Like the rest of us, you work extremely hard for your money.
Also, like the rest of us, you have some pretty important financial goals you want to achieve, whether that’s increasing your savings rate, building an adequate emergency fund, buying your first home, or retiring by the age of 60.
This is why it’s important to find ways to keep as much of your hard-earned money in your hands as possible.
But knowing what to do next when it comes to finding ways to save money isn’t always as straightforward as it should be. Fortunately for you, we’ve compiled 15 effective and proven money hacks that you can start using almost immediately to help you save thousands of dollars.
1. Create a Plan for Your Money
First and foremost, before anything else, you’ll want to create a game plan and overall strategy for your money. Doing this is arguably, or maybe inarguably, one of the best things you can do right now to make sure you’re setting yourself up for a successful financial future.
In fact, few things can make a difference in your financial outcome more than having a financial plan.
Let’s consider it in the context of things most of us are familiar with. There’s a good chance you wouldn’t play a new board game without reading the instructions or even trying to solve a puzzle without seeing the picture on the front. There’s also a good chance that you wouldn’t travel to a completely new destination without a map or a basic set of instructions. And there’s an even better chance that you wouldn’t build a new house without having detailed blueprints.
Yet, most of us have continued to navigate our financial lives without even the most basic plan in place. That means for the most important financial decisions of our lives, including our path to retirement, we’re navigating them blindly.
The stark reality is that Americans struggle with their financial lives, including the decisions they’re making. Having a plan can and will change that.
Make a promise to yourself for 2021 to start taking control of your financial life by putting a game plan in place to help you set goals, provide motivation, and provide insight into all the major areas of your financial life.
2. Use Free Financial Tools and Calculators
With the sheer abundance of financial tools, apps, and calculators that exist, not having some basic financial understanding and insight into how you’re doing is no excuse.
You can literally find a financial tool and calculator for just about anything. What’s even better is that several of the best online resources and tools are either completely free to use or offer some free version you can get started with.
These tools can help you quickly and accurately assess your financial situation or certain parts of it so that you can gain insight into how you’re doing and where you should be focusing your attention.
For example, if you’re looking to determine the impact of compound interest on your retirement savings, you can quickly Google for the best of those calculators. If you’re looking to draft a monthly budget quickly, you’ll want to use a monthly budget calculator. If you’re looking for insight into your retirement outlook and current trajectory, consider using an online retirement calculator.
3. Find Yourself an Accountability Partner
An accountability partner can be the extra motivation you need to help keep you focused and stay the course.
If you’re unsure exactly what an accountability partner is, it’s exactly what it sounds like: someone who is there to help you stay accountable and on top of your financial progress.
This person can be a spouse or a partner you’re living with, or it can be a friend, colleague, or relative that you trust. The key here is that this person needs to be someone that you can trust, rely on, and have open conversations about money. Additionally, this person should be someone that can keep you accountable and vice versa.
I would highly recommend having regular “check-ins” and conversations about money the same way you would have a regular phone call with a friend or a scheduled one-on-one meeting with an employer.
4. Use a Cash-Only Budget
If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself being constantly tempted to overspend using your credit cards. Don’t feel bad about that, but rather take control of the situation and consider temporarily switching to a cash-only budget.
Sure, this might not be very convenient in certain situations, but this method is a great way to reduce a lot of impulse spending and prevent yourself from overspending. You'll quickly learn how to consciously consider your purchasing choices and stay on track with your savings goals. The real winner here is that you’ll instantly gain a better understanding of how much you’re actually spending—opposed to the tap and go temptation with credit cards.
Alright, so it sounds like a good idea, but how exactly do you move forward with it and put it to practice? One of the simplest ways to implement this is to use what’s known as the envelope system. At the beginning of each period (typically monthly or bi-weekly), stash your budgeted amount of cash into envelopes with labels for each spending category. The amount for each category is the maximum amount you’re able to spend within that given time period. Once you’ve run out of cash for a specific envelope, you've spent your budgeted amount.
It’s certainly not easy, but it will definitely keep you accountable and more aware of how you’ve been spending your money.
5. Automate What You Can (Your Savings and Expenses)
Automating your monthly savings is still a hugely underrated mechanism that can help you save more while spending less. Not to mention that you’ll feel instant relief knowing that your money is being put to good use immediately.
