Sometimes the best way to save money is finding cheaper alternatives for the things we normally buy. There are tradeoffs when you do this, because the product/service may not be exactly the same, but it can bring about significant savings.
Below you will find five ways to reduce expenses, that may be viable alternatives to consider. This is not an exhaustive list, but can result in meaningful savings.
The options laid out below are not endorsements, and I do not make any money if you choose to use them. But they have worked for my family or my clients. Be sure to do your research, and determine if this will actually help you in your specific situation.
1. Cell Phone Plans
When I first got a cell phone, it was through a major network. I was billed each month for my service, while repaying the “free” phone they gave me. It also included a long list of taxes and fees. For many years I thought that was the only viable way to have a cell phone plan.
Several years ago I heard about a different option called a MVNO – which is a mobile virtual network operator. The MVNO doesn’t own the cell infrastructure, but provides cell services to people. After doing my research I took the plunge and decided to end my contract and go with an MVNO.
The two main advantages:
- Cost – they are significantly cheaper than a traditional provider. I pay $11.75 a month for the coverage I need. It covers unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data (there are many data options, this is all I need). That is my total cost for everything including taxes etc.
- Flexibility – there is no long-term contract, it is month to month. If you sign up and the coverage isn’t good in your area, you can move (port) your number to another provider at no additional cost.
There are a few disadvantages:
- Cost – you will need to buy your own phone. This can get pricey if you need the latest or greatest phone. But there are websites that sell refurbished phones or even new budget phones that are fairly inexpensive.
- Coverage – depending on the MVNO, they may not include roaming. If you are in an area with spotty coverage, or travel frequently, that may be an issue.
- Technical Issues – since the MVNO does not own the network, technical problems may take a little time to be resolved. Also, an MVNO customer may see slower data speeds when the network has a lot of usage as the carrier’s customers get priority.
What Are The Savings?
I recently bought a new 5G budget phone for $300 which I intend to keep for at least 3 years. It will cost me $8.33 a month for the phone ($300 divided by 36 months) plus $11.75 for my plan. My total cost will be $20.08 a month. My last plan under a traditional provider cost over $50 a month, so these savings add up.
If you change to a MVNO, be sure to know when your contract with your current carrier is up so you aren’t charged cancellation fees.
One of the advantages of 5G cell technology is that home internet can be provided over the cellular network. No longer do you have to use WiFi from your local cable company for your internet.
Several providers are offering home internet for $50 a month (taxes and fees included) with unlimited data. The availability at this point is somewhat limited, but is expected to grow considerably in the coming years.
As this is a newer option, you will want to understand how it works. Some providers give priority to their cell traffic during peak periods, while others do not. The key is to understand the details and how it may impact you.
As the cost of groceries has skyrocketed, finding alternatives for buying groceries has become more important.
The easiest change can be buying more store brand (also known as private label) food from your grocery store or shopping at more private label stores such as Aldi and Lidl.
Private label means that the soup may be produced by Campbell, but it is sold under the store name or a generic no name brand. The cost is generally less because the name brand pays for marketing costs.
There have been studies that show there is very little difference between store brand and brand name products.
The key is to try the store brand, and see what you think. Some items will be great replacements, but others will not. Experiment and find what works for you.
For those who are more adventurous, discount stores can provide big savings. These are stores who buy excess stock from grocery stores/food manufacturers, damaged food items etc and then resell them in their store. There is a website that you can find stores that sell food like this in your area. There are even companies that will ship food nationwide if you don’t have a store locally.
You will find some unusual flavor options that you have probably never seen, and you may not see the same items twice. However, the prices are much, much lower than your local grocery store. You will want to check the date and condition of the item as returns are usually not an option.
My wife and I have saved quite a lot over the years going to stores like this. Sometimes we will try a new product and love it, but it won’t be there when we return next time. Depending on the visit, we have found a great deal of organic and high-quality food, but it is definitely hit or miss.
4. Health Insurance
As the cost of medical care and insurance has increased, it has been a struggle for people to maintain their coverage. Moving to the government sponsored exchange can be a help for those with a lower income, however, those plans may have high deductibles.
The alternative to consider is moving to a health sharing ministry. This is not insurance, but a group of people sharing their medical expenses – without paying for the bureaucracy (and high salaries) of an insurance company.
The major health sharing ministries were designed for Christians to help other Christians meet their medical expenses. They are modeled after the early church, and how they took care of one another. Many Christians have found them to be a reasonable alternative to regular health insurance. I have written a more extensive post that outlines the pros and cons to consider.
There are couple of different ways to save on your utilities if you live in PA.
PA deregulated their electricity market years ago, which means you can shop your electricity supplier. If you live in PA you have probably gotten bombarded with calls and letters with offers. The easiest and least painful way to compare your options is using the PA Power Switch website. You can also shop your natural gas rate if that is your heating fuel.
The rate you are shopping is the electricity generation and transmission portion of your bill. Your current utility (PECO, PPL etc) will continue to bill you and charge a distribution charge for your electricity. Offers change regularly, so you may find a cheaper alternative. Be careful to read all the terms and keep a written copy for future reference.
If you live in southeastern PA and use oil, winter can be very expensive. Many oil companies will encourage you to sign up for a service contract with oil delivery. When you do this, you are one consumer who is negotiating with an oil service provider.
The Energy Co-op is a local non-profit who pools their membership’s buying power to negotiate lower heating oil prices for their members. There is no cost to join, and you can compare the daily price that members pay on their website. Many of the oil service companies offer service contracts as well. You can choose to sign a contract or not, giving you greater flexibility.
You can compare your current supplier with the co-op without paying anything or signing any contracts. Be sure to know the terms when you agree to buy oil through the Co-op.
The other option to consider when buying oil without a contract is COD Oil. They generally have lower prices than local oil suppliers.
A final word of caution on any changes you may want to make. Just because it is cheaper, does not mean it is better for you.
Recently, there was a family whose home was severely damaged by fallen trees. They had a well-known insurance company who they thought provided good coverage at a good price. However, they had tremendous struggles getting their home repaired. They lived in a rental apartment for over a year while fighting with the insurance company to repair their home.
Saving money is only good if you aren’t compromising on what you need. Be sure to do your research before making any changes.