37 Things To Cut From Your Budget When Cutting Expenses To the Bone

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We've been sitting down to figure out our financial goals during this financial crisis and what things will look like for us moving forward. We already live on one income and focus on cutting household costs pretty regularly, but we also know the impacts of the recession are coming. It got us thinking, how do you cut expenses on a family budget when there's nothing left to cut? Is it even possible to cut our expenses to the bone at this point? 

We're going to look at all of that today including things we've already cut from our budge and swaps we are making to reduce spending on things you can't cut from your budget.

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Table of Contents

What are unnecessary expenses?

In our house, we define unnecessary expenses as anything we don't need for safety, security, and to sustain living. For instance, we need food in order to live. We need the internet in order to sustain how we make money. We need to repair our roof because it impacts our safety and security. It's a drilled down focus on true needs vs. wants.

If you want to dive deeper, Lexington Law put together this super interesting article about the psychology of status purchases. Check it out to see if you're convincing yourself something is “necessary” when it isn't!

What areas should you target when looking for possible ways to cut back on spending?

I think that requires you to know your budget to begin with. Look at the main categories costing you money in your budget and focus on those when cutting expenses to the bone.

For instance, since we already have cut our budget to the point there's nothing left to cut, our biggest expenses are our home and food. Obviously, these are necessary expenses, so we need to find ways to reduce our spending on them; which we'll look at in this post too!

We'll look at common budget categories costing you money in this post like transportation, debt, housing, bills, entertainment, food, expenses for your child, and more to help you figure out what areas you should target in your budget.

How do you cut a bill?

You can cut a bill by canceling the service or terminating it all together, or you can call the provider to try negotiating lower terms. Keep this in mind as it applies to a few money saving tips below!

Cutting Food Expenses To the Bone

Dining out / Ordering Take Out

Even when you think you've stopped eating out, be mindful of your takeout budget! It can (and will) creep up on you when you're feeling tired.

Focus on creating a cheap grocery list that feels sustainable to your family. We did this a few years ago and, with a little budget hacking, were able to get meals down to $1.44 per serving!

Extra shopping trips

One of the sneaky holes in our family budget was buying the same item over and over again because we were disorganized.

The start of the pandemic had one major blessing for us: cutting back out grocery shopping trips to once a month. That forced me to get organized and start shopping my pantry since I couldn't just run out to the store for one quick item.

Now I make it a goal to get creative in the kitchen and use things up before buying an item that's similar. For instance, maybe we have cans of black beans, but I wanted a can of refried beans for dinner. Instead of just going to the store to buy a different type of bean, I use the ones I have on hand. I've gotten pretty good at perfecting my fried black beans for taco night as a result!

Unnecessary grocery items from your grocery budget

Obviously food is a necessity, but the type of food and how much your spending on it leave a lot of grey room in anyone's budget. 

Clip coupons

Here we are just focusing on cutting unnecessary spending.

I'm not telling you to go to the grocery store with your Grandma's coupon book and clippers… but I am telling you, to get some coupons in your life!

You can start small and simple by grabbing the flyer at the front of your store and seeing what bonus offers are in there. Or you can put a little more time into your couponing efforts and visit retailers websites to see if they are offering any printable coupons.

If you really want to take it a step further, email the brands you love and ask them to send you some coupons!

Use money saving apps

If couponing isn't your thing, then download some money saving apps to do the work for you! Again, the goal here is to cut unnecessary money from your spending to get expenses down to the bone!

Like I said, food is a necessity so you can't cut it entirely from your budget, but you can find ways to save money! 

Cook in bulk

Obviously shopping in bulk is helpful, but so is cooking in bulk!

Cooking in bulk allows you to cut back on running your electric and water. 

Other bonuses: less clean up and food is already in the fridge so you aren't tempted to order take out!

Cut back on things you can grow

Starting a garden is a great way to cut food expenses from your budget.

It does require you to put in a little money upfront, but sometimes we need to invest a little money in order to grow our money.

We have been looking at our grocery bills and figuring out what produce items cost us the most each month. We've narrowed it down to bananas, spinach, blueberries, and cilantro as our big ticket items. We're going to a local nonprofit garden to talk with them about which we can grow in our backyard and what the process will look like to get started.

Cut housing + bills

Downsize

Get creative with ideas for reducing your rent or mortgage.

This could mean downsizing altogether or moving somewhere with a lower cost of living.

If you own your home, and don't want to move, you may want to consider refinancing (more on that in a minute). We did this as mortgage rates decreased recently and were able to save a few hundred dollars a month.

Rent a room

If moving, or reducing your rent/mortgage aren't options, consider renting or subletting a portion of the space you're occupying.

Cut energy costing leaks by air sealing your home

For the entire first year living in our house, I could never figure out why one of the rooms always felt so hot and humid. I chalked it up to living in an old home in South Florida…

Fast forward to a recent downpour and realizing that our fireplace flue was open (yeah we don't normally have fireplaces in FL, so this was a first for me).

Anyway, it sent me down a rabbit hole learning all about air sealing our home. Air leaking in and out of the home can end up costing you a ton of money in heating and cooling. We've now made it our mission to test for air tightness and seal any leaks.

