Lowering the Cost of “the American Dream” – Part II

(This article continues the discussion on lowering expenses found here)AmericanDream2

In our first installment two weeks ago, I discussed ways you could drop the cost of the American Dream by lowering your essential expenses such as groceries, car expenses and apparel. Today, I’d like to tackle lowering the cost of the “extras” that USA Today calculated are important parts of what many consider a happy lifestyle. We’re creative people….lowering the cost of creative activities should be easy for us, right?

USA Today assigns $17,009 to extras, and breaks them down like this:

Family Summer Vacation: $4,580

Entertainment: $3,667

Restaurants: $3,662

Cable, Satellite, Internet, Cell Phone: $3,100

Miscellaneous Costs: $2,000

Good news! All of these costs can be lowered without giving up any happiness. How? Let’s dive in!

Family Summer Vacation: Let’s start with the most expensive parts of the trip and work down:

  • Rethink your definition of “vacation.” Sure, the trip to Europe sounds wonderful but for many, so does hiking in the closest state or national park. Wisely choose your vacations based on your overall budget. There are many things to see in your own back yard.
  • Use airfare tricks. Lots of websites can share how to get the best deals on air travel, but here’s a little-used one: widen your search to the day before or after you plan to travel and then “agree” to travel on a different day (your originally intended travel date). Many online studies have lately shown that you’ll get a cheaper rate on your intended travel date if the booking company thinks they’re talking you into a deal.
  • Discount websites. Try out hotel discount firms like Hotwire or Priceline. On a recent trip with his kids to Indianapolis, a good friend scored a room in downtown Indianapolis for $58 on a $145/night room. That’s some serious savings.
  • Watch the food budget. It’s fun to eat at neat places when you travel, but it’s also entertaining to grab food from a grocery and check out the local park.
  • Souvenirs? Are you really going to drink out of another coffee mug? Most souvenirs are brought home and forgotten. Take pictures and enjoy the sites rather than the junk shops.

Entertainment: You don’t want to cut the fun out of your vacation but also don’t want to pack two bags of money? Homework is the key to savings.

  • Research free entertainment around the destination you’re visiting. Many cities and parks offer free or low cost programs that often beat the paid attractions. Outdoor movies in a park, ranger programs, free museum days and farmer’s markets are all opportunities to have some fun while keeping your wallet intact.
  • Rethink the days/dates you’re traveling. The offseason in resorts might be a little less ideal weather-wise, but you’ll have the area to yourself and you’ll score some great deals from establishments just hoping to fill seats. Amusement parks are more crowded on some days than others (regional parks generally are crowded on weekends while destination parks are crowded on weekdays).
  • Staycation? If you’re really tight on money, ask yourself if this is the year you take some time off but explore your own hometown. Many people travel the world but never see the sights close to home.

Restaurants: Coupons, specials and drinks are the key here.

  • First, how often do you eat at restaurants? Try to cut back by eating in more often. Use a meal plan to have some fun with your dine-at-home dollars. Cooking together doesn’t have to be a chore. Turn up the music or ball game and have fun cooking and spending time with friends or family!
  • Check for coupons online when you visit a restaurant. Nearly all of the national chains have deals online (or can tell you which days offer the best value).
  • Ask your waiter if there are any discounts on the day you visit.
  • Buying alcohol? It pays to drink water and then pick up an after-dinner drink at the local liquor store. Instead of buying an $8 glass of wine, a $15 bottle of wine can last multiple meals!

Cable, Satellite, Internet, Cell Phone: You’ve heard most of the advice I’ll give you here, but most of us have some easy money-saving opportunities in this category.

  • Think about cutting the cord on cable or the satellite bill. Especially now with Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and others, it’s easy to lower your cost of television while keeping the quality high. Love sports? Buy an antenna to pick up the local stations that cover many of the local and national interest events.
  • Internet – I probably can’t save you money here, but I can possibly add value. Many friends have been surprised when they’ve called their internet provider to find out that they can get a faster/better package for the amount they’re currently paying.
  • Ditch the expensive cell plan. Are you usually found in an area with wifi? Check out some of the new carriers offering wifi-based telephone. You only incur charges for your phone when you have to use the data plan. Watch out, though: data through these carriers can be more expensive than many of the big boys when you’re “off the wifi grid.”

Miscellaneous costs: $2,000 per year on miscellaneous costs doesn’t really surprise me, but let’s try and minimize these “unknown” expenses anyway!

  • Use apps like Mint or a good banking app to track your expenses.
  • Don’t carry cash. While people who carry cash are more likely to spend less at places like the grocery store, they’re also more likely to spend money on a whim that someone with only plastic would avoid.

…and there they are! Hopefully many of these tips help you lower your budget costs so that you have more money available to spend on your craft. At the very least, try to pick out one in each area for fun and see if you can find some new savings. And please write to let me know what worked! I love hearing success stories!