Are you squeaking by each month with barely enough money in your bank account to pay your bills? Sure, you need your cellphone, and you have to go grocery shopping to eat. But chances are, you're overpaying for necessities and luxuries you just can't live without. U.S. News My Money bloggers share tips to cut down unnecessary expenses and leave a little extra padding in your budget.
The average cable bill runs about $80 per month. But the Internet makes paying for cable unnecessary, writes Ginger Dean, founder of girlsjustwannahavefunds.com. "If you only watch certain shows, then paying for a fully loaded cable package might not be the best deal for your wallet," she writes. Services such as Hulu, YouTube, Netflix and Roku can satisfy your TV fix for a drastically reduced rate or for free.
Don't feel pressured to sign up for an expensive two-year contract. Many cellphone carriers offer low-cost plans with no long-term contract commitments. "Virgin Mobile offers plans that start at $35 per month compared to the standard unlimited plan with T-Mobile for $120 per month," Dean writes. "See the savings? That's almost $100 per month saved already."
Nothing sets fire to your wallet like a blazing heating bill. But did you know you can save 3 percent on your heating bill for every one degree you lower the thermostat? "If you normally keep your apartment temperature at 75 degrees and lower it to 72 degrees, you'll save 9 percent on your utility bill or 9 cents on every dollar," writes Niccole Schreck, rental expert for rent.com.
If you live in a city, taking public transportation can help you save money on gas and auto expenses. "With cost-saving and eco-friendly options like buses, trains and subways available, there's no need for you to be making a car payment and paying for car insurance each month (and, let's face it, accruing a few parking tickets every now and then)," Schreck writes.
"Eating out often costs more than cooking at home, so even if you hate cooking, it pays -- literally -- to do some reading up on easy, fast recipes," writes mint.com spokeswoman Holly Perez. Avoid the temptation to pop in a fast food joint or restaurant for lunch by making large dishes over the weekend, freezing them and then bringing portions to work the next week.
The average gym membership costs $40 to $50 per month, which adds up to hundreds of dollars a year, writes WiseBread blogger Sabah Karimi, but you can work out and not pay a penny. "You could sign up for fitness classes at a neighborhood recreational center, join the YMCA, take advantage of a corporate wellness program or commit to following DVD fitness programs at home," Karimi writes. And, of course, it's always free to run or walk outdoors.
The average monthly cost to feed a family of four is between $553 and $1,075, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you want to pare down your food budget, shop at a warehouse club where you can buy items in bulk that will last a while. But avoid the 10-pound bags of vegetables and perishables. "Think about how long it will really take to get through that box of candy or family pack of deli meat, and make sure you're buying items that won't expire any time soon," Karimi writes.
Your daily latte
"While a $4 morning coffee can satisfy the soul, it can also hurt the budget," writes mint.com spokeswoman Hitha Prabhakar. Consider buying a French press or Keurig machine to brew your favorite coffee drinks at home. "It's a larger out-of-pocket expense, but it will easily pay for itself over time," she writes.
Prescription drugs can do some damage to your bank account, but you can likely find the medication you need at a cheaper price by choosing generic drugs. "Generics are the bio-equivalent of brand-name drugs, but cost 80 to 85 percent less," writes NerdWallet writer Hal Bundrick. He recommends using apps such as GoodRx, LowestMed and Prescription Saver to compare drug prices at nearby pharmacies. Signing up for a pharmacy discount card can save you about 10 to 25 percent, too.
Between the tickets, popcorn and soda, a date night at the movies could cost more than $35. But if you sign up for a loyalty club, you can pay less for tickets and concessions. "Regal Entertainment Group, for example, offers $2 popcorn on Tuesdays to club members," writes Teresa Mears, publisher of Living on the Cheap. "... AMC offers free popcorn refills and special kids' snack packages." You can also find free movie screenings at museums, libraries and parks. "In the summer, the major movie chains show free or discounted movies for kids on weekday mornings," Mears adds.
Whether you're shopping at a big-box retailer or mom-and-pop shop, you might not have to pay full price. Many stores offer discounts if you fall into a certain age group or are a member of an association like AARP. "Military, veterans, student and senior discounts are everywhere, but some stores don't advertise them," writes microblogger.com founder Jim Wang. "To find out if the store has one, just ask."
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