I’m already a frugal person, but I am soon joining the ranks of the Great Resignation and will be taking a bit of a sabbatical. I haven’t yet figured out my next steps – be it a new job, a master’s degree, or semi-retirement to a less expensive international destination. As I near the end of my current employment, I want to reduce my expenses in order to keep my sabbatical costs to a bare minimum.
In this post, I’ll take a look at the flexible and non-flexible expenses in my budget and share some of the ways I am able to save money going forward. Some of these changes have absolutely no impact on my day to day experience, except for keeping more money in my pocket!
Cell Phone Budget – Was $78/mo., now $25/mo.
A cell phone is a virtual necessity these days and it is also a great place to start in identifying cost savings in your budget. I recently wrote about the 6 Ways to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill.
My phone plan with Sprint included an employer-based discount and also included free subscriptions to Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Tidal. The monthly cost of this plan came to $78. After thinking about this, I realized that I don’t need Hulu and Tidal and could probably even do without Amazon Prime. Next, I needed to find a phone plan that would meet my data usage and coverage needs while providing a sufficient discount in case I decide to add a Prime subscription separately.
I’ve seen those Ryan Reynolds ads for Mint Mobile all over the place and have used that service in the past. However, I came across a similar MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) called US Mobile that provides a bit lower pricing with options for running on either the Verizon or T-Mobile network. Here’s what I determined to be the benefits to US Mobile based on my usual usage:
- 12 GB/mo data (I usually use around 6GB of data in the past and occasionally reach 10GB so I figure this is a good plan size to start with and comes with unlimited talk and text for $25/mo. The 6 GB plan is $20/mo and 18 GB is $25/mo. For those who prefer unlimited data, you can get that for $35 and $45/mo (with hotspot) – this also comes with non-deprioritized data too. I don’t have significant data needs when I’m away from home, so that’s just an extra $10 or $20 per month that I don’t need to spend here.
- Verizon network offers some of the best coverage in my area of the country. It is a bit rural outside of town and this is a big issue for some other networks that have fairly sizable gaps in 4G and 5G coverage between towns.
- Cost savings of $53/month versus my Sprint plan. Even if I decide I can’t live without Amazon Prime and add that back in, that’s only $12/mo (paid annually) and would make my savings $41/mo. since I have no interest in keeping Hulu and Tidal active. But even if I did, that would add $16 more per month and still result in a monthly savings of $25 by paying for them separately instead of bundled with Sprint.
- A recent development in the cell phone service price wars means I may be switching to Mint Mobile soon to take advantage of their $15/mo. Unlimited Data plan promotion. This special pricing is good for the first three months of service and would be a further $10 per month savings for me, plus increase my available data from 12GB to unlimited each month!
Insurance Budget – Was $130/mo., no change.
Interestingly, my cost of insurance will go down when I leave my job because I will qualify for a health insurance subsidy through Healthcare.gov that will cover the entire monthly premium versus the $130/mo. I currently spend on employer-based High Deductible coverage.
However, there is a life insurance policy I maintain outside of work that I do not have a way to save money on. That’s just a fixed cost going forward.
Student Loans – 3.76% Fixed Rate, no change.
I have a single private refinanced student loan with a 10-year repayment and a fixed 3.76% interest rate. With interest rates on the rise recently, there is just no way that I will be able to refinance this to a lower rate. This loan is about as good as it’s going to get. My federal student loans have a fixed rate and income-based repayment so there is nothing I can do about those. I have about 5 years of credit toward the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for these federal loans. If I return to public service or non-profit work in the future, I can pick up where I left off and complete an additional 5 years of work to achieve forgiveness on these loans.
Food Budget – Was $270./mo, now $200/mo.
I used Mint.com to take a look at my food expenses in 2021. The total spending in the Food & Dining category came to $4,444, for an average of $370/mo. For 2022, I have been trying to keep my food spending to $300/mo. or less and have so far been averaging $270/mo. Year-to-date. I continue to get takeout much too often and could likely bring this down closer to $200 if I were to really try harder, but it would mean eliminating some of those trips to Panda Express and Jimmy Johns that I do enjoy making.
One of the most challenging parts of budgeting for food is that the healthiest options tend to also be more expensive. With my full-time job ending soon, I expect to have more time and energy for meal prep so I hope to take advantage of that and steer clear of the more expensive convenience foods that are a staple in my current diet. I’m sure my waistline will also benefit.
Entertainment Budget – Was $120/mo., now $60/mo.
This is a really random category for me and includes things like my streaming services, video games or phone apps, the occasional lotto ticket, or other similar purchases. So far this year I’ve been averaging $120/mo. in this category and I certainly can reduce this by half. By changing some behaviors and swapping in some more unpaid activities versus paid ones I expect to save $60/mo. here.
Health & Fitness Budget
This category contains everything from the cost of doctor visits to pain relievers at the local CVS. When I get reimbursed by my Flexible Spending account I reduce this category so the total spend here can be a bit misleading. I do not make withdrawals from my HSA when I incur qualifying medical expenses so that I can let that money continue to stay invested and then I just save my receipts to withdraw that money at a future date. This is not really a category of spending that can be reduced much so I will just continue to be prudent in my purchasing and seeking out coupons and sales when I need to restock the medicine cabinet.
Shopping Budget – Was $485/mo., now $250/mo.
I probably don’t have my Mint budget setup with enough specific categories so my Shopping & Everything Else categories can be a bit large. Some of the things I’m seeing in these are Amazon.com purchases, Service Fees, Donations, Office Supplies, Insurance, Tax Filing Fees etc.
Year-to-date, I’ve spent $100/mo. on Shopping and $385/mo. on Everything Else. Immediately, I can tell that this is a bit misleading. When digging into the Everything Else category, I see that there is a $420 charge for Finance Charges that are the result of taking advantage of a 0% APR 18-month credit card cash withdrawal in exchange for a 3% fee. That is effectively borrowing money at a 2% APR so I did that and have invested the money and already earned that money back and then some. Excluding this fee would bring my monthly Everything Else spend to $300. This category could be reigned in closed to $250 per month going forward by eliminating some of the incidental spending.
Another $95 is for the annual fee on a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card that I signed up for just over a year ago. When I signed up for this card it came with a bonus offer of over $1000 worth of points and provides some great ongoing benefits. I may revisit this card in the future to determine if the fee is worth continuing.
I don’t see much in this category that can be specifically targeted for reduction, although as mentioned above, a good portion of this category is a one-off charge that was covered in another area. I’ll work on being a little more aware of my online purchases but won’t set a specific amount I think I can cut from here on an ongoing basis.
Budget Savings Results –
Since I run a pretty tight budget already, I was surprised to see that I’m able to shave another $113 per month off of my monthly spending just with the changes to my cell phone service and entertainment spending. If I really wanted to cut deep into my budget, I would target the Shopping, Everything Else, and Food and probably be able to save another $300 by eliminating all dining out and restrict other purchases to essentials only.
While the cutting of my Entertainment budget will have a bit of an impact on my daily life, I don’t think it will be very noticeable. Additionally, the $53 per month being saved on my cell phone plan will have absolutely no impact on my day to day life so that is the perfect kind of budget savings to find! Although it does make me a little irritated that I didn’t make the switch sooner as I could have been saving that $53 per month for a couple years by now!
The cell phone savings is a good example of why it makes sense to conduct a regular review of your budget to specifically look for these types of savings where a switch will have zero (or minimal) impact on your life. Over the course of a year, that cell phone plan change will save me $636 that I can put into my investments or apply to a specific purchase or unexpected emergency. Combining the cell phone savings with the entertainment budget adjustment will save me $1,356 over the next year!