What’s even better is that it’s straightforward to implement and use almost immediately. I’d recommend setting up an automatic transfer or split a direct deposit to correspond with every payday.
That way, each time you’re getting paid, you’re investing in yourself first the way it should be. Regardless of the amount, the real trick here is getting started — start with a small amount like $20 or $50 from every paycheck and then work your way up from there.
In addition to automating your savings, consider automating your monthly recurring expenses as well. Rather than leaving it up to email reminders and notifications, it’s in your best interest to make sure you’re paying your bills on time for several reasons.
First, late payments, especially on credit accounts, can put a dent in your credit score. Second, the interest from these expenses compounds, which means you’ll end up paying more than you should ever have to.
6. Challenge Your Friends to a no-Spend Challenge
One of the best ways to save money is by not spending it at all. This is where a no-spend challenge can be a serious game-changer.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s exactly as it sounds. A dedicated period of time, usually one week or one month, where you challenge your friends or an accountability partner not to spend money on anything other than the necessities.
To improve your results, you’ll want to keep any cards or cash out of sight and out of reach. Deposit any cash you have lying around, and either hide or even freeze your credit cards right before the challenge. It sounds strange, but believe me, it works.
7. Put Additional Funds into Your Savings Account
Found an extra $5, $10, or even $20 in your jean pocket or on your car floor? At times that can feel like the jackpot when you least expect it.
But hold up! Instead of resorting to the usual bad habit of spending that extra money you just found, do something a little different (and better) this time. Put that money away and use it as a way to continue investing in yourself.
Sure, it might be a minimal amount of money, but just like everything else, it adds up over time. Soon that $5 becomes $50, and eventually, that $50 becomes $500. That’s money you would have likely otherwise spent on meaningless items that you would have forgotten about already.
By funneling additional funds into a savings account, you can grow your nest egg or even vacation fund faster.
8. Stop Trying to Keep up with the Joneses
Seriously, this one you need to stop. Keeping up with the Joneses can be dangerous to not only your financial well-being, but it can also take a toll on your overall well-being when you’re trying to please others.
This is one sure way to spend money that you don’t have in your accounts yet. If you’re looking for ways to stack on debt, then, by all means, go for it. But that’s not something I would recommend to anyone.
Rather than worrying about what others around you are spending their money on, it’s in your best interest to remain clear on your goals and stay committed to your values. In situations like this, it’s exactly where your financial plan that we talked about earlier comes into play to help you stay grounded and focused on the long-term.
9. Use the 72-Hour Rule Before Purchasing Something
The 72-hour is a complete game-changer. If you haven’t heard of this “rule” before, it’s not only easy to implement; it’s extremely effective. However, I’ll have to warn you that it does take an incredible amount of discipline when first putting it to use.
So, here’s how it works. The next time you're considering making any impulsive purchase, stop and give yourself 72 hours to sleep on it. After those 72 hours have come and gone, there’s a good chance that you’ve forgotten entirely about the purchase, saving yourself anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, maybe even more.
I’ve seen this before put to use but with 24 hours instead. While that also works, I’ve personally found that giving yourself three days, rather than just one, is 3x more effective.
10. Get Rid of Your High-Interest Debts Right Away
Those high-interest, revolving debts like your credit cards are a sure way to get in the way of your financial plan and hinder your financial future. Instead of saving more every month, the money you work so hard for is going towards interest payments.
That’s why it’s important to have a gameplan for your debts and to make sure that you’re focused on the accounts that have the highest interest. These are the ones that you’ll want to start paying down first. To make it easier and more effective, focus on one at a time. Once you’ve finished paying one-off, you’ll then want to work on the account with the second-highest interest, then keep going.
By focusing on paying off the high-interest debts right away, you’ll be saving yourself well over hundreds of dollars in interest payments alone.
11. Take it Easy on Takeout
This is one that I’ve had to re-learn myself recently. In light of everything going on with the current lockdowns and social settings, I found myself getting back into the bad (financial) habit of ordering takeout one too many times per week.
So while this one can be a huge ask for a lot of people, it’s also one that has a very significant and immediate impact on your overall financial health. By simply cutting out just one day a week from ordering takeout, you save yourself anywhere from $30 to $60 on average.
