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10 Easy Ways to Save Money

This article was written by in Saving. 22 comments.

This year, I’ve spent more money than ever. I’ve been able to swing these extra expenses — including lots of fun new gadgets I’d put off buying for years — without hurting my budget. But now, I’m ready to pull back and start ramping up my savings again.

We all know that Americans are generally terrible at saving for retirement. But it turns out that we’re also pretty bad at saving in the short term, too. In fact, nearly 60% of Americans don’t even have $500 in savings. Yikes!

Here’s the reality, though: saving a bit of money doesn’t actually take much effort. I’m planning to use these ten low-effort ways to save money over the next year. Want to join?

1. Automate your savings

Chances are you already use direct deposit for your paycheck. If not, it’s time to get with the program. With direct deposit, your money goes straight to the bank. It’s more convenient for you and your employer. Plus, it lets you automate your decision-making about savings.

Instead of deciding how much to save each payday, you can set your account to automatically move money from checking to savings. Your paycheck will hit your account, and your savings will disappear from that account almost simultaneously. It’s much easier to save money that you never see in your checking account!

Even if you start by moving only $5 or $10 per paycheck to a high-yield savings account, you’ll have more saved at the end of the year than you would have otherwise.

2. Collect your excess coins

I enjoy looking through circulating coins, on the off chance that I discover a rare specimen, such as a silver quarter. No, it doesn’t happen often; most of the good stuff has been removed from circulation by other collectors or knowledgeable bank tellers.

But while I’m saving my daily change in a glass jar, I’m also saving myself from spending that money. Every so often, I roll the coins with free sleeves from the bank and take them in for deposit.

What if you don’t typically spend cash? If you usually swipe your card instead of spending cash, you may not have any loose change to save. In this case, check out apps like Qoins.

You can connect this app directly to your checking account. Each time you spend, it’ll round up to the next dollar and “save” the change from that transaction. Once you reach a certain threshold amount, the app will put that change towards a debt.

Other similar apps, such as Digit and Acorns, use this concept to sock away change in a savings account or investing account. These apps act like a virtual change jar, putting the dregs of your daily transactions towards important financial goals.

3. Use goal jars

You’ve seen those jars in country shops. They are short, wide-mouthed clay pottery or stoneware jars with cork tops.

On the outside of the jars, they are labeled using varying levels of wit. In these jars, you can set aside money you’d like to budget for “retirement,” “kids’ education,” “dreams,” or the “Harley fund.”

Again, these are a great option if you typically spend with cash. You can make them even more powerful if you dedicate certain “leftover” money to these jars.

Say you normally spend $125 for a weeks’ worth of groceries at the grocery store. One week, you get creative with meal planning and couponing and you only spend $115. Put the extra $10 — which you normally would have spent — into a goal jar.

You can do this virtually, too. More and more banks are offering free savings accounts, and some checking accounts offer unlimited free “sub-accounts.” Open several, then label them for specific goals.

Related: Variety of Savings Accounts: Where I Keep My Cash

You can split up your extra money at the end of the month to these accounts, or just throw in “saved” money whenever you can. For instance, if you usually spend $10 on your work lunch, but bring a lunch from home, toss the $7 you saved into one of your savings accounts.

4. Form a budget, but budget for fun

A budget can be the most depressing part of personal finance if you let it be. I tend to avoid budgets, but if my income fails to meet my expenses, I’ll have to reconsider this approach.

The key, though, is that budgets should be flexible. Budgeting isn’t about limiting yourself to only the most frugal spending. It’s about realizing that sometimes you have to sacrifice in one category to pay for another.

Want to eat out more? Great! Be a super frugal grocery shopper when you do eat at home. Want to travel? Awesome! You may have to give up purchasing some of those new electronic gadgets.

A budget that saves you money is usually one that has at least some “fun” spending built in. You can only seriously restrict your spending for so long before you make yourself more likely to go on a spending binge. So, make sure you write in some fun — whether that’s dining out, saving up for travel, or working on a hobby. Then, stick to it!

