Reducing Expenses: 10 Things We Cut to Be Debt Free

Reducing Expenses Isn’t Easy

When we had our “Come to Jesus” moment and realized our lives were on a crash course with the pain and misery of massive debt and possible bankruptcy, we realized we need to start focusing on reducing expenses. As John always said, “We gotta stop the bleeding.”

We wanted our lives to still be about having a good time. Duh! #HaveFun is part of our “Money Mantra” as Farnoosh Torabi calls it on her podcast, So Money. Instead of cutting out all of our fun, we focused on reducing expenses in categories rather than eliminate categories altogether. This is one of our recommendations in our book 4: The Four Principles of a Debt Free Life, in the budgeting chapter.

Small and Big Examples of Reducing Expenses

Hallmark is good at capitalizing on holidays. They’re cards are nice and aren’t terribly expensive. There are cheaper card companies, but Hallmark a good middle-market product. Of course, there are more expensive card companies.  The shorter of the two of us loves Papyrus Cards. They’re intricate, festive and unique. They’re also $6 or more. Target has a $0.99 card section. Is spending five times that a vice or a virtue?

Another example is wine. Both of us love wine. We hosted a game night recently and our friends brought a couple nice bottles of wine. After we finished the bottles, we were tempted to tap into our wine collection for better (also more expensive) wine. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. We opened our not-so-expensive (NSE) Bota Box of Zinfandel or Cardboardeaux. We had a great time and didn’t give into our vice.

Our Top 10

What vices can you eliminate or cut back on to save money? Below are suggestions to consider.

  1. Brand name products – We were the kings of brand names at one time, but store brands are as good as name brands in many case. Shop at The Dollar Store, Big Lots or other similar store for basic home products such as dish detergent, soaps, shampoos, household cleaners, some kitchen supplies and more.
  2. Cable – One of our first steps reducing expenses was to cut the cable cord. Even if you’re not ready to cut the cord completely, and with Hulu and Netflix we can’t figure out why not, you can lower your payments by going to a cheaper plan. Going from a Premier to a Basic package with Comcast saves about $50 a month, $600 a year. If you can’t stomach cutting back on sports packages, check out, where you can stream ESPN  and a bunch of other cable only channels for as low as $20!
  3. Entertainment – The Internet is full of recommendations to entertain yourself and your family for free or cheap, such as The Simple Dollar and Mr. Free Stuff. If you’re lucky, your city or state lists things to do such as Not all of it is free or cheap, but with a little searching you can find things that will fit your budget. We built a calendar and planned our activities around free or cheap events.
  4. Movies – A 3D IMAX movie these days goes for $16 a ticket. For an $8 per month subscription to Netflix you have access to an unlimited number of movies. It may be worthwhile to spend $65 on a third-generation of Apple TV and rent a higher grade, more current movie for $5. Not only is the cost of seeing the movie cheaper, but homemade or store bought popcorn and other treats are cheaper and healthier than at the movie theater. If this doesn’t work, we now go the coupon route when we go see most movies.
  5. Smart Phones – If you’re trying to cut back, save money or even pay off debt, you can get a free phone with a cheap plan and save $100 or more. We delayed upgrading our phones when we were getting out of debt as a means to save an extra $20-30 per month.
  6. Credit Card Expenses – If you’re not of the rare breed that can religiously pay off credit card balances monthly, not using your credit card can save hundreds to thousands of dollars a year. Considering that most interest rates on credit cards are between 10%-18%, you’re paying 10%-18% more than you should on your purchases.  Those credit card perks may not be worth it. Think about using companies such as Payoff or SoFi to refinance your cards to lower rates.
  7. GroceriesSave $1,560 by not prematurely throwing away food. Create a weekly grocery list and menu. On average, we spend an additional $30-$50 per week if we go to the store without a grocery list. That’s $1,560-$2,600 annually for two people. Investing $1,560 annually into a retirement account for 10 years at 6% interest equals $24,590. That’s better than throwing away food or over-eating.
  8. Coffee – Brew coffee at home or with a French Press at work. We don’t think Starbucks is the evil empire you must avoid at all costs, but the average trip to Starbucks costs a customer $5. Most areas have at least one coffee shop that sells locally roasted coffee by the pound. A pound of coffee yields about 45 eight-ounce cups of coffee. If that pound of coffee costs $12, that’s $0.27 per cup, saving about $4.73 per cup compared to Starbucks. If you’re hitting Starbucks three times every week, you’d save $737.88 annually. In addition to saving money, locally roasted coffee taste considerably better.
  9. Prepared Foods – Americans spend a lot of money on prepared food. Take popcorn, for example. A 10-serving box of Pop Secret Homestyle Microwave Popcorn costs $4.98 at Walmart. That equals $0.498 per serving. Also for $4.98, Walmart sells a 3.2 pound container of Orville Redenbacher un-popped popcorn that yields 32 servings. That equals $0.156 per serving. Popping popcorn saves $0.342 a serving. That’s a $10.94 savings with one container of Orville. That adds up and that’s only one example. Make your own pizza. Marinate your own chicken. Bake your own cookies. Fry your own potato chips. An added benefit to cooking from scratch is that you’re in control of the ingredients. Anything you cook will be healthier than anything you buy. Eating healthier helps with reducing expenses long-term medical care.
  10. Books – If you’re still buying hard or soft cover books from a bookstore, you’re paying too much. We don’t have to remind you that your local library loans books for free. If that’s not up your alley, convert to eBooks. Used Kindles go for less than $50. Amazon offers close to 3 million free eBooks. That’s $0.00! After reading eight to 10 books, you’re Kindle has paid for itself. This is free entertainment that’s culturally and intellectually stimulating.

