The Save $1000 in a Month Challenge
Americans suck at saving money. We spend more than we make. We spend more than we make, we go into debt, and we blame everyone but ourselves.
If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ll notice that I hate talking about cost cutting and saving money because for most people, frugality is hopeless. I’d much rather focus on making more money which is more attainable than most people think.
But, my aversion to money saving tips changed a couple of weeks ago…
People want to know how to save money right now
I read this article, which explained that “As many as 80 percent of Americans are stressed about their personal finances and the economy.” I found that astonishing. Nearly everyone I’ve been talking to has been worrying about their money.
That’s why I’ve put together a list of some of the most impactful changes you can make to start saving now.
Here’s how it works: I’m giving you the very best advice on how to really start saving. If you follow through with each of these you will save hundreds this month and thousands this year.
There are no secrets to getting rich. You can sit here and read every tip and feel good about yourself. But only the people who spend time implementing will save any money.
I promise: No stupid frugality tips
I’m not trying to save $1 or even $10 per week, because it’s not worth changing your behavior for that kind of money. We’re aiming to save $1,000 in 30 days. That’s why this series will not include suggestions like “Start a garden” or “Buy day-old food from bakeries.” I certainly won’t tell you to cut your rent or move to a cheaper place, because NOBODY WILL DO IT! Does anyone ever follow those tips? No, but it sure makes other personal-finance authors feel good about themselves for coming up with a suggestion that theoretically, maybe, somehow could save money for the moron who would do it. Not here.
Only join if you’re serious about saving money this month
I want to challenge you to take this seriously. It’s easy to read a list and say “I’ll get around to that later.” That’s why I’m encouraging you to make a real commitment to following through on these tips this month.
While it’s fun to read stuff like The Money Diaries because you get to laugh at other people’s spending, the 30 Day Challenge is different because it’s intimately personal. It means you have to look at your spending.
Before we get started
Here are a few keys I find really make the difference between setting out to accomplish something and following through.
Set time aside automatically
I recommended spending an hour each day to read the lessons and take the action steps to save. The more time you spend, the more you’ll save, of course.
But the most important part is setting aside time now. If you don’t, something else will come up, and you’ll wait until “later.” I know this from a decade of testing — and from all the projects I’ve achieved (and the ones I’ve failed at).
Start Thinking About What You’ll Do With Your Extra Money
Saving $1,000 is a huge step toward having more freedom, taking control of your finances, and eliminating money worries.And unlike most people, I’m not going to tell you how to spend it — or make you feel guilty.All I ask is that you decide what to do with your money now, for two reasons:
- You’re far more likely to complete the Challenge if you have a specific end goal in mind.
- You’ll enjoy your $1,000 more if you know what it’s going toward.
Want to book a flight to visit your best friend? Pay off debt? Sock money away in your 401(K)? Buy a $500 pair of jeans? Great!
Just follow the system and I’ll show you how to get whatever you want.
Hold Yourself Accountable
I’ve succeeded at almost everything I’ve been held accountable for, but I’ve failed at countless things when I was on my own. Enlist your friends and family to hold you accountable during the Save $1,000 Challenge. Studies show having a support system makes you far more likely to follow through and succeed. Make sure to invite them to join this challenge with you!
Now you should be ready to get started.
Cut unused subscriptions and free up $240+
When you were in college, did you ever imagine you’d need $2,000, $3,000, or $6,000 a month just to run your life?
Of course not.
As we started making more and living richer lives, our expenses just grew. And a lot of them are necessary, important, or just plain fun.
But other times, we’re paying for things we don’t use or get joy out of — and we don’t even realize it.
“But Ramit, I don’t have any subscriptions like this!”
I thought the same thing — until I went through this quick challenge. Hell, I wrote a New York Times bestseller on personal finance, and I still find stuff like this.
Because whether it’s the Netflix movie that’s been lying by the TV for months or a gym membership that isn’t getting used, we’ve all paid for things we aren’t enjoying.
In the length of a TV episode, you’ll cut out cash-draining services that autobill, so you can spend your money how you want to.
- Log into your credit card and bank accounts.
- Check statements for the past month or two.
You’re looking for ANY subscriptions.
