Fact: Many of us are spending more than we should on things like insurance, cable, telephone service, and utilities.
Fact: Many of us have not tried to lower these monthly bills in the last year, if ever.
Fact: Many of us could save hundreds of dollars a month by taking a few simple steps.
Do you agree with the above statements? For me, it was the realization that I was sending unnecessary money out the door for monthly expenses that led me to write 99 Painless Ways to Save Serious Money. It’s a book that provides tons of information, links, tips, and resources on how to reduce the cost of everything from cable to gas, health insurance to cell phone service, and online shopping to credit card debt.
In a moment we’ll look at how you can get a copy of the book (for free), but first, we need to talk about how to get control of our monthly bills. It really is a simple 3-step process to bring “shock and awe” to our monthly bills. Here are the three steps:
- Monthly Bills: Evaluate each monthly bill (e.g., phone, insurance, cable, credit cards) and ask three questions: (1) Can you get rid of this service, (2) Can you reduce the expense, and (3) Can you get the service for less from another provider.
- Utilities: Reduce the cost of electricity and natural gas by making simple, inexpensive changes to your home.
- Shop Smarter: Use the power of the Internet to get everything from vacations to books for less.
Let’s now take a look at each of these steps.
Step 1: Evaluate your monthly bills
In this step, write down on a piece of paper or in a spreadsheet each of your monthly bills. Include bills that you pay every six or twelve months, too, like life and auto insurance. And next to each bill, write down how much you pay each month. If the expense varies from month to month, just guess at an average for now. Note that we are not including utilities, which we’ll get to in step 2.
For many of us, monthly bills will include the following:
- Telephone service
- Cell phone service
- Internet service
- Auto insurance
- Life insurance
- Homeowner’s insurance
- Health insurance (even if provided through your employer)
- Home equity line of credit
- Credit cards
- Credit monitoring
- Club/gym memberships
- Magazine subscriptions
- Car loan payments
- School loans
Next, go down the list one at a time and ask these three questions:
- Can I eliminate this expense completely?
- Can I reduce this expense?
- Can I get the product or service from another provider for less?
If you really start to think creatively, you can find ways to lower these monthly costs. Take cable service for example. First, can you get rid of cable completely? Today, free digital HD TV is an option.
Second, if you don’t want to get rid of cable, can you lower the cost by, for example, reducing the channels you receive. Is Netflix a less expensive option than the movie channels offered by your cable company? And if you can’t think of a way to lower the expense, call the cable company and ask them if there is a way to lower your bill.
And finally, consider whether you can get the same service from another provider for less. In the case of cable, consider satellite service through Direct TV.
And this is where my new book, 99 Painless Ways to Save Serious Money can help. I’ve listed tons of ideas and resources on how to attack just about every monthly bill one can have.
As you go down your list of monthly bills, keep track of how much money you are saving. It may be only $5, $10, or $20 per item, but it can add up to a significant sum once you complete step 1. And reducing these costs generally does not require any sacrifice in how we live our lives. Once you’ve gone through every monthly bill and asked the three questions, it’s time to move on to utilities.
Step 2: Utilities
Each year, utilities consume a larger and larger portion of our monthly budget. Energy Star estimates that the average family spends about $2,200 a year on utilities. For many, it’s a lot more. If we can shave even $50 off our monthly bill, we pocket $600 a year without sacrificing our standard of living, and we do our part to conserve natural resources and the environment at the same time.
What’s great about step 2 is that there are some really simple and inexpensive steps we can take to bring down our energy use. I won’t go through all of them here (get the book!), but here are a few ideas:
- Conduct an energy audit of your home: It’s easy to do and will show you where your home is leaking money!
- Install a programmable thermostat: They are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. According to Energy Star, a programmable thermostat can shave 20% of your heating and cooling bills.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs: They last longer, which means you’ll replace bulbs less often. And the consume a lot less energy.
- Buy energy star products: This may be obvious to some, but energy star products consume less energy than other models. When shopping for everything from a refrigerator to a dehumidifier, look for the energy star label.
- Consider tax breaks: Today, significant tax breaks are available for energy efficient home improvements, so make sure to take advantage of these if you plan to make improvements to your home.
These are just some of the ideas you’ll find in 99 Painless Ways. With a little effort and relatively small investment, we can bring down our energy costs.
Step 3: Shop Smarter
The final step deals with how we spend money on everything from groceries to vacations. The Internet provides a wealth of resources to help us get more for less. For example, did you know that. . .
- certain car tires can increase gas mileage
- finding the cheapest gasoline in your area is a snap on the Internet
- you can print grocery coupons off the Internet before you go to the store
- if you don’t have prescription drug insurance, there is a website that can help you get significant discounts
- there is free software available for just about everything you would need to do on your computer
I could go on, but you get the idea. And that brings us back to 99 Painless Ways to Save Serious Money. In the book you’ll find tips and resources to save money without sacrificing your lifestyle. This is not a book about eating out less, or spending less on clothes. 99 Painless Ways is instead focused on the three steps described above.
The book is free for those who subscribe to the weekly Dough Roller newsletter, which you can do by filling out this simple form:
I hope the book helps you bring some “shock and awe” to your monthly bills.
Published or updated March 7, 2013.