Sticking to a budget generally relies on balancing your expenses against your income. Although life can throw unexpected costs your way, your recurring monthly expenses is an area of your finances that’s within your control.
Whether you find yourself financially pinched and living paycheck to paycheck or want to reallocate more money toward savings or other financial goals, you can start by learning how to lower your bills each month. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
How to reduce your utility bills
Utilities are a necessary part of modern living. They offer the convenience of heated air during cold winter months and even leisurely entertainment on a Sunday evening (thanks, Netflix). Despite their necessity, however, there are ways to reduce these everyday household costs.
- Use low-flow fixtures: High-flow fixtures can lead to more wasted water in the shower and at the kitchen sink. According to Energy.gov, switching to low-flow fixtures can help you save 25% to 60% on water costs. If you’re renting, just make sure to ask your landlord for permission before changing your fixtures, and remember to switch them back before moving out.
- Use a dishwasher: Instead of spending the painstaking time and money to hand-wash your dishes, use a dishwasher when you can. Dishwashers use less energy and water, especially if you opt for an energy-efficient machine and always run it with a full load of dishes.
- Fix leaks: Energy.gov states that every drip per second from a leaky faucet results in 1,661 gallons of water and $35 wasted each year. Although the cost of a leaky faucet may not seem like much, you’re letting money slip down the drain.
- Install energy-saving light bulbs: Replace expensive, energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs with LED or compact fluorescent bulbs. By simply replacing up to five of your home’s most used bulbs, you can lower your electricity bill by $45 each year.
- Program your thermostat: Keeping your thermostat programmed to turn off the air conditioning or heat while you’re away from home can help you lower your bills. Newer thermostats, like Nest, learn your temperature preferences as you use them and can automatically lower the temperature when they sense you’re away from home. According to Nest, this could mean up to $145 in energy savings per year.
- Use a gas app: Find the most affordable gas station in your immediate area by using free apps, like GasBuddy.
- Sign up for gas rewards programs: Major gas companies, like Exxon Mobil, let you earn rewards for gas and in-store purchases that can be redeemed for savings at the pump.
Cable and internet
- Bundle cable and internet: Get more discounts on cable TV and internet when you bundle these services through the same provider.
- Pick one streaming service: Do you prefer streaming your entertainment over cable? If so, stick with one streaming service where you get most of your entertainment. If you only watch Hulu for one show, for example, it might be worth cutting from your monthly bills.
- Know what you really need from a cell phone plan: Check your cell phone usage to see where you’re incurring overage charges. If you routinely find you’re paying data overage fees, for example, it may be time to find a new plan or provider that offers a competitive data package.
- Hold off on upgrading your smartphone: Your carrier may offer to have you finance an upgraded device and make monthly payments toward a new cell phone. This amount is then tacked on to your regular cell phone bill. Hold off on the upgrade until you’ve saved enough money to afford the purchase outright.
How to reduce your interest payments
- Negotiate credit card rates: You may have opened a credit card when your credit score was lower or you were new to holding credit. If you’ve demonstrated good borrowing habits and raised your credit score since, reach out to your card issuer to negotiate a reduced interest rate.
- Transfer balances to a 0% APR card: Those with strong credit may qualify for a promotional 0% APR (annual percentage rate) credit card. These promotions allow you to carry a balance month over month for a limited time without incurring interest charges on the account. Before taking this step, make sure to calculate the cost of possible transfer fees that might eat into your savings.
- Debt consolidation: Similar to transferring a balance to a zero-interest credit card, debt consolidation may offer reduced interest payments. Keep in mind, however, that lower interest rates on debt consolidation loans are typically reserved for those with strong credit. Using this approach responsibly is important so it doesn’t inadvertently damage your credit. For example, read all the fine print and note any consolidation fees or promotional rates that may end up increasing the cost of the consolidation loan overall.
How to reduce your grocery bills
- Create meal plans: Avoid succumbing to convenient take-out dinners and overspending at the grocery store by planning your meals in advance. Developing a weekly meal plan not only curbs extra costs at the drive-through, but also keeps you laser-focused when pulling ingredients from supermarket shelves.
- Track grocery sales: Don’t throw away your local grocer’s mailers just yet. Pay attention to the days of the week when items go on sale and schedule your trip to the store to capitalize on these deal days.
- Clip coupons: Cutting coupons is a well-known way to lower your monthly bills. Aside from traditional coupons in your Sunday mail, you can use coupon apps like Ibotta to earn cash back on your grocery purchases or use retail apps like the Target app that let you find digital coupons to use at checkout.
- Buy generic: It’s no secret that generic groceries are more affordable than brand-name goods. If you’re looking to lower your food bills quickly, reaching for no-name products can yield instant savings.
- Eat less meat: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of lean ground beef in August 2019 was $5.44 per pound. To save money, declare one or two days in the week as meatless days, instead opting for more affordable sources of protein like beans, lentils, or tofu.
- Avoid pre-cut or pre-washed foods: In the name of convenience, it can make sense to splurge on pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables. But oftentimes these options cost more than buying whole, unwashed produce. If you have the option to choose one over the other, consider spending a little time prepping produce as a way to cut costs.
Tools that can help you lower your bills
- Stash: The Stash app lets you link your credit and debit cards to your Stash account. You can then visit a retailer or store that partners with Stash, make your purchase, and earn cash back. At the end of the month, Stash transfers your earned cash back into your Stash investment account. While it doesn’t directly lower your bills, Stash can help you save some extra cash.
- Trim: Trim is a free tool that scans your existing subscriptions and helps you negotiate your rates for providers like Comcast and Verizon. Simply link your third-party accounts and Trim does the heavy lifting when it comes to renegotiating your rate and canceling unused subscriptions.
- Cashback credit cards: When used responsibly, using cashback credit cards is a helpful way to earn money back on your everyday purchases. Just make sure you pay your entire statement in full each month to avoid interest charges that negate your earned cash back.
These are just a few areas that can help you cut costs on monthly expenses and save more toward the goals that matter most to you. If you want more ideas on how to lower your bills and save, check out these simple hacks.