Nearly half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck — and 69 percent have less than $1,000 in a savings account — according to two GOBankingRates surveys. That’s a good indication that most people should pinpoint some expenses to cut.
Cutting expenses might seem painful, but there’s a good chance you can eliminate hundreds — even thousands — of dollars worth of costs from your budget. You’re likely paying for some dumb expenses you could easily avoid by conducting a careful review of your finances — so you might not even notice some of them missing once you cut them.
To break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and stop throwing away money each month, look for these 12 hidden expenses you can slash from your budget now. If you use these cost-cutting strategies, you’ll have more disposable income in your household budget to boost savings or pay down debt.
If you’re paying bank fees that you can avoid, you’re throwing your money away. “A typical monthly bank fee is $15,” said Shannon McLay, a financial planner and founder of The Financial Gym.
If you’ve been a long-time customer and also have loans, credit and debit cards from the bank that are generating money for your financial institution, ask to be refunded for monthly fees, said McLay. “I have advised dozens of clients to do this and none of them has ever been rejected,” McLay said. Eliminating a $15 monthly fee could save you $180 a year.
You can also switch to a bank that doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee — and gives interest on your checking account balance. Online banks typically offer better rates and fewer fees because they don’t pay overhead costs like brick-and-mortar banks — and they pass the savings on to their customers. Consider opening a checking account with a good online bank to save on fees.
Retirement Account Fees
You’re on the right track if you’re saving for retirement, but make sure you watch out for hidden fees that could be eating away at your retirement account balance. Retirement plans like 401ks come with associated costs such as administration, investment and individual services fees that can add up. If the fees and expenses on your account are 1.5 percent, for example, your balance will be 28 percent smaller at retirement than if the fees had been 0.5 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Check your plan’s statement or contact your plan administrator to see what you’re paying in fees. If the investments in your 401k have different fees, one of the simple ways to cut costs is to switch to lower-fee investments if they fit your risk tolerance and investment objectives.
Credit Monitoring Services
Monitoring your credit report for signs of fraud and identity theft is a good idea. For a fee, companies will do the monitoring for you. But McLay cautions against shelling out money for this service. “Ten dollars a month might not seem like a problem,” she said. “However, $120 for a year adds up, especially when you can monitor your credit for free.”
To eliminate this hidden cost from your budget, check your credit report for free once a year at Annualcreditreport.com. You’re entitled to a free report from all three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You could even time it so that you get one free report every four months to keep tabs on your credit throughout the year.
Landline Phone Service
Slightly more than half – 50.8 percent — of American homes don’t have a landline phone but do have at least one wireless phone, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics. If you’re still paying for a landline but rely on your cell phone to make all of your phone calls, it’s time to stop wasting money on this dumb expense.
You could save hundreds a year by cutting this cost. For example, the cost of AT&T landline phone service with unlimited nationwide calling is $32.99 a month. That’s nearly $396 a year you could add back to your budget by ditching this unnecessary expense.
Maybe you got a magazine subscription to help with a fundraiser for your kid’s school and now have a pile of magazines you never read. Or, maybe you signed up for a subscription service that sends you a box of makeup each month that ends up unused in a drawer.
“In this day and age, it seems like everything is subscription-based,” said Clint Haynes, financial planner and president of NextGen Wealth. “I have seen countless clients paying for these subscriptions they never even use.”
To free up some money in your monthly budget, check your bank and credit card statements for these hidden fees and cancel the subscriptions you’re not using. “You will be amazed at how much you’ll be saving on an annual basis,” Haynes said.
Getting things for free is one of the best ways of saving money. But, read the fine print if you sign up for a free trial that requires your payment information, said Andrew McFadden, certified financial planner and founder of Panoramic Financial Advice in Fresno, Calif. That freebie could turn into a hidden cost if you don’t cancel the product or service when the free trial is over.
