Whether you earn $20,000 or $200,000 a year, one thing’s for sure—after paying off all your so-called “bills,” you usually end up with approximately $0 left for yourself. I say so-called only because almost everyone I know, no matter their background or upbringing, most find it extremely difficult to separate wants from needs, let alone save money. (It’s a hard lesson, but one day perhaps we’ll be able to agree on the fact that the latest iPhone is not essential to your existence.)
As my father always used to say, “Most people are too busy earning a living to make any real money.” I believe firmly that it’s not about how much you make, but about what you do with what you have, and I hope with all my heart that my blog will enlighten you on the importance of spending less than you earn and investing the difference.
Over time, practices like these are the ones that will help you grow your savings. Instead of you working for your money your money will end up working for you.
According to statistics on Bankrate.com, 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings for unexpected emergencies. 46% of Americans have less than $800 in savings. As terrible as these numbers may sound, they’re not surprising to me at all. I’ve seen how the people around me live and spend, and been fortunate enough to realize that it’s the small changes that will put you on the track to improve your financial life for the better. Below, I’ve compiled some ways to do just that throughout your life. (Aside from tips, there will also be resources and recommendations galore—more than enough to get you a jumpstart on your savings!)
- Consumers can spend 10,000 times the cost of tap water to drink bottled water. My advice? Buy a water filter instead of breaking the bank on bottled water. It’s great for the environment and will save you a good amount of money. To get you started, here’s a PUR filter with great reviews. Consider the fact that the US FDA & EPA requirements for water saftey is more strict for plain tap water than it is for bottled water.
Average annual savings: $100 or more.
- Cut the cable cord. An indoor/outdoor HDTV digital antenna plus services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu should give anyone plenty to satisfy their TV binge watching needs. Pro tip: if you go to Antenna Web and enter your street address, you’ll be able to see how many free available channels there are for your location. Here’s a 60-mile range antenna that we really like.
Average annual savings: $500-$1,000, potentially more.
- Shop around for both car and homeowners insurance every year. If you change your deductibles from $100 to $1,000 you could save as much as 40%. If you do ever have a smaller claim—say $1,000—most insurance companies will raise your rates anyways. Why not beat them at their own game and self-insure yourself as much and as soon as possible?
Average annual savings: 2 cars, $300-$700.
- Stop smoking. My wife and I are ex-smokers, and we save tons of money yearly. My mother died from lung cancer after smoking her adult life, and watching that was awful enough to convince anyone to stop. We did Chantix (which usually has $75-$100 coupons on their website), and within five weeks both of us had quit.
Average annual savings: $1000+, in addition to untold future medical costs.
- Cancel gym memberships you’re not using. According to U.S. News & World Reports, 67% of people with gym memberships never use them. Instead consider substituting with YMCA or YWCA. If eligible, you can also go with Silver Sneakers Fitness for unlimited gym access. Most of their exercise programs are low-cost or even free. Compared with your average gym membership, your savings will be substantial.
Average savings: $10-$150 per month.
- Don’t sign up for programs that charge you to transfer money from checking account to your savings or investment accounts. (An example: Digit now charges $2.99 per month) Acorn, Stash, Clink or Betterment only charges $1 and sure is a lot less than paying individual stock trading commissions of $5-$10 per trade. The small ongoing monthly fees might not seem like much (and goes by the name of “savings”), but for you it’s a guaranteed loss. Several financial blog sites actually promote Digit and high cost programs just for the referral bounty, but I can tell you right here that it’s sure not worth my money. Most banks will do some of this for free, but you can also sign up for an automatic monthly withdrawal to investment accounts; for example, WiseBanyan, The World’s First FREE Financial Advisor, where you can even receive a free $20 to open your NO minimum/NO fee $500,000 maximum SIPC-insured, robo-advisor investment account. (If you’re interested, they also have some great articles for beginning investors here.) UPDATE: The FREE $20 sign up bonus has been temporarily paused.
- For those looking to buy and sell individual stocks at the tap of a finger, you can do it for free at Robinhood, a service with no monthly fees, no minimum, and no commissions to trade stocks. They will even start you off with “1 share of stock totally FREE”. When it’s so easy to find quality free services, why sign up for one that charges you?
Average annual savings: $25 minimum, depending on the number of trades one makes per account.
