When faced with financial uncertainty, cutting expenses is one of the best ways you can regain some control. When you make cuts to your budget, you’ll have more cash on hand to spare (or save!), and you’ll gain peace of mind.
Trouble is, when you’re the one doing the spending, it is hard to tell at a glance what isn’t essential. After all, you wouldn’t have bought it if you didn’t think you needed it. If you’re not sure where to start, here is what the experts say you should definitely cut from your budget:
Cutting expenses 101: Start with food
We spend a lot on food—especially outside of the house. In 2018 alone, the average U.S. consumer spent $3,459 per year (nearly half of all their food costs) on dining out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To save money on groceries and trim your dining out budget, Michelle Schroeder-Gardner of Making Sense of Cents recommends meal planning before you grocery shop. “This will help you buy only what you need, reduce food waste, shop on a budget, and more.”
By having a plan, you’ll be less tempted to grab takeout. But, if you’re really committed to cutting down on those last minute UberEats deliveries, consider setting aside a planning day and “prep meals ahead of time for days when you’re too tired to cook,” Schroeder-Gardener says.
Skip out on clothing sales
If you regularly succumb to the lure of an online flash sale, unsubscribing from those emails is an easy way to cut expenses. After all, you’re probably spending much of your time at home in sweatpants this year anyway.
If you still need to dress well for work, or you find yourself in need of an outfit, rethink the way you shop. “You can still save plenty by buying fewer but high-quality pieces and really utilizing the wardrobe you already own,” says Trent Hamm, founder of The Simple Dollar.
Cut the cord
“If you have cable but find yourself mostly watching Netflix, see if it makes sense to cancel your cable. Spending $100 a month on cable TV may not seem like a lot on a monthly basis but that's $1,200 a year you could be saving,” says Matt Reiner at The Balance.
With all the streaming services available, you can build your own bundle of programming you actually watch for less than you pay for cable. But be wary, those costs can sneak up on you, too. Plan to regularly check in on your streaming services to make sure you’re still using what you’re signed up for.
Trim your cell phone plan
Cell phones are tricky. We all have them. We all pay a pretty hefty monthly fee for service. But they’re often forgotten when we’re looking to cut our budget.
Take a look at your last few bills. You may be able to cut down on the minutes or your data cap and save. In fact, research from trade-in website ItsWorthMore found the average user with a data limit still spends $200 per year on data they don’t use.
Once you’ve trimmed, look for add-on services you can cut out entirely. “Changing your plan is one way to save money on your cell phone bill, but it’s not the only way. Removing insurance from your plan could save you nearly $100 per year, per line,” says Courtney Jespersen at NerdWallet.
Be ruthless with subscriptions
Subscriptions can creep up on you. One $20 or $40 subscription may not seem like a big deal, but it can quickly add up.
Cancel any non-essential subscriptions and those you aren’t actively using, including gym memberships, magazines, and those subscription boxes. Look back over several months of expenses to make sure you caught anything that may not bill monthly.
And don’t forget your digital signups. “Looking through your computer and smartphone settings for whichever app stores you use helps you identify subscriptions and memberships you obtained through an app,” says Karla Bowsher with MoneyTalksNews.
Ditch the debt
Once you’ve trimmed your budget, put the extra funds toward paying down debt. If you’re carrying credit card debt, you could be spending thousands a year in interest payments.
“It’s crucial that you pay down any outstanding debt — more specifically, high-cost debt, such as your credit card balance — to create some breathing room in your budget,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, you’ll also want to prioritize savings. But don’t worry, you can do both at once. As you reduce budget in other spending categories, reroute those funds to your savings until you’ve built up at least a month’s worth in your emergency fund, then slowly but surely tackle that debt.
Tackling big budget cuts like debt can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re unemployed and can’t pay bills like you’d like, but you can take small steps to improve your situation. Remember, even small cuts to your budget and small contributions to your savings or debt load will pay off over time.