How To Save Money on All Your Monthly Expenses and Bills
Everyone’s financial situation and goals are different. Perhaps you’re saving up for a big purchase like a home, car or trip abroad. Maybe you’re grappling with massive student loan debt and planning to pay it off as soon as possible. You could be barely scraping by, desperate to stop living paycheck to paycheck, or you could be doing well and simply aiming to build a brighter, more secure future for yourself.
Regardless, a major step toward succeeding at your goals is to carefully evaluate your spending. Your monthly budget likely includes everyday needs, such as housing and transportation; wants, such as dining out and entertainment; and squirreling away part of your paycheck plus paying down debt. Finding different ways to save money on all your monthly expenses — including basic necessities — can help you prepare for the future and reach your financial goals faster.
How To Save Money on Family Expenses
It’s wise for every family, regardless of financial standing, to save money on everyday expenses that can really add up. Not only does cutting costs create breathing room in your budget, but it also frees up money that can go toward your family’s well-being. Extra funds might mean taking family vacations, exploring new interests and activities together or padding that college savings account.
Average monthly spending: $860
Child care is one of the biggest expenses that parents contend with, particularly when their children are young and need constant supervision. There are several ways to save money in this area, however:
- Join (or start) a baby-sitting co-op in which you trade care with fellow parents.
- Utilize nonprofit organizations such as your local church or the YMCA.
- Split the cost of a single baby sitter with a fellow parent. The sitter can watch both of your children at one person’s house. (Of course, make sure you clear this with the sitter.)
- Seek out day cares built on an affordable care business model, such as WeeCare.
Extracurricular Activities for Kids
Average monthly spending: Varies
The monthly cost of extracurricular activities can differ between families based on a number of factors, including where you live. For instance, a season of classes at The School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York will set you back $950 in total between January and May. At the Martell School of Dance in Akron, Ohio, on the other hand, a season of dance classes between September and May costs up to $593, including registration fees.
If you can’t pick up and move to a state with a lower cost of living, try limiting your child to one activity that they particularly enjoy. If you’ve already done this, explore discounts. Many programs offer reduced prices for families with multiple children, those who register early and so forth. Sites like Groupon also offer classes at a fraction of the original cost. Finally, when possible, shop secondhand for required materials — cleats, tutus, etc. — or ask family and friends.
Average monthly spending: $432.75
Though it’s impossible to predict injuries and illnesses, there are tricks to save money on rising healthcare costs.
If you and your spouse both have jobs that offer health insurance for dependents, comparing insurance plans can lead to major savings. You might find, for instance, that your spouse’s employer has a more cost-effective insurance plan for families.
Furthermore, when it comes to prescriptions, buying generic whenever possible can lower your monthly expenses. Generic drugs can cost up to 85% less than their brand-name counterparts, according to GoodRx.
Average monthly spending: $56.75
Of course, the simplest way to cut down on pet care costs is to not have pets, but seeing as dogs are man’s best friend, it’s understandable that you might want to add one to the family. Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird or some other creature, there are various ways to save money on pet expenses:
- Spring for pet insurance that will cover you in case of a costly emergency. Or, at least build an emergency fund — if you don’t end up needing the money for your pet, it’s still yours to keep.
- Try a veterinary discount plan such as Pet Assure. The annual fee for one cat is $79, and it’s $99 for a single dog. If you have an entire menagerie of pets to cover, you can get Pet Assure’s unlimited plan for $199 a year. Regardless of which plan you choose, you’ll receive 25% off all veterinary services — from vaccinations to emergency visits — as long as you visit an in-network doctor. Your annual fee could pay for itself after just one visit.
- Consider grooming your pets on your own. It takes time, a little elbow grease and pet cleaning products, but the savings can really add up — especially for long-haired pets that require regular maintenance.
- Ask friends and family members to pet-sit when you’re away. You can also try sites like Rover that allow you to compare prices of care providers in your area.
- Adopt, don’t shop — the cost to adopt from a local shelter and save an animal’s life is significantly cheaper than buying one from a breeder or store.
