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Are you one of those people who thinks New Year's Eve is the only time to make new changes? Don't be. If you are like me, you'll be in bed by 10 pm on New Year's Eve, hoping to get some sleep before the neighbors shoot off fireworks.
The truth is you get a fresh chance to make changes each and every day. Even if you drop the ball, you can make great money moves each day.
They don't have to be radical either. You don't have to move into a cardboard box, find a winning lottery ticket, or get a second job. All you need to do is step back, pause, and think about Plan B to do something different and better.
1. Save Money on Food and Gas
I use Upside to pay less for gas. For example, I can save between $0.01 and $0.15 per gallon, depending on the station. Since we have a large family vehicle, I usually save around $5 per fill-up, which helps reduce the pain at the pump.
You pay full price at the pump but earn cash back through the free rewards app. You can cash out your earnings for direct deposit, PayPal, or gift card with a $10 balance.
Bonus Upside discount: Use my referral code ZRE5V and get an extra 15 cents cash back per gallon on your first gas station visit.
The Upside app also offers discounts at participating restaurants (usually 7% back) and grocery stores (up to 15% back).
Food and gas are two of our largest monthly expenses, so any amount of savings is a blessing.
2. Get Serious About Paying off Your Debt
You need a plan to get out of debt. The Pay Off Debt App makes planning easy. It gives you three different debt repayment plans so you can pick the one that best fits your extra income.
You can track your payoff progress using this app. Plus, see how much you can save in interest by making extra payments.
3. Put More Money Into a Savings Account
Do you have at least three months of living expenses set aside? If not, start saving money quickly.
When you reach this milestone, challenge yourself to set more aside. Be it six months, twelve months, or more. Of course, don't neglect investing to earn potentially more on the money you don't plan on touching in the next five years.
I personally like the “challenge” of saving at least $100 monthly with a CIT Bank Savings Connect account and earning one of the best savings account rates.
Several online banks offer FDIC-insured savings accounts and money market accounts that earn more than a brick-and-mortar bank. And, you don't pay any fees to open or maintain your accounts. Another option is choosing a no-fee local bank or credit union.
4. Spend Less on Your Recurring Bills
When I quit my job, I took a 75% pay cut the first year until I got back on our feet. As a result, we had to spend less money to keep from going into debt.
My wife and I wrote every expense down on paper for 30 days. And, we pored over our credit and debit card statements to see what we spent money on.
Then, we canceled what subscriptions we no longer needed, like Netflix. These cost-cutting practices came in handy as we were able to save money when we had a low income.
Additionally, lowering monthly expenses are more important than ever due to generational-high inflation. We're continuing to look for ways to save money to afford higher power bills and insurance premiums. Some of the cost-cutting measures include:
Cheap Cell Phone Plans
We also looked into cheaper monthly phone plans. Initially, we stayed with our contract plan but dropped to a smaller data package. And then we discovered prepaid cell phone carriers like Visible several years ago.
We enjoy similar coverage quality at a sharply lower price.
Today, we (and you too!) can get unlimited voice, text, and data for as little as $30 per month. You're also not bound to a two-year contract and don't pay hidden fees or taxes.
Visible is one of my favorite prepaid carriers for these reasons:
- It operates on the Verizon Wireless network, which is usually the most reliable in many neighborhoods (in my experience at least.)
- Unlimited mobile hotspot at no extra cost
- Unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada
- $30 per month per line (or $45/line for Visible+)
If you can transfer phone carriers penalty-free, I encourage you to do so ASAP. I was hesitant at first because I thought the coverage wouldn't be as good. I'm glad I was wrong.
Best Bill Negotiation Tools
You have several bill negotiation tools that will do the hard work of negotiating for you. If successful, they keep a percentage of the negotiated savings:
- Trim: Start negotiating your bills for free via Facebook Messenger or text message
- Rocket Money: A mobile app that can lower bills, cancel subscriptions, and track spending from your phone
I don't exactly have time to call during “normal business hours,” to see if companies will lower my rate.
