Ways to Cut Living Expenses From Someone Who Tried Them

by Sami Miller

I consider myself a connoisseur of online financial information. It is how I learned anything about finances, after all. 

So that means I have tried many methods to save money, especially when I didn’t have a lot of it to spare. 

We all know that there are many ways to save money. Most of us know what online advice says are the basics: reduce your caffeine intake, pack a lunch for work, check out Thrifty Thursday at your local supermarket, smoke one less pack of cigarettes, etc. 

But do these tricks for saving actually work? Let’s discuss. 

I give each savings tip a rating out of ten for how much money I think it actually saved me in 2021. 

Buy Generic Brands: 

This is advice you have probably seen a lot: if you’re paying money for name-brand items, you’re wasting money. Or, always try to save money by buying the generic product instead of well-known brands. 

For me, this has been a way to save some extra money, but not a lot overall. What money I do save does add up, but it’s not like I am suddenly a millionaire because I bought generic Walmart brand tomato sauce vs. Hunt’s brand. 

For me, Hunt’s tastes better anyway, so I might alternate between feeling frugal-one week and splurging on the other. 

But you could be surprised at how similar products can be in quality and how much money this switch will save you over time. For example, if you pay $10 for a bottle of laundry detergent, check out the store’s own line of laundry soap to see if it costs less. If it does (and chances are that it does), then consider making a switch. The difference between the generic detergent and the name-brand stuff is probably just the name. 

My rating for this tip is 8/10. 

Cook Food From Scratch

I think the eating out debate vs. cooking at home is not going to get solved. Many people swear that eating out about equals the price they pay for groceries anyway, so what’s the harm? I’m not here to judge either way, but for me, eating at home literally saved my budget. 

My boyfriend and I knew we ate out too much, but it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic that we decided to do something about it. Neither one of us are good cooks, and cooking for us is a lot of mental effort. Cue the magic of the InstantPot. 

So maybe this tip should be “buy an InstantPot,” but I digress. We got a cookbook and have been working really hard at eating at home. We also make oatmeal so many different ways it’s insane, but overall we are healthier, and our budget is happier. Granted, we still eat out, especially when we are both stressed simultaneously, but it’s not going to break the bank. 

It’s literally a monthly difference of between $200-300 we save by eating at home.

My rating for this tip is 9/10. 

A quote from Kevin L. Matthews II via the Nav.it podcast titled "Cooking is a scam. It reads, "I understand that it is healthier, it is cheaper, and better financially. But when I tell you that it takes me 2 hours to cook, an hour to clean, 10 minutes to eat that is not ok."
Meanwhile, some financial influencers disagree. Check out what Kevin has to say here.

Try Couponing 

It’s always a great idea to keep an eye out for the local grocery store flier so that you can take advantage of their money-saving deals. Almost every grocery store has either printed fliers or apps these days. Coupons are also always a way to reduce any money spent on food and drinks that aren’t necessities (like soda or alcohol), or impulse buys like chocolate bars, chips, and other snacks. 

The problem with couponing is to make it worth it, it’s so much time and effort that it’s essentially a full-time job. Even the most casual couponer spends a reasonable amount of time cultivating their coupon stash, making sure to be aware of the expiration dates, and more I am probably forgetting. 

When I tried couponing, it severely tried my patience. I am not just built to be a couponer, and I don’t really do it well on the off chance that I have the option. So when I calculated my hourly rate against the time I spent trying to coupon and compared it to much I saved, it wasn’t worth it for me. 

But as a money-saving option, it can be great for the right person! Couponing is excellent for necessities, which means you are potentially getting your cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and more at a discounted rate. 

I will not give this tip a rating because it would be 0/10. But since I know this works for other people, I reserve the rating. 

Three different images are "taped up." The first is an image of stacks of money. The second is of a woman on a boat looking out at the ocean. The third is a group of people on a road trip in an old VW van. The text at the bottom reads How a $12 AARP membership can save you money. The click to read button links to the article Benefit from AARP Before 50.

I absolutely love Costco. I love the huge packages of heat-up food, their salads, their giant pack of batteries, and everything cat-related that I can get my hands on. Costco is seriously one of my happiest places.  

In truth, buying in bulk is an excellent money-saving tip if money is tight! Essential food staples like rice or flour are something you can get cheaper at a Costco or Sam’s Club. Also, the products these warehouses sell are actually good quality: you are spending money on things that will last you. 

Remember that these warehouses do charge a membership fee, which is a consideration if your budget is tight. 

