The bells are tolling on the American economy. Every day, another expert is warning us of the imminent demise of our way of life. If you’re paying attention, you can see it coming, like some huge storm system, bearing down on you. You don’t stand there and wait for it to hit you. You don’t have to be a passive victim of the economy. It’s time to sit down and take a long hard look at where your money is going. Lots of financial experts give tips about reducing your discretionary spending but what about those fixed expenses? You can free up some large sums of money by reducing your monthly output.
Most of us have a set of fixed expenses. Some of these are vital, some are not, and what is vital for me might not be important for you.
What fixed payments come out of your bank account every month?
- Home Insurance
- Car payment
- Car insurance
- Gym membership/Exercise classes
- Loan payments
- Cell phone bill/Home phone bill
- Child support/alimony payments
- Extracurricular activities for the kids
Some of these, you can’t do anything about. However, some of these payments can be reduced or gotten rid of altogether.
The real question is, if your financial circumstances changed dramatically, could you afford your current lifestyle? If the answer to that question is “No” then you need to figure out how to reduce your regular monthly output.
Keep in mind that what works for my family may not work for your family. It will depend whether your spouse is on board, how dire your situation is, and with how much importance you weigh your frugality makeover what you opt to change. Some of these measures would be drastic, and others would only cause a minor change in your lifestyle. Let’s take a look at each of these expenses individually and ask some important questions.
- Mortgage/Rent This is often the biggest expenditure that many families make each month. When you buy a house, realtors will nearly always show you homes at the top of your price range. When you are looking for rentals, most people search at the high end of their budgets. That’s fine in good times, but if things go awry, you’re stuck at that same level because banks and landlords don’t care that you lost your job or took a financial hit. Sometimes moving to a less expensive place is your only option if you wish to make big financial changes. This can free up as much as a thousand dollars a month for some families. Moving is expensive, though, and you have to figure that in to the potential savings. If you are only going to save, let’s say, $50 a month by moving, it will be more than a year before you recoup your expenses, and that is going to do little to change your overall outlook. If you are moving to drop your expenses, it needs to be a substantial monthly savings to make it worthwhile. If you own your home, consider refinancing at a better interest rate.
- Home/Car Insurance You have to have insurance so this is not an expense that you can cut out of your budget altogether. However, you can shop around for better prices. You can look into changing your coverage. Do you have duplications in coverage? For example, my insurance company offers roadside assistance for about $40 per year, but my vehicle came with 3 years of free roadside assistance. You can drop your rate further by increasing your deductible, but if you do that, be sure you have access to the deductible amount should an accident occur. If you have several cars in your family, you might not need to have rental car coverage on your policy.
- Car Payment As with a home payment, most people push the envelope and get the nicest vehicle that they can afford. What you drive is a status symbol in North America, and practicality doesn’t always come into the decisions. The best option is to get something that you can afford to pay for in full so that you don’t have a payment. Consider trading in the vehicle you are making payments on for one that you can pay for outright or make payments on for a short period of time. But if you made the decision in less frugal days, you might be what car dealers call “upside down” in your financing. That means that you owe more on your vehicle than it is worth. If that is the case, then you will basically have to pay someone to take it off your hands and that is not always worth your while. If you find yourself in that situation, the best thing you can do is use some of your freed up money to pay off your loan as quickly as possible. At least then, the bank gets less interest from you. If you have more than one vehicle, is it possible to become a one car family? This will drop your automotive maintenance costs, get rid of an insurance payment, and take away a monthly payment if both vehicles are being financed. If one of your vehicles is paid for, consider getting rid of the one that is being financed.
