I started MichaelSaves.com to share the ways I cut my expenses to pay off an $86,000 mortgage in just two years. During that time, I carefully logged my expenses using Mint.com. If you’re not familiar with Mint, it’s a website and app to help you keep a budget.

Mint.com is a free budget tracking tool

Mint.com is a free budgeting tool

Today I’m revealing how I save money in most budget categories. Let this post be a starting point. Let’s get started slashing your spending one category at a time:

Auto & Transport

  • Auto Insurance – Shop around for the best price every 6 months. There are services online that will do the comparisons for you, free of charge. In fact, if you request auto insurance quotes through the website Swagbucks, you can earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards. Other ways to save: Bundle auto and home insurance, call your insurer to update your mileage if you’re driving less, and take a defensive driving course to save up to 15%.
  • Fuel Costs – Fill up outside city limits, reduce mileage, clean out the trunk, drive the speed limit, and pay for gas with a rewards credit card.

 

Bills & Utilities

  • Mobile Phone – I switched from a $60/month unlimited plan with Sprint to Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile, a new wireless service taht runs on Verizon’s network. I pay only $12 a month.
  • Internet – Want a discount? Use those solicitations from the competitors to your advantage. Call your provider and try saying exactly what I said to negotiate a lower rate. I saved $240/year.
  • Television – I use a digital antenna for free over-the-air TV and supplement it with Netflix.

Education

My college education cost $10,000. I started at a community college, transferred to a public university, graduated in three years, lived at home, and worked part-time. Read more about graduating college with no student loans.

 

Fees & Charges

  • ATM Fee
  • Bank Fee
  • Finance Charge
  • Late Fee
  • Service Fee

I don’t pay these fees and you don’t have to either. If your bank is charging you fees, switch to an online bank. I’m currently with Discover Bank. There are no fees or minimum balance requirements.

Food & Dining

  • Alcohol & Bars – Pre-game before going out, happy hour specials, make friends with the bartender, etc.
  • Coffee Shops – Only a rare treat. I buy my favorite brand of ground coffee at Costco and brew it at home to save roughly $500 every year.
  • Groceries – Check the weekly ad before you go to the store and build a week’s worth of meals around what’s on special. Recently, I’ve been using an Instant Pot pressure cooker to prepare budget-friendly meals at home.
  • Restaurants – Skip appetizers and dessert, limit alcohol, dine early, use 50% off deal services like Scoutmob.

AWESOME APP: I really like the cash back app Ibotta. It gives you cash rebates for groceries, including milk and generics. Often times you won’t find coupons for those items. Get a $10 welcome bonus using my link.

READ THIS NEXT: Cash back apps: Ibotta vs. Checkout 51

Gifts & Donations

I love giving gifts to people and donating to important causes.  Paying it forward is one of the 7 things I can afford now that I’m mortgage-free. If you’re in debt, this is a good place to cut your spending.

Shopping

  • Books – There’s a library down the street.
  • Clothing – Buy quality clothing, focus on basics that can be worn with multiple outfits, avoid fluctuating sizes by living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Electronics & Software – Not a gadget guy.

Travel

I spent 2013 traveling across the country and beyond to celebrate my mortgage payoff. I use a 3-step system to save on hotel rooms. It includes comparison shopping, using TopCashBack, and paying with a rewards credit card.

Uncategorized/Miscellaneous

Inevitably, not everything will fall into the categories I just went through. My goal, however, is to keep uncategorized and miscellaneous expenses to a minimum. This is where a lot of unnecessary spending can really add up. Mint.com helps keep me honest.

THE BOTTOM LINE

You have to know how much you’re spending to figure out how to save. If  you’re looking to save money immediately, start by taking the easy way out. In other words, reduce expenses in the categories that won’t be too painful. This will give you a psychological boost to tackle the challenging categories later on.