Now more than ever, we’re all saving money. The economic recession and Covid-19 pandemic show us how unpredictable life can be — and how it can hit our wallets. With so much uncertainty ahead, it’s wise to save cash with these money tips.
13 Ways to Hang On to Your Cash
Use software and apps. There are many choices, including Mint, Clarity Money, You Need a Budget, Honey and Tiller.
These can help you to:
- Automate your savings, such as by rounding up purchases to the next dollar and transferring the change into a savings account,
- Find new ways to save, from clipping digital coupons to using artificial intelligence to identify patterns, and
- Search for better deals.
“You have to know your style to know what you’re going to continue to use,” says Chris Browning, Los Angeles-based host of the Popcorn Finance podcast. “Some are so complex that you don’t want to open it up again. Others don’t give you the data you want.”
Digit is an artificial intelligence-based app that analyzes your bank account and squirrels away small amounts of money based on your patterns. Rich Jones, Mountain View, California-based founder of Paychecks and Balances, a multimedia platform on finances and career, found that the app will save hundreds of dollars without him noticing it.
Technology doesn’t need to be complex to work. Jones gets a text message every morning with his account balances. “If something looks off, I can reply ‘WHY’ to that text and it will tell me the last few transactions,” he says.
Follow the Money
Consider an app that pulls together all your accounts, or even something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or pen and paper.
Tips about saving money invariably start with benchmarking where you are. Track your savings in whatever way works. “The key is what system are you going to pick up and use,” Browning says.
So many of our purchases flow out the door without our conscious choice. You may notice that small regular meal deliveries or convenience purchases add up. When Browning did this analysis, he identified eating out as a major drain. “It doesn’t feel like that much because each meal is $8, but it adds up,” he says.
At the end of the month and quarter, evaluate your spending patterns. This helps you spot bad habits that could lead to saving money when you eliminate them.
Pay for Your Future First
Treat your savings as essential as your purchases. You never know when an emergency will crop up.
A key part of saving money should be creating a rainy day fund containing three to six months’ expenses. It seems like a lot, but every big account begins with a few dollars.
Add up your mandatory fixed expenses:
- rent or mortgage
- insurance premiums
- transportation costs
“If I had a dramatic hit to my income, these are the things I would need to cover,” Browning says. “Could I implement changes and save a bit more money?”
Any item not on this list is optional. What’s mandatory: contributing to your 401(k) or other savings account. “People should always take care of paying themselves up-front first,” Jones says. “It could be just 1% or 2% of your income, even if it feels that it will be a challenge.”
Make a Plan
So often we see that shiny new device or outfit, and buy it on impulse. Instead, you could plan and save in advance, so you know that you have the money.
“I open up separate savings accounts for separate purchases I want to make,” Browning says.
You may find that by the time you accumulate enough to purchase that new television or special item, you no longer want it. The extra savings can be put towards your retirement, for example, a traditional individual retirement account (IRA), or a bonus for your emergency fund.
Having multiple bank accounts can help keep your savings accounts out of sight, and out of mind. “If you have all your money in one account and you see it’s there, it’s easy to spend it,” Jones says.
Build Better Habits
“You can maintain a habit that you do enjoy but find one that’s more healthy and less destructive to your finances,” Browning says.
Habit drives many of our spending and saving decisions. When Browning and his wife got married, they’d accumulated a lot of credit card debt — in part by having a wedding that they couldn’t afford. They set about assessing and rethinking their habits.
For instance, instead of a lavish restaurant dinner, you could buy gourmet ingredients at the store and make cooking a deluxe meal part of the fun. (Plus, you’ll likely get more than at a restaurant, and enjoy leftovers the next day.) Or instead of name brand clothes, shop bargains.
Another important money tip: set up routines for reviewing your finances, paying bills and sorting out problems. Jones sits down every Sunday morning to review and sort his expenses. “When you have to categorize and tag you realize where you’re spending more money than you have to be,” he says.
Set calendar reminders to cancel free trials or renegotiate with vendors. “If it becomes too complex you’re probably signing up for too many services,” Jones warns. Another important item to add to the calendar: the deadline to submit reimbursements for work expenses or flex spending receipts.
He uses a white board to jot down phone calls related to finances. Each week includes dedicated blocks of times for those tasks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a white board or another method, as long as you use it regularly. “Systems are everything,” he says.
The streaming video subscription, gym membership, or impulse Instagram signup may be costing you money without returning much benefit. Do you really need the monthly delivery of quirky socks? Time to cancel!
“You have the best intentions, you signed up for a reason, but it doesn’t always work out,” Browning says. Stop holding onto the past and unsubscribe. When it comes to saving money, this is a golden one. It also applies to magazines, newspapers, food boxes, cosmetics deliveries or anything that hits your credit card bill automatically.
Say you enjoy Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Hulu. How do you decide which to let go? Here’s an idea: cancel them all. That will help you determine which one you miss. You can always resubscribe. Or, consider rotating through each one, month by month. You’ll get to see all your favorite shows without having to pay for them simultaneously.
“There are so many services. It can be easy to start piling them up,” Browning says.
Negotiate for Everything
You’d be surprised how many people get deals on everything from appliances to professional service fees just by requesting it.
