Get Your Debt Under Control | Reduce your Variable Expenses

The best way to begin getting the debt under control is to reduce your monthly spending. We all know the tried and true adage, “Spend Less than you Earn”. But do you ever wonder where to begin?

One simple solution, focus on reducing your variable expenses.

Variable expenses include those that can be changed or eliminated entirely.

Variable expenses are those that fluctuate each month, such as clothing, food, entertainment, vacations, utilities. And since it is easier to reduce variable expenses than fixed expenses it make for a great place to start cutting back.

Get Rid of Unnecessary Expenses

Reducing variable expenses is done by altering your daily habits. But if you can prepare meals by scratch instead of buying take-out and prepared or frozen food. Eating out is one of the most excessive categories for wasted money. Keep track of money you spend eating out for one month, you might just realize you are spending $416 on fast food and restaurants!

You might also start doing your own manicures or getting your haircuts done at a beauty school.

The goal is to reduce variable expenses to free up enough money to pay down your debt and build your cash savings or emergency fund.

Start or Join a Challenge

For those who need extra motivation or tips for cutting variable expenses, consider starting or joining a challenge. I just joined the Catfight of the Personal Finance Blogger Chicks. It’s a group of gals {Single Mom, Rich Mom, Barbara Friedburg Personal Finance, Move to Portugal and myself} clamoring for the win of who spent the least in the month of June.

We actually will all come out winning in the end, but it’s a great way to maintain motivation in paying down your debt, building your reserves or just making ends meet.

Reducing the Variable Expenses

Here are some of the ways I have started reducing variable expenses for this month:

OLD Habit NEW Habit
Eating Lunch @ Bistro Bring Lunch to Work Everyday
Cook Single Meals Batch Cook to provide several meals
Run errands several times a week Limit to once a week
Go to the Movie Theater Rent a Movie
Buy a Book Library or Kindle version

*I will need to come up with more ways, as I’ve pretty much eliminate things like subscriptions & gym memberships and I rarely go out to the bar or to a restaurant

Make your own list

Take out a blank notebook or piece of paper {or a blank Excel worksheet}. Across the top label: Expense, Current Monthly Cost, Budgeted Monthly Cost, and Monthly Savings. Then under the expenses column label the variable expense categories like, subscriptions, clothing & apparel, maintenance, groceries & food, entertainment, transportation, restaurant foods and utilities.

Consider all the ways you could start reducing your variable expenses today. List them all. Brainstorm freely. Is it turning down the thermostat a few degrees? Is it learning to fix things yourself {hey, I know how to change the brakes on my car!}. Or is it learning to darn the hem on your pants?

Now calculate the difference between paying someone to do these things versus you doing them yourself {Manicure $30 at the salon versus free if you do them at home}.

What are some of the ways you can reduce your variable expenses right now or have been practicing already in your life? Please comment and share those awesome ways. We can help each other save money if we “lead by example” – incorporate the following attitudes and practices into your life, which will help improve your own life, but also begin to fashion yourself into the kind of person that others will follow and emulate. 😉

26 thoughts on “Get Your Debt Under Control | Reduce your Variable Expenses

    1. Money Funk

      Or maybe swap movies with your neighbor. We have 2 drawers full of movies that we probably won’t ever watch again. And if you have a big library, its likely you’ll have a good selection of movies… which reminds me, I still have an overdue book from the SF library. 😉

  1. Everyday Tips

    I have gotten kind of lazy with keeping to our budget lately because spring is just so crazy. Now that summer is here, I will have more time to cook and such, but it also means fun weekend trips. I guess there are opportunities to spend no matter what time of year it is.

    My short term goal is to handle a handful of financial things that are bugging me. I need to call my insurance rate to look into lowering our rate and raising our deductible. I also have to research the best way to handle having a 16 year old driver in the house (for insurance reasons. Figuring out how to handle a 16 year old is a whole other subject 🙂 ). I have some medical charges I need to dispute, an issue with the cable bill, and more. Just having those items wiped off my list with make me happy.

    In time, I will also be really evaluating our spending. I need to see how some things work out first.

    Good post!

    1. Money Funk

      And when the sun comes out to warm us up…its So easy to spend money. Falls lightly through the fingers. 😉

      Now I am with you on the teenager. I have a 15 1/2 year old too. And we are just beginning to have him learn to drive, but that time will be here very soon, no less. And insurance w/ a teen… No cheap feet.

      Re-evaluate the spending. Tuck in corners where you can. And you’re son will be happy he is driving. 🙂
      BTW, cable companies suck {I have no luck with them either}

  2. Serendipity

    This is a great refreshing way to rethink about variable expenses. I’ve been trying to find ways to cut back on spending so I can start the snowflake method everybody talks about and start sending some principle payments to my car loan. I’m so sick of it, it must die!