- Cell phone
- Land line telephone (yes, some people still have these)
- Cable and internet
- Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM
- Magazines and newspapers
- Software subscriptions (apps, antivirus, etc.)
- Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu
- Game rental and online gaming
- LinkedIn Premium
- Mentally multiply each subscription’s monthly cost by 10X.
Yes, there are still 12 months in a year… but this is the quickest way to do it calculator-free.
- Use this simple decision tree to choose whether to keep it or cancel it.
NOTE: If you want to cancel a subscription, just write down that company’s or product’s name on scrap paper for now.
- “I have my list of subscriptions I don’t use. What now?”
If you don’t want it: Just log into these sites one by one, click “My Account” (or something similar), then click “Cancel.”
If you want an alternative to that service, just Google “alternative to [NAME OF SUBSCRIPTION]” to find the best one.
What if I don’t use a subscription — but feel like I should?
I kept a gym membership I didn’t use because I thought paying would force me to take action.
Instead, wasting money only made me feel guiltier.
If you aren’t using something, there’s no guilt in canceling and telling yourself, “This doesn’t fit into my life right now. I’ll come back to it later.”
Remember, you decide how you’re going to spend your time and money.
Slash your cable, internet & banking costs by $60 – $600
Cable, internet and banking — the evil trio of exorbitant fees.
Which one is worse? Cable and internet lure us in with cheap specials and promise the world, make us wait days for them to show up and install everything, and then keep raising our rates — often by $50 a month or more.
Meanwhile, banks make a fortune off of charging interest for our money, and they love sticking us with annoying fees — everything from monthly “maintenance” fees to overdraft charges, setup fees, and “minimums.” Wait — you’re charging ME so you can lend my money at 6x the interest I’m paying?!
The good news is banks and cable and internet companies often pay hundreds of dollars to acquire new customers, so they don’t want to lose us over small monthly charge or $5 fee. That’s why it’s no surprise that almost all of these fees are negotiable.
Slash cable and internet costs
Here’s how to beat cable companies at their own game:
- Decide whether you need cable — or you’d be better off without it
If you love cable and can’t imagine living without it, skip directly to Step 2. This Challenge is about saving money, not sacrificing.
But for more and more of us, there are better, cheaper alternatives.
Major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.) broadcast in HD for free with an antenna. You can stream most channels from their websites. And Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, iTunes, Sling, and Netflix cover pretty much everything else on-demand.
Lifehacker’s comparison chart makes it easy to find out which streaming service is best for you — and save $50+ every month.
If you want to learn more, check out the excellent “Ready To Cut the Cable Cord?” and “Your Guide to Cord-Cutting” for easy-to-use calculators and more info on whether ditching cable is right for you.
- Do your homework (5 minutes or less)
Back in the day, you’d have to spend a few hours calling to comparison shop. (God, am I that old? I even remember card files at the library.)
But now you can compare plans in minutes using these 2 sites and write down the best rates and plans:
- Call your cable company to get a better rate (20 minutes)
IMPORTANT: You will NOT lose your cable and internet service just by telling them you want to quit. You will ONLY get disconnected after you tell them, “Yes, I want you to disconnect my service” — so you risk nothing by calling.
“Yes, I want you to disconnect my service” — so you risk nothing by calling.
YOU: Open by telling them the four magic words: “I can’t afford my cable.” I’ve tried lots of other techniques, but this was the only one that worked almost every time.
THEM: “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
Regular reps don’t have as much power to give you a better rate — after all, their job is to tell people, “I’m sorry, but this is the best we can do” and wait for you to say, “Uh, okay, thanks for checking. I guess I’ll just suck it up and pay $1,500 a year.”
YOU: “That’s fine. Can you get me someone on the line who can help me?”
THEM: “Okay, please hold.”
THEM: “Hi, I’m ___name___ in the retentions department. How can I help you?”
YOU: Repeat what you said before. “I can’t afford my cable.”
At this point, they’ll start making deals with you. The first deal won’t be their best, but it’s a starting point.
YOU: “If you knew that someone who hasn’t already been a loyal customer paid less than you, would you think that was fair?”
THEM: They’ll “ask their supervisor” — expect to wait on the line for a few minutes.