Robinhood requests personal information including financial and tax identification information to comply with U.S. government laws and FINRA rules. We will request personal information from new customers as well as from customers who have had long-standing relationships with us. Robinhood complies with an SEC customer identification rule of the USA Patriot Act of 2001. This rule requires Robinhood to put procedures in place to verify the identity of any person seeking to open an account and to maintain records of their information. Robinhood must also determine whether the customer appears on any lists of terrorist organizations provided to broker-dealers by any government agency. That said, we take the security of all collected data very seriously. We do not intend to use this data for anything other than the fulfillment of our regulatory requirements.
- Refinance and consolidate your student loans to a lower interest rate and lower monthly payment interest rate with Credible. This great service is free and offers an average interest rate between 2-4%. If you do choose to refinance with them, you’ll receive a $250 bonus for average savings of $18,668 per user. South East Bank also offers consolidation of student loans. They’ll pay you $100 for getting a loan through their referral program if you use my name, Alan Oncken. That’s my way of thanking you to use my blog to study up on ways to save!
Average annual savings; $1,000+
- Ask for discounts at your local retailer. Nationwide retailers tend to be less likely to allow this, but just asking is usually enough to get a discount at the “mom & pop” stores in your area. Worst case scenario, they say no and you shrug it off. Best case scenario, you end up shaving a nice bit of spending off your budget. So why not at least give it a shot?
Average annual savings: $50
- Skip on eating out, even if only by once a month. Chances are, if you track your monthly costs for eating at restaurants, you’d be shocked to see how much you spend. If you enjoy going out to chain restaurants, get their rewards cards to receive discount(s). It may seem small, but those savings will add up in no time.
Average annual savings: $300+
- Shop around for cellphone service. Major cell phone companies are engaged in heated price wars for years now. Most people will end up paying way too much for cellphone service. Consider using a prepaid plan to save lots of money each month. CNET and Consumer Reports both offer a great comparison of prepaid service in major cellphone companies. (In fact, Consumer Reports is a great resource to read up on in the library whenever you’ve got time. If you’re not a library person, you can always subscribe to the magazine.
Average annual savings: $500-$2,000
- Download the free gasoline comparison app gasbuddy. Gasbuddy lists the lowest and highest gasoline prices by city, state, county, or even zip code. If you’re on the go, you can even look up gas stations nearby for the lowest price. This is a must-have phone app. We’ve been using it for years, and have saved in the thousands.
Average annual savings: $250+
- Use the GoodRX app for drug prescriptions. GoodRX will help you find the lowest local prices for prescriptions. You can search by drug or condition. It’s surprising to see how much the price of a prescription can range from pharmacy to pharmacy—for example, my prescription today could cost me anywhere from $13.48 to $50! If you want an easy way to compare prices, GoodRX is the app for you.
Savings: $2-$100 per prescription
- Get the National Parks Lifetime Pass to avoid the upcoming price increase. For those who haven’t heard, in December 2016 Congress approved a fee increase of $10 to $80 for those who are sixty-two or older. This update has been scheduled for August 28, 2017. If you go to this article, you should get a pop-up window that promises a free $100 bonus. (If you don’t get the pop-up, there’s also a link on the AARP site here, which might also take you to a $200 signup bonus) This great rewards card allows you to receive 3% off for both gas and restaurants. In addition to that, here’s a Chase card that you get a $150 bonus to spend $500 for within 90 days. It also offers $100 for referrals, and $25 for adding another user. Of course, you could just get both cards. UPDATE: New fee for everyone is $80. Hope you “got in” to save.
Lifetime Pass savings: $80 per person.
- Never pay for bank services. Banks make a killing on fees and services. If you want to avoid that, shop locally—you’ll skip the monthly fees and be able to keep a checking and savings account with no ATM fees. If you want a great savings plan, check out the Bright Peak Financials Emergency Savings Account. If you save $50 per month, you’ll earn a $10 bonus after three months, a $15 bonus for six months, a $25 bonus after a year, and if you keep it up you’ll receive a $100 bonus after two years. Now that’s a deal where you have nothing to lose!
Savings: $100 bonus…just for saving money!
- Quit eating out for lunch. While breaking the habit can seem rough, eating out daily can turn out to be a huge annual expense. You can save big just by packing your own lunch. If you need some recommendations to get started, my wife used this Rubbermaid set for years until she retired, and she loved it. Combine that with the Coleman Lunch cooler and you should be all set! (If you have Amazon Prime, you can receive free shipping!)
Annual savings: $5-$10 per day=>$1,250-$2,500 per year!
- Invest in indoor and/or outdoor timers for lights and outlets in your home. This not only helps you save on energy costs, it also keeps you safe! The ones suggested above are easy to program and operate. Mine are still going strong after over three years of use!