- Skip the expensive store-bought toys and go the DIY route instead.
Average monthly spending: $1,603-$8,821, depending on type of care
Prices for senior care in some locations are outpacing the rate of inflation, according to Genworth. For instance, a private room at a nursing home costs about $8,821 a month on average, whereas companion care — aka homemaker services — costs about $4,481 monthly. So, the first step to save money on senior care is to honestly evaluate yourself or your loved one. There are numerous options available, including adult day care, in-home care, assisted living and skilled nursing.
If you or your loved one are independent enough, it might be a matter of downsizing to a smaller, more manageable place where the costs aren’t as high. If the senior care needed is extensive, consider U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs that help seniors and people with disabilities find affordable housing. There are also housing programs for people of certain religions, veterans and Masons.
Medicare or Medicaid can also help mitigate the costs of senior care. Medicaid is specifically geared toward low-income seniors and covers both in-home and nursing facility services.
How To Save Money on Food Expenses
Food can be expensive, especially if it’s quality and nutritious. On top of that, you’re constantly racking up a food bill because you need to eat every day — national average spending on food alone is $8,169 a year. However, there are easy ways to save money on your monthly food-related expenses, and they all stem from becoming a savvy shopper.
Average monthly spending: $386.91
Just as with household goods, buying in bulk is one of the simplest ways to save money on groceries. At Walmart, for example, you can purchase a dozen 15-ounce cans of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli for $13.20 or you can buy three of their four-packs of the exact same product — also equal to 12 cans — for just $10.18.
Additionally, it’s worth comparing stores. Though discount stores can offer great savings, there are some things you shouldn’t buy at the dollar store. For instance, you can get two dozen cans of Libby’s whole kernel sweet corn at Walmart for $15.84. Meanwhile, the same amount of the same product at a discount wholesale retailer would cost you $18.96.
Whenever possible, try store-brand products because they’re usually cheaper. And, combine low prices with cash-back sites, coupons and discounts from store apps for maximum savings.
How To Save Money on Housing
Housing costs are the largest monthly expense for most people. That being said, regardless of whether you rent or own, there are money-saving tips that can help cut your housing bill each month.
Average monthly spending: $156.58
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), you can save money on homeowners insurance — anywhere from 5%-15%off your premium — by buying your home and auto insurance from the same company. Finding the right company and sticking with it for the long haul can also save you money. Additionally, taking steps to increase your home’s security or reduce its susceptibility to storm damage can lower the cost of your insurance.
Average monthly spending: $796.41
You might think that your mortgage is a fixed payment that you’re locked into, but there are ways to save money on this hefty monthly expense. For starters, you can always re-amortize, aka recast. Re-amortization means that you pay a lump sum upfront — usually $5,000 minimum — to have your lender extend the term of your loan, thereby lowering the monthly payments. The service fee could be from $0-$500, according to The Truth About Mortgage. Keep in mind, of course, that a longer term means you’ll have to pay more in interest over time.
Similarly, you can refinance your mortgage to get a better rate, but this is a longer, costlier process, and you’ll need a good credit score to get better terms. Since you’re applying for a brand-new loan, you’ll likely need to pay for an appraisal, closing costs and fees all over again. Also, you’ll likely be resetting the clock — for example, if you started with a 30-year mortgage and paid it off for 10 years, that progress would be gone, and you’d be right back at 30 years again. Unless you pay off your mortgage early, you’ll spend more time forking over interest.
Finally, if you didn’t put down 20% of the purchase price on your home, you’re likely paying private mortgage insurance. Fortunately, this is something you can get rid of. Once you’ve paid down your mortgage balance to 80% — thereby owning 20% equity in your home — you can request that your lender cancel the PMI. Once you’ve paid down to 78%, your lender is legally required to cancel the PMI .
