“Take Action. Build Wealth” is my motto and I truly believe that those who consistently take action on their finances will significantly improve them. With that in mind, I put together a list of 25 ACTIONABLE money hacks that you can start attacking today. I have done my best to stay away from the boring, generic “Make your home more efficient” or “Start a budget” advice, which is not actionable, nor helpful.
I tried to list how much you can save with each money hack. Everyone’s situation is different, but it should give you a general idea on how to prioritize the list for maximum savings.
I started with 25, but have been adding to this list as I think of or implement new money hacks! Save on!
35 Actionable Money Hacks
Hacks Around the Home
There are too many money hacks to list around the home, but here are a few of the ones we have implemented over the last few years. I put an extra focus on energy savings since those bills come every single month. My favorite money hacks are ones that require one decision that pay dividends forever.
Replace old bulbs with LED (1)
Replace all the old Incandescent bulbs with LED in your house. Depending on how much you use an individual bulb they can save $1-3 per/bulb each year. For standard LED bulbs, you can find them for $1 at the dollar store or go to Amazon and spend about $1.50 each for a 16 pack.
Doesn’t take very long to do and you help yourself and the environment.
Sell stuff you don’t use anymore (2)
We have purged our 0-3 month baby stuff now that we are done having kids. Made a few hundred dollars, cleared out a ton of space, AND some people got good deals on our stuff! Win – Win – Win.
We are going to shift that effort to the basement and clear out some more space while stacking a bit of extra cash on the side. Next up is Christmas ornaments we no longer use. BYE!
I am not a heavy Facebook user but their marketplace moved items the quickest.
Smart/Programmable Thermostat (3)
You can save up to $180/year by using a programmable or smart thermostat to control the temperature when you are away. We recently installed a Smart WiFi thermostat and I honestly think that is the way to go after using it for a month. The programmable ones are great, but cracking open an app on my phone when we go out of town is way easier. It also lets us set alerts for high/low temperatures so we know if there is a mechanical issue.
Changing the temp of the house from under the covers or when we on our way home from vacation is also very convenient.
Utility Company Rebates (4)
Speaking of Smart Thermostats, we were able to get an awesome deal from our local energy company. They had a $119 instant rebate on an Ecobee model (comparable to a Nest). They also offer rebates on LED Bulbs and major appliances if you buy energy efficient models (even offering free recycling on your old appliance) that can save you a few hundred dollars.
Stacking an instant rebate with the savings from the previous section 🙂 $$$$$
Utility Company Saving Programs (5)
Our electric company offers a “Savers Switch” program that gives us a 15% discount for the 6 months our air conditioner is running. They will be able to cycle our system on and off but will only do it in 20-minute increments so we won’t even notice. We should save between $10 and $25/month 6 months a year. They have a few other programs we are going to look into to see if we can cut our energy savings even more next year.
Expected savings are ballpark from the local utility company website
Money Saving Hacks – Banking
Manage Your Credit Score (6)
Managing your credit score is crucial to unlocking some of the money hacks below and score the best rates on loans (auto, home, and even student loan refinancing). There are multiple places to track your credit score for free, personally, I use Credit Karma (not an affiliate link).
To get the best deals, aim for a score over 740. Once you sign into Credit Karma it will show you what is helping and/or hurting your credit score. From there you can come up with a plan of attack. The biggest impacts come from credit utilization, payment history, length of credit history and “derogatory” marks.
It is hard to say how much you can save without knowing your specific situation, but if we are taking a lower interest rate on your mortgage it could be thousands over the life of the loan.
Credit Card Bonuses (7)
I have gotten into Travel/Credit Card hacking over the last year and my only regret is not starting earlier. Credit card bonuses fall into 2 categories:
- Travel Miles – Cards specifically designed for travel bonuses. The points go farther if you use them for flights or hotels.
- Cash Bonuses – Cards specifically designed to maximize cash back, including an upfront bonus after you hit minimum spending requirements. We use these for statement credits or gift cards to places we frequently shop (sometimes scoring another 10% discount)
In 2018 we have gotten back at least $2,000 between our travel and cash back credit cards. Finding a $500 travel bonus card is pretty easy to do so that should be the minimum amount you shoot for (there are a few that go even higher and have great travel perks as well)
Related: What are the cons of Travel Hacking
0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards (8)
High-interest credit card debt is an emergency. It is almost always in the double-digit percentage range (sometimes over 20%). Your minimum payments aren’t dropping the principal balance fast enough and it can take YEARS to dig yourself out of the hole.
