The first step to saving money: Find ways to spend less. Your monthly expenses are a good place to start.
Small tweaks can help lower bills for services such as cable, cell phone, internet and electricity and give you more wiggle room in your budget to build an emergency fund or pay off debt.
Big-ticket items such as rent, mortgage and car payments require more legwork, but can yield a bigger budget boost.
Here’s how to lower your bills and save on your monthly expenses in these categories:
This will be a heavier lift than trimming your grocery bill, but has the potential to yield big savings. Popular guidance is to shoot for spending less than 30% of your income on overall housing costs, but that percentage can be difficult to hit, especially for renters in a city with a hot housing market.
Refinance your mortgage. Lowering your interest rate by a couple percentage points can save you hundreds of dollars each month. Make sure your credit is in good shape, so you can get the best rate possible, then shop around and compare rates and fees from multiple lenders. Then use a mortgage refinance calculator to narrow it down to your best option.
Drop your private mortgage insurance. If you put less than 20% down when you purchased your home, you likely had to get private mortgage insurance. Your lender should drop the PMI requirement once the balance on your mortgage dips to 78% of the home’s appraised value — but you can ask your lender to cancel it once you’ve reached the 20% equity mark.
PMI payments are based on the loan amount and the borrower’s credit score (generally between 0.3% and 1.1% of the loan’s value on an annual basis — or $300 to $1,100 annually for a $100,000 loan). Homeowners with an FHA loan cannot cancel their mortgage insurance, and would instead need to refinance with a conventional loan.
Downsize. Moving your family from a three-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom unit could lower your rent by $300 or more, depending on the city, according to data from the rental site Abodo. It may, though, mean doubling up on bedrooms or losing a guest room.
Get a roommate. It seems counterintuitive, but you can lower your rent by upgrading to a larger apartment — so long as you share that apartment with a roommate. In Pittsburgh, for example, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is nearly $1,150 — or $575 per person if split between two people. That’s still nearly $500 less than the average rent for a one-bedroom.
Negotiate. If moving isn’t an option, try negotiating with your landlord. He or she may be willing to lower your rent in exchange for a longer lease or handling your own repairs.
Shop around for the best rate. Homeowners insurance premiums average nearly $1,130 annually. Get several quotes before settling on a policy.
Bundle your home and auto insurance. This could lower your home insurance premium by 10% to 20%, depending on your policy.
Look for discounts. Ask your insurer about available discounts. For example, you may be able to save money on your homeowners insurance by paying in full, signing up for electronic payments or having a home security system.
Cable, Internet, Cell phone
Get rid of extras. You can lower your cable bill by $10 or more if you get rid of your DVR. Say goodbye to HBO and you could save as much as $20. Or cut the cord completely and save more than $100 per month, depending on your plan.
Bundle your cable and internet. You can typically get two services for the price of one if you bundle them with the same provider. But you can also reduce your internet costs by switching to a lower speed tier or opting to buy a modem rather than renting one from your provider.
Switch your plan or carrier. Take inventory of your plan and data usage, then see if you can get a better deal with your carrier or another one. Switching to a prepaid service can lower your cell phone bill even further.
Electricity, Heat, Water
Dial down your thermostat. Dropping the temperature 10 to 15 degrees at night can lower your heating bill by 10% annually, according to the Department of Energy. Doing the same on your water heater can also help lower your heating bill.
Power down energy hogs. Save on electricity costs by turning off desktop computers, gaming consoles and plasma televisions.
Transportation costs, whether for a car, insurance and maintenance or simply a monthly metro pass, fall squarely into the “needs” category of most budgets. But you can carve out more room for your other needs by lowering what you spend monthly on getting around.
Refinance your auto loan. You can lower your car payment by qualifying for a better interest rate or extending the length of your loan. You’ll need a track record of on-time payments spanning six to 12 months.
Sell your car. You will typically get more for your ride if you sell it versus trading it in. And you can use the proceeds to pay off all or most of your current car loan. Then, buy a less expensive model — preferably a used car, which won’t lose value as quickly as a new one. The average monthly payment for a new vehicle loan was $506 at the end of 2016, compared with $364 for a used vehicle loan, according to a March 2017 report from Experian. (You can use a car payment calculator to run your own numbers.)
Whether you opt for new or used, aim to keep your total costs — gas, insurance, car payment, registration and repairs — below 20% of your take-home pay.