Average monthly spending: $179.91
Property taxes are determined by your county’s assessment of your home and land, so the primary way to reduce your bill is to challenge that assessment. Start by going down to city hall and requesting your property tax card, which is a detailed description of your home and land. Note any discrepancies — such as extra bedrooms or incorrect square footage — and point them out to the assessor’s office. You can also examine the assessments of homes in your neighborhood to make sure they’re consistent. If you find that your neighbor’s property is nearly identical to yours but their home is valued at a lower price, perhaps your property was overvalued — making your taxes higher.
In any case, you can request a property tax reassessment. Walk your property with the assessor and be sure to let them see inside. If you don’t, they have to make assumptions — which might mean rounding up your home’s value.
If you end up disagreeing with the reassessment, you can challenge it by filing with the county and requesting a hearing with the State Board of Equalization. Just keep in mind that every nook and cranny of your home will be under scrutiny, meaning your plan to lower your property taxes could backfire.
Average monthly spending: $369.33 (but this varies widely by location)
If you’re wondering how to save money on monthly bills, rent is likely at the forefront of your mind. Luckily, there are a few ways to reduce your costs.
Moving to an area with a lower cost of living can help you save on rent. However, if that isn’t feasible, try looking for a smaller space or splitting the cost with a roommate. You can also try negotiating a number of things with your landlord. If you’re willing to agree to an extended lease — which saves your landlord the hassle of looking for new tenants — put that offer on the table in exchange for lower rent. If you don’t need the parking spot that comes with your apartment, offer to give it up for a lower rent, too. Your landlord can likely sell the space to a tenant with two cars.
When it comes time to re-sign your lease, it’s OK to play hardball. Landlords want stability and good tenants, so they might not increase your rent if you tell them you’re looking elsewhere.
Average monthly spending: $19
Though renters insurance is fairly affordable, there are ways to lower that cost even more. First, bundle and save. Just as with homeowners insurance, if you get multiple policies through the same company, you’re likely to receive a discount. Second, you can slash your rates by reducing your risk. This could mean moving to a safer area or a newer building with better safety and security features. Taking steps such as installing fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, even in older properties, can also help you reap savings, according to State Farm. Just ask your insurance agent for any safety discounts they might offer.
How To Save Money on Transportation
Depending on where you live, how often you drive and how many vehicles you own, your transportation could be eating up a significant portion of your budget. Figuring out how to save money on expenses like gas and auto loans is crucial if you want to free up funds.
Auto Loan Payments
Average monthly spending: $563.00
If you’re looking to lower your auto loan payments, the bulk of the work happens before you even buy a vehicle. You’ll want to pay as big of a down payment as possible, find a vehicle that suits your needs at the lowest possible price, try a loan with a longer term and consider leasing instead of buying.
However, if you already have a loan and are looking to save on payments, you can try refinancing. Some banks, like Capital One, will let customers check their refinancing options without a hard credit check, so there’s no real downside.
Average monthly spending: $128.75
When it comes to cutting auto insurance costs, there are a number of options:
- Try to maintain a clean driving record. Customers with fewer accidents cost less for companies to insure, and they’ll pass a portion of those savings on to you.
- Build a good credit score. Your insurance policy is partially based on your score in most cases.
- Ask for discounts. Cheaper rates exist for veterans, people who put very little mileage on their cars, good students, those willing to take a defensive driving course and more.
- Raise your deductible. Note: You should do this only if you can afford to pay the deductible in the event of an accident.
- Bundle and save. As with other forms of insurance, a company is usually willing to offer a reduced price if you have more than one policy with them.
- Don’t be afraid to switch. You should routinely shop around for the best rates and change insurers if you find a better deal elsewhere.
Average monthly spending: $73.91
One of the easiest ways to save on maintenance costs is to avoid going to the dealership, which is often more expensive, and seek out a reputable local mechanic instead. You can also do several routine tasks yourself, such as tire rotations, air filter replacements, windshield wiper replacements and oil changes.
On that note, don’t change your oil more than you have to. If your car has an indicator, it will light up when the oil needs to be changed. Engineers are responsible for this feature, so trust the indicator light over the little reminder sticker that the auto service company (aka the one that wants your business) slapped on your windshield.