Average annual savings: $25-$75
- Educate yourself on managing finances. Most Americans leave high school or even college with the same level of financial knowledge that they learned in grade school. In my years of financial planning, I’ve found that 90% of the people I talked to were incredibly uneducated when it came to matters of personal finance. They have little sense of saving or investing. In fact, if you look at the statistics, 60% of most Americans are only a few paychecks away from being homeless. They don’t have enough cash for emergency room bills or even car repairs! The future belongs to those who are prepared for it, but all the numbers show us how woefully underprepared everyone is. A book I would recommend for those preparing to make the leap into educating themselves is Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By. The title really says it all, and it’s a great reference for whenever you’re making financial decisions in years and years to come.
Lifetime savings: Tens of thousands of dollars, maybe more. I’d say this one is priceless.
Bonus tip: Another good book I find super helpful is The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey. It’s the kind of financial book you can’t put down!
For further reference, I’ve ranked the top five financial books of all time here:
- Think And Grow Rich
- Secrets of the Millionaire Mind
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke
- Total Money Makeover
- The Millionaire Next Door
Consider very expensive homes (I have been in several) usually have library’s. The owner didn’t buy the library after the home was built instead they were able to buy the home because of the library.
- As a citizen of the modern age, you’ve probably heard a lot about the perks of Amazon Prime. In case you haven’t, you should know that Amazon Prime membership programs allow you to instantly watch thousands of movies and TV episodes—for just $99 a year! Not only that, but you can buy Kindle books at a discounted rate, and get unlimited free two-day shipping with no minimum order size. It’s a sweet deal on all fronts!
Average annual savings: $100+
- Buy food with available rebates. See my other posts for how I’ve cut ALL our grocery costs—without using coupons! Ibotta is a good place to start if you’re new to rebates. It allows you to receive tons of rebates just for buying food + receive a FREE $10 sign up bonus. If you love your liquor, the bevRAGE app is the way to go. You receive cash back when you buy beer, wine and liquor both in stores and restaurants & bars. Please use my invitation code ASSISCNP for a special bonus. Both of these are as simple at just taking a photo of your receipt(s) and uploading them for your rebate.
The MobiSave grocery cash back app should “blow your mind” when it comes to payments-they are instant!!! You need to add your items in your MobiSave app “cart”, then (within 7 days) as soon as you upload your receipt pic-instantly and automatically the cash goes to your PayPal account. The rebate amounts usually aren’t as high as Ibotta and Checkout51, but offers will “overlap” to 1 or several of the grocery cash back apps.
Even though the Ibotta has 100’s of rebate items, you may redeem only one rebate per item, Checkout51 allows you to redeem some items up to 5 times. Redeem Checkout51 items by Wednesday as items will reset on Thursdays and sometimes on Fridays there are “bonus offers”. For example, I redeemed a French’s Ketchup on Wednesday for 50¢ and on Friday uploaded the SAME pic of the SAME receipt for another 25¢. This was a “quadruple” rebate. 1-I used my cash back credit card, 2-the 50¢ rebate, 3-the 25¢ “bonus offer”, and 4-Ibotta offered a 75¢ rebate that week also.
Berry Cart is the app for all-natural, organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan or vegetarian foods and beverages. The app may be used at 25,000 store locations like Whole Foods, Target, Walmart and Sprouts to name a few and there is just a $5 minimum to cash out. After your pic is uploaded, Berry Cart will verify your purchase within 24 hours and deposit your rebate instantly into your PayPal account.
Average annual savings: $500+
- Keeping the last item in mind, sign up for programs that let you receive cash back and rebates to buy almost anything. No doubt you’ve spotted television ads for EBATES, one of the oldest rebate and cash back programs around. They’re linked to over 2,000 stores, allowing you to shop and save at all of them. On top of that, you receive $10 for joining, and $50 for referring two friends. Another great option is Mr. Rebates, which is linked to over 2,500 stores. I use both, and check first before big purchases to see which offers the highest cash back. Couple these sites with a great rewards credit card, and you can bank on your savings growing. At the end of each quarter when they’re mailing out rebate checks, you also have the choice to receive an eGift card instead of a check for an additional $15 bonus. And to think that if you neglected these rebate sites you’d have just left that cash on the table! See how much money I saved with EBATES in three months (they pay quarterly):
Average Annual Savings: $200-$1,000+ (higher if you buy with both cash back and credit card rewards)
- Use Shopkick. If you’ve never heard of Shopkick, it’s an older, more established shopping rewards app that has only grown over the years to let you earn gift cards for doing mundane tasks. You can earn “kicks,” their reward points, simply by doing simple things like walking into a store, scanning a product’s barcode, making a purchase, and then submitting your receipt (quick tip: you can use receipts that you’re using rebates for and save even more per shop). “Kicks” can also be redeemed in exchange for free gift cards.
