10 Monthly Bills You Can Slash

By Camilla Cheung on 6 January 2012 (Updated 9 January 2012) 46 comments
Photo: asplosh

Bills! Bills! Bills! Sometimes it seems as if everyone’s got their fingers in the pie when it comes to your hard-earned money. Electric bills, water bills, cable, cell phone bills, doctor’s visits — the cost-of-living expenses never seem to end. However, if you’re smart about it, you can work the system and save some money on these so-called necessary expenses. (See also: 6 Tips to Shrink Your Bills Every Year)

1. Cell Phone Plans

Do you really need that $80-a-month smartphone plan with unlimited data? Unless you work in social media or your smartphone is essential for your job (in which case, consider asking your company to provide a cell phone plan or look into writing it off on your taxes if you’re self-employed), most people don’t need a smartphone. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve heard complaining about the abysmal state of their finances and all the debt they have yet to pay off, and yet they are still paying for two iPhone plans per household. What if you saved yourself $40 a month and put that money towards paying down your debt? Consider a far less expensive family plan where calls between family phones are free. You may even be able to share with family members even if you don’t live in the same household.

2. Internet

If the extent of your Internet usage is surfing the Internet, streaming Netflix movies, and sending emails, look into your Internet plan to see if you really need super-high-speed Internet. Your internet service provider might have a lower-speed plan that is sufficient for your needs but may save you $20 a month or more. Even one of the slower Internet speeds may be more than enough to stream movies and music — you may want to give it a try. 

By the way, if you were getting an introductory deal on your Internet that is expiring, call your provider and suggest (politely) that you want to cancel your service unless they can offer you a better price. You never know, they might extend the deal for you or slash a few bucks off your monthly bill.

3. Landline Phones

If you have a good cell phone plan, consider canceling your landline service. Alternatively, look into one of the Internet-based phone systems like Costco’s Ooma system, Vonage, or Magic Jack. These VoIP phone systems feel just like landlines, have 911 support, offer inexpensive long-distance calls, and often cost just a few bucks a month (though there may be an upfront cost for the hardware). Personally, I use Google Voice, which is free (but doesn’t offer 911 support), which I have connected via my router to a phone in my home — it works just like a landline and doesn’t cost a penny.

4. Cable TV

I don’t have cable TV, and I don’t miss it.  I can stream almost everything I want to watch through Internet sites like Hulu and Netflix, from sports to my favorite TV shows. If you must have TV, consider switching to basic cable and bundling your TV service with your Internet and phone services for a better deal.

5. Energy Bills

You can make significant savings in your energy bills by being more energy-efficient in your home. Your water heater and furnace are probably the biggest energy guzzlers. Insulate your water heater and turn down the house thermostat by a couple of degrees. Do laundry using cold water — your clothes will last longer, and you’ll save energy. If you’re buying a new appliance, look for the Energy Star logo, and see if you can get a rebate from your local water or electric company for getting a more efficient appliance. Oh, and your city may even pay you to let them cart away your old cruddy fridge, too (or you could sell it on Craigslist).

6. Doctor’s Bills

If you have health insurance and you receive a bill from a medical provider, don’t just blindly send a check. They may have neglected to bill your insurance or sent you a bill “by accident.” For instance, I received a bill from the California Prenatal Screening Program — they assumed I didn’t have health insurance until I provided proof, even though I was tested through my doctor’s office (which has my insurance information). Be sure you know how much your co-pays should be according to your insurance plan, and when in doubt, call to clear up any misunderstanding. 

By the way, going to your routine check-ups at your doctor or dentist is an important way to maintain your health and avoid bigger expenses in the long run. You don’t want an unfilled cavity to turn into a root canal, which means more pain and more money.

7. Coffee

If you spend $3.50 on a latte every day, that adds up to $1277.50 a year. At those prices, you could have an espresso machine at home and still save money! Save the coffee shop for special occasions, or limit yourself to once a week. Meanwhile, invest in a good-quality coffee maker at home for your morning java fix.

8. Groceries

The grocery bill is a significant chunk of your income every month. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not as diligent at finding bargains as I’d like. This year, my resolution is to clip coupons, look for deals, and to shrink my grocery budget by 20%. My first step is to create a coupon folder in which to store coupons so that I can find them when I need them.

