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Cutting expenses—your best money saving tips?
Old 05-16-2021, 11:21 AM   #1
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Cutting expenses—your best money saving tips?

A little over a year in of being jobless for me and I’m regularly amazed at how much we’ve been able to cut expenses just by having more time. We spent so much money on services just trying to keep life moving!

I’ve been so inspired by reading some of the random bits of advice that come up in other threads (thank you daylatedollarshort!) that I thought it would be interesting to have a dedicated thread for this. And I know lots of tips might be old hat to people who have been living frugally their whole life, but that was not us for sure.

A few for us that we’ve implemented in the last year which have had or we expect to have a major impact on our spend, in no particular order:

We bought a good quality deli slicer and buy all of our meats and cheese in restaurant size quantities now. Having a local Costco business center is great for this. We go through a ton of deli meat and cheese, so this is easily saving us $500+/yr and we like the product better. I should probably include the vacuum sealer in this as well.

Costco business center probably deserves a separate mention. Huge quantities, but great prices and many items are 10-15%+ less expensive than Costco. There aren’t very many locations but it’s worth seeing if you have one nearby.

Instant pot yogurt. Very easy to make, much less expensive and far better than anything we can buy.

Homemade carbonated water. The initial cost outlay isn’t cheap, but should result in savings over time. We go through a LOT of carbonated water! Goodbye soda stream!

Homemade beer, about $30/keg and the brewing supplies get bundled into my ‘hobby’ budget. Time will tell if this is actually frugal

Cutting the cable cord. Huge savings and better quality tv.

Cutting the high $ cell plans. I honestly can’t believe we were spending that much per month on what feels like the exact same service.

Freezer meals. I spend about a day each month or two cooking and freezing down some of our favorites. I’m amazed at how often we reach for one of these meals when we otherwise would have done takeout. So much less expensive and healthier too. I’ve been able to replicate most of our favorite ethnic dishes.

Cash back credit cards. It took forever to convince DH to apply for these, but we’ve saved so much just by optimizing our CC spend.

I’m still going through the budget and looking for more ways to save, but these were such obvious ones for our first year. And most have resulted in better quality, which was a surprise.

Next us for us is travel spend and figuring out cheap entertainment and restaurant deals.

So what’s been on your list?
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Old 05-16-2021, 11:26 AM   #2
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I should also add optimizing our energy use, which is a work in progress, but paying back a lot. Don’t have time to detail what we’ve done so far right now, but will come back and update.
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Old 05-16-2021, 11:36 AM   #3
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To piggy back off your cell phone plan update…

Anything like cell plans, cable, internet, car insurance, home insurance, etc is worth revisiting yearly. These monthly expenses can add up if not left unchecked and as companies slowly increase them again. We find we can trim $20-60 a month from these over time by jumping companies which saves hundreds of dollars a year.
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Old 05-16-2021, 11:41 AM   #4
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Having ordered groceries online starting with covid, dropped our bill about 20%- no more impulse buys. We will stay with this, big time saver as well.
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Old 05-16-2021, 11:47 AM   #5
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I can't get everyone in my household to agree to cut the cord, but I have set up a Plex media server to better enjoy the DVDs and Blu-rays we have. (The NAS wasn't cheap either, but I've been running it for years and it serves (hah!) many purposes.) The box set of Warehouse 13 Blu-ray discs was $55 shipped, the 5 seasons on Amazon Prime Video would cost $122, and our family went through the whole series this year.

I also read about 2-3 ebooks a month from our library system. I've got a bunch on hold, and even more on a wait list.

And we finally got the 2% cash back Fidelity credit card, which we're going to use for everything except Amazon purchases, because we have their 5% cash back card for that. Much simpler than before, actually, where there were a few more categories to keep in mind.
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Old 05-16-2021, 11:54 AM   #6
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Another saver: We use our local university dental school clinic because there is formal quality control and no motivation to sell us expensive add-ons like crowns. But the fees are maybe half what a regular dentist charges. I have read here that some university dental clinics are free.
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Old 05-16-2021, 12:00 PM   #7
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Most bang for the buck is to look at recurring expenses. Since a savings is repeated periodically, rather than one time.