This is a slightly aggressive approach (also one of my favorite money hacks), but one I would definitely do if I was in this situation. Find a good 0% Balance Transfer Credit Card and transfer your money over to it.
Credit card cost example:
A $10,000 principal balance making minimum payments (3% of balance), with a 15% interest rate.
- Pay $6,936.72 in interest
- Will take 213 months to pay off completely
If you transfer to a 0% balance transfer card for 18 months (3% balance transfer fee) you would save just under $1,700 in interest payments alone over that 18-month period. If you keep making the same payment, that $1,700 would go straight off your principal balance.
The sticking point here is if you aren’t going to pay the balance off completely in the 18 months (which would be a tall order in this example) you need to transfer to another 0% balance transfer card until you can finish paying the balance off. The math works, but this approach might not be for everyone.
Highly recommend finding a way to pay the balance off in the first 18 months, the other money hacks in this post can free up some money that can be thrown at your credit card balance.
Store Specific Cards (9)
I don’t usually recommend store cards and typically only use normal credit cards to hack for points, but there are a few instances they make sense. The two that come to mind are Amazon and Target, they each offer a 5% purchases when you use their card. 5% is better than the normal cash back amount for all cards (except maybe a few “Special category” ones).
We are heavy Amazon users (diapers/wipes/1 million other baby things) so the cash back money adds up quick. This year we used it to soften the holiday shopping blow. The Amazon card offered $70 of instant savings on top of the 5%.
Credit Card Warranty/Protections (10)
Credit cards have a ton of benefits that can save you money, but often go unused:
- Cell phone Insurance – We found a card that offers cell phone insurance as a free perk as long as you use your card to pay your cell phone bill (Wells Fargo Propel Card – also comes with a $300 sign up bonus)
- Rental Car Insurance – Many cards offer rental car insurance if you use the card to pay for the rental
- Fraud Protection – No charges for unauthorized purchases, but some cards take it a step farther if your identity is stolen will help you fix any issues they cause
- Extended warranties – Another reason to skip the extended warranty at checkout, some cards offer protections for the consumer that automatically increase the warranty.
If you can’t tell I am a huge fan of credit cards when they are used responsibly 🙂
Checking Account Fees (11)
Simple money hack:
DON”T EVER PAY YOUR BANK A MONTHLY FEE
Checking accounts should be free and thankfully many banks are (both online and traditional). My old bank charged $6.95/month, that is over $80/year just to have a checking account.
High-Interest Savings Accounts (12)
If you keep a sizable amount of money in a traditional banks savings account, move it to a high yield savings account today.
Interest rates are over 2% at some online banks (as of 12/8/2018) which is over 40X higher than the account I had at a popular brick and mortar bank. Expected savings would be 1.96% X whatever your balance is every year. It may not seem like much, but it is an easy change (less than 30 minutes to open an account).
I use Barclays, but there are many banks that compete to have the highest savings account interest rate.
Checking or Savings Account Bonuses (13)
If you are ok with the short-term hassle of switching where your checking or savings account lives you can find some substantial bonuses for opening a new account. I consistently see $200-$350 bonuses for new customers (with some conditions). An easy way to pick up some extra cash, depending on how many accounts/bills/etc you have linked to your current account of course.
I use Nerd Wallet as a reference for this type of research, but Google will yield plenty of results as well.
Security and Insurance
All the money hacks in this section are about keeping you and your family secure. Some of them may actually cost you money, but they provide a necessary security blanket and are well worth the money.
Life Insurance (14)
Before we had kids, life insurance was not a priority or top of mind. Our jobs provided enough that if something happened to either us we would be ok for a few years before we had anything to worry about. Now that we have two young kids to take care of, adequate life insurance coverage is a must. Thinking of one of us dealing with a loss, taking care of 2 kids AND worrying about money would keep me up at night.