Trim has saved us a few dollars on our cell phone and home internet plans. The other tools are legit but Trim was the first one I heard of, so that's who I used.
You can also consider switching to a prepaid cell phone provider. We ditched Verizon Wireless for Cricket Wireless and pay less for more data.
5. Switch to a Cheaper Cable TV Service
Cable and satellite TV plans are expensive. In all honesty, I quit watching TV on a regular basis in 2014 (with the exception of my favorite sports team) because of my work schedule and the monthly cable cost wasn't worth the few minutes a day I might watch.
The Kill Cable Course can help you cancel your expensive cable TV subscription and choose the better options. It's possible to watch your favorite sports and lifestyle channels for significantly less money.
If you have high-speed internet at home, you can watch local and cable channels live or on-demand. I recommend trying out these streaming platforms:
- Philo: Your cheapest option for entertainment and lifestyle channels. This service doesn't offer sports or locals.
- FuboTV: The best option for watching sports by streaming. They also have many lifestyle channels too for non-sports content.
- Sling: Customizable entertainment packages and the cheapest way to stream ESPN.
Instead of just switching to a cable streaming service, see if you can switch to a single streaming app for on-demand movies and shows. That's what my household does as we spend as much time outside as possible and only having one app maximizes our saving.
For family-friendly programming, you may consider apps like Disney Plus to find something that every person in your family can enjoy.
6. Use Online Shopping Sites
Many of us probably shop more online now than ever before. My family uses cashback shopping apps for most online purchases.
These apps are free and make it easy to get cash or gift card rewards with a $5 balance.
Here are the two shopping apps I use regularly:
- Rakuten: Easiest to use, $5.01 redemption minimum, and a $40 signup bonus
- TopCashback: No redemption minimum and many cash or gift card rewards
Of the two, Rakuten is my overall favorite as its platform is easier to use, and they have responsive customer service. However, TopCashback tends to offer higher rates at my favorite stores, has limited-time bonuses, and is also easy to navigate.
7. Compare Auto, Home, and Renter's Insurance Rates
I have a love-hate relationship with our auto and homeowner's insurance policies. We pay monthly premiums and (thankfully) never file a property damage claim. Our earthly belongings are protected, but the insurance company gets free money.
But, that doesn't mean I need to give them more money than necessary. If it's been a few years since you shopped for insurance, today is a good day to do it. I bet the process is easier this time because someone does the hard work of getting online quotes with similar coverage amounts for you.
We compare our rates once a year and sometimes discover we are not getting the best rates on car insurance, for instance.
Gabi compares car and home insurance rates. I uploaded my policy statement and had fresh quotes in 24 hours. I stayed with my current car insurance provider, but it was nice getting hassle-free quotes just to see.
Did you know that having a higher credit score can give you cheaper insurance rates? It's true.
Check your credit score for free with Credit Karma and learn how to improve your score.
8. Get Term Life Insurance
I quit my old job in 2015. In doing so, I lost my workplace term life insurance. Since we had a home mortgage, a newborn child, and a few thousand dollars in savings, I got a standalone life insurance policy.
If something happens to me through 2035, my wife won't have to worry about replacing my income right away. I chose a 20-year term since that was the sweet spot for monthly payments and the coverage amount I wanted.
Everyday Life provides you with a free online quote. Simply enter your current income, state of residence, and the number of children to get a personalized quote.
You may also like that Everyday Life takes a flat-fee approach.
They earn the same commission whether you get a “small policy” or a big policy with high coverage amounts.
9. Get Serious About Investing
Investing is one of the only ways to earn passive income with small amounts of money. It's also a very important way to save for retirement. I made investing a priority when I graduated from college.
If you want to keep investing simple with index investing, consider these tools:
- Public lets you invest as little as $1 into stocks and ETFs. This platform is mobile-only has many investment options and is easy to use.
- Magnifi is a micro-investing app and an interactive invesment research platform. Its Mentor service is AI-guided and can help you build a customized portfolio, automatically invest, and ask investing questions to get quick responses.