That’s money that could easily be re-invested into your savings account, used to pay down your already existent credit card debt, or even used to pay for groceries for a few days.
12. Stop Buying *New* Things, Seriously
Here’s where individuals and households, in general, have a huge opportunity to save thousands of dollars. Rather than purchasing goods and clothing brand new, look for opportunities to make second-hand purchases and even rentals where it can apply.
For everyday items, household goods, and clothing, shopping second hand is one of the best ways to save money easily. By doing just a small amount of upfront research, you can find second-hand items in just as good condition as new. If you’re unsure where to look or how to get started, I’d recommend exploring places like garage sales, thrift stores, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and even Craigslist for items you might need.
When it comes to larger items such as tools or specific equipment types, there’s a better than good chance that you can either rent these items affordably or even borrow them from a friend, family member, or even a neighborhood resource. You’d be surprised by the types of tools and equipment you might have access to at libraries.
It’s a small example, but did you know that there are plenty of libraries that will have access to technology resources, including things like laptops, tablets, and even microphones if you’re recording anything with audio?
13. Do Your Research and Compare Prices
By taking anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours of doing research, you could easily be saving yourself a few hundred dollars or more.
For example, when it comes to online shopping before you rush down to the store or click checkout when you’re looking to buy something, do this. Spend some time looking for alternatives and different stores that carry the same or similar types of products.
Additionally, don’t forget to check for coupon codes if you’re shopping online. I almost always do a quick Google search that looks something like ‘[product/company name] available discount codes.’
Don’t get me wrong, not every search result is successful, but I’ll earn myself an additional 15% to 50% off just by browsing for online coupons every once and a while.
When it comes to your finances, notably financial services such as insurance and mortgages, you’d be silly not to do research ahead of time.
One of my colleague’s, Jordan, searches and compares new auto insurance quotes every year to make sure he’s always getting the best possible deal he can find. There were years where he could save himself several hundred dollars, and some years, he made sure that his premiums didn’t increase.
Importantly, consider this. Is it worth spending a few minutes, maybe even a few hours, knowing you could save yourself anywhere from a few hundred to what could quite possibly be significantly more than that? My answer will always be yes.
14. Reevaluate Your Memberships and Subscriptions
Right now might be the best time to evaluate and then re-evaluate any recurring memberships or subscriptions in your name. These include things such as memberships to golf courses, events or networking groups, the gym, video streaming services like Netflix or Disney+, and more.
When you’re evaluating them, you’ll want to notably consider whether or not you’re not getting your money's worth. If it’s something that brings value and you are getting your money’s worth, then keep it. But if it’s something that you’ve been questioning and hardly use, then you’ll likely want to cancel it.
Before you do so, make sure that you’re fully aware of any applicable cancellation fees and what those look like if you “break” out of a contract earlier than what was initially agreed upon.
15. Improve Your Banking Situation
Specifically, there are two areas that you should pay attention to and look to “fix” right away.
The first is with the fees that you’re subject to paying at your current bank. I know all too well that it can be easy to avoid paying attention to the fees you’re paying. But that’s the problem—it might just be one of the easiest things you can easily keep tabs on and control, yet it’s often overlooked and neglected.
The amount you’re paying in fees to your bank every month can draw down your balance by small amounts over an extended period of time. Slowly but surely, this can end up costing you more than a few hundred dollars every year.
If you’re unsure of the fees you’re currently paying, I’d highly recommend checking in with your bank to understand them better and only see if there are better options for your current needs. If not, you might want to consider an alternative bank.
Second (and last), you’ll want to pay attention to and consider a bank account that has a solid interest rate. Online banks will almost always offer higher interest rates for their accounts compared to traditional, brick-and-mortar banks.
Choosing a bank account with a higher interest rate can be a great way to help you reach your financial goals even faster. If this is something you’re serious about, I’d recommend using a high-interest bank account for your emergency fund or sinking fund.
Moving forward with leveling up your finances
The best time to take action was yesterday. The second best time is right now. Rather than letting your financial goals slip from your hands, consider using these money hacks mentioned above to help you take control of your financial picture and work towards conquering your finances in 2021.