My dog staring at me from the floor
Life Saving Money

How I significantly cut back my monthly expenses

Updated August 29, 2020

I wrote a post about economizing after a divorce a few years ago, and I’ve been meaning to update it, since I’ve been living comfortably and happily ever since! So here it is, the revised 2017 version.

In 2014, I was left with a hefty mortgage, a house’s worth of utility bills, and two dogs. I’ve always had an innate drive to save money, so I wasn’t in immediate trouble, but I knew my expenses would quickly drain my bank account if I didn’t make some serious changes.

This is how I kept out of the red. I hope some of these tips are helpful to you.

Make a list of your automatic monthly expenses and only keep the ones you really need

It turns out I had a lot of recurring monthly expenses that I did not need, such as paid font services (I use Google Fonts now) and two hosting accounts (I consolidated, saving $20 a month or $240 a year). I kept Amazon Prime, which I use for everyday items, holiday shopping, and (now) groceries! I pause Netflix during months I’m not using it. I also pay for Crunchyroll.

Look at your data/talk time/text use and see if there is a cheaper phone plan

After looking at my meager phone use and deciding that, yes, I could live without unlimited data (I have access to wifi at home and work), I switched from a $90/month plan to a $40/month plan. I’m careful with my phone, so I’ve had it for three years. $50/month savings or $600 a year.

2020 update: I later switched to Republic Wireless and got that bill down to $23/month.

Eliminate the K-Cups

So when the Keurig came out, I was one of those people who made fun of people who owned them. Then I received one as a wedding gift and fell in love. It’s so handy when you’re bleary eyed with whining puppies at 5am! (Puppies are now almost five years old; how time flies.) I used to buy K-Cups monthly. Even at Walmart, they were about $11 for 18 (about 61 cents a cup of coffee). It was cheaper than Starbucks, so I happily bought a couple boxes a month, and more when there were fun holiday flavors! Or anything that sounded delicious! Chocolate raspberry? Yes, please!

Fast forward to today. I found Ekobrew refillable K-cups, a one-time purchase, and a tub of ground Folgers for $4. That lasts me about two months depending on coffee consumption (it makes 90 6oz cups). Coffee spending went from roughly $25/month to $2/month (saving $276 a year).

Cut back on eating out

Eating at home was easy for me when I was first newly single, and it’s been easy for me to maintain it! I’ve learned to love cooking at home (ask me about my newfound love of tofu!) or going to a family member’s house. My spouse and I used to eat out several times a week, and it seemed like we always spent around $70. I tended to pick up the check. Eliminating dining out saves easily $200 a month, which I spend on groceries and dog food.

Cut back on takeout, too
Including pizza

Over the years, I’ve witnessed friends who struggle to pay their bills continue to order in lunch at work a few times a week. They’re easily spending $20-$80 a week depending on the restaurant. I adore getting to eat a hot lunch at work, and once in a while I splurge, but I stock up on protein bars, granola bars, and oatmeal packets. My office now stocks bread and peanut butter, so we can all make sandwiches on a busy day! Little daily expenditures, even if they don’t seem like a lot, can really add up by the end of the month.

I used to order Dominos about once a month, to the tune of $25 (pizza, chocolate lava crunch cake, delivery fee, tip). That’s not unreasonable, but now I buy frozen pizzas and keep them in the freezer for pizza cravings. One frozen pizza feeds me for three days, and they only cost around $5. When I want a chocolate lava cake, I bake my own.

Shop sale items

I know this won’t work for everyone, but being the only human in the house means I don’t have to please anyone else. If my grocery store is offering yogurt for one cent because Yoplait decided to make French-style yogurt in glass jars, that’s the yogurt I’m buying this week. If Tide detergent is full price but Arm & Hammer is on sale? I buy Arm & Hammer. The only things I’m strict about are tea (Tetley British blend), dog food (Purina ProMax), and pens (Pilot G-2). Pretty much everything else is flexible.

Freeze things

When I cook, I make a plate for today, one for tomorrow, and freeze the rest. It’s so nice to come home and pop something into the convection over to reheat! Homemade frozen dinners.

Find ways to make your house more energy efficient

My entire house runs off of electric, so during the winter, my bills are sky high. Easy things I did were to insulate old windows with bubble wrap (it’s not cute, but it helps!), replace weather stripping around doors and windows, insulate all wall outlets, and install insulating curtains. I also found that there are vents on my foundation that should be closed in the winter! No more freezing floors. Changing your behavior helps too. Turn off lights when you leave a room and unplug electronics you aren’t using. If you’re cold, put on more clothes rather than getting out the space heater.