- Unifimoney offers self-directed and automated investing. You can buy fractional shares of stocks and ETFs with a $1 minimum investment. (Read our Unifimoney review for more).
- For your employer 401k, have Blooom perform a free portfolio review. They will also fine-tune your 401k, so your portfolio doesn't become too risky or risk-averse. Stock market volatility is scary, but having an unbalanced portfolio can make things worse.
I also own a few individual stocks to diversify my portfolio. Before buying stocks, you should become more aware of what the market is doing so you can have a better likelihood of picking solid long-term investments.
10. Invest in Crowdfunded Real Estate
If the stock market volatility is wrenching your gut, there are other ways to earn passive income.
One option is real estate and you can invest with as little as $10 to start earning quarterly dividends.
You might try investing in crowdfunded real estate. To be clear, you're not guaranteed to make a profit each year.
But, my crowdfund investments earned a profit in 2018 while my public real estate REIT stocks and ETFs had negative returns. So, I crowdfund to diversify my portfolio.
There are several crowdfunding platforms you can use to invest in private real estate. And, you don't have to be a landlord or millionaire to start! I personally use Fundrise.
Fundrise ($10 Minimum Investment)
Fundrise pays quarterly dividend income (at least for the few years I've been using them). But, they've released statements that the immediate future might not be as lucrative as recession looms.
But, you can invest in private real estate deals that were once exclusive to rich investors.
Fundrise lets you get started with a $10 initial investment. Because real estate is illiquid by nature, only invest money you don't need for at least five years to avoid early withdrawal fees.
One downside of crowdfunded real estate is illiquidity. It can take months to redeem your shares. Also, Fundrise charges an early redemption fee on most investments shorter than 5 years.
11. Consider Refinancing Your Debt for a Lower Interest Rate
To save a credit pull and the hassle of applying for a new loan and transferring your balance, try making extra payments on your current loan accounts first.
Paying off Credit Card Debt
For instance, Tally keeps the balance on your credit card but they offer you a line of credit with a lower interest rate.
But, if you have massive credit card debt or your credit score has sharply increased in the last year or two, refinancing your consumer debt for a new personal loan can be worth it.
Refinancing Student Loans and High-interest Debt
If you have student loans or personal loans you need to refinance for a lower rate, consider Credible.
This loan marketplace lets you compare rates from several lenders at once. You also won't get any telemarketer calls, unlike with other comparison sites.
Committing to a monthly payment can give you the push you need to finally pay off your debts. This is especially true when it comes to open-ended debt like credit cards that only require you to make a minimum monthly payment to keep your account in good standing.
12. Start Saving for College
College is expensive and keeps getting more expensive. While I'm a huge fan of considering a vocational school or community college to save money, these schools still cost money too.
Instead of borrowing the entire amount (like I did) minus a few one-time $1,000 scholarships, contribute to your child's 529 plan with CollegeBacker. With CollegeBacker, your friends and family can also easily give the gift of college.
If you're tired of receiving material goods that only collect dust the week after your child receives them, this option helps you and your loved ones stop wasting money on one-time purchases.
13. Read Books To Learn Something About Money
This is one of my favorite mantras: read great money books.
Whether you get them from the library, download them to your Kindle, or buy used on eBay, these books can provide more depth than my blog. I sadly admit the truth.
I'm an avid reader of all things non-fiction. As a result, I've read a few personal finance books in my day about these topics:
I don't read money books all the time. But, one every once and a while is worth it.
Tip: If you want a basic economics books, check out Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?
14. Learn New Skills
In 2018, I decided to invest in myself. I read books and, more importantly, took online video courses to learn new professional skills and personal skills.
Some of the online marketing courses I took helped me get a better understanding of blogging, using social media for business, and investing.
Besides courses to learn new job skills that can boost your salary, you can take lifestyle courses. Some of these topics include cooking, fitness, massage, etc. You name it, it's there.
