5 Expenses To Cut Right Now If You're In Debt

Let’s say that like so many storied former-investment-banking-giants, you, the average consumer, have found yourself over-leveraged (wink, wink) and are looking to clean up your act before the whole thing falls down around you like the house of cards it is. Well, since you can’t increase revenue at will, you’ll have to decrease your costs. Where should you start? Here are 5 expenses that you can cut right now — so you can take the extra cash and throw it at your debt.

  • Plug the Money Leaks! You know what they are. The fees you get when you forget to pay your bills. The overdraft fees you get when you forget how much money is in your checking account. The parking tickets you forgot to pay. Get organized!

    Recommended Reading: 10 Stupid Ways That Smart People Waste Money

  • Stuff You Just Can’t Afford But Are Telling Yourself You Need. These expenses include fancy cable packages, restaurants, gym memberships, and, yes, your expensive new car.

    Recommended Reading: 5 Expenses You Can’t Afford If You Have Credit Card Debt

  • Bad Grocery Shopping Decisions. There are two kids of people in the world. Coupon people and the rest of us. They’re great for some people, but you don’t have to use coupons to save money at the grocery store. And, if you do use coupons, but are looking to save even more money, these tips can help you too.

    Recommended Reading: 7 Ways To Save On Groceries Without Using Coupons

  • Out Of Control “Information Age” Spending. The Pew Research Center says that after housing, cable and satellite TV service was most frequently cited as a regular household expense (78%), followed by cell phones (74%) and internet service (65%). By contrast, just four-in-ten adults (42%) say they make a car payment and just one-in-four say they make a school tuition payment. How much you spend on these ubiquitous bills matters. Just one generation ago, Americans never had to worry about a high-speed internet bill. That’s why it’s important to negotiate the best deal possible.

    Recommended Reading: 10 Things We’ve Learned From ‘Confessions of A Wireless Sales Rep’
    How Joe Saved Hundreds Of Dollars Using Confessions Of A Cellphone Sales Rep
    Threatening To Cancel Comcast Saves Man $238.92 Per Year
    Cut $20 Off Your Cable Bill
    Video Tutorial For Escaping Cellphone Without ETF
    How To Get ATT Naked DSL (Redux)
    Shhh! Let’s All Get AT&T’s Secret Naked DSL

  • Psychological Toxic Sludge. You may not think of this as an expense, but it is. Hang ups about your money, or laziness when it comes to dealing with your money is costing you money. The Pew Research center says that 51% of Americans don’t use any kind of budget. Well, why the hell not? You need to take a good hard look at your finances and understand them, so you’re not constantly overspending. Don’t like budgeting? Get over it. Let it go. Use a very, very simple budget. If you feel like you can’t even face the mess that is your finances… you are not alone. Everyone has felt that way about something in their lives. But you’ll feel better if you just grab the box of papers, dive in, and get going. No, really. You will.

    Recommended Reading:
    Use Snowball Method Spreadsheet To Pay Off Debts
    The Zero Based Budget
    How To Budget With An Irregular Income
    Lyn’s 2-Person Budget Spreadsheet
    Never Budgeted Before? Here’s Something You Can Do Right Now
    Consumerist’s 9-Step Beginner’s Budget

    (Photo: msmail )

  • Comments

    Edit Your Comment

    1. innout3x3 says:

      @ Meg: (I never used Meg before. Only when refering to Family Guy) I like how you pulled in previous posts to make a sort of guide for finances.

    2. Krobar says:

      The only issue I have with these types of articles is the recommendation to ‘get rid’ of that new car. The majority of people I know who would benefit from these tips are in vehicles that are upside down on the loans. No one is going to buy the car for more than it’s worth…and if somehow they are able to trade it in, they still end up having to cover the excess they owed in their new loan. :-

      • Canino says:

        @Krobar: Exactly what I was going to say. If you’re already in debt, there’s no reason to take a bath on the new car. Selling it will put you upside down and owing the finance company several thousand immediately.

        Instead, take care of it and make it last well beyond the financing.

        • CJG says:

          @Canino: Insurance plays a pretty significant factor too, and should be considered when assessing the net benefit/loss of keeping or selling the car.