If you need a jump start, here are the best budgeting tools to track your money.

5. Find ways to make your hobby cheaper

Hobbies can be expensive. Just ask anyone with a Faberge egg collection! Many hobbies require materials and monetary investments, and this can really add up over time.

Just like budgeting for your “fun,” though, you should budget some money for your hobbies. Of course, moderation is key here. Try not to spend too much, especially to the detriment of the rest of your budget.

Here are some tips to help you manage that hobby spending:

  • Get good at finding your supplies on sale or secondhand. If your hobby is crafting, sign up for coupons from all the local craft stores. You can often save 50% or more on your craft materials. Into biking? Consider buying your gear secondhand to save big.
  • Figure out how to make money from your hobby. Turning your hobby into a side business is an excellent way to make money. But even if your hobby doesn’t turn a profit, selling what you create can cover most or all of the expenses associated with your hobby.
  • Make the most of what you have. It’s easy to overspend on your hobby thinking you need the next big thing. If you sew, it’s tempting to upgrade your machine every couple of years, whether you need to or not. And if you hike, adding on ever more cool gear is tempting. The truth, though, is that you can probably enjoy your hobby without these things. I’d suggest instituting at least a one or two month waiting period before you can spend on pricey hobby-related items. In that time frame, you might just find that you don’t need the upgrade after all.

6. Sell stuff online

If you were thinking of having a yard sale, think again. By selling your unwanted items online, you’ll reach a much wider audience, including more of those who appreciate what you have to offer. Plus, online buyers will often pay more because they’re looking for exactly what you have.

Luckily, you’ve got a ton of options for selling online. Don’t want to mess with shipping heavy or bulky items? Check out your local Facebook sale group to make sales locally. Or list your items on Craigslist.

For smaller items that are easier to ship, you often don’t even have to take them to the post office for shipping. You can set up a package service to pick up the item from your home after you print the label. This makes selling items on eBay and other sites easier than ever.

Some sites, such as Swap.com and Thredup, will pay you for your old, lightly-used clothing and accessories. Swap gives you a shipping label to use, and Thredup will actually send you a bag for shipping your items in.

7. Start a new hobby

Are you currently working on an expensive hobby that’s draining your money? Consider starting a new one that actually makes money.

Some hobbies are great micro businesses. Maybe yours won’t make loads of money. But even if your hobby can pay for itself, you can have your leisure for free. Here are some ideas for hobbies you can turn into extra cash:

  • Building or fixing computers: This one’s easy to turn into a money-maker. Just become the local go-to guy for fixing or customizing computers.
  • Arts and crafts: Any sort of art or craft hobby likely has a market. And these hobbies can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to try selling your wares as you make them. Again, even if you just cover the cost of your materials to start, that lets you enjoy your hobby without spending loads of extra money.
  • Gardening: You can, of course, save some money for your family by growing fruits and vegetables you’d otherwise buy. But if you’ve got an eye for planning out beautiful flower beds, too, offer your services at installing and maintaining others’ landscaping.
  • Pets: One or two pets are great, but pets get expensive. If you love to spend time with animals but can’t afford to add any more to your family, consider starting a pet-sitting or pet walking business.

8. Ask for a raise

Sometimes it’s that simple. If it’s been a while since you’ve gotten a raise, or if you’ve recently taken on more responsibility, now is the time to ask.

First, put together your list of recent accomplishments. Hard numbers will often do more than anything else to actually get you that raise. Then, set up a meeting with your supervisor to talk specifically about your raise, or what you can do to earn one if you’re not quite there yet.

Of course, if the goal is to save more money, you should know what you’re going to do with that raise ahead of time. Adding it to your paycheck is a good way to start frittering away that extra money without even knowing where it’s going.Instead, consider directing that money straight to your savings account or 401(k), before it even hits your bank account.

9. Negotiate to work from home

More and more businesses are allowing or even welcoming their employees to work from home. And working from home can help you save loads of money.