    1. Money Funk

      Hey girlie! How are the braces coming along? You know, its tough to cut back on variable expenses. Even tougher to make the money go towards debt or savings and not to another expenditure. I think about that alot, “well if I free up this I can put towards this”. Need to make it go to the one place I chose. And sending principle payments to a car loan {because we all know cars depreciate very quickly} is a great idea. I need to do that myself. That $400 payment of mine needs to be GONE. Best of luck with your snowflaking – great idea!

  3. Doug Warshauer

    Let me add one more tip on where to begin to search for cost savings. It is very helpful to try benchmarking. By benchmarking, I mean comparing your spending patterns to those of average Americans. Benchmarking can give you an objective perspective on your spending levels that you cannot get any other way.

    Average Americans, for example, spend about 14% of their net income on food and 5% on clothing. If your spending is greater than these percentages in those categories, you may find savings opportunities by taking a close look at your spending habits there.

    Of course, nobody is exactly average, and there are lots of reasons to spend more or less than average on any given category. But using these benchmarks can help considerably in hunting for savings opportunities.

    1. Money Funk

      Doug, I love the title and picture on your book. That’s great! Online software programs like or offer charts that will break up your debt into percentages. Or a good Excel chart will do that for your budget, too. So it would be a good way for a person to benchmark their finances compared to the national average. Thanks for the tip.

      1. Doug Warshauer

        Thanks Money Funk! I’ve been working on an Excel spreadsheet to do exactly that, helping to sort expenses into categories and automatically comparing your spending to the benchmarks. I’d be happy to email a copy to you (and any of your readers) and would love some feedback.

  4. Rainy-Day Saver

    We’ve pretty much cut out all of the obvious variable spending — we rarely eat out, brown bag our lunches and use Netflix (and get our money’s worth). The problem then becomes where *I* would cut further — there are things Mr. Saver just won’t compromise on. He smokes, so if he quit, that would be about $300 month saved. I’d chop a number of our cable TV channels — the movie package my husband so loves is $30/month. And if we really looked, we could probably get our cell phone bill reduced a bit, too, although I think we’re on the lowest minutes package already.

  5. James

    i am a huge movie buff and i am the first to admit that going to the movies $10, drink $5 & popcorn $5= $20 is not smart but i just love going so much. i am going to join Netflix at $10 for the month and save myself at least $40 per month x 12 = $480 on the year.

    i am also a huge fan of going to lunch with co-workers 4 times a week if i limit this to 2 i will save myself $20 a week or $80 a month $960 a year.

    when you look at it like this that is almost enough to go on a vacation…maybe i should start to think about a long weekend away.

  6. Barb Friedberg

    I pains me to say this… but I love the excel chart. So clear and simple! Very nice!
    But let me just mention, I am watching a Scarlett Johanson movie RIGHT NOW… borrowed from the library-Free fun! Let the competition begin 🙂 Regards, Barb

  7. Find and share referral rewards

    Great topic and list. Variable expenses add up every month and are the ones my wife and I are working to improve our family finances. The one that we have really used is using our library for books rather than buying them through Amazon used or going to Borders.

  8. Kristia@FamilyBalanceSheet

    This sounds like a great challenge. It is always very motivating when other people are involved to offer suppport, ideas and friendly competition.

    We are always looking for ways and ideas to cut back, but I don’t think I’ll ever talk my husband into giving up cable tv.

  9. Jenna

    I rent books on CD from the library load them onto my iPod and listen to them on the way into work (I take a commuter rail). This cuts down on book and magazine purchases.

  10. DIY Investor

    Also think of ways to reduce costs of expensive habits. I get massages at Baltimore School of Massage (your beauty school mention brought this to mind) using coupons from the paper for $20/hour. Private spa is $60/hour and up.
    Volunteer at wine festivals and you usually get a couple of bottles of wine. In Maryland there are festivals every weekend.

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  13. Mike

    Christine, great post. We have done some budgeting and found out that we are actually not making ends meet every month. So, we started looking at our expenses, and as you suggested we were spending too much on “variable” expenses. So we cut, cut, cut.
    Moreover, we looked at our fixed expenses and were able to renegotiate some our monthly fixed expenses and were able to save another 25%.

    Now, we actually have money left over every month and to pay towards our debt and reduce the loan interest and duration.

    Let me tell, it is a bit painful at first, but you must make it fun for the family.

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  16. SheilaT

    I just got out of deep debt by focusing on getting rid of my high interest rate cards first. It does not really take that long if you focus. It’s easy to slide right back in that debt if you don’t handle those variable cost.
    Sheila The T

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  19. RoadOutOfDebt

    Everyone know that developing new habits is not the easiest thing to do. For someone that always had lunch and dinner out, start cooking could be a tough challenge, but the efforts will pay off. Most of people have a shock when they realize how much they pay on food and how cheap it is to buy it from the grocery and cook it.

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