The last few years have been tough ones, with the economy going through recession, millions of people becoming unemployed and businesses going under left and right. The economy has shown some signs of improving, but indications are we still have a lot of rough road ahead of us.
With the economy being so unsure, now is as good a time as any to start thinking about how to cut back on your regular monthly bills. For many, once you've cut out some of the more obvious expenditures, it doesn't feel like there are that many other places that can be cut. The truth is, however, that most people have a lot of places that they can still cut back and save money.
Today I thought I'd look at some of the main areas of spending that people have every month – their regular monthly bills. Often people take those monthly bills for granted, not even thinking about how they can save money on those regular expenditures, just taking it on faith that they can't get those bills any lower.
So today's post is all about how to save money on just about all of your regular monthly bills.
How To Save On Your Phone And Wireless Bills
There are a variety of ways that you can save on your home phone, cell phone and mobile internet charges. Here are a couple of the options that we're using – or plan to start using in the coming year to save on our phone bills.
- Landline phone service: For years we've had a landline because my wife prefers talking on that versus a cell phone, and also because we needed the landline for our home security system. We recently made changes that mean we can now opt for a cheaper VOIP option for our landline service. After doing some research a lot of other bloggers are talking about the Ooma phone service, which is apparently very good. All you have to do is pay upfront to buy an Ooma Telo device for around $140, which then allows you to make unlimited calls in the U.S. for free over your existing broadband connection! All you have to pay is local taxes in your area (about $4.50 for us). You can port your current landline phone number over as well, for a $39.99 fee. Read my full review of Ooma here, and my post talking about setting Ooma up here.
- Prepaid Cell Phones: One way that we've been saving a ton of money over the years is by using prepaid cell phone service, instead of more costly contract plans. We have no contract phone service from Virgin Mobile, and we pay on average about $45/month for two phones. One of them is an Android smartphone with tons of minutes and unlimited text/data ($35/month), and the other is just a regular calls only cell phone ($10/month). The only downside is the up front cost of the cell phone – it isn't subsidized like on contract plans. There are a variety of other prepaid cell services out there that many people recommend including popular Wi-Fi/Cell hybrid Republic Wireless and a newer one called Solavei. Check out the related content below for a full article talking about saving on your cell phone bill using prepaid services. Want to use a traditional phone service? Check out Bill Shrink for a comparison of your options.
- Free Mobile Hotspots: A short while ago I had a need to have Internet access on the go while traveling. At the time I settled on buying a mobile hotspot from Virgin Mobile via their prepaid wireless broadband plan. You just buy the hotspot, and then pay $35/month for 1GB of data. I was in a rush so I bought the hotspot and used it while on my trip. When I got back I became aware of a company called FreedomPop. FreedomPop also has mobile hotspots, but their thing is that you get 500MB of FREE data every month. All you have to do is pay for their hotspots, and then it is free from then on. I decided to discontinue using my Virgin Mobile hotspot and put down my deposit on the Freedompop hotspot. After signing up you can also connect with other users to get added free data, as well as completing offers and surveys. I was able to get another 500MB of free data that way. So I now get 1GB of data for free every single month without paying a dime beyond my deposit. I've had 3 months of service so far, for what I paid for 1 month with Virgin. Highly recommended – and a full review of FreedomPop is in the links below. Another similar and free wireless broadband option is NetZero 4G. Their hotspot itself is less at only $49.95, but they only offer 200MB of free data every month, or $9.95 for 500MB. So FreedomPop still gives you more data every month for less in the long run.
- How To Save Hundreds On Your Cell Phone Bill By Using A No Contract Or Pre-Paid Phone Service
- How To Get Free Unlimited Voice And Data Cell Phone Service Or Free 4G Wireless Internet
- FreedomPop Review: Free 4G Wireless Internet Access Can Help You Save On Your Cell Phone Bill
- Ooma Review: Save Hundreds On Your Phone Bill By Ditching Your Landline For VOIP
How To Save On Your Housing Costs
One place that you can save hundreds of dollars every month is in your housing costs. Most people are aware that they could probably save by refinancing, but there are other ways you can save as well.
- Refinance your mortgage: The most obvious way to save on your housing costs is simply to refinance your home mortgage. Rates are so low right now, and by refinancing you can often save hundreds of dollars off of your regular monthly payment. I'm in the middle of looking for a refinance right now, and we stand to save in the neighborhood of $200-300/month.
- Appeal your property taxes: A lot of people don't realize that you can actually appeal your property taxes in many counties by appealing the county's tax appraisal value. I have successfully appealed our value once a couple of years ago, saving $363/year. Find out how I did it below via the related content.
- Get cheaper homeowner's insurance: I go into this more in the insurance section below, but if you shop around you can often find hundreds in savings every year just by switching insurance companies. We saved almost $1000/year by doing this just a couple of months ago.
