There are a lot of things in life that we pay for, buy, or do simply because we've always done it. We pay Verizon $130 a month for Internet and cable television. I don't know what happened between today and the time I went to college, when cable television and Internet cost something like $30 to $40 a month, but it really ballooned. There were fewer channels back then, the Internet was slower, but Internet and cable television aren't four times better today than they were 10 years ago (well, HD is nice!)
[In Pictures: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]
So today, I'm suggesting four things you should try living without. Technically five, because I'm going to suggest that you cut your cable, but I won't go into great detail on that task. For many of these, you can try living "without" it for a day or two just to see how it feels. See how it affects your life, if at all. The goal is to understand what it might be like without it because you might not even notice it. If it doesn't affect your life tremendously, you could consider getting rid of it altogether and it might improve your finances. The goal is to test it out, rather than keeping it just because you've always done it. If you find out you hate life without it, by all means keep it!
Credit card. Credit cards are great if you can use them responsibly. You get rewards on your spending, you get a grace period, and you can often speed up the checkout process by avoiding the tedium of counting change. You also get detached from money and it's possible that you're spending more. When you abstract money away from a transaction, it becomes easier to spend, even if you are responsible (this is, in part, why casinos use chips.) As for those who aren't as responsible or those who spend more than they should and carry a balance, the rewards are a pittance compared to interest (and you lose that grace period). For either group, try going cash-only for a day. Try it for a week. See how it changes your spending habits when you actually hand over green money, rather than a thin piece of plastic. For some, it'll actually save you some money. For others, it won't save a penny... but it will enlighten you about the spending process.
Cell phone plan. How often do you use your phone? Luckily you don't have to guess--the cell phone company gives you a statement each month that outlines how many minutes you've used, how much data you've consumed, and how many text messages you've sent and received. Armed with that usage data, consider using a pay-as-you-go cell phone, sometimes called a prepaid cell phone, instead because it might be cheaper. Prepaid cell phones are the rage in Europe and you can recharge your phone almost anywhere--grocery store, ATM, you name it. The downside, at least in the United States, is that since you don't get a contract, you usually won't get a fancy new cell phone on the cheap. That brand new 4G Android Phone? It'll cost you the full $150 (or more). And don't even think about an iPhone 4. If you want a top of the line smart phone, I'd try to find it used or refurbished for the best deal. Just make sure that phone is compatible with the network you're planning on working with.
Two cars. If you have two cars in your household, consider downsizing to just one. When you get rid of a car, you get rid of a car payment, an insurance payment, and a weekly gas bill that seems to only go up. You also surrender a regular maintenance visit to your mechanic every so often and, if you're like me, skip one trip every 5-10,000 miles under the car for an oil change. How hard is it to give up a car? That'll depend on your schedule. We haven't done it but considering I hardly drive, it wouldn't be too difficult for us to surrender a vehicle. It might be harder for you depending on where you work, where your spouse works, and whether carpooling is a viable option. If it's not possible for you to carpool with your significant other, consider doing it with coworkers. You can always "test drive" your carpool now, which saves you a little gas money, to see if it's a reasonable alternative.
Gym membership. Do you have a gym membership? How often do you go? Chances are, you aren't going as often as you think. We have a $30-a-month membership at our local gym and I haven't been since June (once the weather gets nice, I'm usually participating in sports leagues or running outside, so I have a weak excuse.) I use it more often in the winter and I justify keeping the membership because it's so inexpensive. If you signed up for a membership and aren't on contract, keep track of how often you go and how much each trip costs you. Then compare that cost with paying each time you go, if that's an option, and consider that instead. You can always try these tips for working out without a gym.
Have you cut one of these from your life? If so, how did it feel?