    3. balthisar says:

      Money leaks? That’s just irresponsible. Can we really expect an irresponsible person to get on board with all of these? It’s not even a matter of consumer education or ignorance, just plain and simple irresponsibility!

      Things you can’t afford — good ones! You’ve got to analyze whether the benefit of having x is worth oweing y. A lot of those things really are luxuries.

      Bad grocery shopping — I’ve been guilty of this! I just didn’t care. Now it’s a game (yeah, really). Check out thegrocerygame.com; I read about it here first.

      Information age spending — only if I’m destitute will I give these up. Plus for cell phones in particular, there are many of us that just flat out don’t have a land line, so assuming you need a “lifeline,” then this is a wash.

      Budget — I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t think I have a budget, but then other people may think I do. Every bill I have is basically the same every month, so those are “budget.” I save a fixed amount, which includes planning ahead for next year’s personal travel, next year’s car insurance, and next year’s Christmas and gifts expenses, plus rainy-day cash. The rest is mine to blow how I see fit, including gasoline, groceries, entertainment, whatever, with the caveat that it’s got to last the whole month (and it does). I guess in a lot of respects it’s budgeting, but because I’m not getting anal with Quicken, I don’t really call it a budget. I guess if I were that picky, I could save more, but I save plenty enough as it is.

    4. JanetCarol says:

      They should begin to teach a personal finance class in high school that is mandatory. My parents loved their credit cards and when I was 18, I loved mine up until my balance was $3,000. I never thought about the interest, never thought about fees, I never had an example to go by.
      Luckily for me I learned my lesson and am now 24 and the only debt I have is my mortgage and car payment.

      • absentmindedjwc says:

        @janetcarol:

        including my car, I am about $7k deep right now… Considering work is steady… I have committed the next few months to paying all that crap off (college tuition is still an unattainable goal in the near future, damn expensive college.. :/ )

      • Nesagwa says:

        @janetcarol:

        We actually had something like this in my highschool. They called it Economics, but the teacher (who was a retired paramilitary officer and a vietnam vet, nicest guy) really taught us about how credit worked, why we shouldnt be afraid of it and how to use it to our advantage without getting screwed in the end.

        Cooking, Drivers Ed and Finance should be 10th grade requirements. Self sufficiency should be the number one priority at schools these days.

    5. samurailynn says:

      I wish we could get a naked phone line for DSL with Qwest. Well, we can. The naked line would cost $34.95 per month. Our current phone line with caller ID, free local calling and free incoming calls costs ~$30.00 per month. So, we could have DSL and add a VOIP service that would charge us a flat fee or a per minute fee for inbound and outbound calls, but it would probably cost twice as much. Bleh.

    6. Quatre707 says:

      If I cancel my cell phone, cable TV, Internet service, gym membership, and stop eating out… I may as well be living under a rock. I view these as necessities, not luxuries, and I know how pitiful that is, since in the U.S., most true necessities are far more expensive than luxuries(ex: health insurance), compared to so many other countries.

      • Norislolz says:

        @Quatre707: Consumerist is really weird sometimes. It kind-of gives these blanket suggestions and makes the reader filter out what’s ridiculous and whatnot. People will champion Whole Foods in one post, then talk about the company’s atrocious animal rights record in another. In one they’ll bash McDonalds, but this one is telling you to drop your gym membership. It’s pretty dumb, and we as readers just have to filter out the stupid.

        • HRHKingFridayXX says:

          @Norislolz: I think the point is to look at information age as something you can trim, or perhaps maximize the benefit of one service as opposed to having them all. I don’t have a gym membership, but for a fraction of the cost I’ll buy new MP3s for my runs. Another example is cutting cable for a netflix plan. The point is that you don’t need every single luxury to survive.

          • mushroom104 says:

            @HRHKingFridayXX: I wish I could cancel my cable. It’s rolled into my HOA dues so I don’t have a choice. There is no way I’m giving up my cell (no land line) or my cable internet access either. I too have a gym membership. It’s only $10.00/mo with no contract. I look at it as an investment in my health. Working out regularly should help me save lots of money on health care in the long-run.

        • Fist-o™ says:

          @Norislolz: “We as readers just have to filter out the stupid.”

