When you dive deep into anything — exercise, photography, or even something niche like making your own beer — you gain a deeper appreciation for the nuances.
The same goes for personal finance. As you learn more about managing money and building a stable financial future, you realize just how many little choices we make each day that affect our bottom line. From the type of milk we drink to how much meat we eat, almost everything we do can save or cost us money.
A: Ask for a discount every time you shop. You never know what kind of hidden specials a store might have. You could benefit from a sale a day in advance of it or a clerk might extend an employee discount if you ask nicely. Even if you only land a deal once in a while, the savings will really add up over time.
B: Bundle your car and homeowner’s insurance. In most instances, if you sign up for coverage from the same insurer, you’ll pay less. While you’re at it, ask the company about any extra discounts you might qualify for, like a safe driver reward or a reduced rate for taking a defensive driving course.
C: Check your health insurance for extra benefits. You may get reimbursed for your gym membership or earn a gift card after passing a physical. You might even have free access to a personal trainer or nutritionist.
D: Don’t always buy name brand items. If you’re avoiding generic or private label goods, it’s time to reconsider. Not only are many of these just as tasty or effective as their brand name counterparts, but they’re significantly cheaper, too. (In some instances, both brands are even made by the same manufacturer!) Consumer Reports found that store brands are around 25 percent more affordable than similar national brands.
E: Examine the fees related to your investments, understand where they’re coming from, and search for low-cost funds. Every little bit you spend on trade fees, load fees, and advisory fees affects your overall return. Ally Invest offers self-directed investors the ability to trade stocks and ETFs for $4.95 per trade (for accounts with an average daily balance of $100,000 or more and/or place 30 or more trades per quarter, the fee drops to $3.95) and Managed Portfolio investors pay an advisory fee of just 0.30 percent, which is less than the industry average.
F: Find a better rate for your cell phone by shopping around. If your service is with one of the big four carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile — you could be paying more than you need to. Switching to smaller providers like Google, Republic Wireless, Cricket, and MetroPCS could cut your bill in half while maintaining the same level of coverage.
G: Go to ethnic and farmers markets instead of traditional grocery stores for cheaper produce, meat, and spices. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four can expect to spend almost $900 on food each month. Markets can be just as reputable as your neighborhood supermarket chain, but can offer lower prices because of less overhead and lower marketing costs.
H: Heed your car’s maintenance schedule to avoid costly repairs. We know, it’s annoying to get your oil changed regularly, but it’s certainly much cheaper than running out and damaging your engine. Keep detailed records or apply a handy reminder sticker to your windshield, so you know exactly when your car needs a tune-up.
I: Increase the amount you regularly contribute to savings. Even a $5 to $25 boost per month can have a huge impact over time on the balance of your savings account. Get a promotion at work? Stash your additional salary in savings. After all, you’re not used to having it, so you won’t feel like you’re going without.
J: Join swap groups on Facebook or Freecycle to find gently used items for your home and family. Your neighborhood or town Facebook page is likely full of people who have extra tools, toys, sports equipment, and other goods they’re looking to offload. Often, you can pick up something for free if you’re willing to, well, pick it up. Added bonus: One man’s trash becoming another man’s treasure keeps it out of the landfill.
K: Keep your savings in an account that earns a competitive interest rate. If you move your $5,000 emergency fund from an account earning just 0.03 percent interest to one paying 2 percent, you’ll earn approximately $100 in interest over 12 months.
L: Look to lower your auto loan costs. You might be able to reduce your car payment by applying to refinance. Refinancing isn’t just available to homeowners — it’s possible to apply for a new auto loan with more affordable terms. Say you currently pay $600 a month on a $20,000 loan with four years remaining that charges 8.5 percent interest. If you refinance to loan with a 4.5 percent interest rate, you could save a couple thousand dollars in interest charges and reduce your monthly payment by almost $40.
M: Minimize your food budget by eating less meat and buying in bulk. Buy beans, quinoa, and other plant-based proteins in bulk from a wholesale club or the bulk aisle of your local supermarket just a few times a month can reduce your per meal costs.
N: Negotiate a better deal with your cable and internet provider. Keep an eye out for competitor promotions and see if your provider will match the offer.
O: Open a Health Savings Account (HSA) if you have a high deductible health insurance plan. It can be confusing to understand how they work, but you shouldn’t skip out on enrolling in one. That’s because with an HSA, you have pre-tax money withdrawn automatically from your paycheck. Later on, those funds can be used to pay for medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. If you don’t have access to HSA, see if your employer offers a Flex Spending Account (FSA), which functions similarly.
P: Put windfalls, like a bonus from work, an inheritance, or cash earned from selling something no longer needed, toward high-interest debt. The faster you pay off the revolving balance on your credit cards and other high-interest debt, the less you’ll pay in interest charges.
Q: Quit using one-click shopping and delete your credit card information from your browser and any merchant apps on your phone. Online shopping can be addictive. When you’re forced to enter payment information manually, it adds a layer of difficulty — and you’ll be more mindful about your purchases. (Do you really need four more bottles of shampoo?!)
R: Refer friends to services you use frequently, whether it’s your favorite hair stylist, auto mechanic, handyman, or subscription box, and you could land a discount or free service for yourself.
S: Switch your checking account to a bank with account features that better match your usage and lifestyle. For instance, if you frequently use ATMs, you could be paying hundreds of dollars a year in out-of-network ATM fees. Or you might be spending unnecessarily on monthly maintenance fees or check fees. Make the move and you could find an interest-earning checking account that pays a higher rate, too. The Ally Bank Interest Checking Account offers competitive rates and doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee, regardless of your account balance.
T: Transfer higher-rate credit card balances to a lower rate credit card if you carry a revolving balance. You could take advantage of a 0 percent APR balance transfer offer when available.
U: Utilities are a necessary expense. But you can save money by unplugging TVs, game boxes, DVRs, toasters, phone chargers, and other gadgets that eat up electricity. You can also lower the thermostat, take shorter showers, and install a low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators to help conserve heat and water.
V: Volunteer at events and concerts instead of paying for a full-price ticket. In addition to experiencing the event, volunteers sometimes get free swag or a meal in exchange for their hard work, plus you’ll meet new people and become a stronger part of your community.
W: Wait 24 hours before making a big purchase. To limit impulse spending, keep items in your shopping cart for an entire day or add them to a wish list. Waiting for the initial infatuation period to fade not only reducing the possibility of you making a purchase you’ll later regret, but you might also score an extra discount from the merchant since you “forgot an item in your cart.”
X: X-rays, MRIs, blood work, and other medical test pricing varies from provider to provider. It can be a pain, but it’s smart to always get a quote before scheduling a service or procedure. You could save hundreds of dollars simply by going to a different facility.
Y: Yearly reviews are key for evaluating your progress on important savings goals. Are you socking enough away to make a down payment on a house in the coming year? Did you open an account to save money for your one year old’s future college expenses? If you’re hitting your savings targets, set higher goals for the coming year. But if you’re falling short, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, brainstorm how you can get back on track or try goal-based savings.
Z: Zero in on any bad spending habits. Every couple of months, go over your bank and credit card statements with a critical eye. Identify any spending leaks you make on a consistent basis, then come up with a plan to cut back gradually. Going cold turkey never works, but if you spend in moderation, you can enjoy life without feeling deprived.
- Which tip are you most likely to try in your own life?
- If you could reduce your spending on one thing, what would it be?
- What is your go-to savings strategy?