DECEMBER 2015 UPDATE: While I continue to use Mint.com from time to time, I have made the switch to another free service, Personal Capital. It focuses more on investments, and the retirement calculator is very useful. If you want to give it a try, please consider using my referral link.
I started Save on (Almost) Everything to share the ways I cut my expenses to pay off an $86,000 mortgage in just 2 years. During that time, I carefully logged my expenses using Mint.com. If you’re not familiar with Mint, it’s a website and app to help you keep a budget.
Today I’m revealing how I save in nearly every Mint.com spending category. Let this post be a starting point. I’ve provided links to additional content within the article and at the end. Now, let’s get started slashing your spending one category at a time:
Auto & Transport
- Auto Insurance – Shop around for the best price every 6 months. There are services online that will do the comparisons for you, free of charge. In fact, if you request auto insurance quotes through the website Swagbucks, you can earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards. Other ways to save: Bundle auto and home insurance, call your insurer to update your mileage if you’re driving less, and take a defensive driving course to save up to 15%.
- Fuel Costs – Fill up outside city limits, reduce mileage, clean out the trunk, drive the speed limit, and pay for gas with a rewards credit card.
RELATED CONTENT: The OTHER Way to Save 15% on Car Insurance
Bills & Utilities
- Mobile Phone – I dumped my $110/month Verizon plan for a $25/month unlimited talk, text, and data plan with Republic Wireless. Read my review, here.
- Home Phone – I haven’t had one in 10 years.
- Internet – Want a discount? Use those solicitations from the competitors to your advantage. Call your provider and try saying exactly what I said to negotiate a lower rate. I saved $240/year.
- Television – I dropped cable and haven’t looked back. Here’s why.
- Electricity – Program your thermostat around your schedule, turn off lights when you’re not using them, and give your electronics an occasional break.
- Water – Included in HOA dues.
My college education cost $10,000. I started at a community college, transferred to a public university, graduated in three years, lived at home, and worked part-time. Read more about graduating college with no student loans.
- Movies -I get discounted movie tickets through my friend’s employer. If you love going to the movies, consider redeeming your credit card rewards for a gift card to a movie theater.
- Music – No iTunes for me. I listen to all the Top 40 hits on FM and internet radio.
- Newspapers & Magazines -I never pay cash for newspapers or magazines, but I subscribe to several magazines by redeeming leftover airline miles. It only takes 500 miles for some subscriptions.
Fees & Charges
- ATM Fee
- Bank Fee
- Finance Charge
- Late Fee
- Service Fee
I don’t pay these fees and you don’t have to either. If your bank is charging you fees, switch to Capital One Bank. Save on (Almost) Everything readers get a $25 bonus for opening a savings account and $50 for opening a checking account by using my referral link.
Food & Dining
- Alcohol & Bars – Pre-game before going out, happy hour specials, make friends with the bartender, flirt.
- Coffee Shops – Only a rare treat. According to a recent calculation I did for Clark Howard’s website, you can save $500 a year by making coffee at home compared to buying it at the coffee shop.
- Fast Food – See coffee shops.
- Groceries – There are 9 ways I save on groceries, but the most important involves planning. Check the circular before you go to the store and build a week’s worth of meals around what’s on special.
- Restaurants – Skip appetizers and dessert, limit alcohol, dine early, use 50% off deal services like Scoutmob.
AWESOME APP: I’m really digging this app called Ibotta. It gives you cash rebates for groceries, including milk and generics. Often times you won’t find coupons for those items. I got $5.75 sent to my PayPal account after my first shopping trip. I want to pass along my referral link. Get a $2 bonus for using it.
Gifts & Donations
I love giving gifts to people and donating to important causes. Paying it forward is one of the 7 things I can afford now that I’m mortgage-free. If you’re in debt, this is a good place to cut your spending.
Health & Fitness
- Health Insurance – Now that I’m a freelancer, I pay about $170 a month for Obamacare. The provider is Humana. They offer special incentives, including gift cards, for people who live a healthy lifestyle.
- Gym – $29.99 a month and worth every penny since I go 5 to 7 times per week.
- Mortgage / Rent – $0!!!! But even before I paid off my mortgage, it was a manageable $625. I was “house poor” in the past and I didn’t want to live that way anymore.
- Furnishings – If you’re staying put, buy nice furniture that’s built to last and treat it gently.
- Home Decor– Start small. An inexpensive coat of paint can transform an entire room. Recently I showed you how a $12 Instagram art project gave my bathroom an overdue update. Swap out accessories, not furniture.
- Hair – $20 including tip, once a month. I have a friend who has the stylist come over to his apartment to cut his hair. The stylist gives him a price break since the salon is kept out of the transaction.
- Laundry – I go to a Laundromat twice a month. It costs about $10 each visit.
- Spa = My tub.
- Massage = Isn’t that what dates are for? Ha!
- Food & Supplies – I use the shopping portal TopCashBack to find the best price on food for my frugal dog Lucy. She doesn’t get fancy treats because they hurt her stomach. I buy bones that are made to last.
- Grooming – I take care of all the grooming myself, except for an occasional $11 nail trim at the pet store.
- Veterinary – Use a family vet with a good reputation instead of a national chain. I’ve often wondered if some vets are trained to drive up the bill with unnecessary tests by playing with our emotions. Finding a good vet is crucial.
RELATED CONTENT: 7 Money-Saving Lessons From My Frugal Dog
- Books – There’s a library down the street.
- Clothing – Buy quality clothing, focus on basics that can be worn with multiple outfits, avoid fluctuating sizes by living a healthy lifestyle.
- Electronics & Software – Not a gadget guy.
I spent 2013 traveling across the country and beyond to celebrate my mortgage payoff. I use a 3-step system to save on hotel rooms. It includes comparison shopping, using TopCashBack, and paying with a rewards credit card. Speaking of rewards cards, I used one of them to redeem 6 roundtrip flights for free within the past year.
Inevitably, not everything will fall into the categories I just went through. My goal, however, is to keep uncategorized and miscellaneous expenses to a minimum. This is where a lot of unnecessary spending can really add up. Mint.com helps keep me honest.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You have to know how much you’re spending to figure out how to save. If you’re looking to save money immediately, start by taking the easy way out. In other words, reduce expenses in the categories that won’t be too painful. This will give you a psychological boost to tackle the challenging categories later on.
I’ve expanded on many of the topics in this post elsewhere. Here are a few of the articles I recommend:
- 9 Ways to Save on Groceries
- 15 Quick and Easy Ways to Save
- My $25 Republic Wireless Plan
- 3 Steps to Save Big on Hotel Rooms
- Secrets to Negotiating Lower Bills by Phone
Referral links help support Save on (Almost) Everything. Please know: I only provide referral links for products and services I use! These are companies I’ve done business with on my way to financial freedom:
- Capital One Bank ($25 savings and $50 checking account bonus for my readers)
- Ebates ($10 gift card bonus for signing up to this shopping portal)
I know this post was long, but we’re done. Congrats! Follow me on Twitter for more money-saving tips: @MichaelSaves.