Average monthly spending: $174.50
Gas prices are nothing to joke about — the average American spends nearly $2,000 a year on fuel. If you live in a major city, traffic congestion is taking a huge toll on your gas tank and your wallet. That said, you can save on gas in several different ways. Start by selecting a car that uses regular fuel and has a good fuel economy.
If you already own a car, treat it with care to reduce your spending on gas. According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, aggressive driving — such as repeated braking and bursts of speed — can cost you up to $1 a gallon . Furthermore, carrying extra weight, overusing the air conditioner, idling and using the wrong type of oil can all hurt your car’s fuel efficiency.
Try to be cognizant of the gas prices in your area whenever possible. Apps like GasBuddy can help you find local gas stations with the best prices.
Average monthly spending: $65.08
Though public transportation tends to be a more cost-effective option compared to owning a car, those bus rides still add up over time. Try looking for discounts; they usually exist for students, seniors and veterans. You can also use discounted or free forms of transportation.
Also, consider buying a reloadable fare card, such as Boston’s CharlieCard or San Francisco’s Clipper card, which can help you avoid surcharges on rides. Buying passes in bulk at a discounted rate is also an option in some areas.
Average monthly spending: $82.75
The two major players in the ride-sharing game right now are Uber and Lyft. Instead of sticking to one company for the sake of convenience or brand loyalty, install both apps on your phone. Whenever you plan to travel, compare costs between the two companies to get the best rate.
You can save even more if you’re willing to carpool. In some cases, you’ll be the first one in a group of passengers to be dropped off, so you won’t experience a difference anywhere but in your wallet. You can also split the cost of your ride with a friend to save money.
Lastly, if you find that you’re riding during busy “surge” or “prime time” hours, consider walking farther away to a less crowded area or killing time until prices have cooled down.
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How To Save Money on Utilities
Utilities aren’t over-the-top luxuries that you can necessarily cut. However, it’s possible to significantly reduce the size of each utility bill by taking certain steps. From bundling services to putting your bills on autopay, you can potentially shave hundreds off your annual utility costs.
Average monthly spending: $101.50
Cell phone bills can get expensive, especially if you have a large family of active phone users, but you can reduce your phone bill dramatically with these money-saving tips:
- Only purchase a phone you can truly afford, and stick with your phone as long as possible. Don’t be swayed by the newest gadgets.
- Compare deals from different carriers. Shopping around helps you find the best plan for the best price.
- Only pay for what you need. If you don’t require something like voicemail that reads your messages aloud, don’t pay for that service.
- Try to find a plan with freebies — like a complimentary Hulu subscription, for example.
- Don’t pay for phone insurance. Instead, save money in an emergency fund that can be put toward other unexpected expenses if you don’t end up using it for your phone.
- Avoid costly data overages by using WiFi whenever possible and ensuring apps aren’t running in the background.
- Put your bills on autopay and go paperless if possible — many companies offer a small discount for this.
- Check to see if your employer offers a discount through a particular carrier.
Average monthly spending: $122.66
If you own your home, try following certain energy-saving tips and tricks that can have a significant effect on your electric bill. Installing a ceiling fan, adding solar panels, fixing any leaks and replacing your air filters are all great ways to lower your bill.
If you rent, you’re more limited in your choices, but it’s still possible to bring your costs down. Buy energy-efficient appliances, only run air conditioning and items that require power when necessary, turn off the lights whenever you leave a room, and use a slow cooker, toaster oven or other small device instead of the oven whenever possible, as they consume less energy.
Average monthly spending: $34.66
When it comes to reducing your gas bill, the goal should be to trap warmth inside your home so that you don’t have to resort to running the heater — which will cost you. There are several ways to do this:
- Check your home for air leaks. You can light a candle and hold it up to your windows and doors to see if the flame flickers. If it does, you might need to add some caulking or insulation in your home.
- Consider installing a programmable thermostat. Though it can cost upward of $100, you’re likely to make your money back within the year. Programmable thermostats can help your heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system run more efficiently with sacrificing comfort, according to Thermostat Center.