There are other things you can try too. Buy less meat and eat more vegetables; both your body and your wallet will thank you. Try growing, canning, and pickling your own produce. Cook from scratch instead of buying pre-seasoned or prepackaged foods. Buy generic brands.

9. Household Necessities

Almost anything can be cleaned up with baking soda and vinegar, which are cheap and natural alternatives to pricier commercial cleaners. Good for tasks including scrubbing baked-on food off dishes, cleaning the oven, washing windows, fending off ants, cleaning silver, and brightening laundry, these two basics will have you pretty much set. As for other household necessities such as paper towels, over-the-counter medicines, trash bags, and toilet paper, opt for the generic brand and/or buy in bulk.

10. Credit Cards

Not everyone can handle having a credit card.  If you can, be sure to pay off your balance every month to avoid being charged interest. If you’re the forgetful type, consider setting up automatic payments through your bank (just be sure you have enough money in your account to pay your bill, or you’ll be charged by your bank too). Don’t get a credit card that you have to pay a yearly premium for — there are lots of free options that offer cash back, points, or other bonuses. By the way, if your credit card offers cash back, you may have to claim your cash back bonus in the mail. Be sure to do that to avoid losing the money you’ve earned. If you can handle the temptation of having that plastic card in your pocket, credit cards can work in your favor and actually earn you money.

In general, setting up automatic payment for all of your bills is a good idea, as long as you're sure you'll have the money in your account. You'll save on postage and avoid late fees if you forget to pay a bill. Also, some of your bills may be payable by credit card. If you pay your bills by credit card, and set your credit card to be paid off in full automatically, you can earn cash back on your bills too.

How do you keep your expenses down every month?

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Guest's picture

I've saved a lot of money going through a discount mobile provider. I still get the smart phone with unlimited talk/text/web, but it costs significantly less than a "regular' provider. We used to pay $160 for two phones, now we pay $110. Fifty bucks is fifty bucks!

Andrea Karim's picture

What provider do you use?

Guest's picture
Guest

Nothing really new here..

Andrea Karim's picture

Or here!

Guest's picture

Re: #3 - I dumped my landline when I moved and haven't looked back since. I didn't use it often enough to justify paying $20/month. I'm curious--how did you connect your home phone to your router and set up your Google Voice without a home phone number?

Camilla Cheung's picture

We use one of these boxes to connect Google Voice to our router/phone: http://www.amazon.com/OBi110-Service-Bridge-Telephone-Adapter/dp/B0045RMEPI

As for setting up a Google Voice number, i think you just have to supply any phone number (could be a cell phone or your parents' landline) that Google Voice will call to confirm your number (I can't remember exactly what I did though, so don't quote me on that).

Guest's picture
Guest

Google will ask you to pick a number when you register on "GoogleVoice" if you currently do not have a land line. The Obi 100 runs through your router (have to have internet connection) and you plug in your basic phone to the Obi. No charges except for the internet service.

The Obi 110 is for people who have had an existing phone service (land line) previously.

http://obihai.com/googlevoice.html

Guest's picture

I bought an Obi 110 a few months ago as well and love it. It's the same quality as a Vonage line I had years ago and just about the same as a $25 a month comcast line. And you only pay $50/2 years or $2/month! I then attached it to both my google voice account as the main incoming and outgoing line and to a more questionable but free concentric & ikall set-up (a bit more complicated) for a second line in. I use that for a second google voice account that mixes my door buzzer and my and my wife's phone lines along with a private way for me to just call my house. The second line has a distinctive ring, so I know if it is not me calling, it is the door.

Only potential downside is if Google decides to attempt to block the technology for some reason. Since it has been working this long, I doubt they will and if they do, I have certainly gotten my money's worth already.

Guest's picture
GuestPurchase Wisely

Sorry to be negative, but the "clip coupons to save money on groceries" mantra doesn't really work if you're eating healthily to begin with. When was the last time you saw coupons for fruit, meat, vegetables, plain dried beans and rice? If you're already avoiding the processed stuff, coupons aren't much - if any - help.

As an alternative, check competing grocery store ads (if you live within reasonable distance of multiple stores) and make sure to only buy what's on special that week and only if it's a good deal. A special on chicken breasts for $2.50 per pound is not a good deal when I know that another store puts them on sale for $1.97 per pound every three weeks or so. I am very fortunate to have three grocery stores about the same distance on different routes between work and home, so this works well for me.

