12 Easy Tricks and Tips
The past year has been a rough one, y’all. If you feel like you’ve been struggling to stay afloat financially, you’re not alone.
In a news release from January 13, 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over the last 12 months, its all-item index — an average of all the items listed in its report, including food, energy, cars, medical bills and shelter — increased by 6.5%. According to the same report “the food index increased 0.3% in December following a 0.5% increase in November.” Harsh.
It doesn’t help that some financial experts believe these price hikes aren’t so much the result of basic Econ 101 supply-and-demand curves as they are likely due to so-called “greedflation.” In a recent report, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that “the timing and cross-industry patterns of markup growth are more consistent with firms raising prices in anticipation of future cost increases, rather than an increase in monopoly power or higher demand.”
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All that’s to say, the traditional advice to save money by “making your coffee at home” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Skipping the occasional $6 latte isn’t going to help you pay off $40K worth of student loan debt, after all. While it can’t hurt (six dollars not spent is six dollars saved!) there are better ways to cut down on your monthly expenses and save a bit more each month.
We asked money experts Erin Lowery, author of the Broke Millennial series and the Broke Millennial Workbook (out May 9th) and Bola Sokunbi, author, founder and CEO of Clever Girl Finance, to dish out their best advice to save money and build wealth, along with some quick tips and tricks.
1. Start small if you have to.
Changing your money habits is hard, especially if you were never properly taught how to manage your finances. There are all kinds of benchmarks and rules floating around concerning what you’re “supposed” to be doing with your money — saving 15% of your income each year for retirement or following the 50/30/20 rule — that aren’t realistic if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Hello, it’s hard to limit yourself to spending just 50% of your income on needs (à la the 50/30/20 rule) when the cost of your rent practically wipes out your entire account at the beginning of each month! So stick to doing what you can instead of feeling like a failure for not meeting certain expectations. “If what you can afford [to set aside for retirement] right now is 0.5% or 1%, that’s fine,” says Lowery. “It’s something. So start there.”
2. Cancel unused subscriptions.
Things slip through the cracks sometimes, so take a close look at the services you’re paying for each month. Have cable, but you only use streaming services? Cut the cord! If you have subscriptions to three different music streaming services, figure out which one you like the best and drop the other two. “Set aside maybe two hours of your time one week to go through and get rid of things that really aren’t serving you anymore — or at least not right now,” says Lowery.
3. Negotiate your bills.
When it comes to your bills (cell phone, car insurance, etc.) it can pay to advocate for yourself. Call up the company and ask if there is anything that can be done to reduce your monthly payments. “If you’re in a situation where you haven’t had to file a claim in the last year and you have a pretty impeccable driving record, but your auto insurance is going up, start by searching around to see if you can get a better deal,” advises Lowery. “Then go to your current provider and say ‘Hey are you willing to match? Otherwise, I’m gonna switch.'”
As another example, did you know you’re probably renting your router? Most internet companies provide a router when you first set up service, and then charge you every month for its use on top of the cost of your internet. Instead, buy your own internet router and send back the one provided. It’s more money up front, but you can save up to $50 a month depending on your internet provider.
4. Evaluate your bank fees.
“In my opinion, the amount of money that gets wasted to fees is huge,” says Lowery. “There’s absolutely no reason you need to be paying $12 a month because you don’t carry a minimum daily balance of $500 or whatever hoops the bank is asking you to jump through.” While $12 might not seem like a lot every month, it does add up over time and could be a useless expense if there are other options out there. “Are you being asked to pay any sort of monthly minimum fee on your checking or savings account?” asks Lowery. “If so, you need to switch banks.”
5. Set aside a “fun” allowance for yourself.
Be real, no one can (or should) completely strip their budget down to the bare minimum. It’s one thing to say you don’t need to go out to dinner with friends, but it’s not necessarily realistic to say you’re never dining out again. “You tend to swing wildly in the other direction if you try to deprive yourself for very extended periods of time,” says Lowery. “Instead, have a release valve to help with the pressure if you’re trying to achieve a big financial goal.”
