The Average Family Can Save Thousands by Cutting Back on Just Three Bills

October 27, 2011
The Economics of Happiness

Image by Truthout.org via Flickr

Economics will put you to sleep; just ask my wife. Merely editing a ten page paper I wrote in college on the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system put my wife into a long, mid-day slumber. Caffeinated tea was no use in stopping economics fatigue. However boring the practice of reading economics can be, some of the concepts are really useful for saving time and money in personal finances. The Pareto Principle is such a concept.

The general idea behind the Pareto Principle is that for any outcome, 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. For example, roughly 80% of my daily blog reads come from roughly 20% of referring sites. I’d wager that if you checked your phone records, about 80% of the minutes you spend talking on the phone comes from about 20% of the people you call. This principle is great for making informed decisions about personal finances and where you should spend your time saving money.

Take the family budget for example. While the numbers aren’t quite 80/20, according to government statistics three expenses made up 63% of the average family budget: housing, transportation and food. Making only small reductions in each of these expenses could save you thousands each year and there is no shortage of ideas for you to choose from.

(Share your family budget by taking the Dollar Challenge)

Housing

There are many ways to avoid regrets surrounding your housing choice. Doing due diligence on a neighborhood will prevent issues with local crime and poor schooling. Housing expenses require a different set of financial tools.

The average American family spends 34.43% of their total expenditures on housing. By far, this is the largest expense for families to manage and while it may seem like costs are fixed, there are a number of ways to lower your monthly costs.

Transportation

Transportation is about 1.4 percent of Money Crush’s family budget, while the average family spends about 15.6% of their expenses on transportation. In other words, there are many ways to cut back on car expenses.

Food

I’ve spent a good deal of time writing about ways to reduce the 13% of the average family budget that goes to buying food. Coupons are popular right now, but there are many other ways to reduce family’s third largest expense.

There are countless ways to cut down on spending, but focusing on these three bills first will give you the greatest amount of savings.

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12 Responses to The Average Family Can Save Thousands by Cutting Back on Just Three Bills

  1. Paul @ The Frugal Toad on October 27, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Great post Shaun! Nice job pulling all these resources together with the Pareto Principle!

    • Shaun Fowler on October 27, 2011 at 3:46 am

      Thanks Paul. I try and do something special when I have roundups like this.

  2. Henry @ TotallyMoney on October 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the mention. I must admit that I have read the 4 hour work week and found some of the time management tips quite helpful and the Pareto principle one of the best. I hadn’t really though about using it in a wider role, but I will have to think again. great post and a really good way of putting together a round up

    • Shaun Fowler on October 28, 2011 at 1:38 am

      Pareto was all about the economics of optimizing your resources. It’s very applicable to the everyday person, plus his lines always intersect in the fashion that makes economists gleeful.

  3. 20's Finances on October 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks for the mention. I agree that these are the easiest ways to save money. Personal finance lessons at its finest.

    • Shaun Fowler on October 28, 2011 at 1:36 am

      As always. Thanks for the encouragement. You can be sure I’ll be taking the dollar challenge. Probably in the next few days!

  4. Mrs. Accountability on October 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Thanks for the mention about my vehicle catching fire! Well, thank goodness it didn’t go up in flames, but there sure was a lot of smoke! I’m still without wheels. Grrr! Frustrating times indeed.

    • Shaun Fowler on October 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm

      I think out of all the expenses on the budget, I wish transportation was not a necessity. I hate fixing cars, spending money on cars and altogether, taking care of cars.

  5. World of Finance on October 29, 2011 at 3:33 am

    I’ve always said that for most people, their largest expenses are rent/mortgage and car payment. Keeping these low or ideally non-existent helps tremendously! Not having a car payment (I’ve had the same car for 12 years) has helped me achieve many of my goals. :)

    • Shaun Fowler on October 29, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      I had a period of 6 years, without a car payment. It was wonderful. However, I’m back to making a car payment again. Someday I hope to be able to buy cars with cash. Gas on the other hand, will always drain the wallet.

  6. Jeremy @ Personal Finance Whiz on October 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    I’m in the same boat as you with our food expenses. I always look back at the end of the money and can’t believe how much we spent. This next month we’re going to try limit our grocery shopping to once per week with a dollar limit set for each trip. Those little run-by-the-store-on-the-way-home-from-work trips kill us.

    • Shaun Fowler on October 29, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      I’ve never tried that before. Let me know how it goes.

      For my family, I record the cost each meal costs and how much it serves. This way I’m not loading up on meals that cost a lot. Generally, I shoot for every meal to cost a dollar a serving or less. We’ve been able to cut the food budget down to about $300/month for a family of four.

      The best part is that the cuts really haven’t impacted the meals that greatly. It doesn’t feel like we spend half of what we were. Although, I do miss stew and haven’t been able to find a good enough deal on meat to make it underneath the $1/meal requirement.

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