- Ensure that your water heater is working properly and not expending extra energy.
- Keep your doors closed and ventilation fans off if they aren’t being used.
When all else fails, bundle up. Before turning on the heat, consider putting on some nice wool socks and a sweatshirt first.
Average monthly spending: $61.07
If your area has multiple internet providers, you can use this as leverage to negotiate your bill. Switching to another provider might yield a new customer discount, too. However, you may have to get a little more creative to save if you live in an area that’s limited to one provider.
First, buy your own modem and router. If you own this equipment, you won’t have to lease them from the cable company. That said, make sure your modem and router are compatible with your provider.
Second, examine your internet habits so you know which download speed you should be paying for. Hulu recommends 3 Mbps for streaming whereas Netflix recommends 5 Mbps for watching high-definition movies, for instance. If you’re mostly using the internet to watch movies, do you really need to pay for the 100 Mbps that some cable companies offer?
Lastly, take advantage of any new discounts or promotions that your provider is offering. Just don’t get roped into tacking on unnecessary services in the process, as that defeats the point of saving money.
Water and Sewage
Average monthly spending: $53.75
Saving money on your water and sewage bill primarily comes down to water conservation. The average American uses a staggering 25,300 gallons each year, according to Boston University, which translates to nearly 70 gallons of water a day. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to cut back on your water usage and save money in the process:
- Only run the dishwasher when it’s full — the same goes for your washer and laundry basket.
- Turn the faucet off while you brush your teeth.
- Use a broom to clean the driveway instead of the hose whenever possible.
- Take shorter showers and switch to a low-flow showerhead.
- Collect rainwater in barrels to water plants.
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How To Save Money on Entertainment
In the age of the pandemic, Americans are spending more time looking at screens
A 2020 survey conducted by The Sleep Judge, found that Americans spend 8.6 hours per day staring at some sort of screen . All that screen time includes television, gaming and more, which might be hurting your budget. Learning smart ways to handle the costs of subscriptions and other entertainment purchases could allow you to enjoy your free time while putting cash back into your wallet.
Average monthly spending: $34.79
There’s an increasingly strong case for cutting the cord completely. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offer more film and television options than you could ever hope to see in your lifetime, and at a fraction of the cost. However, if you’re not ready to part ways with your cable box, there are a few things you can do to lower the monthly cost.
Negotiating with your provider is key, whether you’re a new or existing customer. If your contract is up and your price is set to increase, call your provider and tell them you’re ready to get rid of cable completely because the price is too high. You might be surprised at how quickly they’re willing to drop your price. Just remember to be courteous when you call if you want this kind of outcome.
Take advantage of any available promotions and discounts, which includes bundling your internet, landline and cable. Also, be sure to evaluate your cable usage honestly by asking yourself if you really need 200 channels. You likely stick to the same handful regularly, so why pay for the others?
Average monthly spending: Varies per age group
Whether you buy games piecemeal or use a subscription service, gaming can get costly. A new title for a game console often costs about $60. Similarly, a PlayStation Now yearlong membership costs $59.99 and sales happen semi-regularly. If you want to keep playing for years on end, you’ll have to get strategic to cut costs:
- Wait for games to decrease in value before purchasing, or hold off for sales.
- Try playing indie games, which tend to be cheaper — and no less fun — than big-name games like “Call of Duty.”
- Ask for games for birthdays and Christmas, or gift cards to places like Steam, Best Buy, Target and GameStop, where you can take your pick.
- Avoid getting sucked into pay-to-play models and buying downloadable content that you don’t need.
- Choose open-world games such as “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” and “Horizon Zero Dawn,” as they offer more possibilities. If the game has only one outcome, you’ll be less motivated to play again once you beat it.
- Buy used games or borrow from friends whenever possible.
- Be honest about what kind of gamer you are to determine if a subscription model or buying piecemeal makes more sense.
