When Jen and I first began on our backpacking ventures 7 years ago, friends, family, and many a stranger questioned just how we got the funds to do so. Were we rich? Lucky lottery winners? Exploring on Mommy and Daddy's money?
In short: nope. One of the main reasons we were able to see the world on such a tight budget was from something I like to call a thrifty mentality. Simply put, we were mindful of each and every dollar we saved for what it would buy us on the road.
That $20 coupon we just found for our hotel? That's another 4 meals in Vietnam!
The $100 we saved taking the train instead of a plane? Now we can go on that kayaking tour!
That $1 we just picked up off the ground? Awesome, a bonus coffee!!!
The truth is, this mentality didn't just kick in for us on the road. It's something that we've practiced since childhood from both of our humble upbringings.
Whether you're saving for a big trip, schooling, or just the latest iPhone, make this your mantra:
Every dollar saved OR spent should be working for YOU!
One of the easiest ways to do this is to optimise your monthly spending. When's the last time you changed your bank, your credit card, or insurance? It's probably been awhile – and that's exactly the point.
A one-time change to your monthly bills can pay dividends for years to come.
Here are 10 monthly expenses to put under the microscope and save for years to come.
1. Earn on every purchase with a rewards credit cardIt might seem counter-intuitive that a credit card could save you money. But a travel rewards or cashback credit card earns you points or cash on every single purchase you make.
Your groceries, gas, transit pass, Amazon orders – if you aren't earning points or cashback on every purchase, you are tossing away free money. Just make sure to pay your full bill every month so you don't pay any interest!
For Americans, the best all around credit card we recommend is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Though travel is the focus, points can be converted to cashback, other airline and hotel points programs, gift cards, or to any available hotel or flight in Chase Ultimate Rewards – with no blackout dates. Basically any kind of reward you could want, this card can get.
As a massive bonus, you get a 60,000 points welcome bonus worth $750 just for signing up and hitting the minimum spend of $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. You also earn 2x the points on travel and dining, with no foreign transaction fees and included car rental insurance. Learn how to apply, or if you want a full breakdown, check out our full review of the card.
Rather than comparing a ton of credit card options yourself, use a card comparison website. They rank all the cards based on the features you're looking for, like travel rewards and cashback, or more specific needs, like balance transfer or cards for people with bad credit.
Some of the best credit card comparison websites are:
- United States: CardRatings.com
- Canada: RateSupermarket.ca
- United Kingdom: MoneySuperMarket
- Australia: Point Hacks
The sooner you get a good credit card, the more points you'll have, and the sooner you'll hit the minimum spend for the welcome bonus. So get on it!
2. Cut your car insurance
Car insurance is one of those decisions that most people make once, then never look at it again. But think about it – you're paying this expense every single month.
Unless you're crashing your car every other month, switching is an easy one-time effort that will cut your expenses for good.
If you're American, you can save yourself the time of shopping around by using Insure.com, an auto insurance comparison website. On average, their users find savings of $540, and you can save even more (up to 20%) if you bundle with other insurance (e.g. home). Those are huge savings for a small effort! Just enter some basic info, and a number of insurance options will display in a table for you to compare.
Some of the best auto insurance comparison sites worldwide are:
3. Boost interest on your savings account
Thanks to the internet, there are now banks without branches that exist only online. And since their costs are so low, customers get interest rates that are more than 21x the national average.
I'll say that again: You can get 21x the interest on your savings each month, simply by keeping your money with one bank instead of another.
A lot of people are scared off by internet banks because they think their money isn't safe. However, a legitimate bank will be FDIC insured (or CDIC in Canada and ASIC in Australia). That means that if the bank closed shop, the government ensures you'll get your money back.
Here are some banks with the highest interest rates to check out:
- United States: CIT Bank (Up to 0.50% APY)
- Canada: EQ Bank Savings Plus Account (1.50%* interest.)
- Australia: ING (1.50% interest)
- United Kingdom: MoneySupermarket
4. Get a phone plan with the smaller guys
While it's tempting to get your cell phone service from a major network provider, you can get the same service for a fraction of the price with a smaller company.
For example, even though there are over 130 mobile providers in the United States, they all operate on just 1 of 4 major networks: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
You could easily save $20-$30 per month while getting the same coverage and even more data. All it takes is a one-time change to your phone provider to enjoy savings for years to come.
Here's a few options to check out:
A final thrifty tip: While getting a phone on contract with your cell phone plan may seem like a good idea, it's almost always cheaper to buy your phone outright and get a BYO plan if you have the cash up front.
5. Halve your health insurance
If you don't get health insurance with your employer, this is yet another monthly bill that's worth shopping around for savings. But don't get too thrifty – make sure you choose a plan where you can afford the deductible if a medical emergency were to happen.
