Ever since I started writing about frugal living, I’ve gotten more & more direct messages asking for advice or tips on finances and savings, and on topics ranging from eliminating debt to investing in low-cost index funds to questions on how to stretch a dollar. I am not a finance person, nor do I claim to have all the answers, but I can share what has worked well for me. I was a mess when it came to managing my money in my 20s and have learned a lot in the last several years through reading, research, and practice. I’ve become passionate about the topic of frugality and money management (and how women manage their money, in particular) as I’ve gotten older. One of my only regrets in life is not learning more about money management when I was younger woman.
At the root of most of my (and Todd’s) decision-making is a core value of being careful and frugal with money, and there are many ways to save but I wanted to share five things that are easy to do today that will yield savings right away.
(A caveat — being frugal for us means being frugal with ourselves and the money we spend on our household. Being frugal doesn’t mean being ungenerous or stingy with others. This is just our personal MO, but we don’t apply frugality to charitable giving, gift-giving, and – this is an important one – tipping wait and bar staff at restaurants. If you can afford to eat or drink out, you can afford to tip. I believe in that wholeheartedly. And I could go on and on about ensuring service industry workers are afforded a living wage, but I won’t. I’ll just leave it here. Tipping is still very important in the US.)
Ok, on to five cost-saving measures you can apply to your life right now:
- Cut the (cable) cord.
Todd and I haven’t had cable TV since 2008 when I left cable news and no longer received it for free. We’ve never looked back. I just looked up current rates and found that the least expensive, most basic cable package in our area is $45/month ($540/year) and DISH is $90/month (1,080/year). Is it worth it? Have you calculated the amount of time you spend watching cable channels and what that equates to in dollars per minutes? I am guessing it’s not worth the money you spend.
An alternative: the Moku antenna for a one-time cost of $100.
We hooked this up to our home and get the NBC, ABC, CBS, and local Fox stations, as well as the three PBS channels, my favorite being Create TV. We also have the Amazon Firestick and watch videos through YouTube primarily, and also share some streaming services with my sisters (we provide Hulu at $6/month which we only have during the months that Handmaid’s Tale is on) which drastically reduces a monthly expense on TV. We also borrow lots of DVDs (think the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones) from the library so we’re not paying for HBOGo each month. More on the library in a bit.
2. Change internet providers
For many years I was fortunate that the company I worked for paid for our internet, but I left that job last year. I always encourage folks to ask their employer about this as a benefit or try negotiating it into your benefits package; the worst they can say is no, but maybe they’ll say yes! Todd’s company reimburses him for internet since he works from a home office, but he won’t be working there forever and we want to be more mobile, so we wanted to find an inexpensive alternative to the usual providers that would also work in most locations, and we were in luck. We discovered The Calyx Institute (https://www.calyxinstitute.org) – don’t let the weird name scare you.
We’re saving hundreds per year by using this company/non-profit and have converted a bunch of family members as well. The cost is $500/year and for that we receive 1 year 4G / LTE wireless and the Franklin R850, a personal hotspot. We connect two computers and two phones to this hotspot and have never had an issue with connectivity (you can check the website for coverage but the device uses the Sprint network). We also stream our TV through the device and occasionally one of us will disconnect one of our devices while we watch, but usually we don’t have to. I highly recommend checking them out and trying this instead of sticking with a more expensive provider.
3. Consider switching your cell phone plan
Again, my former employer used to pay for my monthly plan and my phone, and this is another benefit I highly encourage you to ask your employer about and try negotiating into your benefits package. But if you are on the hook for your own cell phone bill, as I am now, check out the best plan for what you use. Here’s a handy website where you can plug in what you need and what the least expensive options are for your coverage area : https://www.whistleout.com
I had formerly been on the Verizon plan but switched to Cricket Wireless and have the unlimited text, talk, and data plan for $55/month. That’s $20 less than the Verizon plan and I am currently in the market for a cheaper plan. Will keep you posted on what I find!
4. Use the library
Books and movies are free there! 🙂 It is actually a great community resource and one we’re already paying for through taxes so why not take advantage? We have a small collection of books in our tiny house storage loft of 40 or so of the books we couldn’t give up when we downsized, but we almost never buy books now, and instead visit our wonderful town library several times a week for books and DVDs.
The library has almost everything you could need or want to read or watch and the only possible downfall is that sometimes you have to wait for your items to come in – a small price to pay when you consider the monetary savings.
5. Brown bag it for lunch
I work from home now but for several years I worked in an office and for three of those years I worked for the State Senate communications shop. Buying lunch at the State Capital was soooo easy to do and the options endless. I almost always brought my lunch, though, and got teased by some who were used to dropping money everyday for food. But I estimated I couldn’t get a lunch for less than $5/day which is $25/week and approximately $100/month, and $1,200 or so a year. On lunch. It’s relatively easy to make meals at home that cost $2 per meal or less, especially if you cut out meat, as we usually do. A big batch of rice and beans can last several lunches, and is dirt cheap especially if you buy your dry beans in bulk.
We buy a 50 pound bag for the year and try to make that the base in many of our meals. Embellish your rice and beans with tomatoes, salsa, avocado, sour cream, etc and it can be like a different lunch each day. 😉
There are bigger, more complex ways to save as well and I’ll tackle some of those later this week but these are easy ways to get started if you want to spend less and save more. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but not having to stress about it gives peace of mind. I don’t think you can put a price tag on that.
I’m always eager to hear others’ savings strategies so feel free to share them!
Thanks for reading,
PS – People ask me often for good reads on financial independence. Here are two to get you started: Your Money or Your Life & The Simple Path to Wealth. Request ’em from the library! Happy reading.