Once you've tackled the easy wins, it's time to delve deeper into your finances to find other ways to reduce your expenses.
This part of the cost-cutting journey requires a strong mindset and dedication to the cause. That's because reducing your expenses beyond the easy wins is about your lifestyle, and therefore requires (sometimes drastic) changes to the way you live your life.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. Just because you're diving deep into your spending habits doesn't mean you can't have any fun. The key to enjoying your new, cost-effective lifestyle is to ensure you strike the right balance.
To find your balance, you'll need to explore your values and plans. Let's help you do that with these tools and ideas:
Spend according to your values
The next step in your cost-cutting journey is to cut out mindless consumption and only spend your money on what makes you happy and fulfilled. This is known as "values-based spending".
In order to figure out how to spend according to your values, you need to firstly know how you're spending your money - especially your "discretionary" spending. If you haven't done this yet, take some time to go through one of your financial transaction statements for a recent month. Have a look at all your debits to see what you spent your money on and make a list of the items you purchased.
Once you have a picture of your spending habits, it's time to work out what is worth spending your money on and what isn't. If you spent $60 on a gym membership you barely use, cull it. If going to the gym once a month really brings you happiness and makes you feel awesome, keep it. Same with those streaming service subscriptions, clothes, organic vegetables, puzzles, or whatever else you have on your list.
The key is to be realistic and honest with yourself. If you really, really love and/or need the item, then go ahead and keep spending. But if you buy it "just because" then it's time to take an axe to that expense.
This approach will ensure that you don't needlessly spend your money on things that don't matter to you, which allows you to have more money not only for savings, but for the things that bring you long-lasting happiness.
Once you’ve brought your discretionary spending in line with your values, it's time to implement some savings hacks to reduce your "core" expenses (the necessary ones you can't cut out completely like groceries, toiletries, utilities, etc.).
One of the easiest ways to save money these days is through the way you pay for things, such as electricity and insurance. A lot of businesses offer discounts of between 3-17% for paying your bill on time, by setting up automatic direct debits, or for paying for a premium or subscription annually, rather than monthly. When it comes to expensive utilities such as electricity, these payment discounts can save you hundreds each year.
All you need to do is look into whether your supplier offers a discount for direct debit or annual payments, then sign up for the deal (or change your suppliers) and reap the benefits. Sometimes these deals do have a lock-in period of 12 months for example, so just make sure you do your research first to ensure that you’re getting the best deal, and will continue to do so throughout the lock-in period. Also, make sure you’re aware of the terms, as a default in an automatic direct debit may result in you losing the bonus rate, or copping a fee, which could defeat the savings purpose of signing up for the deal in the first place.
Savings range: $10-$55 per month.
Groceries are one of the largest household expenses. However, there are a number of ways you can reduce these costs. When it comes to food, buying in bulk is a great way to save money. You can do this by looking at the cost per kilo/litre prices of items. Buying the best value item per kilo/litre will ensure you're getting the best deal and will help you save money in the long run. However, make sure you only buy what you'll use, or else you won't save money at all.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, a number of wholesalers, such as PFD foods expanded into the retail market. As a result, you can benefit from buying in bulk for wholesale prices on many household food items through these businesses. Buying items such as fish in bulk at $15 a kilo and freezing, will save you a lot over the long-term if you were to pay retail prices of $40+ a kilo for the same foods.
Additionally, a number of charity organisations offer subsidised groceries. Most organisations offer these services to those in dire financial situations. However, some organisations offer discounted groceries to everyone, irrespective of financial position. An example of this is Lighthouse Care in Loganholme near Brisbane. This organisation offers groceries at a hugely discounted price, including a $25 shopping trolley deal (for groceries that would cost you about $150 in the supermarket!). These deals are open to anyone, irrespective of financial situation. Therefore, it is well-worth it to spend some time doing some online research to see if any organisations offer anything similar in your local area!
Savings range: $40-250 per month.