- Cable/Satellite/Internet This is an area in which cuts can almost always be made. We don’t have cable or satellite, but we do have the best internet available. In our home internet is vital for my job and also for my daughter’s school. Since we have internet, if we have the urge to watch something we can stream it for free online. For your entertainment needs consider something like Netflix. It’s a fraction of the price of a monthly cable or satellite bill and you can choose what you want to watch commercial free at any point in time, not just when it’s on network television. You have the added bonus of avoiding those pesky commercials too. Expect an outcry if you get rid of these services, but also know that your family will get used to it quickly. Trust me, they’ll live.
- Gym membership/Exercise Classes Being healthy is a top priority if you want to live a frugal lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend high monthly fees to do so. You can kill two birds with one stone by coming up with some productive active things to do: chop wood, build, garden or farm. If you live in a place where it’s reasonable to do so, walk instead of driving – you’ll get some exercise and save gas money and wear and tear on your vehicle.
- Loan Payments Look at paying off your debts as quickly as possible using the snowball method. Instead of just making your regular monthly payment, take the smallest debt and pay it off as fast as you can while still making your minimum payment on other debts. Once the smallest payment is paid off, take what you were paying on that and apply it to the next smallest debt, and on and on until you are beautifully debt-free! Then, once you have no debt, commit yourself to staying that way.
- Phone Bills Most people do not need both a home phone and a cell phone. One or the other will nearly always suffice. I actually don’t have either one. I use internet phone service which costs $2.99 per month for the odd telephone call I have to make and email for everything else. It takes some getting used to but you might find that you welcome the peace of people being unable to interrupt you just as you sit down to dinner. You can free up a lot of money each month by getting rid of the phone, but expect people to look at you strangely when they ask for your number and you say, “I don’t have one.”
- Child Support/Alimony Payments There really isn’t a lot you can do about this kind of monthly expense. These numbers are set by the courts and you will go to jail or have assets seized if you don’t make them. As a single mom, I can tell you that there were times when we depended on child support payments to buy our groceries, so the argument can be made that if you have children, it’s your responsibility to make these payments.
- Tuition If your child is in college or a private school, tuition payments are a fixed expense that you can’t really do much to reduce. You can apply for scholarships, but aside from this, the price is the price. You don’t want your child to start off adult life in debt if you can help it, so if you can find a way to make these payments instead of using student loans, you are giving your son or daughter the biggest possible gift: financial freedom.
- Extracurricular Activities for the Kids This one really depends on your family. If your child is just killing time, then the extracurriculars may not be of high importance. On the other hand, if they are a talented athlete or budding musician, you may find this is a very worthwhile expenditure. Some families who homeschool look to extracurricular activities as a way for their kids to socialize with their peers, and that is also very important. If the activity is not a serious pursuit, sometimes it can be replaced with lower cost activities through the local community center or YMCA. Some children are really over-programmed, with an evening activity every day of the week and two on weekends. Kids need downtime and the freedom to just go outside, climb a tree, and look at the clouds floating by.
It’s far better to make these changes before you’re forced to do so by circumstances. If you can reduce your fixed monthly expenditures, you’re less likely to default on things that are true necessities, like keeping a roof over your head and food in the cupboards. I would prefer to control the cuts myself rather than have the decisions made for me by foreclosures or repossessions.
Despite what the government wants us to believe, the financial situation in this country is not getting better, and it isn’t going to improve for a very long time. The economic storm is bearing down on us, and the most important preparation you can make right now is to figure out how to weather it.
Have you made any dramatic changes to your fixed expenses? What advice can you give to people who are just beginning to make these changes? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.
Debt is a killer in so many ways. My husband and I developed short and long range plans many years ago to deal with debt and with recurring costs that cannot be avoided. When we bought our home, we shopped for something on the low end and did our own work to turn it into what we wanted it to be. Because we weren’t “house poor” we paid off our mortgage very early. We were told that was a big financial mistake. When we calculated that the tax advantage was not worth the interest we would pay in the long run, we realized it was right for us. We use internet telephone service at home and carry cheap flip phones with prepaid minutes when we are on the road. We haven’t owned a tv in many years, but do take advantage of streaming via internet and Netflix. We have set aside the money to meet our insurance deductible and keep our rates as low as possible. As we have not had an accident or incident in years, we have more than saved the amount of our deductible. We have lots of other little tricks for saving, but they take discipline — and a certain amount of smugness in knowing that we are keeping the money in our bank accounts and not in those of the big banks, insurance companies, and media providers that can bleed you dry in the name of “a better life style”.
