Pay Yourself First: Cut Your Home Expenses and Build Your Nest Egg

Small steps can help you cut expenses and increase your savings without sacrificing your quality of life.

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by NEA Member Benefits


Ever hear the saying “Look after the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves”? It’s an old proverb meaning that people who make wise decisions on the small things often see larger savings pile up.

Those pennies are especially important for educators who may receive a paycheck only once a month. Savings on household expenses, allocated to an emergency fund, can carry you safely through unexpected expenses when the next payday is still weeks away.

Consider these small ways to trim spending, score discounts and find freebies—so you can save more.

1. Call your insurance agent

Has a driver in your family recently changed their driving habits? Make sure you update your agent if you’re driving fewer miles or participating in a carpool on a regular basis. And while you’re on the phone, ask if your insurer offers any of these common discounts: for teen drivers with good grades or those who have taken an approved drivers’ education course; for college-age drivers who attend school more than 100 miles away; for retired or mature (over the age of 50 or 55) drivers, or for vehicles with optional safety equipment such as running lights or an alarm system.

Bonus idea: Kelly Blue Book also recommends dropping comprehensive auto coverage when premiums are more than 10% of the car’s value. Because claims occur once every 11 years for the average driver, KBB says there’s a good chance you’ll come out ahead. Then, you can earmark those premium savings for your emergency fund.

2. Equalize utility payments

Ups and downs in utility bills can challenge the budgets of educators, especially for those who receive just 10 monthly paychecks each year. One way to ease the strain: Ask whether your water, electric and natural gas providers offer equal payment programs that help you avoid seasonal fluctuations in utility usage through uniform bill payments. Using equal pay means you’re likely to see higher bills during mild weather months, in return for avoiding budget-busting spikes when it takes more energy to keep your home warm or cool.

3. Win the “watt” wars

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that electricity prices are on the rise nationwide. So, try these ideas to lower your energy consumption:

  • Change out power-sucking incandescent light bulbs (if you still have some) in favor of more efficient LEDs and CFLs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to reduce heating and cooling costs when you’re not at home.
  • Turn off lights and appliances when you’re not really using them.
  • When you replace appliances, favor ENERGY STAR®-certified units that consume less energy day to day.

4. Get a grip on groceries

As a category, groceries typically rank as the second-highest monthly household expense, after rent or mortgage payments. Thus, even small savings can deliver a big impact. One way to save: Get serious about planning meals, to reduce food waste at home as well as costly impulse buys at the store. Try a free app like Mealime or FoodPlanner to see how menu planning can help you cut kitchen costs and put money right back into your pocket.

5. Claim your perks

From hotels to home repairs, many retailers and corporations show their love for teachers with special deals and discounts. We’ve compiled a list of educator discounts that’s updated regularly. The list is organized into 12 categories, with the Electronics section, for example, featuring discounts on everything from computers and accessories to software and cellphone service.

And of course, you can find thousands of special deals and discounts available exclusively to NEA members through the NEA Discount Marketplace, and you can earn cash back when you shop, too.

6. Join the “free economy”

What’s better than low-cost or a discount? How about free? When you become a part of the Buy Nothing Project, you tap into an immense network of community-based giving and receiving. Anything goes on a Buy Nothing site, with members regularly scoring big-ticket items like furniture, rugs and appliances as well as smaller, useful things like laundry detergent, plants and puzzles. Teachers, too, can find myriad free items to fill countless classroom needs. Search here to discover if you’re in an area with a Buy Nothing group (if you’re not, you can also learn how to start a new group).

7. Keep looking for ways to cut corners

Check out this story for even more money-saving tips that will show you how to pay less for the services you use every day around your home.

Get serious about savings

Once you’ve freed up a few of those pennies, capture them before they disappear. Best bet: Set up an automatic transfer through your bank, moving a set amount of money each payday from the account you use to pay the bills into an emergency savings or retirement fund.

Every time you make another money-saving move, increase the amount of that automatic transfer. Because while finding ways to save money on daily expenses is fun, watching your savings grow is even better.

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