14 Smart (and Easy!) Tricks for Cutting Costs in 2014

Alexa von Tobel

financially fearless Wish you had a financial game plan tailored to your priorities, lifestyle, hopes and dreams? You can start with this sneak peek excerpt from “Financially Fearless: The LearnVest Program for Taking Control of Your Money,” the new book from LearnVest C.E.O. and Founder Alexa von Tobel, CFP®. Available for preorder today, so you can be one of the very first readers!

Here are the best tips–from our users, our LearnVest Program experts and me—that will help you transform your spending habits and keep you on track.

1. Implement the PERK System

Try sitting down and reviewing all your expenses in each category to determine which costs can be Postponed until a later date, Eliminated from your budget, or Reduced going forward, and which expenses you absolutely have to Keep (hence the acronym PERK).

2. Lower Recurring Bills

Go to LowerMyBills.com to see if you can lower your recurring bills, like cable and cell phone. Bear in mind you can contact these companies directly to negotiate and make sure you have the most efficient plan for your needs. These two tips can work for pretty much any bill or expense.

3. Pay Per View

The average American cable subscriber spends $900 a year on the service. But how many of us watch all those channels we’re shelling out the money for? If you currently pay for premium cable service, test whether you really use or need it by calling your provider and putting the service on “vacation mode.” After a month of doing without five different MTVs and 17 different “on demand” channels, you can decide whether to restore or ditch the extra service.

My guess is that instead of getting every channel imaginable, you’ll be fine if you swap out traditional cable for Hulu Plus or Netflix, which are (at the time of writing) only about $8 a month and both offer on demand TV and movies. You could also consider a set-top box, such as Apple TV or ROKU, for under $100, which allows you to stream a variety of digital content (TV shows, movies, etc.) via the Internet.

4. Never Pay for Music

If you have some favorite artists or go through cycles of mild obsession with certain albums, then use a free service like Pandora or Spotify. It will cost you only if you really hate the commercials. Not only will these services let you listen to the exact songs you want to hear, but they will also introduce you to new music you never knew you loved.

5. Calculate Value

Each year, American women ages 30–49 spend an average of approximately $1,200 on cosmetics alone. That’s $12,000 over a decade, enough to buy a car! And it’s not just women: The industry sold $1.5 billion worth of men’s grooming products in 2010.

I’m not saying to cut good-quality beauty products out of your life (although I do recommend checking out generic brands to save); I’m just suggesting you pay attention to value, which takes into account not just price but also the number of times you’ll actually use the item. To figure out your cost per use, simply divide the cost of the item by the number of times you use it. This is an equation I keep in my head every time I shop.

RELATED: What’s Your Cost-Per-Wear? A Better Way to Evaluate Your Closet

  • Linda M

    I usually get my cosmetics from ipsy.com The subscription is $10 a month and they send about 5 products in a fashionable bag.

    • krizzlingo

      Based on the article, I’m guessing the author would not recommend this service.

    • http://www.mycupcakemafia.blogspot.com cupcakemafia

      Not subscribing to box programs is probably one of the fastest ways to save money. When they first came out I subscribed to a few and what a waste. I didn’t use half the products and I was often paying for a bunch of samples, not full size products. You’re better off identifying your preferred products and buying full sizes than you are collecting a bunch of sample sizes or even full sizes of things you may not use.

  • Sandy

    Regarding #10 – where does it say on that webpage that the average person spends $450 per month eating out?

    • ksgirl73

      I hope that’s a typo because that’s a huge amount.

    • MilitantRubberDucky

      It’s not that hard to get that high. $5 in the morning for your bagel and coffee, $10-15 at lunch if you go out somewhere, and then $10-20 for dinner (if you order delivery), or even more if you go out to a restaurant. If you do that every work day, that’s at least $400 a month.

      • ksgirl73

        Maybe in NYC, but in other parts of the country you can eat out for less than that. Not to mention this can be really bad on your waistline as well.

  • Guest

    I used to spend a TON on cosmetics until I broke out in a rash last year from god only knows what chemical in something I was putting on my face. Since then I started really researching what I’m putting on my skin & only buying simple, natural products (there are some awesome organic makeup shops on etsy & substituting certain oils for products- say, olive oil for make-up remover & coconut oil for moisturizer works great). Some products do cost more but having gone through that period of being scared to put anything on my face made me appreciate not wearing as much & so I’ve saved more in the long term (also CVS makeup hauls are out of the question which helps). I’m in no way bashing wearing makeup- I love wearing make-up, but once you realize what your skin is soaking up, it really makes you think twice about shelling out on that new mascara.

  • R. E. Maley

    I appreciate the tips, but as a performing artist and musician, I simply cannot endorse “4. Never pay for music”! The cost-cutting recommendation for TV is not to find free downloads, but simply to pay for less. Non-megastar musicians are already so undervalued, forced to give their music away for free or have it stolen from them online.

    If consumers continue not to pay for their music, the artists will continue to lose their jobs. The least you can do is upgrade to Spotify Unlimited ($5/month) or Pandora One ($3/month) to show some support to the people who entertain you.