I stumbled across Haven Life last year and decided to check it out. I was so impressed I reached out to them the next day and asked if they have an affiliate program because it was that good. In under 30 minutes, we had a $500,000 term life policy approved for each of us. They were significantly cheaper than the other company we checked out (and cheaper than supplemental life insurance through my employer).
Here is a referral link if you want to check them out, I may get a commission if you sign up using that link.
Shop for Insurance policies (15)
Sounds daunting, but it has gotten a lot easier to do these days. I called two major providers, gave them some basic info, which involved reading off my current coverages from my current provider’s website. They took the info, ran their calculations and emailed me the results with the total price and all the discounts they could offer.
When I found the lowest one, they canceled my existing policy and switched everything over that day. The only thing I had to do was give them permission to help me save a few hundred dollars/year. This works for auto and home insurance policies. Check in every year or 2 to find the best deals around.
Drive and Save Discount (16)
It took about 15 minutes to opt into a drive and save discount through our insurance provider that cuts 15% off our car insurance bill. The savings could go up to 20% but my “hard braking” score needs some improvement. This has been available with the last 2 (large/nationwide) insurance companies we have used. Some might consider it a bit intrusive, but it saves money and I am more conscious when I drive after checking their scores every month.
Multi-Policy Discounts (17)
We save 10% across the board for having both our auto and home insurance through the same provider. Approximate savings of $200/year. A multi-policy discount has been available with the last 2 (large/nationwide) insurance companies we have used.
Emergency Fund (18)
A 2-3 month emergency fund can open the door for a few money hacks that can save you thousands of dollars depending on your situation. The ability to cash flow minor repairs or costs allows you to:
- Skip out on minor insurance coverages (Pet/Travel Insurance for example)
- Drive an older car without having to worry about covering the repair costs
- Decline every extended warranty ever offered, EVER, at the checkout line (especially on appliances or even a new/used car)
- Pay medical costs in cash for a discount. (you tap the emergency fund but I have heard of people getting 10% discounts on their medical bills for paying right away with cash)
Related: Dividends from an Emergency Fund?
Money Saving Hacks – Investing and Tax-Optimization Strategies
My favorite money saving hacks fall in this bucket. As you earn more (or have kids) finding ways to cut down your tax bill is essential. Thankfully there are a bunch of ways to easily do it and save thousands every year.
401K Contributions (19)
401ks show up twice on this list (for good reason).
Contributions are pre-tax, which means whatever you contribute comes straight off the top of your taxable income. Taking that one step further it comes off your income that is going to be taxed at the highest rate (progressive tax system 🙂 ).
A quick example to show you how beneficial this can be:
My wife started a new job last year and after the 6-month deferral started contributing to her 401K. We have worked our way up to sizeable 401k contributions over the years ~ $420 per paycheck. Naturally, I was expecting a similar drop in her take-home pay, but when her next paycheck posted it only dropped by $330.
For every $100 we saved, it only cost us $79 in our take-home pay. It’s like a 21% off sale but for contributing cash to yourself!
Related: All the 401k benefits explained
This money hack requires you to save/invest some cash but setting aside money for future you while saving a significant amount of money in taxes is a win-win.
Flexible Spending Account (FSA) (20)
If you know you are going to incur medical costs in a calendar year you should be using an FSA if one is available to you. You can put in up to $2,650/Year (2018) tax-free and get reimbursed. You can use the money for a wide variety of expenses (Including some dental and vision expenses).
We used the FSA account for the last 2 years to cover the costs of delivering our children. It does take some planning, there are use it or lose it rules associated with the FSA account.
Dependent Care FSA (21)
For money hackers with kids that need to pay for childcare, there is no reason to skip the $5,000 tax-free dependent care FSA (2018). Depending on your tax bracket it could save over $1,000 on your tax bill.
Money is automatically taken out of your paycheck and you get reimbursed for child care expenses throughout the year. Easy, quick, tax optimized savings.
Money Saving Hacks – Work/Benefits
You might not think there is a goldmine of money hacks hidden in your employer’s benefits but I promise you there are. Looking beyond the obvious ones (paycheck, health insurance, paid vacation, etc. etc. etc.) I bet you can find a few that save significant money.