I also took a few personal courses to learn new skills I can use around the house, so I'm more efficient at scratching tasks off the to-do list.
For video courses, I use Udemy. Most courses cost around $10 and you own them for a lifetime. Some courses are duds, but most are pretty good. Read the course reviews before you purchase to see if the content is relevant.
Some courses are over $300. They might be more comprehensive but also cost significantly more.
If you're like me and just need basic video courses from a trusted source without special access to a Facebook group or 1-1 counseling session, Udemy is an awesome option.
15. Have Dinner With Friends at Home
Here's a boring yet revolutionary idea that puts you back in the 1990s. Have your friends over for dinner. Each couple brings a dish along. If you have small children, go to a park on a pleasant day so nobody gets “cabin fever.”
Besides the gas to drive to the friend's house and having to buy a little more food at the grocery store, you essentially pay nothing to have fun.
Sound like fun? I hope so.
P.S. If you need help meal planning, you can try $5 Meal Plans.
16. Improve Your Home
If you have some repairs that need doing or you want to add curb appeal before you sell, you might consider getting a Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC). A HELOC can give you the short-term flexibility you need.
We used a line of credit to build our house. You can borrow the amount of home equity you own in your house. There are some appraisal fees and application fees you may have to pay, so take these into consideration.
Also, you will most likely have a variable interest rate. If rates continue rising, so can the amount of interest the bank charges each month.
But, it can still be a cheaper way to maintain your humble abode.
17. Own Rental Property
Owning rental property can be a rewarding way to earn a steady investment. You may also appreciate the fact that you own a tangible asset and not just a digital stock that can go up and down in value like a roller coaster.
Yes, I invest in the stock market, but I also own rental property. That's diversification.
If you need help finding property nearby, check out Roofstock. Over 75% of its users are first-time rental property buyers.
So, if you have been thinking it's time to own investment properties, you're not the only one starting a real estate investing career.
18. Buy I-bonds
Another way you can earn passive income with your spare cash is by investing in inflation-linked bonds.
As long as inflation rates remain stubbornly high, U.S. Treasury I-Bonds are one of the best ways to earn some interest on your cash reserves. For example, the yield in September 2022 is 9.62% (versus 1.50% for a high-yield savings account).
I also like this idea more than small business bonds (which yield 5% interest) as they are less risky. Like all investments, they are not risk-free.
Here are some of the guidelines for buying I Bonds:
- Purchase up to $10,000 per year
- Minimum one-year holding period
- Early redemption penalty if you sell before five years
- Cannot go into a tax-advantaged retirement portfolio
- Must buy from the U.S. Treasury
You may also consider buying Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) ETFs through your investment portfolios to get similar exposure, although the yield will differ. This investment option is also available in traditional and Roth IRAs.
Related: Is There No Alternative to Stocks?
19. Monitor Your Credit Score
Credit Karma is what I use to monitor my credit score. Why? You can see your score from two different credit bureaus. And it updates weekly.
If you're building credit or just curious like a cat, it's handy to see this number for free.
I also use free credit score websites to monitor my credit profile. This way, I know others aren't trying to open fraudulent accounts in my name and trashing my score in the process.
20. Use a Credit Builder Loan To Improve Your Credit Score
If it feels like your credit score is akin to a dumpster fire, consider getting a credit builder loan, like Self. This platform lets you lend money to yourself for 12 or 24 months. At the end of the credit builder loan term, you get your money back (minus a small monthly fee).
Each month, Self reports your payment to the three credit bureaus. It's possible to see your credit score increase by 40 points in a few months.
That can be enough of an increase to finally have “prime credit.” Or, qualify for a lower interest rate on that loan you've been saving up a down payment for.
21. Watch Family-Friendly Movies
Now that I'm a parent of small children, I rethink the content we stream on our TV and computer. Here are two apps you can use as a “Netflix alternative,” “Hulu alternative,” or even a “Disney+ alternative.”
This is where Pure Flix comes into the picture. This is my favorite movie streaming app because it's Christian, and you don't have to worry about the offensive programming found on the better-known streaming apps.