          Welcome to Life! :)

      • HooFoot says:

        @Quatre707: Gym: Invest in some weights, a yoga mat, exercise bands, and other inexpensive exercise equipment. Jog in your neighborhood or at your local park. Pick up other exercise equipment from Craig’s List or Freecycle. Still cheaper than an annual gym membership. Besides, the stress from being in serious debt will negate any health benefits you get from the gym.

        Cable: Not a necessity. Miss your favorite shows? Most popular shows and many obscure ones can be downloaded for free off the internet. It’s a better experience, too–no commercials and you can watch them whenever is most convenient for you.

        Learn to cook. It’s healthier, cheaper, and you now burn more calories than you did watching your premium cable channels.

        Cell phone? Downgrade your package to bare bones. A few years ago, people were able to survive without text messages and 1000+ cell phone minute plans. Amazing, I know.

        But really, the point of article was to help people find ways to cut out expenses. If you can afford a gym membership and expensive cable, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re losing your home and you’re still paying for a $1000/month gym membership and a $200/month cable plan, then you need to seriously reexamine your priorities in life. And no, I didn’t just pull those numbers out of my ass, I, sadly, know someone in that situation.

      • Fist-o™ says:

        @Quatre707: Yeah, it’s pitiful. When’s the last time you went to the Library? There are enough books & DVD’s to satisfy my entertainment needs, and then some. The only reason I have *basic basic* cable is for the internet, which, yes, I see as a necessity. I use it for work. If I didn’t, and I needed to cut costs, I’d go again to (you guessed it) the LIBRARY for my YouTube Fix!

      • UnderLoK says:

        @Quatre707: I was in the same boat you are for most of my life that is until recently.

        Now believe me (seriously), I thought I was doing just fine saving money, but when you really think about it… There are tons of ways to save cash that really aren’t that big of a deal. I never wanted to be bothered with it in that I thought my time was too valuable to waste on stuff like this as I was saving money anyways, but… There are things you can shave that do add up. Please don’t lump me in with the crazies that want you to drive a 1982 escort, wear hand-me-downs, throw away your tv, eat Ramen, or disconnect from the grid and use candles as that is ridiculous (not everyone can relate to that kind of madness)… I’m talking the frivolous cash that most of us just blow without even thinking about it. I’m with you, I used to think “psh so what it’s $300 a year that’s nothing”, but if there are 4 or 5 of those it adds up.

        Take me for example… I’ll admit it, I smoke. Between my wife and I we would spend about $250 a month on smokes. Now we pack our own for about 20%-30% of that (save a couple hundred). I had the decked out cable plan which I trimmed back to normal internet and low end digital cable ($90 there). Going out to eat 2-3 times a week (not for the sake of eating out, but because we were out at the bar) and changed that to eating before we go out (couple hundred a month there). My wife and I both have cells (obviously), but we weren’t on a family plan together ($80-$90 a month there). Every day I would buy 2 cups of coffee, now I won’t leave the house without making coffee first ($60+ a month there).

        Now this list can go on and on and on… I HATE budgets and while I see the value, I won’t use them. I do however always keep on eye on the bottom line. Well to us that is a budget, but you can improve it without going all crazy on a “real budget”. Just look at those few examples up there… That’s easily $500-$600 a month saved and no budget needed. If you really analyze your spending you will find problems that need to be solved. While I know I was a pretty big spender (never on credit), I was by no means horrible as I did save (I didn’t waste money, I just spent more than I had to), but I DO want to retire early (assuming I don’t get cancer first) and the only way to do that is to adjust.

        I’m not telling you that you should do this or have to or whatever, but all too often we spend money without even really thinking about it. Some people are crazy about money and that isn’t me, I’m relaxed and if I want to buy a round for my friends I will and no one is going to tell me otherwise. But I would rather be hanging out with my friends or buying a round than being able to watch some crap movie on HBO Sunday afternoon.

    7. mr_morgan says:

      Aldi is the best place to save money quick and get out of debt. There’s definitely a negative stigma with the place, but their prices are unbeatable and the joy of walking out with a $25 grocery bill every week and a half can’t be beat.

    8. tande04 says:

      I’m pretty thrilled with myself for canceling my cable.

