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8 monthly expenses you can eliminate or reduce right now

Two teenagers going over expenses on a laptop

Turn down the thermostat and turn on the autopay to bank some extra cash. 

Jennifer Thomas

By Jennifer Thomas

Spring cleaning isn’t just a time to clear out your closets and (finally) give those baseboards a good dusting. It’s also a great time to get your finances in sparkling shape.  

Budgeting isn’t the most exciting activity. But the payoff can be very real — and not just for your bank account. It can help your health, too. 

Money worries are so common that 73% of Americans in Capital One’s CreditWise 2019 survey named finances as the top stressor in their life. Putting yourself on more stable financial footing can reduce some of that stress.  

Having money in the bank also helps people bounce back faster after a job loss or a health issue, according to a report by the Urban Institute. 

“Many people don’t realize how much havoc being under financial stress can cause to your physical and mental health,” says Angela Anderson. She’s a financial expert for JustAnswer.com. 

Knowing where your money is going can be the first step on the path to finding financial calm. It’s also the best way to root out extra savings. 

Start by combing through your credit card statements, bank statements and health savings account/flexible savings acccount records to see exactly how you’re spending your money. Then make a budget with all your income and expenses using a simple spreadsheet, a home budget calculator or an app such as Mint.  

“Once you do that, look at the list to see where you can trim some of the fat. It’s likely that you’ll find a few monthly expenses that you can rid yourself of,” Anderson says.   

The changes don’t have to be drastic. In fact, sometimes smaller changes are better because you can stick with them.  

“Believing that you can suddenly stop eating out completely, for example, is usually not a successful goal. A small change such as only ordering out x times per week, and keeping a log, is more likely to work,” says Haley Neidich. She’s a licensed clinical social worker in Connecticut and Florida. In other words, go for the low-hanging fruit. 

Here are 8 ways you can cut down — or even cut out — some of your monthly expenses. (Speaking of savings, download our free mobile app to find coupons on prescription medications.) 

Savings hack #1: Set up autopay 

Things that happen automatically can make your life so much easier. Case in point: a programmable coffee maker. (Ah, the sweet smell of coffee when you first walk into the kitchen.) 

Setting up autopay for your major bills saves you mental energy, but it also saves you from paying late fees if you forget to pay a bill. That’s especially true of credit cards, where missing a payment can send your interest rate soaring. Just be sure to keep enough money in your bank account to cover these payments so that you don’t get hit with overdraft fees.  

Savings hack #2: Cut the cord (or opt for streaming services) 

The average American’s cable bill is more than $200 a month. Which is, well, a lot.  

If you find that you don’t even watch much live TV, it might be worth sticking to a couple of streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu instead. There are a bunch to choose from, and some cost less than $10 a month.

The monthly cost can really add up if you’re not careful and start subscribing to them all. So choose the ones you really watch the most. 

Savings hack #3: Purge your subscriptions 

That free 3-month trial you signed up for can easily turn into a yearly expense that keeps going and going if you don’t cancel it. One way to avoid that is to turn off the auto-renew option when you subscribe to new services. That forces you to choose whether you want to keep those subscriptions going.  

You can also use apps such as Truebill or Trim to sniff out those recurring expenses — and in some cases, even cancel them. 

Savings hack #4: Find discounts on medication 

There’s no question that medication can be costly, even with good insurance. Americans spend nearly $1,400 a year on prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Luckily, there are tactics that can help you save. 

  1. Do you take a brand-name medication? Ask your pharmacist if there’s a generic version. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, generic medications can cost up to 30% less than brand-name ones. 
     
  2. Prices can change depending on which pharmacy you go to. Comparison shop using our free mobile app to find the most savings.  
     
  3. Check out prescription discount cards. They’re not insurance, and the money you spend won’t go toward your deductible. But they can offer big savings. Show our free prescription discount card to the pharmacist every time you fill a script. You could save up to 80%. 
     
  4. Put pretax money into a flexible savings account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). You can use the funds for qualified medical expenses, such as doctor visits, prescriptions and over-the-counter products. The Optum Store has great prices on many FSA/HSA-eligible must-haves. 

Savings hack #5: Unplug your appliances 

Even if an appliance is turned off, it can still be pulling electricity that you have to pay for. Unplugging things such as your coffee maker, laptop, blender or stand mixer when they’re not in use could save you up to $200 a year on your electricity bill, according to the electric and natural gas supplier Direct Energy. 

Saving hack #6: Program the thermostat 

If you can stand the heat — or the cold — adjusting your thermostat is a low-effort way to save some cash each month.  

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According to the Department of Energy, for every degree that you adjust your thermostat for 8 hours, you save about 1% on your yearly bill. A good way to get more savings is to drop the heat when you’re not home or at night while you’re sleeping, and turn off the AC when no one is around. There are also simple and inexpensive thermostats that let you preset when the temps change, too.  

Savings hack #7: Transfer a credit card balance 

According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the average credit card interest rate in 2021 was more than 16%. That adds up to paying more than $80 in interest per year on a $500 balance.  

If you have credit card debt, you can save money by transferring it to a credit card with a lower interest rate or a 0% introductory rate. Just make sure you read the fine print to find out when that 0% interest rate expires and what your rate will be once it does. 

Savings hack #8: Lower your car insurance rate 

If you don’t drive much these days (which is the case for a lot of people who now work from home), you might be eligible for a car insurance discount.  

Many insurance companies offer low-mileage discounts. To qualify, you usually have to drive less than 7,500 miles a year. Some companies also offer discounts if you agree to use an app that tracks your driving behavior, such as how far you drive, when you drive and how fast you drive. For example, Progressive reports that their Snapshot program saves drivers an average of $146 per year.  

Once you’ve made a few cuts, give yourself a high five, and then create a system to keep yourself on track in the future. Neidich recommends doing a weekly check-in on your finances, which can be as simple as reading your bank statements. “Put on some nice music to make the experience more pleasant, and check each account for activity and review your goals,” she says.  

If you get overwhelmed, know that it’s fine to take it slow. “Make one small change each week until you feel good about your plan,” says Neidich. Baby steps are truly the way to meet your goals and make lasting changes.  

 

Additional sources 
Financial stress survey: Capital One 
Report on savings and bouncing back after a job loss: Urban Institute 
How much unplugging your appliances can save you: Direct Energy 
Thermostat savings: U.S. Department of Energy 
Average credit card interest rates: U.S. Federal Reserve 
How much Americans spend on prescription and OTC medication: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 
Generic medication facts: U.S. Food and Drug Administration