Six Painless Steps to Reduce Monthly Expenses by $130

Many of us stay on the sidelines of saving and investing for our future because of a perceived lack of capital. I’ll be the first to admit when things are tight it seems unrealistic to even consider selecting a mutual fund to invest in. The idea of ramping up retirement contributions when you are living paycheck-to-paycheck is even more out of the question. What if I told you that you could increase the amount you invest each year by $1,500, painlessly. $1,500 a year in a decent mutual fund could appreciate to a significant amount over a working lifetime. Here are six painless ways our family has reduced our monthly expenses by $130 a month. Some may cause a temporary sting, but over the long haul you will barely notice.

Reduce cable service to basic channel offerings. The idea of canceling cable altogether strikes fear in most couch potatoes. A good compromise is to cut back to basic cable service. You’ll still receive your local cable channels and will be able to use a TiVo or DVR to record network television shows. Many cable providers offer this bare-bones package at $10-15 a month – compare that to what you are currently paying for 150 channels of things you barely watch. Monthly savings: $35

photo by reeveb

Skip the bookstores and hit the library. Before I started making an attempt to live more frugally, I frequently picked up a book or two at the local bookstore to the tune of $25-30 a month (this is a conservative estimate as newly released hardcovers typically cost much more). To satisfy my reading habit in a more frugal fashion I decided to visit a local library. I found the sections on personal finances, career development and personal productivity clustered in one area. I was in heaven! Monthly savings: $30

Carpool once a week. Based on last month’s gasoline charges we are spending about $190 a month on gas. That works out to roughly$6.33 a day on gas expenses (some days we spend a little more, and some days much, much less). By carpooling or finding another way to travel to and from work just one day a week we eliminate four days worth of gasoline expense per month. I’ve even taken to the idea of riding my bike home from work a few times a week to offset the costs associated with operating our second vehicle (and to lose some weight). Monthly savings: $25

Switch to value internet package. It is nearly impossible to function in today’s society without an internet connection. Gone are the days of cheap dial up access as broadband has just about taken over the internet access market. However, this doesn’t mean you have to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege of surfing the web. We found out our cable internet provider offered a “value” package at half the price of the normal high-speed cable internet package. We gave up some speed, but since I rarely download files or stream video it is barely noticeable. Monthly savings: $20

Lower your cell phone package minutes. Fortunately, many cell phone providers now offer in-network calling where you may call individuals on the same network for free, or a minimal flat monthly fee. Since most of our cell phone calls are between family, and we are all on the same network, we were able to drop our allocation of airtime minutes and save some on the monthly package. Be sure to analyze your calling patterns from the past several months (usually available online) before making such a move. It is costly if you go over your monthly limit on a new, reduced calling plan. Monthly savings: $15

Switch from baths to showers. This is a no-brainer for me because I gave up taking baths when I was a kid – something about sitting in dirty bathwater just doesn’t appeal to me! However, like most homes recently built ours is equipped with a garden tub with jets and my wife enjoys the occasional bath. And of course our kids both required baths until just recently. My oldest child has switched to showers, and my wife now takes baths with much less frequency. This small lifestyle change has netted us a small monthly savings on the water bill. A warning to other husbands and fathers out there – be prepared to be overruled here. It may not be worth $5 a month to start a family water battle, and there are other opportunities to save larger amounts. Choose your battles wisely! Monthly savings: $5


  1. Hi! We already have no cable (not even basic), we visit the library often and do paperbackbookswap, I work from home to save fuel cost, our internet is $15 a month (the lowest), my mom pays our cellphone (we are on a family plan-which is pretty good $130 a month for 5 phones-mine was only $10 more on her existing plan), and we do not have a tub, only a shower(which I miss, but our new bathroom is very tiny.)
    But I will say living without or already using your suggestions we are still happy and content and not missing anything!!! Thanks for you blog, I love reading it.

  2. Good, we are doing most of that stuff with the exception of the carpool (my husband travels to different offices for work). These are great tips!

  3. FD – We used most of these ideas to lower our expenses a couple of years ago. I am especially a fan of lowering cable costs and using the library system. Read more, watch TV less!

    On the mobile phone issue, I am fortunate that my work pays for mine and on my wife’s we switched her to a pre-paid TracFone. It works great and significantly reduced our monthly expense.

    • @Jeff: We’ve considered going to pre-paid phones ourselves, but never pulled the trigger. What has your overall experience been with them? Reliable connections?

  4. You can save another $10-15 a month if you drop caller id and set the answering machine to start after two rings. Cheap or frugal? You decide.

  5. Sadly none of those ideas are an option for me. I am already that cheap. The only one I don’t already do is carpool and that isn’t really an option because I only work near 1 person from work and I am part time so we never start at the same shift, just wouldn’t make sense. These ideas seem like they could help a lot of people though, keep the ideas flowin.

  6. I am looking for someone to carpool to work with as well. I drive about 70 miles per day, and have calculated that commuting costs me around $460 per month in fuel and maintenance costs. With gas nearing $4 per gallon in my area, commuting with one other person would save me $230 per month ($2760 per year!).

