There are a lot of ways to reduce spending and save money, but when it comes down to brass tacks, there's only so much fat that can be cut from any budget. After all, there are certain expenses that even the savviest of us can't shrink any further. Although you may not be able to eliminate those costs, these investments might help take the sting out of having to pay for these common monthly expenses.
1. It's probably not surprising to learn that the biggest expense for most families is shelter. Paying a mortgage can eat up 30% or more of the average family's budget, and interest payments represent a good chunk of that monthly bill.
Those interest payments can really add up for banks, especially when we consider that they aren't just lending money for homes, but also for cars, businesses, buildings, and factories, too. Because banks fund those loans with low-cost sources like savings accounts, loans can make banks pretty profit friendly -- especially if the bank avoids risky and unproven products like the bundled loans that caused the financial crisis in 2008.
One big bank lender that's done a nice job of avoiding those risky products is Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC). While there's always the risk of another economic swoon, Wells Fargo survived the Great Recession better than many of its peers, and the bank is arguably in better financial shape today than it was then.
2. The second-biggest line item for most people is utility payments. Electricity, cable, and natural gas can be pretty pricey; but investors may fret less about paying those bills every month if they invest in the companies that are providing those services.
Investments in electricity providers tend to be less volatile than investments in other sectors, and most of these companies pay a dividend. Investors interested in owning utilities may want to consider the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEMKT:XLU), which invests in 30 different companies, and pays investors a 3.2% dividend yield. As far as cable companies go, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) may be a good choice, but its dividend yield is just 1.6%.
3. According to research firm Gallup, the average family spends about $150 a week on groceries, or $7,800 per year. As anyone with a teenager knows, a trip to the grocery store can be budget busting.
To hedge that monthly food bill, shoppers may want to consider investing in a grocer like Kroger (NYSE:KR). Kroger is one of the largest grocery-store operators in America. Last quarter, the company reported that sales at stores open at least one year grew by 5.6%. The company's ongoing expansion plans, which include a string of acquisitions, means that Kroger's revenue should keep climbing. While supermarket profit margins are typically thin, Kroger's 2.77% operating margin during the past 12 months is more than 1% better than its competitor Safeway.
Investors looking for an even faster-growing grocer may want to look at Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM). Shares of Whole Foods have retreated this year over worries about competition, but its 6.5% operating margin makes it intriguing.
4. According to TruCar.com, the average new car costs roughly $31,000, and that means that average auto payments are getting increasingly more expensive. Savvy consumers can save some money by buying slightly used, low-mileage vehicles, but even buying those vehicles will result in forking over a big chunk of hard-earned money.
Although automakers are cyclical companies that can be risky when economies stutter, investors might still want to consider owning General Motors (NYSE:GM) or Toyota (NYSE:TM). Both are global automakers that generate billions of dollars in annual revenue, and each is likely to benefit over the long haul from growth in emerging markets.
5. Gasoline prices have been shrinking during the past couple of months, but gasoline costs remain one of the most frustrating of our monthly expenses. Aside from trading in our car for a more fuel-efficient model, there's little that can be done beyond regular tune-ups and proper tire inflation to reduce our gasoline expenses.
To take a bit of the sting out of swiping a card at the pump every week, investors might want to consider investing in ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) or Chevron (NYSE:CVX), two of the globe's biggest oil and gas companies. Profit at those companies climbs when prices go up, but sags when prices fall. As a result, the recent drop in gasoline prices has taken shares in both companies lower, but that could prove to be an opportunity for long-term investors to sprinkle them into portfolios. After all, if lower prices force smaller, less financially sound oil companies to shutter production, both companies could benefit down the road, especially if they use weakness to buy oil fields on the cheap. In the meantime, investors in ExxonMobil or Chevron will be paid a solid dividend yield of 3% or 4%, respectively.
6. Health insurance is one of the biggest monthly expenses facing Americans, and spending on hospitalization and medicine is likely to cause insurance premiums to climb higher now that baby boomers are getting older.
Investors looking to profit from that spending trend may want to consider taking a stake in either UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) or Anthem (NYSE:ANTM). These two are among the biggest health insurers in the nation, and each is seeing revenue jump thanks to rising demand for Medicare plans and reform-driven insurance enrollment.
7. If you spend a lot of money on clothing or on hobbies, there are plenty of investment choices, too. Clothing is a bit discretionary, so sales tend to suffer when unemployment increases, but savvy shoppers may want to keep an eye on tried-and-true aspirational brands like Coach (NYSE:TPR). Shares in Coach have fallen 40% this year as margin has retreated, but with a reasonable balance sheet and an iconic brand, there could be an opportunity for long-term investors to buy shares on sale.
If ATVs or motorcycles are more your thing, two companies that might be a good fit for portfolios are Polaris (NYSE:PII) and Harley Davidson (NYSE:HOG). Last quarter, Polaris' revenue and earnings per share climbed 18.4% and 24.5%, respectively. Harley Davidson's sales and profit have stagnated this past year, but it remains one of the world's most-recognized and desirable brands, and is arguably not overvalued.
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Todd Campbell has no position in any stocks mentioned. Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may or may not have positions in the companies mentioned. Todd owns Gundalow Advisors, LLC. Gundalow's clients do not have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Anthem, Chevron, Coach, General Motors, Polaris Industries, UnitedHealth Group, Wells Fargo, and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coach, Polaris Industries, Wells Fargo, and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.