Unplug

We've all been told to turn off the lights when we leave a room to cut down on electricity costs, but what about leaving items plugged in, even when they're not on?

Yep, you guessed it, all those electronics still plugged in are creating a phantom charge, where they still use a small amount of electricity, even when off.

Think of it like your TV or computer is in “idle” mode, even when turned off. It still burns a little gas and costs you money.

Cut this cost from your expenses by unplugging items not in use.

Use power strips

Similar to unplugging, power strips can be another great way to reduce phantom, or vampire, electricity charges costing you money.

The powerstrip can act as a fast way to unplug many devices at once, or you can get one with a timer that disconnects any electrical charge going to it at a set time each day.

Program your thermostat

If you have a predictable schedule where you're in/out of the house take the time to program your thermostat.

There is no use in cooling or heating a home no one is in. You can set your thermostat to cool (or heat) your house a little before you typically arrive back home so you'll never notice the difference.

A good rule of thumb to follow in keeping energy costs down is keeping your thermostat within 10 degrees of the temperature outside. I learned that the hard way last year when our A/C froze over in the summer!

Swap lighting for CFL or LED

While CFL or LED light bulbs cost more when initially purchasing, they end up saving you money in your electric bill over time.

Pay attention to hot water

First, start by checking your hot water heater settings. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends water heaters be set to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) and The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends setting the water heater at no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) to prevent scalding. A water heater set too high will end up costing you too much money unnecessarily.

Beyond setting your hot water heater, be mindful of running hot water in your house. 

We have our pool heater on a timer so we don't heat the pool unnecessarily and are mindful to turn off the sink and not let the shower run in an empty room.

Negotiate cell phone and internet bills

Get on the phone with your cell phone and/or internet company and see if you can negotiate a lower rate to trim down on some expenses in your budget.

Before you get on the call though, do your homework. Look at competitors rates and be ready to switch providers if your current company won't accommodate.

During the call, know what you are asking for and ask to speak to a supervisor. Keep escalating the call until you get someone who can help. Use a script or key talking points to keep yourself organized. Take notes of all the names you're speaking with and ask for the new terms in writing. 

Cutting Transportation Expenses To the Bone

We are a one car household which saves us loads of money in car payments, insurance, and gas. All of these options will allow you to cut back on, or cut things like gas, car insurance, and auto maintenance from your budget entirely. 

  • Sell a car
  • Carpool
  • Use public transit
  • Walk or ride a bike

Cutting Debt Expenses To the Bone

Monitor your credit

Cut bad credit from your life by monitoring it for fraud and inaccuracies. These can cost you more money in higher interest rates or higher premiums. 

Get in the habit of regularly monitoring your credit with a tool like the Lex OnTrack Identity Theft Protection tool which monitors and protects your identity from theft with $1 million in identity theft insurance! It works to help catch fraud on your accounts and works with you to rectify the situation.

Refinance

Refinancing your student loans, mortgage or an auto loan for a lower rate can cut some of your expenses down.

We did this a few months ago on our mortgage and were able to save a few hundred dollars each month.

Consolidate

Consolidating debt or loans is when you bundle multiple debts into one payment.

It's important to note, as Lexington Law did in this article, that while debt consolidation may save you money on your monthly payments, it could cost you more in the long run. It's important to make a choice that works best for your financial situation. But ideally you'll only consolidate debt if it means paying less overall. Pay particular attention to a lowered interest rate and repayment terms when deciding this. Read more about the cons to debt consolidation from Lexington Law here.

Now debt consolidation isn't all doom and gloom. My husband consolidated his credit card debt to a 0% interest for 18 months credit card which he was able to pay off in full before the high interest rate kicked in. Cutting the expense of costly interest rates ended up being a huge money saver for him and allowed him to pay off his debts.

Read more about how to consolidate credit card debt from Lexington Law.

Automate debt repayment plans

Let's tackle how this cuts expenses on the two typical types of debts: installment loans (think student loans) and revolving debts (think credit cards):

Installment loans: Contact your loan provider and see if they'll lower your rate if you sign up for automatic billing. 

Revolving debts: Setting up automatic bill pay on credit cards can be helpful in cutting expenses for a couple of reasons:

First, ensures your oldest credit card stays active by setting up one recurring payment to it and autopays that. This will keep the age of your credit history at it's oldest, which is one way to improve your credit score according to Lexington Law. The higher your credit score, the easier it is to negotiate lower interest rates or premiums, or get access to better rewards cards.

Second, automating your debt repayments on your credit card can ensure that you are always paying the minimum balance so you don't incur late fees or miss payments that wind the debt up in collections. 

Cutting Hobbies & Entertainment Expenses To the Bone

Cut cable

Cut ties with cable. If you really need/want TV in your life, you can get an antenna for like $20 on Amazon to pull from local stations. It won't cost you anything more than purchasing the device!

Cancel all subscriptions and memberships

Yep, you read that right. If you think there's nothing left to cut from your budget, then you may need to go through it a bit more ruthlessly and cut ties with all of your subscription and membership services.

Don't stress, there are SO many free options available for literally everything today.

