We all have limited resources, which include our time, money and energy. To get the results we want, we have to divide our resources to the best of our ability. The better we use our resources, the better the rewards.
This is where money hacks come into play. They allow you to achieve outsized results with minimal effort.
Life resembles a slot machine more than a coin machine.
With a coin machine, you put in $1 and get a $1 back. With a slot machine, the goal is to find one where you insert $1 and get more than $1 back.
What’s great about real life, compared to a casino, is that you get to choose the odds. There are hypothetical slot machines out there that pay you $7 for every $1 you invest. And it’s your goal to find these slot machines.
A valuable exercise is plotting some past investments of time, money and energy that shows their reward.
The image below is my hypothetical chart. But if you make your own, you’ll soon realize that time doesn’t always equal the reward. In some cases, you’ll get a far greater return. At other times, you’ll get far less.
The one thing all money hacks have in common is a positive reward to investment ratio. Some money hacks require an investment of one unit of time and return five units of rewards. One such example would be using a cash-back site for your online purchases.
Other money hacks require a larger investment. They may take 50 units of input but return 90 units of rewards. An example here would be taking 10 hours to study the best practices in salary negotiation and then using that knowledge to increase your salary.
What’s important to understand is that both of these hacks are positive uses of your resources.
In this article, I’ve included my favorite money hacks. First, you’ll find the hacks that take effort but produce rewards that far outweigh that effort. Next, you’ll find the hacks that take little effort but produce a surprisingly nice return.
The Hacks That Make a BIG Difference
Large rewards do take time and effort. But then again, it’s the large rewards that move the needle when it comes to building wealth and overall happiness.
So don’t discount these hacks just because they take more than a few taps on your phone. At the end of the day, this is the stuff that really matters. Focusing on it will make a huge difference in your life.
Pick The Best Coworkers And Friends You Can Find
One of the biggest conclusions of the famous Terman study, which tracked thousands of individuals from youth to death, was that we become who we surround ourselves with. This is not only true when it comes to wealth, but also with other valuable traits like health, honesty, confidence and integrity.
And since we can’t pick our family, it makes sense to invest a lot of time into surrounding ourselves with the right people.
Monthly Financial Meetings
I worked at a country club during the 2008 financial crisis. At that time, a joke I kept hearing members tell was, “I lost 50% of my net worth, and didn’t even get divorced!” Yes, it was stereotypical country club talk. But there was some truth behind it.
The fact is that money is one of the leading causes of divorce. And if you can avoid dividing up your assets at some point in your life, it will go a long way toward building wealth.
From the start of a relationship, it’s important to develop expectations when it comes to spending. When couples are not on the same page, it tends to create stress. Like compound interest, stress builds up over time.
I’ve found that having a monthly financial meeting with my wife is the best way to avoid financial disputes. It’s here we review our financial goals, income, expenses and portfolio. And while the numbers are important, what’s even more valuable is the constant communication we have around the subject.
This did take some time to learn, as I made my share of mistakes. I wrote about How to Budget as a Couple with Minimal Conflict on my friend Ashley’s blog.
Automatic Savings Increases
The fact is that most people pay little attention to their 401(k). Yes, they might know the balance, but the details often get overlooked. Yet, it’s these details — like fees, asset allocation and savings rate — that determine the balance.
One 401(k) hack that makes a big difference is utilizing your plan’s auto-escalation feature, which is also known as an automatic increase.
This feature automatically increases your savings rate at set times. For example, it can increase your contribution percentage by 1% every year.
A second 401(k) hack, for those not interested in reading a good book on investing, is to look into a 401(k) robo-advisor like Blooom, which allows you to optimize your portfolio based on available options for one small fee.
See our complete review of Blooom.
Fidelity did a large study on what 401(k) plans performed the best. What they found is that the accounts that performed the best were the ones of people who forgot they had an account!
A good way then to hack your 401(k) is:
- Increase your savings rate over time — preferably automatically.
- Have the optimal mix of investments.
- Pretty much forget about it while you continue to work.
Travel hacking has been a hobby of mine for over a decade. The two to three hours a month I put in has saved me tens of thousands of dollars over time.
And while the money saved is nice, the experiences matter as well; it’s through travel hacking that me and my family have gotten to see a lot of the world.
See my complete guide, “A 4-Step Guide To Travel Hacking: The Easiest Way To Take Your First Free Trip.”
Easy Hacks That Save You Money
It’s fun to put in a little effort and see a positive reward come out of it. While these hacks may not change your life, they certainly are worth knowing.
#1. Go Cash-Only For Certain Categories
It’s widely studied that we spend more when using credit cards vs. cash. However, going “cash only” in today’s economy isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
A good workaround is to select one or two categories where you overspend. Then, do a cash-only budget for those categories.
For example, say that month after month you blow through your budget for restaurants and takeout. What you’ll then do is set aside a certain amount of cash for dining out.
Then, place it in an envelope at the start of the month. Any time you want to dine out, the money must come from that envelope. Then, when the cash is gone, it’s gone! No more dining out until next month.
Learn more about the cash envelope system for budgeting.
#2. Get Cash-Back On Things You Already Buy
There are dozens of cash-back sites that allow you to earn a few extra percent back when shopping online. These sites work, as they typically give you a portion of the referral fee they earn for sending you to the merchant’s site.
One of my favorites is Swagbucks, which allows you to earn up to 20% back in cash when you shop online.
You don’t pay a penny more. All you need to do is start your search at Swagbucks and shop your favorite online stores as you normally would.
There’s also a $10 sign-up bonus if you use this link.
You’re probably shopping online as it is, so why not get some free money back?
Put cash back in your wallet
Get paid to shop online, watch videos, take surveys and play games with this all-in-one rewards site. Redeem your points for gift cards and PayPal cash starting at just $3.
