Top 5 ideas (plus 5 more bonus ideas) to help you reduce your monthly expenses by over $500 per month! Is that even possible? I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts it is. . .
All these ideas might not apply to your situation, but I tried to choose expenses that you most likely have on a monthly/recurring basis; these are also areas that I have personally saved money (except for stitch fix, trunk club and shoe dazzle – I know, I know . . . that’s just crazy talk!)
1) Reduce food expenses – reduce eating out, bring your lunch to work, and shop smarter for groceries – try Aldi, Lidl, or Walmart; $300 per month
2) Reduce heating and cooling costs by using programmable thermostats, fans, as well as a little extra caulk and insulation; $25 per month
3) Reduce your TV bill – go with netflix and free OTA broadcasts; $90 per month
4) Swap that expensive whole life policy with a less expensive term life policy; $75 per month
5) Minimize vacation expenses (Mickey gets paid too much anyhow); $100 per month
5 more bonus ideas, why? because you paid so much for this blog of course
Drop that gym membership (you hardly ever use it); $85 per month (ride your bike, workout at home)
Drop the monthly security bill – there are better technology solutions that cost less; $20 per month
Make coffee at home – stop buying that latte from starbucks! $25 per month
Do you really need stitch fix, trunk club, and shoe dazzle? $20 per month
You can do without spotify premium and/or apple music – listen to the radio or get the ad supported version of spotify (free!) $10 per month
“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body” – George Carlin
Do you want to enter the ranks of the working poor and live paycheck to paycheck? Have I got a plan for you! I’ve ranked the top 5 ways to ruin your finances – reminds me of a funny movie from the 80’s “Brewster’s millions”. Richard Pryor had to spend $30 million in 30 days and have nothing but the shirt on his back after his spending spree.
#5 make sure you don’t have a monthly budget and certainly don’t have any emergency savings (at least $1,000) set aside for a rainy day (e.g., roof repair, car repair, etc.). I have read a lot of books and articles about millionaires and one of the common themes is to give each dollar an assignment – tell your money where it should be going, otherwise your money will own you!
#4 have an alcohol or drug addiction problem and certainly don’t seek any treatment. I don’t think this requires a great deal of elaboration – drug or alcohol abuse is a significant problem and definitely a recipe for ruining your life, including your finances. Seriously, if this applies to anyone, AA is a great resource and you should go!
#3 lack of reliable transportation– my limited research validates my theory that lack of reliable transportation is a strong predictor of a lack of upward mobility. This is probably pretty self-evident; thank you captain obvious! My point is a little counter to conventional wisdom – most personal finance experts (including many I deeply respect), recommend you pay cash for a car – for many that is getting the cart in front of the horse (IMHO). I personally would bless a small car loan, if it advances one’s upward mobility and wealth creation. I absolutely think being debt free is the goal (of a successful personal finance plan) but it could prove significantly more challenging (to achieving this goal) without the ability to get to work.
#2 become a single parent– I’m confident the evidence is overwhelming – single parents face significantly more financial obstacles than married families – I believe this is true both anecdotally and academically. If you want to read more about the decline of marriage and the rise of single parent households, read more below. Suffice it to say, I am a proponent of having children within marriage – I think it’s smart financially and it’s a Biblical principal.
and finally, the number 1 way to consistently turn your finances into a hot mess (our southern term for a really bad situation, usually of your own doing) is, wait for it;
#1 make sure you spend more than you make
“when your outflow exceeds your inflow than your upkeep is your downfall”
hey, it worked for Greece, Detroit, Puerto Rico; and the US government has been consistently trying this great strategy for years (20 trillion in debt and counting). The goal is to live beyond your means, max out your credit cards, and pile up as much debt as you possibly can (car loans, mortgages, student loans, you get the picture).
honorable mention; items that didn’t quite make the top 5, but are sure to help with your poverty goal nonetheless:
make sure, whatever you do, don’t graduate from high school (college, fugetaboutit (the way New Yawka’s say it (especially in Brooklyn))- captain obvious strikes again! – lack of education is another great way to get, and stay, in the poor house your entire life.
have a really bad attitude at work, be sure to sprinkle in a little tardiness, and you are well on your way to becoming a lazy, unreliable employee; that will get you fired, at the worst possible time (count on it!).