      The one I’m having trouble with (but still considering) is canceling the gym membership.
      A. I just got it. I could see canceling it if I was at the point where I blow the $25 a month without stepping foot in the place but I use it daily.
      B. It probably one of the main reasons why I canceled my cable in the first place. ‘Bout all I use it for now is the news and as filler noise. I figured that was pointless since I can get news (and any of the shows I want to watch) off the net and if I need filler noise I can always use the radio.

      I’ll ponder on that one. I’ve got a dumb bell and realisticaly I could probably do 80% of whats offered with the fitness equipment just using it. The main reason I got it was so I could run in the winter though. I guess a $20 coat and sucking it up would probably take care of that reason too though.

      Hmmmm.

      • DrGirlfriend says:

        @tande04: I figure that these articles aren’t necessarily telling you to cancel everything. But if you look at all these things we pay for on a monthly basis, we can surely find one or two we can live without.

        I cancelled my gym membership and started to go outside for walks, or basically get my exercise for free. I don’t have a landline. I have gotten pretty good about keeping my grocery costs under control, while at the same time making healthy meals at home. I like to cook, and as I get better at it, eating at home becomes more and more appealing.

        But I keep my internet and cable. Why? Because I hardly ever go out for entertainment, and those two things are among my main sources that are not free. If I cancelled everything, I’d be miserable, plus I’m not in a position where I have to do so just to stay afloat.

        A budget has allowed me to throw money at my debt, and still be able to keep a couple of things that will help me keep my sanity – and make it less likely I’ll burn out.

      • theblackdog says:

        @tande04: I feel a bit the same way, if only because I just started a membership in a Yoga studio nearby me, mainly because the owners are hurting and if they don’t get new members, they will have to close. I feel that because it’s going to a local business and I get exercise, it’s a good decision for me, it may not be for everyone, but it is good for me.

      • goodywitch says:

        @tande04: I would personally never cancel a gym membership. It’s the only way that I exercise. Yea, I can do everything at home, but just dragging my butt out of the house makes me think “well, I’m here, may as well exercise,” as opposed to “well, I’ll do it in 5 minutes, now I’m hungry, ooOOoo, tv.” Same reason I drag my butt to the library to study, when I have all my books, internet, notes at home.

      • mushroom104 says:

        @tande04: I like having a gym membership. It’s only $10.00/mo with no contract. I look at it as an investment in my health that should save me money on health care later in life.

        I simply won’t exercise outside if it’s too hot, cold, or raining. By paying for the gym I make myself feel like I should go as often as I can to get my money’s worth. It’s like a game. And seeing other people working out around me gives me a boost. It makes me feel like we are all working towards a common goal.

        • Outrun1986 says:

          @mushroom104: Maybe only cancel the gym membership if your area has perfect weather (yea right!). Or good enough weather where you can actually make it happen. Over here its either too hot, too cold, raining or snowing so exercise outside doesn’t happen too often. Its not safe to exercise outside when its 95 degrees and humid out for a week straight, that can lead to a trip to the ER which will cost you more money!

          • Nesagwa says:

            @Outrun1986:

            Hm? Im usually doing yardwork on the weekend all day and its about that hot most of the year here (Tampa)

            Just drink water. You should be doing that if youre exercising anyway.

    9. Meggers says:

      Right on about the stuff you can’t afford but feel that you need/deserve it.
      I am trying to seriously cut down on that. Right now I am quitting smoking, haven’t bought a cup of coffee in almost 2 weeks and haven’t gone to a happy hour in months. I have saved about $200 so far. The only other expense that I feel I can cut without too much pain is buying lunch every day. I ran the numbers last night and was shocked that I spend over 1400 a year on buying my lunch every day instead of brownbagging it from home.

    10. JulesNoctambule says:

      This is all useful advice, but I pay my bills on time, have always shopped sales with coupons and at the farmer’s market to keep the grocery bill low, split a basic cell phone plan with my out-of-state mom to keep in touch cheaply (she’s disabled, so frequent contact is indeed necessary), do actually require a decent internet connection to run my business, have never bought a new car (go used ’92 Volvo sedan!), have a very low interest rate on my lone credit card and don’t have a gym membership/subscription service for a fancy, shiny bit of new technology/similar expenditure and my only debt is the mortgage. Do you have any money-saving tips for people like me?