Here are just some of the expenses that you can cut back by working from home, even one or two days per week:

  • Gas and car maintenance
  • Parking, if yours is paid daily, and toll roads
  • Dry cleaning or other clothing expenses
  • Less wear and tear on your more expensive work clothes
  • Eating out for lunch, work coffees, etc.
  • Time is money — if you cut out your commute, you have more time for side hustles or hobbies, and less time with the kids in childcare.

Plus, when you work from home, you can often find time to get extra things done around the house, which is just an added bonus!

Resource: Ten Tips For Cutting Car Expenses

10. Cut back on your monthly bills

Saving on things like groceries and dining out is great. But it takes a concerted effort and planning month after month.

An easier way to save right away is to cut back on those recurring monthly bills that you barely think about paying. This includes things like car and home insurance, phone and internet bills, recurring monthly subscriptions, cable, and more.

These are the types of bills that you should price shop at least once a year. So if it’s been more than a year since you last made sure you were getting the best possible rates in these areas, take a few hours to shop around. Start by calling your current providers and asking what they can do to lower your bill; sometimes, you can get a new discount just by asking for one.

Saving on these bills will save you money month after month. Just be sure to keep a running total of how much you’re saving, and then direct that amount to your savings account each month!

Learn More About Cutting the Cord

How else are you saving? Let us know in the comments.

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Update – This promotion is now EXPIRED

Banks continue to pay bonuses to attract new customers. The latest offer comes in the form of a CIT Bank bonus of up to $400. If you’re looking for a safe place to tuck away your emergency fund or vacation savings,

Everybody needs a safe place to tuck away their emergency fund or vacation savings. A high yield savings account is a great option. Considering that the average savings accounts earn a measly 0.06%, however, you’ll want to make sure to find the absolute highest rate that you can.

This is where CiT Bank comes in. You may not have even heard of them before. The small bank was founded in 2009 and has only 71 branch locations (all clustered in California). However, they are hanging with the likes of GS Bank and Ally by offering an excellent online savings account rate: 1.15%. While one percent doesn’t sound like a whole lot, this is the top of the line right now, folks. But that’s not all.

There’s also a bonus of up to $400.

Why CiT?

CiT Bank’s high-yield online savings accounts offer competitive perks, including the obvious – a great APY – as well as $0 maintenance fees on your account. There aren’t any fees to open the account, either, and there’s only a small $100 opening deposit minimum.

Other banks offering the same impressive rate of 1.15% include GS Bank and Barclays Bank. However, if you’re looking to park your money somewhere with a great rate that will also put a little extra cash in your pocket, CiT Bank’s bonus promotion is an excellent opportunity.

How to Get Your Bonus, Up to $400

All you have to do is open and fully fund an account by June 30, 2017. This need to be new funds, not simply moving those that are already on deposit through CiT or OneWest banks. The bonus itself is tiered, based on the amount you deposit and your average monthly balance for the first three months.

The bonus amounts are $100 (for a monthly average between $15,000 and $99,999), $250 (average balance of $100,000 to $299,999), and an impressive $400 (for balances of $300,000 or more). Again, you have to hold this average monthly balance for three full months after you open the account, or the bonus is forfeited.

cit bank bonus

Is It Right For You?

If you have some savings that you’d like to tuck away in a high yield, online savings account – such as your emergency fund – CiT Bank is worth a look. This is particularly true if your savings is greater than $15,000 and you can take advantage of the bonus being offered through June 30, 2017.

No promo code is needed, simply visit their website (or, if you’re located in central CA, find one of their 75 branches) and sign up.

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A while back, I wrote about the opinions of Scott Adams on his eventual success as the creator of the comic strip Dilbert. I focused on the failure aspect of the article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal and I wanted to revisit the topic, as only touched lightly on the success factors. Specifically, I want to talk about systems — a methodical way of approaching any particular effort — as one of the core components of success.