In all seriousness, I encourage everyone to think about your daily financial decisions and consider the consequences of your lifestyle, behavior and choices. If you haven’t done so, I strongly encourage you to attend a financial peace university class and read Dave Ramsey’s book, “complete guide to money”, I’ve done both!
I really believe it makes sense for most to get an antenna to take advantage of free over-the-air broadcasts. Netflix is another common cord cutting resource (at least get a free trial). After that though, what’s next? It really depends on your preferences. If you choose a streaming device, then there will be plenty of apps (including games) that you can explore. But watch out, some of these additional apps/services cost money, so be careful!
My cord cutting journey
1) I chose Apple TV – mostly because I am already in the Apple ecosystem and consequently there are many advantages for me. I already own some movies and TV shows in iTunes (no other streaming device can access iTunes). I really like the Apple TV app store. Additionally, all my photos from all our devices (iphones, ipad, etc.) automatically show up in the photos app (on Apple TV) and I really enjoy the memories feature that makes small video clips (with music) of family photos – this is all automatic – I don’t manually sync or setup the memories, it all happens in the background/cloud – woo hoo! Our son also really enjoys a lot of the interactive games on Apple TV too.
2) I am currently using an over-the-top package from DirectTV now. I have their mid-level package for $50 per month. I mostly chose that package for their regional sports, in order to watch the Atlanta Braves. One of the reasons I chose DirectTV now was because it included a free Apple TV. I enjoy this cable-like package of live TV (vs. Netflix which is on-demand) – partly due to its regional sports and partly because I grew up with appointment TV and on-demand TV takes a little getting used to. One disadvantage (at least for now) is that DirectTV now doesn’t include a cloud based DVR – most other over-the-top services include a cloud based DVR service and if this is really important to you then I recommend you check out Playstation Vue – it gets really good reviews (see link below). DirectTV now is supposed to begin offering a free cloud based DVR service later in 2017 – hurry up and wait. . .
We went a couple years with only an antenna and Netflix – it was sufficient (and fit nicely into the budget) – especially for my wife and son – but I confess I missed quite a bit of my favorite sporting events – especially baseball (Go Braves!) and basketball (Go Heels!).
I’m sure that many will conclude that the whole cord cutting process is too cumbersome and time consuming: I will be the first to admit the setup process is more challenging than traditional cable/TV, but for many, the cost savings more than outweigh some temporary inconvenience from the setup process.
Drop me a comment below and let me know if you are a cord cutter or not and why?
You are determined to take the plunge and are going to ditch your cable/satellite TV service (I know because you’re still here)
Let’s layout the basic process and then I will share my experience with the process (in a separate post)
1) determine if you are under a contract with your cable or satellite provider. I recommend finishing the contract and then switching, easier and simpler for all.
2) do you already have home internet? Determine the speed – MBs (megabytes per second download), http://www.speedtest.net is a quick way to determine your existing speed. I recommend a minimum of 5 MBs but prefer at least 10 MBs for streaming video. 10 MBs should be sufficient to stream things like Netflix with no buffering/lag. If 4K is a must, then you will need at least 25 MBs, you might already have this. . . .
3) Are you close to any FREE over-the-air broadcast towers? If your TV is 2007 vintage (or newer), I believe it already has a digital tuner/receiver (new regs) built in – you already paid for the equipment – take advantage of something you already own! Visit http://www.antennaweb.org to determine how many towers are in your area and if it’s worth it to purchase an antenna (there are 54 towers for my address). If there are multiple towers within 60 miles of your home, then it probably makes sense.
4) Depending on your proximity to local broadcast towers, you will then need to purchase an appropriate antenna. This one-time purchase of hardware cost can vary widely depending on the strength you need. If most of the local channels (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX) are within 10 miles then you probably can use a small passive indoor antenna for probably $25 or less (try Walmart or Amazon). Getting the right antenna requires a little research and maybe a little trial and error – be patient, once you have completed this step (correctly) you will be able to get free high-definition broadcasts from the big 4 networks and probably numerous other independent stations.
