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Life After Bankruptcy: How to decrease your monthly bills (and still pay for Christmas)

Autumn

It's that time of the year again! Fall is nigh, and tis the season of in-between: school's been in session for quite a while, but the holidays haven't quite started yet. We're stuck for a few weeks between relaxing with a good school year routine and living with the anxiety of how we're going to get through the next couple of months.

I've decided to address the impending holiday stress head-on this year, and not only spend some time pleading with you about all the reasons you shouldn't pull out loans or max out credit cards to pay for Christmas gifts, but how you can cut down your monthly bills in order to pay for the holidays in cash! After all guys, you put in a lot of work paying off your debt through bankruptcy, or discharging what wasn't paid back. You've got a clean slate, why backslide now, especially so close to the holidays?

I can't guarantee an exact outcome, of course. But what I can guarantee is that any effort on your part to change the way you handle your finances differently will inevitably return positive outcomes. That being said, I have decided to put together a pretty extensive list of suggestions that will undoubtedly help you become more conservative in your spending habits, more frugal in your lifestyle, and eventually get you to where you need to be. Whatever your goals in life are, I'm willing to bet if you're reading this blog right now, that at the very least, you want financial peace. So with that, let's get started!

WAYS TO CUT YOUR MONTHLY SPENDING

1). Lower your monthly utility usage in any way you can. To begin, start by writing a list of all your monthly utility bills. I can safely say the average person is going to have an electricity, water, trash/sewage, and perhaps a gas bill. Some power companies allow you to sign up for daily alerts in order to gauge how much power you use during the day. And, while the majority of people are aware that even if you turn the lights out as you leave the house, that leaving electronics and appliances plugged in will inevitably run your bill up. If you can monitor how much power you use each day, you can begin to estimate how much you can save by unplugging as many things as possible and by flipping breakers to the hot water heater and other parts of your house that will go completely unused while you're gone (obviously leaving on the refrigerator, air conditioner, etc). 

Similarly, a lot of people are aware that their houses might not be the most energy-efficient houses out there, but are absolutely and completely unaware of exactly how much energy is escaping because of poor insulation. You can reduce your power usage all the live long day, but if your house is losing energy regularly, you're still going to run that bill up!

This  website is a step-by-step do-it-yourself audit that will help you determine where you're losing energy from your home, and how to make simple repairs that will save you hundreds of dollars a year. 

Likewise, this  article teaches you how to save money on your gas bill, provided you have a gas bill. 

Now to water usage. A lot of people, especially renters, have a fixed water, trash and sewage bill, given that usage stays under a certain amount. However, for those who don't have a fixed water bill, cutting down on water usage can make a huge improvement on how much you're spending every month. There are so many things you can do to cut down on how much water you use!

Running water

Don't run the water while you're brushing your teeth. When you're in the kitchen, don't run the water while you're not using it. Use the same water that you used to rinse your foods off with to water your indoor or outdoor plants. Buy shower spigots that conserve water during usage. There are so many ways to cut down on how much water you're using. Just go here for more suggestions. 

2.) Reduce or eliminate your unnecessary monthly cable or internet bills. Touchy subject, I know. But if you're serious about saving money and cutting your bills down, you're going to have to face the uncomfortable subjects. I know, I know, you have kids and you've worked all day and you just want to sit down to watch The Voice and relax. And that's OK! That's your choice! But if you're reluctant or even unable to pay your cable and internet bills monthly, you might have to reconsider how much The Voice is really worth your pennies. Perhaps cut the cable bill, keep the internet and just watch Netflix or Amazon Prime for a significantly cheaper price! Rediscover what face-to-face time means with your family. Rather than come home and flip on the telly, encourage your kids to sit down at the table and do their homework while you cook dinner. Homework

Still, I can hear it now, "It's football season, are you serious right now? I am not going to turn off my cable during football season!!" All I'm saying is, it's much cheaper to watch the game at your friend's or neighbor's house...

3.) Speaking of Netflix or Prime, let's talk monthly subscriptions. It's probably time to get rid of some of those. I just read this article and came across some staggering statistics on the subject of subscriptions. Not only are they convenient, but each one is pretty cheap...until they all add up. Get rid of most of those subscriptions and keep only the ones that are necessary for you and your family. For instance, let's say you did decide to ex nay your cable bill and go with Netflix. Obviously keep that subscription. Let's say you have little ones running around and you really value your Amazon Prime subscription because it reduces the amount of trips you have to make to the store,  go ahead and keep that one too! But the extras, you definitely don't need. 