If you still don’t get what you want, ask to be transferred to the “Cancellations Department.” These people have the most power to get you the deal you want because the cable company knows you’re worth thousands of dollars to them — and it costs hundreds of dollars to acquire a new customer.
As an additional bargaining chip, you can ask for your new rate to include an additional channel — say, HBO, Showtime, or something similar.
Ask them what it’d cost if you didn’t have some of the channels you don’t watch or care about. (For me, this would be any sports channel.)
Have them explain “Limited Basic” — which can be downgraded almost instantly and often contains most of the channels you want… for a fraction of the price.
Once you’re close to agreeing on an offer, say, “I think we’re close here. What can you do to improve my internet speed? That’d make this a better fit for me.”
They’ll share options, and then this will happen:
THEM: “Because I pulled some strings with my boss, I can give you 6 months at the new rate.”
YOU: “That isn’t quite long enough to make it worthwhile to me. If you can get me 12 months, then we have a deal.”
Remember, if they don’t give you what you want, you don’t have to cancel. Simply hang up and try again later. You have nothing to lose!
- Get your own modem if you’re renting one (20 minutes)
If you have high-speed internet (I’m assuming you do), chances are good you’re being charged a monthly fee for the “privilege” of renting the cable company’s shitty modem.
How do you find out?
Just glance at your cable bill. You’re looking for a line that says something like “Modem rental” or “Cable modem.”
Usually, this is $5-$10 a month — $60-$120 EVERY year. It’s a huge profit center for them, considering the best cable modem (which they probably didn’t give you) can be yours for about 90 bucks.
Don’t know which cable modem to buy? The Wirecutter did a ton of research and testing so you don’t have to.
Once you buy your modem, just plug it in, unscrew the cable wire from your old modem, and screw it into your new one.
Then tell the cable company you installed your own modem. They’ll tell you how to return the old one, and you’ll save at least $60/year.
With just this quick system, you’ll save a combined total of up to $50 a month ($600 a year).
Waive bank fees in 15 minutes (save $60 to $120 a year)
Here’s how to get rid of bank fees:
- Log into your account to find the exact dates and amounts of your fees.
- Call your bank (the best number will be listed online or on your debit card).
YOU: “Well, I see the fee here and I’d really like to get it waived. What else can you do to help me?” (Repeat your complaint and ask them how to constructively fix it.)
BANK REP: “Hmm, one second, sir. I see that you’re a really good customer… I’m going to check with my supervisor. Can you hold for a second?”
If they say “no,” that’s the beginning of the conversation. You can ask to talk to their supervisor or tell them, “I appreciate that, but with these fees, I’m better off with another bank. What can you do to help?”
Soon, you’ll get here:
BANK REP: “Sir, I was able to check with my supervisor and waive the fee. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
YOU: “No. Thanks, you’ve been great.!”
Bad things to say when negotiating bank fees:
- “Are you sure?” Don’t make it easy for the rep to say no.
- “Is there anything else I can do?” Again, imagine if you were a customer service rep and someone said this. It would make your life easier to just say “no.” Never make it easy for companies to say no.
- “OK.” — No. Don’t give up.
REMEMBER: Always, always track your customer service calls ( you can use this free spreadsheet).
Slash your phone bill and insurance (save $420+ a year)
Big companies love to squeeze us and raise our bills. Did you send 5 too many text messages? That’ll be $10.
Not sure if you really need a $250 deductible for your car? Just keep paying 50% more for insurance.
Beat your cell phone company the fast way (15 minutes-45 minutes) — $50 to $600/year savings
The average cell phone bill for an individual is $71 per month — almost $1,000 a year — and yours may be even higher.
But there’s good news: you can use these simple steps to cut your monthly bill in half.
See, cell phone companies spend a fortune on national advertising to get new customers, then treat them horribly and lose them.
But even they’re smart enough to know it’s cheaper to keep you around than to get a new customer.
- Use this simple flowchart to boost your savings
The quickest way to save money on your phone bill is choosing the right plan and bundling services (for instance, cellphone and internet). For instance, one of my writers discovered he could get more data and UNLIMITED minutes at a savings of $720 a year — just by checking other plans available on his phone company’s website.
If you don’t need or want the latest technology, you can also save hundreds of dollars by waiting to upgrade your phone until the next big improvement (usually every 2-3 years).
