If you’re like a lot of people, you might dream about owning your dream car one day, or saving up for the perfect home for your family. Having dreams like this gives you something to work toward. It’s an end goal to have in sight that keeps you motivated to work hard.
That’s great but, what are you actually doing to get you there? Creating money goals is a lot easier than acting on them.
Well, personal finance can be hard. Cutting back on your weekly (let’s be honest, daily) Starbucks addiction and living on a budget takes some practice. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
Here are 28 smart money moves to help you reach your goals without going crazy:
1. Pay Yourself First
When you get your paycheck, set aside an amount for automatic savings. No more forgetting to transfer money to your savings account. If you do an automatic transfer, you’ll never see the money in your checking account.
Out of sight, out of mind.
This is an easy change that your employer or bank can do for you. It makes it super easy to save money consistently.
The idea is to pick an amount that you can save from every paycheck and eventually increasing that amount to grow your savings even more. It’s ok to start small. Every bit helps.
2. Make a Budget
Ah, the dreaded budget. It’s not as scary as you might think. Setting a budget and sticking to it will help you save for the future.
Start by making a list of all your expenses. If you have to look at your online banking to help you, do it.
You’ll list things like your monthly rent, cable, subscription services, credit card and student loans payments, etc.
Then, write down your monthly income (after paying yourself, of course).
How do those two numbers compare? Are you living within your means or not?
Hopefully, after are your regular monthly expenses are paid, you’ll have money leftover. Take that amount and cut it in half. That’s the money available to you for extras like coffee dates, drinks with friends, or last minute purchases.
What happens with the other half?
It sits in your account. If you go over one month, you’ll have that buffer in your bank account. If you don’t go over, at the end of the month, throw the extra in savings, or invest it, put it in your retirement, etc. You’ll have several options to pick from.
And, you have a budget!
Hold yourself accountable by tracking your budget with your cell phone. Here are 20 of the best free budgeting apps to help you manage your money.
3. Improve Your Credit
Having a poor credit score will cost you, literally. People with high credit scores get low interest rates and bigger lines of credit. That means they have access to more money and have the lowest payments.
You want to be in this boat.
If you have bad credit, you are not alone.
There are some simple strategies you can practice to improve your score.
First, get your credit score for free. Looking at your credit score will help you understand where you stand. This is your starting point.
Your credit score is like a grade. The credit agencies take things like your on-time payment history, public records or collections, the percentage of revolving debt you carry compared to credit limits, and other factors, to determine your credit score.
After you get your credit score, you’ll see a list of things preventing your credit score from being higher.
Use this information to improve your credit.
For example, if the credit agencies show that you use 80% of your credit card’s limit and this is a negative factor, you’ll want to pay down your credit cards, to help raise your score.
Monitor your credit often so you know where you stand and be alerted of credit changes.
4. Contribute to a Retirement Fund
This is saving for your future. Contribute at the maximum percentage that your company allows, to take advantage of benefits like company match and boost your retirement fund at the fastest pace.
There are many ways you can position yourself to save well for retirement.
Even if you can’t contribute the max amount allowed, investing a little in your retirement account now can help blossom into a nice nest egg 20 or 30+ years in the future, so make this a priority.
5. Cutting Back
We talked a little about this in #2. Reducing your monthly expenses means you create an opportunity to save more. Saving more helps you get that much closer to reaching your financial dreams.
Cutting back may not be easy and it will be worth it, when you are buying your dream home 5 years early because of smart money moves you’re making today.
Here are some examples to help you cut back:
- Stop (or reduce) eating out
- Use grocery apps to save on groceries
- Challenge yourself to a no-spend weekend
- Shop bulk stores like Costco
Need more inspiration? Check out these 30 save money ideas that you can start putting into practice this week!
6. Track Your Spending
Tracking your spending goes along with making a budget. Knowing what you spend your money on can help you save more. Try Mint which will provide some insight to purchases you don’t even realize like morning breakfast splurges on the way to work.
It’s more than just glancing at your statement once a month to glaze your expenses, though this can be helpful too.
When I stopped taking lunch and snacks to work, I uncovered spending an extra $100/month just on food, eating in the company cafeteria! I only realized this when I started paying attention to company purchases, listed on my paycheck stub!
Check out these tips to get you started:
Use a separate bank account: The idea is to have 2 bank accounts. One account is for your regular monthly spending. The recurring necessities you have to pay month after month, like your rent, your car payment, student loans, etc. The second account is for the non-recurring expenses like car registration fees, life insurance, etc.
