I’ve always enjoyed being frugal, but after I got laid-off from my job at KGO radio in San Francisco, it became essential that I figured out ways to save money on a tight budget.
Using my budget program YNAB, or You Need a Budget, I looked at where I was spending the most money and figured out how to cut stuff out. Some of these cuts came naturally when I moved onto a sailboat, where I don’t have the high costs associated with living in a house or an apartment.
I think really looking at how I spend money has saved me hundreds of dollars per month!
1) Cell phone bill
The average American spends around $100 for their cell phone every month, an amount I find ludicrous. So when it was time for me to shop around for a phone plan, I knew I needed to find the cheapest one out there.
Luckily, my friend’s husband recommended Google’s new service called Project Fi. Project Fi charges a base rate of $20 per month for unlimited phone calls and texts, and then $10 per gig after that. I signed up for a plan that includes 2 gigs, but what’s awesome about Project Fi is that they reimburse you if you don’t use your allotted gigs. If you use more, then they charge you $10 per gig.
What’s amazing, is this: My average phone bill with Project Fi has been only about $38 per month.
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Another thing that I love about this phone service is that it works internationally. You can get calls and texts sometimes for free, sometimes with a slight charge depending on the country. The amount of data is also the same no matter where you travel: $10 per gig.
The downside to Project Fi is that the reception isn’t always stellar. I also spent $200 up front to buy a Nexus phone….not many phones work with the services.
If you want to try Project Fi, here is a referral code to get a $20 credit from me: https://www.thewaywardhome.com/ProjectFi
2) Getting rid of cable
Many people pay well over $100 for cable every month, and expense I’ve completely cut out. Okay, it’s true that it’s not easy getting cable while living on a sailboat, but some people install a satellite dish and get TV that way.
But not me.
I rent all my movies and television shows through the public library, which has an amazing selection. I often get new release movies and shows there, and have never been left wanting.
Getting all your movies and shows from the library is an amazing way to save at least $100 per month! You can’t go wrong with that.
3) Buying clothes second-hand
Buying clothes second-hand not only saves me tons of money, it also saves the environment. The amount of clothing we throw away is shocking. According to an NPR story, 15.1 million tons of textile waste generated in 2013, and 12.8 million of that was thrown away. This is only perpetuated by cheap clothing stores like H&M, Gap, and Zara with encourage people to buy, throw away, buy, throw away.
I get almost all my clothes at second-hand stores.
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Goodwill is my go-to store, and Portland, Ore., has some of the best Goodwills I’ve ever seen. Every time I take a trip up there to visit family I’m sure to make a pilgrimage to Goodwill.
I’ve gotten brand-new Nike and LuluLemon work-out clothes, J. Crew shirts, cashmere sweaters, shoes in new condition, you name it. I love finding a good deal at Goodwill, and love that most of the clothing is under $10.
4) Credit Cards
It may seem counterintuitive that credit cards help save me money, but they really do. I’ve chosen two cards wth good rewards points through Chase which end up saving me tons of money on travel.
Points on my Chase cards end up being worth 25% more for travel, so I’m able to book plane tickets for free or at a discounted rate most of the time. My last round-trip flight from SFO-PDX cost me just $50, and right now I have enough points for a ticket worth $170. It’s a great way to save money on travel, but if you go this route, be sure you can PAY OFF the balance on your card at least once per month. It’s not worth going into debt to save a few bucks on a plane ticket.
I never accrue any debt on my cards, I just use them for the points. I use the Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom credit cards.
Groupons definitely come in handy sometimes. Recently, my friend wanted to take a white-water rafting trip for her birthday and had found tickets for $100. I quickly logged onto Groupon and found us tickets for $60, which also included a deli lunch.
I’ve used Groupons for dining, drinks, manicures, massages, socks and slippers.
I even bought a pair of fleece pajama pant on there for $8 which I still have today. It takes a little time and effort to search through Groupon, but I do think its better to check for a deal before you buy.
6) Utility Bill
According to a survey on MyFirstApartment.com, many people pay upwards of $240 per month on utilities for their home or apartment.
On the sailboat, our average utility bill is $5 per month. Amazing, right?
I was recently reminded by a close friend that I almost live off-the-grid by living on a sailboat. We use propane for our two-burner stove and oven, kerosene for the heater, and the engine can power up the battery enough to run the lights for many days. When we’re at the dock, we do hook up to power so we can use the outlets to charge our devices, but once we leave the dock we’re completely off-grid.
I love being able to save so much on utilities every month!
7) Food and alcohol
Food and drink is still a category I’m working to trim down, but I’m doing a much better job today that I was when I had a full-time job.
Now, I buy most of my food and alcohol at Trader Joe’s, which cuts down on expenses in an amazing way. I can make spaghetti and meatballs for $10, which ends up being four meals, and I can also add a decent, or okay, bottle of wine for another $6. Given that most glasses of wine out at a restaurant cost way more than $6, this is a great way to save money. We also buy our beer at Costco, where you can get 24 bottles of Lagunitas IPA for $24. This comes out to just $1 per beer, which is way less than the typical $6 or $7 that a pint of beer typically costs in San Francisco.
I also just joined a program called $5 meals, where you get amazing recipes straight to your inbox every week! They’re healthy, cheap and easy. I love it so far, and just made a delicious baked lemon chicken and Greek pasta salad.
Check it out here: $5 Meal Plan.
Also, check out this article: How I make cheap, easy dinners at home
When I do go out to eat, I almost always hit up a happy hour, but happy hours can often add up in a surprising way. The best answer is to just eat and drink at home as often as possible.
So, there you have it! I’m always looking for ways to cut down my monthly bills.
What are your favorite ways to save?
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.