Cost-of-living expenses are the must-haves: the recurring monthly costs that command a big percentage of your overall budget, such as housing, food, transportation and utilities. And sometimes those expenses can be so overwhelming that you consider moving somewhere cheaper.
But before you do, take a good, hard look at the amount of money you spend on your rent or mortgage, car payment, insurance, food and utilities. Surely, there’s some room for improvement.
To help you identify ways to lower your cost of living, GOBankingRates interviewed a variety of money-saving experts. Here’s what they had to say about trimming your living expenses.
Shop For a Lower Energy Rate
Not everyone will be able to take advantage of this tip, but it’s worth a shot.
“A simple money-saving tip for those located in states that have deregulated electric and gas utilities is to shop the open market for a lower energy rate,” said Paul Rhoads, vice president of EnergyPricing.com “By simply understanding the average price of your local utility (usually displayed on the bill), consumers can look for alternative energy suppliers who are offering lower rates for a fixed term. These fixed terms usually range from six months to 36 months and can help you save up to 30% on your utility bills. A quick example is:
- Average Utility Rate: $0.080 / kWh
- Best Supplier Rate: $0.060 / Wh (fixed for 12 months)
- Annual kWh Usage: 12,000 kWh
- Estimated Annual Savings: $240″
Rent Out Extra Space in Your Home
“One of the best ways to save the most amount of money on fixed living expenses is house-hacking: when you rent out a portion of your living space (like an extra room) to offset the cost of living expenses like rent and mortgage,” said Kaitlyn Ranze, senior manager of nav.it.
“Some of the benefits you reap beyond [reducing] financial stress are actually psychological. After house hacking for years, I noticed that I spent less time away from my house, suffered less FOMO, and I was able to tackle household emergencies with a built-in buddy.”
Get Serious About Your Budget
If you aren’t focusing your attention on your household budget, you should start.
“One of the best ways you can increase savings, is to analyze and improve your current budget,” said Zachary A. Bachner, CFP® of Summit Financial. “By outlining every monthly expense, you are able to find which expenses can be reduced. Whether it is cutting subscriptions, eating out less, or finding ways to carpool in order to save on gas — there are usually a few ways everyone can save some more money monthly.”
Increase Your Credit Score
Your credit score is an indicator of how well you handle credit. Having a higher credit score can help you get better interest rate offers on loans, which means less debt and lower payments.
One way to improve a lower credit score is to use a credit-builder tool. A credit-builder tool, like the ones offered by CreditStrong, holds savings funds for you in a secure account while you make small monthly payments to “pay off” the balance and demonstrate your creditworthiness. Your responsible on-time payments are reported to the credit bureau, which helps improve your credit score.
Contact Your Insurance Broker
Insurance premiums can eat up your budget. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a better price.
“Call your insurance broker (i.e., rental, homeowners, automobile) and ask them how much you can save by increasing your deductible,” said Alissa Krasner Maize, a financial planner and founder of Amplify My Wealth. “Also, inquire about any discounts available to you (i.e., good student driving and GPS tracking driving or driving course discounts). Also, ask if there are other providers they represent that may have less expensive options. When comparing, make sure you are comparing the same coverage, it is adequate, and you have the deductible amounts set aside in a savings account.”
Evaluate Your Grocery Spending
“This is usually an area where most people can cut down,” said savings expert Lisa Thompson of Coupons.com. “If you like to shop at big box stores or membership clubs, you might be overbuying, even if the cost per item is lower — see about splitting purchases with friends or family. Use coupons and cash-back offers every single time you shop; think of this as free money. In the Coupons.com app, you can find offers for everything from diapers to frozen foods to cleaning products and pet foods, and these offers are good at any store that provides an itemized receipt! You choose your offers, then choose your store, and watch your cash back grow in your PayPal account. It’s an easy way to save on things you’re buying already.”
Buy Generic When Possible
If you look around your home and see nothing but name brands, consider buying generic to save big.
“The name brands of products we buy are often produced in the same facilities as generic products, just with different packaging,” said financial coach Seth Connell. “The difference in price can be significant merely for having a name that everyone recognizes. But by purchasing generic brands more frequently, that extra cost is eliminated and you can use that savings for other purposes.”
Pay Off Debts
Debt, especially if it’s high-interest debt, can cost you hundreds of dollars or more per month.
“Pay off your debts as quickly as possible and don’t take out more,” Connell said. “Debt takes away your financial security and ability to build wealth. Without any payments on debt, you will have much more of your take-home pay at your disposal. Paying your debt off requires short-term sacrifices, but long-term the resulting financial freedom is well worth the tradeoff.”
Weatherproof Your Home
“Energy costs (heating and cooling) are some of the most expensive and hardest to predict, so they can have the best return-on-investment in the long run,” said Hillary Swetz, owner of frugal living website Homegrown Hillary. “If you’re trying to cut energy costs, try using thermal/light blocking curtains, block drafts, and learn to live with temperatures slightly warmer (in the summer) and cooler (in the winter) by wearing appropriate clothing. You can also get an energy audit, and most states have rebates for things like these to encourage green and efficient energy consumption.
Consider a Side Hustle
Lowering your cost of living isn’t just about cutting expenses, it can also mean making extra money to offset your cost of living.
“Are you handy around the house?” asked Thompson. “Do you like to paint? Do you have a green thumb? Is interior decorating your thing? See if you can turn a hobby or passion into an income generator. Many people will pay for skills like these, especially if they’re busy and don’t have the time to tackle home projects themselves.”
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
“Simple and meaningful visual reminders can help maintain motivation once the initial excitement of tackling a financial goal wears off,” said Brian Walsh, CFP and senior manager at SoFi. You can use a post-it note on the bathroom mirror, a screensaver on your phone, a picture on your dashboard, and countless other ways to remind yourself what is important.”
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