Do you mean you keep your money in small banks or a “personal” bank. I’m taking mine out of US bank this week and depositing into the credit union. I make so little on my money it’s pathetic. I haven’t have a stock investment for years. Of course now it is too risky.
Donna Marie, what I was saying is that we don’t have to pay any money to a bank or any other lending agency in the form of interest. All of our money is our money and it is held in credit unions. We haven’t used a bank since paying off our mortgage. Plus, after our mortgage was gone we were able to save enough money to pay cash for my brand new car. That really threw the car salesman for a loop!! No finance charges on that vehicle!! We have no investments that will jeopardize what we have managed to save through frugality and hard work. The pittance paid in interest even at credit unions will never makes us wealthy, so we don’t even consider it when discussing “our worth”. And, yes, I do have “piggy” banks for setting aside my ready cash — my emergency money for that day when… Hope that is somewhat clearer?
I propose that “our way of life” has been in a steady decline for quite a number of years. It certainly isn’t the country I was born into. Sadly, society was declining even then.
We have lived a frugal life style since our wedding. This discipline has allowed us to make the greatest use of our budget.
Even with our frugal, DIY, self reliant mindset, I wonder just how much more can be shaved off of the budget before one must do without. It doesn’t help that is seems that every year, we have more and more taxes, or required payments for one reason or another, that along with inflation, takes a chunk from the budget that does not add to the quality of our lives.
I know what you mean. Mr Warren Buffet purchased our utility company last year and raised our fees from $15 a month to $31.50. I pay an additional $9.26 per month because I opted-out of a smart meter. Add 5% tax and my fees in one year increased from $15.75 to $42.80 a month or 172%. That’s before I even use my utilities. How is this legal?
Great article! We dropped our home phone a few months ago and haven’t looked back. The gym memberships went the way of the Dodo awhile back too! Splitting wood and chasing after a 3 year old (at 40) is plenty of exercise. Thanks!
The biggest obstacle that people have is their own perceptions. In my work, every day I see folks who are unwilling to change their lifestyles; they are trying to still live a $200K a year lifestyle on a salary of $50K a year and are unwilling to even LOOK at that, much less make changes. These are the people who will be, quite literally, dead in the water when a widespread economic trauma hits; they can’t even come to terms with their own personal economic traumas. This article is great; too bad the people who would most benefit from doing these things are incapable of comprehending that they even need to. 🙁
We did really well when we bought our house. We started looking at houses (realtor.com, then driving by them) three years before we bought ours so we knew about what to expect for our price range.
We got pre-approved for a larger amount than we wanted. We had a great realtor and she knew we wanted to buy a lower-price home. We ended up buying one that was half of what we were approved for. Our mortgage, insurance and taxes combined are just over half of what our rent was for a bad apartment in a bad neighborhood. We pay extra onto the principle every month and will have it paid off 10 years after we bought it.
It is so comforting to know that if things get bad, we can find a way to come up with the tiny payment and not risk homelessness.
Excellent article. Lot’s of good solid observations that most people don’t really contemplate.
As for myself, my New Years resolution is to reduce my monthly expenses. One way is that I negotiated Direct TV down from 95 dollars a month to only 30 bucks by removing all but the local channels. I then cancelled the way over priced cable company ( which provides high speed internet and phone ) which saved me 114 dollars a month. We did find a excellent internet provider for 70 bucks amonth that includes the land line which I need for my business.