 4.) Bundle some of your bills together for discounts, and look for discounts wherever you can. There are two types of monthly bills that particularly come to mind that offer discounts with bill bundling: insurance companies and major wireless phone providers. Most of us can get car insurance and renter's insurance through the same companies. But did you know that most of these companies will offer you discounts when you get them together? Wireless phone providers do the same thing. If you get internet and wireless through the same companies, most offer you discounts when you bundle your bills! Same with wireless and cable, or wireless and landlines. 

I can't account for all car insurance companies, but I can tell you that my car insurance company offers discounts to those who pay their premiums in full. If you get a quote for how much your premium would be with just one payment, I guarantee you that it's less than what you're paying now on a month-to-month basis. If you can, pay your premiums in full to receive the discount.Happy about savings

Don't forget to check for discounts through your providers for paperless billing! Personally, I receive a $10 a month discount for receiving paperless bills for my cell phone and internet. I receive another $10 a month discount for having bundled them together, and yet another $10 a month for automatic drafts from my bank account when my bills are due. That's $30 a month in savings for just two of my bills!!

5.) Cut down your cell phone bill. Check your plan to make sure you're getting the best deals. Oftentimes cell phone providers will rotate deals throughout the year, so just because you got the best deal at the time you signed up for service, that doesn't mean there isn't a better deal floating around right now. Look into options like Google Voice or Magic Jack for cheaper alternatives. Cut your data usage down and hook up to WiFi wherever it's available. 

Buy refurbished cell phones instead of brand new. I've made this argument with cars and why it's imperative we buy used until we can afford new outright. And I'm going to make the same argument with cell phones. If you're struggling with your monthly bills, I cannot fathom a proper justification for buying a brand new cell phone for hundreds of dollars. If you can buy it outright without maxing out your credit cards, wonderful! But if you can't, please consider your alternative options! Remember, your goal is to save more money in order to improve your future. If you can discipline yourself in as many areas as possible and you play your cards right (given no unforeseen circumstances arise), this is all just temporary, and before you know it, you'll be paying for brand new cell phones in cash. 

6.) Buy discounted groceries and coupon whenever possible. I understand what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck. So I know what it feels like to believe I can't buy grocery items in bulk for better savings. But if you're cutting down on some of your monthly bills, you can now afford to buy a little bit more if there's a better deal! Discounted groceries

Many stores offer you member discounts and loyalty rewards. Let's say you're shopping a Kroger and you have a manufacturer's coupon for a box of noodles for $.75 off a box. You find out they're running a buy-one-get-one-free deal on those exact noodles. Originally those noodles are $3.79 a box, but now you're getting TWO boxes for $3.04!! Now let's say you have a store coupon for 20% off your next purchase, which you'll use during this shopping trip. Your two boxes of noodles have now dropped in price to a whopping $2.43.

TV shows that have unmasked the tricks of extreme couponing have led us to believe that perhaps we're just not extreme enough for those kinds of savings. 

But I beg to differ. You can save an average of 30-60% on your bills without extreme couponing. You just match weekly deals with manufacturer's coupons you have lying around and voila! 

Also, for those out there who need a good cheat sheet, I have adored The Krazy Coupon Lady for years. These ladies lay out the best deals at the best stores for you, so you don't have to do any of the work!

Aside from couponing, many consumers buy name brand because the names have been "trusted" for years. Simple fix, compare ingredients in name brand and generic brands when there's no sale going on. I guarantee you there will be no difference in the ingredients. Go generic! Some stores, like CVS, even offer deals to rewards members on CVS brand items!

7.) Buy thrift. Quite a humbling thought for some, and others are already doing it. It doesn't have to be a painful idea though. In this day and age, up-cycled furniture, DYI projects around the house and thrift clothes are all in-style. There's no shame in bragging to your friends about how much money you saved by repainting furniture, or building your own deck, or how much money you didn't spend on that trendy outfit you bought second-hand this past weekend. 

Thrift shopping

8.) Have the biggest yard sale you've ever had. This. This is a big, big deal when you're trying to make some extra money. Most of us already know what kind of stuff can go in a yard sale.  But I'd venture to say that most of you haven't yet had the kind of yard sale that could literally pay for most of Christmas, if not all of it. This takes some planning and some see-through. If you want to make money, you've got to commit to letting things go. When you've made a list of everything you can live without, start making signs for your sale that will properly market to your customers, explaining each section and prices so there is no confusion the day-of. Post your yard sale on Facebook or other marketing sites, and make sure you have easy-to-read signs on roadsides pointing potential customers to the right place. 