Average annual savings: $50-$150
- Stop using toxic household cleaners and paper towels. They not only break the bank, they’re also terrible for the environment. Instead listen to cleaning pros like Donna Smallin Kuper and forgo the chemicals for reusable microfiber towels. They’re cheaper, safer, and are the best alternative instead of supporting the billion dollar household chemical industry that’s destroying the environment. In our household, we enjoy color-coding our microfiber towels by function and enjoy using the thicker ones available on Amazon. Bonus tip: did you know that using only baking soda and vinegar to clean things can have unexpected benefits?)
Average annual savings: $100-$300
- Join Dollar Shave Club. Nobody likes shopping for razors, or being forced to pay those marked-up prices. Now with Dollar Shave Club, you can receive four blades and a handle for $1, shipped right to your home. They’ll also ship you a full cassette of cartridges every month for as little as $3. If you don’t like it, you can also cancel anytime, hassle-free.
Average annual savings: $25-$100 per person
- Get or change to a biweekly mortgage. com has a calculator that’ll show you how much you can save by switching from a conventional mortgage. By paying half your current mortgage payment every other week, you’ll end up adding one extra full payment to each year. This can end up saving you thousands over the lifespan of your loan. It’s easy too—most lenders will allow anyone to change to a biweekly loan, while only a few will charge a small, one-time fee. On average, people who do this pay off their mortgages four years sooner.
Savings: $10’s of thousands of dollars.
- Buy nonperishable items in bulk. More often than not, the price will be lower than if you bought them in separate installments, and you’ll get to put more of your money into more important things than toilet paper. Don’t buy them (usually when the price is higher) as you need them, buy them only when they go on sale.
Average annual savings: $100-$300
- Here’s a fact to delight those of you out there who love staying fresh: you can buy a lot of high end hair and skin care products at stores like TJ Max, Marshalls, and Nordstrum Rack for one-third of the original price! Looking good without breaking the bank—what’s not to love?
Average annual savings; $25-$100
- Saving trick-Increasing installments each week. For example, save $1 at the end of this week, $2 at the end of next week, $3 the week after, and so on. In a year, you’ll have $1,378 to add to your savings, all in small increments that you likely won’t miss in your day-to-day life. If you keep doing this, you’ll have over $2,500 at the end of year two! Of course, you can always try upping the weekly savings to increase the end result.
Annual savings: If you can keep it up, minimum $1,378.
- If you’re paying for trash pick-up, consider splitting the monthly cost and receptacle with a neighbor. I do this with five other families, and we all end up saving on trash. Who would’ve thought?
Average annual savings: $60+
- Join The Bank of America Keep the Change* program. It’s been around for a while and is a painless way to start saving, until small change turns into big riches. Each time you make a purchase with a debit card, BOA transfers the change rounded up to the dollar to your savings account; for example, if you make a purchase of $33.25, BOA will transfer $0.75 into your savings account. The only downside to this program is that you need a BOA debit card, checking, and savings account with them. If you do, definitely go for it.
Average annual savings: $200-$800
Bonus tip: If you’re interested in similar programs, check out Dobot and Qapital. These are apps that let you choose a savings goal and then trigger small transfers from a checking account to an FDIC-insured savings account. If you sign up through the links I provided above (or use referral code qxiya for Dobot), you’ll receive a free $5 bonus just for joining!
Personally, I find Qapital to be much more flexible than Dobot. After setting up your account and linking a checking account, you’ll be able to create your own set of rules for transfers—for example, rounding up the change each time you make a purchase with your linked card. The average user saves $44 each month with this rule. You can also set a daily, weekly, or monthly transfer amount toward your goals, or use the Qapital IFTTT channel to play by your own rules. Unlike Dobot, there’s also no monthly fee, no annual fee, and no minimum balance.
- Similar to the above, round up the amounts you write in checks and then save the difference. If you write $33.25, just round it up as $34 and then save the $0.75.
Average annual savings: Depends on how many checks you write.
- If you get a raise at work, earmark and save the difference. You got by on the old pay; why not put the difference into saving for the future?
