NYT Financial Tuneup Day 2: Trim Your Budget

nyt_ftuDay 2 of my NY Times 7-Day Financial Tuneup is called Trim Your Budget. The key here is to take action, not just do research and then put it off again. (If you just want to daydream, Day 1 was Optimize Your Thinking.) Again, the NYT doesn’t have direct links, but anyone with a (free) NYT account can get their own personalized list of tasks.

Reviewing your monthly budget annually is a simple way to keep your spending in check. Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask you to cut anything you love, just to trim your spending in places you may not even notice. After all, if you benefit from your weekly yoga class or truly enjoy your restaurant night, have at it. Just be honest with yourself about the services that you truly use and enjoy. In comparison, if you have a languishing gym membership you never use, it may be time to cut that $50-a-month membership fee.

Round 1: Find an Easy Item to Cut

  1. Gather your credit card and checking account statements from the last month.
  2. List your spending. “…list any expense from the last month that occurs routinely: daily, weekly, monthly. From the cup of coffee you buy every morning, to your weekly manicure, to your monthly gym membership or magazine subscription.”
  3. Find an easy place to trim. “…most commonly-cut expenses are subscriptions to gyms, credit bureaus, newspapers and audio services.”

Here is rundown of recurring expenses with some commentary.

  • Mortgage – thankfully paid off a few years ago.
  • Property tax – yes, but not really negotiable. I suppose I could contest the assessed value of my house, but it seems pretty reasonable.
  • Car loan – none. My measure of car affordability is whether I can pay for it with cash. I’ve paid cash on every car, from $2,000 on up to 20x that.
  • Student loan – thankfully paid off that $30,000 a while ago.
  • Insurance – feels like we have so much insurance, but they have high deductibles to protect against catastrophic events. Car, homeowners, life, long-term disability, and umbrella insurance.
  • Food/grocery/take-out/restaurants – I’m sure we could trim something, but not in a clear-cut way. No coffee shop habit.
  • TV/internet – yes, this is a target for trimming.
  • Cellular phone – Still at $6 a month with Sprint for two lines.
  • Gym – yes, just barely worth the cost.
  • Gas
  • Medical
  • Clothing, gifts, etc – yes, again I’m sure we could trim something but we are okay with it overall.
  • Charitable giving – yes, but already thoughtfully budgeted for.
  • Credit monitoring, Netflix, magazines, music streaming, etc. – I pay for Amazon Prime and feel it is worth the money. No to Netflix, Spotify, HBO, Lifelock, paid credit monitoring, etc. A few magazines at $5 or less per year.

Round 2: Lower Your Bills

  1. Pick a bill to start with
  2. Find and review your latest bill
  3. Call your service provider
  4. Ask for a reduction in your bill

The hard part: Pick up the phone and call my cable provider. I’ve done it before, but it’s never fun. This tune-up did motivate me to do it, so I suppose that’s something. I called my cable provider and after 26 minutes, I was only able to squeeze about $5 a month in concessions by having them re-arrange my bill around to a “new plan” from my “old plan”. Even that required me to get past the initial lie that my “old plan” was “already a great deal”. ($60 a year in savings is not bad for 30 minutes of time, I suppose.)

I did not go all the way to setting a cancel date, as I wanted to avoid interruption in internet service. If you are ready to cancel, see Tips on Reducing Cable and Phone Bills From Ethically Ambiguous Experts.

In the end, I called up the duopoly DSL provider to get the new customer promotion for TV and internet. I confirmed that their was no credit check required. If it all works out, switching should save me around $50 a month ($600 a year). Switching back and forth isn’t fun, but it does save money!

Financial Tuneup Recap (still in progress)


  1. On the cable and phone I like to use a buisness cc that gives me 5% back, not much but it adds up

  2. Jonathan, Thank you for posting your detailed tune up results. I also have a few things that I can optimize and trim. My question is: Why do you bother having life insurance? Considering that you have a paid off house, ample savings, and probably a healthy Social Security survivor benefit, it’s probably unnecessary. I just checked my social security benefits, and my surviving spouse would get almost $60K/year to take care of the kids. I think most people (reading this blog at least) should be able to live off that with no mortgage and a paid off car. I just see no reason to pay life insurance premiums if your family would be fine utilizing SS and existing savings/retirement accounts.

    I’ve been a longtime reader and have saved thousands over the years between 0% balance transfer deals and especially the realtor fee refund when buying a house.

    • That’s a good observation. It’s true that we probably don’t mathematically need the rest of our term life insurance. We could let it lapse. If you are confident that you can live off other income, then you don’t need insurance, right? But the confidence level depends on the person.

      For us, it is more of an emotional decision, where my wife does not want me to cancel the policy. If she feels the need to keep this added layer of financial security, then I’m fine with that as if I’m gone I’m not going to be able to help her in the ways that I would have if we had financial speedbumps and I was alive (extended economic recession, her own illness, a child with disability, etc). (That was a horrible run-on sentence, oh well.)

      A lesser factor is that I also figure that we have already paid 10 years of level premiums, so I don’t think we could a new policy at our current annual premium anymore. The premiums aren’t that high as we got them relatively young and healthy. The term ends when we’re 60 and the kids should already be in college.

  3. The Frugal Millionaire says:

    Am I reading the “Car Loan” part correctly; in that you bought a $40,000 car? As an avid and frequent reader I’d be interested in hearing more about that decision. Thanks!

    • Well, I’m afraid it’s not very exciting. The new minivan that I am looking at right now would be about $40k with taxes and all that. (Mid-tier so I can get leather seats to repel my gross kid stains and hopefully last the next 10 years of 3X goldfish, milk spills, and the occasional diaper blow-out…) Mostly, my point was if I do buy one it would be for cash. I get questions like “Can I buy this Tesla Model X” and that is my standard answer. I’m okay with people spending their own money on certain nice consumer things if that’s their priority, but it should be their money, not a loan.

  4. So, why new over a vehicle that’s 12 to 18 months old with under 20,000 miles? Seems you would still get the value of a long life ahead but without the initial depreciation. Or do you just like the idea of getting a new car and are willing to pay the premium?

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