To speed up paying off your debt – or hitting any other financial goal – you’ll want to squeeze every dime of unnecessary spending out of your life. And that means cleaning out the junk in your financial trunk.
If your home is anything like mine, you’ve got at least one junk drawer – the one in the kitchen that collects unidentified keys, spare parts, dried-up glue bottles, assorted loose thumbtacks and a dozen rolls of tape that all have about 2.5 inches left.
You may, in fact, have more than one junk drawer. At my house, we call the junk drawer, “Our house.”
Your financial life is much the same. Over the course of a busy life, you collect a bunch of what I call “junk spending” – old, unused subscriptions to magazines and websites, memberships to gyms and discount clubs, assorted extra services and more.
This is THE absolutely easiest spending to cut out of your budget because it’s spending you don’t care about, have already forgotten and won’t even miss. Cleaning out your financial junk drawer can yield a surprising amount of money you can put to work right away.
Where to start
Start with the small stuff: Cut out the $5 a month you are spending on a mobile app you never use, or a messaging service you’ve forgotten. Look for things like insurance that might have been automatically added to your electric bill, for interior line repairs, or third-party services on your phone bill.
Shed those invisible services: Evaluate what is most important and remove the unnecessary online diet subscription, gym membership or anything else that automatically renews with a credit card charge or checking account debit every month. Don’t keep paying just to have the false feeling that you’re doing something about getting fit or losing weight. Are you paying for additional perks on your car or homeowners insurance that you’ll never use? If so, get rid of it.
Tackle the bigger expenses: You don’t have to ditch your entire cable package, but you can weed out expensive premium channels you never watch and get free DVDs at the library. Likewise, cancel extended warranties for appliances you don’t own anymore, discount buying clubs you never use, and any other unconscious, habitual spending that doesn’t give you real value. If your cellphone data plan routinely comes in under your limit every month, switch to a smaller, less expensive plan.
One step at a time: To get started, pull out one monthly bill, credit card or checking account statement and go through every expense listed. If it’s a recurring monthly charge, think about how much you really use it, whether you can live without it or if you can substitute something cheaper.
How it worked for me
When I experimented with cutting my own family budget in my award-winning book – “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese” – I was stunned and embarrassed by the amount of money that I, an alleged personal finance expert, was wasting each month.
How bad was it? A total of $181.42 per month – more than $2,000 per year. Yikes!
The biggest embarrassment was a $25 monthly charge I was paying to maintain an old, unused email account with a Florida Internet provider. I had kept it when I moved to Michigan so that freelance clients and others could keep in touch with me, planning to close it after a few months. Instead, it was three years later, I hadn’t checked the account in months, and I’d forked out $900 in the meantime.
If I had been getting a bill in the mail every month for an email account I hadn’t used in more than two years, then had to sit down, write out a check, dig out those nifty return-address labels that I just KNOW are somewhere around here, then look again for a stamp, then go buy stamps, then remember where my wife keeps the stamps and realize I’ve wasted $12 buying stamps when we already own plenty, I would not have been paying the bill for that old email account for long. So how did my old email account, which I was going to maintain for only six months, live on, leeching my money for two years?
Easy. The charge, along with the others, was going on one of my credit cards. Which was a great convenience when I needed the email account. Unfortunately, that same convenience worked against me when I ceased to need the account.
Reap the rewards for your efforts
The best part of cutting junk spending is that with one simple cancellation, you’ll save this money month after month after month, without having to do anything else. That makes this permanent, ongoing savings that you can be directed to debt, saving, retirement or any other financial goal. And all you have to do is go through each repeating monthly bill, credit-card and bank statement, at your own pace, to see what you can find.
Once you’re done, total up your savings and celebrate with a good bottle of wine — if you can find the corkscrew in your own junk drawer.
Brian J. O’Connor is the author of the award-winning budget book, “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”