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February 19, 2021
It’s a new year – and if you’re like us, maybe you’re ready for a fresh start! 2020 presented many challenges we couldn’t have foreseen in various areas of our lives, including finances. So it makes sense if any of your New Years’ resolutions are centered around money.
Whether you’ve been under more financial pressure due to Covid-19 or you’re just looking to be more conscientious of your spending, it can be a good idea to start small. And by that we mean doing an audit of your daily and recurring spending. Because the reality is, those small expenditures can add up quickly (and maybe even take up more of your budget than the seemingly “big” expenses).
In fact, in an online poll from U.S. News and SurveyMonkey, 42% of people say their biggest financial concern is simply their day-to-day expenses.
Maybe you just want to see how “easy” reducing your spending could actually be, or perhaps you want to reprioritize paying down debt. Whatever the reason, let’s jump into some of the ways you can start slowly chipping away at those daily and recurring expenses.
We know. This probably isn’t the groundbreaking tip you were expecting! But seriously, if you don’t already track your expenses, this can be the first step in reducing your spending.
(And, if you think you have a good idea of your daily expenses but haven’t actually sat down and combed through them, it’s still a good idea to start here.)
There are multiple ways to track your expenses, and finding the strategy that works best for you will help ensure it becomes a habit, rather than a one-time occurrence. Some folks like to write out each time they make a purchase (either in a notebook or in the Notes app of a smartphone).
Some people might prefer a more high-tech version like an expense-tracking app that’s connected to your credit card and bank accounts, in which case there are plenty to choose from. You might have to experiment a little to see what you like best.
You can also retroactively track your spending by looking at past months’ expenses. Round up your credit card/debit card statements from the past month. You can then go through all the charges one by one, sorting the expenses into different categories and using different colored highlighters to see exactly where your money went. Don’t forget to include bills like rent and utilities that may be connected directly to your checking account.
You might be surprised at what you find – those coffees and various subscription services can add up quickly!
Once you see where your money goes every month (without necessarily trying to track it or reduce spending) you can come up with a budget.
Again, we realize this is probably not the first time you’ve been given such advice. But if for whatever reason, you’re still not sticking to a budget every month, it might be something worth incorporating into your money management routine (and there are a lot of budget methods you can choose from).
There are likely many reasons more folks don’t stick to a monthly budget. It can feel difficult or too time-consuming or too annoying to be worth it. But the truth is, your budget doesn’t have to be some hyper-detailed spreadsheet with dozens of categories and colors. (Though it can be if that’s your jam!)
So if you’re ready to tackle budgeting, it’s a good idea to start small. Like, super basic. All you really need to consider is your monthly income, recurring expenses, needs and wants. Yes, that’s it!
First, figure out what your take-home pay is each month. Then subtract the necessary recurring expenses that stay pretty constant month-to-month. That could include things like rent/ mortgage payments and utility bills.
From there, you can then subtract your “needs” expenses – think food, gas money, medical expenses, any monthly costs that are truly need-based.
Whatever leftover income you have once those have all been accounted for can be used for “want” expenditures, which could be expenses that aren’t necessary for your survival, but certainly add to your enjoyment/quality of life. Wants might be gym memberships, streaming subscriptions, money for dining out, etc.
(It’s important to realize that some of these “wants” might be listed as “needs,” so you might have to spend some time thinking, “OK, what can I really do without?”)
What about expenses like IRA and emergency fund contributions or paying off debt? While those may sound like a “need,” they’re most often considered a “want” since they’re not absolutely necessary for survival. That being said, it’s a good idea to make those a priority since they’re important for your financial wellbeing. Ideally, any money in the “want” pile would first go to address these.
Now that you’ve seen where your money goes each month and figured out a budget that works for you (see, it wasn’t that hard!) we can start looking at areas you can cut back on!
Subscriptions are a natural place to start, especially in this day and age of automatic payments where you might not even be aware of all the money you’re shelling out on services.
Examples of subscriptions include cable television, streaming services, audiobook services, publications (like digital journals/ newspapers), and so on.
While some of these may have become integral parts of your daily life (especially in the last year!) doing an audit of all your active subscriptions might be eye-opening. You may end up keeping them but you may also find that you don’t use some subscriptions as much as you thought you would. If that’s the case, cancelling could free up some extra cash.
It’s easy for us to get to a point where we don’t question our utility bills – we just pay them every month. After all, it’s not like we’re suddenly going to start living our lives without electricity or running water or internet. (And don’t worry – this is not something we’re about to suggest.)
Reducing our recurring expenses does not mean living in a time before electricity and plumbing, but there might be some easy ways to trim utility costs without getting rid of them.
The exact degree to which you could save money largely depends on the size of your home and your usual utility usage. But simple things like unplugging your computer when it’s not in use or only running the dishwasher when it’s full could help you start slowly cutting back. Switching to energy-efficient appliances or installing a programmable thermostat can also help lower the bills.
This strategy is pretty straight forward: you call up your various service providers and see if they can bump down your rates. According to CNBC, the easiest bills to negotiate are usually cable, cell phone and auto insurance coverage.
Before you hop on the phone, start by checking out online comparison websites to size up the prices you’re currently getting on things like gas and electricity with other companies in your area. That way you have some data to give your provider (we love a good bargaining tool!).
And it’s likely not surprising that the longer you’ve been a loyal customer, the more leverage you might have to knock down costs (so be sure to bring that up!).
While trying to negotiate your utility bills may not end up being successful, it’s worth a shot. Keep in mind: You want to have an actual conversation, as opposed to sending an email or using a chat bot, so call your utility company on the phone to try and negotiate any of your bills.
Due to the pandemic, you might’ve started replacing your weekly dining-out nights with ordering take-out. While we’ve all been there (our own takeout bills have shocked us at times), it might be one of the easier expenses for you to cut. For folks who aren’t as tied to their dining-out rituals, replacing some restaurant meals with cooking at home can really go a long way with helping to curtail spending.
Since this is probably a piece of advice you’ve heard before and already decided whether to take it or not, let’s briefly discuss some actual numbers.
According to MoneyUnder30, the average commercially prepared meal costs $13/person (and probably much more than that if you add appetizers or drinks, or you live in a bigger city). Now multiply that number by the members of your family, add taxes and gratuity and that bill starts climbing even higher.
The cost of groceries for a meal prepared at home can cost on average $4 a person. While a $9 difference may not seem like the biggest deal in the world, think about it this way - based on just those averages, your $13 restaurant meal is 325% more expensive than preparing your meal at home!
Plus, this is one of those cases where the costs add up. Given the numbers above, if you swap out 10 meals out for 10 at home, you’ll pocket $90 a month. (Again, it might be even more, depending on your takeout costs.)
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.