Cleaning products and toiletries
Cleaning products are often expensive, especially if you choose the ‘green’ options. However, they're one of the cheapest items to make yourself. With a few core ingredients such as vinegar, bi-carb soda, washing soda, castile soap and essential oils… You can make almost everything you need to clean your house. From oven cleaner, to washing powder, to surface spray; you can make all of these things from the ingredients outlined above. Simply do a web search for a recipe for whatever cleaning product you want to make, and off you go.
Toiletries, such as body wash, face serum, body moisturiser and deodorant can also be made at home for a fraction of the cost of buying them in the shops. The added bonus of making them yourself is that you can control what chemicals you put on your body. Furthermore, you can use the essential oils you’ve already purchased for cleaning products in them, so you don’t need to double up on these costs. In order to get started, get yourself some base oils such as sweet almond oil in bulk. From here, a few web searches will give you all the recipes you could ever need to produce your own natural, healthy and cheap toiletries.
Just be careful to do your research for good prices, as there are plenty of overpriced essential oils online. Better yet, source your products directly from a manufacturer that sells directly to consumers through their website, such as Leonardi Laboratories in Sydney. They sell a vast range of essential oils and bulk base oils, such as sweet almond and rosehip, in a range of sizes to suit any budget.
Savings range: $5-50 per month.
Negotiate better deals
Another way to save money is to ensure you never pay full price. Negotiating better prices for products and essential services, such as utilities, is easy if you follow 3 key negotiation principles:
- Play nice - a positive, friendly attitude is much more likely to get you what you want;
- Know your bargaining range - knowing what you want, what you'll settle with, and what's unacceptable to you, will make sure you don't walk away with regret;
- Do your research - researching the market for deals and prices ensures you're in the best position to get a great deal.
With these principles in mind, it's time to contact your phone, internet, electricity and other providers to negotiate a better deal. You can do this over the phone, or via live chat. Essentially, you want to state that "xx" has a deal offering "x" and that you're thinking of leaving your current provider for the competitor. Next, ask your current provider what kind of deal they can do to keep you. You'll end up in the hands of the customer retention area, who'll be in a position to offer you a better deal. It won't always work, but when it does, you’ll likely save hundreds of dollars as a result of your efforts.
This approach can also be applied to price-match/price beat policies in stores. Most stores have some kind of policy where they’ll either match or beat the price for a comparable product offered by a competitor. These days, a lot of stores will even match online competitors, as long as the cost they’re matching includes postage. When you plan to buy a new item, such as electronics, from a shop, just do your research first to find the best price for that product online. Then, simply ask the store you’re planning to buy from if they price beat/price match. If so, you’ll likely score yourself a good deal, without having to wait for delivery from an online store.
Savings range: $30-100 per month.
Promo codes are your best friend
When it comes to products, promo codes are now widely available for online shopping. You can sign up to the email newsletters of your favourite retailers to be kept in the loop when they have promo codes available. Alternatively, just Google the name of the retailer you want to purchase from, "promo" or "discount" code, and the month and year you are making the purchase in. For example, "Country Road Australia promo code March 2020". Most of the time you'll find at least a 5% or $5 off code to use on your purchase.
Savings range: $5-50 per month.
Alternatively, buy things second-hand. Online marketplaces, such as eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, make it really easy to both buy and sell second-hand items. You can find almost anything you need second-hand these days; and buying this way not only saves you money, but helps reduce resource consumption and your consequential environmental impact.
Buying second-hand is particularly important when it comes to clothes. You may think that fast-fashion has made clothes cheaper, but think again. Cheap, poor quality clothes and shoes seem like a bargain. But, if you spend $10 on a t-shirt that lasts six months, versus $50 on a good quality t-shirt that lasts 5 years, the $10 shirt actually costs twice as much. Ditch fast-fashion and transition to a capsule closet of high quality, second-hand pieces instead - your wallet and the planet will thank you for it!
Savings range: $5-200 per month.
Savings hacks summary
Your long-term plan = Frugality
Frugal living is about living life in a way that minimises expenditure and consumption through making do with what you have as much as possible.
