Every little bit helps
As the new year approaches, many people make resolutions to improve themselves in the year ahead. That might mean getting in better shape, stopping a bad habit, or taking steps to get your financial house in order.
Of course, most resolutions are abandoned quickly. That’s partly because people set unrealistic goals for themselves. If you haven’t been to the gym in a decade, it’s unreasonable to think that you’ll be winning a triathlon in 2018. That kind of change takes a lot of time and dedication.
The same is true in finances. Most people can’t drop all their bad habits at once, nor will they be able to stick to a rigid budget. What you can do is make small changes that don’t hurt that much. Each one of these moves will save a little money, and if you combine a few of them, the impact could be powerful.
1. Set-up an auto deduction
One of the easiest ways to save money is to have it automatically swept into another account when you get paid. Even small contributions can pile up quickly — especially if your deductions are going into a workplace retirement plan or brokerage account where the money will be invested in stocks.
Most brokerages make this very easy to do, but if you don’t want to invest, you can just setup an auto transfer from your checking account to a savings account. Even $20 per paycheck, assuming you get paid twice a month, will boost your savings by $480 by the end of the year.
2. Keep your car
With the average car payment in the United States coming in at an astounding $479 a month, holding onto you car after you pay it off can result in substantial savings. Of course, that assumes your car remains reliable, but if it is, every month you don’t replace it is essentially a car payment you can make to your savings.
3. Eat out a little less often
Restaurants mark up the food they sell you to cover their costs and earn a profit. Nearly every dish you might eat at a restaurant can be made at home for a much lower price. Some people will tell you that fresh ingredients are expensive. They’re wrong.
For example, a two-pound lobster might cost $40 or more at a restaurant, but a lobster from the local supermarket, even at $11.99 a pound, will be much cheaper to cook yourself. And it’s not just high-end fare like lobster that restaurants sell at a huge markup!
If you cook for yourself instead of dining out, you’ll not only save huge sums of money, but you’ll learn a rewarding skill that can impress your friends and bring joy to your family.
4. Cut the cord
The average cost of expanded cable service is $70 per month, according to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) most recent data. Of course, many subscribers pay a lot more than that, which makes dropping cable a clear way most people can save.
Even if you do pay “only” $70 a month, you could cut the cord, get a basic DISH Sling live-streaming package for $20, and throw in a Netflix subscription for $10.99 to save just under $40 each month. Those aren’t the only streaming choices out there, so you can almost surely get the programming you want for a lower price than your cable company charges.
5. Make coffee at home once a week
If buying a cup of coffee is a part of your daily ritual, then it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll give it up entirely or start making every cup of Joe at home. However, if you substitute one $3-$5 cup of barista-made coffee per week with one brewed at home, the savings can pile up.
If you assume a savings of $2 every time you make a cup at home, that’s $104 per year that’ll stay in your hands (plus another $10 or so that might have gone into the tip jar). Add a second or third day on which you make the switch, and the savings could be dramatic.
6. Comparison shop
It has become absurdly easy to comparison shop and make sure you get the best price. This isn’t very important when you’re buying paper towels or a gallon of milk, because driving to another store negates saving a few pennies.
However, shopping around is vital when you’re making a big-ticket purchase. There are countless apps which help you do this, but the easiest approach may simply be to take a do-it-yourself approach. When buying an appliance, any electronic item, or something else of that ilk, check the price you’re paying against Amazon and Wal-Mart. If you’re already shopping with one of these retailers, swap in another store or website that’s likely to have deals in that space.
7. Plan out big purchases
There are times of year when it’s better to buy certain items. This varies a lot, but it’s worth researching. If, for example, you’re buying a grill, the best season to make that purchase is in the fall, when stores are looking to get rid of summer items to make room for holiday goods. For cars, generally, it’s the end of the model year.
If you plan your big purchases for the times when deals will be best, you can save hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. Mattresses, for example, can be as much as half off during Memorial Day weekend sales. Shopping this way takes a little work and patience, but a simple Web search can tell you the best time to buy most things
8. Get the right credit card
The right rewards card can make the purchases you already make cheaper. For example, the Amazon Rewards Visafrom Chase offers 3% cash back on any eligible purchase made at the online retailer. If you use it to buy items you were already going to buy and pay your bill in full each month, that’s 3% back in your pocket without any extra effort on your part.
Watch for fees and hidden charges when picking a rewards or cash-back card. It’s also important to pay your balance off each month, because interest charges will quickly eat up any savings if you don’t.
9. Use a round-off saving service
There are a number of apps that connect to your debit card so that, every time you make a purchase, they round the cost up to the nearest dollar and move the excess into your savings account. It’s like the 21st-century version of saving your spare change. The individual amounts are small, but they pile up quickly, and it’s a painless way to save a little bit of money with every purchase you make.
10. Pay off your credit cards
The average interest rate people pay on their credit cards has been steadily rising. It hit 16.75% at the end of November, according to data from Bankrate. That means that for most people, whatever credit card card debt they carry comes with the highest interest rate they’re paying to any lender. Even if you only pay 10%, that’s more than double the interest rate on a typical mortgage. Pay down your debt, and you could save yourself thousands in future interest charges.
11. Drop a bad habit
While the cost varies based on the taxes where you live, a pack of cigarettes cost an average of $5.51 as of April, according to FairReporters.com. If you smoke a pack a day, that’s $38.57 a week and $2,005.64 a year. If you live in a market with higher taxes, the cost can more than double.
The same logic applies to that extra doughnut you sneak each morning or any other bad habit. In dropping an unhealthy habit, or at least cutting down, you can not only save some cash, but improve your health.
12. Hold on to your phone
Smartphones keep getting better and better, but the differences between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 8 may not matter to most users. Since top-tier phones cost roughly $600 — and double that for a high-storage iPhone X — resisting the temptation to buy the latest and greatest phone can save you a lot of money
13. Max out your 401(k) match
This is smart advice even if it doesn’t save you money, but if your employer offers a match, then you need to contribute enough to get the full match. Otherwise you’re literally passing up free money.
If your employer offers a 100% match on up to 5% of your salary, and you make $50,000 a year, then simply contributing $2,500 per year will net you the full match of $2,500.
An employer 401(k) match can instantly double your money. That’s a return on investment you won’t see anywhere else. Even if your employer is less generous, every matching dollar is free money in your account.
14. Switch phone carriers
Competition among the various wireless carriers has gotten intense at a time when it’s pretty easy to switch between them. That means it makes sense to take advantage of whatever deal meets your needs at that moment. When the promo price expires, then just move on to whichever carrier has the best prices.
There are some caveats here. Watch the fine print. Make sure there’s no penalty if you don’t stay for a certain length of time. You’ll also want to make sure the carrier you switch to provides the service you need where you are. It’s true, as one of the big carriers likes to point out, that all networks are pretty good right now, but that does not mean they’re all good for you.
15. Don’t buy new when you don’t have to
While buying new is often easiest, you can save a lot of money by buying used and refurbished items. Apple, for example, sells refurbished MacBooks on its website, complete with warranties, at lower prices than new computers.
You can take a similar approach when buying products that don’t necessarily need a warranty. Yard sales, thrift shops, and social media are full of lightly used furniture and clothing at low prices. Yes, you may have to invest in some cleaning or restoration, but that’s generally worth it if you pay a fraction of what the same item would cost you new.