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        @JulesNoctambule: Wow, I sound like I’m bragging! How I meant it to sound is that I can only find tips for people who are in debt, it seems, and I would really like some for those of us who aren’t in debt but would like to stay out of it and manage to keep saving and spending wisely even in a bad economy.

        • Onion_Volcano says:

          @JulesNoctambule:

          I agree. I’m in the same situation as you. Live well, but live within my means. My biggest problem is avoiding deals and sales on the internet that are just too irrestable. Like last week I spent 2300 on a new TV that was 800 off. My first TV since I graduated college 10 years ago..it was time but I still didn’t get cable. ;) Sorry comcast.

        • Meggers says:

          @JulesNoctambule: In your position, I would think about investing. Maybe throw some money into a CD? I am thinking of splitting the first time home buyers tax credit (about $7500) that I am supposed to get next year into 3 CDs of various time lengths. That way the money is building interest and I can’t just swipe it away.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          @JulesNoctambule: I think the best overall advice is to continue to live within your means and keep a level head in case you do need to replace your car or take care of your mother.

        • @JulesNoctambule: For people who aren’t in debt, and would like to say out of it, and want to continue to save more money and build wealth: EARN MORE MONEY.

          I understand that it sounds arrogant and condescending at first for me to say that, but think about it. There is a finite amount of money that you can save by budgeting, cutting luxuries, and making smarter buying decisions. Even if a person perfected all of this, there is still a certain amount of money that needs to be spent to live. You can’t cut any lower than that.

          But if a person also focuses time and energy earning more money, there is no limit to that. Some people might ask how they can just magically earn more money, and obviously there is no easy answer. But there is no easy answer about how to cut spending either. It takes sacrifice and dedication. So too does earning more money, either by taking a second job, learning more marketable skills, or finding another position in which you’ll be paid more.

          Take a look at this brip blap article for more information.

      • Fierock says:

        @JulesNoctambule: If you want to lose weight you have to be overweight to begin with. Similarly, in order to get huge savings you have to be a big overspender, or else you’ll be financially anorexic (no offense intended to anyone with eating disorders)

    11. QuintanaErichthonius says:

      I was never taught personal finance so developing a budget didn’t come easy to me at first. For those that haven’t discovered Mint.com, give it a try. It really helped me understand where all my money is going and it easily allows to to create budgets with email/sms alerts. Awesome!

    12. pop top says:

      Generic food is one of the best ways to save tons of money on your grocery bill. I love generic food, except generic peanut butter. JIF 4 lyfe.

      Shopping at Aldi’s is great too. They have low prices on everything and their food tastes great. Just don’t get their produce. It’s usually not as fresh as other grocery stores, and it doesn’t seem like it’s good quality to me.

    13. Trai_Dep says:

      Meg: thanks for not putting whiskey, medications your local pharmacist won’t stock and attractive people whose affections are available on an hourly basis on your list.
      It’s been a long week and I’d hate to feel guilty while seeking “therapy” this weekend.

    14. Off topic: Kumon makes great educational books.

    15. nsv says:

      Haven’t had cable in years, the car is 13 years old. (Ask me about my new transmission!)

      But it WAS finally time to dump the old email address I haven’t used in years. Called AT&T to cancel, and they won’t search by my name or email address. No, I need to give them the phone number I had when I signed up (way back when it was Prodigy, pre-AT&T. Get off my lawn.)

      It took forever just to figure out what state I lived in when I signed up, and half an hour to guess the right phone/address.

      And then when I thought we were finally done:

      AT&T: “And how often do you use this account?”

      me: “I haven’t used it in at least six or seven years.” (Yes, I know.)

      AT&T: “And what do you use it for?”

      AAAAAH!

      For a while I wasn’t sure if I was talking to AT&T or AOL.

    16. dry-roasted-peanuts says:

      So, my $70 a month comic book habit is still cool, right?

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @dry-roasted-peanuts: Someone I know had no savings to speak of, and every month’s pay was spent on comics and other goodies, including eating out. He kept buying and buying and suddenly, he was out on the street with no job. I hope he learned a lesson, but I doubt it.

