Even if you earn a higher-than-average salary, as many middle-class Americans do, it’s still important to find ways to cut costs and save money on essential goods and services. After all, expenses like dining out, car maintenance and electricity can quickly add up and eat into your savings account or retirement fund.
But how can you save money on everyday essentials? GOBankingRates spoke with Bryan Clayton and Jack Thweatt, two middle-class Americans, to find out. Here are the top ways they save money on the basics of life.
Limit Dining Out
Food is both an essential and, depending on your eating habits, expensive part of life. One way Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, saves money on food is by limiting how much he goes out to eat.
“I cook at home more often than eating out. It’s healthier and way cheaper,” he said.
The cost of dining out has risen over the years. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spent $3,639 a year on dining out in 2022. This breaks down to $303 a month.
For the typical household, cutting back on dining out could easily save hundreds of dollars a month.
Plan Meals in Advance
By that same token, Jack Thweatt, the founder of Called, said that meal planning is a way he saves money on food.
“Meal planning and making large batches of items I can freeze has saved a lot versus eating out,” he said. “I’d estimate we save $200-300 a month here.”
Keep Up With Car Maintenance
But for Clayton, there are ways to cut costs — especially in vehicular maintenance. “I keep up with regular car maintenance,” he said. “It might cost a bit upfront, but it saves on more expensive repairs down the line.”
Rent Rather Than Own a Home
It’s no secret that homeownership has become unaffordable for many people — even middle-class households. On top of the monthly mortgage payment, other related expenses include homeowners insurance, property taxes, maintenance and repairs.
Thweatt said he saves money by renting rather than owning property. “Living in an apartment rather than a single-family home reduces ownership costs like repairs, taxes, etc,” he said. “We focus our budget on rent vs. plans to own.”
Emphasize DIY Home Maintenance
As for Clayton, who does own a home, there are ways to cut costs and save money on expenses like home maintenance.
“Whenever possible, I do home maintenance myself. Whether it’s fixing a leaky faucet or regular lawn care, it saves a lot,” he said. “DIY home maintenance alone can save me around $100-$200 monthly.”
Get Savvy With Electricity Usage
The cost of electricity varies by state. In Idaho, for example, the average cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) is 10.35 cents. In California, it’s 28.38 cents.
Electricity may be one of those essential expenses that’s hard to avoid, but Thweatt has several ways in which his household saves money here.
“Air drying clothes is a big one,” he said. “I also try to run major appliances like the dishwasher and washing machine at night to take advantage of off-peak rates.”
Avoid Expensive Phones and Phone Contracts
Having a phone might be essential for most households, but costs can rack up quickly. This is especially true when you go with a newer phone or more expensive plan that offers all the latest features.
Thweatt said his household saves money here by avoiding pricier phones and going with simpler, no-contract plans.
“We opted for a no-contract plan and affordable phones rather than the latest smartphones with all the bells and whistles,” he said.
Limit Car Usage
Another way to cut down on transportation costs is to limit the number of cars per household and to rely more on public transit and other modes of transportation — two things Thweatt’s household does.
“Our family owns just one car that’s paid off,” he said. “We bike or walk for local trips when we can. Public transit passes also save versus driving individually.”
How Much These Individuals Save Each Month
So, how much do these individuals save on everyday essentials?
“It’s tough to put exact numbers on each [essential expense], but overall, these habits save me a few hundred dollars a month easily,” said Clayton.
“Overall, I’d estimate we save around $500-600/month in total using these strategies,” said Thweatt.
Saving on Household Essentials Is an Ongoing Process
Finding ways to cut costs and save more money takes time and effort. For Thweatt, even though his current methods have saved his household hundreds of dollars a month, there are always new things to try.
“Some other ideas I want to try are to cut down on cable/streaming packages and try a cost-sharing app like Nextdoor for child care or rides versus paying individually,” he said.
And, while saving money is definitely a major goal, it’s not the only thing that matters. Nor is it the only thing that keeps these individuals on track with their savings habits.
“It’s not just about the amount you save; it’s about the mindset,” said Clayton. “Like Warren Buffett‘s view on money — seeing $100 not just as $100 but as what it could become — helps keep me focused on the bigger picture.”
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