    • Kathryn McKellar

      Right! R. E. Maley! This is so dishearting as a young artist. People today expect to experience art and music for free. Event if all you can do is volunteer your time, throw $10 in for a young opera company, or donate treats to a non-profit’s fundraiser, there are other ways you can affordably support the arts.

  • kareninnyc

    Never paying for music is actually kind of wrong. Musicians, particularly indie musicians who actually need the money, make little to no money from people enjoying their work on free streaming services. I’m not against using those services, but if you really like a song or an artist, paying $1.00 a song or about $10 for a an album to own something they’ve created is actually a really great deal.

  • mostlywentzel

    Is it just me or are too many articles on Learn Vest geared toward people who have never tried to save money in their lives? So many of these “tips” seem like no-brainers to me. Spending $100/mo on cosmetics? Really? A tube of foundation last months. How many lipsticks or eye shadows does anyone need? Spacing out hair appointments, forgoing expensive anything, eating/entertaining at home more, cutting back on your cable bill – how is anyone who is already working to cut costs or save money NOT doing these things?

    • Miss Goodvibes

      I think the point of the entire website is geared towards the beginners in the saving world… I mean, the site IS called LEARNvest… this article, amongst many others on this site, is providing insight to women about saving. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the financial world, I would recommend a site that isn’t advertising itself as the “Money made Easy,” “Retirement Basics,” “Investing 101,” “Here to help the Beginners” place. Try Forbes.com or something and please stop the negative comments. These are good idea to the women who have never thought about saving money in their lives. They have to start somewhere.

  • fellshottie

    Re: Spacing out your appointments – this sounds silly, but the best hair choice I’ve made in awhile is to get ombre style highlights! I get so many compliments and I go back every six months to get them touched up. This look may not appeal to everyone, but it’s saved me a huge amount of money in terms of hair style and coloring!

    • http://www.mycupcakemafia.blogspot.com cupcakemafia

      I think it’s a great tip. I work with a wonderful stylist and had highlights and thought it was time to touch them up. She told me the new growth was blending well and we could just throw on a toner ($20) rather than doing full highlights ($85+). Now we have my hair to a point where it blended with my natural color and I don’t have to get it colored or highlighted. I never thought I would like my natural color but I am happy I gave it a try after not really seeing it for 15 years. I save money at the salon and on the products I use because natural hair doesn’t require as intensive products as highlighted hair.

  • Jessica

    I totally agree with cutting back on cosmetics. And not just the make-up, but the skin creams as well. I have rather foolishly in the past purchased many products for this or that (mostly acne) but I have since found that eating a healthier lifestyle helps just enough to keep it at bay and made me realize how little these over-priced products actually do. I now make a smoothie each morning and I use Ivory soap for my face morning and night, along with St. Ives cheap moisturizer. I’ve never had nicer skin. I know lot of women would argue they cannot go without the creams or even make-up but once I stopped both I’ve had great skin and I worry more about skin health then what it looks like. Plus to me nothing causes more skin aging/problems then stress. And each month the stress I used to go through worrying about spending the small amount of money I had on cosmetics/creams way outweighed what any of them could have done for my skin even if they did work!

  • ksgirl73

    I have to disagree with the cable one. I know not paying for cable and getting everything online is the trend now, but I like to watch the local news and I like to do it while I’m getting ready in the morning which involves multi-tasking so I don’t have time to sit down and read it online. It might seem like a luxury to some, but I’d rather be an smarter informed person than learn about something 2 days later online.

    • Guest

      You can watch the basic over the air channels for free without having to pay for cable.

      • ksgirl73

        I can’t even get those channels in this area without having to pay for cable.

        • guest

          Ya, me too!! ~Miss ALASKA~

      • guest

        NOT in my world!! ~Miss ALASKA~

    • Raj

      If you can’t get over-the-air channels in your area, then cut down your level of cable TV service – discard the premium channels and bundled packages to get just the most basic cable TV.

      Also many local channels have tarted their own live online streaming so you could watch in that manner, either on your laptop/tablet, or on a set-top box like Roku (although this takes a little more digging to find your channel).

      • ksgirl73

        I sit at a computer all day at work, using a laptop to watch TV is the last thing I want to do when I go home. Plus they don’t stream the local news in my area. They just tell you to go online to read more about stories they don’t want to put on the nightly news.

        I checked, even the basic cable packages are around $50 after taxes. That’s not a savings for me.

  • Joiya

    I already made one smart move! I cut my cellphone bill by switching to a “second-hand” company from one of the major companies. And instead of paying $85, it looks like I’ll be paying about $30 or even less depending on my usage!

    • ksgirl73

      Which one? I looked at one of those, but found out you can’t get reception in this area.

      • Raziel

        Ting. If you have good sprint coverage, is recommend it.

        • ksgirl73

          Sprint has some of the worst coverage around here. :( I’ll ask around about it though. Thanks.

  • Kathryn McKellar

    “Never Pay for Music” Thank you, LearnVest, for supporting the arts. As a classically trained entrepreneurial young artist, I find this suggestion and mindset upsetting.

    • Raziel

      And should the people who work at the cable companies be upset that we cut cable and just use YouTube instead? It’s not about not supporting something, it’s about not spending money you don’t need to spend anyway. Or trying to stay within your budget while having room to save money for emergencies or bigger wants.