101 Ways to Cut Expenses – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by Darwin on March 17, 2010

Every once in a while I come across a list or publication that has some surprising insight that I like to share, like when I found these home energy savings tips from the US Department of Energy.  Well, this week, I came across an AARP publication on 101 ways to cut expenses.  Since 101 items can result in sensory overload with the result being complete inaction, I parsed through the list and picked out my top picks and pans that I felt were highest impact and most likely to be implemented (or should be avoided). Conversely, I disagreed with several of their recommendations as well.  I’ve included my likes and dislikes with comments below for your perusal.

Thumbs Up

  • If you see something in a catalog that you want to buy, wait a week before ordering to see if you still really want it.

– I don’t buy stuff out of catalogs.  But my wife does – for the kids.  I wonder how much we could reduce our “plastic toy” junk heap if the family followed this rule.  Interesting, never thought about it.

  • Use the public library to check out movies or books for free.

– I haven’t been to our public library in a while, but it’s certainly worth checking out whether they have worthwhile movies and books.  It may save you a few rentals or book purchases.  I mean, who reads a book more than once anyway?

  • Give your time/services instead of “things” for gifts.

– I wish society were more accepting of this sort of gift.  As adults, we started giving our parents more gifts like “events” and day trips with the grandkids, etc., instead of buying another shirt and tie.  Good times and memories and definitely more useful than more stuff IMO.  This hasn’t really caught hold in the mainstream, but it would be nice if it did.

  • If you must charge, switch to a no-fee or low-fee credit card.

– A big IF…but if you must, there’s no sense in paying interest.  Here are some options on dropping or cutting out your interest altogether at least for 6-12 months with a 0% Balance Transfer.  There’s no sense in paying interest if you don’t have to.

  • Take advantage of company-sponsored reimbursement plans. If your company sponsors free retirement advice, take advantage of it

– While not having a good plan or good advice can cost you big time over the long term, if you’re already nearing retirement, many companies actually have surprisingly good financial advice offered as part of a standard employee benefit.  It’s worth at least checking out.  Perhaps it will prompt you to change course or make a positive move you hadn’t thought of previously.

  • Take advantage of free health screenings at work (if offered).

– Take it if they’re offering.  I get my flu shot at work each year instead of going to the doctor and paying a co-pay/vaccine administration fee.  And I’ve never had the flu to boot!

  • (3 at once) – Pay attention to the expense ratios on mutual funds you buy. Consider using exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Pay attention to mutual fund brokerage fees.

– Simply, ETFs are Better than Mutual Funds. This is true virtually all the time with rare exceptions depending on your circumstances.  I’ve listed out several other reasons why there, but over the long term, fees, taxes and transaction costs are killers.

  • Cook in bulk and freeze.

– This is an obvious one, but the more times I see it, the more times I remember, “It’s time to hit Costco, cook up some big meals (OK, my wife’s the cook), and save some money”

  • Bring your lunch to work or scout out the inexpensive places to buy lunch. Look for inexpensive items on the menu, like soup.

– I eat out with work buddies occasionally.  I never thought about the soup thing; that’s actually a frugal way to eat without looking cheap (if that bothers you).  Bringing in your lunch saves a ton of dough.  I’m not that great at it, but I have started eating more salads which are like $3 lunches instead of $6 lunches for sandwiches, etc.

  • Look up phone numbers in the phone book instead of paying for directory assistance.

– I haven’t paid for directory assistance since I was like 19 and too lazy to find a phone book.  I don’t know why anyone would EVER pay for this anymore, especially with smartphones, google directory assist, etc.

  • Shop resale shops or estate sales.

– If you’re not familiar with an estate sale, it’s rather morbid.  Someone dies and relatives (usually the children) basically open up the house and let strangers walk through and buy everything left behind.  While you should feel conflicted over taking advantage of someone in a fragile state, you may find wonderful antique furniture, wares, collectibles or whatever else interests you at a reasonable price that would cost much more in a planned/controlled sale like a garage sale or ebay.

  • Sign up for a Upromise account/card. A percentage of your purchases will go into a college savings fund for your children.

– This is one of those no-impact benefits to your family.  It takes 5 minutes to sign up and once you register your credit cards and store cards with UPromise, it’s free money every month just for buying what you would normally.  No effort and free college tuition help.  We use it and I recommend it.