- Remove mortgage insurance: If you're paying mortgage insurance with your regular monthly payment, and you have already reached 20% equity in your home, you may want to look into having that insurance removed by your mortgage company. It isn't there to protect you, but the bank. Often you can have it removed after getting 20% equity in the house, and in many cases it may be required that they remove it. In some cases, if you're a high risk borrower or if you have a FHA loan, you may need to keep the mortgage insurance longer.
- Downsize your house: If you're really trying to lower your bills a sure fire way is to downsize your house. Not only will your payment go down, but your insurance, taxes, maintenance costs and other costs will go down as well. Of course any costs associated with moving also need to be taken into account.
- Current Mortgage Rates
- Rates Are Low. Is It Time To Refinance?
- When Is The Best Time To Refinance Your Mortgage?
- How We Saved Almost $1000 On Our Homeowners And Auto Insurance Premiums
- How To Save Hundreds Of Dollars On Your Tax Bill By Challenging Your Property Taxes
- How To Protest County Property Tax Appraisals
- How And Why To Check Your Credit When Refinancing Your House
How To Save On TV, Movies And Entertainment
There are a lot of ways that you can cut costs when it comes to your entertainment dollar.
- Shop around and sign up for deals on premium TV: First, if you're determined to keep your premium TV because of sports or programming only available on cable, you can at least make sure that you get the best possible deal on your cable TV package. Make sure to shop around once your introductory deal runs out and you can usually end up saving hundreds every year by switching companies! A good place to check out is Bill Shrink where it will tell you the best offers in your area.
- Cancel un-needed services: Another thing you can do is check to make sure you're not doubling up on any services. When we were cutting back a while ago we realized that we were paying for both Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime – which has a good video streaming option. We realized most of the same TV shows and movies were available on both sources, so we canceled Netflix – saving us $7.99/month.
- Cut the cord: If you're a bit more ambitious and aren't very particular about receiving certain channels or waiting to see content the night it airs, you might want to make this the year that you cut the cord. Cancel your cable or satellite TV packages and move to something more affordable. Instead of paying for a TV package you can use free video streaming services like Hulu, shows streamed by the networks, and more. Use a software like Playon to stream the shows directly to your TV using an existing gaming console like the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, or a cheap device like the Roku or Boxee. The options are pretty numerous, and we've used options like this in the past to get most of our TV entertainment. Check out the related content below for a couple of exhaustive posts on how to set this up.
- Use cheap movie rental alternatives: Don't really watch TV or movies too much – and a monthly Netflix or Amazon subscription doesn't make sense for you? Use a cheap rental alternative like Redbox, where you can rent a new release movie for a dollar. You can often find coupon codes to get free rentals every now and then. If you rent infrequently enough for it to matter, use cheap pay per view video options on Itunes, Amazon and Xbox to rent movies without leaving the comfort of your home. Amazon often gives away free credits on social media for their MP3 and Video stores, so follow them on Twitter and Facebook to get deals!
- Ways To Watch TV Without Paying An Arm And A Leg For Cable Or Satellite
- Cutting The Cord And Getting Your TV On The Cheap
- How To Get The Best Deal When Signing Up For Cable Or Satellite TV
- Is Netflix A Cost Efficient Entertainment Option For You?
- Saving Money At The Movies
How To Save On Your Internet Costs
If you're looking to save on your internet costs, the best thing you can usually, similar with TV deals, is to shop around, or find a reduced rate internet company.
- Search for the best deal: Find out where you can get the best deal. For us our internet options include DSL service from a couple of different companies and cable internet. You can usually find competing deals and introductory offers that you can use to hop from company to company and always have the best deal. Other times you can bundle with other services and save. It can be a pain, but it can save you a ton of money too. Check out websites like FatWallet where they have forums talking about all the latest deals from the top companies. They'll also share tips and tricks they used to get the best deals.
- Get free or reduced rate internet: Another thing you can do if you live in certain areas is us a free 4G internet service like FreedomPop or Netzero. Of course to do this you'd have to live in an area with good 4G coverage. FreedomPop will soon have a home 4G internet hub that will give you 1GB of free data to start, and then there are plans starting at $10/month after that. Netzero has cheap DSL available in certain areas, in addition to their free 4G offering.
How To Save On Insurance
The best way to save on your insurance costs is just to shop around on a regular basis. I like to do it at least every 1-2 years for my homeowner's insurance, auto insurance, life insurance and less often for other types. We found our best deal by using an insurance broker because they were able to compare rates at multiple companies and compare quotes for us.
Within the past few weeks we shopped around for new homeowner's insurance after the premium skyrocketed. We ended up saving almost $1000/year when we switched our homeowner's and auto insurance to a new company. That's not the first time we've been able to do that! We did the same thing about 4 years ago, comparing rates and saving over $1000 that time!