With that in mind we trimmed cellphone plan to a better plan (unlimited everything with t-mobile with senior discount - much cheaper than verizon, then ting.) We renegotiated cable/internet. We do this everytime the regnegotiation deal expires. We changed our shopping habits to costco every 2-3 weeks vs weekly - this helps us use *everything* we buy, rather than having extra food in the back of the pantry or fridge... Which has allowed our grocery bills to stay the same for 4 years - despite having teenage to young adult male children in the house. (Big appetites).

Other things that save money are choosing to do free things... I live near the beach and walking the dog on the beach is one of the best activities for me. I am a power user of the library (always have a queue of books to check out.) Working on the yard/garden myself rather than hiring out... kind of zen to pull weeds, believe it or not.
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Old 05-16-2021, 12:23 PM   #8
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We hardly eat out any more. That saves us a lot. Savings wasn’t the goal, it was just a COVID thing, but we’re going to try to stick with it as things loosen up. It’s better food and much cheaper.

The main thing that saves money is that we just don’t do that much. We really don’t like to travel except for the occasional road trip to visit family in other states. And, we don’t need to be constantly entertained or busy. There was a meme that said something like you know you’re a recluse when the pandemic hits and it doesn’t really change your life. That’s kinda where we’re at. Though we did put in a pool. That won’t save money, but over a ten year period, I could easily see a travel bug spend more on travel than we did the pool. Staying home is cheaper than many other things.
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Old 05-16-2021, 12:28 PM   #9
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I'm not sure what your situation is, but if you have to pay for health insurance out of pocket, that is one of the biggest expenses of retirement. At least it has been for me. I've found that shopping around for health insurance has saved me quite a bit.

Same goes for home insurance and auto insurance. You can often save a couple hundred dollars a year (maybe more), just by shopping around.

The most important thing is just to get in the habit of questioning purchases. Ask, "Do I really need this? How much real value will this thing add to my life?"

I would be careful about cutting expenses in the food department. Yes, you can do it, but most cheap food is processed food and comes with a lot of downsides. You don't want to sacrifice your health just to save a buck. I've found that food is one of the areas where I do not mind spending extra. If I have to pay more to get quality, nutrient-dense real food, I'm happy to do it.
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Old 05-16-2021, 12:49 PM   #10
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I'm not sure if I can cut any more than what we're doing, or what we want to do, but since the pandemic started, we've been spending less as stores are closed, gyms are closed, can't travel, etc, etc. (I'm in Ontario, Canada and we've been in lockdown since April...)

I do look at flyers and stock up on grocery items that are on sale. Having an extra fridge and freezer helps with this endeavour.
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:00 PM   #11
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-paying for good tax advice when needed

-paying for good investment advice

-routinely shopping and comparing all recurring expenses-especially home and auto insurance, internet/tv/cell phone

-buying reliable, well built vehicles with all the options we like, keeping them properly maintained, and driving them for years until the maintenance cost/value lines intersect (usually 15 years)

-when we had a mortgage shopping for mortgage rates and negotiating non standard early repayment-semi monthly or periodic, into the contract.

-no, absolutely no consumer or credit card debt

-cut out all processed foods-cost less to eat and it is much healthier. No expensive junk food, fast food, etc.

-Costco for many items included RX, tires, bulk buys, etc.

-shop on value-lowest price can sometimes be the most expensive in the longer term

-credit cards that yield benefits-cash back, travel, etc

-since retiring we have travelled 4 months or more per year. Often we pick up last minute deals-especially in the past cruises, hotels, AI packages.

Overall, our biggest savings have been on recurring expenses, better/healthier eating, and picking up good travel offers. We are retired, never been unemployed, financially very secure. We have always done these things. It started when we were poor married students in university and continued from there. No doubt I have missed others that we simply do out of habit.
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:01 PM   #12
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I keep a spreadsheet of frugal hacks with amount of time each one would take to complete and the twenty year savings, and then calculate an hourly rate on my time. I try to focus on the ones with the highest payback, which as Rodi says are usually recurring costs.

We were probably wasteful spenders before we retired, so we had a lot of fat we could cut that improved, or at least didn't negatively impact, our lifestyle. We have hundreds of hacks, so I'll just list some entertainment ones in this post.

