Living below your means is the key to financial independence. Whether you are trying to get out of debt or you are in the accumulation phase, you always need to earn more than what you spend. If you earn less than you spend, you will fall into an ever-increasing amount of debt. With a good budget and proper planning, anyone can succeed.
Think about your life as a business, you always need to turn out a profit.
If you think about your personal finances as a business, would you invest in yourself right now? As a business, you need to put yourself accountable to not only make money but also to return a profit after expenditures. For example, if you have start-up costs (student loans) you should have a viable repayment plan that will rapidly turn your finances positive. You need to boss around your finances, don’t let them boss you.
Think about your fixed costs
The first step to a good financial plan is knowing your fixed expenses since they are easy to track and usually essentials (Mortgage/Rent, Phone, Electricity). You can make a list of all your recurring bills and see if there is anything you could cut or downsize without hindering your well-being. For me, the obvious things were cutting cable and reducing my bill from $60/month to $8/month with Netflix. I also bought a cheaper house that I could afford and lowered my electricity bill with smarter house temperatures.
There is plenty of ways to save on your fixed costs that might be slightly less convenient but offer great returns. Living a frugal lifestyle does not mean living a boring lifestyle. I suggest you find a proper balance in frugality to optimize your savings and happiness. Here are 10 tips to become the boss of your finances!
1. Getting a non-smart phone can lower your bill to as low as $10/month. If you are currently paying more than $50/month for your current plan you could be saving a lot over a year and even more over decades. A great alternative to this is to have a smartphone without a data plan. With wifi readily available everywhere you should not have a problem to connect with the world without paying the high premium of data plans.
2. To help pay your housing costs, you can get a roommate if you have extra rooms. This one might be more of an inconvenience and lifestyle change than other suggestions but it can make you save around $300 to $1000 a month. I can imagine the drastic change in lifestyle it would be to have 4 or 5 roommates but I had one roommate and I truly enjoyed it. Having a roommate gives you company, someone to eat suppers with, someone to help out with the chores… I actually preferred living with a roommate than alone, just for the social aspect of it. With the possibility of dropping your shelter-related expenses by half, this is one of the most effective ways to lower your fixed costs. Now, for example, we listed our extra bedroom on Airbnb to earn a small income on the side.
3. You can decrease your electricity bill easily with a few simple steps. First, lower temperatures in the winter and higher ones in the summers can make you save hundreds per year. If you live in a cold climate like me, your electricity bill probably doubles in the winter time. Taking simple steps like setting your thermostat to 64°F instead of 70°F can make you save as much as 15% off your heating bill. In the summer, you can close blinds, open windows and use natural shade to cool off your house instead of AC and you can save another 100$ per summer there. This is assuming 1 window mounted AC unit and 6 months of summer but savings go up even more with central AC or if you live in the desert. You can also save by closing lights you do not use, taking shorter showers or lowering your water heater temperature.
4. As any business would do, you need to negotiate. You would be surprised how much you can save off recurring bills by simply calling your provider and negotiating. Call in the beginning of the month since most agents have monthly refund limits and call on a Friday since it is the day people are the happiest (more likely to give it to you when they are in a good mood). Be prepared and tell them about a competing offer.
I called my phone provider once saying a competing offer that was offering a super low price (with the fine print: for the first 3 months) I ended up getting that price matched without any fine print or promotional period. You can easily cut by almost half any service-based bill if you have good arguments and sound like you are ready to leave the company.
Hi, I’m having trouble paying my bills and I would like to know if you have any promotions of specials that could lower my bills…
– Sorry, there are no promotions currently available in your area.
Oh! Then I would like to cancel my service…
– One moment sir, I will transfer you to our customer retention specialist.
That’s when you can really negotiate and lower your bills. Try to get the retention department on the line since they are the ones with the power to truly reduce your bill. Stay polite and simply compare the competition offerings and you should be able to save some good bucks.
The biggest advantage of cutting or reducing your fixed costs is that you will then be able to plan a fixed investment schedule and increase your savings rate drastically. Remember that as a business, the best customer is a recurring customer. Seeing your personal finances like a business, your best way to save is to reduce your recurring expenses.
Variables are controllable
Your variable expenses should be tracked and budgeted. They are mostly controllable spending that you can easily manage and cut with a little willpower. The first step is to track all of your expenses (I recommend Personal Capital) then see what are the easiest things to cut out or reduce.
5. For me, the quickest fix was bringing my own lunch to work. Any fast-food will not be as healthy as your own cooking and if you go to better restaurants you will not find much under $10. Working 5 days a week for 50 weeks, that is $2500 a year you could save just by bringing leftovers or sandwiches to work. I will let you calculate how much you would save if you usually go to mid-range or high-class restaurants! 🙂
6. Then there is a ton of socializing that can eat through your budget even faster. Dates can always be done at home or in a good quality, reasonably-priced restaurant. When going for drinks with friends, you can always vary your routine and invite people over to your place once in a while. Just a few more nights at home can make some nice room in your budget.
7. Groceries can be one of your biggest monthly cost (for us it is about $500/month). For bargains on real healthy food for your home cooking, I suggest you try shopping at an ethnic market. Instead of major grocery stores, try to find a local ethnic grocer since they are cheaper on fresh produce and meats.
Major chains usually make more profits off pre-packaged foods and simply use their produce section to make you feel hungry and then buy something pre-made. Clients in ethnic communities usually are on tighter budgets and, in most cultures, cook much more from scratch with raw ingredients. With bigger volumes, those markets usually can offer cheaper prices on all that good freshness.
8. As much as healthy eating, exercising is important to staying in shape and happy. You can always shop around and find cheap gym memberships (around $10/month for the most basic gyms) but free is even cheaper than that. I suggest using local parks and the national beauties of nature around you to exercise. Parks can be great for running, walking, biking, or even exercising on the children monkey bars. In national nature parks, you can hike, bike, walk, rock climb, some might even have lakes to swim in.
9. When shopping, I try to always wait a day before buying anything and then ask myself if I really want it. Clothes, electronics or house furniture should all be thought about twice before buying. You can compare anything in a store with its online version to save a lot off the ticket price and even check on Craigslist for some cheaper finds.
Almost everything can be bought online and it literally takes seconds to shop around and save sometimes as much as 50% off the brick and mortar store prices. There is even a site that searches for spelling mistakes and typos in eBay listings to make you save a ton on auction items.
10. Luxuries can be cut but I suggest simply reducing your spending in this category, we all need a little fun in life! Absolute frugal living might be the absence of all non-necessities but if you try to go cold-cut and make extreme changes to your lifestyle, you will more likely fail. Drastically cutting down your budget might work for a few months but you might get overwhelmed and switch back to expensive habits.
I prefer replacing luxuries than cutting them. For example, cable is a luxury that I value a lot, I follow a lot of TV shows and do not think I would happy without it. However, there is a great alternative to cable that costs almost 10x less; Netflix. I get all the shows I want, without ads, for only $8/month. That is a great investment for me. You can find endless replacements like this for a fraction of the price, comment below your finds to share.
I hope these 10 quick frugal tips will help you put money aside in your budget and, hopefully, increase your savings rate. Live Happily, Xyz.