Tracking spending this way separates your expenses into critical and non-critical categories. This ensures that your essential bills will be paid and allows you to keep an eye on overspending from your second account.
Use the cash envelope method: This method will completely change your spending, forcing you to strictly stick to your budget categories (groceries, gas, etc.).
Here is how it works: For groceries, if you budget $400/month as your grocery expense and you get paid twice a month, you’ll pull $200 cash from your paycheck twice a month and put it in an envelope. Label that envelope “groceries.” Then spend your grocery budget using that envelope only. If you have money leftover, great! If you don’t, when the cash is gone, it’s gone.
For more guidance, look at these 6 tips to track your spending.
7. Shop Sales
There’s nothing wrong with shopping. When you think about making money moves, you’re not thinking about buying stuff for yourself but shopping is important and necessary. Sometimes you need to freshen your wardrobe for Winter or replace a broken appliance.
Here are some ways to shop smart:
- Shop the sales: Look for sales happening and shop them!
- Try cashback apps: Cashback apps, like TopCashBack give you cashback on your purchases.
- Shop at Walmart with these Walmart shopping secrets
Bottom line, shopping is not a bad thing and can be an expense you work into your budget. Want to hear a way you can get paid to shop and keep the products? Check out mystery shopping!
8. Passive income
A great way to save more is to earn more. You can do this with passive income.
Passive income means you are earning money for doing very little or no work at all. These passive income apps are worth checking out, helping you make an extra $1,500+ per year.
9. Multiple income streams
Another way to save more is to earn income actively through multiple income streams. You’ll keep your 9 to 5 and create a new income stream, like starting a profitable Etsy shop. If you are the crafty, creative type, this opportunity might be perfect for you.
Some other ways to earn include:
- Pursuing these money-making hobbies
- Taking surveys from home
- Making money from your garden
- Earning a profit selling old cell phones
You can even make money from bed.
10. Ask for a raise
Another smart money move, asking for a raise. Try to negotiate a higher salary with your boss. You know the saying, a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.
My sister has done this numerous times with her job and it’s worked out to her advantage every time.
Know your worth and don’t be afraid to ask for a bump in salary.
11. Tackle high interest debt first
Your high interest debt is costing you the most money so you want to pay down and pay off those debts first.
Aside from paying off those debts as quickly as possible, here are some other ideas to help you lower your interest fast:
- Call your creditors and ask for a lower interest rate
- Do a balance transfer to a low interest credit card
- Lower your expenses to free up money to pay down larger portions of your balance at a time
Putting your focus on these debts will help you save in the short run and over time.
12. Pay close attention to your bank account
Survey your bank account. You can do this as often as weekly with online banking or once a month by reviewing your bank statements. For any odd charges that come up, investigate them with your bank.
These could be things like:
- A double charge at a fast food retailer
- A fraudulent charge
- An overdraft charge
You want to identify charges that are fraudulent or incorrect, as well as dispute overdraft charges that may have resulted.
13. Take advantage of rewards cards
Nowadays, many retailers and companies offer rewards cards.
How do rewards cards work?
You get rewarded for spending. For example, at my local pharmacy, I earn points for every purchase I make. Once I hit a points threshold, I’m eligible for cashback.
Rewards programs work in many ways. Some may give you cash back, others may give you a freebie for your 10th purchase, for example.
They are free to join so take advantage.
14. Work with a Pro
There are a lot of money moves you can do on your own: setting a budget, using cashback apps, etc.
When it comes to more involved activities like investing, if you aren’t comfortable, lean on a pro to guide you down the right path. You can actually save money using a professional considering potential losses you might have incurred handling it on your own as an inexperienced investor.
Still not convinced?
15. Extreme lifestyle changes for the bold
If you have ever wondered how people pay off their six figure student loans in 2 years or pay off $50,000 in debt in 6 months, this is how they do it: big lifestyle changes.
This means possibly moving back in with your parents or with family, giving up your car, or eating like a college student, on $30/week.
If you are up for the challenge, as they say, no risk, no reward, right?
Here are some extreme ideas to make lifestyle changes to pay off debt:
- Give up disposables to save money (like toilet paper and paper towels)
- Ignore holidays and birthdays
- Dumpster dive for goods to sell
- Live completely credit-free (that means no credit cards, no car loans, etc.)
- Work overtime religiously
- Take on a second job after work (like delivering pizzas or delivering groceries)
- Become a driver with Lyft after work and on weekends
Want more ideas? Check out these 37 crazy and creative strategies to pay off debt from real people.
