Clark Howard’s 6-step guide to lowering your monthly bills

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Do you live with the constant feeling that there’s more month than money in your life?

Here is money expert Clark Howard’s plan of attack for your monthly bills to give you more breathing room in your life.

RELATED: Best cell phone plans and deals right now

Clark: Tackle these bills one by one

With so many bills for things that didn’t even exist a generation or two ago, it’s easy to feel squeezed by everything from what you pay for your cell phone, your internet service, pay TV, streaming services, utilities, alarm monitoring and more.

It can all amount to death by a thousand cuts for your budget! But you don’t have to just sit there and take it.

1. Cell phone service

If you’re a creature of habit and you’re with one of the legacy wireless providers like AT&T or Verizon, chances are you’re paying too much for cell phone service.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear: There’s nothing wrong with either company. It’s just that so many more compelling offers from other player have popped up in the marketplace over the last couple years.

Generally, Clark Howard recommends Republic Wireless or Sprint as the best cell phone carrier deals for one person, or T-Mobile or Sprint for families.

Be sure to check our cell phone deals guide for the latest info on what’s in the marketplace.

Switching is the key to saving yourself a bundle of money!

“One woman I spoke to had been paying over $100 a month for a line of service. Now she’s paying $30 with a discounter and getting everything she wants with talk, text and data,” Clark says.

The market for cell service is getting so segmented that there’s sure to be a deal that’s right for you.

For example, did you know that now certain plans drill down by your age and offer you savings if you’re 55 years or older? Both T-Mobile and Sprint offer two lines with unlimited talk, text and data for just $70 when you cross the milestone birthday.

We’ve got complete details on those offers and more for people aged 55+ here.

And in honor of Military Appreciation Month, T-Mobile recently unveiled its Military ONE pricing plan. You’ll get 20% off a first line of service and half off up to five additional voice lines. That can save a military family of four $665 per year compared to AT&T’s military discount and $764 compared to Verizon’s!

The point is, there are so many alternatives that can be so affordable. But even when you have the info, making a change isn’t easy, Clark says.

“You have to be willing to stop the inertia of what you’ve always done and get on a new path for something better and cheaper,” the consumer champ notes.

2. Internet service

With internet service, most of us only have a choice of service from a monopoly phone company and monopoly cable company — if we even have a choice where we live.

Clark’s secret to lowering what you pay for internet is simple: Whoever you’re with, put them in competition with the other provider. And every time a special deal with the one you switched to expires, you have start the process over again.

Yes, it’s a little bit of hassle but you can save significant money, usually on the order of $500 or more per year.

Just know this when you’re shopping: Be sure you always get the quote in writing via email or text.

Meanwhile, Clark has other strategies that can help you save money on your internet service here.

3. Pay TV

While shopping from one wireless provider or one ISP to another is an apples-to-apples kind of comparison, that’s not the case with pay TV.

People who want to lower what they pay for TV will typically cut the cord and go to any of a variety of streaming services.

Cutting the cord can reduce your pay TV bill down from around $100 a month on average to around $40 a month. That’s a savings of more than $700 a year!

But there is a trade-off here: You can have a lower bill, but you’ll also typically have fewer channels. Figure you’ll drop down from around 150 channels with a traditional cable or satellite provider to a third of that — around 50 or so — with a streaming service.

RELATED: Best live TV streaming plans and deals in 2018

If you do want to keep traditional pay TV in your life, Clark’s advice about pitting wireless providers against each other for your business applies here, too.

You want to put the best offer from the satellite companies up against the best from the cable company and the phone company. See who’s willing to make the best deal at that moment. When that deal expires, put them in competition again.

“I’m giving you homework,” Clark says of his process of shopping and re-shopping. “But that homework generates potentially thousands of take-home dollars — tax-free — that you get back in your life.”

4. Utilities

Depending on where you live, you may be able to shop your utilities, too. The more you pay attention to local offers in the market, the more you can save.

Residents of more than two dozen states are free to shop around for the best natural gas or electricity rates because their energy markets have been deregulated.

If you live in one of these states, the website of your state’s Public Service Commission will usually publish monthly energy price updates from all the providers. Use these quotes to comparison-shop for energy.

The rates usually reset once a month. You can typically lock in a fixed rate for 6 to 24 months, depending on the rules in your state.

Shopping for this stuff may not be fun, but it can save you a whole lot of money on a bill that comes every month like clockwork.

Remember, there is no difference between a therm or a kilowatt from one company or another. The only difference is the price! So shopping the market is so key.

5. Gym memberships

Have you seen any of the ultra-low cost no-frills gym that are open 24 hours and tend to price out at around $10/month with no contract? The facilities typically won’t have showers or a juice bar, but they will have all the equipment you need.

And they sure beat the expensive gyms that lock you into a contract that most people are familiar with!

In fact, Clark advises that you never join a gym where you have to sign a long-term contract.

“Signing a contract will not get you to work out,” he says. “You may have the best of intentions, but most people quit working out within 6 weeks, so don’t obligate yourself to a multi-year contract.”

Another great option can be hospital-affiliated gyms. They’re usually rehab-based or geared toward the hospital staff, though most will sell memberships to the public. Most importantly, they’re clean, well run and don’t force contracts on you. Visit the hospital nearest you to see if this kind of gym facility exists in your neighborhood.

6. Burglar alarm monitoring

The home security industry is another in which you never want to sign a long-term contract. That’s because the costs vary so much from provider to provider and the quality can vary just as widely. So it’s not something you want to be locked into — better to be a free agent.

Self-install systems with low monthly monitoring costs can be a great solution, too.

SimpliSafe is the leader in the field and offers 24/7 professional monitoring without the excessive fees tacked on by third-party vendors. Monitoring starts at $15/month.

In addition to SimpliSafe, there are at least 10 other self-install burglar alarm choices in the market. Get an overview of them all here.

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