This flowchart breaks down the simple steps to optimize your phone bill and save $50-$300 a year — in just 10-15 minutes.
- Consider a family plan — even if your family won’t be on it
Cell phone companies’ rates are highest for individuals.
Add other people to your plan and you’ll get the same service or better… and save $10 – $40 every month.
You’ll probably even get unlimited minutes and texting, along with a sizable data plan.
- Compare plans from other networks
This used to take an hour or two, but these sites help you do it in just 5 minutes:
Just write down the best prices, plan details, and carriers. That way you’ll have extra bargaining chips when you call your cell phone provider.
If you want to get even better deals with another phone company, check out these comprehensive reviews to find out how to get the best coverage and features:
- The Wirecutter’s guide to the best wireless carriers
- Consumersearch’s cell phone plan reviews
- Consumer Reports (membership required)
If you’re thinking about getting out of your contract, don’t miss Lifehacker’s How to Get Out Of Your Cell Phone Contract Without Paying Termination Fees. Lifehacker’s article explains your options, including how to trade your contract, navigate customer service, and hack the system — and avoid the early termination fee.
- Call your current cell phone company to find cheaper, unlisted plans
To make it easy, here are the phone numbers:
First, be nice. These people spend 12-hour days dealing with assholes. Treat them well and you’ll be shocked how much nicer they are.
Ask what better plans they have to offer you.
YOU: “Hi, I was looking at my plan and it’s getting pretty expensive. Could you tell me what other plans you have that would save me money?”
THEM: Blah blah same plans as on the website blah blah
YOU: “What about any plans not listed on the website?”
THEM: “No, what we have is listed on the website. Plus, you’re on a contract and have an early cancellation fee of $XXX.”
YOU: “I understand that, but I’d be saving $XXX even with that cancellation fee. We both know times are tough, so I’m thinking of switching to [COMPETITOR COMPANY]. Unless there are any other plans you have…? No? Ok, can you transfer me to your cancellation department, please?”
NOTE: Your goal here is to be switched to their “customer retention” department, which can give you better deals. Remember, they can ONLY cancel your service with your permission.
When you get to the customer-retention department, ask for the same thing.
Tell them your competitive intel. If Verizon offers something for, say, $15 less, let them know. That’s $180 a year in your pocket already. And you have another trick up your sleeve.
YOU: “I like you guys, but you know times are tough and I need to get a better deal to stick with you. You know and I know that your customer acquisition cost is hundreds of dollars, so it makes sense to keep me as a customer. But at these prices, I just can’t justify staying. What can you do to offer me this plan for less money?”
Notice what you didn’t say — “Can you give me a cheaper plan?”
Yes/no questions always get a “no” answer when speaking to wireless customer-service reps. Instead, ask them leading questions. You’ve invoked the customer-acquisition cost, which is meaningful to retention reps.
THEM: “I just checked, and I’m authorized to give you xyz…”
YOU: “It sounds like we’re getting closer. OK, so we have ___ that number.”
“What discounts do you offer for bundling services — say, cell phone and internet?”
“What about discounts for my employer?” (These discounts can often shave 15-25% off your cell phone bill.)
THEM: “OK, this is the best I can do….”
YOU: “Alright, I authorize that. Would you mind sending me a confirmation email?”
One final thing: You’re in a much stronger position if you’re ready to walk away and switch to another carrier (or if they think you’re ready). They’ll never cancel your account without your approval, and you can always call again if they tell you no.
Save $180 to $1,200 on car insurance (20 – 50 minutes)
Most of us pick a rate once, then never go back again. But when we do that, we’re leaving hundreds of dollars on the table because insurance pricing changes, and we’ll never know about discounts and other offers.
So how do you cut your car insurance costs and still stay protected?
- Ask these money-saving questions about your coverage
The fastest way to do this is usually calling your insurance company. (You can also check your insurance company’s discounts page — for instance, Geico’s discount policies.)
Most insurance companies have something similar to GEICO’s discount program.
Here are some of their numbers:
State Farm: 1-855-733-7333
Ask them these money-saving questions:
- “What is my deductible? What would my premium be if I raised my deductible? If I lowered it?”
- “Can you explain my options for additional or decreased coverage?”