Instead of checking a bunch of individual websites, use a comparison tool like eHealthInsurance (for Americans). With just your zip code and a bit of non-personal info, a number of health insurance options will appear. You can add the ones that look good to the comparison tool, then view their features side-by-side.
Some of the best health insurance comparison sites worldwide are:
- United States: eHealthInsurance
- United Kingdom: MoneySupermarket
- Australia: PrivateHealth.gov.au (official government website)
6. Check coupons and cashback
You know the old saying “a penny saved is a penny earned”? This is an essential concept of a thrifty mentality. We've personally earned over a thousand dollars doing this using cashback sites to shop online. It's cost-free and incredibly easy to do.
Gone are the days of collecting flyers and cutting out the coupons. Today, virtually everything can be done from an app on your phone! Not only is this easier, but it means there are far more coupon and cashback deals than ever before.
Typically these apps work in 1 of 2 ways:
- For in-store offers: Check the app for items with offers. Purchase the item from any store, then upload a picture of your receipt, and receive a cash/point credit to your account.
- For online offers: Before shopping online, click the special tracking link in the cashback app/website. Your purchase will automatically be tracked, and the amount will be credited back to your account.
This is yet another case where if you make a purchase without a coupon or cashback offer, you are tossing away free money. All it takes is an extra 30 seconds of your time.
By simply using free cash back sites, we've personally earned $1,400 back over 5 years.
The best coupon and cashback apps to check out are:
7. Compare home internet plans
Just like your cell phone, your home internet plan is yet another monthly bill that's worth comparing prices for.
There aren't a ton of options in the United States, but Verizon Fios is generally good for affordable, high-speed fibre internet. When you order online, the $99 setup fee is waived. Otherwise, your best bet is to look for introductory offers, or to try bundling with a phone plan for additional savings.
In other countries, you can find smaller companies using the same networks as the major providers, but for a fraction of the price.
- Canada: TekSavvy (resells service from Rogers and Bell)
- Australia: TPG
- United Kingdom: Compare options on MoneySupermarket
8. Reduce your mortgage and/or rent
Your mortgage is the longest, most expensive loan you'll ever have in your life. The average home loan term is 30 years, so even a tiny difference in interest can equate to thousands of dollars over the long term.
Rather than comparing infinite options yourself, check out LendingTree if you're in the US. It's a comparison site that puts a huge number of mortgage options on a single page, so you can easily find the best deal for you. Just select whether you are purchasing or refinancing, answer a few questions about your situation, and your mortgage options will be displayed for easy comparison. Use Finder instead if you live in Canada, Australia, or the UK.
There's not many hacks to saving on rent, but small differences in price add up, so bust out a calculator and do the math! Even a $100 difference in rent each month is a $1,200 over the whole year. If you take your time and shop around, some major savings can be had.
9. Reduce your energy bills
A lot of local governments run their own utility companies, so depending on where you live, saving on utilities might not be an option for you. But in a growing number of places, you can actually shop around and choose a cheaper utility company. In the US, at least 19 states offer either full or partial retail choice for electricity.
And let's face it – as long as your lights are on and your gas is running, all that matters in choosing a utility company is price. The choice you make will affect your savings for years to come.
Once again, you can use a comparison website to find the cheapest option.:
- United States: Choose Energy
- Canada: EnergyRates.ca
- United Kingdom: MoneySupermarket
- Australia: Energy Made Easy (official government website)
10. Be mindful of monthly purchases and subscriptions
Each of us make regular purchases without fully being aware of how much it costs us. That daily coffee from Starbucks, the chocolate bar you buy at the checkout, the pizza place you order from because you don't feel like cooking – you'd be surprised how quickly these little purchases add up.
An easy way to stay mindful of purchases is to use a budgeting app. These apps connect to your credit card or bank to automatically add and categorise the things you spend money on, so you always have an eye on your budget. Mint is a great option in the US and Canada, and it's free! In Australia, check out Pocketbook.
One kind of expense to keep an eye on are monthly online media and cloud subscriptions like Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and iCloud to name a few.
Many of these services have family plans, allowing you to bundle multiple user accounts together at a discounted price. This is offered by almost every music and video streaming service, as well as Apple's iCloud (letting you share app purchases and music/arcade subscriptions). Coordinate with family or friends to see if you can share a family plan for savings.
The Thrifty Gist
While there are a lot of ways to cut your monthly expenses, don't get overwhelmed. Embrace the thrifty mentality, use comparison websites, and remember, every dollar counts in making your financial goals a reality!
What did we miss? Let us know your thrifty tips in the comments below.*Interest is calculated daily on the total closing balance and paid monthly. Rates are per annum and subject to change without notice.