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Cutting expenses April 27, 2006

Posted by irishmadness in Credit cards, Debt, Frugal living, Saving, Student loans.
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Sooner or later, everybody in debt realizes they need to cut back on expenses to find money to pay down the debt. During the last two years, I’ve made several lifestyle changes to free up money for debt repayment. My goal is to keep several of those changes once the debt’s paid off so that I continue to live below my means and end up in better financial shape than your average journalist. (If you’re not one, assume that reporters at your local paper make less than a public school teacher with similar experience. If it’s a small paper, assume it’s at least a few thousand less. This is not a profession anybody picks for the money.)

But I digress.

To not only live on a journalist’s salary, but repay all the debt I racked up when I was trying to live beyond my means, I needed to get serious about finding money. Some of these are things you might be able to adapt to your own situation; others are only feasible because of my particular situation.

1. Move to less-expensive apartment. I still have a two-bedroom, and have resisted moving to a one-bedroom because of all my books, but I now pay $100 a month less.

2. Cut utility costs. Moving to the apartment cut my utility costs from about $100 a month to about $40 a month right off the top. I also keep the apartment at 56 degrees in the winter (sweaters and heavy socks are good) and resist turning on the AC as late as possible in the summer. Since I live in Virginia and have a low tolerance for heat when I sleep, the AC is still something I spend more on than I would like. I’m trying a new arrangement for my fan this year and hoping I can leave the AC off most of the summer. We shall see… I also keep my desktop computer off most of the time. My next step is to unplug the VCR, DVD player and TV, since I use them so rarely. That will save a small amount of electricity, and won’t be much hassle.

3. Look for extras. I used to belong to the Y, which is a good deal because work pays almost half my monthly membership. But since I’m a runner and prefer road running to track work, I usually run in the park. I have a hard time finding yoga classes that fit my schedule, so I usually practice at home. So I dropped the membership. I miss having access to the weight room, but I couldn’t justify the cost just for that. (I’ll probably add it back in when my debt’s gone.)
I also dropped cable earlier this month after realizing I’d only turned the TV on twice in the previous two months. I can buy one or two seasons of a TV show for a month of cable, plus skip the commercials. Since I’m at work when most sports are on, it didn’t seem to be a big sacrifice. (This is one of those cuts that’s possible because of my peculiar situation, and may not be palatable for everyone.)

4. Be a grocery cheapskate. Discovering the dented bin at Kroger was the biggest money-saver. I don’t remember the last time I paid more than $1.50 for cereal. Canned fruit? I’ve got plenty. Same with soup stock and other staples. I also discovered that the cereal most often is on sale the weeks it ends up in the bin, which means even bigger savings. I also have a list of staples that I watch for sales on. When they’re on sale, I buy as much as possible. I almost always buy store brands, and only buy produce on sale. Oh, and those staples I buy? I use them to make soups or other freezable meals I can grab on the way out the door, saving me time when life gets crazy, not to mention the money from skipping takeout.

5. Skip the land line. This probably isn’t a great idea if you have children or a health condition that makes access to 911 important, since emergencies do happen. But if neither of those is true, you can save a bundle by skipping the landline. I pay $43 a month for cell service, which covers all my local calling, long-distance calls to my family and calling outside the area. I need a cell given my job, so dropping that’s not an option. Just a basic land line would set me back about $30, without even considering long-distance. All of a sudden, that $43 sounds pretty reasonable. And it comes with plenty of minutes. I figured out a few months ago that my late-night, two-hour phone calls with my sweetie would have to happen every night for the entire month for me to use up my night and weekend minutes.

6. Drive smart. I don’t go faster than 65 on the highway, less if I’m going over the mountain. When I have errands to run, I plan them so I won’t need to make multiple trips. And where I used to hit the grocery store three or four times a week after work, now I only go once or twice every two weeks. That’s all gas saved, which really adds up at $2.83 a gallon. If you can, try public transit or a bike. I don’t use either for my two-mile commute, since our city’s trolley bus only runs until 6 p.m. and I work until after midnight. The late hours also make riding a bike not a great idea. Once gas gets to $3.50 a gallon, I might reconsider. Until then, I’ll be driving.

Other suggestions? One I would love to try is shopping at Goodwill or one of the many thrift stores in town, but trying to find clothes in my size is almost impossible. I’m hoping my running will make that more feasible in a few months. (Hey, maybe that will offset the cost of replacing my running sneakers three times a year!)

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2. Melissa - July 2, 2006

Thanks for your advice, I am very intrigued by the phone one, although with the kids I am encouraging them to make phone calls landline to landline, and if their friend has a mobile phone to ring them and find out if they have a landline near them, then ring back on that line. They have the benefit in our house of having a cordless telephone so privacy should not be an issue, they can take it to another room. This has to be cheaper and a worthwhile policy for parents looking to avoid paying massive mobile phone bills.

The best way we have found to save money has been to write a list of weekly meals, then write a very specific shopping list to cover exactly what is needed. The benefits are:

No wasted food (saves you loads some weeks)
On the leaner weeks we choose budget options like lentils
Less likely to be distracted by impulse items.
Husband gets started on the weekly meals before I come home as what we are having is clearly displayed on the fridge, along with where to find the recipe.
We are trying a whole new variety of food.

It took me a while to get into it but I have kept all of the previous lists and occasionally recycle one, as the recipes are marked on the list, it makes it easier to write a shopping list.

I usually shop weekly as I was finding that some of my perishables did just that over two weeks. I also try to carpool with my friend who lives nearby to the cheap supermarket a few suburbs away. This also turns into a chance to chat which doesn’t cost us any money, and occasionally we buy something on special and split it, like a big bag of potatoes.

The big hint for debt reduction is to actually convert the cash that I expect to save to an extra payment to the debt each fortnight. So I think doing this will save me $20.00, then $20.00 goes to the debt. It seems trivial but it does make a difference.

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