The problem with buying in bulk is the “bulk” part. I don’t buy fresh anything at Costco because, in my two-person household, all that food just goes to waste. I try to get good about freezing those avocados, but I usually fail. So I actually wasted that $15 on those ten or so avocados that I bought. The same goes for Costco clothes: I absolutely love their leggings, but I don’t actually need anything else. But I am always buying something clothes related there because the products are so good and the prices make me justify it each time. Evaluate if worth purchasing bulk amounts of items that you don’t need or will actually waste in the long run.  

My rating for this tip is 10/10. 

Drink Water Instead Of Everything Else:

Pre-pandemic, I didn’t drink a lot of soda or alcoholic beverages, but I definitely don’t drink any of that stuff now. Mostly because it’s a pretty big hassle, rather than because skipping soda and alcohol is actually going to save me money in the long run. It will, and it does, but that isn’t why I don’t drink them. 

Objectively, soda and alcohol are going to be expensive, while water is more easily accessible. It’s not free, however, like a lot of advice says it is. You still have to pay for it, you just pay a lot less. Drinking from the tap and getting a Britta filter for any funny tasting water is also better for the environment overall, so that’s a plus! 

But I will say: it’s pretty easy to make your own iced tea or sweeten up plain ol’ water with lemon slices to get refreshment at next to nothing cost. 

My rating for this tip is 5/10, mainly because this isn’t going to save you enough money to make it worth it. Unless, of course, you ONLY drink soda or alcohol and no water at all.  

Take Advantage Of Your Employer’s Discount Program 

Honestly, if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that offers employee discounts, be sure to take advantage of them! It also doesn’t ever hurt to ask about employee perk programs because there might be a whole world of discounts you didn’t know about! 

When I worked for the advertising agency, we had a ton of perks that I hadn’t gotten elsewhere. We were part of a larger company that negotiated things like Best Buy discounts and gave their employees Costco memberships. I really miss that second one by the way. 

I was able to buy a new laptop with my employee discount, which saved me over $400. This was a huge savings on a machine that I still have and use every single day. 

My rating for this tip is 10/10. 

An image of a woman watering her plants in her home on the right-hand side. On the left, text reads "Ask the Money Coach: What Benefits Should I Consider in My Next Job?" The read now button links to the article Ask the Money Coach: What Should I Look for in My First Job. The text at the bottom reads, "Send your questions to hello@nav.it."

Use Those Credit Card Points

Let’s start off with the problem with credit card points: they really aren’t as gratifying as they build up. They also take forever to build up for a purchase that you actually want to make. It’s hard to be motivated and stick with using those points hacks you are always reading about when everyone else seems to have a zillion points, and you don’t. There are those credit card pitfalls you want to avoid too, which can be difficult for some people. 

I am a big fan of credit card points, but it also took me a really long time to make them work for me. I had to try different combinations, different credit cards to maximize points, and what to pay with which credit card. So like the couponing, this is a labor of love. 

Points work for me: I could use airline miles to go to DisneyWorld in October, which would have been $500. I was able to book my July trip to England using the leftover points, $1100. But, it took four years of continuous use on that card to make it happen. I consider it worth it since I would have spent that money regardless (think gas money), and I wanted to put it to good use. 

My rating for this tip is 10/10, as long as you are responsible with your credit cards!! 

Check That Phone Plan:

Although phone plans have become more transparent over the years, phone carriers are notorious for tacking on services and features to your plan that you don’t want. They can be expensive, and if you have multiple people on the plan, data usage can start to get up there. 

I literally have never wanted to spend money on a phone, when I can use my wifi (that I already have to pay for) to communicate with people. I pay for a cell phone mainly because I have to have one, and I use it with clients occasionally. So, finding that inexpensive phone plan was what I needed: I found it in Mint Mobile. I pay upfront every year and pay between $150-180 for the entire year. That’s $12.50-$15 a month for about 5 GB of data.

I am one person, but my boyfriend is even cheaper than I am. He uses a prepaid cell phone and spends about $7 a month on his phone. 

Finding the cheapest phone plan or going with a prepaid phone isn’t for everyone. But if you want to save money, it’s a great place to start. Utilize your wifi (that you already have to pay for!) more than phone data. Don’t use data when you are out and about if you can help it. The possibilities are all there. 

My rating for this tip is 10/10. 

Related Reads:

How to Save Money with a $12 AARP Membership (Even if You’re not 65)

How to Save Money While Eating Healthy

I Spent too Much on Groceries. Now What?

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