4 Ways to Cut Unnecessary Living Expenses

How to eliminate the discretionary spending that's pushing you over your monthly budget.

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Rent, heat, electricity, student loans and groceries—living expenses can add up quickly. While some of these expenses can't be avoided (you do, after all, need a place to live), others are unnecessarily causing you to go over your monthly budget. Whether it's figuring out effective ways to reduce your bills or practicing a little self-control when it comes to impulse purchases, here are four ways to cut unnecessary living expenses.

1. Reduce your entertainment budget. Generally, aside from necessities like rent and utilities, entertainment takes up the largest chunk of your monthly budget. This category encompasses everything from weekends out on the town to magazine subscriptions and your gym membership. When you really need to cut living expenses, this is where you should start. On average, renters pay $100 per month for cable television, so consider cutting out cable and getting an $8 per month Netflix membership instead. If you and your friends often go out to eat during the week, opt to throw a dinner party or potluck. You may even be able to find some free entertainment options around your neighborhood: Visit your local library instead of buying books or spend a day at the park in lieu of an afternoon at the movie theater.

2. Cut back on transportation costs. If you live in a city, I have two words for you: public transportation. With cost-saving and eco-friendly options like buses, trains and subways available, there's no need for you to be making a car payment and paying for car insurance each month (and, let's face it, accruing a few parking tickets every now and then). Taking public transportation will help you save money on gas and eliminate two of your many monthly bills. You may even be able to sell your car for a little extra cash. If you can't bear to give up your car, consider carpooling to the office and splitting gas with your co-workers.

3. Trim down on special treats. If buying coffee is part of your morning routine, it's time to start brewing some at home. You may not think that your daily $3 latte is taking too large of a chunk out of your monthly budget, but the cost can add up quickly—in fact, $3 per day adds up to $90 per month. That's not to say you can't treat yourself every once in a while, but the instances in which you buy a cup of coffee rather than making it at home should be rare. The same thing goes for eating out: Instead of buying your lunch every day, make one at home and bring it to work.

4. Cut down on energy consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, roughly 7 percent of the average American’s income is allocated to utilities, which accounts for approximately one-fifth of the overall costs associated with living expenses. You can't avoid paying your energy bill, but you can take steps to reduce its size each month:

• Air conditioning is by far one of the most energy-consumptive amenities in your apartment, so if you’re looking to cut back on expenses, it’s an easy way to make a big impact. Keep your indoor temperature around 76 to 77 degrees when you’re home, and lower the air conditioning when you are at work during the day or traveling.

• When you aren't using electrical devices, don’t just turn them off—be sure to unplug them. The U.S. Department of Energy states that somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of your electricity use is consumed by devices that are plugged in 24 hours a day.

• Make sure the dishwasher is full before running a load. This method not only reduces your water and power usage, but also saves you money on detergent.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and gives tips on how to move.