sigg and Klean Kanteen both make metal (aluminum and stainless steel, respectively) water bottles that will last forever and won’t leach anything into your water. They’re pricey (about $20), but certainly worth it to me.

  73. Lurker Carl says:

    Unless you’re processing fresh produce and slaughtering your own meat to freeze for feeding a large family, a deep freezer is a waste of money. Use the one that comes with your refrigerator!

  74. one of nine says:

    Ok, I read your posts out of order, so I got the one about choosing NOT to install a clotheline and now this about “hardcore” ways to cut the monthly bills. Am I the only one who sees the discrepancy here? If you’re not willing to put up a clothesline, these other “hardcore” tactics fall very flat. “Hardcore” implied a serious committment and taking a risk to save money. I have saved more money by using my clothesline that almost any other frugal tactics you’ve recommended. So in order for you not to look like a hypocrite, I’d re-think your position on the “clothesline-equals-poverty” and tone down the “hardcore” description of these tactics you’ve just described.

  75. one of nine says:

    Oh, yeah, I forgot about the car theory…I’m consistently surprised when people say the only way to get a fuel-efficient car is to buy a relatively new hybrid!

    My first car was a 1987 Honda CRX which I drove until it had 250,000 miles with virtually no maintainence outside of oil changes, 40mpg city and 45mpg highway.

    Then I purchased a 1995 Honda Civic coupe with 90,000 miles, virtually no maintainence outside of oil changes (it will go for another 100k, easy) from which I get 35mpg city and 40mpg highway.

    You can purchase a well-maintained 1995-1998 model Civic for anywhere between $2,500 and $4,000 and plan on driving it for at least ten years. What’s not to love about that???

    My husband is a used car dealer and he can’t keep enough of these Civics on the lot anymore, now that people are finally getting concerned about gas milage. Honda has been making high-quality, high-mpg cars for over two decades, and no one has picked up on that???

  76. Paul says:

    I agree with Beth above. $2.95 a month for phone service? Please, tell me more!

    Also, I switched to a prepaid phone when my contract with Verizon expired and can’t tell you how much happier I am not paying that bill.

  77. Sara says:

    I’m a big fan of Virgin Mobile. I don’t have a land line, and my Virgin Mobile cell phone costs me $5/month (if you allow them to automatically charge your credit card, the minimum to keep the phone active is $15 every 90 days; otherwise, it’s $20 every 90 days). The key is Virgin Mobile’s “Sugar Mama” program, which allows you to get up to 75 free minutes per month for watching ads. Prepaid is a good deal only if you don’t talk much, so if you make the switch, you might need to cut back on phone calls.

    I’m keeping my Netflix subscription, but I still consider it a money-saving move because the $18/month is a lot cheaper than cable TV. I don’t even own a TV — I watch the DVDs on my computer. The library is a 9-mile round trip from my home, so just the gas to get to and from the library would cost over $1/trip.

  78. Holly says:

    I’ll chime in and say that I, too, would love a post on the nitty gritty details of how Skype works.

    Also, I would like to know more about the impact to 911 of going all digital. I know that cell phones CAN call 911, but we installed a landline after our baby was born because:
    – sometimes we misplace the cell phones
    – sometimes the cell phones run low on batteries
    – I read somewhere that 911 can pinpoint your location faster if you call from a landline (is this still true?)

    We had lived happily without a landline for years, and even now we don’t actually use it often; but it does make me feel better in case of an emergency.


  79. Also Dave says:

    There’s not one Honda Insight for sale within 100 miles of Philadelphia, PA on cars.com. So, the Civic would be a better example.

  80. Also Dave says:

    Let me add, there’s only one (1) Honda Insight listed for sale in the whole country! So, if you’re near Sacramento, have at it.

  81. Paul says:

    @ Holly:

    I used to work for the polce department as a 911 call taker awhile ago and this is how it works.

    A landline phone will give us your name, location and call back telephone number making it easier to get help to you if accidentally disconnected. This is known as ANI/ALI, automated number identifier and automated location identifier.

    A cellphone gives us the number and the address of the nearest cell phone tower where your call was routed through. If disconnected, we try to call back, but if you don’t answer we can’t send help.

    And yes, all cell phones are allowed to call 911 (for free) wether activated or not. And all payphones for that matter.

  82. Vicky says:

    I have had this book for some time and it makes a lot of sense. Focus on the big stuff! It drives me crazy when people think that cutting out lattes and making your own dish detergent (two of the more commonly hyped examples in ‘frugal living’ tomes) are going to get them out of the red.