Also, if you have a 99 cent store that has fresh produce, check it carefully (sometimes the quality is sub-standard) and purchase produce there if it's in good condition and beats the grocery store prices. I recently purchased some lovely zucchini for 99 cents for a pound and a half package when my regular grocery store had zucchini for $2 per pound and 5 ounces of sliced mushrooms for 99 cents when they were $2.59 for 6 ounces at the grocery store. Bananas would not have been a good buy at four for 99 cents, since anothe store has them at 19 cents each every day.

Camilla Cheung's picture

I recently saved coupons for whole wheat crackers and fortified cereal, which are packaged goods for sure, but not unhealthy. But you make a good point that price comparing works better for fresh produce. Unfortunately my 99-cent store doesn't carry fresh produce, and I don't buy their packaged stuff because who knows how long it's been sitting there?

Guest's picture
Lori F.

There are regularly coupons in the inserts for rice, both white and brown. Using them I often get one pound packages of rice for pennies. Also, coupons can be found for tuna, healthier alternatives like chicken sausage. Also, don't overlook coupons for health/beauty supplies and cleaning supplies. The more money that you save on the "non-food" items, the more you have to spend on better quality foods.

Andrea Karim's picture

I tend to go for the BOGO sales at my local grocery store on meat. It's "reduced for quick sale", and I can get big roasts for half of what they would normally cost.

I don't clip coupons myself (I am lazy), but I did notice someone in Walgreen's the other day who bought something like six cans of shaving cream for a total of a $1.41. I felt guilty buying my dollar pack of gum after that.

Guest's picture
K.

I agree- coupons, on the whole, are for abysmal packaged foods. There's a rare occasional Whole wheat cracker or coffee creamer coupon or something like that, but in general, it's not good for you.

Guest's picture
Guest

FINALLY! Someone is saying what I have been telling my husband for years: I don't cut coupons because we eat healthy foods! Seriously, my children would never eat Fruit Loops, Pop Tarts and Apple Juice for breakfast. Those are the things that have coupons. I am so happy to see that other people (or at least you!) see this, too. If you truly eat whole foods and buy "good" stuff, there are no coupons.

Guest's picture

If you are in Boston and like fruits & veggies, try the Haymarket. It is NOT a farmer's market (which seem to be more expensive than the supermarket but give you the benefit of being able to shop local), but basically a clearance operation for supermarket wholesalers. The deals are beyond amazing, but you do have to inspect quality carefully. Often things are to a ripeness of that day.

Examples:
3 large yellow onions in good condition $1-2
Red or Orange Peppers 2-3 for $1
5 apples $1-2
7 oranges $1-2
fistfull of cilantro 75 cents
Half dozen stocks of chives 75 cents
Huge multi-pound bag of baby spinach (about the size of 5 supermarket pre-washed bags) $3-5

Note that I have had a hard time getting quality grapes there and am a bit hit or miss on the tomatoes.

It gets even cheaper if you buy in real bulk. Usually they will have sacks of potatoes, onions and oranges that many people couldn't even lift for under $20.

Guest's picture
Guest

Regarding #3, you should check your state's laws regarding phone lines and 911. Here in California, telephone companies are required to keep a "warm" line into homes. That way, you should still be able to call 911 even with no phone service. The key is keeping a phone around that does not require a power source in the event of a power outage.

These phones aren't expensive. You can easily find them for under $15. For example:

http://www.amazon.com/Hamburger-Cheeseburger-Burger-Phone-Telephone/dp/B...

Camilla Cheung's picture

Good call! (no pun intended)

Guest's picture
Guest

I looked and couldn't find any info on state laws regarding phone lines and 911. Do you have a site to look at that details state by state laws?
Thanks!

Guest's picture
uclalien

#1
About 2 years ago, my wife and transferred our cell phones onto a family member's plan. What used to cost us about $70/month, now costs us only $20. Most cell phone companies allow 5 lines per family plan and only charge $10/line for lines 3-5. Obviously, this isn't an option for everyone. But I imagine that the vast majority of family plans only have 2-3 lines in use. So there have to be plenty of people out there who can take advantage of this.

