Can You Cut Expenses by a Half Million Dollars?

This post was written by Marie. 

With the advent of the Great Recession, today’s populations are re-learning frugality and expense reduction.

Through the harsh reality of real scarcity in our own personal financial situation, we learned those lessons over 40 years ago. We were so poor that we re-used coffee grounds to make more coffee! Out of necessity, my spouse and I integrated multiple strategies to get by on the income we had. In today’s dollars, the cost cutting measures we took throughout our marriage allowed us to NOT spend more than a half million dollars.

Do we still have that money? Well no. We weren’t actually able to save the money we didn’t spend. We couldn’t save it or spend it because it was money we did not have. The strategies did keep us out of debt however, and instilled in us habits of self-reliance, attitudes of ‘we can do that’ and a measure of life-long thriftiness that we might not otherwise have had.

How I avoided spending an estimated $635,961 over the last 40 years.

Follow these cost reduction strategies consistently and you can stack up huge lifetime savings as well. The key is in the consistency, as the strategies are common and not difficult to follow.

$34,680 Personal Care

By cutting my hubby’s and kid’s hair we saved $520 a year for 10 years ($5280). By avoiding manicures and pedicures we saved $480 a year for 40 years ($19,200). I’ve actually never ever had either. By exercising at home instead of paying gym fees we saved $600 per year for 17 years ($10,200).

$262,032 Food Preparation

By feeding our family of four at home for 20 years we saved $168,768. After the kid’s left home hubby and I saved another $84,384. Both are based on an average savings of $5.86 per meal per person for one meal a day for 20 years. The $5.86 is based on a article – Dining on a budget.

By using generic or store brand groceries instead of name brand, you can save 3.7 % of your food budget each month (per the Journal of Economic Perspectives article: Consumer Shopping Behavior, How Much Do Consumer’s Save).  Based on that, we saved $222 dollars a year on a $500 a month food budget for 40 years for a total of $8,880.

$91,404 Entertainment

We took infrequent vacations. When we do go, we spend an average of $3000 for one week of vacationing. If we had vacationed every year for 25 years we would have spent $75,000 on vacations. Instead we took only 6 spending around $18,000, a savings of $57,000.

We used free TV for most of our married life (we do now splurge on satellite TV!). Since cable became widely available in 1990 and we got satellite TV in 2007, we had 17 years of savings of about $51 a month (fees for one step above basic cable) –  total savings over 17 years being $10,404.

We didn’t go out much. On average a typical family will spend about $50 a month to go out to a concert, the movies, an amusement park and etc. By not doing this, we cut expenses by $600 a year for 40 years for a total of $24,000.


Keeping your heat down in the winter and AC up in the summer can go a long way towards saving your dollars. Although we did shiver in the winter and sweat in the summer, I did not include those in my savings figures as I didn’t know of a good way to calculate them.

$56,399 Lawn Care

Doing your own lawn care not only helps you cut costs, but also gets you out in the sunshine and gives you exercise. We cared for a half-acre lot for 10 years and a full acre lot for 20 years. The below estimates are based on The Lawn Adviser site  and the size of the lawn.

Our lawn care includes:

  • Cutting and trimming during seasonal months $800 a year for 10 years and $1600 a year for 20 years totals $28,399 (this is less the cost of the lawn mowers we had during those time-frames).
  • Spring and fall cleanup $300 a year for 40 years totals $12,000.
  • Weeding gardens $150 a year for 40 years totals $6000.
  • Labor cost to apply fertilizer and weed/bug control several times a year $200 a year for 10 years and $400 a year for 20 years total $10,000.

$96,000 House Cleaning

This is another one of those activities that provides physical exercise in addition to cost reductions. We have never had any of our houses cleaned. Using only our last two houses, and calculating on cleanings weekly, we saved $200 a month for 10 years and on our larger home, $300 a month for 20 years for a total of $96,000.

$40,720 Home Repair

Do it yourself home repair can really go either way. These tasks typically require skill sets my spouse and I didn’t have when we started the task, so we ran the risk of doing it wrong and having to pay more to get it fixed! Thankfully, that never happened (so far).