Average monthly spending: $10 for music subscription services
If you’re paying for a music subscription service such as Spotify Premium or Pandora Premium, consider downgrading to a free account to cut costs. These basic accounts don’t come with as many bells and whistles — and you’ll have to listen to ads — but in the end, you still get access to music. You can also listen to the radio for free and switch channels when ads interrupt your listening.
Additionally, remain on the hunt for discounts and sign-up offers. For instance, if you’re a student, you can get Spotify Premium for $4.99, and Spotify will even throw in complimentary subscriptions to Hulu and Showtime.
Video Streaming Services
Average monthly spending: $47
If you’re subscribed to multiple streaming services, the first thing you can do is choose just one. Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix don’t cost too much on their own, but when you add them together, you’re paying quite a bit annually — plus, there are overlaps in content. Monitor your viewing habits to see if you tend to gravitate toward one streaming platform.
You can also try wrangling a price cut from your favorite company. Simply ask for a loyalty discount for being a longtime customer.
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How To Save Money on Banking Expenses
Figuring out how to save money on monthly expenses should always start with eliminating costs that are completely unnecessary. Though banking fees might seem small in the grand scheme of things, they do add up over time. The average person pays $84 a year in banking fees, according to January 2021 GOBankingRates data. Luckily, these fees are completely avoidable.
Account Maintenance Fees
Average monthly spending: $10-$15
To avoid account maintenance fees, sometimes called service fees or minimum balance fees, start by choosing a bank that offers checking accounts without these fees. Ally Bank, Discover Bank and Capital One offer online checking accounts with no monthly service fees. If you already have a checking account, remember what the minimum account balance is and maintain that at all times. If your bills are on autopay, be sure to keep in mind when each bill will be deducted from your account so that you don’t accidentally go too low. And, of course, watch your spending.
Average monthly spending: $2.50 per transaction
ATM fees are charged when you use an out-of-network ATM, so the best way to avoid them is to stick with your own bank or credit union’s ATM. If you find that you’re consistently having to visit ATMs that are out of your network, consider switching to an institution that will reimburse ATM fees in real time, such as Fidelity. Or, you can open an account with a bank that has plenty of ATMs located near where you live, work or go to school.
Average monthly spending: $29.67
Overdraft fees occur when you spend more money than you have in your account and the bank covers the cost. They do this when you’ve signed up for overdraft protection. If you don’t have overdraft protection, the purchase might not go through, and regardless, you’ll be hit with a different kind of fee: non-sufficient funds.
To avoid this mess altogether, make sure you can track where every penny is coming and going. This sounds tedious, but it pays off big-time to know when bills will be automatically debited from your account or when your spouse is planning to buy that brand-new TV.
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How To Save Money on Credit Cards
Though credit cards are inarguably useful, they’re also a pain point for many American households. And this is understandable — credit cards typically come attached with high interest rates, and the average balance per credit card user was $5,315 in 2020, according to Experian.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to ensure your credit cards aren’t carrying a balance, such as eliminating those annoying little fees that add up over time.
Balance Transfer Fees
Average monthly spending: Varies
If you’re trying to pay down debt, the idea of opening a balance transfer credit card can be enticing. However, when you factor in the transfer fee — which is typically $5 or 3 percent of the amount transferred — you might find yourself rethinking that strategy. To determine if paying a balance transfer fee is worth it, look at the amount of time that the 0% APR is offered. For example, if the introductory period is 16 months, divide your debt by 16 to see what your monthly payment would need to be in order to have the balance paid off in time. And, don’t forget to factor in the cost of the fee itself.
There are also a few options for credit cards that don’t charge balance transfer fees at all, such as the DCU Visa Platinum Rewards card.
Cash Advance Fees
Average monthly spending: Varies
A cash advance fee is charged when you take out cash against the line of credit on your credit card. You should only do this in an emergency, as you’ll pay not only the cash advance fee — usually $10 or 3 percent of the cash borrowed — but also interest on the amount that you took out. Withdraw from your checking account to avoid these fees, and be sure to build up an emergency fund for situations where you need cash fast and your checking account doesn’t have enough.
