Four Simple Ways to Cut Household Expenses

The following was written by none other than personal finance expert Jean Chatzky.  When I got word that she was interested in sharing an article with my readers I screamed (well typed) a big YES in response.

I recently wrote a short report — not quite an ebook, not quite a blog post — about how you can save money on household expenses. 

I did it to offer up the tips I use in my own home, and so far, the downloads have been off the charts.

This is clearly something we all care about.

When Glen asked me to guest post, I knew that pulling my favorite tips from this report would be a big hit.

In writing the document, I focused on the areas where we all seem to spend the most money — things like electricity, cable/satellite TV, and cell phone bills.  (I also talked extensively about lowering your heating bills — the report was released in February — but I’m hoping we’re over that hurdle at this point, so I’m not going to address it here.)

Below, a few of my favorite tips for cutting your monthly expenses.

Simple ways to reduce household expenses

These are just the tip of the iceberg — if you follow all of the advice I laid out, you can easily shave $1,000 on your household bills.  I did (and re-did) the math.

1. Eye up your cable box.

It is, believe it or not, costing you a great deal, and I don’t just mean in your standard monthly fees (and the pay-per-view movies that seem to end up on your bill each month).

I mean that this small piece of equipment is a big power suck.

The National Resources Defense Council says that these units consume $3 billion in electricity per year, and 66% of that power is used when no one is even watching television.  Cut it off by plugging all of the devices in your entertainment center into one single power strip, then unplugging the strip when you’re not using it.  Yes, the process is a little annoying.  Yes, the boxes take a few minutes to reboot.

But if you can get your family on board with making this change, you can save big money.

2. Bring back the antenna.

You can get a good picture — even HD-quality — with an antenna, which will cost you around $20.

Yes, it’s network only, but many cable shows are available on subscription services like Hulu and Netflix now, which when combined with this, can bring you a pretty wide spread of viewing options.

Use the site to figure out how well an antenna will work in your home.  You plug in your address and information about your street and it will give you a rough idea of the kind of reception you’re likely to receive.

*Glen: Get yourself a new antenna on Amazon.

3. Ask for a one-time credit.

This tip works for cable and cell phone, which we’ll address in the next point.

I always suggest calling these carriers once every six months and seeing if they’ll cut you a better deal, but the one-time credit is my secret weapon.

Often, representatives will be reluctant to shave money off your bill each month, but they’ll be happy to give you a credit of $50 or even $100.  Calculate it out over the course of six months or a year and it’s roughly the same amount of savings.  Plus, you can call back in six months and ask again.

4. Ask about cell phone plans that aren’t on the website.

Believe it or not, they do exist, and often they include fewer minutes for a lower monthly rate.

If you consistently waste minutes {you don’t use} but think you’re in the lowest available plan, it’s more than worth asking about these “loyalty” plans that aren’t advertised.

If you’re instead the type to go over your allotted minutes, you should bump your plan up.

But if you make a mistake one month, pick up the phone and ask your carrier to forgive the extra charges.  Often, they’ll give you a mulligan.  Just remember to keep a closer eye on your usage next month.

What Tips Do You Have? Share Them In The Comments!

Jean ChatzkyAbout Jean: Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine.  Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security.  She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future.  In April 2013 Jean launched JEAN CHATZKY’S MONEY SCHOOL, a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her.  Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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Published or updated December 30, 2014.


  1. We have been cable free for over a year, and we cannot see any reason for going back. With the amount of online content available it seems almost ludicrous to even pay for television service. We even found a legal affordable way to watch NFL football games online (we are huge sports fans). There is always an alternative to the price we are used to paying for common products and services. As you pointed out there is almost always an unlisted price.

    • Glen Craig says:

      These days we’re paying for convenience with cable – the convenience of getting new movies and shows right now. If you have no problem waiting a bit then you can find the same programming other places cheaper.

  2. Kerrie Peacock says:

    Our family has been cable free for quite some time as well, it’s a great way to save money and time. Without cable we do so much more than sit in front of the tv all night. Also loyalty packages from Verizon are amazing, I only will call the loyalty customer service about our phone plan, they are so much nicer and it’s such a better price!

  3. Handy tips!
    My only real tip is to reiterate we should pay attention to what appliances are being over-used, or could be off completely.
    Another example is with the oven; in my experience people tend to preheat the oven for as long as 15 minutes before putting the food in. This is a waste of heat coming from the appliance as it warms up to the desired temperature. No real way of telling how much electricity I’m not using compared to others, but to my mind it counts.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Yeah, we’re guilty of leaving some appliances in when we aren’t using them {heading off to kitchen now…}.

  4. Really great tips – some which have personally worked for me as well. My current cell phone plan does not exist in the website – it was only granted to me after calling the company, speaking to a representative and letting them know that I am considering switching to their competitor. All of a sudden – the monthly cost was cut to half! I will be practicing this with all my recurring expenses.

  5. Good suggestions!
    While we are not cable free, one of the first things we did was cut back to the basic package.
    I didn’t think about the power that the cable box consumes though. We do turn it off, even though Shaw says that we should leave it on 24×7. But we do not unplug it from the power outlet.
    We have also worked hard on running the furnace less but we are still in the snowy season so it does still run at some point during the day.

    • Glen Craig says:

      There are so many channels in a premium cable package that never get watched! It’s convenient to have them but we usually don’t need them all.

  6. Awesome tips. Never thought about the cable box/DVR sucking power no wonder that thing is always hot! We are planning to finally cut cable soon and am looking around for good alternatives. Netflix is currently covers the majority of the shows we watch, so it shouldn’t be too bad. Besides, no one ever got ahead in life by watching MORE television.

  7. Love this article! We just lowered our phone bill by 185 dollars (3 iPhones, 1 iPad) by asking for their best plan and then haggling it down 🙂

  8. I’m in Australia, not have heating costs instead we have cooling costs. Our state’s power charges went up 18% one yr and 22% the next yr. I got serious about our consumption! I reduced our power bills by simply switching everything of at the power point. I had to ‘decide’ to be the one to take responsibility for doing it. I bought power boards with individual switches for each appliance.
    Achieved: lowest power bills in 7 yrs in the same house. Saved us $20.
    Then I worked on the harder stuff. Put up shade cloth on the sunny side of the house which gave us an extra 1 hr without air conditioning. Then next summer I also installed a shade cloth blind on the outside of our living room window. Now has 2 shade cloths on outside and thermal curtains on the inside. Gave us 3-4 hrs without air conditioning. There is so much we can do.
    I shop, eat and live frugal food too! My menu is sorted based on what is on sale or reduced at the supermarket. Thx. For great read

  9. Great tips! Have been cable free for 2 years and I get my dose of entertainment with Youtube and Netflix. That’s $8 monthly 🙂

    About time I haggled with the mobile provider to bring down the outrageous plan I am on

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