How Have You Cut Your Expenses?

by Katy on October 4, 2011 · 47 comments

Finding little Finicky Frugal Maneuverings is all fine, dandy and super satisfying, but add a dollop of focused expense cutting? (And of course, figuring out ways to bring in more income, but that’s a post for another day.)

Pure heaven.

I ♥ figuring out ways to bring my monthly expenses down. I recently started sharing garbage service with the neighbors, have cancelled my home phone line and finally finished paying off my ridiculously expensive Honda mini-van, (which alone frees up an extra $450 per month!) We were able to get my older son out of a martial arts center contract, and Netflix? Buh-bye!

Next on my list is to go through our insurance plans, and see if the deal offered through our credit union would be a smart move. (I know from working in a personal injury law office that cheap insurance can bite you in the the ass, so I will not make this movie lightly.) I did call our agent a few years ago, and she was able to give us discounts for having bachelor’s degrees, for not driving too much, and we upped the deductible on our home owner’s insurance, which garnered significant savings.

I am always trying to figure out ways to bring in extra income, (without of course working any extra. 😉 )and I know there are more little hacks that we can all learn from one another.

So . . . How have you cut your expenses? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather October 4, 2011 at 8:06 am

My husband and I trimmed a lot of monthly expenses, reduced our car insurance (we don’t drive much), no netflix, no cable, and we share internet with our neighbor for $20 a month. We eat at home 95% of the time.

But what I’m most proud of, is getting our iphone bills down from $120 (for two) to under $50 (for two). I wrote about that over here.

So that means I can spend more on beer, right?


Ann October 4, 2011 at 9:00 am

How do you share internet?


Heather October 4, 2011 at 9:26 am

In our case, our landlady has a business below our apartment. She offered to share the wifi for $20. It’s worked fine. If you’re friendly with your neighbors, or you are picking up a strong wifi signal, it doesn’t hurt to ask.


Kathryn October 7, 2011 at 11:28 am

I think this is a great idea, but I would add the caveat to check your terms of service carefully. Some carriers limit or prohibit this kind of WiFi sharing, especially if the sharers live at different addresses.


Mary Kate October 4, 2011 at 10:22 am

The iPhone change is awesome. I may have to look into doing something like that.


Shelley October 4, 2011 at 8:11 am

I finally let go of my car, when insurance rates were going to go up. Now that my husband is also retired, his car is usually here and we don’t need two. Living in Britain where we do, we can walk to many of our routine places and so the £1.35 per litre gas prices don’t bite quite as hard as they might.


Megg October 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

While I’d love to go down to 1 car, it just isn’t possible for us. However, we are able to carpool most days of the week, which has been awesome. We always pack our lunches (though my husband occasionally will buy at work, but I can’t because I don’t have the car!) and eat at home as often as possible.
We also recently borrowed from my husband’s retirement fund to pay off my car, freeing up $250 a month! We obviously had to pay it back (with interest, which went into the fund) but that was about $75 a paycheck and benefited us anyway. We did this because we were buying a house.
We also canceled cable, but despite the changes we are staying with Netflix. I’m seriously considering sharing garbage collection with our neighbors since we produce so little, but I’m not sure if that would be feasible with all the recycling we produce!


AnnW October 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Isn’t there a drop off point where you can deliver your recyclables on Saturday?


Diane October 5, 2011 at 6:47 am

Oh Megg, What’s done is done, but I’m replying for the folks who will read this and think about following suit. There are a TON of reasons not to do this, most of which are ignored or glossed over by HR Departments everywhere. This is only a partial list. First, you withdraw PRE-tax dollars and pay back with POST-tax dollars. When you eventually withdraw the money, you will be taxed on it AGAIN! (Same goes for the “interest” you’re paying.) Next, the money you “borrow” is effectively out of the market and has no chance to grow. Then, should you leave the company, the money must be repaid in very short order (30-60 days). It’s much easier to scrape up $250 per month than the entire loan balance in the case of a job change. I’d strongly advise throwing all your effort into paying off this loan BEFORE you buy a house.
I’m the voice of experience here. I did it once to buy a house. I borrowed 6K to put down on a house that more than doubled in value in four years. What I didn’t expect was how trapped I felt having a loan that was essentially callable. I paid it off in nine months and sold the house four years later to buy my present home. Even though I wouldn’t be in my present home had I not done this, I could have found the 6K another way. I still consider it one of the biggest financial blunders of my financial life.


