Today we’ll be checking our blind spots. We’re looking for things that can be costing us money, bleeding our budgets, or crippling our returns on capital – possibly without us seeing them or knowing they exist…
I recently read where Americans will spend $400 million on Halloween costumes this year. FOR THEIR PETS! People spending money on Halloween costumes for the dog or cat will most likely be spending money on other frivolous and non-productive things as well. Yeah, $40 to dress your dog up like Last Gaga for an evening may not sound like much, but if you do that 2 or 3 times a month on other frivolous ventures, that money can really add up.
I’m sorry, but $5 for an iced latte is ridiculous. I’ve gone to ordering espresso shots on ice for around $2.65 instead. A little milk or half-and-half from the communal pitcher and I’m out the door for half the price and carrying the same drink. In the same vane, see if you can split a drink with a partner in crime. If two 12 oz. drinks cost $5 each there’s a good chance the 24 oz. drink may cost $8. Or order a French Press where you get 32 oz. of coffee for about half the price of the same amount of coffee ordered by the cup.
Pre-Pay to Save
Save money by pre-paying everything you can. If you can front the money, many insurance companies will discount your policies by $5-$10/month if you pre-pay instead of paying monthly. I can save $240/year by doing this with 4 different policies. For bills you do pay monthly, auto-draft to avoid late fees.
Speaking of insurance, I view it as a costly scam but a necessary evil. Review your policies on a regular (annual) basis. Shop them around to different companies. Bundle home & auto to save money. Raise your deductibles as high as you comfortably can. Consider dropping comprehensive and collision. I do not carry comprehensive/collision on my cars. For me, a totaled car would be a $5,000 event to go buy another car, not a $35,000 event on a financed vehicle with someone else holding the title. If you have a net worth over $1 million, an umbrella policy to protect your assets is advisable.
Bank and ATM fees are a no-go. If you have a checking account that charges you a monthly service fee, shop around for another bank. If you frequent ATMs and get dinged $3.50 for each trip, shop around for a bank that will reimburse your fees. All of these little tacky-tack fees can add up quickly.
I use Charles Schwab Bank for free ATM use worldwide and no monthly fees. Don’t keep large amounts of money in accounts that don’t pay at least 2%, and you might even be able to find 3%.
Investing fees are a killer. I’ve preached it before and will continue. Don’t pay a 1.5% annual fee for a mutual fund that will lag the market by 1.5% per year. That’s a 3% bogey on your money. Find cheaper alternatives like index funds that can be free or very close to it.
Review your funds regularly. The other day I was reviewing my bond funds and saw where I had a fund yielding 3.2% with a 0.35% expense ratio. I found another fund tracking the same index yielding 3.8% that cost 0.22% per year. Money moved.
Cell phones plans are a huge expense for many. I routinely see folks spending $300/month or more on cell phone bills where we can easily cut that bill in half just by working smart. Many people go with unlimited plans thinking they save money by never having to pay overage fees (or having to worry about them). The fact is, both AT&T and Verizon report the average user consumes between 3.98 GB and 4.06 GB per month respectively. So why pay for unlimited? Folks can easily slash their bills in half if they simply check their data usage and buy a limited plan that fits their needs.
Do you really need a $200/month cable bill? Cable bills are expected to soar in the next 5 years and will easily double the rate of inflation. I cut the cord long ago and built my own HDTV antenna. Then I shop around for the best deal on an internet-only plan. I go “a la carte” for my entertainment purchases and save huge amounts of money.
Grocery shopping is easily my family’s top monthly budget item. Shop smart with coupons, sales, and rewards programs. Know the costs of what you buy so you can load up when prices are lowered and pass when they are increased. When your staples go on sale, don’t just buy an extra box – buy all you will consume before the expiration date. When your favorite wine goes on sale, buy a case for an extra 5-10% discount.
Shop for quality. Food that is cheap but loaded with chemicals, fillers, and HFCS is not a bargain. I’m convinced many folks spend $100 on groceries and leave the store with $30 worth of high fructose corn syrup. Now that Amazon has purchased Whole Foods, the “Whole Paycheck” thing is a myth. They have high quality foods at a cost that rivals Kroger in some cases. Shop smart, eat smart.
Gasoline is another big expense for many. You can hedge the cost of your gas to “lock in” a low price with a simple investment. The math on Costco has been done ad nauseam, and the membership easily pays for itself if that’s where you go to get gas. Don’t wait until you are empty to fill up, that leaves you with limited options. If you see cheap gas, stop and top up.
Keep your car in good working order and keep your tires aired up. My Jeep would gain 1.5 mpg just by over-inflating the tires by 5 psi. I just changed the spark plugs in my Toyota and my gas mileage increased by 4%. Learn how to clean your air intake and throttle body too.
This is simply a partial list designed to get the creative juices flowing. I could go on and on, but I am a firm believer these hacks, tips, and tricks really do add up and really do make a difference. Please feel free to comment and add your own. Cheers, and thanks for reading!