  • Do your own home improvements. Home Depot and Lowe’s employees can walk you through what you need to know

– While the first part may sound generic and useless, read the second sentence.  There are surprisingly helpful and insightful free seminars they give at stores in order to get you to buy their tile, wood, siding, whatever.  They’ll teach you how to redo your bathroom tile to how to lay your own flooring.  Most of these jobs are easy enough that you simply don’t have to pay for them, especially if you have the time.  Try it out!
And bonus! – don’t pay full price when you go these stores or any major retailer for that matter.  If you’re going to spend, say, $500 on new flooring, go onto PlasticJungle and buy that $500 gift card to Lowes for $450.  I’ve done it.  You can buy unwanted gift cards (and sell yours) for nice 10-15% discounts instead of paying full price or hanging on to a card you don’t want.  They guarantee the validity of the cards through their online card number check.  Check out Plastic Jungle and you’ll be surprised!

Thumbs Down

  • Check your credit history. Go to FreeCreditReport.com and make sure everything is accurate. Good credit may mean lower interest charges.

– I’m surprised that AARP would direct you to an Experian site instead of the authentic free government mandated site.  I’ve previously outlined the ONLY way you can truly get a FREE Credit Report and FREE Credit Score (the FICO score that matters) rather than paying for it or getting a score from a single credit bureau which is of limited utility since virtually all credit score checks rely upon FICO as the gold standard.

  • Don’t take a loan from your 401(k) plan — you’ll save on double taxation of that repaid interest.

– I’m not advocating for people to go and needlessly take out 401K loans.  However, I do take issue with the perpetual myth of the double taxation of interest and its relevance.  Read my take on 401K loans here.

  • Talk to financial planners at no cost. Look for newspaper money shows or local events where this service may be offered

– Whereas I recommended talking to a company provided financial planner, I don’t recommend willy-nilly taking advice from anyone off the street.  When your company lines up a planner to speak to employees, you can bet that they’ve been vetted and they are likely to be offering you sound financial advice.  Your company doesn’t want to be sued and have angry employees that were duped by a company-sponsored advisor.  However, with no background vetting and recommendations, an advisor off the street is possible offering your “FREE” financial advice that is not in your best interest.  Perhaps high fee or load funds that have no discernible benefit over investments in which they don’t get a cut. Perhaps they’re not very good at what they do.  You just don’t know.  I’d look to a trusted friend or relative for a financial advisor recommendation, or check out a fee-only advisor that is a Fiduciary if you are concerned over conflicts of interest and fee structures based on your assets under management.

  • Don’t get divorced.

– This is just stupid.  I think they ran out of ideas.  Of course, divorce is expensive.  But divorce is usually not purely a financial decision – there’s more to it.  You’re either right together or your not.  If you’ve tried everything else and there’s no hope, you shouldn’t stay in a bad marriage for money if it can’t be fixed.  It’s only money!


See More Darwin’s Money Saving Tips Here


If you want to see the whole list, visit the full AARP list of 101 Ways to Cut Expenses.

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1 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff March 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Thanks for the review…I’m going to myFico.com tonight and getting my credit score (last time I checked, it was at 790…wondering if the mortgage improved that or not). We already ladder the free credit reports every three months to keep an eye out for identity theft.

2 Kevin Khachatryan March 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Funny how they mentioned not getting divorced. Not only is this a waste of a statement, it could be offensive to some people – as if they don’t know that divorce hurts their finances and didn’t try to prevent it.

3 Christina March 21, 2010 at 5:26 am

Interesting. I’m not familiar with estate sales kind a morbid but sure there are really good stuff on sale, antiques especially.

Don’t get divorce, we don’t have that here but filing an annulment is also costly, most people in my country stays together without getting an annulment and a few rich people stay together at home but sleeps in a different room…for the same reason…properties, money…I don’t think this should be included not unless you married for financial reason.

Nice read.

4 The Rat March 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Thanks – there’s some good tips and ways to cut down on expenses on this thread. The idea “don’t get a divorce” can be seen as pretty lame – do they think that people deliberately plan to not have a good marriage?

Nice post.

5 Money hints April 6, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Great article, I always wait at least 1 week before I buy anything that is more than $10 this way I don’t just waste my money on something that I most likely wont need.

6 Forest June 13, 2010 at 7:28 am

Yeah Don’t Get Divorced is a darn stupid thing to put and could upset some readers…. dumb asses!!!

I love the library and always try and batch cook.

Thanks for cutting the list down 🙂

7 Ricky Holde October 23, 2016 at 1:31 am

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