The other issue for us anyway, is our water bill. We are provided water from the City of Toledo which then pumps the water to Wood county so we get taxed twice per unit of water not to mention how high the cost per unit is. I’ve installed two low water usage toilets in the home and use water barrels to water the garden and have been able to get my bill down 35 bucks or so which is down from the 70 dollars bills I was used to.
The gas bill has been astronomically high for most of the country this year. My bill for natural gas was 200 dollars for Jan and 100 for Feb. I use a kerosene heater on cold nights and days that I work from home but I didn’t expect such a large bill. I have a inefficient and old Coleman furnace and to replace it will cost 4 to 5K. Instead, I’m going to save my cash and install an EPA rated woodburner which is approved for modular homes. It’s a wash because the woodburner costs about the same but will save a truck load of cash that won’t going back to the gas company.
Another big expense for the household is gasoline. I drive a F 150 and 4X4 Tahoe. My official office is 20 miles from where I live. I usually work 2 days a week from home. so I save there and when I do go about running errands I try to get everything done at the same time so I’m not driving all over hell’s half acre. I guess I could move closer to work but I refuse to live in suburbia or city so I grumble about the gas prices but try to mitigate it the best I can.
The ironic thing is this: I make a very good living and could be driving a BMW ( got rid of that last summer ) and could be living in a very fancy house but choose not to. My Dad who is 75 YRO and in very good physical condition tells me constantly to buy a bigger home, to have the country membership and to drive a new car. I tell him that’s not what i want in life. Those things cause great stress and are very expensive to maintain. To me, I live a fairly stress free life, have no debt and try to live simply. Life really is good!
If you only have local channels, then why don’t you just get an antenna and pay nothing for TV? If you have an old TV you will need a converter box but that and the antenna is 2 months of your payments.
Tried it. Where I live has a lot of interference and the HD antenna and i had to frequently recalibrate the TV and antenna. However, my son who lives less than 100 yards from my home has no problem with his HD Antenna. Go figure!
When it was time for us to retire, we moved from a huge urban area to a county where taxes and insurance were much lower. We bought a new manufactured home which was half the size of the house we moved from. It is fine for us, and actually very nice. And, it is paid for.
We also do not have a land line, but our cell phone bill is a bit higher than I would like. We also have to have satellite TV and internet because of where we live. These are way too expensive, and I’ve wondered if we could trim there.
We do have to travel a ways to shop and see doctors, but we do try to plan those trips to combine it all in one day. And, since we don’t work any more, we aren’t using our vehicles that much.
I have given a lot of thought to trimming our budget more and it will be difficult. Being retired is wonderful, but it can be a bit scary too.
LEARN, from our ancestors, and im not talking 1000 years ago, nor 500, but how it WAS and should be 65 years ago. If, and that IF is getting close, things get a bit messy. WORK together. Even though, the society has changed, one that has made most compete with each other, there is strenght in numbers, create a group, ONLY in a group will you survuve. SHARE. DO IT NOW. LEARN who you can trust, and who you cannot trust. Very simple, together we stand, divided we fall.
And dont believe a dam thing you see on TV. The dream, is in peril.Use decernment.
Daisy, please fix my spelling, lol, its 4 am.
John Adams said, “There are two ways to enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.”
I believe that debt is also the way to enslave individuals. Ultimately repayment of most debt (and ALL due to government) will be enforced at the point of a gun.
I can easily live without that entire list,,,
As it stands the only things on there i have are auto insurance and cellphone and rent, but they could all not get paid and i would still have a roof over my head and dont need the others, can go without and get by with some adjustments and a little more militant lean.
The only other monthly expenses are electric, water, fuel, food,
But those can all be reduced or eliminated if need be.
I have no mortgage, car payment, or debt of any kind. I don’t subscribe to pay TV. I just adjusted my home insurance by taking off earthquake (which my own agent said for the most part is a waste of money), decreasing uninsured motorist but increasing medical. I got rid of health insurance and joined a healthcare ministry saving hundreds per month. I am planning on getting rid of my regular phone but my security system is hooked up to it for monitoring. So I need to either need to get rid of the monitoring or change the way it works by using wireless. Just curious, what service do you use for phone internet and are you happy with them?