  83. Hey–new reader here!

    I’ve read bits of All Your Worth and some of the discussions that have taken place about it on this website. Perhaps they address this is in the book but I would like to know the difference between pennies and dollars. For example, wouldnt netflix count as a WANT and thus come from 30% of your monthly budget that is set aside for such things? If netflix is $15/month how is cutting this out not different from advocating for cutting back on lattes?

  84. Jon says:

    Can you pick another car to use for examples beside the Honda Insight? They are hard to find and you won’t really fit more than 2 people in it. Why not buy a decent, small 4 door that gets good gas mileage? Honda Insights are hard to find. I can throw a rock and hit a Civic or Corolla that is for sale.

  85. Scott says:

    I severely disagree with one of your points in this article. You state that dropping the sodas will not impact your health – which is a false claim. Sodas are high on sweeteners and low on any kind of nutrients: which makes for fattening “empty” calories. Furthermore, the sweetener used in most sodas today – high fructose corn syrup – is under ever-increasing scrutiny as a major health risk. I cut out all normal sodas and instead allow myself one or two sodas a week that are sweetened with pure cane sugar and I noticed a dramatic drop in my weight/waist size as well as increased energy and less facial blemishes.

  86. Bella says:

    We purchased the smallest upright freezer available (space limitations at the old house)- and there have been times when I wished we got the big one. As an earlier poster noted, I freeze milk, bread, butter, grated cheese, and (thanks Jane Brody!) pickles, as well as stews, casseroles, broth, etc. Between bargain shopping and keeping us out of restaurants (too tired to cook – go to the freezer), it is a serious money saver for us (family of three).

    Trent – my favorite articles are when you break down the amount you save on a given activity (ex. the laundry soap).

  87. Linda says:

    Rather than subscribe to Netflix, an alternative to borrowing from the library is the Redbox. For $1 per day, you can rent a current DVD. We have the redbox in our local supermarket. Easy to pick up a movie to watch on a Sat evening. Return the next day by 9 PM. Better than a video store!

  88. Lynn says:

    “If you drink soda, considering cutting out that habit and replacing it with water. It doesn’t change your health a bit, but if you can cut out three sodas a day, you’re saving about $20 a month. More than that and it’s gravy.” I beg to differ. I replaced sodas with water and lost 10 pounds in 3 months.

  89. Rosa says:

    Kellykelly – we rented out rooms in our house for years and from what I could find, renting shared space is a big grey area (renting out unshared space, like an attic room w/outside stairs, makes you a legal landlord, subject to licensing, equal opportunity, and other laws.)

    We did report for income tax purposes, on the “always report any income” principle, and for clear consciences – and also then we could deduct a portion of our utilities. In general it didn’t cause as much net change in our tax liability as it did in our income – we were going to heat those rooms anyway, and the extra water is cheap. Plus we saved more money by sharing food & chores, though that’s not as quantifiable.

    But we found that in terms of other legal requirements of landlords, we got a different answer from every legal authority we checked with, including the city tenant/landlord association – can your home be seized if your tenant is storing drugs in their room? Maybe. Are you legally required to heat to a certain temperature or give warning before you enter the tenant’s room? Probably not. Et cetera.

    And I found that living with another person is a lot of work, so now with the rental market lower it’s just not worth the money – I could get more cash for fewer hours of work with a second job, if we needed it. This may not be true depending on how your house is (we only have one bathroom, for example.)

  90. carmela says:

    DO YOU WANT LEARN HOW SAVE MONEY OR EVEYTHING OR BETTER HOW TO LIVE WITH NEARLY NOTHING? travel and live in some underdevelped country.I come from one,and still alive.YOU WILL SURVIVE.

  91. Sheilagh says:

    I really like your blog!!
    I see a lot of interest in using Skype. I have been using Skype and have introduced many people to it. I love it!. I have the netgear phone with a US skype number for incoming calls. I have a good headphone for Skype to Skype calls from the computer. You don’t have to have the phone if you have a good headset, but I like to keep it separate so that I can chat while my husband is using the computer, and walk around with it. At this moment you can buy a Skype number for $30 for a year and then connection between US & Canada for $2.95 per month, free calling to both countries after that. There are other world packages available for very reasonable prices as well. You can also buy numbers in other countries if you have someone in that country contacting you on a regular basis. They then only pay local call charges from their landline to your Skype number. Great if that person has no computer connection. The Skype web site is extremely user friendly so check it out. I have not had any problem with call quality and wouldn’t dream of changing whilst it is so good. I just wish I could get a Canadian number!!! I am surprised at Canada and hope they will consider it soon.

  92. michael bash says:

    freeze and then “unthaw”. How exactly do you do that? I usually just thaw frozen things.

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