If your monthly overhead is overwhelming you, follow Megan Hottman’s tips to cut spending. This is the second article in a series about redefining success and achieving financial freedom. Megan, also known at The Cyclist Lawyer, formed her own law practice in 2010 at age 29. She has been an EO Colorado member since 2018. Check out the other two articles in this series, “Are You in Over Your Head in Overhead?” and “How Low Can You Go?”
As is often the case in personal injury law practices, we can be funding many cases, while going a long time between settlements or verdicts—which means there is no money coming in but plenty going out.
In early 2018, we happened to fall into one of those phases where we had lots of new cases requiring lots of up-front investments in records, experts and filing fees. Meanwhile, we did not have any cases resolving. We went on like this for many months in a row.
My law firm has a healthy line of credit with the bank intended for times just like this. And my house is paid off, so I could borrow against it. Plus, I’ve got a great credit score that would allow me to charge a lot to my credit cards or even to take out a personal loan.
These were all options, yes. Instead, I turned this dry phase into a game. I decided to see just how low I could cut spending. Here are a few of the steps I took to slash my overhead:
- I went for a month without home Internet. This saved me US$70—and also showed me just how often I am on my phone surfing the web and how many evenings I rely on streaming a movie. Still, there were unintended benefits: I couldn’t accomplish work-related items at home without Internet, so I read books, spent time outside, and did other activities that don’t require sitting in front of a screen!
- I experimented with limiting my grocery shopping and using more of the food already in my pantry and freezer. We’d all be amazed by how much food we have on hand most of the time, and there was plenty there for me.
- I rode my bike instead of driving for almost every outing. In fact, I used my car only five times in the month of July! This equaled fewer trips to the gas station (not to mention the benefit to my health).
- I reviewed recurring costs that we all tend to take for granted. For example, I cut my Pandora premium. I revised my phone plan. I switched my insurance company to increase deductibles and increase coverage limits (insure the catastrophic, not the inconsequential, as my friends at Wealth Factory often say).
Most significantly, I sat down and made a list of everything I spend money on. I compiled credit card statements, bills, invoices and bank statements—and I made an inventory of every expense.
Then, I went about the business of deciding what stayed and what could be reduced. For example, I could put my gym membership on hold in the summer, when I typically exercise outside. Internet companies will negotiate with us when we can find a competitor with a better deal. Cell phone offerings change and, often, we can get a lower rate as benefits improve. (For example, how many of you, like I was, are paying for minutes over your plan each month, when it’s often cheaper to switch to unlimited talk, text and data?)
Something else I did during this time is to consolidate credit cards with benefits and then start using those benefits, points or credits.
How many of us are so busy chasing our next dollar, we overlook the ones right under our nose?
My credit card gives me rewards back as cash credits to my statement, but I had not yet signed up. Now, those credits auto-post to each statement, resulting in $200 or more deducted from my balance each month! My airline account had enough credits built up that I was eligible for a few free flights!
Bottom line: I picked one airline, one rental car company, one personal credit card and one business credit card. I streamlined my accounts and finances. Less is more here, because it takes energy to maintain and oversee each account. Plus, these companies count on us being distracted or overwhelmed in the hopes they won’t have to pay us the benefits we were promised!
It’s easy to bleed cash or credit and not even realize it. We’re all so busy that we rarely spend time looking at those smaller charges. But friends, those recurring “small” charges are the ones that eat us alive. It’s worth our time to pay attention and streamline.
I also asked for higher limits on my two remaining credit cards. Why? Because now that I use a lower percentage of my overall available credit, my credit score has gone up, which means I can get better rates and better loans when I need them. So simple, yet so profound!
Evaluate what you’re buying, the payments that are on auto-pilot and any service that can be negotiated or cancelled. Assess your inventory—for example, are there items you’ve stockpiled and stored that you could use first before buying more?
After this dry spell earlier at work resolved, my firm has gone on to have its best year in business ever. The lessons I learned during the dry spell have remained. Now that we are flush again, I didn’t go back to a higher overhead.
Instead, I’ve learned to keep the monthly overhead low, whether it’s a feast or famine season. During periods of abundance, I can then invest in myself and my future—by spending money on vacations, vehicles or real estate.
Megan Hottman has raced three Ironman Triathlons and won state and national championships on her bike—all while running a successful law practice. She’s also known to lead circuit-training classes in the lobby of legal conferences to reinvigorate participants. Megan is an EO Colorado member who joined the organization in 2018. Read more from Megan at maximumenthusiasm.com.