Molly October 4, 2011 at 8:31 am

Every 3-4 months we take a look at our expenses and see how we are doing overall. When we do this we always start talking about where we would like to cut back more. It’s like a slow trimming of the fat.


Dogs or Dollars October 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

I cut our garbage service back to a wee 10 gallon container. I love looking at that tiny little box next to our ginormous recycle bin. And it saved $20 a month.

We are in the process of trying to cut back our food spending, and keep eating food we actually like. This is going to be the on-going challenge of my existence for the foreseeable future.


Paula in the UP October 7, 2011 at 11:19 am

We get charged every other month for water/ sewer and weekly garbage pick up. It is our ONLY option. Recycling is on a volunteer basis, you bring it to the center yourself. Everyone in the city limits is charged the same no matter how much or little garbage you have.


Susan C October 4, 2011 at 9:21 am

We moved to Ecuador!
Here in Ecuador we are able to live off of 30k a year. Our son goes to the best private school in the city. We don’t own any cars. We can take a bus for 25 cents anywhere in the city. If we want a cab it is less then $4. We live in the third largest city in Ecuador with a half a million people. We are renting a beautiful apartment for less then we can in the states. We are able to save 6k a year. We could save even more if we got rid of our storage in the states and our daughters paid their own car ins. 🙂


Mary Kate October 4, 2011 at 10:25 am

We continue to eat most of our meals at home, using the Pantry Principle (detailed so well by Amy Dacyczyn in the Tightwad Gazette).


Linda October 4, 2011 at 10:51 am

I try to keep my food budget as low as possible without sacrificing taste or health. I use coupons and shop at the lowest priced market plus a very low priced fruit market. I go to other markets when they have loss leader sales that just can’t be beat.

I make most of our meals at home. I make a full breakfast 5 days a week (pancakes, waffles, crepes or eggs) for my family of 4. I also pack lunches each weekday. I have started a menu plan to make sure I am not tempted to go out during the week. Sometimes, we do go out to eat on a weekend night but we tend to go someplace inexpensive where we most likely will get leftovers. My family loves Portuguese foods and there are alot of great restaurants where we live. We could cut out weekend meals if we wanted but we do like to go out at least 2 times per month.

I have started packing my iced coffee when I go out for errands. This makes me less likely to go out for coffee. At about $3 for each iced coffee, it saves me a bunch.

We have never had cable (22 years in my house). We got an antenna 15 years ago and we get alot of channels, so there is no cutting there. We also get DVDs from the library as well as books. I also volunteer at the Library book sale and get already cheap books ($1 each or $.25 for paperbacks) at 1/2 price.

I could cut on my cell phone but I have 2 kids, one of who drives and works some nights. I want them to have phones for safety. My younger child does alot of sports and refs on weekends, so I need for her to have a phone for pick ups and such.

I think we are doing well with our cost cutting measures. One area I could really raise some money is to sell off unwanted items. I am going to de-clutter and put some items on craigslist. This money will probably go into a vacation fund.


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm

We try to keep our bills to a bare minimum since we REFUSE to have credit cards or debt (only debt is our house). We have the lowest level of car insurance the state accepts. Thankfully, we haven’t had any accidents, but if we do, we can switch to having just one car and paying the same amount for premium car insurance for one car as cheap-o insurance costs for 2 cars. We also switched to Tmobile from Verizon and save $20/month by doing so…plus we get more minutes and unlimited texting. Tmobile’s quality is MUCH worse, but with unlimited texting, we don’t have to call as much. Our TV bill is all of $8 from Netflix. We’ve never paid for cable or had land line phones. Although our bills are low, I still wish we could get them even lower!