Here is what I included in this estimate:

  • New roof – hubby and friends stripped all the shingles, repaired wood damage and re-roofed our smaller house for an estimated labor savings of $3000 (based on advice from Cost
  • Bath remodel – I tore down a small master bath in our first home and put up new greenboard, new shower base, new tile and new flooring. Based on House Flipping, I saved about $720 by doing the demolition, drywall, paint and flooring myself. This year I updated our Jack and Jill bath with new travertine floor tile, new greenboard and tub surround, new pictures and custom re-model on the two vanities – all for only $721 – but am not including savings from that remodel here.
  • Winterize windows instead of replacing – our first home did not have double pane windows. To keep in the heat, I re-did all the caulking around all the windows, made sure the storm windows went up in the winter and put plastic over most of them during the winter. According to Window Replacementic .com it costs on average between $7,000 and $20,000 to get new windows. I calculated my savings by not doing this at $7,000.
  • Avoiding remodeling of 2 kitchens – According to Kitchen Remodel I would have spent about $30,000 to redo both kitchens in this and our prior home. According to a survey they did, at any one time about 16% of homeowners are involved in remodels. Since we lived in our first house 10 years and have stayed in our current one for 20 years, I figure most homeowners would have re-modeled their kitchens by now!

$1440 Auto Maintenance

For many years we did most of the light maintenance on our vehicles. We changed the oil, rotated the tires, lubricated, check fluids, changed shock absorbers, struts, and did tune ups. Estimating that we would have spent at least $30 on each of two cars twice a year for 12 years (we now have this stuff done!), we saved a total of $1440.

$53,286 – Interest/Professional Fees

Taxes – we did our own taxes for 36 years. At $800 a year (what we pay now – yep we pay a lot!) that comes to a reduction of $28,800.

Cash for cars – for the last 21 years we have paid cash for our cars, avoiding interest on the car loans. According to Dave Ramsey if you buy a 26,000 car with a 6 year car loan, you could pay $33,000 overall. That is about 1166 a year in interest for 21 years totaling an estimated savings of $24,486. For full disclosure, we usually buy cars costing less than $26,000 so our savings would have been slightly less in reality.

You may be thinking ‘foul’!

You may be asking yourself, why didn’t she include NOT buying a $1.5 million house or a $50,000 Mercedes-Benz. While I might have done this, and while it might have been valid in some people’s lives, those types of things were just not in the realm of our possibilities. The items I listed, however, were things that I felt might have been typical and justifiable expenses.

It’s fun to pat yourself on the back for cutting costs. What would you add to the above? What kinds of lifetime cost savings have you stacked up?


Can You Cut Expenses by a Half Million Dollars? — 24 Comments

  1. The only real way to realize the savings is to put the money you would’ve saved into another account, say a savings account, and let it grow. Then by the end of the 40th year, you’ll know exactly how much you saved…and collect interest.

  2. We’ve done most of those plus my husband does actual repairs on our vehicles. That has saved us thousands of dollars over the years. I’ve become pretty good at buying things at deep discount in clothing, gifts, and items for our home. That’s saved thousands of dollars too. Our kids got scholarships to college including one who got a full ride. Talk about saving thousands! We always bought vehicles with great miles per gallon, again saving. I believe all these savings enabled us to raise 4 kids on one salary. And we are now retired with the ability to do some things we enjoy. It pays to DIY!

  3. It’s amazing how much money you can save over the course of your lifetime. I don’t think I am that committed to saving that I would do many of the DIY projects that you did, but kudos to you.

    • Thanks on the DIY. I like to see whether or not I can succeed at stuff – so tackling different kinds of diy is kind of interesting. After this summer though, I’m ready to lay off for awhile. I re-modeled our Jack and Jill bathroom, laying travertine floor tile, tearing out the wallboard and putting in new, and re-doing the vanities.

      We had our master bath redone in 2006 by a contractor and they did a really bad job of it – we weren’t anxious to let another contractor at our house!

  4. Marie,

    I applaud you for having the do it your self attitude. Frankly, I’m a huge delegator on things I just don’t care about. Lawn, house cleaning, haircuts all delegated. But, I recently took up cutting my dogs hair and cleaning my own home. Saved roughly 300 dollars a month!

  5. I love all of these tips, but the one that sticks with me is paying cash for cars. I already do most of these other tips, but I have never paid cash for a car. I could save so much! I think I need a car fund…

    • Whenever we buy a car for cash, it is really hard to write out the check. Just physically hard to remember to write that large of an amount. Once I had to tear up two checks just to get it right!

      We are glad that we are fortunate now to be able to avoid car loans.

  6. Nice job, I’m similar in that I hate to waste money on thing either I can do much more cheaply or buy much more cheaply…

    It’s the little things that make the difference!

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