Life is freaking expensive. We did a ton of research (that you can read about here), and as it turns out, it costs about $45000 per year on average. That figure doesn’t even include taxes, healthcare, or childcare! But remember, that’s just the average. There are ways to save money on living expenses to cut that down.
How to Save Money on Living Expenses
I’m sure you probably read a ton of articles telling you to save money by doing things that are unrealistic for most people. Save tons of money by renting out your three extra bedrooms! You can even use Airbnb if you don’t want full time roommates!
While I’m sure you can make a bundle off renting extra rooms, which in turn will save you money on housing, that’s just not realistic. How many people even have extra bedrooms to rent out?
Another widely toted tip (and one that even got its own book!) is to skip the morning coffee. Granted, I do make my own coffee at home, and it does save me money. However, do you really want to take away the one treat that you have every day? How much do you need to limit yourself in order to save enough money to not struggle? I think it’s important to have a little treat now and then.
Instead, we are going to find realistic ways to save money on living expenses.
Realistic ways to Save Money on Living Expenses
One of the biggest money sucks at home is utilities. I told you about how I spent over five hundred dollars a month on heating when I first moved back to the cold, right? That’s just insane. Fortunately, I found a ton of great ways to save money on heating, and now my oil bill is down to about two hundred dollars a month. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than it was.
Heating isn’t the only utility to consider. Electricity and water bills can be huge money sucks as well. Make sure you are turning the lights and faucets off when they aren’t being used. Wash your clothes in cold water. Turn all of the faucets off all the way and ensure that nothing is leaking. And don’t “browse” the refrigerator – open it, get what you need, then close it again. These small steps won’t save you a fortune on your utility bills, but they will save you something. And, as an added bonus, you can feel good about reducing your carbon footprint a tiny bit!
A final great way to save money on utilities is by cutting that cable cord. I haven’t had cable in over a year, and honestly, I haven’t missed it. I use Netflix and Hulu for all of my television needs. I’m paying less for these two streaming services than I ever did for cable, and there’s so much more to watch.
Yes, I know, I made fun of the people who write about house hacking earlier. But, if you are in a position to do it, then it’s absolutely a great way to save money on living expenses. House hacking isn’t just renting out extra rooms though. Yes, you could get a roommate to split some of the basic costs, but you could also downsize to a smaller home or apartment. I know moving sucks and is expensive, but a smaller place will not only have lower rent, but it will cost less to heat, cool, and light as well.
Clearly not everyone is in a position where they can just move – and sometimes finding cheaper rent is a struggle even if you were. But, it needs to be noted that house hacking in some form is one of the best ways to save money on living expenses, if it’s realistic for your current situation.
My biggest expense at home is food. I spent over a hundred bucks at the grocery store this past week, and I didn’t even buy pet food! It seems like grocery stores are getting more and more expensive every day.
I already wrote an epic post about how to save money at the grocery store, so I won’t rehash most of that here. However, I will reiterate that buying generic whenever possible and skipping the pop are two great ways to save. Many generic foods are just as good if not better than their name brand counterparts (there are still a few things that I won’t buy generic though!) and pop is just all around bad for you.
If you really want to save money, you can go super frugal and try to eat with just twenty dollars a month. I don’t recommend it, but it’s an option if you are super strapped for cash and need to save money.
Eating out vs Eating at Home
I know, I know. Telling you to eat at home more is like beating a dead horse. We all should know by now that it’s cheaper to cook at home than it is to eat out. But I can’t very well write a post on how to save money on living expenses without including it. Eating at home really can save you tons of money.
We all have very busy lives, and sometimes its way easier to go out to grab a bite than it is to cook something and eat at home. You can mitigate this by having some easy meal options. Frozen pizza is way cheaper than delivery, and just as easy. You can also cut up some cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers for wraps in less than ten minutes, if you want a healthier option.
And let’s talk about packing a lunch. It’s way cheaper to bring a sack lunch to work than it is to eat out every day. You all know that I’m a huge fan of food, but even I can manage to eat a pretty bland sandwich and chips for lunch every day. My total cost for lunch for the week is less than ten bucks – which is what one day of even fast food would cost. It’s definitely the more frugal option.
How to Save Money on Going Out
Going out isn’t a basic living expense. However, we all need to treat ourselves sometimes, so if you’re going to go out to eat, you may as well try to save a few bucks where you can.
My favorite trick to save money on eating out is to forego the pop and just drink water. Many places may offer free refills, but the initial charge is going to be over two bucks, and that’s just for sugar water. Forgoing other drinks (especially alcoholic beverages) will save you even more.
I also like to skip the appetizer and dessert, diving right into the main course. I don’t really need all those extra calories for fifteen bucks – the main course is usually more than enough to fill me up. Sometimes I’ll even split the dish with my partner, since the serving sizes are so big. Or we will get one appetizer and one main course to split – if we are super hungry. Portion sizes are so big at most US restaurants that you will get more than enough to eat if you split it – and your budget will thank you.
If your idea of going out means going out for drinks, you are going to spend a whole lot more. The best advice I can give you on that is to stick to smaller dive bars. They may not have as much variety, but they will definitely have the best bargains on drinks.
Another huge expense for people is their car payments. Did you know that the national average is over five hundred dollars a month? You did if you read my post on how much life costs!
With cars getting more and more expensive, and financiers extending the terms of loans for longer and longer, it’s getting hard to get by without a hefty car payment. But there are some things that you can do.
First, you can opt for a used car. We’ve all heard the stories of cars declining in value the minute they drive off the lot. And it’s true. A used car is usually just as good as it’s new counterpart (but make sure you get it inspected, just to be safe) and will generally be about five or ten thousand dollars cheaper. That’s a huge amount of money, especially when you take on interest! Yes, you can save on that by buying a car with cash, but that’s not exactly realistic for most people.
Another thing you can do to save money on your car is to keep it for as long as it will run. When I was little, my parents got a new car every two to five years. Seriously, I remember ten cars from my childhood, and I don’t remember any actually breaking down or being unusable. And I’m sure I’m missing a few.
I’ve had my current car since 2012, and it’s been paid off for about two years. I love it, and I’m going to take care of it and drive it until it can’t drive anymore. There’s no need to get a new car when my current car is in excellent condition.
We need all types of insurance, and I wish I knew the secret to getting the lowest rates. My insurance company just raised my premium by fifty bucks a month, for reasons completely unknown to me.
The only option I know of for saving money on insurance is shopping around for a better rate. This is how insurance companies get you though. They know how annoying it is to shop for new insurance, so they lure you in with low initial rates and then raise the premiums, knowing that it’s a hassle to change companies. It’s such a scam.
How Else do You Save Money on Living Expenses?
Do you have an awesome hack for saving money on your living expenses? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.