Credit Card Annual Fees
Average monthly spending: $9.16
Annual fees on credit cards can get pricey and aren’t worth the cost in some cases. For instance, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard charges a $450 annual fee. If you don’t take advantage of your credit card perks and can’t spend $40,000 within a year to earn 10,000 miles, you won’t get your full money’s worth. Ultimately, you have to weigh the benefits of the credit cards that you’re considering before determining if the annual fee makes sense.
The best way to avoid the cost completely, however, is to find a credit card with no annual fee, such as the Chase Freedom or Capital One VentureOne Rewards.
Late Payment Fees
Average monthly spending: $36 per payment
Late payment fees are one of the main reasons that you should put credit card bills on autopay. If you were to make a late payment every month, you’d spend $432 a year, on average — not to mention ruin your credit score and risk getting your card canceled.
By ensuring you are set to automatically make the minimum payment each month — and that you have money in your checking account to cover the cost — you’ll avoid late payment fees altogether. If you do incur one by accident, try calling your credit card company, explaining the situation and asking if they can reverse the fee. Whether they say yes or no will depend on who you talk to and how kindly you do it, so don’t think that you can call once a week to get a fee reversed.
How To Save Money on Education Expenses
Obtaining a college degree to set yourself apart in the job market has become increasingly important. However, getting a college education is no easy matter financially. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year public school in the 2020-21 academic year is $10,560. That means four years at a public university — assuming the price stayed exactly the same, which is unlikely — would cost $42,240. For a private four-year school, that number jumps to a staggering $150,600.
Fortunately, there are ways to save on one of life’s major milestones, whether it’s for yourself or your children.
Room and Board
Average monthly spending at a private four-year nonprofit: $1093.33
Average monthly spending at a public four-year school (in state): $968.33
When considering the average school year, which is about 7.5 months, your costs for room and board are likely going to be bordering on $1,000 a month regardless of the institution you attend. That’s why it’s important to not be tempted by sites like Pinterest into making your living space a fantasy land. Your room is your home away from home and should feel comfortable, of course, but remember that your priority is to get an education — not to decorate your walls like an Urban Outfitters ad. So, when you head off to school, ask family and friends for furniture, cookware and other necessary items, or check thrift stores instead of buying new items.
You should avoid living on your own, too. Split the rent with a roommate. Not only can you knock 50% or more off your rent, but you might also make lifelong friends in the process.
Also, select a meal plan that you think you’ll actually use, and try not to leave any money on the table at the end of the semester. Don’t gorge yourself just to get your money’s worth, but don’t be wasteful, either. You can even call the housing office to see if they’ll let you roll over meal credits to the next semester.
Finally, if you feel like your schoolwork will allow for it, try finding a job as a resident adviser or something similar that offers free or reduced rent. This experience will also look great on your resume when you enter the workforce.
Student Loan Payments
Average monthly spending: $300
For recent graduates, student loan debt can feel insurmountable. You’re likely still trying to find a job, or you’re working at an entry-level position that makes repayment a challenge. The hope is that you’ll eventually work your way up the career ladder and earn the pay that goes along with it, thereby making repayment easier. You might even find an employer that will assist you with your loan repayment. However, in the interim, there are still ways to save:
- Apply for the repayment plan that makes the most sense for you. For example, you can select a plan that correlates with your income so that your payments are more manageable. As you make more, you’ll pay more. There are also extended repayment plans and graduated repayment plans available.
- Signing up for automatic payments might earn you a discount with your lender.
- Consolidating your loans could be a wise choice. It allows you to make one payment a month as opposed to juggling several, and it can also help you save money. Though you might not get a better rate, once you’ve consolidated, you can apply for an income-driven repayment plan.
- Consider refinancing your student loans to possibly get a lower interest rate and lighten the burden of your monthly payments.
Tuition and Fees
Average monthly spending at a private four-year nonprofit: $3,137,50
Average monthly spending at a public four-year school (in state): $880
If you’ve already decided on going to a four-year school as opposed to a junior college first, it’s time to think about how you’ll cut your costs. There are plenty of good colleges that don’t cost an arm and a leg — you just need to do some research first.
