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How To Simplify Your Living Expenses

Here's the thing: I'm a New Yorker. And in New York, it is amazingly difficult NOT to spend a lot of money, just on the basics! As a student of Harv Eker, I am trying to limit my expenses to 50% of my after-tax income, and I have to tell you, that is really hard to do. Harv isn't the only one to suggest this either: almost every money-management guru gives the same advice. Simplify your expenses.

The fact is, if you want to become financially free, you must do two things: increase your passive income and decrease your expenses. Once your passive income is equal to or greater than your expenses, you are financially free. The concept is simple enough -- and in other articles I address creating passive income (the easiest and fastest way to do this would be by renting your rooms). But how do you simplify your expenses? Especially when you look around and you don't see a way HOW? Here are a variety of ways you can still live a decent life and be a bit more frugal at the same time.

Food & Toiletries
  • By far, making lunch at home was one of my biggest savings! I made lunch and snacks and bought them to work.
  • Instead of buying shower gel, go back to soap bars. They last longer and are much cheaper.
  • Don't wash your hair every day, and when you do wash your hair, only wash it once. That saves lots of shampoo.
  • I made my own coffee at home -- or cut it out altogether and put that money aside in your financial freedom jar. One guru calls that the "latte factor."
  • As a nation, we eat out a whole lot more and buy convenience foods to just heat in the microwave -- but these can be expensive. Cooking may take time, but it does save you lots of money.
  • Buy generic! I was so opposed to this, and one day I ate some potato chips that my boyfriend bought. Seriously? They didn't taste different from the name brand. Try it. Ok, some things may be non-negotiable, but you'd be surprised what is. Your grocery bill will go way down.
  • Take the effort to cut coupons, take advantage of sales, and go to discount warehouses, like Sam's Club or Costco.
Heat & Electricity
  • If you don't already have one, get an electric thermostat with a timer, so you can change the temperature automatically during specific times of the day. Lower the temperature when the family is out of the house.
  • Use space heaters and lower the heat in the rooms you use. Use an electric blanket at night.
  • There is plastic covering you can get at the hardware store and cover your windows. That keeps the heat in the house.
  • Make sure your boiler and hot water heater are maintained properly.
  • Wear layers of clothing and keep the heat lower.
  • Use kitchen and bathroom vents sparingly in the winter
  • Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescents
  • Wash laundry in cold or warm instead of hot
  • Use a clothesline instead of using the dryer
  • Use a ceiling fan instead of an air conditioner.
Cell Phones, Internet, and Communication Utilities
  • Avoid pre-paid cell phones, even if you just want the phone for emergencies, unless you are careful to use a plan with minutes that don't expire. You pay exorbitant rates per minute.
  • Never underestimate the minutes your teen may use. Be careful not to get the lowest plan. Constant overages are very expensive overall.
  • You don't necessarily need a home phone if you have a cell phone. With free nights, weekends and long distance, you may save considerably. Be careful with phone plans that have low rates, because the taxes add significantly to the bill.
  • For your Internet connection, you don't have to get the highest rate of connection speed. For the average user, you won't be able to tell the difference and that can save you a month.
  • If you switch to broadband, don't keep your dialup (unless you travel often outside the country or in rural areas). Also, drop paying for AOL. All AOL features are free if you have broadband.

If you really wanted to be extreme about it, you could cut entertainment out altogether. But that's not really practical, so here are some ideas.

  • First, if you think FREE, you may not get free, but you do end up with "cheap." Cheap doesn't mean less fun, either. Sometimes you can have MORE fun.
  • If you live in a city, just try walking around. In New York, I have found impromptu concerts by street musicians or just sat in the park and people watched. You'd be amazed how much fun you can have!
  • Instead of eating out or going to bars with friends, host a potluck at home or just have friends over for drinks. It's much cheaper to buy liquor than to buy drinks at the bar.
  • For movies, go to matinees or the movie (some communities have them). Yes, those movies are second-run, but hey, it's worth financial freedom to me. You can also always rent movies.
  • Cable. When times are tough, the cable needs to get going. It can get so expensive! If you do need it for the reception, get basic and then rent movies. Buying a great DVD player and renting movies is cheaper than cable in the long run. If you rent rooms in your home like I do, keep the cable -- it's a perk for your tenants that are worth paying for.
  • Take your kids to the bookstore and hang out.
  • Find free community shows, like Shakespeare in the park or fireworks.
  • Take the kids on the subway trip -- as far as you can and go explore. In New York, take the train to Coney Island.
  • In the summer, there is always a local food festival or street fair.
  • Get your kids involved in a community group, like a theatre. They develop skills, make friends and have fun.
  • For kids, don't go over the top with the brand names, especially since the kids will grow out of them quickly.
  • For adults and older teens, don't buy really trendy clothes that will only last one season. Buy classical fashionable clothing that will last, and get trendy with accessories.
  • Buy shirts and ties or blouses and just one suit -- accessorizing is cheaper.
  • Buy a few pieces of quality clothing as opposed to lots of cheap clothing. They will last a lot longer.
  • This goes without saying, but buy clothing in the off-season and on sale. You will save a tone of money.
  • A gas saving tip I just learned: put your car in cruise control whenever you can. It has cut my gas bill in HALF.
  • If you live in a metropolitan area, try walking around the city as opposed to taking a bus or a train. In New York, you can even get there faster sometimes! :-)
  • Maintain your car -- tire pressure, oil changes, everything. Preventative maintenance is way cheaper than repairs.
  • Never use cheap gas - use quality gas and the correct octane for your car. It may seem more expensive, but it's cheaper in car repairs in the long run.
  • Don't be afraid to walk, even in the winter. It's great exercise and it saves a ton of money. Bring a backpack with you for grocery shopping if you need only a couple of things.
The Change Jar

I have a change jar. Every time I pay for something, I always use bills and get the change. I put the change in the jar. You wouldn't believe how much money you can save! This money could be entertainment money, allowance for the kids, put it in a savings account or saved for emergencies. This change jar has saved my butt many times over the years, and is a great way to have "found" money at the end of the month.

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