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21 Ways to Reduce Your Spending Without Making Your Life Miserable

Jennifer writes in:

You often talk about how spending less doesn’t have to make your life miserable. Yet, most of the ideas you give seem miserable to me! What ideas do you have that won’t make my life boring?

Given that everyone’s life is different, it’s hard to point to a list of things that’s guaranteed to not be boring for everyone. For example, I find things like making a batch of laundry detergent to be fun because I can get the kids involved with it, but I recognize that others might not enjoy such things.

So, I made a list of twenty one spending reducing suggestions that I felt either didn’t have any impact at all on quality of life (things you can do once and benefit from for a while) or, if they’re repeatable, are inherently fun.

1. Get rid of stuff you don’t use.
Take a trip through your home and look around for things that you simply don’t use – and do something about it. Collect together things you rarely use and will probably never use again. Sell them off, give them away – just get rid of the clutter.

Why do this? For one, it makes your home less cluttered and more enjoyable. The result of this is that it’s more enjoyable to spend time at home – and to invite people over (see point #6). For another, you can take any money made on the items you’ve sold and apply them to your debts. This reduces your monthly debt payments and helps you get rid of entire debts more quickly.

Both of those come in exchange for just getting rid of stuff you don’t use. Sounds like a good deal to me!

2. Do some basic energy efficiency around your living quarters.
Replace your light bulbs with CFLs and LEDs – each bulb replaced adds up to at least $15-20 in energy savings over the lifetime of the bulb. Install a programmable thermostat to replace your current one, then program it to have the heating and cooling shut off when you’re not at home, saving you the cost of running it. Spend a couple of days air sealing your home, using this really handy guide from the Department of Energy, which can reduce your energy bill by about 20% every month with no additional upkeep work at all (it’s a great weekend project). Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees F (or about 50 C).

Each of these tactics are things you can do once and result in a drastically lower energy bill every month thereafter without changing the quality of your life one iota. After all, a 40% lower energy bill each month means a wad of cash you can put towards other goals, like paying down your debts.

3. Unless you’re a heavy cell phone user, switch to a pay-as-you-go phone.
I use Skype for the vast majority of my phone calls (even when I’m out and about). Thus, I use my cell phone less and less, and given that I’m under contract, I’ve made the decision to drop it and go to a pay-as-you-go plan for the few minutes a month I use it.

If you use your cell phone less than a couple hours a month and send and receive infrequent text messages, a pay-as-you-go cell phone can be substantially cheaper than a cell phone plan. Look into some pay-as-you-go plans and see if any fit your usage needs and add up to significant savings over what you already use – in my case, pretty much all of them do, so I’m comparing reviews to see which one offers the best bang (reliability) for the buck.

4. Buy in bulk the staples you use all the time.
Quite often, people march through the store, buying things without careful consideration. They’ll either buy everything at the size that’s the cheapest per unit – even if they rarely use it and much of the item will go to waste – or they just grab the most reasonable size of each item.

The best approach is somewhere in the middle: get the best deal you can without wasting stuff. The best way to do that is to buy items in bulk if you’re sure you’re going to use all of it in reasonable time or before it becomes unusable. Think household supplies – toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, laundry soap, and so on. Everything else, don’t buy it in bulk unless you find yourself buying a smaller (less expensive) version of the item quite often.

Does this mean you should get a membership at a warehouse club? It depends entirely on how much you buy in bulk. It might be worthwhile, though, to share a membership with your best friend (many memberships issue two cards), halving the costs.

Don’t change what you buy. Just do it a little smarter, and you’ll save money without changing your day-to-day life one iota.

5. Get some exercise.
Exercise? How does that save money?

For starters, most exercise is free or at least very inexpensive. Long walks around the neighborhood are free. Jogging is free. Squats are free. Jumping jacks are free. Situps and pushups are free. Even simple weight exercises are really inexpensive – buy some hand weights and that’s all you need. Many simple sports have minimal equipment and have all you need in your neighborhood – soccer just requires a ball, basketball requires just a ball and a hoop (available in many neighborhoods), and parkour requires nothing at all.

Thus, if nothing else, exercise is a way to spend time without cost.

But there’s another benefit. Regular exercise reduces your weight, often not directly, but by raising your metabolism. For most Americans, this is a great thing – it improves your long-term health (reducing your medical costs) and improves your day-to-day energy level. It can also help improve the state of ongoing conditions like diabetes.

Overall, it sounds like a great way to regularly spend an hour, regardless of the financial benefits.

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