“Swap” out your lease. You can get out of a car lease you can’t afford, by transferring your remaining lease payments to another driver, for example.
Evaluate whether you even need a car. If the answer is no, sell your car and use the proceeds to pay off your existing car loan. What you save in monthly insurance, gas, parking and maintenance costs will be more than enough to cover public transportation (more on that below) and the occasional Lyft ride.
Bike to work. Use your own bike or a bike share service and pedal to and from your destination, when possible. Divvy, Chicago’s bike share program, is $99 per year for unlimited 30-minute rides. That’s about the same price as a 30-day Chicago transit pass.
Increase your deductible. This will bump up your out-of-pocket costs if you’re in an accident, but will lower your monthly insurance premium.
Reduce your coverage. Full coverage may not be necessary for an older car. Consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage, which cover damage to your vehicle, if your car is worth less than your deductible plus a year’s worth of premiums.
Make a list. You’re less likely to overspend if you go in with a plan. Plus, you can look for coupons and save even more on your groceries.
Opt for the store brand. Generic labels and store brands are a surefire way to save money, even if you’re shopping at Whole Foods.
Become a member. Unlock exclusive sales and coupons by signing up for the store’s loyalty program and downloading its app, if it has one.
Scope out specials. Take advantage of happy hours or other specials, like burger nights, Taco Tuesday deals and game-day promotions.
Pick the right health insurance policy. A high-deductible plan can save you on monthly premiums, but comes with greater out-of-pocket costs when you need to file a claim. These plans are best for those who rarely get sick or injured and have the means to cover the deductible if something should go wrong.
Get an itemized statement. Ask for an explanation of any charges that you don’t understand. Then check for billing errors, such as duplicate or inflated charges.
Negotiate a lower bill. Tell your provider that you want to pay your bill, but you can’t afford the entire amount. The provider may reduce it to avoid paying a collection agency. You can also work with a medical bill advocate who can bargain on your behalf.
Opt for generics. Save on your prescriptions by going with a generic option over the name brand when possible.
Shop around. The same medication may be pricier at one pharmacy than another, but websites such as GoodRx and WellRx let you compare prices and find coupons.
Contribute to a health savings account or flex spending account. While these don’t reduce the cost of your medications, contributions are tax-free, so it does reduce the amount of tax you pay each month.
Sign up for an income-driven repayment plan. Federal loans have several income-based options that cap your monthly payments at 10% to 20% of your discretionary income.
Ask for a deferment or forbearance. These halt your payments for a time. However, interest may still accrue, increasing your overall balance. It’s wise to first apply for an income-driven repayment plan. Private loans don’t come with the same protections, but your lender may work with you to reduce or temporarily suspend your payments.
Refinance your student loans. If you qualify for a better interest rate, you can lower your student loan payments by refinancing with a private lender. With this option, you’ll lose any federal protections.
Credit card debt
Ask for a lower interest rate. Your card issuer is more likely to give you a lower interest rate if you have a solid payment history and good credit score.
Transfer your balance. Take advantage of a balance transfer offer with an existing card, or open a balance transfer card with a 0% interest rate. Moving your balance to either will allow you to pay it off interest-free. This move generally requires an excellent credit score.
Consolidate your credit card debt. Personal loans often have lower interest rates that credit cards. If you qualify for one, you can consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan to lower your monthly payments and save on interest charges in the long run.
Negotiate for a lower monthly membership rate. Come to the conversation armed with competitors’ rates and the gym’s own new customer promotions to get the best deal.
Cancel your membership and gym-hop. Most gyms and studios will give you a free class or two to test the waters. And many yoga studios hold community classes that are free or by donation. Thousands of free online workouts let you break a sweat without leaving home — all those cost is dedication.
Cancel any publications you don’t read regularly. You know, that pile you’ve collected that you promise to get to “someday.” You can always resubscribe at a discounted rate. Or, better yet, pick one up at your local library.
Reduce the frequency of a print subscription. Not willing to give up your Wall Street Journal or New York Times subscription? Opting for a Sunday-only Times subscription over a daily delivery will save you nearly $20 per month. Most papers also offer a student rate; the Wall Street Journal’s is just $49 for a year, compared with $311 a year for a standard print and digital subscription.
Limit the number of services you to which you subscribe. Finding one that does double duty can also save you money in the long run. Amazon Prime members, for example, get free streaming and free shipping.
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Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.