With regard to data plans, about 4 months ago, I realized that I wasn't using my $30/month unlimited data plan nearly enough to justify keeping it. Instead, I found a $15/month limited data plan that I will only exceed once or twice per year. In the event that I do exceed my data limit, I simply get charged another $15. In the end, I expect to save about $120 on data alone this year.

#3
I dropped my hard line years ago and haven't noticed a difference. But the problem with using one of those services is that you need power to call 911. If the power goes out, you're stuck. Per my comment above, check to see if your phone service provider maintains a "warm" connection for emergency purposes.

Guest's picture
amy saves

#7- so true! we have a nespresso machine and love it. saves a lot of money and we get to make whatever we want. i love the individual capsules too.

Guest's picture
GuestGreen

Nice post, but in #9 I think it should be baking SODA, not baking powder.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks for the catch! It's been fixed.

Guest's picture

Glad to say I'm putting a lot of these into practice already! Have a shared wireless plan, dropped cable 6 months ago and haven't missed it - WatchEspn and Hulu cover just about everything for me. I have always made my own coffee.

Grocery Tip: If Publix is in your area, their weekly Buy 1 get 1 Free specials are great for stocking up on pasta + sauce, cereal, juice, and a whole lot more!

Guest's picture

I try to make the shopping trip by myself! Big savings!

Guest's picture
Nadine and Jeff Mueller

How TRUE!!

Guest's picture
Guest

I just made some great significant changes this year (and yes, we are barely through this year yet) but they are major. I canceled my long term major cell phone provider of 11 years and opted for a prepaid phone due to after further review of no contract plans through major carriers they still charge applicable surcharges and fees whereas prepaids do not. The perfect example is the prepaids $50.00/ month plan is unlimited talk/text and web and they use major carriers. I have better service coverage than I previously did with my major provider.

Opted out of landline service and instead went with voIP to utilize at home to reduce minutes used from cell phone in case I need to make calls that will take a good deal of time.

Just the cell phone switch alone will save me about $900.00 per year and now possibly quite more utilizing the voIP services.

WooHoo!

Andrea Karim's picture

Wow, that's a decent chunk of savings. Congrats on finding a good solution!

Guest's picture
Juli

When it comes to couponing, you have to be diligent. There are coupons for unprocessed items, healthy processed items, and most of your toiletry needs. However, you could look for 2 or 3 weeks and find nothing. I find that it goes in waves.

I clip coupons for a Marine Corp base in Japan. When I'm getting ready to send the priority mail envelope (every 6-7 weeks), I go through and tally up the amount. I get a very good idea of the full range of coupons available over 2 months, and there's a lot of variety.

On a side note, am I the only one who eats chocolate and *some* processed foods in the blogosphere? There's always a number of anti-processed food commenters posting.

I also dropped all extras on my home phone and switched long distance and local toll calls to a small provider. My home bill is now about $10/month, plus between $2-5 for local tolls. I like having a landline and even have an old-fashioned heavy black dial phone. While it's not something I use a lot, it's good to have in event of power outages.

Finally, I am considering dropping my alarm company and instead rigging up various security items to sound an alarm in my house. I really don't need the police called - I can handle my own problems. I just need a few minutes head start :)

The downside is that I do get a discount on my home insurance, so I'd be losing that.

Decisions, decisions...

Camilla Cheung's picture

Interesting - so you send coupons to the Marine base? And they can use them there?

My problem with couponing is I'm just not motivated to be organized about it. When I'm headed out the door I have a hard enough time remembering to bring my reusable shopping bag, much less a bunch of coupons.

Re: the alarm system. Kudos to you -- you sound hardcore! But what if someone breaks in while you're not there?

Guest's picture
Juli

Yes - see ocpnet.org . They can use expired coupons too. Over the last 16 months, I've sent over $18K worth of coupons. It's a nice hobby for Sat evenings when my S.O. insists on watching the 3 Stooges. Sigh...

The only really irreplaceable item in the house is me, and I don't really have much to steal. I keep about $300 in a slot on top of my desk so that would be a quick hit for a robber. My dogs (miniature pinschers who's bark actually make them sound a lot bigger than they are) are kept locked up in the laundry room while I'm gone. There's a dog door to a fenced off area outside, so they'd be able to get out if someone came after them. So all in all, it really wouldn't matter too much.

