Quick Wins the Simple Way: The Fast Path to Frugality

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When it comes to saving money, there’s two areas that I recommend focusing on: Quick Wins, and Big wins.

  • Quick Wins might not save an enormous amount, but they are relatively easy
  • Big Wins save a ton, but are harder to pull off

If your frugality efforts don’t save a ton, they better be easy. If they’re not easy they better save a ton.

Here’s my patented four-fold frugality framework from which this principle is derived:

The four-fold frugality framework

When it comes to Quick Wins, the best place to start for most people is tackling all the little recurring bills they pay every month.

Why Start With Bills and Recurring Expenses?

Frugality isn’t about being cheap.

It’s not that your afraid to spend money, but you recognize what it cost to acquire your money and remember the goals you have and choose to spend consciously.

The most unconscious spending you engage in is the recurring payments that automatically deduct from your bank account or credit card. These payments happen in the background and in many cases it wouldn’t matter to you if you were paying for a sightly different service or getting it from a different provider.

When you make changes to your bills, there’s no ongoing effort. You do they work up front, set it, and forget it.

This is huge, because you can psych yourself up for a mini-project where you optimize your bills one weekend. Two days of work and it’s over. Having the discipline to cut back on spending day-in-day-out is hard.

The Master Strategy

You’re going to scan your mail, bank statements and/or credit card statements to find everything you are paying for. You’ll make a list of all of these bills.

For each bill, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I cancel it altogether?
  • Can I get a similar service from a cheaper competitor?
  • Can I downgrade my service to save money?
  • Can I bundle with another service to save money?
  • Can I change my payment schedule to save money?
  • Can I negotiate this down?

Let’s apply these questions to some common bills you might have.

Car Insurance

Can I cancel it altogether?

Most of the time, no. If you have a car, carrying insurance is required by law. If you’re a two-car family and figure out a way to become a one-car family (a Big Win), you can get rid of the insurance on the car you sell as an added benefit.

Can I get a similar service from a cheaper competitor?

Many times, this is a great way to go when it comes to auto insurance. You can call around and get quotes from several companies, or you can find an independent insurance agent to do it for you.

Sometimes the lower rate that you get is just to get you in the door and the insurance company will raise the prices in subsequent years, but you can choose to shop around again if that happens.

Can I downgrade my service?

Maybe. For instance, if you have a really old car, it might be okay to drop the collision insurance portion of your insurance package.

But you’ll have to run the numbers on this and weigh the risks yourself.

Can I bundle with another service?

This is another good route for car insurance. If you have homeowners insurance from another company, many insurance providers will offer you a discount to bundle the two.

Can I change my payment schedule?

There’s a good chance this can work. If you’re paying monthly, many companies will offer you a discount for paying your full six month premium up front. This means you would pay twice: in January and July.

Not every company offers a discount for this, but it’s worth asking.

Can I negotiate this down?

Maybe? I’ve never personally had any success here. I also don’t know any stories of anyone who has. The closest I can think is just asking about any discounts you may be eligible for.

You can go through a similar process for home insurance or renters insurance


Can I cancel this altogether?

Good luck with that.

Can I get a cheaper service from a competitor?


The bad news here is that many people (like myself) live in an area where one company has a monopoly on internet access.

I have a friend who lives in an area with two providers. Once a year he switches to take advantage of the new customer discount.

Can I downgrade my service?

This can work, especially if you got suckered into a plan that is way more expensive than what you need.

If you try this, you’ll get a prepared speech about how it’s a bad idea. They’ll ask you if you watch Netflix and use multiple devices. They may be right that downgrading is a bad idea, but it’s worth trying. Best case: It works and you save money. Worse case: your internet is annoyingly slow and you switch back

Can I bundle with another service?

I would be careful with this one. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “it’s a trap!”

The sales people at your internet provider would love to sell you a bundle and convince you that you will save money. If you’re already paying for a ridiculously expensive cable package (which you should probably cancel anyway) this might be true. But most of the time the bundle is offering additional services you don’t already have for a higher monthly cost.

That’s not what we want.

Can I change my payment schedule?

Probably not. Man, internet companies suck.

Can I negotiate?

Believe it or not, this is the strategy that I’ve had the most success with when it comes to lowering my internet bill.

There have been multiple times when I’ve called them, asked for a discount, and gotten ~$10 off a month for 12 months.

That’s $120 for a (mildly unpleasant phone call).

Here’s how the conversation usually goes:

Me: I’m unhappy with how much I’m paying for my internet and I’d like to lower my bill. What can you do to help me?

Them: (offers unhelpful solution) You know, if you bundles internet and cable, you could get a discount on internet, but you’d actually pay more per month total.

Me: No, that doesn’t work for me. I want to lower my bill. I’m hoping you can help me so I don’t have to look elsewhere for a solution. What can you do to help me lower my bill?

Them: Well, it looks like you’re eligible for a discount…

I’ve tried this three times and it’s worked two. So over the course of the past several years I’ve saved $240 off of three phone calls.


Can I cancel this altogether?

Good for you if you can, but probably not. Welcome to the 21st century.

Can I get a cheaper service from a competitor?