16. Avoid cosigning with others
There is nothing wrong with helping a friend or family member by cosigning a loan or credit card with them. Keep in mind though, that this could lead to a financial consequences that you might not be prepared for, like defaulting on the loan, which ruins your credit.
Try avoiding cosigning at all costs, if possible.
17. Live a minimalist life
This means clearing out your clutter and naturally, cutting back on spending on extras.
You’ll have to completely change your money mindset:
- Invest in less overall
- Selling off extras while you transition to minimalism
Thinking about trying a minimalist lifestyle? You’ll love these 7 ways to save money with minimalism.
18. Live more simply
Going along with the minimalist lifestyle, living a more simple life means riding a bike to work instead of your car, cooking at home, making gifts instead of buying them, etc.
Huge money savings opportunity here.
19. Meal planning
Meal planning helps you get that much closer to an organized life while helping you save money too. It’ll be fast and easy to pack lunches for work and prepare family dinners.
Get started meal planning with these tips:
- Keep food staples on stock
- Use similar ingredients on multiple meals for the most savings
- Try themed nights, like Taco Tuesdays, for some variety
- Double recipe batches when you can
- Don’t be afraid to freeze leftovers
Your wallet will thank you for this.
20. Get insurance
Whether you’re living alone, with roommates, or married, you need insurance. Renters insurance is often overlooked but it’s an affordable expense that can save you, in the unexpected were to occur, like natural disaster.
This holds true if you are renting an apartment or a house.
21. Get life insurance
Whether you’re single or married, life insurance is important. If you were to pass away, don’t leave loved ones with the burden of costly estate issues, funeral expenses, and more. And, don’t forget to prepare a will.
Nobody likes talking about death but preparation is key and getting insured is necessary.
22. Go natural
Another money saver, going natural can help you save a ton on costly products like cleaning supplies, self care, beauty and hair products.
There are DIY recipes, like this laundry detergent recipe (it’s #1 on the list) you can make at home.
Why do people stray away from making their own products at home?
Well, it’s time consuming and it’s tougher than going to the store and buying it but, the cost savings is truly worth it.
Here’s a list of some goods you can make at home to save you money:
- Soap and bodywash
- Cleaning supplies
- Pet food
- Beauty scrubs
Want more ideas? You’ll love this roundup of 17 Easy DIY’s You Can Make to Help You Save Money.
23. Get crafty
Like making your own cleaning supplies and soaps at home, you can also create non-consumables like making your own jewelry, furniture, and more.
For example, if your TV stand breaks and you need a replacement, instead of going to the furniture store, buy supplies from your local hardware store. Then use a tutorial from this awesome resource, and build your replacement in a weekend.
Get more hands-on and make your own pet toys, wall decor, and gifts.
24. Take an inventory of your subscriptions
All those subscriptions can be hard to keep track of.
- Magazine subscriptions
- Netflix, Hulu, Premium channel memberships (do you really need them all?)
- Subscription boxes
Take an inventory of all your monthly memberships and cut that list in half!
25. Lower your utility bill
You can lower your energy consumption and utility bill charges with these easy tactics.
Some changes you can make:
- Use a timer when running water (showers, brushing your teeth, etc.)
- Unplug appliances when not in use
- Turn off lights and fans when leaving the room
- Set your thermostat warmer while away during the day
It may take a while to have these become habit but once they do, it will be easier to maintain. This will be your new lifestyle.
Want to lower your bill even more? Take a look at these 16 energy efficient products under $50 that you can invest in to help cut your bill.
26. Take advantage of feedback surveys
Do you ever get those emails that offer you a coupon or discount in exchange for your feedback? Do the survey!
I recently received one of these emails from a local restaurant we eat at often. The survey took me less than 10 minutes and I got a $3 coupon. The next week we ate at that establishment and used that coupon.
The small wins count too.
27. Create short term savings goals
The smaller goals within reach feel more attainable.
When you hit your goal, like creating your emergency fund, for example, celebrate it. It will give you motivation to keep going.
Give back. This can be non-financial donations too, like canned goods, toys, toiletries, etc. This is a great way to clear out your home and donate your stuff to a good cause.
Where to donate?
- The Salvation Army
- Local schools
- Donation drives at your local grocery store or pharmacy
- Donation drop off boxes positioned outside of retailers
You can donate year round, at the end of the year, whenever you’d like.
Managing money can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Putting yourself on the right track with these smart money moves will help you improve your financial picture and give you peace of mind.
If you need some ideas to make smarter financial decisions, check out some of these options to find one (or more) that’s the right fit for you.