Jessi October 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

We got rid of our monthly cell phone plan and use a prepaid plan instead. We have a land line through our internet provider and it gives us unlimited long distance. So we make all of our social calls from home and only use the cell phones for quick things while we’re out and about. To give you an idea of our savings, last year my cell phone cost us a whopping $10.


Jessi October 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Oh! One more thing. We use our credit card whenever we can to take advantage of the rewards program. Credit cards might not be a good idea for some people, but we pay it off the whole balance each month and the free miles help out with travel expenses.


a vanderven October 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm

unplugged half of the lights in the bathrooms out of 8 left 4, still can see very well .


dustimc October 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I’m so excited that you asked this question today because yesterday, I realized we can save almost $1600 a year if my kids and hubby brown bag it. And instead of juice boxes and prepackaged fruit cups, I bought reusable drink containers and small food storage containers. I know this is an old idea but once I sat down and did the math, it became real for us. Also, I have a friend who does the extreme couponing thing. I thought it was silly at first- stock piling, multiple stores, etc.- and mostly processed foods but an bit in Time magazine may have changed my mind.


Katy October 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I’ll have to look into that Time magazine article.



Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 4, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I’d love to get the name of that article too. I tried the extreme couponing thing and feel that it’s completely not worth the time & energy. I actually saved MORE by shopping locally and making from scratch.


Jo@simplybeingmum October 5, 2011 at 1:42 am

Coupons don’t do it for me either, I did a cooking from scratch cost experiment over a week and discovered I saved 40% on pre-made and processed food products. However I’m very open-minded 🙂 and would too love to read the Time Magazine piece…


Linda October 5, 2011 at 3:07 am

I save about $20-$30 a week with coupons with 1 hour of work before I go shopping. I clip only the coupons I will use for the week and match them up with sales.

I have a very low food bill ($40-$50) per week. I make alot from scratch. All my pancakes, waffles, creps, cakes, cookies, main dishes are made from scratch. That is why I only save 20-30 per week.

My friend who does not cook from scratch saves alot more. Her food bill was about $150-$170 per week for a family of 4 (same size as my family). Now her food bill is about $80/week.

As you can see, you don’t save as much if you cook from scratch but saving $20-$30/wk for only 1 hour of extra work, is not bad. I’ll take that payoff.


Jennifer October 5, 2011 at 6:25 am

We don’t eat a lot of processed foods, some (like cold cereal). My grocery list for next week (the portion that I’ll use coupons for):

Topicana Pure Premium or Trop50 Orange Juice $1.87, After coupon $.87 – $1.37
$1/1 Topicana Pure Premium or Trop50 [Pepsico Moments]
$1/2 Tropicana Pure Premium 8/28 RP

Libby’s Canned Peaches .67
Use 1/2 Libby’s coupon printable = .17 Each

Eggland’s Best Large Eggs $1.87 After coupon, $.87
$.50/1 10/2 SS

Grande Tortilla Chips $1.49 after coupon, $.49
$1/1 9/11 SS

Wacky Mac Veggie Pasta $.99 after coupon, $.19
$.40/1 5/08 SS

Angel Soft Bath tissue 12 pk 1/2 price $2.34 After coupon, $1.34
$.50/1 8/14 RP

Other than the tortilla chips, they are pretty healthy items.


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

It’s funny because what you’d consider healthy, I’d consider otherwise haha! Perspectives are quite fascinating!


Jo October 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Megyn, I am curious why you feel orange juice, peaches, veggie pasta and eggs are not healthy choices – can you explain your perspective?

Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 6, 2011 at 7:34 am

Jo- Let’s see….canned foods are well known to have higher salt and sugar contents (fresh is best). The other items are not organic, so our household would personally not buy them. We also prefer to juice our own oranges (FREE for us as everyone here has citrus trees lol…plus fresher, less pesticides & herbicides). For the eggs, we also go organic, local, & free-roaming. As for the pasta, we go organic whole wheat or brown rice. Finally, for the TP, we prefer using paper products made from recycled paper with the highest post-consumer content possible. We (ok I) am a HUGE green fanatic haha!

