How to Slash Your Monthly Expenses — and Save $1,000 (or More) a Year
By Maryalene LaPonsie
"Game of Thrones" may be entertaining, but is it worth the $100 or more you may be shelling out for cable each month?
According to the Leichtman Research Group, the average pay-TV subscription service cost $99.10 a month in 2015, up 39 percent from 2010. Meanwhile, if The NPD Group is right, you may be on track to spend more than $200 a month for the privilege of watching television in 2020.
If that sounds outrageous to you, it's time to cut your cable bill. And while you're at it, slash other monthly expenses from your budget as well. In fact, a little bill trimming could put an extra $1,000 in your pocket this year. Here's how.
Cable or satellite TV
Let's start with the big one: your television service. Now, I know paying to watch TV seems to be the American way. After all, the Leichtman Research Group found 83 percent of all households pay for some form of TV service.
So I get it if you think pulling the plug is a bit radical. But it is also smart. If you have an HDTV and a roof antenna, you can get free over-the-air channels with a picture quality that puts standard-definition cable TV to shame.
In addition, if you have a newer TV, Blu-Ray player or gaming system and a high-speed Internet connection, you can use these streaming services for a fraction of the price:
- Hulu or Hulu Plus
- Amazon Prime
There may be a slight delay in watching new shows, but ask yourself whether it is really worth $1,200 a year just so you can be in the know for the office water cooler conversation?
If you are ready to cut the cable, you will be in great company. See: TV Viewers Cutting the Cord in Big Numbers.
And for more information, check out:
Next to television, Internet is the other big monthly expense for many families.
If you are a basic Internet user and simply need service to check your email and Facebook, you may want to check out the ultra-cheap Internet available through FreedomPop and NetZero.
With Freedom Pop, you can get up to 500MB of free wireless service each month at 3G and 4G speeds, while NetZero offers a paid DSL hook-up. Both have pricing plans that vary depending on your location, but they have historically been only a fraction of what you'd pay other providers.
For more, check out this popular post: You Can Now Get Free Internet at Home and Away.
If you have a tiered data plan with Verizon Wireless, you can use your phone as a tethered hot spot for free. The company settled a complaint with the FCC in 2012 and agreed not to charge these customers for hot-spot access. Depending on your plan, you might need to download a third-party app first.
If you are grandfathered into Verizon's old unlimited data plan, you're out of luck with the free hot-spot service. However, you can pay $30 a month for 4 gigabytes of hot spot access, and that may be cheaper than what you are currently paying for DSL or cable. Other mobile carriers offer their own hot-spot plans as well.
Finally, if your kids qualify for the National School Lunch Program, you can get $9.95 Internet access through Comcast's Internet Essentials. The company is also piloting cheap Internet programs for Pell Grant recipients enrolled in eligible community colleges as well as those age 62 or older who receive public assistance and live in Boston, San Francisco County or Palm Beach County, Florida.
Mobile phone service
Moving right along: Let's talk about your cellphone. Signing a contract can be the best way to snag the latest and greatest phone for little or nothing upfront. But you'll be paying for that phone in the form of higher monthly plan fees over the next two years.
If you aren't particular about your phone, try a prepaid plan that will give you access to good service with a decent, although not flashy, phone. All the major carriers offer prepaid plans, but PC Magazine reports some of the smaller providers offer even better deals.
Check out what is available in your area from the following companies:
- Consumer Cellular
- Giv Mobile
- Page Plus Cellular
- H20 Wireless
Be sure to compare a couple of different providers before signing up. Most run on AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint networks but Page Plus Cellular offers access to Verizon's network. In addition, some providers, such as H20 Wireless, may be a better choice if you need to call internationally.
Find help for common financial problems in our Solutions Center!
We've covered the big three expenses, but there are still plenty more ways to save. Sometimes we get so hung up on our major expenses that we ignore the little fees that nickel-and-dime our bank accounts down to nothing.
Take credit monitoring, for example. You could pay a company $15 a month or more to watch your credit report or you could do it yourself. By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. Request yours at annualcreditreport.com (the only government-authorized site) and review them for errors.
For additional peace of mind, you can add a fraud alert to your file, which requires lenders to take additional steps to verify your request before extending any credit in your name.
In short, there's no reason to pay for credit monitoring. For more, read Ask Stacy: Should I Pay for Credit Monitoring?
Along the same lines, why are you paying for virus protection and cloud storage when free options are available?
I am an AVG fan myself, but there are plenty of other good free anti-virus programs available. Again, we'll refer you to our friends at PC Magazine to help identify the best free programs on the Web. The following are among their recommendations:
- Avast Free AntiVirus 2016
- AVG Anti-Virus Free (2016)
- Panda Free Antivirus (2016)
- Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014)
Cloud storage is also easily found online. If you have an MSN account, you have access to their OneDrive. Google users can back up documents to their Google Drive. Then, you also have Dropbox, iCloud and MediaFire, and the list goes on and on.
Confession time: I love magazines. My perfect morning involves sleeping children, a cup of coffee and a home and garden magazine.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get cheap magazines without paying newsstand prices. For example, there are a number of websites offering free magazine subscriptions. I've personally used the free magazine section of ValueMags for consumer publications and Mercury Magazines for business titles.
While many free magazine offers are for digital editions, you can also find print subscriptions for free.
Speaking of digital editions, you can typically find much of a magazine's content on its website for free. I know, it's not quite the same as flipping through the pages, but you can't beat the price.
If you must have the magazine in your hand but can't find a free subscription, a trip to your local library is probably in order. In addition to checking magazines out, some branches have racks of old issues free for the taking.
Last but not least, that gym membership you've been clinging to in the hopes you really will begin working out any day now.
If you really want to belong to a gym, look for free or low-cost options. Students may have free access to their school's facilities. Your health insurance plan may get you a discount. Or if you belong to Costco, you could take advantage of their arrangement with 24 Hour Fitness. Other chains such as Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness specialize in no-frills, low-cost gyms.
Finally, it probably doesn't need to be said, but you do know it's free to walk on the sidewalk, right?
How have you cut back on your monthly subscription expenses? Is there something you'll never give up?
Tell us more about it in the comments or on our Facebook page.