When it’s time to tighten your budget, the first rule is “cut all unnecessary spending.” Since we started cutting expenses, there have been many “extras” that we’ve cut out. Restaurants, movies, and shopping trips for unnecessary items, to name a few.
Budgeting has changed the way that I look at my money. I’ve begun to dread extra expenses outside of our normal monthly living costs, because it forces me to renegotiate the budget to avoid overspending.
This can be a good thing. It forces me to really examine unnecessary spending and put it through a basic litmus test: “Do we really need this?”
It can also be dangerous. It makes me hesitate spending money on some things that may not be required, but could ultimately save us hundreds of dollars in the long run.
When considering whether to cut “unnecessary” expenses, it’s important to consider the future, too. Maybe you won’t see a return on your investment immediately, but shelling out the money for certain expenses can end up saving you money later on.
Here’s a list of the “unnecessary expenses” that we’ve added to our budget because of their long-term saving potential:
1. AAA membership
We signed up for AAA right before we drove back to Indiana for our wedding. It’s a long trip, and we didn’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere by a flat tire, car problem, or stupid mistake like locking our keys in the car. Membership normally costs $42 per person for a year, but we received a direct mail piece offering membership for a discounted rate of $20 per person for a year.
In my opinion, it’s worth it even at $42 per person. AAA Members receive roadside assistance that includes towing, jumping, fuel delivery, tire changing, and lockout services. If you use just one of those services even once in a year, it pays for itself. We haven’t had to use it yet, but even if we don’t, I think it pays for itself in peace of mind, especially when you’re traveling far from home.
Members also receive a huge array of discounts on car rental, hotels, and other travel and driving related expenses. This perk is secondary to me because all of the discounts are for things that we shouldn’t be spending money on anyway.
Next time we need an oil change, we’ll check the rates at the AAA Auto Care station near us, but we’ll only go there if it really is a deal. And of course, if we do need to get a hotel room or rent a car, we’ll take advantage of our AAA discount.
2. Car maintenance
I’ve recently started putting money into a savings account each month to pay for routine car maintenance like oil changes, but in the past these things have come out of our regular budget. It can cost anywhere from $18-$30 for a basic oil change service, but for some reason I hate having it done.
It’s really a no-brainer, though. Cars that are serviced every 3,000 miles last longer. Since we have a new car that was purchased in 2006 (a very generous graduation gift for us from my in-laws), we plan to drive it for at least a decade. That makes regular servicing even more important.
3. Veterinary Services and Medications
When you adopt a pet, it’s important to remember that you’re committing to a lot more financially than just the adoption fees and dog food. Every month our dog, Howie, requires heartworm prevention medicine as well as flea and tick prevention. He also gets a heartworm test, physical exam and several shots every year, including immunizations for rabies, kennel cough, and parvovirus. I think there might be other immunizations included in his yearly boosters, but I’m not sure what they are at the moment.
We get his monthly medication every 6 months through 1-800-PetMeds, which is a lot cheaper than what we’d pay at the vet. It still costs about about $16 a month for the medications alone.
Vaccinations are about $10-$15 each, so they end up costing roughly $40 a year. Our vet offers a 20% immunization discount on Thursdays, so we always schedule his appointments then. Heartworm testing is required to renew his heartworm prevention medicine each year, and that runs about $30.
His yearly preventative exams cost $50. We also spend $18 every three weeks for his dog food. We choose to feed him high quality dog food because it keeps him healthier. (If you’ve ever had to clean up after a dog that eats cheap dog food, you understand.)
As you can see, being a responsible pet owner isn’t cheap. Not including dog food, we spend over $300 a year to keep Howie healthy. But we committed to taking care of him when we adopted him, and in the long-run proper medical care could prevent major illnesses that cost thousands to treat. Putting money aside for these yearly expenses makes it a lot easier when it’s time to order another six-month supply of medicine or take him to the vet for his check-up.
On a personal note, you could argue that the best way to avoid these extra expenses is to not have a pet. That’s true. However, for us, the fulfillment and joy that we get from being pet owners is worth the cost of taking care of him. Studies have shown that owning a pet can increase your overall health and well being, so I would definitely say pet expenses have long-term benefits. Dogs really can be a wonderful addition to your family and well worth the money if you can work them into your schedule and budget.
4. Renters Insurance
We’ll probably be renting for a while, so we invest in a renters insurance policy. It covers our personal belongings in and outside of our apartment for just $18 a month 9 months out of the year. Our policy does cover us for the other 3 months of the year, we just pay the premium over 9 months for some reason. We’re covered up to $20,000, which is probably more than the total value of our stuff because most of what we own we bought second-hand.
I’ve always thought the term renters insurance was inaccurate, because it’s really personal property insurance. The most valuable things we own are our laptops and my engagement ring. Both are covered by our renters insurance, no matter where we are when the damage or theft occurs. For instance, if one of our laptops was stolen from our car while we were traveling, our renters insurance would cover it.
Damage to the property inside our apartment is protected by our renters insurance in the event of a break-in, flood, or other natural disaster (particularly important since we live in hurricane country). Most policies also cover personal injury to protect you from liability in case someone is hurt inside your apartment.
This is another expense that pays for itself in peace of mind. Landlords rarely cover any damage to your personal property, and usually have a provision written into the lease that says they’re not responsible for damage even if it’s their fault. Renters insurance is basically homeowners insurance for renters, so if your pipes burst or a hurricane destroys your apartment complex, you can replace your personal property. I say, better safe than sorry.
What extra expenses do you add to your budget to save money in the long-run?