Unclutter those little monthly bills

Most of us have two types of monthly bills — the big stuff and the little stuff. For the purposes of this post, I’m not talking about the big ones. I don’t mean the mortgage/rent, car payments, insurance, and so on. Those things are there and you pay them as part of your life responsibilities. No, in this case I mean the little costs, the automatic payments that are so easy to forget and that pile up quickly. You know, that $2.99 a month subscription fee or the $5.00 monthly rental fee. If we remember these at all, the temptation is to say, “Eh, it’s three bucks. I’ll deal with it next month.” Meanwhile, three becomes nine and then 12 and by the end of the year 36 — but for dozens of little things so the total is in the hundreds.

Once a year, I sit down and unclutter these little payments to decide what stays and what goes. If you’re interested, the following is advice on how you can do it, too.

Write it down

The easiest way to get look at what you’re spending is to write it all down. When I do this review, I chart it up on a piece of paper:

There are four columns:

  1. Name: The title of the company or service
  2. Cost: What I’m paying out
  3. Description: A plain-English description of exactly what I’m getting for my money
  4. Stay? After reviewing the information in the three previous column, I decide: “Does it stay?” If yes, I enter a “Y” in the last column. If not, it’s “N.”

In the example above, I’ve entered two services. First is Netflix. It costs me $7.99 per month to stream all the TV shows and movies I want. Is it worth it? For me, yes. My family and I spend more time watching videos on Netflix than we do on cable. For us, it’s worth it. Netflix stays.

Next is Blizzard. Blizzard is a game company that lets me play World of Warcraft online for $14.99 per month. Is it worth it? Well, a few months ago, I was meeting up with several friends so that we could all play together. That was great fun, but it has fizzled out. I don’t enjoy playing solo as much. So, I nixed it. That just saved me $179.88 per year! Hooray!

Why did I sign up for this?

Before you decide if a service stays or goes, concentrate on brainstorming so you get them all down. It’s possible that you’ve completely forgotten about one (or even more). Do you have a transponder in your car that comes with a monthly fee? Do you have a safety deposit box at the bank? Does your bank charge you a monthly fee if your balance falls below a certain dollar limit? Are you renting any large pieces of equipment? Do you subscribe to magazines?

Once you’ve remembered all your little costs, add up the total amount spent. It might be surprising. Once you’ve nixed the services you no longer want, you’ll feel really good about saving that money.

Hold onto your list

Although it’s a little morbid to think about, having all of these subscription services written down in one place would allow for someone else to help close your accounts or suspend them in case of an emergency. Store your list in an “In case of …” file so a loved one can find it. Also, you can reference it in six months or a year to help you brainstorm all the little bills you’re paying each month. You can then replace the old list (shred it) with the new list in the file.

As I said, these small monthly fees are easy to forget and tempting to overlook. This post is your prompt to unclutter them! In less than 30 minutes, you’ll have a good overview of what you’re spending, feel more on top of things, and perhaps save a little money for your trouble.

5 Comments for “Unclutter those little monthly bills”

  1. posted by Mike Valmike on

    Great overview of how to assess a non-essential, small recurring expense that adds up over time. An analysis like this is what led me to bail on satellite TV, Netflix, Xbox Live, Hulu Plus, multiple warehouse club memberships, etc. Some stuff couldn’t be helped, like usurious HOA fees or life insurance… just gotta pony up.

    I’ve got a few right now that are on the bubble. Maybe they will stay and maybe not. Scrutiny is ongoing.

    – Pre-paid legal services. For $15/month, coverage of potentially high and unpredictable legal costs. For most folks this wouldn’t seem worth it. But we own a small business on the side that has caused legal admin and the insurance has value in case we’re sued, and we have had multiple instances of will and probate work come up in the past year. It has been worth it… for now.

    – Home alarm monitoring. It’s $55/month, which we are working to get reduced. It’s month-to-month, so we can bail at any time, and lack only for a cheaper but still good enough competitor to turn toward that won’t snare us under contract or require an equipment re-install. As for the paranoia angle, we were broken into and burgled thoroughly a few years back, so discontinuing entirely is not an option on the table. Thankfully, the family was not home at the time, and everyone was safe.

    – Home landscaping. Another $55/month. The cost pains me, but with three very young children in the house and multiple full-time jobs, we really don’t have either the time or tools to do this ourselves. Our home is a good value prospect in virtually every other way, so moving is no solution. Maybe we could salt the earth in our yard and reduce it all to Xeriscape…

    – Amazon Prime, $80/year. On its face this seems like a sucker play because you only get the shipping discount value out of it if you buy a lot of stuff. However, we DO buy stuff from Amazon, including household staples, because it’s so cheap. This might be something we can unsubscribe for a while and then come back and catch up.

    – Dollar Shave Club. Any recurring subscription has my attention as a potential cost sink, but the goods are at least as cheap or cheaper than what we’d pay at the grocery store, and they show up without our having to do anything. Set it and forget it. But it’s yet another expense…

    – Cloud backup. It’s only $50/year and the peace of mind is hard to beat, but this sort of service seems to be becoming cheap-as-free as time and technology march on.

    – Comics pull box at local shop. $12-25/month depending which titles had an issue come out. This is a pure entertainment expense, but it seems to go a long way compared to most of our recreational spending. My kids are learning to read by poring over their pages of the adventures of My Little Pony, and there’s hardly a day more exciting for them than the Wednesday when a new issue arrives. They collect each series and carefully curate their comic bookshelves, giving them a sense of ownership that they don’t have in most things in the house. My wife and I enjoy the occasional comic in between our regular reading of the more ordinary kind of books/ebooks, but it’s just occasional one-off pulls for us. If money got tight or someone lost a job, this would be a clear chopping block expense.

    So, yeah, that’s hundreds of dollars a month in bubble expenses. What gets cut? It’s not easy to decide. Kind of sobering to see how many of these I have going, and I never even got into lifesuckers like World of Warcraft or Everquest.

  2. posted by Courtney on

    I have all of my bills on a pay reminder app. It’s nice to visit it every now and again to make sure we don’t have anything unnecessary going out, and to get a breakdown of where our money is going.

  3. posted by Ben on

    Being broke as shit I have been able to cut my expenses right down to the bone. Phone bill? $10 per month. Perhaps my most luxurious expense is… hmm, web hosting for $10 a month? I know, I know, I spoil myself rotten, but hey, you only live once (until you come back as a worm or a butterfly).

  4. posted by Retired By 40! on

    Great suggestions! I just started doing this because my husband needed to know all of the passwords and account numbers. Now he can pay them so I don’t have to think about them!

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