There are plenty of new movies, and TV shows to like. Plus, classic TV series you may have watched as a child. And, you can stream Pure Flix on your TV, computer, video game system, or mobile devices.
You can read my Pure Flix review to learn more about this movie app.
If you want to watch current movies and other Hollywood productions you currently see through your Netflix or Hulu subscription, look at VidAngel.
VidAngel lets you apply the following filters to make unwholesome movies cleaner to watch with small children. This is what they filter out:
- Foul language
- Violence, blood, and gore
- Racial slurs
You can integrate VidAngel with your current streaming plans. Or, you can watch their original programming too.
22. Switch to a Prepaid Cell Phone Plan
One smart money move we're glad we made was switching to a prepaid carrier.
We use Cricket, which is owned by AT&T. Wherever AT&T offers cell phone service and LTE data, we have access. And, we pay less than we did being under contract with Verizon and AT&T for similar service quality.
We use Cricket because they had the best voice, text, and data plan for our budget and coverage area. It also uses the AT&T network without paying AT&T wireless prices.
But, you might also consider these providers:
- Visible (Uses Verizon and costs $30/month for unlimited data and mobile hotspot)
- Tello (Free calls to Canada, Mexico, and China)—uses the TMobile/Sprint network
23. Change Your Health Care Spending
Health care is expensive. If you're not locked into a certain employer plan, some of these changes can literally help you save thousands of dollars a year in health care spending.
Switch to a Health Sharing Ministry
We get health care coverage for a fraction of what we'd pay on “the exchange” by using a health sharing ministry.
We're paying substantially less for insurance that we don't use (the best insurance of all). We usually receive reimbursement within 90 days of submitting a claim.
Buy Prescription Drugs Online
You can save money by buying prescription drugs from Canada. Or, you can buy generics online or your local pharmacy.
Contribute to an HSA
You can also pay for medical expenses with tax-free dollars. If you have a high deductible insurance plan, an HSA (health savings account) lets single taxpayers contribute up to $3,500 tax-free. And, families contribute up to $7,000.
This money can be saved (like an IRA or 401k) until your retirement years as well.
24. Open an Emergency Fund at a Separate Bank
My wife and I are diligent about always keeping at least three months of living expenses set aside in a free high-yield savings account. This account isn't linked to the checking account we use to pay our daily and monthly bills.
So, we don't have to worry about having the bank transfer money from our emergency fund to cover checking account overdrafts for non-emergency spending.
We keep our cash at an online bank that earns a high-interest rate. In 2022, you can find several banks that offer savings accounts and money market accounts (both FDIC-insured) annual interest rates as high as 3.25% APY.
Since the cash is going to be sitting idle, this is an easy way to earn the highest interest rate possible. Talk about easy passive income.
25. Open a Free Checking Account
ATM fees and monthly bank account maintenance fees can suck your wallet dry. Instead, switch to a free checking account. Several banks reimburse your monthly ATM fees. And, it's free to open and maintain a checking account.
Chime is an online-only bank offering a free checking account and a high-yield savings account. There are no account minimums for either account.
The Chime free checking account also includes these features:
- Online bill pay
- 60,000+ fee-free ATMs
- Receive direct deposits up to 2 days early
I've also been pleased with Charles Schwab Bank. They waive the ATM fees, your balance earns a smidgen of interest, you can still get paper checks, and it's 100% free. I know because I'm a long-time Schwab Bank customer.
The only downside is that Schwab is an online-only checking account.
I also invest with Charles Schwab, so transferring money from my checking to investment accounts is effortless and instant.
Local Credit Union
For fee-free local access, consider going to a local credit union first. We like our local credit union as we still need to deposit cash or get cashier's checks periodically.
Getting a side hustle is a good way to improve your financial situation. But, there are other ways to make smart money moves. We do these things with our money to spend less and make more. Also, we don't do anything different without a monthly routine.
What idea are you going to try first? Did I forget any brilliant ideas?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.