1. Advanced Budget-Cutting Strategies: Introduction
  2. Budget Tips: Plan for What You Really Make
  3. Budgeting Tips for Essential Fixed Spending
  4. Budgeting for Essential Variable Expenses
  5. Budgeting for Nice-to-Have Expenses
  6. A Budget That Changes as You Do

In this section, we’ll review key categories of expenses you have to pay that aren’t the same from month to month: groceries, utilities, pet care, healthcare and more.

Groceries

Find the least expensive stores in your area and make it a point do to the majority of your shopping there. Make a weekly meal plan based on what’s on sale and shop with a list and a budget for that particular trip that keeps your monthly budget in mind. Add up the cost of each item as you put it in your cart; put nonessentials back before you check out if you’ve exceeded your budget. Also, many of us have stockpiles of food in the freezer and pantry that we’ve seen so many times, we’ve forgotten they’re there – items like canned beans, pasta, soups and sauces. Determine how to incorporate these items into your meals and you’ll get a break on the cost of groceries. (For related reading, see Secrets You Should Know When Buying Groceries and Top 7 M oney-Saving Tips for Buying Groceries.)

Electricity

The older and larger a device, the more savings you’ll achieve by unplugging it – not merely turning it off – when you’re not using it. Smart power strips and remote-controlled power strips can also help you save money. When replacing an appliance, choose an Energy Star model. Turn off your lights when you’re not using them (like your dad taught you), especially if they’re incandescent bulbs, and consider switching to compact fluorescent or LED bulbs in the light fixtures you use the most. Ask yourself if you really need that drink fridge in the garage that works 24/7 to cool the couple of drinks you consume each day. (For more ideas, see Best 7 Money Saving Tips for Your Electric Bill.)

Keeping your thermostat slightly lower in the winter and slightly higher in the summer than you’d optimally like will reduce your heating and cooling costs, and you’ll probably get used to the temperature change after a few days. Using ceiling fans or blankets – and wearing warmer or cooler clothing – are a lot less expensive than using more energy. Change filters regularly to keep your heating and cooling system working efficiently and prolong its life.

Pet Care

Pets can be incredibly inexpensive for the amount of comfort and joy they add to our lives – until they’re not. While the pricing for veterinary procedures is much more transparent than the pricing for human medical procedures, if your pet gets cancer or develops kidney disease or a heart problem, the money you spend on treatment can quickly exceed $10,000. A good pet insurance policy and preventive care can cost a bit more up front but can save you thousands in the long run by ensuring your pet receives the best possible healthcare. For smaller costs like food and cat litter, stock up during sales. And if your vet occasionally has specials such as 20% off dental cleaning all month or 15% off bloodwork all month, try to schedule your pet’s procedures during those times. (Learn more in How Does Pet Insurance Work? and What You Need To Know About Pet Wellness Plans.)

Home Maintenance, Insurance and Property Taxes

The best way to save money on home maintenance is to actually do it and not put it off forever. If some shingles fly off your roof during a storm, reattach them as soon as possible to prevent a leak from damaging your attic and ceilings. If the gutters are stuffed full of leaves, clean them out so your gutters will carry water away from your home as intended.

You can sometimes cut your homeowners insurance bill by shopping around for the best value, raising your deductible or bundling your homeowners with other policies, such as your auto policy. Your insurance company may also offer discounts for an alarm system with central monitoring (a discount that could help offset the cost of monitoring you were going to pay for anyway), replacing your roof or upgrading electrical and plumbing systems.

Property taxes are based largely on the value of your property. Certain additions and improvements can increase your tax bill; so can an inaccurate assessment. Know the tax implications before undertaking a major home improvement project and make sure the assessed value of your property is reasonable on your tax bill; appeal if it isn’t. (See Your Property Tax Assessment: What Does It Mean? and 5 Tricks For Lowering Your Property Tax.)

Medical and Dental Care

Carrying health insurance and sticking with in-network providers is generally the simplest way to cut your medical bills. (See 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Health Insurance.) Beyond that, there’s more you can do if you’re willing to put in the effort. For example, even within your network, different providers can charge vastly different prices. Researching costs up front could show you that getting an MRI at an imaging center instead of the hospital will save you $300 in out-of-pocket costs. (Get more tips in 20 Ways To Save On Medical Bills.) You could also do the math to estimate whether a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account could help you come out ahead on medical costs. (Read Switch to a High-Deductible PPO to Get an HSA?)

Preventive dental care, in the form of twice-annual cleanings and X-rays when your dentist recommends them, can help prevent problems like tooth decay or at least stop cavities while they’re small. Having a cavity and getting it filled is much less expensive – and much less painful – than winding up with an abscess that requires a root canal and a crown. Dental insurance may help you save money depending on its coverage and your typical dental expenses. (Learn more in Should You Bite on Dental Insurance?)

Next, let’s talk about how to save on the items you don’t have to spend your money on, but you probably will because they can make life more fun.


Budgeting for Nice-to-Have Expenses
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