Company Discounts (22)
If you work for a decent sized company they might have negotiated deals with service providers for their employees. A few examples:
- Cell phone plans – We save 7% on our Verizon bill due to a company discount (Saves us approx $10/month)
- Childcare – We have a 10% discount available to us for a few local childcare providers (If we used one of these providers it would be ~$60/month savings)
Online or “Tele-Doctors” (23)
Some employers partner with online or “Tele-Doctor” companies that can diagnose common medical issues online or over the phone and provide a prescription. They are free or cheaper than the traditional office co-pay and crazy convenient (which is worth more than the ~ $25 dollars we save each time in co-pays).
401K Match (24)
Free Money! A 401K Match is the best investment you can find. Instant gains on tax-free money you set aside that gets to compound for years and years and years. Make sure you are getting the full match. Whatever your match is times your salary is how much you save/earn on this one.
Tuition Reimbursement (25)
If your employer offers tuition reimbursement and you aren’t taking advantage of it you are wasting a powerful two-way money hack:
- Free or cheap advanced degrees or certifications
- Increases future earning potential
Every year you wait, you lose money on both sides of this equation. My company offers $2,500 per year in reimbursement, I have used it to get certifications that make me a more attractive employee, for FREE! If you are thinking about an MBA or advanced degree start now and don’t waste this opportunity.
Charity Matching Programs (26)
A lot of companies offer a charity matching program where they will match your contributions up to a certain amount every year. I realize this money hack doesn’t directly benefit you, but doing good feels good. My company will match up to $1,000 per year and we will take advantage of it every year we can.
If you can double your charitable contributions every year it is a huge win – spread the love!
Money Saving Hacks – Food and Groceries
Food is a top-three expense for most American families (Transportation and Housing are the top 2 – excluding taxes). Figuring out how to hack the cost of food can save thousands of dollars every year.
Bulk Buying and Meal Prepping (27)
I used to eat out at work 3-5 times per week. It was an awful habit that basically boiled down to laziness. I didn’t want to make a lunch every morning or even the night before. Sometimes when I did make lunch I wasn’t excited about it and would still go out to eat.
It finally clicked that I was spending a ton of money on “ok” food every day, but I didn’t want to eat homemade peanut butter sandwiches either. I started making crock pot meals I actually liked that I wouldn’t get sick of if I ate them 3-4 times per week for lunch.
Stews, chili, or burrito bowls have been my go-to options. They are easy to switch up so I don’t get sick of them. Every day I pack one up, it saves $3-7 dollars. If I only ate out 3 times and only saved $3, that would be $468/year in saving. I figure this money hack alone has saved over $600/year for the last few years alone.
Eating Out (28)
We are frugal, but we still enjoy going out and trying new restaurants or hitting old favorites. We have found the best way to do this is search for deals using Groupon. The restaurants cycle through so we get to try new places and we save on average about 40% on our bill. You can save even more if you are selective about what restaurants/deals you choose.
We haven’t paid full price for sushi at our favorite sushi restaurant either, Happy Hour Sushi Rolls for the win.
Grocery Store Gas/Food Rewards (29)
We are done with the days of clipping coupons! Most major grocery stores offer a savings card that has all the deals preloaded onto it. With a simple scan, you get all the savings of a coupon without the cutting/sorting and remembering to bring them with. With every purchase, we also get cents off every gallon of gas. Once every 2-3 months we fill up using the card and save another $15-20 depending on how much we shopped.
The key here is not to overspend just to get savings and or cheaper gas. Only buy what you would normally buy (maybe a little extra if it is a great deal and won’t go to waste).
Bonus Money Hacks
Improve your savings/investing by 1% (30)
Looking at a fairly average salary of $50,000 a year, 1% is $500. $500 sounds like a lot in one lump sum.
That 1% increase can be spread over 26 paychecks – making it $19.23 every two weeks. That sounds way easier to deal with, an almost unnoticeable amount when you earn over $1,900 every pay period. Under $10 per week.
May not seem like much, but that 1%, over 40 years, with an 8% return will be $135,000. How is that for a money hack? That is buying a lot come retirement age.
Related: Can you do 1% Better?