Yes, everything. If you know how to ask for a deal, you just might get it. You could offer a deal for buying all the ground beef at the grocery store right at closing time, saving the clerk from having to pack it all up again.
The key is to do your research and offer a reason — maybe it’s the display model, you’ve been a loyal customer or the market is changing.
Jones asked for $100 off his monthly rent when he saw people moving out of his apartment complex. The pandemic caused so many people to work from home, that they no longer needed to live as close to the commercial and business hub.
“I reached out to them and said I’ve been a good tenant, I enjoy living here, however I’m seeing great deals in surrounding areas. I made an ask, and I knew from talking to other tenants when they were moving out, the apartment community was offering them a credit,” Jones says. He got the discount.
Ask your current vendors for deals and look for partnerships, such as T-Mobile’s “Netflix on Us” deal. Saving money this way could be as simple as entering a coupon code and receiving 15% off your phone bill every month.
“Something like satellite radio, you can call and tell them you’re going to cancel and they will always give you an offer, how about we do this for six months?” Jones says. Pro tip: set up that calendar reminder so you don’t forget to renegotiate or cancel in six months.
Use Your Employee Benefits
You may be leaving money on the table if you fail to tap your employer. Check out the discounts and deals offered by your company, whether that’s movie tickets, rental cars or gift cards.
If you already use the service, like a subscription, you may be able to swap to the lower price without cancelling and resubscribing. Just call customer service to inquire.
What about the employer match for a gym membership, quitting smoking or other wellness program? Or a discount for a public transportation card or parking? Don’t let the hassle of filling out a few forms stop you from saving money.
One warning: don’t buy something you can do without just because you get an employer-sponsored discount. Stick with items that were already on your wish list.
TIP: If you’re offered a pension plan and 401(k) as part of your benefits package, you’ll want to understand how they work together.
This tip for saving money almost sounds too simple: when you’re about to make a purchase, ask yourself if you could wait a week, a month, or a year.
Whenever you delay, you keep more cash in an account where it can earn interest. (Or, you avoid running up finance charges on a credit card.) You may also discover that you can do without the item. Try just forcing yourself to wait for 24 hours before clicking “buy.”
Browning was saving and planning for a vacation, but waited to put down any money. Looking at the environment, they decided to cancel their plans — leaving a healthy balance for retirement or a different project.
Even when you end up purchasing the item in the end, you’ve pushed the purchase into another quarter or year. During that time, you’ve received additional paychecks, built up your savings cushion and earned dividends on your savings. Because savings earn you cash and debt costs you interest, money in the present is more valuable than money in the future — a principle known as the time value of money. When you buy the same item with future dollars, simply by waiting, you improve your balance sheet.
Ask for Help
When times are tough, it can seem you have nowhere to turn. But asking friends and family for assistance — whether with child care, a ride, or loan of an item — gives them an opportunity to feel good by helping you out.
Or try 211.org for help with food, housing and health care. This service can point you toward an emergency shelter or options for support in paying rent and utilities.
You can also tap 211.org to find and access resources in your community such as nonprofit meal delivery services, food pantries and public food assistance benefits. Not to mention health providers that work on a sliding scale and discount cards for essential services.
Reuse and Recycle
Before buying something new, consider whether you can you repair your old item. Sort through your belongings for things you could freshen up and use again. It’s good for the environment and your household budget!
Browning’s wife used to shop in retail stores and the mall with her mother and friends. Then they realized one of her favorite leisure activities was straining their budget. She shifted to shopping at thrift stores, which offer the same enjoyment and thrill of the hunt, without a big financial hit.
Do It Yourself
You don’t have to be especially handy to figure out do-it-yourself ideas for household items and gifts. You just need an Internet connection. “On YouTube, you can learn anything,” Browning says.
Maybe that’s a homemade jewelry or handbag for the next birthday party. Or consider gifting a clipping from a plant in your garden, along with some potting soil and a pot. Homemade brownies, cookies and bread are the original DIY gift that’s sure to put smiles on faces.
Consider tackling small household repairs on your own, with support from instructional videos.
“I can change the faucets on the sink and unclog the drain, do simple maintenance on the car. I do my own oil change. I change the air filters,” Browning says. For example, the dealer wanted to charge $70 for an air filter change, but he did it himself with a filter that only cost $12. That’s money in the bank.
Sometimes, we mindlessly spend money because it’s just too easy. You see something on Instagram that looks fun. One click. Boom! It’s yours — along with the bill.
Add friction to these transactions by deleting your credit card number from your online accounts. Erase the autofill from your browser’s history.
Jones suggests putting some savings in a separate bank from the one you use for most of your bills. “Maybe if you look at it less frequently, you’ll be less incentivized to spend the money that’s there because you’ll have to log into a different bank app,” he says.
Do any of the money tips on this list appeal to you? Give it a try! Let us know what you think by commenting below.
This informational material shall not be considered financial advice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for any financial, investment, or tax-related decisions. Those seeking resolution of specific financial, legal, tax, or business issues, questions, or concerns regarding this topic should consult their own financial, investment, tax, legal, or other business consultants, advisors, or other professionals.