We make good use of community services like the library, local senior clubs, parks, beaches, college events and community sponsored events. In non-pandemic times, all the suburbs in spring to fall in our area have free outdoor concerts at parks, usually in nice picnic locations, with some very good bands. They seem to stagger them on different nights of the week to not compete with each other, so it is pretty easy to go out almost every night.

I follow on Facebook all the local park districts, state parks, college theater and music departments, local theater companies, tourist boards, favorite bands, etc. to see what activities they have planned for the week. Often there will be unadvertised specials, like free preview tickets. Once I bought tickets for a preview play / symphony performance at U.C. Berkeley with over 100 actors and musicians for $10 a ticket. Some of the members of famous bands that are locals will sometimes play small venues and dive bars with their friends just for fun, so I follow them if they have public social media accounts. The local tourist areas often have many events to attract visitors, like Napa usually has all sorts of musics crawls, outdoor concerts and festivals, many of which are free. In Napa we also usually have some kind of winery passport and a state parks pass we can use as well. For seat filler tickets, we've seen symphonies, ballets, lots of touring Broadway plays and been to foodie events with Michelin rated restaurants and at the CIA (the culinary one, not the spy agency) all just with last minute ticket deals.

Every year I buy an assortment of annual passes / memberships for gardens, zoos, museums, seat filler memberships, winery passes, parks, and theater memberships. I spend $500 - $1K every year in annual passes, and then a lot of what we do is free or cheap, plus the membership fees help support local parks and arts and culture. Like our local Costco one year had a pass for 36 wineries for $100 per person. Most of the gardens, zoos, and museums and other cultural attractions are in reciprocal programs like NARM, ROAM, AHS or ASTC, so buying one pass will get you free admission into hundreds of other similar institutions throughout the state / U.S.. Our local library has free and discount passes to around 70 cultural attractions. If you are a vet, Vet Tix has free unsold Ticketmaster and other event type tickets. The parks districts often have free or inexpensive events, like mine tours, boat tours with a naturalist, llama trips (haven't done that one yet) and hikes. Most here probably know this but lifetime National Parks passes for seniors are $80.

For dining out I like restaurant.com coupons for half off. Or we take advantage of happy hours and early bird specials. We like to go out for ethnic food like Indian or Thai, the kind of food Berkeley calls its Gourmet Ghetto. Some local restaurants have specials like 1/2 off pizza or burger on a certain week day. For movies we go on $5 Tuesdays.
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Cutting expenses—your best money saving tips?
Old 05-16-2021, 01:12 PM   #13
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Cutting expenses—your best money saving tips?

Like Rodi, I have found that cutting back on recurring expenses is very helpful. Cheap cell phone plan with free phone, no landline, and no cable other than internet has helped. I quit the gym (sob!) because I wasn't using it. May re-join eventually. No magazines or internet website memberships, and no paid streaming video services other than Amazon Prime.

Stop caring about what other people think. IMO Madison Avenue exists because they can make us think that we want things we really don't want, and that other people will think more highly of us if we own these things. So, another money saving tip is to spend some time meditating and thinking about what you really, actually want in life. Then go for THAT, instead of buying other stuff that you really don't want. As a side benefit, you will be making fewer trips to the dump or Good Will, wondering why on earth you ever bought whatever-it-is.

As a game, try to think of free or nearly free activities or hobbies that you can enjoy in your spare time. We love to watch the antics of birds that frolic at a nearby boat launch, and the birds don't charge us a cent for it.

I don't travel, but that is just because I don't want to, not to save money. Still, it floors me when I see how much people spend on travel. I don't buy boats, planes, RVs, motorcycles, or sports cars. I figure if I don't need to rent something quite often, then buying it is a stone loser.
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:27 PM   #14
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So, another money saving tip is to spend some time meditating and thinking about what you really, actually want in life. Then go for THAT, instead of buying other stuff that you really don't want.

I do think for us a big part of retirement savings has been just rethinking what makes us really happy. I like watching Tedtalks and picking up books at the library sales on positive psychology. There's not a lot of overlap between research based happiness factors and what advertisers want us to believe will make us happy. The happiest person the world, at least based on brain wave studies, is actually a Buddhist monk.
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:36 PM   #15
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We cut back on cell phone, cable and am doing more DIY projects.
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:42 PM   #16
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When working, I was fortunately on expense account. When in the office, I took my lunch.