5) Determine if your TV is a smart TV – if it is you can probably get by without a separate streaming device. This is somewhat of a personal preference but I recommend getting a streaming device even if you have a smart TV in order to get the most entertainment options, but I’m sure some will disagree with that opinion. I recommend going with one of the bigger players (Apple TV or Roku) – probably depends on your existing choices – if you are already in the Apple ecosystem (iphone, ipad, etc.) then Apple TV is a no brainer. If not, Roku is probably the better option.
6) hook up your streaming device to your TV (I recommend an HDMI cable) and internet service – I recommend hard wiring (CAT 5 cable should suffice) but many will prefer wifi instead. Once you have done that, sign up for a free trial of Netflix. You’ve done it! Freeeeeeeeedom!
Many will determine that a combination of free local broadcasts and Netflix is sufficient to supply their entertainment needs. If so, the ongoing monthly cost will only be $10 per month! I recommend you try this for awhile – maybe 6 months – before you consider adding any other over-the-top packages or apps (mostly because they all cost more $ and this basic setup might be all you need).
See below a CNET prizefight video – its a good introduction to 2 popular streaming devices – video is a little dated but still introduces you to available tech
Is the future of TV really apps? IDK but deciding to cut the cord can absolutely save you some money; however, the decision is not without some trade-offs. I believe the decision comes down to motivation – a couple years ago my wife and I decided we needed to save some money and this was one area we chose to focus on. We went with basic cable – it was about $8 per month with time warner cable (TWC). That was a big savings compared to the full compliment of channels we previously had with TWC (their “digital” package) but the basic cable package only had a handful of stations. We did that for a few months and decided there had to be a better way to save some money and still find some TV shows we both enjoyed.
We embarked on a fairly lengthy process to get an antenna to get free over-the-air broadcasts (local channels only) and eventually got a streaming device (Apple TV) to get Netflix. We dropped cable altogether and our monthly TV expense was still only about $10 (Netflix). The antenna allowed us to receive most of the basic cable channels (for free!) and the large Netflix library was a huge upgrade in available entertainment options.
My point in telling you all this background is that my blog is different than some articles that help you navigate the byzantine choices/options to cord cutting. I have done cord cutting and fully understand the challenges and benefits that come from saving a tremendous amount of money. I have had one of TWC’s top packages – I have also previously had DirectTV and Dish (with the hoppa’).
I will do another blog post to help you get started (with cutting the cord) but really want to emphasize that the process isn’t easy and definitely isn’t for the faint of heart – new technology takes some getting used to and as the saying goes – nobody likes change, except for a wet baby and he cries about it. . .
A little more background before we finish this post. I had to choose a streaming box because our TV was not a smart TV and a streaming box was the only way we could get Netflix on our TV. Technology has changed tremendously since we started our process – both the hardware (smart TVs are quite prevalent) as well as available over-the-top services (and apps), a few of the more popular:
Note that these over-the-top services mimic, in most ways, your traditional cable or satellite package (including live TV). You can get most, if not all, of the channels you want, in addition to things like DVR and voice control. If you opt for a large selection of channels in 4K however, your savings vs. traditional cable/satellite will likely evaporate like snow in the hot Carolina sun. . .
Let’s leave it there for now and we can explore how to get started cutting the cord in the next post and I will give you an idea of which products and services I like best and help you achieve your goal of saving money!
Can I save money by ditching my cable or satellite service? – you probably guessed this one – it depends. . .
You can definitely save money on your monthly TV bill – if you really want to (are you adequately motivated?). For me, the major sticking point is going to be sports – if you have to watch a significant amount of sports, especially regional/specialty sports, you might be better off with a traditional cable/satellite package. Having said that, there are a number of streaming services (a.k.a., over-the-top, e.g., sling, directTV now, etc.) that are pretty comparable to traditional cable/satellite in the channels they offer; however, only the “skinny” bundles offer significant monthly savings.
Let’s start with a little background. The average US household pays about $100 per month for their pay TV service (some pay up to 3X more – Sunday ticket anyone?). That’s a lot of money, you could cut that to $50 fairly easily, and all the way to $20 (sling’s bare bones option) or even $10 if you can live with netflix and some free over-the-air broadcasts (local channels only). If you really want to save some money on your TV service each month then keep reading, otherwise fire up the DVR and catch up on all those shows that you have been storing for months. . .
