About a year ago, Shannon and Daniel Cairns of Keller, Texas, faced bankruptcy.
Both foot doctors, they had $500,000 in debt.
“We quickly found out that owning our practice while facing massive amounts of debt was not the best plan,” says Shannon, 34.
Instead of filing for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy “to restructure and get the collectors off of their back,” she says, they decided to get extreme by reining in their lifestyle to pay down the debt. It meant taking a hard look at their budget and identifying ways to drastically reduce it.
“We cut all unnecessary or miscellaneous spending for about two months,” she says. “This allowed us to realize that there was extra money in our budget; we just weren’t being intentional with it.”
That intentionality, a term oft-cited by financial guru Dave Ramsey, led the Cairns, who are parents to three young children, to cut more than $8,000 of expenses from their budget in the first six months of 2019 by switching services, swapping cars, and, ultimately, downsizing their home.
There are dozens of ways to save money. If you’re wondering where to begin, here are six ways to cut your expenses by over $700 a month.
1. Lower the cable
Thirtysomething married couple Anthony and Jhanilka Hartzog in Frisco, Texas, were paying $250 a month for cable. “We cut the home phone and lowered our tier for high-speed Internet,” says Anthony, an IT director. “Now we pay $150 a month.” If you want to cut the cord altogether sign up for streaming services like Hulu, Prime Video, or YouTube TV. Monthly Savings: $100.
2. Shop around for car insurance
When the monthly premium nearly doubled for our 2013 Nissan Altima, my family compared rates via insurify.com, and then called six companies for quotes. We slashed our bill from $277 to $122 a month by switching companies and bundling our homeowners and car insurance policies. Monthly Savings: $155.
3. Eat in, not out
Shannon Cairns, the podiatrist, also runs the blog thefrugalfootdoc.com. “I instruct readers to go through three to six months of bank statements to assess where they are spending,” she says. She herself discovered her family was spending hundreds of dollars on fast food. Consumers spent an average of $3,459 eating out in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The breaks down to $288 a month. Instead of dining out, go to the supermarket and cook. Monthly Savings: $288.
4. Slash your cell bill
The Hartzogs paid $200 a month for service. “We switched to a family plan for $85 a month, then put the extra toward debt,” says Anthony. With the debt paid, they are using the funds to help save up for a home. Comparison shopping sites like Wirefly.com may help. “The average user saves 30% by switching from one provider to another,” says Logan Abbott, the company’s president. Monthly Savings: $115
5. Cancel the gym
Take your workout outside through walking, biking, or using the local recreation room for free. “If you’re not using the gym regularly, cancel it,” says Tanya Peterson, a vice president with Freedom Financial Network. Memberships can cost $30 a month. Funnel that money toward some summer fun. Monthly Savings: $30.
6. Stem “subscription creep”
In 2019, users spent $640 on digital subscriptions including music services, dating apps, cloud storage, and streaming video, according to an analysis for The New York Times by Mint. That comes down to $53 a month. “You may be surprised to learn how much you are automatically paying each month without even using the service,” says Molly Ford-Coates, founder and CEO of Ford Financial Management in El Paso. “It’s an incredibly painless way to cut expenses.” Monthly Savings: $53
By reducing their family’s expenses to $50,000 a year, or one-third of their income, the Cairns are able to apply the remaining $100,000 to debt. Since June 2019, they have paid off $64,000.
While everyone doesn’t have the physical means to accomplish that goal, the lessons still apply: “I always thought that if I could just make more, all of our money problems would go away. It wasn't until we learned to manage what we had, that we started to make progress,” says Shannon.