Related reading: How to save money on Amazon.
#3. Switch To A Zero Fee Savings Account
Did you know that in 2017, banks collected over $34 billion in overdraft fees? That’s a lot of money. And unfortunately, those fees are often paid by those who can’t afford it.
If you paid even a single dollar in bank account fees last year, check out Chime, which has no debit card fees, overdraft fees, ATM fees, monthly maintenance fees or monthly service fees.
#4. Get Cash-Back For Price Drops
One of my favorite money saving hacks is Capital One Shopping.
Capital One Shopping is a free service with a bunch of great money-saving features. One of the best features is price protection, which gets you cash back on items you bought online when the price drops. In other words, it’s like getting price matching even weeks after you purchased something.
It’s free to sign up, and you don’t need to be a Capital One account holder to use the service.
However, you do have to give it access to your email inbox; Capital One Shopping periodically scans for receipts and shipping confirmations, and then tracks the price of items purchased from eligible retailers. When it learns that a price has dropped, it helps you get a refund.
Unlike other similar sites, Capital One Shopping allows you to keep 100% of the refund.
Learn more in our Capital One Shopping review.
#5. Build An Emergency Fund
One of the smartest things you can do for your finances, as well as for your peace of mind, is building an emergency fund.
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, a $500 to $1,000 cushion is a great place to start.
Eventually, you may want a bit more. However, don’t underestimate the benefits of setting aside even a small amount.
#6. Shop Annually For Car And Home Insurance
Perhaps the easiest way to save big money fast is to compare car insurance quotes. If you can save $300 on your insurance policy with 30 minutes of work, that’s a $200-per-hour task!
Start your search at Gabi Insurance, which takes only a few minutes to get a quote. As an online-only company, Gabi will quickly compare your quotes from top-rated insurers.
#7. Use Coupon Apps For Groceries And In-Store Purchases
Just as cash-back sites can get you money back for your online purchases, coupon apps can get you cash-back for in-store purchases.
One of my favorite cash back apps is Ibotta.
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for the app (get a $5 bonus by using this link).
- Before you walk into the store, scan Ibotta for rebates.
- After you purchase the item, scan the barcode and receipt.
- You’ll get cash-back in a matter of minutes once your purchase is verified.
- Ibotta works with hundreds of stores, including Costco, Publix, Walmart, Target and more.
#8. Let A Robot Save You Money
One of my favorite personal finance apps is Trim. The idea behind Trim is to become your robotic personal finance assistant.
Trim takes care of money-saving tasks like:
- Canceling and negotiating subscriptions.
- Getting you cash-back for price drops.
- Lowering your cable and internet bills.
All you do is sign up and connect the accounts of your monthly bills. Then, Trim’s robotic assistant will notify you of ways to save money.
#9. Earn Money And Gift Cards By Watching Videos
You probably know of InboxDollars, the popular cash-back website and app. Well, there’s a little-known way you can get paid to watch videos through InboxDollars called Cash Video.
How it works is InboxDollars gives you a specific playlist of videos to watch (you can watch in the background on mute). Common videos include movie previews, music videos and news.
Once you get through the playlist, you’ll earn cash from InboxDollars. Most playlists run between a few minutes to around 30 minutes. Once you accumulate $30, you can request a transfer to your PayPal account.
Plus, there’s a $5 bonus just for signing up.
See also: How to get free PayPal money.
#10. Get Paid For Doing Absolutely Nothing
There are a number of websites and mobile apps that pay you for access to data about your shopping habits, TV viewing history, and device usage (among other things).
This is a form of passive income, and a great way to earn a little bit of extra money with essentially zero effort. I’ve written a couple of articles about passive income, including one about the best passive income ideas and one about the best passive income apps.
One option that falls into both of those categories is the Nielsen Mobile Panel, an app that runs in the background of your smartphone (or other device). It’s produced by Nielsen, the well-known market research company that conducts the TV viewership ratings you hear about in the news.
The app collects your data anonymously and uses it for market research purposes. You’ll earn about $50 per year, per eligible device, just for keeping the app installed.
You can learn more in our Nielsen Mobile Panel review.
#11. Focus On Your Food Budget
Large monthly expenses — such as your mortgage, car payments and utilities — are difficult to save money on overnight. That’s why often the best place to start saving money is by lowering the amount you spend on food.
There are a lot of easy hacks to save money on food.
The easiest is switching the grocery stores you shop at. I’ve found stores like Aldi and Costco are 20% to 30% lower than shopping at typical grocery stores. Just as important, you’re not sacrificing quality.
While you may not have access to this same combination of stores, the lesson to remember is to optimize your grocery spending.
Here are two resources we’ve put together to help:
Another option to consider is Imperfect Foods, which delivers fresh fruits, vegetables and other household staples right to your door for up to 30% less than in-store prices.
In theory, the items have cosmetic blemishes or other imperfections. However, I use the service and the produce usually looks better than what’s for sale in the supermarket.
You can read about my experience with the service in this Imperfect Foods review.
#12. Set Financial Goals
Setting goals is a difficult task. Setting financial goals is even harder.
None of us know what life will bring next month, let alone in five, 10 or 30+ years. On top of that, we have to make a whole bunch of assumptions about things we have no control over.
It’s these reasons, among others, we tend to forget the process altogether.
But despite the frustration, financial goals make a lot of sense. After all, working for money takes up most of our waking hours. Once in a while, it makes sense to ask yourself if you’re on the right track.
I’ve written a financial goal setting workbook, to help guide both individuals and couples for setting financial goals. It’s a step-by-step process for gaining clarity in your financial life. Sign up below for free access.
Free Workbook: How to Set and Accomplish Financial Goals the Smart Way
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*Capital One Shopping compensates us when you sign up for the service using the links we provided.