  7. $10-25 is within the dangerous “impulse buy threshold,” so we dismiss these “weenie” measures as insignificant. $10-25/month over a year is big! Multiply that by 6 initiatives and that’s a nice chunk of change to throw at debt, investments, and savings.

  8. Wait a sec, you can have DVR with only basic cable??? I did not know this. I have the super duper 1,000 plus channel digital cable, and thought I had to have that to have the DVR. I don’t think you can have basic without having digital. But maybe you can? Hmph…I’m confused. I think I should call Time Warner and see what my options are — I’d love to save some money if I’m overpaying unnecessarily.

    • @Emily: We have a TiVo and yes, it works with basic cable input. If your DVR is offered through your cable company you would need to check with them to see if it requires a digital input signal (or is only available with the higher digital package). That’s one of the great things about TiVo – it’s mine and I can take it with me when I move, I don’t have to pay a rental fee, etc.

  9. It’s heartening to hear that even Frugal Dad has a TiVo — I’m willing to cut back pretty far, but I don’t know if I could bring myself to give up the TiVo, even with the monthly fee. It really is one of my most useful monthly fees, I think.

    I’m a huge fan of the library, but sometimes its nice to physically own a book… A nice compromise is going to a used book store (or the equivalent online at Amazon Marketplace or — good value, and often in pretty good condition.

    • @Richard: I justify the TiVo monthly fee as a trade off for not watching commercials. Assuming I watched commercials, I could easily find $15 worth of junk I’d want to buy during the course of a month of live television. It also boosts productivity as I can motor through recorded shows much faster than sinking a full hour into the latest episode of Lost.

  10. Great ideas! A lot of people scoff at $5 or $10 in savings, but they add up. I try to put it in terms of something tangible. For example, if I can squeeze $25 out of my monthly budget somewhere, well then, that is a box of diapers. $15 – maybe a fast food meal… $4 – a gallon of gas… it all adds up.

    I heard once that some satellite companies will let you temporarily suspend service for several months for a $5 monthly charge. This beats beats paying the full price during the summer months when there’s not much on tv, and lots of time outside. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s worth looking into.

    ~ Christina

  11. This is great advice! We analyzed our budget before my husband went back to school full-time and have been doing all of these things ever since. It’s amazing to see how much you can save by doing these little things, and it really doesn’t hurt at all!

    I also recently learned that you can pick up over the air HDTV for local channels for free (!) with an antenna. So even though we have the bare-bones basic cable subscription, we can still watch most shows in HD.

    Without the expanded cable, it is nice to have a steady supply of DVDs to watch, so we pared down our Netflix subscription to the cheapest package and supplement that with DVD rentals from the library.

    It feels great to simplify your life and stop throwing money down the drain by doing these things.

    • I found that buying used DvD’s and BluRay from pawn shops can be pretty cheap – I’ve averaged between $1-$2 per disk from a popular local pawn shop. It turns out that lots of new releases make it into the pile also as lots of people pawn/sell their video equipment and videos. In fact, I’ve found some Disney new releases ON the day of release! Why pay $8-$25 when I can pay only a buck or two?! Yard sales, of course, are also a way to find things inexpensively.

  12. I loved the ideas. We do not have cable tv just a modem and an emergency phone line which we have to have for my spouse’s medical issues. he has to use a scale to monitor his heart issues and it requires a land line or we wouldn’t have it at all. While I admit we have fancier cell phones then are required we also use them for everything including internet services. We are a 6 member family living on a monthly income of 2000.00. We already under a lot strain financially and with the new laws my spouse is up for a disability review so we may become a 1 income family with only 1180.00 in income. Thanks for the confirmation of ways to save we may be looking for additional ways to become more frugal.

  13. We are a family of soon to be 6 and live on one income (I cant work) of 2500 or so, (we also live in Alaska which is more expensive and offers less options for lots of stuff). We don’t have cable, we don’t have high home costs and only one car pmnt. But could use some more ideas on lowering budget. No public trans, only one internet provider, Cell phones cheap as possible (have to have for safety reasons) We are at a loss on how to lower our budget further. Help New baby will be here in 2 months. (more diapers)…

    • For people in Alaska and Hawaii, sometimes it can be cheaper to buy non-perishable food products from the mainland (like in Oregon) and have them shipped. I knew a couple that would spend about $150/week in Hawaii for their dry goods; but when they found out Safeway on the mainland shipped for free (at the time) for orders over $75 they jumped on it and stretched their food dollars to near %180. You may want to check out such options.

  14. I’m surprised you didn’t mention commuting! I live in the SF Bay Area, where my total round-trip public transit commute cost is about $12 (from SF to berkeley, muni and bart). If I drive, the total cost is $10 – a $4 bridge toll and $6 parking pass. I could further reduce the cost of driving by street-parking and playing Ticket Roulette (the expected value over a month of that kind of parking is about equivalent to the daily $6 expenditure, so I don’t).

    Granted, the driving has other costs associated with it, but it also takes 40 minutes less in each direction, including traffic, which I admit is rather low, as I’m in the reverse direction (from SF to Berkeley in the morning)