- “How much would I save if I insured both my car and house with you?”
- “What about renewal discounts?”
- “How long have I been a member with you? What can you offer me as a discount for long-term membership?”
- If you’ve gone a long time without a moving violation or accident: “What accident-free or safe driver discounts do you offer?”
- If there are other people in your household on the same insurance, “What sort of household discount to I qualify for?”
- “How much can I save by pre-paying my entire year up front?”
- “Let’s look at my car itself. I know other firms offer discounts for features like anti-lock brakes and security systems. What sort of discounts do you give?”
- “What kind of low-mileage discounts do you offer?”
- “If I enrolled in a defensive-driving course, what kind of discount would you offer? Which courses qualify?”
- “What about discounts for my employer?” (Tell them the specific name of your employer.)
- “Some insurance companies offer discounts for low-risk occupations (engineers, etc.). What kind of competitive rates do you offer?”
- “Can you walk me through the deductible changes I could make to save money?”
- (A deductible is what you pay before your insurance policy kicks in, and higher deductibles can lower your costs dramatically. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your bill 15 to 30 percent. Just be sure you set enough money aside to pay a claim if you raise your deductible.)
- “Am I paying for roadside assistance? What other additional ‘benefits’ am I paying for?”
NOTE: If you already pay for AAA, you don’t need roadside assistance through your car insurance. Also, check your credit card: They may offer roadside assistance, but be sure to call them and ask how much it really costs — AAA’s roadside assistance is included, but some offers mean “we’ll call someone for you and then charge you out the ass.”
- If you want to save even more, shop around
You always have the most leverage when there are other offers on the table. That’s why I recommend checking with other reputable insurance companies to see what prices they can offer you.
Start by comparing rates at Bankrate. Bankrate’s site lets you find the lowest rates in minutes, so you’ll know where to start.
Then, call up big insurers because reps are more likely to tell you about unlisted deals:
State Farm: 1-855-733-7333
They’ll walk you through policy options, and you can ask them the questions from Step 1.
When I compared prices a few years ago, the difference between the lowest quote (Geico) and the highest (Progressive) was $734 per year — a huge savings for a few phone calls.
- Look for other insurance discounts
I was shocked to find out that AAA, Costco, credit cards, large employers, associations (AARP, teachers’ unions, etc.) often offer car insurance discounts.
Just log onto their websites and browse to “perks.”
REMEMBER: Saving money is great, but if you pick a fly-by-night operation to save a few bucks, don’t be surprised when they don’t fulfill your claim. Check reviews at Consumersearch or Consumer Reports (if you have a subscription).
Since “negotiating” your car insurance is mostly about checking out changing rates and maximizing every benefit of your policy, set a calendar reminder to do this once a year.
Are you sitting on hidden discounts worth $150 – $600+ a year?
Most of us have thousands of dollars in benefits hiding in our cards — reimbursements, travel discounts, special pricing on everything from laptops to memberships and cars.
Yes, you can get substantial discounts on tickets, cell phone bills, and more… if you know where to look.
But we don’t always get these lists of discounts. And when we do, they’re usually buried inside 100 pages of introductory paperwork.
It’s time to uncover them — fast.
Our jobs can be a huge source of discounts, but most of us don’t consider this because it’s been years since we were hired (or nobody ever told us).
Just ask HR, “What sort of benefits or discounts do I get working here? For instance, can I get a discounted rate on cell phone plans?”
Especially if you work for a bigger company, you’ll be shocked by how many discounts you can get. You’re likely to get 15-25% off your entire cell phone bill, plus cheaper insurance and other benefits.
Because of their size, car insurance companies negotiate deep-discount benefits for their customers. You might get discount tickets, free roadside assistance, even discounts on travel and retail purchases. Ask for a brochure or email with a full list of discounts and benefits.
All you have to do is call them and ask, “What benefits do I get from being a member?”
Here are the big players’ phone numbers to save you time:
Last time I called my health insurance company, I got a $40 credit toward contact lenses every year, along with a free annual check-up and gym membership discount.
All you have to do is ask, “What benefits do I get as a member? For example, do I get a discount on contacts? Does my membership include one annual checkup?”