I just switched to a local internet provider that has been in business for about 4 years now. I’ve been very pleased with the customer service and hi speed internet which also carries my ‘ home phone’. In doing my due diligence on this company I found that they are privately held and have an excellent reputation. perhaps there is an upstart internet provider in your geographic area?
I don’t know. I need to check around.
I own my home and have no home insurance. I own my car and pay car insurance. There are no children and no child support and no extra curricular or tuition. I do have the cable and internet plus a cell. Tonight, I am going to figure out how to not have the home phone and still have the “home phone.”
I will only have cable/internet and car insurance. I suppose that is good compared to your list.
I assume your home is paid for (most mortgages require the homeowner to have insurance), so I’m wondering why don’t you have home insurance? You stand to lose the full value of the home if it’s seriously damaged or destroyed.
I’ve never met anyone else like me that very rarely uses the phone. I thought I was the only weird person like that. I just want to mention that I use TracFone which has no contract. You just buy airtime. The cellphone itself was only $9.99 and included 30 minutes of airtime plus double minutes for life. Every three months I buy 90 days of service and 60 minutes of airtime (which is 120 with double minutes) for $19.99. That’s about $7 a month and I have a number and use of a cellphone if I ever need it. The minutes also rollover if not used. It’s good for security and emergencies. You might check it out. I’m sure it’s available in Canada as well.
That’s a great idea JP but for different reason for me. I’m going to purchase a couple of these pre paid phones and stick one in my Faraday cage ( yes, I’m stuck on the EMP strike thing ) and one for my BOB.
I have to keep my current cell and home phone number because I’m a sales guy but your post has got me thinking.
I am always puzzled by the advice to save money by getting rid of TV service. Many many years ago, cable TV was the big expense and internet was the added-on frippery. But now? Internet is the big expense and TV service is the added-on frippery. In my neighborhood there are only 2 providers and they charge the same. I pay $70 a month for their lousiest internet plan. And when I complain, I get told, “Well, for $5 more a month, you could get TV service too!” I don’t have TV service and all it saves me is five bucks a month. So I am puzzled by the meme about saving money by canceling TV service.
I ditched my home phone and just go with the Free Govt phones as both my son and I qualify for their plan….so I have 2 freebie phones. Plus I have 2 other phones two old Galaxy S3’s that work perfectly and I have them hooked up at FreedomPop on their FREE monthly plan. You just pay a one time activation fee and then you get 200 mins and 500mb and free texting each month. No minimum usage required!!! I use my internet connection’s Wifi and can stay online all I want as long as I want for FREE. When I got the phones 2 years ago…I have NEVER paid a dime since. They improved their connections quite a bit in 2 years. If you are not near a Wifi to make a phone call you must use the internet to make the call or pay about $8 a month to use the talk feature without the wifi. I have never had to pay the $8 as I never use the phone’s 4G. My home phone was around $30 for a plain jane line no frills and I do not miss it one bit as all I would get were robot calls!!! Now I get few to none!!! My two Qlink free govt phones are okay but I have one gripe about the new one I just got to replace another service that I detested. It is a ZTE phone….that is essentially crap. I have a Galaxy Grand Prime I got 2 years ago that is so much better. In time I hope that Qlink ditches the ZTE phones. You can bring your own phone but their choices are limited.
Hang your clothes out to dry if at all possible, if weather permits and depending on where you live cook outside on an open fire or grill, learn how to mend clothing or replace buttons use old torn up clothing to clean up spills and messes instead of paper towels do all of shopping and errands at one time to save on gas limit time taking a shower to save on water when doing laundry make sure you have a full load make own laundry detergent and fabric softer and household cleaners