Have a price in mind before you get started, and determine that is the price you're going to make. If you need to make $800, commit to selling whatever you can to make $800 come to fruition. If you feel as if you don't have that much stuff to sell, see if any of your friends or family have items around their houses they can give to you to sell. 

9.) Get an extra job, get a raise at work, or market a talent. Getting a second job isn't always easy. Trust me, I know. Some can pull it off. But for those who can't get another job, consider either asking for a cost-of-living raise at work, or even creative alternatives for marketing a talent you might have. For instance, you might enjoy doing craftsman work on the weekends in your spare time. Maybe you're a great woodworker, you've built the deck out back and your grand kids' swing set. But what about all that scrap wood lying around? 

I once went to a craft show in Atlanta where this woman and her husband pieced actual wood scraps together in shapes of Christmas trees, glued decorative ribbons on to it, and sold the "artwork" for $40+ each!! They even took personalized orders at the craft show for people who wanted things that weren't available at the time! As the day went on, I did the math in my head and I could not believe how much money they were taking home because they ingeniously decided to capitalize on scrap wood. 

Scrap Wood Projects(click the picture for more projects!)

If you just want an idea of all the things you can do with scrap wood, check Pinterest out: 

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/2462974766095467/?lp=true 

Maybe it'd be worth your time to check out a local upcoming craft show, rent a booth, or share a booth with another vendor, and start capitalizing on that scrap wood! And you're not limited to only wood crafts. Just look at all the scrap art you can make! 

https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=scrap%20art&rs=typed&term_meta[]=scrap%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=art%7Ctyped 

Of course, seasonally marketing your talent could be a better option than starting a year-round business. You might not have the time to run a full-time business. Nonetheless, this is a great way to utilize your talents and the things you probably already have lying around the house in order to make some quick cash, particularly as the holidays near. 

10.) Stop eating out and start meal-prepping each week. This is another huge cost that we don't realize we're pouring so much into until we do the math at the end of the month. And I wouldn't suggest adding up all those meals until you're sitting down. About a year ago, I looked at my monthly spend on eating out one month and almost flipped my lid. It was too much and I knew it. I could no longer turn a blind eye or justify why I was spending that much money on eating out. 

So, I looked into meal-prepping; something I firmly stand by these days. Go grocery shopping once a week, spend one or two days a week cooking for the rest of the week, store them in Tupperware and you're good to go! 

Like the idea, but don't know where to start? Check this mom out, she's full of wonderful ideas! She cooks for a family for 4 and makes it work.

Remember:

  • Ideally your car installments have been taken care of in one form or another through your bankruptcy. If not, hopefully you've gotten (at the very least) lowered interest rates. Either way, I'm hoping part of your monthly savings are attributed to what you're not spending towards you car. But what I want you to remember is to never, ever get a title pawn. Those are the most predatory loans you could possibly get, and there's a huge chance you're not going to make it out with the odds in your favor. 
  • You're not going to see a difference overnight. In some areas you might, say when you cancel your subscriptions and learn to coupon, but you're not going to really feel the weight lift from your shoulders until month 2 or 3. When you compare month 2 or 3 with before you started cutting your bills, you won't believe the difference. 
  • Perfect practice makes perfect. You're not going to get it right the first time, especially when we're talking about habits here. But if you fall, get back up and keep going! So you splurged one week and it set you back? Don't reflect too hard on the failure, just trudge forward and purpose to do different next time!
  • You ARE worth the time and discipline it takes to commit to this. You've finished your bankruptcy, or you're well on your way to finishing. I believe in you because I know you can do this. 
  • ChristmasChristmas is about giving. There are more ways to give than just getting in debt for Christmas presents. You can give your talents and your time. Consider volunteering this holiday season, and include the whole family! Servitude is an endless gift that can bring joy and restoration in someone else's life.

I told you, I can't guarantee an exact outcome, but I can guarantee results. It worked for me when I began this years ago, and I know it can work for any one of you! Once I got the hang of cutting my bills down and living with less, I easily saved over $200 a month. If you save $200 a month, have a yard sale and pick up extra cash through your current or a new job, you're going to be able to pull Christmas off this year without all the financial stress. 

Feel free to comment any success stories throughout the process! I would love to cheer you on! Good luck :)

Life After Bankruptcy

And for other ideas on how to slash your monthly bills in half, check out our other blog!

Slash your bills in half

 

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