No TV service? Watch Youtube.

No gym? Watch Youtube or find free workout classes in your area (they exist) or try trial day passes at local gyms or find an Instagram account with some workout circuits.

No music? There are still services out there that let you stream for free and only play an ad once in a while, if at all. Our Alexa plays stations with no ads for instance.

noise cancelling headphones millennial blog

Skip travel (or save money if you must go)

If you can, cut ties with traveling altogether.

However, I realize sometimes you still need to travel for one reason or another. Discover 41 Brilliant [+ Easy] Ways To Save Money On Travel here.

Opt for free fun

Free fun is all around us! You just need to let yourself see it! 

Here are a few ideas for free fun to get you started:

Cutting All Your Other Expenses To the Bone

Free childcare

Childcare is wildly expensive! One thing 2020 taught us, is just how creative we can get at watching our kids.

Instead of dishing out a small fortune for childcare, consider ways to cut this expense down or entirely out of your budget.

Some ideas for cheap or free childcare:

  • Get a group of parents together and rotate days of the weeks you watch each others kids
  • Ask friends or family to help
  • Look into government support for free or discounted childcare for low income families or single parents
  • Offer a student free room and board in exchange for child care
  • Look into co-ops. These are often cheaper and are sort of like a more formal version of option one and you don't have a ton of kids running around your house

Opt for reusable items

While reusable items may cost a bit more up front, they will save you money down the road.

This goes back to that piece in finding ways to cut expenses down to the bone on your grocery list. For instance, we used to always buy straws before learning how bad they were for the environment. So we swapped to these reusable straws that are more eco-friendly and cut a regular expense from our family budget!

Simplify your beauty routine

Postpartum my skin was a bit of a mess. Instead of loading up on costly creams and miracle products, I decided to simplify my beauty routine and stick with the basics.

Each morning, I ice my face (cost: $0). I've always been taught this helps reduce breakouts and prevents wrinkles.

Then I use a single Ayurvedic facial oil that rehydrates my skin and brings down any inflammation or congestion. I use the oil again at night and that's it! Simple, easy, and affordable beauty routine and my skin has never looked better.

Cut new items and buy used

Sometimes we need to buy an item and there's no way around it. So instead, cut buying new items if you can and opt for used. 

For instance, when we were having a baby, we had to buy certain items for her safety and security (remember that definition we talked about earlier?).

Instead of dropping loads of money on a bassinet or clothes, we bought used. We also buy used books (necessity since it's part of healthy development).

DIY cleaning products

Sort of like before, if you're cutting your expenses to the bone you need to reevaluate the things you have to spend money on and that includes cleaning products.

We buy vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap in bulk which can be combined into loads of DIY cleaning recipes you can google.

Skip gifts

Cutting gifts from our family budget has meant focusing on other love languages like quality time and acts of service on special days.

Cut paper products (except TP)

Paper products are a serious waste of your paper!

Okay, enough of the mom jokes… but seriously, paper towels, gift wrapping, cards, etc. are all wastes of money that can be cut from your budget for lower cost alternatives like these:

  • Use old t-shirts or rags instead of paper towels.
  • Save gift bags or get free old newspapers for gift wrapping.
  • Send an ecard or create a digital slideshow instead of traditional cards. 

Costly activities for kids

I know, I know, cutting expenses related to kids is always hard. I mean, they bring so much joy and are often a reprieve for us parents.

But if you are focusing on cutting things from your family budget when you have nothing left to cut, then you have to say goodbye to those costly activities for the kids and hello to free (or at least cheaper) things to do with them.

Instead of surf camp, maybe rent a board from a local surf shop and get out there with your kid! It's a lot less expensive.

I think the big thing to remember with keeping kids entertained without loads of activities is to model what it looks like to have healthy hobbies and interests in your own life. Kids are always watching and if all they ever see you do is sit on your phone or complain about your job, then they'll pick up on your boredom in life and it will become theirs too. However if you are engaging in new things, exploring all that life has to offer, they're more likely to model that same curiosity and engagement in life.

Outsourcing your life

You have to cut outsourcing your life if you want to trim your monthly expenses to the bone!

When there is nothing left to cut, consider these:

  • Housekeeper
  • Handyman
  • CPA
  • Laundry
  • Dog walker/sitter
  • Apps for productivity and time management
  • Ride sharing services

Granted this doesn't make sense for all situations. Don't nix something if you truly need it and it's enabling you to earn more money.  For instance, if you're single and formerly employed with fairly simple finances, you may want to do your own taxes instead of hiring a CPA to cut costs. Or perhaps you start bringing your dog to work or ask your boss to work remotely a few days a week to reduce doggie daycare expenses. These are just suggestions to consider to get you thinking outside of the box.

Remember…

Even when it feels like there is nothing left to cut, you can always get creative with ways to reduce spending or interest rates costing you.

Give Lexington Law a call today for your free credit report consultation if you believe there are any unsubstantiated or inaccurate items on your credit profile. You're more likely to have these if you've been away on military leave, have carried student loan or medical debt, or been recently divorced.

You do not have to live with financial stress and you can stop feeling broke. Check out these money saving tips for more ideas!

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