Saving money on your TV service is kind of a long topic – one that really can’t be covered adequately in only one post. Therefore, I am going to use this post to tee-up the topic and then probably spend 2 or 3 more posts addressing how you can save money in this area and if the savings are really worth the sacrifice/inconvenience?
“57 channels (and nothin’ on)” Bruce Springsteen via Vevo on you tube.
Expense management is very important, but some life expenses can’t be avoided – try something different – Earn more money! I have put together some advice that has served me well in my career – these tips probably line up best for office workers but I still think they apply to most jobs. I am convinced that employers will recognize ($) valuable employees over time. Cream rises to the top! Don’t forget to watch the video at the end (click on the link in the last bullet)
Be independent – a valuable employee takes initiative and runs with something but knows when to ask for help/guidance. If you identify a problem, try to take ownership of fixing it and think of solutions, don’t just identify the problem.
Be positive – a valuable employee is cautiously optimistic even when presented with something new or difficult.
Ask questions – don’t be afraid to ask questions/get guidance about activities that you perform or things that you don’t understand.
Ask if a task can be done more accurately, efficiently. . . Question the status quo from time to time – just because we have always done it that way doesn’t necessarily make it the best way.
Learn something new – volunteer to try something that you are interested in or haven’t been involved with in the past. It will broaden your scope and give you a different perspective. Most employers value well rounded employees.
Look forward – find out what it takes to be at the next level. In other words, if you are a junior accountant, review the job description and ensure that you are doing your tasks well, once you have achieved that, look at the job description for an accountant and strive to learn those tasks too.
Be a team player – if you are caught up and see somebody who is overwhelmed, offer to help.
Be customer centric – think about your internal customers and try to get better. Think about their perspective and seek to improve and/or seek feedback. Some specific examples that I think are useful – answer emails and phone calls within 24 hours, try to sync ( to a certain extent) your schedule with theirs (your internal customers/team members).
Expect excellence and be flexible in order to meet customer needs/deadlines.
1) Most millionaires do not live in fancy houses or drive luxury automobiles – they typically live in middle class neighborhoods and drive non-descript automobiles (not foreign luxury cars).They live well below their means and are generally frugal.
2) They intentionally set out to become financially independent – they have a budget and track how well they do against that budget.They have goals – monthly, annual, and longer.They spend a disproportionate amount of time planning their financial future.
3) They strategize to minimize their taxes.
4) They are disproportionately entrepreneurs and self-employed.They believe that being an employee is risky – only one source of income.This thinking is consistent with their lifestyle, which is definitely counter to conventional wisdom and consumption habits.
5) They do take risks and are aware of opportunities when they see them.They enjoy what they do and chose wisely in regards to their occupation.
6) In short, some are good at offense (generating income) and some are good at defense (expense management) but many are good at both.
7) Married only once.
8) Compulsive saver and investor.
9) 80% of millionaires are first generation rich (didn’t inherit their wealth).
10) Becoming a millionaire takes discipline, sacrifice, and hard work.Are the trade-offs worth the cost?
I learned this from reading an excellent book, “the millionaire next door” by Thomas J. Stanley. I highly recommend this book – it will challenge your way of thinking – I am actually not endorsing everything millionaires do – some appear to be cheap and stingy. . . Nonetheless I believe you can learn a great deal from this book.
“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Warren Buffet
Streaming music update: I used spotify premium for about 4 months and then decided to try Apple music too. I have been using Apple music for about 2 months now. Full disclosure – I am an Apple fan boy – its madness actually – we have 2 iphones, 2 apple tvs, 2 ipads, an iMac, and some beats headphones. I wanted to give an update on my personal experience – mostly as a comparison of Spotify vs. Apple Music (I realize there are other streaming services out there but believe these 2 are the biggest (based on number of subscribers) and believe both have a ridiculous number of songs – in excess of 30 million (don’t believe other services have libraries this large).
My first reaction to Apple Music, after having used Spotify premium for 4 months, was that there are a number of differences in how these 2 services deliver their content. I guess I would have supposed that they would be fairly similar, as they are both popular music streaming services and both cost $9.99 per month. However, my experience is that they each have a distinct style and quite different interfaces as well as options and features.