Refinance Debt with High-Interest Rates (31)
This money hack might be a little more involved than most on this page but can save big money if you put in the time. We have saved thousands of dollars by refinancing debt that had higher interest rates. A few examples:
- Refinanced our mortgage from 4.25% to 2.75% using a 7/1 ARM – You might be able to find a lower 30 or 15-year rate than you currently have that can save money over the long-term
- Refinanced my student loans from over 6% to under 4% – I used SoFi and highly recommend them. They have a ton of member benefits and were awesome to work with (this is a referral link, if you sign up through SoFi I may make money. I would not recommend them if I didn’t use and love them myself).
IF you are in debt, take a look at your interest rates and see if you can find a better deal, specifically on student loans or your mortgage.
Cancel or Downgrade a Service/Subscription (32)
Re-occurring charges are dangerous. Some companies seem to lull you to sleep, then start hiking up the cost of their service every few months. Then one day you look at your account and BAM! What used to be a $100/month, is now costing you $180/month. It is the “anti Money Hack”
Some places to start:
- TV/HBO/Netflix Subscription
- Gym membership
- Cell Phone Plan
Returning customers should be punished for loyalty. Calling into customer support can be a pain, but it is worth it to save money every single month. Try to get the introductory rate as your permanent rate. The worst case scenario is you are calling back in 6-12 month to have the conversation again. Expected savings depend on what services you have or you can do without. We were able to save $80 a month on our cable bill (before we switched to Sling TV) for reference.
Amazon Subscribe and Save (33)
If you are looking for a money hack that has a dash of convenience, you might like Amazon Subscribe and Save. Basically, you subscribe to items you frequently use, schedule out the delivery at the same time (month) and can save from 5-20% on each item. In our house, we order furnace filters, toilet paper, dog food/treats, laundry detergent, and approximately one million diapers.
Everything shows up, on time, delivered directly to our house.
For the parents out there with kiddos still in diapers, I have saved an extra $5-10 per box of diapers hunting for the “damaged box” deals on Amazon. They aren’t always available, but if they have em it will show up as a third option under the “one time buy” and “subscribe and save” options. I have yet to get a box that has the plastic wrapping the diapers ripped. Usually, there is a chunk out of the box branding missing and that is it.
Sell unused gift cards (34)
Have you ever gotten a gift card to a place you don’t love the food or a store you would never shop at?
Instead of essentially “wasting” money on something you don’t want, you can snag cash quickly from one of the companies that buy gift cards. You will take a little hit, but the two times I have done it they have paid out 90% of the value. I would rather spend 9 dollars on something I want than 10 on something I am not excited about. I use CardPool.com and haven’t had any issues. I trade for an Amazon gift card for instant money back.
Public Transportation (35)
If you live in or near the city, using public transportation might be one of the biggest money hacks on this list.
I have been taking public transportation since I started working downtown and save over $2,500 per year. That is over $15,000 since I started my career! As I previously mentioned Transportation is a top 3 expense. Parking costs alone are 5 times the cost of my monthly public transportation pass. Public transportation cuts down on my travel time (they pass by the traffic on the shoulder) and lets me relax and read instead of driving. Win-Win (and another Win if you account for the environmental impact).
Dosh Shopping App (36)
This is one of the easiest money hacks I have found.
Overall, I am pretty skeptical about shopping apps, some of them definitely work and Dosh did seem too good to be true. You link your cards, and if you shop at certain stores money automatically goes into your account. The good part is it works, I tested it with a few Sam’s club purchases (Which I frequently see on the list of active retailers). Got an extra 2.5% cash back on what I bought (on top of the credit card cash back percentage) instantly sent into my account.
- Easy to set up
- No effort after you link your cards
- Easy referral program
- If you don’t shop at a lot of the stores on the list you won’t make much money (I have seen 8% at Sams Club and Sephora, so if you shop there often it is worth it for sure)
- For those that don’t like attaching their cards to another online service, it may not be for you.
There is no shortage of money hacks out there, a little bit of action goes a long way. If you do everything on this list you will save or earn thousands of dollars every single year. If you really want to amplify the savings, invest all or a portion of the money you save and let compound growth turn this list of money hacks into a significant pile of cash.
If some of these don’t work for you, NO PROBLEM. Optimize what you can, and forget about the rest.
Any money hacks I missed? What do you think of all the money hacks in this post? Have you tried any of them?