There are all kinds of ways to save money. You can save money by paying attention to little things like unplugging appliances when you’re not using them.
If you’re really serious about saving big money, though, you need to look at ways to trim your biggest expenses. So, I’m sharing the 5 biggest ways to save money.
Let me just say that all of these things require some amount of sacrifice. They aren’t always convenient or easy to deal with, but they have saved us thousands of dollars over the last six years.
The 5 Biggest Ways We Save Big Money
If you’ve seen my post on how we live on less than $1500 a month, you know that our mortgage is super low. This is no accident. Yes, we live in a part of the country that has a very low cost of living. However, we could have easily spent 3x what we did on our house.
We knew we wanted a crazy low mortgage payment, so we only looked at the cheapest homes available. Like, the choices of livable homes in this price range were the home we bought and one other decent option.
Our house has had a lot of work done to it since we bought it to make it much nicer than it was. We’re lucky to live in a small town that doesn’t really have a “bad area”, but we certainly don’t live in a nicer part of town. We see police cars drive down our road more than you would in other streets. So while I do feel perfectly safe here, we have made sacrifices for our low mortgage payment.
Before we bought our house, we were careful to find really inexpensive apartments.
Our first apartment was downtown Grand Rapids in an area I didn’t feel super safe in. The apartment was so small that our landlord wasn’t even sure if two people should live in it. But it was the right price and we made it work!
When we first moved out to the country, we rented the basement apartment of a house about 10 miles out of town. It was really remote and the road didn’t usually get plowed in the winter, but it was a great price and we really enjoyed living there.
Honestly, when we’ve looked at houses or apartments, we’ve started by looking at the cheapest options out there to see if we could make them work.
We haven’t always had the nicest places to live in the nicest areas, but we have literally saved thousands of dollars each year but choosing to find inexpensive housing.
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Since we got married six years ago, we have been a one-car household.
Cars are super expensive! Besides the initial cost of the vehicle (we usually spend about $5000 for a car), there is the cost of insurance, maintenance, and repairs. Each car can easily cost thousands of dollars per year.
There have been a lot of times in our marriage where only one of us was working. When that was the case, the working person took the car to work. If the non-working person needed a vehicle, they had to drive the working person to work and then pick them up so that they could have the car for the day.
When we have both been working, we usually figured out a way for one of us to drop the other one off or else one of us had to walk or ride a bike to and from work.
This hasn’t always been convenient, for sure. Austin walked to work for an entire winter once (in below zero temps) and I sometimes had to wake up at five in the morning to go get him from work when he worked nights.
Since we live in a small town, we have made a point to apply for jobs in our area that are within walking or biking distance when possible.
I feel like only having one car isn’t that terrible when you’re used to it and you just know that you’ll find a way to make it work. If you’re used to having two cars, then it would certainly seem like a major inconvenience. To save thousands of dollars per year, we’ve made it work.
No Smart Phones
I’m just going to say it: Smartphones are not a “need”. They are super convenient and come in handy, but they are not a need.
Someday, I would like to have a smartphone, but it’s not worth the extra cost for us right now. (And I know there are all kinds of inexpensive phone companies these days, but we live in a really rural area and have a hard time getting good service, so we stick with Verizon even though it’s a bit pricey)
Here’s the thing: We have the internet at home. We have always worked at places that have wifi. Most places you go these days have free wifi. We have an iPad and an iPod we can take with us (wifi only).
So really, the only time we don’t have internet access is when we’re driving. We have a super old GPS and often print off MapQuest maps old-school-style when we go someplace new. If we absolutely need to know something immediately and we don’t have internet access, we can “phone a friend”.
Our phone plan would go up a minimum up $50 per month if we both got smartphones, plus the cost of the phones. I estimate that we save at least $800 per year by not having smart phones.
*Update: We now have smart phones! We held out for years after most people had them until the prices went way down. We only pay about $5 more per month than we used to for dumb phones, so it’s worth it.
Eat at Home
We eat almost all of our meals at home. We also pack lunches at home to take to work.
This is one of those “death by a thousand cuts” areas of the budget. No, an $8 lunch here and there isn’t that much. But 2-$8 lunches per week = $64 per month.
We usually spend around $25-30 each time the two of us go out to eat. If we did that just once a week, we’re looking at $100-120 per month.
I know people who regularly spend around $500 per month on takeout, fast food, and other restaurants. That’s $6000 per year eating out! Crazy!
We usually try to keep our budget for eating out between $30 and $80 per month depending on our income at the time. Other than that, we eat at home. And you know what? I like eating homemade food most of the time and I like the occasional treat of going out because eating out is a treat, not a daily occurrence.
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No Cable TV
The average cable bill is around $100 per month. That means well over $1000 per year is being spent on TV by a whole lot of people.
We have paid for cable once in our marriage. We lived in an apartment for about four months where it was literally cheaper to have cable and the internet than to just have the internet. I don’t know how, but that’s how it was.
Maybe it’s just me but after about a month of catching up on HGTV and episodes of Pawn Stars, it seemed like there was never anything good on! We’d sit and flip through the channels looking for the least stupid-looking show to watch.
We actually just hooked up the antenna on our roof so that we could watch the Olympic trials. We usually don’t watch regular TV at all.
We enjoy Netflix and a few things on Amazon Prime. We don’t mind being a little behind on the new shows out. We’re just used to it. Plus, I’m a major binge-watcher and I can’t stand the suspense of waiting another whole week for the next episode!
We have on occasion paid for a month of PlayStation Vue, which is actually really cool. You get access to a ton of cable channels (depending on what package you pick) and you stream them. It can record shows for you and there isn’t any contract. You can just get it for a month and then stop. We plan on getting a month of it in August so we can watch all of the Olympics.
I know cutting cable is one of the first, most obvious places to cut your budget, but so many people are still playing over $1000 per year for TV.
Those are definitely the five biggest ways that we save thousands per year.
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