A lot of traditional budgeting advice tends to focus on eliminating the little luxuries in life that can add up over time, like that morning latte or weekly happy hour.
It's true that you can save more by cutting out these types of costs, but if you constantly feel deprived by your budget, chances are you won't be motivated to stick with it long-term.
If this sounds like you, it may be time to re-think your spending strategy.
“We call it ‘savor what you spend,’” says David Blaylock, CFP®. “Spend on the things that you savor, that you enjoy, and don’t spend on the things you don’t enjoy.”
In other words, it is possible to cut expenses without nixing everything that you love. Start with these six pieces of advice.
1. Rethink Your Total Food Spending
Look at your past credit card statements to see how much you’re spending in total on food (yes, that includes your Seamless orders). If it comes close to what you spend on your rent or mortgage, then you're likely spending too much of your take-home pay on feeding yourself. Also consider the average American spends about 12.5% of their total budget on food, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We're not saying you have to put your social life on hold or cut out takeout completely. It's more about trying to set a realistic weekly food spending amount that you can allocate however you'd like, whether that's in a restaurant, a grocery store or on delivery, Blaylock says. The perfect number for you depends on the size of your family and food prices in your area, but you can refer to your past spending as a guide and pare it down from there. You'll likely find that there are small things you can do to scale back.
The real benefit to having a weekly spending amount is that it'll make you more mindful of where your money is going. It may, for instance, make you realize that your salad-bar lunches are triple the price of homemade.
2. Trim Energy Costs
You’ve heard it a million times, but energy-saving practices can significantly reduce your utility bills, Blaylock says, even if you already turn the lights off when you leave the house.
First, unplug devices that aren’t being used. The Department of Energy says appliances such as TVs and computer chargers that stay plugged in when you’re not using them can add 10% to your utility bill. And set up a few advanced power strips, which cut back on wasted energy. The switch could save you $200 a year.
Also ask if your electrical company offers lower rates at off-peak hours. If it does, do your laundry or run your dishwasher during those times, Blaylock says.
3. Nix Subscriptions You Barely Use
The ease of auto-pay and subscriptions means you may be paying for services that you no longer need, or even use. Review any recurring payments on your credit card statements for obvious places to cut.
Unsubscribing might not seem like it’ll have a big impact, but these cuts could add up. “Forty dollars here, $10 here or $50 here, next thing you know we’re adding $400 to $500 a month back into your savings account or retirement account — and that’s real progress,” Blaylock says.
4. Shop Around for Better Insurance Rates
Between health, homeowner’s, auto, etc., paying for insurance can take up a huge portion of your monthly budget. Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best rates or best deals, Blaylock says.
Health insurance is tough to negotiate. But things like auto insurance that can creep up over time, sometimes after only two or three years, are worth revisiting periodically. “It makes sense to go check that premium against another competitor just to see what that rate would be,” Blaylock says, adding that he’s reduced his auto insurance premium by more than 25% by switching to a new company. “It doesn’t take more than your time to get a quote.”
5. Pare Down Your Phone Plan
To get the best deal, make sure you’re on a family plan. No family of your own yet? Recruit your parents, siblings or significant other — even if it means Venmoing your brother for your portion of the bill, Blaylock says.
Are you using all of your data? Or could you switch to Wi-Fi at home, downgrade your data plan and reduce your monthly bill as a result?
Finally, think about how often you really need to upgrade your device. Most providers offer leasing programs, which break the price of the phone into monthly increments, typically over 24 months. If that would tempt you to get a fancy new phone every two years, "just pushing that upgrade out another year and upgrading every 36 months instead of every 24 will reduce payments,” Blaylock says.
As with insurance providers, don’t be afraid to switch cell phone carriers if another one has a better deal.
6. Don't Be Quick to Upgrade Your Lifestyle
Have you ever gotten a raise at work and immediately thought of how you would spend your new money? Financial pros call it “lifestyle inflation,” which describes the phenomenon of people super-sizing their lives when they increase their income rather than saving the extra money.
One big area to watch out for: housing. “A lot of times we get into the trap of renting or buying a place that’s more than we need, whether that’s space or location or whatever,” Blaylock says. If your current living situation is perfectly suitable, hold off on upgrading until you start making some progress on savings goals.
If your home payments feel burdensome, then it might be time to weigh your current costs with your priorities (neighborhood, square footage and school district, for example). If you could get by with a smaller home or one that's farther away from your ideal location, a move could make sense.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.