To that end, set aside a certain amount of money every month (or week) that’s dedicated to fun stuff — i.e., going out to eat or making an impulse purchase — so those types of purchases are budgeted for and don’t derail your big-picture savings plan. To make things easier, you could even set money aside on a specific debit card or withdraw a set amount of cash to pull from. This way, you won’t be tempted to go over your allowance.
6. Swap to a high-interest savings account.
If possible, make the money you already have work harder for you. Even if you don’t have extra money to throw into investments, you can transfer all of (or some of) your money into a high-yield savings account. “Right now, inflation really hurts, but the one place that we have seen an advantage to it is that savings account rates are skyrocketing again,” says Lowery. “So if your bank is only giving you 0.01% or 0.05%, it might be time to move your money to a different bank.” Lowery explains that you can find accounts that offer into the 3% range — but just make sure the bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which protects depositors against losing their money if the bank fails.
7. Find other revenue streams.
If you feel like you’ve done all the budgeting you possibly can, but you still have more money going out than coming in, then it’s time to figure out a new approach. “If you have nothing else to cut out of your expenses, the next step is to think of how to earn more money,” says Sokunbi.
She recommends decluttering your home and selling the things you no longer need or monetizing your skills — think coding, catering, tutoring or crafting items to sell on Etsy. If you have the time, you could consider picking up a part-time job, but you’ll want to keep your mental and physical health top of mind. If you’re stretched too thin, you’ll eventually just burn out.
8. Use online coupon tools.
Never pay full price again! If you need to buy something online, do a quick search for “discount code” and the retailer name before you check out to see if there are any codes you can plug in. You can also download deal aggregators like RetailMeNot and SlickDeals or browser extensions like Honey to automatically scan for savings for you. Then, take the money you saved with those coupon codes and put it directly into your savings account to grow your stash of cash.
9. Take advantage of freebies and discounts.
You’d be surprised by how many businesses offer discounts for birthdays as well as to students, teachers, seniors, first responders, military members and veterans, so always make sure to ask (nicely!) if any of these apply to you.
10. Cut back on takeout (and food waste!).
If you regularly find yourself throwing out unused groceries because you don’t have the time for meal planning or you’re constantly ordering out to avoid cooking, consider signing up for a meal delivery service. It may seem like you’re spending more up front — and certain services are definitely more expensive than others — but because these kits only come with the exact amount of ingredients you need to cook the meal, they can help you avoid food waste (a.k.a. wasted money), especially if you’re only cooking for two or one. Some brands, like EveryPlate, also offer new member discounts that drastically cut down the price of the first few kits.
11. Swap instead of buying new.
Sokunbi suggests connecting with your friends, neighbors and family to set up item swaps. Maybe they have a kitchen appliance or a piece of sports equipment they don’t need and you do, or vice versa. Or join your local Buy Nothing community, so you can give away the items you don’t want anymore and snap up the items you do. Then put the money you don’t spend on new stuff toward your financial goals.
12. Be kind to yourself.
Money mistakes happen, and that’s OK. “When it comes to financial wellness, it’s important to give yourself grace,” says Sokunbi. “Start by forgiving yourself for any past financial mistakes, whether of your own doing or caused by others.” Then, try to adopt a healthier mindset so you can put those mistakes in perspective, and forgive yourself when a slip-up inevitably happens again. “Remind yourself that you have what it takes to succeed,” says Sokunbi. What’s most important is to evaluate what went wrong, and come up with a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Assistant to the General Manager
In addition to her job as the assistant to the general manager of the Good Housekeeping Institute, Abigail is also currently working toward her master of science in publishing in digital and print media at NYU. Prior to joining GH in 2022, she worked at LSU Press and The Southern Review. In her free time you can find her quilting, knitting, cross-stitching or working on any manner of craft.