As someone deeply involved in the personal finance world, I’ve noticed a trend developing over the last decade or so. People are taking frugality way, way too far.
It started with extreme couponing, then came DIY culture and the side hustle. None of those things are bad per se – I’ve done most of them myself – but they can easily be taken too far. When saving or earning a little extra money becomes more work than it’s worth, it’s time to reevaluate.
Saving money should be simple. That’s why I’ve put together five of the easiest ways to do it.
Negotiate Your Bills
The best money saving tricks allow you to avoid sacrificing something. One way to do that is by negotiating for a lower rate on your internet, cell phone, cable, gym membership and more.
Make a list of all the bills you pay regularly and set aside an afternoon to give those companies a call. Ask if there are new promotions available or anything you can do to save money. Don’t hesitate to bring up a competitor’s offer, because they might be able to match it.
Negotiating your bills is hard work, so this isn’t exactly free money. It takes time to wait on hold, and convincing a customer service representative to offer you a better deal can be draining. But if it works out, you could end up saving hundreds over the course of a year.
Be polite. Many reps are capable of giving you a discount but under no obligation to do so. How you treat them could directly impact the discount they offer.
If playing nice doesn’t work, ask to speak to the retention department in charge of keeping customers from leaving. They might have the ability to provide better deals than a regular customer service rep.
Delete Your Credit Card Information
Shopping online has made everything more convenient. If I’m running out of dog food, I can get it delivered from Amazon instead of driving to the nearest pet store. If I need a new dress for a wedding, I can buy one online instead of going to the mall.
But the convenience of internet shopping comes with a price. A 2018 poll from CreditCards.com found that 44% of people spontaneously bought something online in the last three months. More than 20% of millennials said they’d made an impulse purchase within the last week.
If overspending is a problem for you, convenience may actually be the enemy. Think of it like going on a diet – if you avoid keeping junk food in the house, you’ll be much less likely to reach for it when you get hungry.
One way to prevent impulse buys is to delete any autosaved credit card information from your internet browser. You can usually do this in the settings. Also, turn off any “one-click ordering” buttons in your account.
You can also institute a self-imposed 24-hour rule before buying anything non-essential online. If you let an item sit in the virtual shopping cart for a day, you might reconsider the purchase. Some companies will even email an extra discount code if you leave something sitting in your cart for a few days.
Look for Hidden Discounts
When I interned in New York right after college, the company I worked for had group discounts at local museums and attractions. You could show your employee ID and receive a percentage off at some of the city’s most popular spots.
Ask your HR department if there are any outside discounts available to employees. Big companies are more likely to offer this than small firms, but it never hurts to ask.
Health insurance companies are known to offer special discounts as well. For example, mine reimburses customers $20 a month if they provide proof of a gym membership. I also once scored a $25 gift card from my insurance company by taking a wellness survey and pledging not to smoke.
Trim Your Subscriptions
Along with the advent of online shopping came the arrival of subscription services. These can range from companies that send makeup and beauty samples to boxes of healthy snacks.
Like online shopping, it’s easy to sign up for a subscription. Most of them are cheap, so it might not seem like a big deal to add another $10 monthly expense to the budget. A 2018 survey found that people spent $237.33 on subscription services each month. The worst part? Customers underestimated how much they spent on these products by more than 50%.
Write down which subscriptions you have and how much they cost. Then, consider how many you actually like. Do you listen to Spotify enough to pay for it? Do you watch HBO Now when “Game of Thrones” isn’t on? Do you enjoy your Blue Apron meals or dread making them?
Most of these services are easy to pause or cancel, so you won’t lose a deposit or any kind of collateral. Do this for a month or two and see what you miss – and what you barely notice.
Refinance Your Loans
If you have a mortgage, student loans, personal loans or auto loans, refinancing could be the easiest way to save big. Refinancing means selling your loan to a new lender who will give you a lower rate or better monthly terms.
Create a list with all your monthly loan payments and rank them from highest interest rate to lowest. Then, look online to see what the current interest rates are for those loans. If you’re paying 7% interest on an auto loan and find that most banks now have 4% rates, you’ll know it’s time to refinance.
Before you refinance, make sure you’re signing up for a lower interest rate with the same length you had before. If you have student loans with five years left, be careful about refinancing to a 10-year term. You might end up paying more interest overall, because the term has doubled. Keep making the same monthly payments you were before and you’ll repay your loan faster.
You can’t refinance credit card debt, but you can transfer the balance to a card with 0% interest. These cards will usually offer 0% APR for a certain length of time, many for more than 12 months. You’ll save on interest if you repay the balance completely before the promo expires.