These are just 10 things we cut back on when reducing expenses. You may think our lives got boring by your standards, but we saved enough money to pay off $51,000 in credit card debt in two and a half years and socked away over $2,500 that we used for our reward vacation to Mexico the month after we became debt free. 

Where have you cut back and how much are you saving?

Is the awesome life you always dreamed of
still somewhere over the rainbow?

Our FREE #MoneyConscious Financial Planning Guide:
12 Steps to a Richer You eBook will help you get there!

Comment List

  • Kimberly Ely 25 / 02 / 2016 Reply

    Love this list, guys! Love your story too – $51k in debt paid off – WOW! Amazing what we can do when we set our minds to it, huh? I also love that you aren’t out to abandon everything fun in life! That’s so important for us all to embrace! Thanks for this great article!

    • David Auten 09 / 03 / 2016 Reply

      Thank you Kimberly. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. It was a battle, but as a team we were able to win. As you remind us, we still need to have fun. Thus our mantra #LiveDebtFree #HaveFun and #BeMoneyConscious. It is possible. We’ve been around the world and many fun days/nights near home all because we live by that. 😉

  • The Personal Economist 26 / 02 / 2016 Reply

    Nice list, I have cut all of these too (kept Netflix)’and I’m wealthier, healthier and happier. Not sure exactly how much I’ve saved but has definitely increased my savings rate.

  • James Pollard 27 / 02 / 2016 Reply

    Who still buys physical books anyway? 🙂 I can’t even imagine spending more than $12-13 on a book anymore. I went into a bookstore a few weeks ago and saw a hardcover book for $30 and almost fainted. Kindle? $9.99.

    • David Auten 09 / 03 / 2016 Reply

      You are right, James. Many books are not worth the physical copy price. Others, some still like to have the hard copy. We have a few favs we keep around, but most we do Kindle, Smashwords or iBooks.

  • Whattalife 03 / 03 / 2016 Reply

    Don’t forget that many libraries also have both movie streaming services for free, and DVD collections you can rent. We watch every series a few months after, but at no cost at all (also no temptation to the couch potatohood that comes with an ongoing stream of stuff on the tv.)

    Also, libraries are online so you can access these from other areas often.

    I’ve never had more than basic cable, but we have saved over $2.4K on even what we did have.

  • Anne 11 / 03 / 2016 Reply

    Papyrus cards are awesome! One of the only times I will splurge on one of those is for a wedding card, when I don’t like any of the more affordable options available.
    I read this right after being reprimanded by my spouse for opening a bottle of wine that someone brought over last weekend, without checking the price. Turns out it’s worth about $10 more than what we normally drink. Oops.

  • Felicity 19 / 09 / 2016 Reply

    This is insane. Try being our family of 7 kids and my husband and I. Our grocery bill is 800 a month, we buy name brand clothes and shoes for our kids, we drive nice cars and we have left over at the end of the month. The difference in our life is I make every bit of our food from scratch with the exception of Friday night pizza, we buy all the clothes and shoes either second hand or end of season so they are highly discounted. we have no car payments because we scrimped and saved and paid cash. We buy things at thrift stores and sell them on eBay or Facebook for extra cash. I make all our soap (laundry & body from scratch) because goat milk soap is crazy expensive at the store but cheap and easy at home. Try my life. Its not hard, trying at times but fulfilling.

    • David Auten 19 / 09 / 2016 Reply

      Wow! Awesome comment. Thanks for sharing your suggestions on ways to stretch a budget. Being a large family certainly is expensive, but sound like you 7 have a great plan to manage that and still have fun. 😉

    • David Auten 19 / 09 / 2016 Reply

      Wow! That is awesome. You have found a great way as a big family to still have a fun and sane life without having to hock yourself into debt. Thanks for sharing your great ideas on ways to save and make a bit extra. We haven’t gone the route of selling stuff, but sometimes it sure looks appealing. Thanks again for commenting. 😉

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