They’ll list off benefits you can start taking advantage of right away, and you can get a full list of discounts and benefits you qualify for.
Common phone numbers:
I’m still amazed by how many benefits good credit cards offer:
- Automatic extended warranties up to 1 year — for free
- Instant car rental insurance and collision insurance (you’d normally pay a rental company at least $20 a day)
- Trip-cancellation insurance if you get sick
- Dedicated concierge staff
- Price protection and matching
- Lost luggage coverage
- Roadside assistance
Just call up your credit card company and ask for a list of perks you get for being a member.
Common phone numbers:
Call your bank and ask, “What kind of perks do you offer account holders?”
Don’t let them con you into “perks” like “better accounts” (which just mean more fees). You’ll often be able to pay less for accounts, waive fees, get discount tickets, and uncover little-known discounts.
Common phone numbers include:
Turnover is the fitness industry’s #1 enemy.
So call your gym and say, “You know, times are tough and I want to know what kind of benefits I get as a member. Could I try a personal training session for free?”
You’ll often get benefits like membership discounts, too.
Shop faster and smarter (save $120 – $3,200+ a year)
Frugality “experts” get it wrong. You don’t need to cut back or buy junk to save.
In fact, I’m going to give my two commandments for getting better quality products for less money, in less time.
Use a buying checklist to get the best products at 5% to 60% off
Getting a great deal doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s my favorite way to get great deals while shopping — fast.
- Find the best product for your needs (1-5 minutes)
Before the internet, we had to trust salespeople and well-meaning friends and family when it came to shopping.
Now, we can instantly access thousands of reviews without doing the hard work ourselves.
- Check for bargains (5 minutes)
You can save 5% – 50% on every purchase with a minute or two of shopping around — and that’s before cashback discounts in Step 3. Even on a small purchase, that could easily translate into $50-$100 an hour.
Just search these sites for the specific product you picked in Step 1:
eBay is a great source of deeply-discounted items, including electronics.
And if you’re willing to make a few phone calls and drive, you can save hundreds or even thousands by buying bigger-ticket items like high-end bikes or furniture on Craigslist.
And for prescriptions, visit Goodrx.com to instantly find the lowest prescription prices in your area. You’ll save anywhere up to 90% on your prescriptions in under a minute.
- Get cash back on top of your credit card benefits (30 seconds after it’s set up)
It’s possible to get 3-20% back on almost everything you buy.
Many sites get a commission when you click their link to buy something and this commission doesn’t cost you anything.
And with a few minutes’ work, YOU can get the discount or “commission” on almost everything you buy. You’ll get a check or PayPal deposit with a certain percentage of what you spent.
Once you’ve found where you’re going to buy your product, visit these 2 sites to see where you’ll get the biggest cash back bonuses for the site you’re shopping at:
You can save up to 20% at thousands of major sites in under a minute with cashback rewards.
You’ll have to set up a cashback account (which usually takes 2-5 minutes), and then your savings are almost automatic for years to come.
- Get coupon codes (20 seconds)
Many online companies constantly offer discounts to their customers. And you can get them — anywhere from 5-40% off — in seconds. Just visit Retailmenot and type in the company’s name.
If you’re feeling ambitious or can’t find a discount code there, you can google your shopping site’s name + “coupon code.” You’ll save 5 – 60% off most purchases.
Pay for quality where it matters — and buy generic for the rest
I run IWT from my laptop, so I’m happy to invest heavily in a high-end computer.
And if you love something or use it often, I encourage you to spend lavishly on it because high-quality products generally:
- Last much longer (they’re better-made, so total lifetime cost is lower)
- Retain their value longer
- Work better than low-end products
- Make you feel amazing — the leap from, say, a crappy mattress to comfy one is huge
But when you don’t care or notice the difference, buying generic is a perfect way to save. That’s why I buy $2 shampoo — but gladly pay $15 for a jar of salsa.
You can even save 10-50% more by buying things you use frequently in bulk — meat, cheese or beer, for example.
And generic products are often identical. That’s why pharmaceutical companies spend billions convincing people that drugs like Aspirin are better than their generic equivalents, even though they’re chemically identical.
Nowhere is the price hike for brand-name goods higher than in the prescription drug industry.
That’s over $3,000 in savings per year!