A household uses systems all the time. For example, you may have a system for effective grocery shopping. Perhaps you keep a notepad and pen on the refrigerator, write down anything you need to purchase when stocks are low, and take the list with you on your shopping day. For the most part, this should prevent you from veering away from the list too much when you shop.

Or, you might have a different system for grocery shopping. You may schedule an automatic shipment of groceries to be delivered to you from Amazon.com every two weeks, each time with the same basic order.

Can You Save With Amazon Subscribe-and-Save or Amazon Pantry?

If you read Consumerism Commentary regularly, it’s likely you have at least one system in place to improve your savings over the long-term. It’s a concept I’ve discussed many times in the past. And it’s such a basic piece of financial advice that you’ve no doubt heard of it even if you haven’t been reading my writing for long.

So, why automatic savings? And how can you set up this sort of system for your money? Let’s talk about that a bit today.

You must make your savings automatic.

By creating a system that handles your savings automatically, you eliminate or greatly reduce the chance of not reaching your goals. It’s a technique that someone at any income level can put into practice. Having a bank account (or an account at a credit union) makes it easier because financial institutions have technology that assists in this approach to money management.

Every once in a while, if you read about money management, you might come across a rule of thumb. “You should save 10 percent of your income” is one such common refrain. You can look at this either as a position to start or as a goal that might take some time to accomplish due to other factors. Even starting a savings system with 1 or 2 percent of your income is better than haphazardly setting money aside.

The point here isn’t setting your sights on a particular percentage. The point is to make a habit of savings, even if it’s only a few dollars a week. Luckily, there are plenty of easy ways to make that happen, including:

Direct deposit of your pay. The fewer hands that touch your money from the moment you receive it to the moment it is used, the better. Most modern employers offer direct deposit. Rather than receiving a paper check, you provide your banking information to the employer, and the company sends an electronic payment directly to your bank. In most cases, you receive your pay as much as a business day sooner, so you have the opportunity to pay bills or collect interest faster.

Today, about 82% of workers are paid through direct deposit. Luckily, that makes it easy to build savings. Often times with direct deposit, you can split your income between two or three different bank accounts. So you can have some percentage sent to your savings account before you even see your paycheck.

Even if you can’t sign up to split your check between accounts, moving your money straight to your checking account makes it easier to take advantage of the following options for automating your savings.

Automatic bank transfers. Almost every bank with which I’ve had an account — and that number is likely around forty — has some method of creating automatic transfers.

Let’s take my Wells Fargo account. When I sign in, the option to schedule an automatic transfer is one of the primary options in the menu. With income directly deposited into your checking account, and with a savings account earning at least a little bit of interest, you can create a savings system that you set once and forget about. After a few weeks of regular transfers (completed behind the scenes by the bank’s software), you won’t even notice the money isn’t in your checking account.

But a brick-and-mortar bank might not be the best option for savings. Sometimes your checking and savings accounts will be at two separate banks. In fact, often it’s better to separate these accounts so you can keep your savings in a bank that you’re not tempted to visit every day, like an online bank.

Related: The 4 Savings Accounts Everyone Should Have

Online banks often offer better interest rates, anyway. Over the last few years, the lines between online banks and brick and mortar banks have blurred. More traditional financial institutions are offering accounts you can only use online, for example.

The great part about many of these online banks, such as Capital One 360, is that you can link your online banking account with an account from another bank. You can then schedule automatic transfers to your online savings account, just like you would if your savings and checking accounts were with the same bank or credit union.

Value-added services. A few years ago, Bank of America introduced its “Keep The Change” program. When introduced, it was one of the first programs of its kind. Now, there are numerous banks doing the same thing, but they’re all a great hands-off savings option.

Here’s how it works: Every time you make a purchase with your debit card, the bank will round the transaction up to the nearest dollar and transfer the remainder into your Bank of America savings account. The bank’s savings account earns paltry interest compared to some other banks, but this systematic savings could still be substantial.

It’s like the old coin jar at home. At the end of the day, when you used to take the change out of your pocket and place it in your coin jar, saving your remainders. Since more people have moved away from cash transactions and started exclusively using plastic — credit cards and debit cards — the coin jar doesn’t receive as much attention as it used to.