Embrace do-it-yourself projects

I had great plans to have my kitchen re-tiled once my dogs got old enough and stopped digging up the vinyl tile. (They dug down to the subfloor; it was a nightmare. One day I’ll post the before and after shots.)

For $200 at the hardware store, I bought floor patch repair and enough peel-and-stick tiles to cover my kitchen and laundry room. It took a week and a re-watch of the X-Files season one, but the kitchen looks fantastic.

I used leftover paint to freshen up my bathrooms and spray painted objects that looked tired, so they’d fit in with my current decor. I printed art from the internet (the copyright stickler in me feels slightly bad about that, but it was for private use, and I’ve since bought several prints) and put them in spray-painted frames so they matched.

I shifted furniture to different rooms. If you’re creative, you can do a lot with your existing things.

Learn to love hand-me-downs

Over the past few years, I’ve become the proud owner of my grandmother’s beautiful wingback chair, which is now my bedroom writing chair; a set of French-themed dishes; soup bowls from Japan; two area rugs; and a shockingly pink framed picture of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which hangs in my guest bathroom. Coworkers like to give me clothes they don’t use anymore. Not everything is my style, but I accept them all happily and donate anything I end up not using.

Consider refinancing your mortgage

Depending on current interest rates, refinancing your mortgage could save you hundreds a month.

Mine was required as a part of my divorce, so I had no choice, but it has saved me $200 a month. Unfortunately, it restarted the 30-year countdown, but…maybe I’ll pay it off early.

Treat yourself to a staycation

My first summer alone, I bypassed a vacation and stayed homed with the dogs! They thoroughly enjoyed having so much time together. I spent $50 on decor and spent the week meeting DIY goals, so it was productive, fun, and cheap! I also created a separate savings account for fun and vacations. I deposit $50 a week and don’t buy things if I don’t have the money for them.

Before you buy that dress, make sure you don’t already own one like it

I recently tried Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering my closet and dresser. I was so embarrassed by how much I owned; I hadn’t seen the back of my closet in years, and the pile of clothing on the floor – everything I owned – was at least three feet deep at its highest point and ten feet across. I didn’t wear half of it. I only kept items I love, putting the rest into bags that I really will take to the donation drop-off soon. (I’m an introvert and afraid of new things.)

I had so many beautiful items I’ve forgotten about. I didn’t think I owned any belts. I have five. Five belts.

Use Rakuten (formerly ebates) and Honey if you shop online

Before you check out, check Rakuten and Honey (it’s a browser add-on for Firefox and Chrome) for offers. Rakuten offers cashback on a large number of online stores for just clicking a link. It’s a small amount with each purchase, but it adds up over time. Totally free to use. I’ve saved over $600 since signing up with them.

You can sign up for Rakuten by using this link and get $30 (and I get a small referral fee if you do).

Skip the gym

I don’t like to work out in public, and gyms can be expensive, but I knew sitting on my couch after sitting all day at work was not good for my health. I bought an inexpensive Sunny elliptical machine on for $180. I use it 4+ times a week and am in the best shape I’ve been in since high school!

Ask yourself: Do I really need it? Or do I just want it?

I am an emotional shopper and often buy things to make myself feel better. I’ve learned to stop this, but it took some time. I had to stop doing things like going shopping every weekend with my mom, because the temptation to buy things was high. Now we do things at her house instead!

Find a free or low-cost way to have fun

I wanted to learn Japanese and brush up on my French, so I got the free language apps Duolingo and Memrise for my phone, discovered free online textbooks and podcasts, and bought the Japanese From Zero textbook for $25 because George makes me laugh and has an encouraging teaching style, plus the corresponding website has free resources and games.

Coursera is a fabulous resource if you want to learn something new, and the courses are from major universities (click Enroll and look for “audit” to access the materials for free).

YouTube is great for music and how-to videos (I learned how to fix my non-draining bathtub!).

You can use Amazon’s free cloud reader ( to read free books offered on the Kindle.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, make the most of your membership

There are hundreds of movies and TV shows available to Amazon Prime members, so if you have this service, take advantage of its benefits. New in 2017 is Audible Channels, part of the Audible app. It has free audiobooks for Prime members (you don’t have to belong to Audible!) and a great selection of podcasts on a variety of subjects like self improvement, mysteries, and sci-fi. I like to listen at work. You can also download a free book every month. What I use most is Amazon Music. My coworker and stream the Liquid Mind channel almost every workday, and I rely on the available dog sleep sounds to calm down Luke when he’s upset.

It’s been three years since I made the list this post is based on, and the dogs and I are very happy. I even took a vacation last year! Best of luck getting your own finances in shape.

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