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How to Save Money on Discretionary Expenses

06/12/2023 - Effective Saving, Financial Wellness & Life Planning, Budgeting, WesBanco Wellness Series

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WesBanco Wellness: A Series for Your Financial Health

Living the Frugal Life: How to Save Money on Discretionary Expenses

Savvy Money Management Means Getting Up Close and Personal With Your Discretionary Spending

Changes to the economy, your work or living situation and your personal goals may prompt you to look at your budget for opportunities to save. But where do you start? Enter discretionary spending. Discretionary expenses are non-essential expenses a person can survive without if necessary. Reviewing this area of your budget first can carve out more room for savings. WesBanco’s personal finance tool allows you to link various accounts together so you can view everything at once, from spending and budgeting to your overall cash flow.

Cutting your discretionary spending can be hard, and it might feel like you’re cutting all the fun out of your budget. But reducing your discretionary expenses for a short time to meet a fun goal, like a vacation or luxury purchase, can give you a little more incentive. Saving for long-term and practical purchases can be harder, but with a bit of planning, you can find ways to enjoy what you love while still saving for the future.

Understanding Your Discretionary Spending

The first step to cutting back is understanding your discretionary expenses: what you consider mandatory spending and what you don’t. Review your credit card bills for the last few months and divide your spending into these categories:

Mandatory Spending Examples:

  • Rent or mortgage payment
  • Utilities (gas, electric, water, trash, cell phone, wireless internet, etc.)
  • Groceries
  • Household supplies

Discretionary Expense Examples:

  • Cable
  • Streaming services
  • Meals out
  • Charitable donations
  • Tickets (movies, concerts, sports games, special events)
  • Memberships (museums, zoos, gyms)
  • Subscription services (newspapers, audiobooks, beauty boxes)

We all have different priorities, and some items in your discretionary spending list may feel more like essentials. That’s why cutting discretionary expenses is personal. Once you’ve identified areas you can cut back on, following these money management tips will help you make changes and stick to your new budget:

11 Ways to Cut Discretionary Expenses

Here’s a look at your discretionary spending in two major categories: hobbies and food.

How to Cut Back on Hobbies
If you’re trying to save money and budget your discretionary expenses, try out these trimming tips:

  1. Trade a night out for a night in: At-home movie and board game nights are fun without a high price tag. To feel better about cutting back, pick one or two events a year that you want to enjoy in person. Plan to go all-out to make them even more special.
  2. Limit your subscriptions: Between streaming services, music platforms and gym memberships, you could end up paying a lot every month. Evaluating your discretionary spending can show you which subscriptions you’re actually using.
    • Money management pro tip: Reevaluate your subscriptions at least once a year to cancel or shift to a lower-cost tier. You may even find community resources that are free or low-cost and offer similar benefits.
  3. Explore community resources: Keep a lookout for local entertainment right in your neighborhood. Check out your local library’s collection of the latest books, movies and music recordings instead of buying new ones. Attend community concerts, festivals and events for lower-cost sources of fun.
  4. Find cheaper ways to do your hobby: If you attend a gym, compare prices to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Consider affordable alternatives, such as home workout subscriptions, hiking or biking. If you love to craft or read, take inventory of what you have and use up, reuse and recycle materials before buying more.
  5. Vacation smart: A few simple swaps can give you that much-needed break without breaking the bank. Try road-tripping instead of flying, camping instead of staying at a hotel and traveling during the off-season instead of when it’s most expensive.
  6. Buy used instead of new: Check out local thrift stores or garage sales when you’re on the hunt for new clothes or furniture.

How to Cut Back on Food
Food is essential, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make more cost-friendly choices. If you’re looking for ways to trim down your discretionary spending on food, try these tips.

  1. Dine out less: We all know going to a restaurant is pricier than making meals yourself. Try putting a cap on how often you dine out in a month or limiting yourself to restaurants in a certain price range.
  2. Take advantage of leftovers: These make easy lunches and dinners that save you money and time.
  3. Focus on essentials: Fill your grocery cart with things you know you’ll eat before they go bad. Pantry staples like pasta, beans and canned vegetables are affordable and versatile.
  4. Meal plan and prep: You’ll be less likely to stop by the drive-thru or order delivery if you already have a plan for what you’ll eat or have a meal ready to go.
  5. Buy in bulk, discount shop and use coupons: Save big by shopping at discount stores or trying to price match, and take advantage of coupons and loyalty programs.

What About Mandatory Spending?

While discretionary expenses are easier to cut, your mandatory expenses, like bills and debts, can be trickier. The good news is that there are still ways to lower mandatory spending expenses, including negotiating premiums, monitoring your utility usage or changing service providers.

Paying off any debt is an essential part of money management and something you should continue to prioritize, even when cutting discretionary expenses.

Balancing Discretionary Spending

Finding opportunities to trim your discretionary spending helps you keep a healthy budget. And when you’re feeling squeezed for cash, small changes to your budget can make a big difference. Remember, these changes don’t have to be permanent. Even temporary changes can build up your savings over a few months or a year. Try out the following tool to see if you’re saving enough each month.

Saving enough each month? The interactive planner below will help you set concrete savings goals and show you how much you need to save every month to reach them.


Explore Savings Options


Content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or financial advice. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of WesBanco.

While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.

Neither Strategy Academy nor its sponsoring partners make any warranties or representations as to the accuracy, applicability, completeness, or suitability for any particular purpose of the information contained herein. Strategy Academy and its sponsoring partners expressly disclaim any liability arising from the use or misuse of these materials and, by visiting this site, you agree to release Strategy Academy and its sponsoring partners from any such liability. Do not rely upon the information provided in this content when making decisions regarding financial or legal matters without first consulting with a qualified, licensed professional.

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