Maybe it’s embarrassing to admit this, but these days nothing gives me the jollies like finding ways to slash our expenses. Especially on the necessities and recurring expenses since that’s where you can really feel the pinch when finances are tight. And also where you can make a lot of difference. After cutting costs, my second favourite thing is letting everyone know how clever I’ve been at pinching pennies, but I’ve already shared my saving secrets with all the real people I know!
A few short years ago Mark and I were two full-time job holders, with a company van for getting around in, and living in a fully furnished rented apartment. We never felt like we were ‘well-off’, but in comparison to our level of disposable income now, there was certainly a lot more padding in the budget.
These days we have two children and a dog depending on us. We ‘own’ a house and all the furniture in it, we have a car. We suddenly have a lot of service providers looking for their piece of our income pie. And that income pie is not as juicy as it used to be. I think this will be the toughest time of our lives financially, and I bet many one-income families with small children feel the same pinch.
Over time I’ve found ways to bring our costs down by changing suppliers of our regular expenses. Sometimes it’s taken a bit of research or asking around. In case anyone out there is wondering if they could get a better deal on some of the biggest and most common outlays, here’s where we’ve saved.
Shop around for an electricity supplier
Power bills can be a monster expense, especially in the winter.
You know the old cliche about marital thermostat wars? We’ve got a serious battle going on over here, but with the roles reversed. He’s always nudging it up and I’m always nudging it down.
This year we’re on track to save over $1,000 on our electricity without too much jostling for the heat pump remote, simply by switching power companies.
Two mistakes I’d made: going for a deal that looked good on paper, and then thinking it was too difficult to change suppliers.
When we bought our first house I signed up with the company that offered the best prompt payment discount and saved 22% on every bill. But once we were down to one income it was often impossible to pay up before the prompt payment date arrived, leaving us paying above the odds and getting further behind each month.
That great deal wasn’t working for our situation anymore, but I’m the queen of procrastinators and thought changing companies would be too hard. Turns out, so wrong.
In fact, all I had to do was choose a new company, sign up online, and let them take care of the changeover. I didn’t even have to put on my big girl pants and speak to anyone on the phone – whew!
Choosing a new company came down to using a comparison website and some friendly recommendations. Our new supplier offers an hour of free power every day, I can choose my billing period, and I can track all our usage online – all features which make me feel in control of our power bill.
If only I could control my dog as easily; )
Get a better deal on pet food
There are lots of great things about owning a Labrador cross, but keeping their excitement in check and forking out for all that food takes some work (both effort and paid employment!)
We used to buy dog food at a couple of places with loyalty cards: buy 10 bags, get 1 free. Although it felt like a good deal to be working towards a free bag of dog food (woohoo! No seriously, that’s like $100 of free stuff right there!), we were probably never going to reach that milestone.
The problem was, we wouldn’t always go to the same place. We’d forget the right card and have to start another one, or forget to ask for the stamp altogether.
Instead I went online and found a company that gives a 10% upfront discount when you place a recurring order and that offers free shipping. Plus I got to streamline my wallet by throwing out four pesky loyalty cards.
Do online grocery shopping
Click & collect grocery service has been a revelation for me. I don’t drive and Mark hates shopping, so this has saved us from many a marital spat I’m sure! The service I use costs $5, but I would save at least that much every week because I can browse for the best bargains at my leisure and there’s no impulse purchasing. I can see my tally adding up which removes the stress of standing at the check out with my fingers crossed, watching the register total approach and then exceed my budget.
I’ve also found a local green grocer whose prices are cheaper than the supermarket and they deliver online orders for free when you spend more than $25, which is quite easy most weeks.
The opposite of brand snobbery
I used to reach for the brands I knew, selecting whatever was on special amongst the attractive packages. But as our grocery budget has shrunk I’ve begun to try out more home brand products. And you know, once you get over that initial snobbery there is absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of the products. It’s really quite amazing the range of essentials you can get for cheap.
Don’t be afraid to chat to an insurance broker
Insurance premiums are such a bummer, but pretty much of a necessary evil. As a one-income family with a mortgage it puts my mind at ease to know we have made arrangements should the unthinkable happen. But as precious as that peace of mind is, I don’t want to be paying more than I have to for it.
We recently reviewed our life insurance policies with an insurance broker and managed to save around $25 per week by making sure that we had the right level of cover at a competitive price. It can be really helpful to have a consultation with someone who can ask the right questions about what expenses you’d really need to have covered, and who can offer a few alternative policies to match your needs.
A consultation with an insurance broker will probably cost you nothing (they mostly work on commission) and ours came to visit at home at a time that suited us, so it was pretty convenient as well.
Mobile phone contracts
Being beholden to a mobile phone company on a contract can really make your eyes water, because they sure do have you by the short & curlies. If you want to keep on using that phone that you’re hopelessly attached to, you’d better keep paying their bill, even once your circumstances change and you’d really rather spend that money on something actually necessary – say, food for your family (or dog!).
A phone contract is basically a fixed term loan. Consider that before you go and lock yourself into one because it can be extremely costly to get out of a contract early.
I don’t, for a minute, regret trading down to a phone we could afford upfront and then switching to a pay as you go usage service. I don’t use mobile data on my phone, only connecting to the internet when I’ve got wifi available. I’m a mega-procrastinator when a task involves picking up the phone, so I prefer to text, email or use free apps to contact people instead of calling anyway. I can top up my phone with $20 and make it last for months, as opposed to the $100 per month plan I was previously on.
Specific supplier links
Find here links to suppliers we currently use and can recommend.
Power supplier: Electric Kiwi
Power plan comparison: What’s My Number
Pet supplies: Pet.co.nz
Click and collect shopping: Countdown online shopping
Insurance brokerage: AdviceFirst
Disclaimer: Clearly these are not affiliate links, these companies have no idea who I am, despite spending hundreds of dollars with most of them yearly 😉