Guest's picture
Diane

Great, solid advice! We do most of these things. We even saved money on our cell phone plan by looking into discounts! Verizon offers a discount for several of our local employers, so we save 18% with them because of where my hubby works. I've also found that we can get healthy stuff on great sales with coupons-- things like yogurt and frozen veggies. Yogurt seems to be on sale (made better with coupons) every week in our area. Great ideas for saving- thanks!

Guest's picture
K.

I think what we need to remember is we all have our small luxuries. What one person considers over-the-top-splurge, I consider a great tool. Case in point, Smartphones. I just got one last year and it's worth the extra $30 a month for 2 Smartphone data plans. We are truly enjoying it and it's helped us read reviews online and see prices before we buy. And to be able to send a quick email on the go, keep track of to-do lists, or entertain my child, it's priceless. We just have to choose wisely. Instead of a pricey $100+ cable package, we have Netflix and high-speed internet. And to make up for those bills, we go without a landline and shop wisely and never have paid a penny on credit cards. We just got a new h20 heater and take quick showers.

We take preventative care of our health, use a coffee press (starbucks is maybe once every year or 2, if that). Household items like toilet paper/paper towel/baggies are always generic. Whatever we buy that's remotely haggle-able, I haggle. We contest every fee & thoroughly think before any purchase. We use what we have in the house unless a purchase is really needed. We go to the thrift store. We make 99% of our food at home and love it the healthy way.

Do any of these things and you're ahead. I can tell you it worked for us because we paid off our GIANT (cha ching!) student loan in 2 years on 1 income. You can too! :)

P.S. how do you sign up for this website and get a user name/password, I can't find it anywhere! Thanks.

Guest's picture
abmoo

My smartphone has helped me MAKE money! I got the Ebay app, and now I am able to snap photos of my unwanted posessions, and post them to Ebay so easily. No more having to use my digital camera to take pics, locate that silly wire that connects to my laptop, wait forever for the pics to upload, and then go through a million steps before listing on ebay.

Guest's picture

I have saved money on my groceries by shopping at Aldi's!

Guest's picture

To add to your tips about saving money on groceries. Different studies have show that you can reduce your grocery budget by 23% by using a shopping list, 25% by adding more fruit and vegetables to meals, 25% by buying generic brands rather than name brands, and 12% - 18% by using cash rather than credit.

Guest's picture
Small blimps

How can you possibly save 25% by adding more fruits and vegetables to meals? In particular, how can you possibly save money adding fruit? To reword it, how are you saving 25% by spending in excess of 25% of what it would cost without any fruit?

Guest's picture
Juli

Not the person who commented, but I would guess it's in lieu of snacks and meat. Plus, frozen can be had relatively cheaply, and is usually fresher than 'fresh'.

Guest's picture

I want to cut Comcast, but what would I do without SPORTS!! I dont watch tv very often, and between apple tv and netflix could get more than enough to watch. How can i get sports at home, without cable?? If there is an answer please fill me in. I love writing about ways to save money, and if this question is answered, I am writing an entire article on GETTING RID OF COMCAST!!! Thanks

Guest's picture
bmoney

#5 - turn off things when your not home, better yet turn off the main power switch when you leave and then turn it back on when you get back home!

Guest's picture
Guest

What are these "doctor's bills" that you speak of?

Guest's picture
Guest

Re #1 - I would add a suggestion to inquire if your employer has a discount set up with one of the carriers. I'm saving ~$20 a month.

Guest's picture
Tom

If I read one more artile that says oh just use Hulu its the greatest thing ever get rid of cable, i shall scream. Oh ya lets all go back to flip phones get rid of that nice smart phone that everyone loves.

Guest's picture
Guest

I live in the L.A. area and our electric cost are 3xs as expensive if we use electricity M-F 10am - 6pm. I make sure I do all my laundry and machine dish washing after those times. We also run our pool pump after hours.

Guest's picture
tmz

Interesting, but sometimes not useful. For example, using vinegar and baking soda is good but using it you can`t even wash the dishes!

Guest's picture
Lisa

We got rid of our cable over a year ago and used Netflix. My husband had an issue without his sports channels, though. Internet TV, does the trick!

Guest's picture
dtrevino

The biggest key is becoming debt free. Interest uses 10 to 25 percent of your take home pay every year. It is like getting an automatic raise.