I was quite comfortable navigating the various tabs and screens within Apple music (user interface) and it seemed quite intuitive but I am also already familiar with iOS. I primarily used the app on my iPhone 6S but also used it on my Apple TV as well as via iTunes on my iMac. One of the features that drew me to Apple music is their “curated playlists”. I am not an expert but know there are differences in how Spotify and Apple music compile their playlists. I believe Spotify relies on algorithms while Apple music playlists are curated by people. Both Spotify and Apple music have extensive libraries that make on-demand searches quite easy. I noted that the playlists however, were very different. For example the daily playlists from Spotify premium employ a tactic that appeared to be about 50/50; 50% songs I already knew (and liked) and 50% “new” songs that I was unfamiliar with – that a Spotify algorithm thought I might like based on the other 50% that I already had in my library or via heavy rotation. I found these playlists to be pretty accurate and I admit they did a pretty good job of providing me with additional songs that I might like based on what I already had been listening to.
Apple music uses a different approach. Upon initially signing up for Apple music, I was asked a series of questions about my musical preferences – favorite genres, artists, etc. This was used to develop the “for you” tab in Apple music. Each day Apple music includes 4 or 5 playlists for that day – these playlists are based on my preferences. For example, one of today’s playlists for me is “alternative hits: 2001”. This is a typical playlist – curated songs from a certain year in a particular genre. Most playlists are fairly short – 20 to 30 songs, with a few being a little shorter and a few having as many as 100 songs. Most of the playlists were to my liking but they didn’t seem as accurate to my individual tastes as the Spotify premium daily playlists were. Depending on the playlist, I find myself skipping numerous tracks that don’t particularly suite my taste. It seems to me that Apple music isn’t really learning based on which tracks I am skipping. Spotify premium seemed to “learn” my preferences over time and the daily playlists “honed in on” my preferences. I have noticed that my daily Apple playlists have a fair amount of redundancy with the same playlists popping up frequently. I find myself somewhat bored with some of the playlists after a few days. On the “for you” tab it also has “my new music” playlist and “my favorites mix” playlist. The new music playlist wasn’t very accurate – at least not for me – I thought spotify’s weekly discover playlists were better and more in line with my preferences. The Apple favorites playlist did seem to be accurate and presumably is based on which songs/playlists I listen to most frequently.
I don’t think Apple music is as advanced as Spotify at social networking (for example, Spotify has Facebook integration). It is easy to follow your friends on Spotify and see which playlists they have added. Apple music doesn’t appear to be that strong in social networking (believe iOS 11 will address some of this shortfall); however, you can send a friend a personal playlist (e.g., via text) and they can then add it to their favorites. I also noted that any changes I subsequently made were also reflected in my friend’s list as well. I did appreciate the top charts feature in apple music (under the browse feature). I also appreciate how Apple music incorporated my existing playlists alongside new ones. I did something similar with spotify but had to import my existing playlists.
I think both services are well polished and easy to use. Both are priced at $9.99 per month (although there are some differences in their family plan pricing – Apple seems to be a better value if you have a large family). Both have extremely large libraries of songs – more than you could possibly ever listen to. . .
Being an Apple fan boy I prefer the navigation within Apple music but believe an objective analysis would give the edge to spotify. I think spotify is better for music discovery (better playlists in my opinion) as well as social networking. Also, spotify has both a free and premium service (unlimited skips). Apple music does not offer a free version. Apple does have some exclusive content (e.g., Taylor Swift – you know you like to listen to 1989 – admit it!) as well as beats 1 radio as distinguishing features. IMHO spotify is the clear winner.
I also recommend the CNET review of these services in a side-by-side comparison on Youtube – Apple music vs. spotify (cnet prize fight).
Drop me some comments below and let me know which streaming service you prefer.
Q: Is streaming music better than downloading? A: It depends. . .
It mostly depends on preferences (and your budget). I will explore some reasons that some folks might prefer streaming over downloads below. I also encourage everyone, who has not already done so, to try a streaming service; Spotify is my recommendation because you can try out their premium service for 3 months for $.99 – you can also do a 3 month free trial of Apple music.
Some of the important preference considerations are:
What is your desire for new music? (i.e., discovery) – for some this is an addiction. How much is enough? Silly question old man, you can never have enough new music.
