So, you've found yourself in a little financial pickle. You're in debt. Or you got laid off. Or you have a big financial goal you want to meet (hi, owning a home or having a baby) and you need to save more cash if you're ever even remotely going to be able to think about meeting it. It sounds overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Unless you're living paycheck to paycheck, there are always unnecessary expenses to cut in your budget. Today, we're going to talk about which ones are the most obvious ones to prune off your money tree first.
(And if you're looking to cut costs to save for a wedding, here's my post on how to cut event-specific costs.)
- Nights Out
- Take Out
- Books and Magazines
Even if you're not in debt payoff ninja mode; maybe you want to contribute more to your retirement fund, your emergency savings, or just live more comfortably within your budget…cutting back costs is the best, fastest, most immediate way to make all of those things happen.
But when it comes down to it, what do you cut? Where do you start? It can be hard to discern between the things you truly love and what is a legitimately unnecessary expense. The best part about money is that if you earn it, you get to say where and how it goes. You can start by cutting just two or three of the following that you feel you can most easily live without, or if you want to get really crazy – trim, trim, trim them all!
These are the six most unnecessary expenses in your budget to cut first when trying to meet a financial goal:
#1 – Nights on the Town
Listen ya’ll. I am terrible when it comes to saying no to plans. Typically I'm the first one to agree to karaoke, drinks, a birthday dinner, or an evening at the theatre for a variety of reasons:
- A) I need to be entertained
- B) I have ADHD and crave shiny, glittery distractions
- C) I work from home. Mama gets lonely and wants to socialize with real people and not in front of a computer.
Unfortunately for my wallet these types of plans tend to lead to a lot of other purchases along the way.
Take this, for example, you go out expecting to only pay for karaoke…which leads to drinks….which leads to food (read: end of the night pizza and maybe if you're feeling feisty – MORE DRINK – and finally a tip.
Now all of a sudden you’ve doubled your initial spending! So when it comes down to it …an evening of Netflix and chill can be just what your wallet needs. Here's the no-restaurant challenge I did back in 2017 (spoiler: I saved a f*ckload of money), and the annual February no-spend challenge I undertake if you need some inspiration!
Honestly, the top of the list of unnecessary expenses: alcohol. It's bad for you. And while I'm not one to begrudge anyone their indulgences — try drinking what you have at home first before picking up more from the grocery.
Alcohol can also take a toll on your bill when eating out. So if you're trying to maintain your social life while cutting back, try going out and only ordering water or a soda.
#3 – Take Out
When it comes down to it, ordering out is almost always going to be more expensive than making something at home. Even with inflation and the super-crazy price of groceries these days. As I previously mentioned, I actually documented a full 30 days where I only ate at home. If you know me, you know what a big deal this was! After that challenge, I am definitely more aware of how pizza and Chinese food suck up my food budget now. (But honestly, I did the challenge in 2017 and am feeling a 2023 re-do just to see what I learn!)
My advice to those of you who suck at cooking? Find a food blogger or recipe site and practice, or try one of the hip meal kit delivery services (My favorite is HelloFresh or to pick up a HomeChef kit at Kroger, so it's the taste of take-out, but for a friendlier price.)
#4 – Clothes, Shopping, General Over-Consumption
You knew this was coming, didn't you? Of course, clothing is going on the list.
But if you’re anything like me, shopping can bring with it a huge temptation to overspend. If you’re looking to cut costs, it may be a good time to audit your clothing spend. Those little purchases on Amazon or Instagram do really add up over time. Of course, you'll need clothing from time to time, but for the sake of cutting out unnecessary expenses and meeting our financial goals, what do you really need? Here's what to do instead of shopping if you're looking for fun, free things to try.
It doesn't have to be forever, but if you're serious about debt payoff, try a no-spend clothing challenge for 3 months, 6 months, or a year.
To save, learn ways to shop your own closet, resell old clothes to consignment stores, and use that money to indulge guilt-free, or simply donate old items to local thrift stores. (And if you think you may have a shopping addiction, here's how I managed to kick mine.)