Jennifer October 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I have adapted my ‘hobbies’ into things that provide a service for my family. So my current hobbies are: canning, knitting (it’s really damn cold in CT in the winter), sewing, couponing/minimizing grocery budget. Overall these things aren’t really money-saving (except the couponing part). I’m sure I could buy a cheap hat at Old Navy for less than $5 but knitting a hat takes time, I enjoy it, and if I spend my time on that I have less time to spend on a hobby that doesn’t provide a return on my time invested.

We also just got out of our promotional rate on our cable and we realized that we were definitely not getting $85/month of enjoyment out of that. We cancelled it down to the basic cable (which makes our internet cheaper so it’s a wash if we get it or not) for a savings of almost $60/month. And there’s only 1 show that I enjoy can’t watch that isn’t online somewhere.

Also borrowing books from the library onto the Kindle is wonderful! I bought one for my husband’s 30th birthday last year (but I think I might use it more than him–oops). We didn’t buy many books on it anyway, but now borrowing from the library is so easy. And it helps that we’ve moved a few times and still have our old library cards (we can borrow books from multiple libraries).


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I am always looking for little ways to save money, and about two years ago I tried to list all of the things we were doing to save money after finding that we were doing almost everything in Google’s “Tip Jar.”

More recently, however, I had to acknowledge that there’s a limit to how much money we can cut out of our budget. The perfectionist in me (as you wrote about recently!) feels like there always must be one more frugal maneuver I’m missing. And I finally realized that no one is going to give me a gold star for saving the most money. So I’ve loosened up a bit. But I’m still glad we’re doing all the things we’re doing.


AnnW October 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm

You can borrow library books on the Kindle? I’ll have to look into that. Then vice versa, can I donate some of the Kindle books I purchased to the library? I would like to get rid of some of them, but don’t want to just delete them.


Jennifer October 5, 2011 at 6:20 am

Check your library’s website. It’s a new thing. But it’s awesome. I’m not sure if you can donate books–that would be cool too.


Sue October 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

I don’t think ebooks can be donated. Electronic content is licensed/subscribed to by libraries because they have a one-item-to-many-users ratio and not the usual, individual retail model. Also, I’m pretty sure most ebooks are loaned through a third-party vendor like OverDrive, so the library wouldn’t be able to host or transmit random ebook files.

As far as I know, your ebooks are for you to keep or delete. Maybe there’s some way to transfer them to a friend’s ereader, but that probably negates the licensing agreement/copyright law (there was probably an agreement you accepted when purchasing the ebook).

Definitely check out the ebooks to borrow though! Libraries have books, ebooks, DVDs, CDs, and other items (I think Katy even checked out a kilowatt meter or something once).


Bob Hostetler October 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Mow the lawn myself instead of paying for it. Wash the car myself, too. Started couponing again. Cancelled Sirius.


Adventures in Thrift Land October 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Is it bad blog commenting etiquette to post a link to my blog where I wrote about this very thing? Easier than regurgitating all of it. A biggie for us was contesting our property value for a lower tax bill.


Martha October 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm

we’ve never had cable, borrow our neighbor’s netflix on occasion (on demand), we use our neighbor’s garbage can, she uses our internet, my other neighbor is also on our internet and has her cell phone on our plan…its all cozy and cheap(er)

we pay absurd amts for phones, I think, and others would think we spend too much on food, but we can afford organic local food and I feel like every dollar we spend is a vote for the world we want…


Jo@simplybeingmum October 4, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Absolutely every penny counts, we cancelled our subscription to LoveFilm (DVD rental via UK post)- just £4 a month – but that’s £4!
The main reduction in expenses has been our grocery spend. Over the last few weeks I had been experimenting with ways to spend less and then last Wednesday was able to post How To Reduce Your Weekly Grocery Spend by 50% once I knew it wasn’t a fluke! We put all our bills/spend on credit card (and always pay it off at the end of the month! That way I can see all pennies spent and we also get cashback – they pay us to spend money). I was excited to open the credit card bill to see how much we have saved…..