    17. HooFoot says:

      It was hard for me to cancel my cable subscription, as I had cable most of my life and sadly couldn’t imagine not having it. As it turns out, after the first month, I didn’t miss it at all. I can still watch the shows I care about for free over the internet. If I feel like watching some on the actual TV set, there are thousands of DVDs that I can rent for free at my local library.

    18. bohemian says:

      We won’t cancel our internet, it can be written off as a work expense and we use it for everything. It also keeps me from dropping $100 on books every time I step into Barnes & Noble.

      We are still struggling with canceling our cable TV. We watch quite a bit of cable news, comedy central, cartoon network and BBC. Between a long range HDTV antenna and a FTA satellite dish were hoping to install next summer maybe we can finally cut the cord. I just wish BBC would sell some sort of torrent or online subscription independent of having local cable.

    19. SidoniaSilanus says:

      Cable was easy to cancel, with the digital tv converter boxes I was happy to see we get 16 channels free now (as opposed to the 5 we received pre-cable days), plus the ones we’ll get after february. Between Redbox free dvds and the library (both within walking distance) watching premiere movies is easy and free.

      The internet is a multi-tasking tool to me, so it stays (you know, email, entertainment, education, etc.) I don’t use a landline, Skype to landline is way cheaper. My family plan keeps my cell phone bills cheaper too.

    20. etherdog says:

      Food. If you eat shitty food you feel shitty and your health will seriously decline. If you eat a balanced organic diet, you probably won’t get sick, you won’t miss work, and you won’t have to see a doctor. I would say a healthy is a good investment in SAVING money over the long run, even if it costs twice as much (and it doesn’t cost that much more).

    21. pabster says:

      I have to agree with etherdog. Skimping on the groceries isn’t necessarily a good idea. Save a few bucks now but pay out the arse when your health starts to decline.

      As far as internet and cell phones, et al., to each their own. I find that I get far more $$$ out of those services than I pay (as in my *time* is worth money…)

      • John says:

        @pabster: Eh, don’t think he meant “don’t buy rotten food on discount!” I hope it meant “don’t eat junk food, feel better and spend less.” Unless he’s, uh, kind of nutty about his food…

    22. DillonLebron says:

      A new car isn’t a luxury. In the long run you spend more on repairs with an old junker. It’s okay to buy an old car if you’re a mechanic and have a place to work on your old junker, but few people can do that. You don’t need a gym to work out, but you have to spend at least a couple of hundred bucks to get an adequate workout. If you’re a musclehead and I am it’s going to take at least $1,500 for a power rack, bench and weights and another $1,000 for a treadmill. Running in snow isn’t very practical.

    23. RedwoodFlyer says:

      I just set sail to the bay of Pirates to cut down on my media rental/purchase expenses…cuts ~$50 out each month :D

    24. bluewyvern says:

      I thought the Grocery Game was going to be some fun way of saving money by turning a trip to the grocery store into an adventure game, with points and quests and rewards and things. I have a friend who did that with working on her Master’s thesis. She based it on Zelda. Hey, whatever works!

    25. majortom1029 says:

      In some places cancelling service makes the bill higher. I pay $110 a month on my cable bill for voice,internet,and cable . I havea cell phone and don’t need the voice but if I cancel the voice i lose cablevisions $99 for the year deal and the price a month actually goes up.

      Cancelling things does not always equate to saving money.

    26. UnderLoK says:

      Some of the suggestions on this site are at times borderline crazy. Sure people have debt and the way to get them motivated to do something about it isn’t through scare tactics and ridiculous expectations. You need to suggest real world solutions. Not everyone can cook, just like not everyone can manage LAMP servers or fix a car or run the 100yrd dash in 9 seconds… Sure you could waste a ton of time trying, but then again… You’re already stressed out enough under a mountain of debt. Everyone can cut corners to save a few bucks but not every single person that is in debt got that way from normal expenditures putting them over the edge. Most people got that way from vacations, big item purchases that they didn’t pay off like they planned, school, or alike. Not all of these people actually LIVE (cell, cable, etc) on credit, but they have debt just the same

    27. MoreFunThanToast says:

      I’d pick internet over cable tv any day