#5 – Travel
Obviously, not everyone goes on road trips or cross-country flights every month, but even just cutting back on driving around all the time can save you money on gas and parking costs. (I saved $4700 in one year by living without a car, post on that is here.) And if you do tend to travel a lot and have debt, maybe forgo the big trips until you can get your head above water.
Also, here's how I travel on just 5% of my annual income each year. Again, this is all about spending on what you value. I value travel, but I have definitely said no to trips in order to pay off debt or contribute to my emergency fund.
#6 – Magazines & Books
Back in my pre-blog days, I used to be a hardcore magazine addict. Like every time at the grocery store throwing one or two of these items on the belt. Magazines nowadays are like $12 a piece (which is ABSOLUTE INSANITY IF YOU ASK ME) and that's over $100 a month if I bought two each week. Yowza.
Books are equally expensive, especially when you can borrow from a friend, read the free ones on Amazon Prime, or (GASP!) actually trek to a library.
I loved those Magazines, but now I save them as a sick day or beach vacation treat. I always look forward to the beach, but I also love laying there in the sun with ten magazines and devouring them one by one. It's become my little vacation ritual.
Also if you hate clutter – magazines pile up fast in the nooks and crannies of your home (unless you use them for an annual vision board exercise), so think of it as a smooth move for both your budget and debt payoff and for keeping your home streamlined and efficient.
Other ways to save on Unnecessary Expenses
1. Use an app to track your spending.
There are probably dozens of other little expenditures busting your budget every month. The best way to root these out is to track your spending for a full 30 days. You can either do this with pen and paper, looking at old credit card statements, or leveraging an app, like Rocket Money.
2. Automatic savings apps.
So you're cutting costs and putting away extra for debt or other money goals. Good for you! But what if I told you there are (now) money-saving apps you can take advantage of to help you save even more of that “extra.”
My favorite technology is Qapital. I've been using it for years now. It's an app that analyzes your spending to sock away little amounts you won't miss. You can even set rules such as having it save a $1 or $2 when rounding up your purchases, or you can save money automatically when you don't spend on McDonalds or Starbucks. or put away raising increments every week.
Also, here is how I managed to save $1000 in a month, largely through the use of automatic savings apps.
2. Consolidate your debt
For example: (I did these calculations here.)
Jody has $10,000 on a credit card at 24% interest. If she pays $400 over the next 36 months, she'll pay it off, but she'll have paid over $4,000 in interest. Nearly half the original balance!
If she consolidates that debt to a 10% interest rate loan with the same monthly payment at 36 months, she'll only pay around $1200 in interest, a savings of nearly $2800!
This is why consolidation is so powerful if you're already in debt. You'll need to have a decent credit score, but it's important to at least investigate the options. We recommend Upstart for debt consolidation as they factor in work history and school records for those with thin or low credit profiles.
3. Lower your bills
The six things I recommend cutting in the above article are all “fun” things to spend your money on. Those things that make life sweet and remind you why you work so hard.
But the fact is that you pay a lot of money on the necessities each month, too. While you can't live without them, you can lower how much you pay by doing an annual audit of your bills. You can do this manually by calling up your providers, or leverage a service like Rocket Money which will lower your bills for you.
- When you're serious about paying off your debt, you'll need to make some sacrifices, i.e. cutting (some or all) unnecessary expenses.
- Cut the frills first: going out, drinking, eating out, and buying new items.
- Investigate additional ways to trim your debt
While this definitely not the way you'd like to live the rest of your life, don't worry, it's only for the short term. And in the meantime, you are doing good, hard work for your financial future.
Lauren Bowling is the creator of Financial Best Life. Writing about money since 2012 (formerly as L Bee and the Money Tree), Bowling is an award-winning blogger and money and real estate expert whose advice has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, CNNMoney, Elite Daily, Business Insider, Redbook, and Woman’s Day Magazine and more. After selling the site to a division of The Motley Fool in 2019, Bowling is now back as the owner and primary voice behind FBL and is excited to continue educating elder millennials everywhere about how to afford their best life.