Not sure where to start in getting quotes? Check out our insurance page to get quotes from a bunch of different companies.
- Check Your Auto Insurance Rates Regularly to Save Hundreds
- How To Pay Less For Auto Insurance
- Save Money By Checking Auto Insurance Rates, Even If You Think You’ve Already Got A Good Deal
- Buying Homeowner’s Insurance: What To Look For And How To Keep Your Rates Low
- How We Saved Almost $1000 On Our Homeowners And Auto Insurance Premiums
Save By Getting A Better Bank Account
You may have had your old bricks and mortar checking or savings account since you were in high school, but have been noticing lately that they've started charging you fees for various things. You've also noticed that the fees for your brokerage account have gone up, and mysterious inactivity fees started popping up. Whatever the case, people often find that their bank account is no longer useful to them, and that they can save money on fees (or make more interest) by moving somewhere else.
- Save money by closing old accounts: Often old accounts start charging inactivity fees for dormant accounts, or just start charging fees because they think they can get away with it. Closing an account can be a pain, but it can also save you money (and headaches) in the long run.
- Sign up for better bank accounts: Signing up for a better bank account will mean not only savings because of no fees and no minimums, but also can mean you'll end up making more money interest, cash back and other perks. For example, a while back we signed up for Perkstreet Financial's Reward Checking, a great online bank. We've gotten hundreds of dollars in cash back – it's one of the few cash back checking accounts available. Our old account at a traditional bricks and mortar was charging us fees for all sorts of things, and customer service wasn't great. We have also switched our savings account to online banks with accounts from ING Direct and Ally Bank. Not only are we making more in interest, but the features available at those banks surpass our old bank.
- Lower interest on your credit card accounts: If the interest on your credit card is getting unreasonably high, consider closing the account after signing up for a card with a lower interest rate, 0% balance transfer and no fees. Just be wary of big charges to actually transfer balances.
Different account types to consider closing if the fees or features aren't up to snuff? Savings accounts, checking accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual fund company accounts, credit cards. Go down the list and figure out which ones just aren't cutting it anymore.
- Give The Axe To Zombie Accounts, Subscriptions and Services
- Take A Personal Finance Day To Fix Your Finances
- My Top 5 Favorite Banks And Brokerages
- Best Savings Accounts
- Best Brokerage Accounts
- Best Checking And Alternative Accounts
- 0% Interest Balance Transfer Credit Cards
How To Save On Energy Bills
Saving on energy bills often can't be done by switching to another provider because there is often only one option for water, gas or electricity in many areas. That means the savings usually has to come from being creative and saving in other ways.
Some ways to save on your energy bills:
- Get a programmable thermostat: A good portion of your utility bills every month are going to come from your heating and cooling bills. By buying a programmable thermostat like the smart Nest thermostat, you can have your heat turned down at night, turned low when you're gone and even control it remotely. They advertise an annual savings average of $173, so it may take about 18 months to pay back the $249 cost – unless you can find it for less. Other options include regular programmable thermostats which can run $50-70 or more.
- Get (slightly) out of your comfort zone: Be willing to turn the temp down slightly in the winter, and up in the summer. You can save a ton of money just by turning the temp up or down even a few degrees!
- Use a power saving device: A lot of the electronic devices we use these days have phantom power drain even when you're not using them. Get around this by getting an auto-sensing power strip that will turn off all power when the unit is off, or energy saving power plugs that have on off switches for things like coffeemakers or toasters.
- Save at your water heater: The water heater can account for 14-25% of your energy bills every year. Often the heat on your water heater is turned up higher than you need it to be. A temp of 120-140 degrees is hot enough, and every 10 degrees you lower it you'll save 3-5% on your bill. Some experts say not to go below 120 degrees, however, because bacteria can grow in the tank. You can also save by putting a fiberglass insulating blanket on the water heater to save money on heat loss.
- Get a home energy audit to find energy leaks: Local utilities will often come out to do a home energy audit free of charge or a small fee to help you find where your home is leaking energy. Plug up the leaks and save!
- Maintain your appliances: Doing things like cleaning your AC condensor coils or changing furnace filters regularly can save you money on your energy. If you don't, appliances can work harder than they need to, and drain more energy.
- Save Money By Doing Simple DIY Maintenance
- 5 Ways To Prepare For Winter
- 8 Ways To Reduce Your Electricity Bill This Winter
So there you have it, how to save money on just about all your possible monthly bills. I could probably go on, but the point is there are no shortage of ways to save money on your regular monthly expenditures. You can save on your housing costs, your phone and wireless broadband costs, your insurance costs, your energy costs, your bank accounts and even on your spending on entertainment. You just have to be creative, find cheaper alternatives and cancel un-needed services.
So what ways to save on your regular monthly bills can you suggest? Tell us your money saving strategies in the comments!