Madeline October 5, 2011 at 7:29 am

WOW–I love hearing everyone’s thrifty adventures..I always gain a very useable tip or two!!! I enjoy links to other websites too.. the more the merrier!!


Rebecca B. A. R. October 5, 2011 at 10:16 am

What I like about the Kindle and Nook is that you can download the applications on your computer and you don’t have to buy the actual device. My husband and I have done that, and I’ve been able to download books for free and purge the physical books from my bookshelves. You can also borrow books from the library on your computer that way, too. I know that for the Kindle, many times they will have one day deals where you can download books for free that otherwise are normally at a price point.


Liz October 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Last year I quit my (professional) job to devote more time to the house and also go back to school, so we’re making do on my husband’s salary. Admittedly, he makes a lot more than most duel-income families make. But, we are in a pretty high cost of living area and we have a lot of non-negotiable expenses, so we’ve had to make some changes in order to accommodate the loss of a sizeable second income. (And yes I realize that choosing to quit one’s job is different from being laid off, but it still requires some cutbacks.) Some things were immediately scrapped – no more European vacations, etc.. But, that’s a huge luxury and not something most people can cut, since most people don’t have vacations like that to begin with. After that, we looked at smaller changes. I almost never buy new clothes – much easier when I don’t work and need professional clothing and can wear jeans all day. I dropped my gym membership I never used. I closed a couple bank accounts I didn’t really use and which were sapping a combined $30 a month or so in fees. We got rid of our landline and my husband inquired at work about them paying for his cell phone (which he uses heavily for work, anyway) so he was able to get rid of his own cell phone plan, in exchange for a company one. (I know, not realistic for most people.) We’re turning our heat way down both day and night (although when I was at work all day, we were able to keep it at 55 all day, and now it needs to be in the low 60s, at the very least, so that’s not a big savings, but it offsets me being at home a BIT.) We switched to CFLs and I’m more mindful of turning lights off when I’m not in a room. I’m also more mindful of how many laundries I do. I have more time to comparison-shop for the cheapest items, and to cook, so I’m doing most of our grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. I buy a lot of dried beans and rice… we’re not living on rice and beans, but these items form a filling and healthy base for a lot of delicious recipes, and the dried items are not only cheaper, but tastier. I’m making giant pots of stew, for pennies a serving, and freezing servings. I’m composting, which is saving money on soil amendments. I grow veggies in the summer – the initial outlay of cash is higher than the return, but over a couple years, it begins to save money.

One thing I realized is that there are a lot of changes which probably should be made by anyone, regardless of their financial circumstances. I buy a lot of the “Great Value” Wal-Mart store brand items. Their frozen vegetables are just as good as any name brand… how could I justify paying twice as much, even if I weren’t concerned about how must I was spending? And when we were both working, I never really sat down and planned any kind of a menu – grocery shopping was always done without much rhyme or reason, so I was always grabbing some expensive thing at the expensive store on my way home from work. It’s VERY easy to spend a lot less on groceries – without coupons, which I never use (though I should) – with just a tiny bit of planning. It’s true that shopping at Wal-Mart, or Market Basket (the very inexpensive grocery chain in New England) can be a little depressing. People don’t look “frugal” – they look down and out. You don’t see hipsters trying to live on a college student budget – you seem downright poor people. People at Whole Foods look happy and healthy and thriving. Yet, I realized that when I shopped at expensive grocery chains, I felt somewhat compelled to spend more (and not just because the base prices of items were more.) For some reason I felt more like my grocery choices were on display… my “worth” as a cook and as an intelligent and sensitive-to-the-environment person was on display. I felt like if I didn’t have organic and fair trade and local and artisan everything, I would be looked down on. At Wal-Mart or Market Basket, no one could care any less what I am buying. There are people there buying generic white bread, generic sugary cereals, generic white flour pasta, etc.. I’m way ahead of the game with my Great Value frozen veggies.


