Although you may be spending less on your daily commute or dining out with friends while on lockdown, there are still plenty of expenses to tackle every month. And if you’re stressed about money, that stress can leak over into almost every aspect of your life.
Taking control of your money doesn’t have to mean spending hours in front of spreadsheets or hiring an accountant. There are lots of small steps you can take to manage your money that can have a major payoff. In my new book, Money Hacks, I share more than 275 ways to decrease your spending, increase your savings, and take control of your money.
Here are 20 easy ones to get you started—and you can try all of them right now.
Cut Your Spending by 10%
Trying to cut back on expenses cold-turkey practically sets you up for failure. Instead, aim to reduce your spending by 10%. It doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but by chipping away at your spending, you can make more sustainable long-term adjustments.
Carry Bigger Bills
Researchers have found you’re less likely to spend a larger bill, like a $20 or $50, than a smaller one. Pack your wallet with a few larger bills and you may notice you’re more reluctant to break and spend them the next time you go out.
Whether it’s your utility bill or your credit card tab, don’t leave due dates to chance. It only takes a few minutes to set up automatic payments through a credit or debit card or bank transfer. It’s worth the effort to avoid late payment fees later.
Never Miss a Payment
Prefer to pay your bills manually every month? That’s fine—just make sure you don’t forget those due dates. Set a recurring reminder on your phone calendar for every single bill, and set them for a few days ahead of the actual due dates. That way, you don’t need to rely on your memory to get it all done.
Get Some Exercise
Exercising reduces stress, and stress is a big trigger that can lead you to overspend. But working out doesn’t have to be expensive. Turn to YouTube or Zoom for workouts you can tackle at home, or your local rec center for cheap group classes.
Check Your Bank Balance Every Day
Banks make it easy to check your balance daily, either by text message or an app notification. It’s the easiest way to get a quick glance at your financial health and reduce the risk you’ll overdraw your account (and pay pesky overdraft fees).
Adopt a Waiting Period
Are you notorious for buying stuff you don’t really need? Set a waiting period for every item you want. Whether it’s an hour or a week, that extra time will help you cool off and rethink whether you really want to spend your money.
Plan Ahead for Bonuses
Whether it’s a tax refund or a birthday check, windfalls have a way of disappearing quickly. Before you cash that check, make a plan for how you’ll spend the money. You may find yourself putting it toward debt or into savings instead of toward a single fun night out.
Don’t Connect Your Credit Card to Payment Apps
Peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo, Zelle and Cash App make it a snap to exchange money from your mobile phone for free. But if you connect your credit card to your app, you’ll find yourself paying more—usually a 3% processing fee—when you pay back your friends.
Pay Big Bills Up Front
Have some money in the bank? Use it to pay big bills like car insurance in one lump sum. You could save up to 15% just by paying up front, and you’ll have one less bill to think about each month.
Avoid Convenience Stores
Next time you need a gallon of milk or a bottle of ibuprofen, avoid stopping by the nearest convenience store. You’ll end up paying for that convenience through prices far higher than you’ll find if you go to a regular grocery store.
Buy Gas on Mondays
Want to save at the pump? Skip getting gas on the weekends, when it’s most expensive, and stop by on Monday morning on your way to work. That’s when gas is usually cheapest.
Pay More Often
Trying to pay down credit card debt? Don’t wait until the bill is due. Credit card interest is calculated daily, so by paying more often—maybe every week—you can work away at your debt while slowing down that compounding interest.
Claim Your Missing Money
Check your state’s unclaimed property directory to find missing money. You could have refunds, uncashed checks, or security deposits due to you! Visit unclaimed.org to find the directory for your state.
Don’t Spend More for Extended Warranties
You’ve probably noticed that every time you buy a new electronic item, someone wants to sell you an extended warranty for it. But you don’t need to spend extra to get extra coverage. Check your credit card’s member benefits for extended warranty protection—it will probably double whatever warranty the manufacturer provides.
Use Every Vacation Day
Even if you don’t have exciting travel plans for a while, make sure to use all the vacation days your employer offers. If you don’t, you’re essentially working for free.
Let Your Job Pay You to Exercise
Got a pricey gym membership? Let your job pay for it. Your benefits program may offer a reimbursement for all or part of your membership fee. Some health insurance plans even reduce your monthly premium if you provide documentation that you attended workout classes or personal training sessions.
Switch Banks for the Bonus
How long have you been with your current bank? Probably since you opened your first checking account. Unless you’re wowed by the convenience and service at your bank, consider switching to another that offers a bonus for new customers. You could get a few hundred bucks just for opening an account.
Stop Looking at the Stock Market
The stock market tends to perform well in January and poorly in September, and in between, it can be a real roller coaster. But if you’re investing for the long-term, like retirement, stop looking at those daily (and sometimes hourly) stock market fluctuations. It’ll only stress you out, when your best option is to stay the course and avoid changing your investment strategy.
Consider a Higher Deductible
The next time you renew your insurance coverage for your car, home, or even your health, think about choosing a higher deductible for your plan. It means you’ll be on the hook for more up-front costs before being able to make a claim—so make sure you have a robust emergency fund before doing this—but it could save you a lot on monthly premiums.
Excerpted from Money Hacks by Lisa Rowan. Copyright © 2020 by Simon & Schuster.