Frugal Hack Friday: How to Identify and Cut Needless Expenses

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As I shared a few months ago, we’re starting a new Friday series this year on Frugal Rules that’s focused on frugal living. Frugality on a frugal blog – who would’ve thunk it? 😉 I know, it’s a bit of a given on many levels but when taking a look at content we don’t really talk about frugality a whole lot on the site and I wanted to change that. With that in mind I’ll be sharing different frugal hacks each Friday.

Sometimes we’ll talk about we do around our house to save money, and other times I’ll discuss a specific website we use to save money on something. The point is to share some of our frugal hacks to help you cut costs.

Challenge Everything


Part of living a financially disciplined life is challenging your expenses. My good blogging friend, J$, talked about this quite a bit last year as he challenged everyday expenses by looking for ways to save money on virtually anything he can think of. I really enjoyed his series because it pointed out something we miss all too often – that there are many ways to save money on everyday things but we’re either too lazy to do it or don’t know how/where to look to save.

Over time, this laziness or lack of knowledge really drags down a budget. For example, our cell phone bill is currently $162 a month with Verizon. It makes me sick to even admit that. There are other options out that that would easily shave $100, or more, off that bill for the same basic service.

There are so many better ways we could put that $1,200 annually to work for us by not continuing to give it to Verizon. When our contract with Verizon is up at the end of April, you better believe we’ll be looking at our options to save more money. Simply put, it means not just accepting an expense as is, but finding ways to shave it. The same can be done with a cable bill. With options like the Amazon Fire TV stick, and others, you can get much of the same content you already watch for a fraction of the price.

Be Purposeful About Your Spending


It would be easy to think that frugality means living a life of deprivation. In fact, I’m meaning the exact opposite. Which, according to Webster, would be:

  • Advantage
  • Indulgence
  • Benefit
  • Supply
  • Gain

It’s not about depriving yourself of something, but rather giving yourself an advantage by being purposeful with your spending. I’ve spoken about this before, but it comes down to values-based spending. Meaning, looking at the value you’re deriving from your spending and making decisions accordingly to direct your money where you get the most value back.

With my cell phone example that means seeing we’ll get the same basic service from a $50/month plan and saving $112 off it. That’s money we can put into our SEP IRA’s or 529 plans for our children as opposed to going to Verizon. This is part of the reason why I love using Personal Capital so much. Not only is it free to use, but it allows me to track our spending and manage our investing at the same time.

This Is One Side of the Coin


Of course, I’m a big proponent of challenging and cutting expenses. We’ll talk a lot about that in this series on frugal hacks. However, what gets lost quite often in talking about frugality is that frugal living will only take you so far. Unless you plan on living on government cheese, you will eventually reach a limit with regards to how much you can cut. Cutting expenses is only one side of the proverbial coin of finances.

The other side of that coin is earning more. We talk about that quite a bit here on Frugal Rules such as investing in the stock market as well as over at Sprout Wealth. It’s the combination of the two, both frugal decision making AND earning more where you begin to see real financial power and exponential growth. And really, that should be the ultimate goal – to increase our net worth so we can live the life we want as opposed to being obligated to others.

So, as we discuss frugal hacks this year remember that frugal living is only one side of the coin. If you really want to improve your financial picture you need to bring ways to make more money into it. 🙂


What are some expenses you need/want to challenge? Why do you think many just accept expenses as is? Which side of the financial coin are you focusing more on? Is there anything you’d like to see covered in the frugal hacks series?



Photo courtesy of: Steven Depolo

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Ugh, I’m with you on the cell phone bill. My wife and I pay over $130/mth combined and it’s something I’ve been meaning to reduce. I’ve heard good things about Republic Wireless but just haven’t made the switch yet. But seeing as it will probably save $50/mth I really should be more motivated 😉

    • Yea, it just kills me to see that payment come out each month. But, we’ll be leaving them behind once the first week of May rolls around. RW is up there on our list of options to check out.

