According to a 2018 report by Bankrate, 21 percent of Americans carry more credit-card debt right now than they have in personal savings. (Yikes.) And according to WalletHub’s most recent Credit Card Debt Study released last month, our country just reached a terrible milestone: Right now, for the first time in history, we officially own more than $1 trillion in credit card debt. (Double yikes.)
OK, so we’re collectively not so great with money. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that financial responsibility and literacy begins small—with the daily decisions you make as you walk through life, whether it’s while shopping for groceries, signing up for streaming services, or buying your airplane tickets for your family trip. So read on, and consider these 20 great tips for setting you on the right path to tidy up your finances. (Though if you’re really struggling, we’d advise you to see a financial planner ASAP.) And for more ways to make the most of your wallet, don’t miss the 30 Best Ways to Save Money on Clothes.
Know that you never have to pay full price.
Pretty much anything—clothing, food, movie rentals, plane tickets, hotel rooms, you name it—will, at some point or another, end up marked down. By paying full price for anything, you’re shooting yourself right in the wallet. For tips on where to save most frequently (that would be at the grocery store), brush up on the 15 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Killing Your Wallet.
Upgrade to an older phone.
Currently, a Samsung Galaxy S8 sells for about $550, give or take, depending on the retailer. A Samsung Galaxy S7—for all intents and purposes, the same exact phone—goes for about $450. Similarly, the iPhone X, if you buy it straight from Apple, sells for $1,149. The slightly older, equally functional iPhone 8 sells for $699. Ask yourself: Is having the latest and not-even-that-greatest worth the extra cash? And for more financial trivia, learn the 20 Products That Are Way Cheaper Than They Were 20 Years Ago.
Invest in a health savings account.
For those unaware, a Health Savings Account (HSA) is a type of savings account where you can direct funds, tax-free, straight from your paycheck for the purpose of paying medical expenses. But what might slip under the radar is the fact that you can use your HSA card to skip out on taxes for a whole host of over-the-counter convenience store products, including contact lens solution, sunscreen, laxatives, condoms, fertility tests, bandages, hot patches, cold patches, shoe insoles, and lip balm. In other words: pretty much everything except Advil.
Parents: Set up a 529.
For those planning to send children off to college, investing in a 529, or a “qualified tuition plan,” is among the best money-saving moves you can make. You can contribute up to $70,000—or double that, for married couples—for each beneficiary before the federal gift tax kicks in. This year, for a $70,000 contribution, the gift tax hovers around 25 percent, which means you can save yourself up to $17,500. And for when the kids are all grown-up and out of the house, learn the 40 Best Ways to Spend Money in Retirement.
Upgrade your accounts to a family plan.
Netflix: $11 per month. Spotify: $10 per month. Amazon Prime: $99 per year. Hulu: $8 per month. HBO Now: $15 per month. Having your mom upgrade her account to a family plan and include you: Priceless. (Though, be warned: if you brazenly share your account information, it’s technically a federal offense.)
Dodge shipping fees.
As any frequent online shopper will attest, shipping fees can pile sky high. But with a keen eye and some digging, you can avoid paying them altogether. For instance, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and beloved menswear retailer Bonobos all offer free shipping. Even better, if you’re willing and able, you’ll find that most medium- to large-scale retailers (including Target, and their nearly 1,900 stores) offer free shipping to a brick-and-mortar location near you.
Buy your clothing off-season.
It’s a bit of a no-brainer: as clothing retailers cycle through seasons, they have to get rid of old merchandise to make way for new. That means swimwear, skirts, and short-sleeved everything will be marked down come October. Similarly, you can expect anything cozy or puffy to have a slashed ticket price around late April. Of course, shopping with this method means you’ll have to steer clear of trends and spring instead for eternally stylish items. And for some sage advice on that front, learn How to Get Perfect Italian Style With These Must-Have Items.
Sign up for family plans.
If you’re fine violating terms-and-conditions contracts (no one reads them anyway), know this: You don’t have to technically be in a family to sign up for a family cell phone plan. Just cobble together a close friend or three and hop onto a carrier’s plan—and be sure to delegate bill-paying to the most responsible member of the group.
Optimize your electricity consumption.