Never step foot into a drive in market. And as I drive somewhere, I note in my mind where the cheapest fuel prices are. We're seeing a 25 cent difference in our town for gas prices.

I do stop at McDonalds, but usually to get a $1.00 large Diet Coke or $1.19 ice cream cone. If I eat there, it's a $3.00 double cheeseburger and fries bundle and no drink. (I keep bottles of water in my cars.)

We try to eat out no more than 1x per week, and even then it's usually one of the $5.00 box fast food meals. We seldom go to a sit down restaurant more than 1x per month.

I try to leave the DW home when grocery shopping. She spends too much. We cook no more often than every other day, and rotate eating leftovers about every 3 days. We often cook on the grill--all year round.

Unless I have a reason to go somewhere, I try to drive nowhere 2-3 days a week. Not only do I save gasoline, but often if you leave it's to spend money on something.

Covid has kept us very close to home. We've traveled virtually nowhere in the last 14 months. And we're sitting on our returned airfare where our Berlin flight was cancelled 4/2020. All the government $ received the last year is also in reserve for international trips whenever Europe is ready for tourists. I can see a Baltic cruise in 2022.
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Old 05-16-2021, 01:44 PM   #17
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I do think for us a big part of retirement savings has been just rethinking what makes us really happy. I like watching Tedtalks and picking up books at the library sales on positive psychology. There's not a lot of overlap between research based happiness factors and what advertisers want us to believe will make us happy. The happiest person the world, at least based on brain wave studies, is actually a Buddhist monk.
I agree completely! I came to a similar conclusion after my divorce.

Divorce is the worst kind of H*ll, IMO. For me, one of the very few good aspects of going through a divorce, was that it pretty much forced me to think at great length about what happened, why on earth I was so unhappy, and what I really want in life (so that I don't go through the horrific experience of divorce again). Honestly I probably spent as much time meditating as that Buddhist monk! For a couple of years I spent several hours each day alone, thinking quietly while trying to get centered and figure out what went wrong, and what my real goals are in life. It helped, and as a nice side-effect it helped with my attempts at LBYM.
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Old 05-16-2021, 02:05 PM   #18
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Taxes are still our biggest expense. But consolidating in index funds and harvesting tax losses in down markets has really kept them as low as possible.
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Cutting expenses—your best money saving tips?
Old 05-16-2021, 02:13 PM   #19
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Cutting expenses—your best money saving tips?

Quote:
Originally Posted by OldShooter View Post
Another saver: We use our local university dental school clinic because there is formal quality control and no motivation to sell us expensive add-ons like crowns. But the fees are maybe half what a regular dentist charges. I have read here that some university dental clinics are free.


Wow, that’s a massive tip. Thanks OldShooter! I just checked our local dental school and you’re right. I’m signing up.
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Old 05-16-2021, 02:14 PM   #20
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It's a bit dated now and so it probably leaves out a lot of the ways to save money with tech or on tech, but The Tightwad Gazette by Amy D. has pretty much every single money saving household trick out there. The magazine was compiled into a series of books which sort of serve as a frugal encyclopedia.

I find that in retirement I've been able to save a lot of money on taxes through study of the tax code and applying it to my situation. Similarly college financial aid is a subject which, if studied, can pay off well.

I do volunteer for two different things, both of which pay me more than I get by doing the volunteer work (The IRP may accuse me of having a couple of jobs.):

I donate platelets to the Red Cross. Every time I go, they give me a free bottled water and a snack or two. They regularly give me free shirts, which reduces my clothing budget. They occasionally give me $5 Amazon gift certificates, which eventually end up paying for a college textbook or something.

I also do volunteer tax prep for AARP Foundation Tax Aide. They have snacks sometimes. They reimburse mileage. I also got to e-file five federal and five state tax returns this year for free. This also keeps me on top of the tax code, see above.

In addition to the comments above about happiness, the general notion of "the money step" is broadly applicable and can save a lot. It's from Jeff Yeager's cheapskate book, and refers to the common pattern of "I have this problem, I'll solve it by buying something with money." His idea is that there are a lot of ways to solve problems without spending money, such as borrowing something or asking for help or whatever. Depending on how aggressive one wants to be, one can expand our list of options beyond those that are "buy X" or "buy Y", buy only as a last resort, or most aggressively exclude options like that.
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