What is your budget? Some premium streaming services cost $10 to $20 per month and playlists and availability stop after you drop your subscription. How many songs do you normally purchase per year? Do the math and compare.
Do you enjoy social interaction with friends? In other words, do you want to listen to what your network of friends is listening to? Do you want to share some of your favorite new songs?
Do you already have a substantial collection of CDs, vinyl, or downloads? The main reason to ask this question is that you may already own the vast majority of songs that you prefer (probably not if you are under 30)?
How well do you tolerate listening to algorithm based playlists, based on your detected preferences? Streaming services utilize computer or curator based methods to develop playlists of songs you might like based on your previous song selections.
How well do you tolerate listening to new and/or different songs that you haven’t heard before?With 97 million songs (and counting) already recorded, there is a good chance that you will not like many (probably most) of those 97 million. How much time to do you want to spend listening to songs that you ultimately don’t like? Life isn’t short but you are dead for a really long time. . .
Do you strongly prefer one genre? Most of the provided public playlists focus on a specific genre (e.g., pop, country, rock, etc.). It should be relatively easy to program a playlist that includes the latest pop hits (i.e., top 40).
Do you value convenience? Some prefer streaming services because it does not require any setup – select your desired public playlist and hit shuffle – this person does not have the time nor the inclination to setup their own playlist – much easier to listen to one already setup.
Age – are you under 32 years of age and enjoy experiencing new technology? If yes then a streaming service might be your best bet because research indicates that people over 32 have likely already developed their musical preferences and are unlikely to develop new preferences. For example, if you hated reggae in your 20s, it is highly unlikely that your preferences would change and in your 40s you now enjoy listening to reggae music.
Does it bother you to hear the same song frequently? Daily, weekly, monthly? Some prefer songs they like and have heard before – for some it is comfortable to hear a song they already know and like and many like to sing along (my favorite is Meghan Trainor’s “NO” – that’s a joke for those of you that know my musical preferences).
Are you an audiophile? Most streaming services are lower fidelity than downloads but Tidal HiFi claims to be on par with CDs but believe that is $20 per month.
Now that I have listed some important things to consider, let me share my perspective on my recent Spotify trial. Spotify has a large catalog of available songs and public playlists to choose from. I have listened to a number of these public playlists that suited my tastes (e.g., acoustic rock). I find that it is very handy to have the premium service in order to be able to skip tracks that do not suit your taste. I found that most of the playlists included numerous tracks that I did not care for, therefore I skipped quite frequently. This also depends on who is listening – I am frequently with my family and can’t listen to heavy metal in their presence. I found myself asking why am I spending so much time listening to songs that I don’t really like? – “life is ours, we live it our way” (Metallica).
I estimate that 80% of the time I prefer to listen to songs I already know and like. The remaining 20% of the time I like to “discover” songs that I have not heard before that I might like.
Using some of my 20% time I listened to some of my friends playlists. I found myself frequently skipping tracks that “weren’t my cup of tea” but did “discover” several tracks that I really liked that I was previously unfamiliar with.
I found it easy to import my existing playlists from iTunes into Spotify but did notice a number of tracks were greyed out and unavailable – believe there is a manual fix to this issue but didn’t have adequate motivation to explore a possible remedy.
Spotify does offer a free version of it’s service but this requires listening to ads and severely limits the number of skips you can use per hour.
My conclusion is that Spotify premium is a nice service but is a luxury, not a necessity. It was personally much more useful as a discovery tool as well as a nice way to interact socially with other friends on Spotify. I found myself skipping too frequently and gravitating back to my library of songs that I already knew and enjoyed (I have 45 playlists in iTunes that I normally listen to).
I also listen to the radio frequently – primarily 91.9 (Christian), 106.5 (alternative), 102.9 (classic rock/pop), and 107.9 (current pop). Having said that, I am sure that many folks will have vastly different preferences to mine and will conclude that streaming services are a good value. To over-simply, I estimate that younger folks (especially under 30) will gravitate to streaming for convenience, music discovery, and to socially interact with their network.
Footnote: Youtube streams 60% more music than all the other streaming services combined. Youtube pays artists a share of ad revenue vs. a per song fee like Spotify and Apple. Many artists do not feel the Youtube model is fair.