Aside from choosing a less expensive college, the best way to save on tuition and fees is to explore financial aid options. Any scholarships or grants you can get will reduce your costs, and you won’t have to pay them back afterward — unlike student loans.
To make your costs more manageable, consider getting a job to cover expenses, leaving your car at home to avoid the added parking and gas costs, being selective about what clubs and groups you join as they likely come with fees and aiming to graduate on time — the longer you’re in school, the higher your costs will be.
How To Save Money on Investing Expenses
Investing is a great way to grow your net worth and feel confident about your retirement nest egg and future finances. That said, investing can also be a minefield of jargon, mixed messages, risks and, unfortunately, fees. It might take some time to learn the lingo, but fees are something you can tackle right now to save money on investing.
Annual Account Fee/Custodian Fee
Average monthly spending: Varies
While average annual broker fees vary, it’s possible to find ways to lower your annual fees or eliminate them completely. There are discount brokers out there, as well as brokers who simply don’t charge annual fees, such as Fidelity. Ultimately, you’ll need to do your research, weighing the pros and cons of each brokerage — including whether or not the fee is worth it — and choose the brokerage that makes the most sense for your financial needs.
Investment Management/Advisory Fees
Average monthly spending: Varies
Hiring someone to manage your money can help in avoiding a lot of pitfalls, but it comes at a cost. Fees for financial advisors vary widely, with some places charging as high as 2.5%, according to Cardiff Park Advisors, and others coming at a comparatively low cost. Fidelity, for instance, charges up to 0.35% for its digital advisor option.
One simple way to save money on fees is to ditch your investment advisor. Someone with a large, complex portfolio containing a variety of assets and tax implications will likely find their advisor invaluable. However, an individual investor who is relying on a couple of retirement accounts might find that a simple mix of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and index funds could generate the same returns as an expensive advisor — without the advisory fees.
It’s also important to find an advisor who not only meets your needs but also offers a fee structure that fits your investing style. An advisor who takes a straight percentage of your portfolio as a commission might make sense if you’re more hands-off with your money and want someone who will take a big-picture approach in managing your investments. But if you’re an active investor with a clear sense of where you want to invest, you might be better served by an advisor with an a la carte approach who will accept a flat fee or hourly rate for specific advice or services.
Average monthly spending: Varies
If you’re investing in a mutual fund, you’ll need to pay the professionals who are putting all of their know-how into managing your investments. You’ll pay in one of three ways: the expense ratio, a load or a combination of the two. Fortunately, there are some very easy ways to decrease the amount of your money going toward fees.
Pay close attention to the expense ratios and shop around for ones that charge the least. The differences are small — usually a fraction of a percent — but they can have a huge impact over time. In particular, look at passive ETFs and index funds. These vehicles are just trying to match market returns, and they charge much lower expense ratios than traditional mutual funds and don’t require as much management as a result. Also, think carefully before investing in a load fund about whether or not the additional expense is justified. Those funds can certainly make their additional fees worthwhile over time, but there are no guarantees.
If you’re not having someone actively manage your account, you’re likely going to be charged fees by the brokerage firm for your transactions. These fees are largely unavoidable, unless you find a commission-free trade option such as Robinhood, cash in a temporary promo deal from a brokerage firm or get a deal for being a high-volume trader. E-Trade, Firstrade and some other brokerage firms offer commission-free ETFs, too, but at certain brokerages, this applies only to their own ETFs — they’ll charge you otherwise. So, this option might not make sense for you if you’re not planning to stay within the same brokerage firm for all of your investments.
Given the vast array of options out there, it’s safe to say that you should weigh your choices carefully and choose the one that meets your personal investment objectives. It might mean paying fees, but there are certainly ways to reduce or eliminate those fees if you do your research.
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Cynthia Measom contributed to the reporting for this article.
Last updated: Feb. 3, 2021
The figures in this article are accurate as of Feb. 4, 2021. Prices and fees may change at any time.
Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.