Living a frugal lifestyle is key to achieving financial independence. This is because what you spend is more important than what you earn. For example, say you earn $150K net per year, but spend 90% of it on your lifestyle and save 10%. At the end of the year, you'll only have saved $15K. However, if you earn $60K net per year, but only spend 50% and save the rest, you'll be able to save $30K per year. Therefore, if you want to achieve financial independence, living frugally so that you can spend considerably less than what you earn is crucial.
If you want to live more frugally, there are a few key principles to keep in mind:
- Being frugal requires long-term thinking;
- Most of the time you can make do with what you already have.
A common mistake people make when trying to be frugal is to mistake frugality with the price of items, i.e. buying what's cheapest. However, this is actually counter-intuitive to living a frugal life. Buying the cheapest item available is not usually the most frugal approach. This is because low-quality items often do not stand the test of time, are inefficient to run, and are not able to be effectively repurposed.
This is where long-term thinking comes into play. It is important to think about the lifespan and versatility of an item before you make a purchase. This will help you determine the true cost of each item so that you can choose the option that will cost you the least in the long-term. As previously mentioned, clothes are a particularly good example of “cheap” not actually being cheap. However, another example is appliances.
When you buy a fridge, washing machine, dishwasher, coffee machine, or any other type of appliance, it is really important to calculate the long-term cost of the appliance. You might baulk at spending $1200 on a washing machine, when you can get one for $600. However, if the $600 washing machine costs you $18 a week in water and electricity and only lasts for 5 years, over a ten year period, it’ll cost you $10,560. Alternatively, the $1200 washing machine, which has a 5-star energy efficiency rating and is made in Germany, costs you $11 a week and lasts for 10 years. Consequently, the total cost of this washing machine is $6920. Therefore, over a ten year period, the washing machine that is twice as expensive to purchase, saves you $3640.
In today's society, it's pretty easy to be tricked into thinking that you need to buy a specific item for a specific purpose. This is because consumer marketing makes us think this way. Whether it be TV, magazine or social media marketing, we are constantly bombarded with fit-for-purpose products for everything we could ever need. However, the simple truth is, we don't need to buy specific items for each purpose. In fact, quite often, we already have what we need but just don't realise it.
Next time you need a new item, have a think about what you've already got that could be used instead. Say you want a glass jug for the fridge, simply use an empty alcohol spirit bottle. Need to buy some more dishwashing cloths? Check to see if you have some old face washers that can be used and washed over and over again instead. You’ll be amazed at just how often you’ll be able to repurpose something you already have!
Additionally, before you throw out random items, such as bits of packaging, rubber bands, string, etc… Have a think about what else these supposedly "useless" items could be used for. Perhaps you could use string from packaging to hang a wall picture, or to stake tomato plants instead of buying string or ties? Maybe you could use toilet paper rolls for kids’ art and craft projects instead of buying more toys? Or, perhaps you could even use the box your Keep Cup came in to store your pens instead of buying a pen holder? Whatever it is, have a think about alternative uses before you throw it out. Over the long-term, you could save yourself a small fortune by reusing supposedly "useless" or single-use items instead of buying fit-for-purpose items all the time.
By cutting back on your spending and pursuing a frugal lifestyle, you’ll be well-placed to save a significant portion of your income. The next step in your financial independence journey is to figure out how to increase your income so that you can save even more money.
About Kara from The Flawed Consumer | theflawedconsumer.com
Kara is an early-30's, formerly flawed consumer on a financial independence journey. Throughout her 20’s, Kara made a lot of silly financial decisions that are now costing her in her 30’s. She started theflawedconsumer.com to help fulfill her mission to prevent others from making the same financial mistakes she did in her 20's. To achieve her mission, Kara isn't afraid to admit her faults and poke fun at herself in order to get her personal finance message across.
At Pearler, we pride ourselves on the quality of the general financial advice we give. Please note though, that this advice has not been tailored for you. You have unique financial goals, circumstances and needs which may make this advice inappropriate, and it is important that you know whether it applies to you. If you are unsure we urge you to speak to someone you trust who is competent with money and understands your individual needs, whether they be a trusted friend or accredited professional