The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that households spend, on average, $165 per year on electricity… for items that aren’t even turned on! You can mitigate this wallet siphoning by picking up a Smart Strip Power Strip ($35.95; amazon.com). This optimized gadget recognizes when electronics are in sleep mode, then temporarily cuts off power to those devices.
Put your fridge on ice.
Swapping to an EPA Energy Star-certified fridge can save you hundreds of dollars. For instance, if you have an old French model—side-by-side on top, with a drawer freezer on bottom—and swap it out for a newer, energy efficient model, you can save around $150 per year. For more on how it effects you, exactly, the EPA has an easy-use calculator.
Pay more than the minimum.
The average American, according to Experian’s annual survey, is saddled with $6,375 of credit card debt. Let’s say your card has a standard interest rate (15 percent) and you make standard monthly payments ($100). At that rate, it would take you 127 months to pay off the card. Bump those monthly payments up to $125, and you’re staring down a comparatively much shorter 82 months, while $150 payments will bring you down to 61 months. Since APRs and minimum payments and the like can be confusing, consider consulting a credit card debt calculator.
This one’s always a crapshoot, but if you’re buying a big-ticket item, offer to pay cash. Since retailers have to pay fees on credit transactions—which tend to be sizable for higher-priced items, like designer clothing, for instance—you can score discounts by paying outright in cash.
Book your flights at the right time.
There’s a sweet spot for booking flights, and it’s not “Tuesday,” as widely reported. By booking your flight at exactly 54 days out, you can save up to 50 percent on airfare—and by not doing so, you’re leaving money on the table. Here’s exactly how this deal works.
Everyone loves a good discount. But, when it comes to online shopping, tracking down discounts can be like finding a needle in a very, very messy haystack. Enter Honey, an app that will find discounts for you. It’s a Google Chrome plug-in that scours the web for discount codes and, when you check out, will automatically apply any applicable codes to your order. It’s like the saying goes: the best way to find a needle is with a magnet.
Freeze your card.
Literally. Put your credit card in ice. The water won’t damage the electronics within, and, since the card is lodged in an impenetrably solid piece of frozen water—and since you can’t speed up the melting via microwave, thanks to the reflective surfaces on your card, unless you want a burnt-out kitchen—it’ll take a least a couple hours before you can make an ill-advised purchase on impulse. (A quick word on safety, however: Only do this is you have more than one credit card. You never know when emergency expenditures will pop up.)
Don’t forget to sign up for rewards programs.
These days, most chains have rewards programs of some sort. By neglecting to sign up—a painless process that generally requires little more than your name and email address, and perhaps a quick app download—you’re essentially burning money. And for more safe financial wisdom, learn Exactly How Much Money You Need to Make to Be Happy.
Sign up for MealPal.
If you commit to a monthly plan, you can spend a paltry $5.99 per lunch by signing up for MealPal. Each night, you select a pre-determined meal from a group of participating restaurants. Then, then next day, you pick it up during lunchtime. (Dinner is also available for $6.99 per meal.) It’s as easy at that—and much, much cheaper than a $12 salad from Sweetgreen or Chopt. Unfortunately, though, as of now, the service is only available in major metropolises.
Swap to an ATM-reimbursing bank.
Online banks, like Ally, don’t have ATMs. As such, they’ll pay your withdrawal fees, so you can hit up ATMs of any bank—including the 15,900 of Bank of America, 16,000 of Chase, and 15,300 of Wells Fargo—without having to fret about pesky ATM fees.
Get a plugged-in thermostat.
According to research conducted by the elevated thermostat company Nest, switching your regular analog thermostat to the always-plugged-in Nest (or any other Internet of Things thermostat) can save you up to $145 in energy costs per year.
Instill a mandatory waiting period.
Look. We’re fans of stuff, too, so we’d never urge you to not purchase something you’re enamored with. Human impulse is a powerful creature, so be wary whenever you’re overcome with an I-have-to-go-home-with-this-today feeling for an expensive item. Wait two or three days and, if you still crave it, go back and buy it. If the feeling has passed, hey, you just avoided wasting money on a frivolous expense. And for more ways to optimize your spending habits, learn the 52 Ways to Be Better with Money in 2018.
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