- You can buy and sell gift cards at Cardpool at up to 35% off! Sometimes relatives or friends will give you gift cards that you end up never using. Instead of letting them gather dust in the desk drawer, why not pull them out and sell them? I’ve bought a lot of gift cards that I actually use from Cardpool at really nice discounts plus shipping is FREE, there is a 1 year guarantee and there are NO FEES! While Cardpool is great,, I also enjoy Gift Card Granny, which often offers better deals for cards and offers 100 free points just for registering, as well as Raise, which gives you a $5 signup bonus in addition to a$10 off a $25 purchase coupon with a one-year money-back guarantee. We’ve stopped buying meals at restaurants without using the discount gift cards we buy at their sites. Some come in the form of printable vouchers, while others are physical cards shipped to us for free. Why pay retail prices when you’ve got such great discounts?
- Play the “follow-up draft investment game.” This one may seem a little old-fashioned for the Internet age, but I’ve done this one for years and managed to make a good amount of investments. In addition to the automatic draft from my checking account to my mutual fund accounts, I played this little game with myself where I would also write and send in checks for additional investments, making sure I had a contribution of two in the mail at all times. Whenever I received confirmation of the last payment I made by mail, I immediately wrote another check for my next contribution, put it in their postpaid return envelopes, and mailed it again. Even to this day, I still write checks to both TD Ameritrade and Scottrade and mail them in with their postpaid envelopes.
- Make full use of warehouse club memberships, and ensure that the amount you save per year is higher than the membership fee. While families can benefit from having membership, my wife and I could never justify the cost to ourselves—the closest club is some thirty miles away. Take into account what you’re spending and what you’re saving.
Bonus tip: If you live close to a BJ’s Warehouse, be sure to be on the lookout for the occasions when they discount their $50 annual membership to $40. Their “refer a friend” program also rewards $25 gift cards to those who do so. If you use my link above in addition to all that, you can cut your net cost down to $15.
Average annual savings: $35
- Avoid unnecessary annual fees on cards. Unless you’re benefiting a great deal from the rewards that come with cards with annual fees, I’d advise cancelling them. Years ago I had a Frontier Airlines card with great rewards but an annual fee of $69. After I made full use of the reward and planned not to use the card anymore, I decided to call the card company (Barclays,) who were kind enough to make this a fee-free card in hopes of retaining me as a customer. We had no more use for it anyways, so after a year of non-use, they ended up cancelling it. Even so, I’d still say that the Barclays Frontier Airlines card is a pretty good deal, giving you $40,000 miles for flights after just $500 in purchases—that’s enough for two free domestic roundtrip flights! We used that for a trip from Virginia to Las Vegas and ended up spending only $30 in fees plus the $69 annual fee. Unfortunately, after they stopped offering flights from our local airport, the card just wasn’t worth it anymore. The lesson here is: don’t hang on to a deal if you can’t save on it anymore. We did just that, and managed to avoid the extraneous annual fee.
- Still considering saving with rebates? How about trying out Dubli? It’s been around for ten years now, and offers super cash back for online shopping across 12,000 U.S. and international stores. Compared to normal shopping portals which usually only offer cash back on around 3,000 stores, Dubli is way more comprehensive. In addition to cash back rebates, you can also save with coupons, promo codes, deals, and free shipping offers. While their standard referral bounty is $5, you can earn up to $10 by using my link above.
- Use Honey to find the lowest priced coupon codes. Almost 5 MILLION users! Honey is a Chrome extension that scours the web for the lowest coupon codes. Instead of flipping through magazines or websites searching painstakingly for the best deals, just leave it to Honey. You get all the savings without having to put in your own time.
- In this day and age, not a lot of people still keep paper newspapers around. But if you’re a saver like me, you might hesitate to cancel the newspaper outright, since they do advertise plenty of great value deals. Well, worry no more. Download the Flipp app, and you’ll gain access to all the ads, sales, coupons, and special offers without needing to hang on to the actual newspaper. Not only do you save money on the paper, you also cut down the time spent flipping through the actual pages. Bargain hunting has gone digital, and it’s so much more convenient for all us.
- You don’t need to be age 50 or older to join AARP. If you are under age 50 you may join as “associate member”. You won’t be eligible for their insurance programs but you will be able to save with discounts for car rentals, cell phone service, entertainment, eyewear, restaurants, entertainment, travel and more. Call 1-800-OUR-AARP and tell the customer service rep you would like an associate membership. It’s just $12 for your first year with auto-renew, but you may cancel the auto-renew at anytime PLUS you can add a second person for FREE.
That’s it for the tips and tricks for now! There are so many ways to save, especially in the modern age, that there’s little excuse not to. So why not use this list as a jumping-off point?
If you liked these tips, be sure to check out my other articles as well, which go more in-depth on individual tricks. And as always, happy savings!