As someone on the lower end of the income spectrum, everything in my budget is negotiable. Nothing is a fixed cost for me. The savings you can find simply by asking for a lower price will surprise you — even on prices that you think are non-negotiable.
Ever since I became responsible for myself, I’ve managed to drastically reduce my expenses. I’ve lived in two major U.S. cities over the last six years and have maintained a monthly budget of under $1,300 for most of that time.
Here are three major areas where I’ve been able to reduce in my budget — and how I did it:
How to Save Money on Rent
Housing is almost everyone’s biggest expense. If you rent, you might think of the cost as a flat fee set by your landlord.
I’ve lived in four different homes in the last five years, and I was able to reduce my rent in every single one of them.
Admittedly, the way I lowered my rent in my first apartment is not one that applies to most people. Raccoons invaded the air vents for a month, and they ultimately gave me fleas. It was a nightmare, and I asked for reduced rent as compensation.
What I did at my second apartment may be more widely applicable. I got into a conversation about social media with my landlord one day. He mentioned that this was something he struggled with. At the time, I worked part-time as an account manager for other people, so I told him that I’d be happy to manage his social media accounts each month in exchange for a 15 percent rent reduction. He agreed! I handled the accounts for two months while he ran a promotion and received reduced rent.
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At my third apartment, I made a list of things that weren’t working — including our dishwasher — and things that were lacking, like screens in our windows. Two months, and nobody came to fix the items on my list. I wrote a letter to the landlord asking about the delay and for a reimbursement on some of our rent, since nobody had come to repair anything. It took another month, but I got back 10 percent of the three months’ rent, as well as the fixes we needed.
At my current apartment, the floors are uneven in the kitchen and the bedroom. Nothing big enough to impact living there – especially not for someone as devoted to frugality as I am. But during our walk-through, I pointed out this unevenness to the property manager, who offered us $50 off per month on rent. That’s a savings of $600 a year!
Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts, reimbursements, or other deals on your home or apartment.
How to Save Money on Food
I spend $60 a month on groceries and have for the last three years. My secret? Having a side hustle in the food services industry. I spend my weekends catering weddings, and it has been a major boon to my budget.
You’ll need to find a job that deals with food to score free leftovers, but not to worry — those jobs are plentiful. You can work as a waitress, bartender, chef, busboy, bar back, caterer, or event planner to have access to free food.
The average American spends $7,000 on food in a year. I spend closer to $1,400, which includes restaurant visits, gas station snacks, and indulgent birthday meals for myself and my partner.
How to Save Money on Gas
I used to be a dedicated car user. In the past two years, I’ve gravitated toward biking, and it’s made a major difference in my budget, especially with rising gas prices. I also make it a point to walk as much as possible.
My decision to walk and bike was motivated more by my fear that sitting is killing me. I wanted to start moving more for my health, not my budget. Yet that choice also impacted my budget, and in a great way.
Over the last six years, I've only put 50,000 miles on my car because I walk and bike so often.
I bought a used bike for $60 on Craigslist and a lock for $23 on Amazon, and I use them almost daily.
If I have to go someplace less than 15 miles, I bike there. I walk anywhere that will take 20 minutes or less. I live in central Austin, Texas, so in large part my meetings and appointments are within a 15-mile radius.
So far this year, I’ve spent only $64.39 on gas. Plus, I got a break on my car insurance because I drive so few miles each year.
The Bottom Line
I save big bucks every year through negotiation, capitalizing on my side hustle, and switching out costly forms of transportation for cheaper options. If you can find room to be flexible on one of these three major categories in your life, you'll also reap the financial rewards.