Over the last three years my family has made huge strides in creating ways to save money in order to get out from the burden of debt. When Aaron and I started Three Thrifty Guys our family had about $25,000+ in non-mortgage debt. We've always focused on implementing thrifty ideas and ways to save, but since going through the Great Recession it has accelerated that desire even more.
Since 2008 our family's income has marginally increased over the years, but coming up with new ways to save money has had the greatest impact on our ability to pay off our creditors. I use to be under the assumption that if I could just make a few more dollars or negotiate my salary, then that would have the biggest impact. Boy was I mistaken!! In terms of percentages, I would say focusing on saving money has had a 15-25% impact on our family's disposable income (Wages-Taxes-Expenses = What's Left). Now compare this to the typical 3-4% raise and you see where your greatest opportunity might be!
Because disgust for debt has had such a big impact on our attitude towards savings, I came up with my family's “best ways to save money”:
In 2011, we were paying 5.07% on our 30 year mortgage, and our interest alone was around $550/month. Since refinancing to a 15 year mortgage, and implementing ideas to accelerate paying off our mortgage, we've been able to drive our interest to below $350. Each month that is a saving difference that compounds even more and more, and gets our family closer to being debt free!!! BO YAH!!!
2. Switch Our Home Phone Service – $317/year over a 3 year period
By switching our home phone services to Ooma Telo we were able to save $184 in our first year, and we'll average $317 over a three year period. My wife and I were skeptical of how buying a $200 unit could provide us phone service for free (minus the monthly taxes), but 14 months into it we are more than pleased! Check out the Ooma Phone Service Review to Save Money for more details.
3. Reduced Our Fixed Expenses – $100/year
After we switched to two checking accounts (one for fixed expenses and one for everything else) we were able to see exactly how much we were committed to each month. By segregating our fixed versus variable expenses we were able to tackle our fixed expenses head on, and find ways to reduce each of these. With one checking account everything got “merged” together and didn't provide us clarity for how to reduce our fixed expenses.
4. Use Our Local Library – $200/year
Weekly my family uses our local library for checking out kids books, DIY books, novels, personal finance books, or movies. By using our library versus paying for the books and movies outright it saves us tons of money! I'd estimate that the library can easily save us $200/year, and especially with how much we go through children's books.
A few years ago we had a smart phone and regular QWERTY phone all sharing a plan with one major provider. We were spending about $140+/month, and rarely coming close to using all of our minutes or data. Then two years ago I switched from using a Blackberry to a Tracfone. In doing so I'm saving around $60/month, and no longer addicted to my cell phone. Our family also recently reviewed Virgin Mobile iPhone plan, and could have saved $15/month (we ended up not going with Virgin Mobile – read the review to check out why).
6. Save money by buying goods online – 15-25% per purchase
When we had our third child (14 months apart from our second) we quickly realized we needed to either buy a diaper company or find diapers at a discount online (we chose the latter). Through using Amazon's subscribe and save, and diapers.com we were frequently able to save 15-25%. Besides diapers we regularly purchase large consumer staples online like chia seeds (excellent for runners!), toilet paper, 7th Generation cleaning products, and computer supplies. For some other online shopping discount tips, then check out Aaron's article – Items That are Cheaper Online.
7. Save Money on Electric Bills – $15/month
Month to month we track our monthly electric bill, and over the last three years have seen a significant drop. The main reasons are we switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs, using energy efficient space heaters in select areas, not putting all the bulbs in light fixture, and closing shades during hot days & opening them during cold winter days. All these small steps have helped us save money on our electric bills to the tune of about $15/month compared to 5 years ago.
8. Do It Yourself Projects – $100+ depending on the project
Through use of our library and YouTube we've been able to learn how to do our own frugal lawn care, install our own stone patio, decorate our home with old photos, build my own murphy bed, and how to distress furniture. By doing these DIY project we've been able to learn a trade or two, and save money along the way. Besides saving money there is always a pride of tackling some new project on your own too!
9. Open Two Checking Accounts – $75/year
By opening two accounts we've been able to direct deposit an exact amount into our fixed expenses account that will pay all of our bills. By doing this we've been able to ensure we have enough in our account, and not incur any overdrafts. I'd admit (ashamedly) that we probably had about 3 overdrafts per year, which added a lot of stress too. :(
10. Lower Your Xfinity Bill or Cable Bills – $25/month
Having lots of channels, DVR, HD reception, and all the movie channels are a great nice to have. However, that comes at a price. Our family reduced our cable bill by going with the lowest possible package (not even listed on their website), and utilizing other streaming media options. We've been with our cable provider for eight years now, and we frequently call to get bigger discounts and more “free options”. Over the last few years I'd say this has saved us $25+/month. As for using other streaming media, we currently stream Amazon Prime through our laptop, and I've evaluated PlayOn / PlayLater (below is a great install video on PlayOn by BibleMoneyMatters.com).