  • Kalie says:

    Since I’m staying at home with the kids we are focusing more on cutting expenses right now. In the last six months we’ve looked more at cutting utility costs. Often people think they are too busy to really challenge their spending, or they are overwhelmed by it, or think they will feel deprived. I’ve found re-thinking our expenses less complicated and time-consuming than I expected. And I don’t feel deprived at all. Being frugal is like getting the best deal all the time!

  • We’ve pretty much cut anything and everything that isn’t essential while also paying for the things we *really* want. Still, it’s important to keep an eye on our spending. We don’t want lifestyle inflation to take over or get out of control!

  • Rebecca says:

    I would love to se more ideas about bringing in more money as well as ways to cut. I feel like we are already cut SOOOO thin where else could we possible cut? Creative new ideas are always wonderful.

  • Our focus is to trim expenses so that we can take that money and get it working to earn some investment cash for us – both sides of the coin. I would be interested in finding ways to earn some side income. With two full time jobs and two small children, that seems like a tall order. We value our downtime together as a family. All of our hardwork doesn’t mean anything if we don’t enjoy some of it now!

    • I could not agree more Mrs. Maroon – we’re in that same boat as well. I’ve just started to learn that there are only so many things I can accomplish in the day and to be ok with that. I’d much rather have that extra time with the kids then another to-do.

  • I’m focused on trying to earn more money, but do agree you should check in with your expenses regularly and see if there are items that can be trimmed or cut all together.

  • I finally challenged my internet this bill and got it reduced by $20 per month! I didn’t even have to put up much of a fight. It really makes you wonder what else you can cut out.

  • Kim says:

    Sprint does not work well where we live but I would love to see if we can lower our phone bills when our contract is up. I think if we don’t upgrade our phones we can go month to month and save a little.

    Also dying my nail at home saves a ton. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to the beauty shop!

  • I’m focusing on earning more this year. I just have to. Not too much I can cut back on but I am trying to be as mindful as possible about little things like coffee that can add up.

  • Erin says:

    Love these points, John! I was in the same boat with Verizon; it made me sick to think of how much money my phone was costing me over the year. At least April isn’t too far away!

    I’ve always been a fan of frugality, but over the past few months I’ve come to realize the value in earning more. Pigeon-holing yourself into cutting expenses constantly won’t get you very far in most cases.

    • I know – it makes me sick seeing that money come out each month.

      I could not agree more. Cutting is only going to take you so far and then you get into the whole deprivation thing. But, if you’re wise about your frugality and combine that with earning more then you could be killing it.

  • Tom says:

    Constantly questioning your motives is not only a great way to improve your finances, it is a great path to self-improvement in almost every station of life!

  • J. Money says:

    Challenge, challenge, baby! All adds up month after month! 🙂

  • Awesome advice as usual, John. We challenged our car insurance near the end of last year and are now saving over $750 a month on insurance. Challenging every expense really does work!

  • I agree. The word deprivation is negative and would affect the way how we are saving. It’s like we’re saving money but we’re not happy at all because we deprive ourselves. We can enjoy while being frugal, right?

  • You’re right about challenging every expense. I recently gave up a gym membership I wasn’t using enough, as well as a post box that has been unused for 2 years.

    Over $1,500 in savings!!

  • Andrew says:

    It really comes down to people being lazy. Anything can be challenged and cut down, from your cable bill to the cell phone to insurance. Just takes a little legwork. This isn’t rocket science people.

  • Anna says:

    If you are not under a contract on a cell phone, you save 25/month with the carrier (at least w Verizon). My family figured that out and now we all get our phones either secondhand or pay for them elsewhere (after making sure they will work for our cell provider) and get them activated. We now pay $218/month with all taxes for six smartphones. Every month we go past the “two year” mark on our phones just continues to save us money. Yes, some phones can cost 700/piece, but if you buy an older model the price goes down, and you are still saving money every month you keep using it.

  • Thanks for posting this, it’s really helpful! We recently challenged our homeowner’s insurance quote and saved over $300!

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