“They grab your interest by telling you it’s free, but these companies know how likely you are to forget about it because of our overwhelming lifestyles,” McFadden said. “So do yourself a favor and don’t sign up for these unless you are actually going to revisit the purchase decision before the charges start piling up.” If you opt for the freebie, mark your calendar or set a reminder for when the trial period is over so you don’t forget.
Buyer Beware: These Subscriptions Are Really Hard to Cancel
Sodas With Meals
That daily soda with lunch or dinner — or both — could be costing you a lot more than you think. American households spend an average of $850 a year on soda, according to Water First, a Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition project. McFadden recommends cutting out sodas to save money — especially when you go out to eat.
“It’s hard to do, especially when meals come packaged in a combo meal,” said McFadden. “But the truth is you can save 50 cents to a dollar every time you opt for just the entree and the side with water versus the combo.” If you dine out frequently, this could save you $25 to $50 per month.
“And your health will thank you too,” McFadden said. “The last time I checked, sugary soft drinks have no nutritional value.” In fact, drinking a soda a day can add 10 extra pounds of weight gain a year, according to Water First.
Snacks at the Movie Theater
Watching a movie at the theater can be pricey by itself. You don’t need to make it even more expensive by adding the cost of snacks.
“If you buy a large soft drink, popcorn and candy, your snacks will cost almost $19,” said Donna Freedman, author of “Your Playbook For Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs and Wants Edition.” If you do it weekly, you’ll spend close to $1,000 a year on snacks at the movies.
“Sure, there are ways to keep movie snack costs down, such as joining theater rewards programs or buying the refillable cups and popcorn buckets that some chains offer,” Freedman said. But one of her budgeting tips is to eliminate this dumb expense altogether.
Americans are expected to spend about $69 billion on their pets in 2017, according to the American Pet Products Association. If you’re a pet owner, you have to pay to feed and care for your fur baby, but don’t blow your budget on unnecessary items.
“Your pet does not need all those toys,” Freedman said. “Nor does your pet need frequent — and pricey — store-bought treats.” If you add up how much you spend in a year on all the extras, you might be surprised by what you’re spending on things Fluffy or Fido can live without.
Kids’ Extracurricular Activities
Your kids might be benefiting from participating in extracurricular activities like soccer, tennis, karate, dance, art classes and piano lessons — but your budget could be taking a big hit if your children are involved in too many activities. The average annual amount parents of middle or high school students paid per child was $302 to play sports, $218 for arts-related activities and $124 for school clubs, according to a survey by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital.
“Sometimes we overschedule our kids,” Freedman said. “Take a hard look at what you’re paying for and the value you’re receiving. Remember that it isn’t just the price of the activities and lessons but peripheral costs — gasoline, fast food, post-game treats, uniforms, tournament travel, team fundraisers — that can hack your budget.” Freedman recommends asking your kids to prioritize their activities and name one — or some — they’d be willing to drop.
Holiday spending has been on the rise over the past several years, according to the Visa Retail Spending Monitor. If you’ve gotten in the habit of overspending on the holidays, consider trimming this dumb expense.
“I am not being a Grinch here — I’m merely suggesting that you dial it back a notch,” Freedman said. For example, you could aim to spend 20 percent less this year than you did last year and have a more frugal holiday.
To cut back, she recommends making and sticking to a gift list, using price comparison sites such as PriceGrabber and NexTag, and searching for online coupon codes at sites like RetailMeNot and Savings.com.
Driving to Work
Yes, you have to get to work. But do you necessarily have to drive your car to the office?
“Suppose you could go from two cars to one — or from one to none — temporarily,” Freedman said. “Walk or bike to your job for six months and you could save on gasoline. Carpool or take public transit and the savings would still be pretty big even if you’re paying for a bus pass or giving gas money to a colleague.” You could also cut insurance costs by letting your insurer know that you’re not using your car to drive to work daily, said Freedman.
Sites and apps like eRideShare, CarpoolWorld and Carticipate can help you find a ride to work. Or check with your local public transit system to see if it offers the free use of a van to those who are willing to take half a dozen or more people along for the ride, Freedman said.
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