This is the way to go for your phone service, especially if you’re with one of the expensive big brand carriers.

You can research other options like Straight Talk, Google-Fi, Cricket, Metro PCS, Red Pocket, Mint Mobile, and probably more.

I’ve had great experiences with Straight Talk, Cricket, and—my current phone plan—Red Pocket.

Can I downgrade my service?

This can work. Check your providers options and see if you can find a cheaper plan. Often this will involve less data. If they won’t charge you from going over, there’s not much risk to experimenting with downgrading (usually they just slow down your speed once you hit your limit).

If you find you need the extra data, you can switch back.

Can I bundle with another service?

Maybe. I know some companies are starting to get into both phone and internet. You’ll have to look into this yourself.

Can I change my payment schedule?

Probably not. But lots of subscription services are adding this option, so maybe phone plans will follow?

Can I negotiate?

It seems unlikely, but to be honest I’ve never even tried.

Gym Membership

Can I cancel this altogether?

Yes. And if you never go you should cancel.

Either start going or call and cancel. Just don’t tell yourself you’ll keep the membership active in case you decide to go “someday.”

Can I get a similar service from a cheaper competitor?

Yes, you probably can. You’ll need to explore the options in your area.

Of course, you can combine this strategy with the strategy of cancelling: Cancel your membership altogether and start working out from home.

My 24 kg kettlebell is a one-time expense that has done more to improve my fitness more than 99% of gym memberships do for their customers.

Can I negotiate?

I have no direct experience here, but I find it hard to imagine that a gym wouldn’t offer you a discount if you seriously threaten to leave.

Cable/Netflix/Streaming Services

Can I cancel these altogether?

This actually becomes a big philosophical issue that’s too deep to cover here. I’ll just make a couple of points:

  • You have access to more high-quality free entertainment than you could ever consume in 1,000 lifetimes
  • Chances are, there are better, more fulfilling ways of spending your time

That said, I do have a Netflix subscription. But I’m not sure I’ll keep it forever.

And you should definitely cancel cable.

Miscellaneous Subscriptions

This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Journals
  • Streaming audio (e.g. Spotify)
  • Newsletters
  • Food delivery
  • Monthly mystery box of goods

The big question with these is almost always should I cancel them altogether? If in doubt, the answer should be yes and then you can evaluate how much you miss it when it’s gone and make a new decision if warranted.

People who offer subscription services know that they are “sticky.” It’s unlikely that you’ll be proactive enough to take the step to cancel them, so they can just keep charging you every month,

Credit Cards

First of all, if you are carrying a balance, pay it off as soon as you can. Credit card balances can cost you obscene amounts of interest over the years.

Related Post: The Debt Trap: How Smart People Get Snared

But as Ramit Sethi points out in I Will Teach You to Be Rich, credit cards are actually a good opportunity to negotiate. You can potentially negotiate down your interest rate or even get late fees waived.

Related Post: Book Review: I Will Teach You to Be Rich

Sharing: The Hidden Hack

One great trick is to share some of these services with people you know and trust like family and close friends.

I have one friend who signed up for a family plan with a low-cost phone provider. Of his five person “family,” only his wife lived in his household. The other three were his in-laws and a member of his church. All five of them saved money on their monthly bills.

One friend has five people sharing his Amazon Prime account and splitting the cost. He set this up when you were allowed to have more than one email address linked to an account. Now, you’d likely need to create a special shared email address that multiple people have access to to pull this off.

I’ve had friends who lived in adjacent apartments who bought a signal extender for their router and shared internet.

Lots of people share logins for Netflix, Disney+, etc. In fact, it seems to make people really happy to share these services.

The Math Behind Saving $1,000 a Year

This is pretty simple: $1,000 / 12 months = $84/month

That’s right, You just need to shave $84 off your monthly bills and you’ll save $1,000 in a year.

So maybe you save $35 on your phone and $10 on internet. You’re halfway there! Shop around for car insurance, find some subscriptions you no longer use and it’s possible to save $1,000 with a one-weekend mini project.

$84 is a small enough that it’s a good target to keep you motivated.

If you come up short and “only” save $500, that’s still one profitable weekend!

Quick Wins: Beyond the Bills

Saving on recurring bills is the easiest way to save because it involves no ongoing effort. There are other ways to save on the little things, but you need to make sure you aren’t wasting your willpower on $3 decisions. You want to save your willpower for the more profitable ventures of Big Wins and Income Generation.

The principle behind saving money on small, irregular purchases is to come up with a system that makes saving money as effortless as possible.

For example, if you get a soda every time you go out to eat, some up with a “Soda on Saturdays” rule. The idea is that you don’t have to make the decision every time you go out, you follow a simple rule: If it’s Saturday, get a soda. If it’s not, get water.

On this particular example your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Be creative here, but follow the general principle that you want a system that keeps you from needing to make a new decision every day.

Final Thoughts

If you’re able to free up some cash, you should consider investing your savings.

When you exhaust all your options, don’t worry. You can focus your energy on Big Wins and Income Generation

Now go save some money!

Related Post: Big Wins the Simple Way: The 80/20 Approach to Saving Money

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