This is part of a weekly series on personal finance and wealth building. If you care to read them all, please click on the ‘Building Wealth’ category on the right.
I’m not a huge champion of frugality. I happen to think that once you’ve gotten out of debt and are moving towards your goals, you need to take advantage of the freedom that gives you and live a little. But while you’re digging out of debt, if you want to do that as quickly as possible, I do have a couple of quick, easy, and relatively painless ideas for you. Again, our goal here is to maximize your monthly contribution to your creditors.
Stop paying ATM fees.
When I sat down to build my budget to get out of credit card debt, my (now) wife pointed out how often I went to the ATM to pull out $20 (often because that was all I had), and paid $1, $2, or more for the privilege. I was easily going to a foreign ATM once a week, and often more, we found an easy $10 a month (sometimes more), I could stop spending. How? On a given day of the month, pull out the cash you’ll need for the month. Do that at your (fee free) bank. Alternatively, if like me you have issues with cash flow and maybe don’t have all the cash you’ll need for the month in your account on any given day, simply adhere to the rule that you do not, ever, go to foreign ATM. It’s a habit I carry with me to this day.
Cable TV is expensive. Our cable bill, with our HD/DVR (just one, though), and no premium channels is still over $100 a month. We do pay more for HD, we pay for the DVR, and we pay for an expanded list of channels. Most likely, you do, too. You can cut that bill in half, and come up with an extra $20 to $50 a month by going down to just basic cable. Get rid of your boxes, get rid of the expanded programming. I won’t preach about how much better your life will be without all that, but it’s not that big a sacrifice, and it’s only temporary.
If you are anything like me, you like to go out with friends and have a couple of drinks on the weekend, you like to head out with the boys to watch a game, and you like to gather with friends for happy hour. Instead of giving all that up to pay off your debt (and that is spending you’ll need to curtail), alter your social events. For way less than the $30+ you’ll drop at happy hour, hit the grocery store for some of those frozen appetizers you can just heat up in the oven, and invite your friends over. Ask them all to bring some beer or wine. We all know drinking in a bar is more expensive than drinking at home, and this method has the added benefit of regularly stocking your fridge. You know people will bring more than they will drink, which leaves a few beers in the fridge for next time. It also has the nice added benefit of eliminating your need to drive. There’s nothing wrong with making your place the gathering point.
Return your iPhone.
I know it seems like you can’t survive without it. I’m sure it’s an integral part of your day. But it’s costing you a boatload of money. A basic cell plan with a free phone can be had for less than $30 a month (or you could go to a prepaid phone and pay even less if you curtail your usage). You don’t need everything it does, and you need to get out of debt. You can get all the toys you want when you are building wealth. You can wait to check Twitter until you get home. And quit texting. Drop the unlimited texting, and block them. Your friends will get used to calling you.
Get a local number.
Most of us who still have landlines pay way more than we need to for them. Ours is well over $40 a month, and we don’t have anything special. You can still get a local number with limited calling and no features for a bargain price, and save $10+ a month. Look for these places where you are paying for more than you need.
Brew coffee at home.
When I was in college, I got into a convenience store habit. Every day, I would stop on my way to school to buy a couple sodas and a pack of cigarettes. That habit transitions for many people into their daily trip to Starbucks for a $3 (or more) coffee. Instead, get up a little earlier, and brew a pot of coffee at home. Pour that in an insulated mug, and off you go. $3 a day, 5 days a week, 4 weeks per month. $60.
Pack your lunch.
Really. How hard is it to make a sandwich, throw some chips or pretzels in a bag, and toss a couple of apples in there. I actually used to carry a cooler with me every day (back when I thought I was a bodybuilder, I packed several meals and took them to work). Lunch out now is easily $6 and can be as much as $10; packing it is $2 or $3. Make it a habit.
No preaching, I promise. You know you’ll be healthier. If you smoke a half a pack a day, you’ll also save at least $75 a month.
This isn’t an all inclusive list, it’s just a sample of some of the things I did to limit unnecessary spending and get out of debt that much more quickly. Applying these to you could save $100 to $300 (or more!) per month that you can use to pay off debt.
When you’re out of debt, you’ll be free to do these as you like, along with a lot more.