See How Albert, Another App, Can Save Your Money Automatically

This, despite all the problems with Bank of America, was a clever extension of the coin jar metaphor into the digital age. Keep in mind, though, any interest you earn on savings in a bank account can be easily negated by account maintenance fees. You need access to free banking, especially if your savings isn’t large enough to produce interest that outweighs those fees.

Third-party services. Several penny-rounding and similar apps and services have popped up in recent years. These operate on a similar principle as the Keep the Change program, but are created by other entities.

One such option is Digit. This app tracks your bank account spending to watch for trends and habits. Then, it will transfer small amounts out of the account when you can afford it, to begin building a savings stash. When you’ve built up a little stash of cash (or on a weekly, monthly, or other regular basis), simply transfer it to your savings account and begin earning interest.

Another option is Acorns. This app hooks up to your bank accounts to track your spending. It rounds up the amount of each transaction to the nearest dollar, just like Keep the Change. When you get to a certain level of savings in the queue, it uses those funds to invest in low-cost EFTs.

Acorn is a little more sophisticated than past savings apps, since it invests your money rather than putting it into a savings account. With a $1 per month fee for accounts under $5,000 or .25% fees on balances of over $5,000, you could probably find lower-cost investments elsewhere. But if you have trouble saving, this could be an easy way to start investing without having to change your habits much at all.

There’s a drawback to automatic savings.

The advantage of creating this system for saving money can also create a money management problem. Once you stop actively making one particular decision with your income each pay period, it’s easy to forget what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You need to continue to look at your financial status on a regular basis. Frequently evaluate whether the choices you made and set into motion with an automatic system continue to be the best options for you.

How Much Should You Be Saving? Check Out the 50-20-30 Rule

If you started by saving 2% of your income but your situation improved, have you also increased your savings rate? Can you get to 10% two years after starting your system? If you have been saving 10% and don’t feel any stress, is it safe to move to a 20% rate of savings? Once your system is a natural piece of your process — so much so that it is invisible to you — you could be giving up some control or awareness of your financial situation.

Personal finance is about making conscious choices with your money. That includes not using money without considering the circumstances. The present scenario changes over time, and a system does not relieve you of the need to see every pay check as a money-saving opportunity.

Automatic saving leads to success.

With that said, automating your savings could lead you to better success with your personal finances. With more savings, you can avoid expensive debt and reach financial independence sooner. Just set a reminder in your calendar to check back on your automated savings plan at least once a year, if not quarterly.

With review and tweaking, a system like automating your savings can make your personal finances less stressful and more successful.

How do you automate your savings?

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While I’m generally happy with my Capital One 360 account for a good portion of my savings, I’m looking to spread the money around to take advantage of some higher interest rates. One of the banks I’ve targeted is FNBO Direct, the online arm of First National Bank of Omaha, currently offering 1.10% APY as of March 2017 (subject to change).

FNBO savings

FNBO Direct is a member of the FDIC, so deposits at the bank are insured. As long as balances stay below the limits set by the FDIC, I won’t have to worry about the safety of my money.

Banking Deal: Earn 1.20% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at Barclays.

Opening my account at FNBO Direct

Opening a savings account at any bank takes several days from start to finish, and FNBO Direct is not an exception.

Step 1: Visit FNBO Direct and fill out an application [click to continue…]

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Since December, federal banks and credit unions have been allowed to offer savings accounts that include a raffle element, after some states have allowed accounts like these for some time. The goal of these lottery-like accounts is to encourage more people to save money, particularly those households with low and moderate incomes. This was the […]

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What Is the Best Savings Rate?

by Luke Landes

People like rules of thumb and quick answers. When a complicated question can be answered by an authority with a simple response, the reaction is likely to be one of two possibilities: a feeling of well-being and satisfaction if the questioner is meeting the requirements, or motivation to improve if the ideal situation is not […]

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