Think you can't afford a regular home cleaning service? Cleaning services may cost less than you think, especially when you consider the value of the free time they buy you. What's more, a careful evaluation of your monthly expenses may find you are overspending in areas you value far less than your free time. Here are 14 ideas for where to look for savings:
Cut out disposables. Switching, for example, from paper to washable dish towels, paper to cloth napkins, sponges to reusable dishrags, and bottled to filtered water requires small up-front investments, but can end up saving up to $30-40/month.
Shop store brands. A market basket comparison (via www.peapod.com) of 20 common items likely to be purchased each week yields a savings of $18 between well-known and store brands. Pocket that much each week and you could liberate $72/month in your budget for home cleaning services.
Get an energy audit. Depending on where you start (below or near average performance for household energy efficiency) and how aggressive you wish to be in implementing audit recommendations (some of which require investments), you could free up anywhere from $40-130/month*.
Shop cable, internet and phone service. Perhaps you signed up for your current services or bundle when a great deal was offered in your city or town. But, if two or more years have passed, you are likely to be overpaying. Estimated potential savings if you switch: $40-50/month. Tip: free yourself to switch cable/internet service providers at will by moving your email to a free service or to your own domain, which can be maintained for as little as $5/month.
Consolidate insurance with one carrier. If you don't already do so, you may be able to save $100 or more per month by consolidating your insurance policies - home owners and auto - with a single company.
Take advantage of tax-free health savings accounts (HSAs). Families - especially self insured - can save hundreds of dollars per month on health insurance premiums by saving - tax free - to cover their own expenses and choosing HSA-compatible insurance plans. Unlike flexible savings accounts (FSAs), HSAs are not 'use it or lose it'. You pay higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, but you cover your own healthcare costs, rather than subsidizing others.
Ditch your land line telephone. Chances are your household has at least two mobile phones and likely more if you children are into double digits age wise. So why pay for a rarely used home service - plus all the add-ons like caller ID, call waiting? To communicate long distance, grab a cheap web cam and take your pick of free internet video chat services: Skype, OoVoo, and others. Potential estimated savings: $20-40/month.
Make your own coffee. Even a $2/day purchased coffee habit ends up costing $730/year or nearly $60-$62/month. A pound of coffee (say, $6) yields 40 cups of coffee (so, 15¢/each). Even assuming another 30¢/cup for cream and sugar, a one-cup/day drinker can save $48/month (assuming you make only what you intend to consume).
Pay attention to food waste. Start a log in which you estimate the total value of food you throw out in the course of a week (include leftovers and any foods that spoil before you manage to consume them). Even $5-10 worth of food waste each week adds up to $20-40 you could be saving each month. Four tips for minimizing food waste: take stock of what you have before shopping, shop more often, buy in smaller packages, and cook smaller portions.
Bring your lunch to work. A ham and cheese sandwich with a side of chips and an 8-oz bottle of water might cost you $5/day in the office cafeteria, which adds up to $100/month. If you shop carefully, you can make the same lunch for $2 (or less) per day, saving $60 per month.
Evaluate TV-watching habits against your cable package. Paying for 350 channels and really watching around 8 or 10? A quick comparison of three cable companies* finds savings of $19-45/month when you choose plans with the fewest channels. If there is a show or two you just can't live without, there may be an option to view online, stream via Netflix or similar service, or ask a friend or relative to DVR it for you and watch it together.
Cut takeout. For a family of four, even one takeout meal per week can cost $120 - $200/month. Don't feel like cooking? Try breakfast for dinner: a quick dinner of eggs, bacon, and pancakes can be done for around $10 or $11 (versus $30 - $50 for takeout), saving $80-160/month.
Big on buying books and magazines? Say you buy one book and one magazine per week. That's anywhere from $44 - $115 per month, depending on whether you go paperback or hard cover. Borrowing from the library is absolutely free (many now lend even for e-readers) and most magazines put full content online for free as well.
Find a commuting partner at work. You may find you enjoy the company, experience less stress by being a passenger half the time, and with gasoline prices lingering close to $4/gal, saving even half a tank of gas each week can free up a $100 or more per month in your budget.
*Note: Price comparisons contained in this article were conducted in the Northeastern, U.S.; actual values may vary by region. Data sources used include service providers' web sites, www.peapod.com, and www.energystar.com.