Liz October 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Just to add – I know a lot of people will take issue with shopping at Wal-Mart and buying Wal-Mart store brand items. But, that’s what people who TRULY have to make do with almost nothing do. People who can barely afford to live do not give a hoot about organic or local foods. I truly believe that it can be cheaper to eat healthily than to eat unhealthy “inexpensive” foods. BUT, it is not cheaper to eat organic and local produce, unless perhaps you are growing it yourself. Some prices at farmers markets are outrageous. Yes, many people will find it worth it to have the freshest and most environmentally-friendly food. But, if you have the luxury to find it “worth it” you’re not really in dire straits. If you are able to pay more to live in line with political or environmental beliefs, you’re not in dire straits.

I’m NOT in dire straits, but I am experimenting to see just how little I can spend and still make healthy and delicious meals, and I am finding that Wal-Mart and other discount stores help me to be successful in this arena. (I’ll also add that I am currently in a rural area, so there are no ethnic groceries, which often have certain for less than other stores do.)

Next up… would love to get rid of DirectTV since we watch almost no TV, but my husband insists on it to get non-local football games.

Unfortunately, my tiny public library is so tiny as to be virtually useless for an adult. I may pay $100/year to have access to a larger local city’s library… we’ll see. If I truly stop purchasing books because of library access, then it would be worth it. That said – New Hampshire has a program through which all public libraries may receive free access to ebooks and audiobooks through Overdrive. Overdrive has just gotten Kindle-formatted books! You can access this remotely with your library card number. Unfortunately pretty much every popular title in Kindle format is “checked out” with a long waiting list. (The whole state shares the “library” and there are a varying number of available “copies” for each title. You can see how many “copies” there are, how many are checked out, and how many people are on the waiting list. Right now, maybe because this is very new, it will literally take me months to be able to check out a single popular title.)


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Liz- I have to disagree about the local & organic foods. I’ve done two experiments on my blog. The first was extreme couponing for ONLY natural/organic items. I purchased 226 for a little over $100. The month after I did a buying local challenge where we only purchased local foods for the month. I spent LESS every week than when we shop at regular grocery stores. Our food budget is $100/week for our family of 4, and even buying locally (lots of meat too), we could scrape by at around $80-90 a week. It’s possible to be poor AND eat well. Our family is living proof!


Rachel October 12, 2011 at 5:19 am

Interlibrary loan — this is the best way to make a small library work for you!! New Hampshire has a great interlibrary loan network, which I use at least once a month. Also, if your husband works in another town, he may be able to get a library card for free in that town – each library has a different policy about people who work but do not live in town.


AnnW October 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

The CVS card has lots of features that enable you to get extra dollars and extra products. They featured it on Extreme Couponing. My daughter uses it all the time, but I can’t quite figure it out. I find that the less I go to a store, the less I spend. It works. I also don’t really buy greeting cards. You can sign up for Jaqui Lawson e-cards for one year for around $10. I don’t get manicures since my mom taught me how to do it myself. I only get two pedicures a year. I don’t buy magazines any more. I figured out that most of the articles repeat the same thing every few months. You can also read most of the things on the web sites. We cancelled our outside storage area a while back. I practice hypermiling to reduce my gas expenditures and don’t drive around to nearby towns just for fun.


Dmarie October 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I have such fun playing at hypermiling! When we had a ’98 4-door Honda Accord, it averaged 35mpg, because I did things like alternate air conditioning with inside air/fan only. Now that we have a hybrid, it’s even more fun getting sometimes 60-70-100mpg even on highways by curbing the lead foot and using cruise control whenever possible.


AnnW October 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

P.S. When I worked for Revlon we discussed making the holes in the shampoo bottles larger so people would use more product and have to buy shampoo more often. It was a good source of earnings. You can cut your shampoo with at least 50% water and still get good results.


Diedra B October 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I switched from a prescription allergy medicine to a similar otc.
The allergy prescription was upward of $30 for 30 pills each month. And that was just what I paid. The insurance company had to pick up the rest of the tab.

The otc is about $14 at Costco for 365 pills. There are 365 days in a year. Well, I was over the moon. And I’m sure the insurance company is also thrilled.


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