Tip #1: Create a Financial Routine
Having a financial routine is one of the best ways to master your money and avoid unnecessary expenses like bank overdraft fees and late charges on bills and loan payments. Most people don’t intend to make late payments or overdraw their bank account, but basic money management can fall through the cracks when you get busy or lose focus.
The solution for staying on top of your finances and never getting hit with expensive late fees is to follow a money management system. Establish a Personal Finance Day where each week, without fail, you accomplish tasks like reviewing expenses, verifying credit and debit card receipts, reconciling bank accounts, and setting up bill payments. In my book, Money Girl’s Smart Moves to Grow Rich, I give you the details on the easy system that I use.
Sticking with a routine will help you accomplish more in your financial life, like monitoring a budget, keeping an eye on your investments, and saving more money. It’s also a smart way to catch a would-be identity thief who could wreck your finances.
Tip #2: Switch to Free Checking
If you’re paying any bank fees, like monthly maintenance charges, ATM fees, or debit card fees, you need a better bank. There are many national and local institutions that charge absolutely nothing. In fact, some even pay you interest that’s higher than current CD rates!
See also: How to Switch to a Free Bank Account in 5 Simple Steps
One of my favorite places to find and compare high-interest checking accounts from institutions nationwide is checkingfinder.com. The banks and credit unions in the database are FDIC-insured, have no minimum balance requirement, refund ATM fees nationwide, and offer free online banking and bill pay.
Tip #3: Focus on the Cost of Your Time
A great way to rein in spending is to consider what an item costs you in time, rather than dollars, before you buy it.
I’ll use Sarah as an example. She works as an administrative assistant in an insurance office and earns $15 per hour. Whenever Sarah is trying to decide whether to buy something, she divides her hourly wage into the price to figure out how much working time the item would cost her.
For example, if a beautiful pair of shoes catches her eye and they cost $120, she divides $120 by $15 dollars an hour, which equals 8 hours of work. Sarah then asks herself, “Would I be willing to work a minimum of 8 hours in exchange for these shoes?” If the answer is no, she forgets about the shoes. By the way, she’d actually have to work more than 8 hours because $15 is what she earns per hour before taxes.
Tip #4: Cut Healthcare Expenses
Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Depending on your income and family size, you may qualify for financial help.
Assistance comes in the form of an upfront tax credit, which reduces the cost of a plan purchased through your state’s health insurance marketplace or exchange. Even if you already have insurance through an employer, if it’s unaffordable, you may qualify to shop for a less expensive plan on the marketplace, and cancel your policy at work. A workplace plan is considered unaffordable when self-only coverage costs more than 9.5% of your household income.
Another way to cut health care expenses is to enroll in type of insurance known as a high-deductible health plan. These plans offer lower premiums in exchange for higher out-of-pocket expenses. You’re also eligible for a Health Savings Account, which allows you to use funds to pay for medical expenses on a tax-free basis. Read How to Save Money With High-Deductible Health Insurance for more information.
See Also: What Is Obamacare? 8 Facts You Should Know
Use the Obamacare Eligibility Calculator at insuranceQuotes.com to find out if you qualify for a health subsidy.
Tip #5: Be a Savvy Grocery Shopper
Most people can save money by eating more home-cooked meals. But don’t fool yourself—buying groceries doesn’t automatically save you money. If you show up at the supermarket hungry and without a plan, you can easily buy more than you need or make expensive choices. So remember that “eating in” should never be an excuse to overspend.
To save on groceries, always plan a menu for at least 3 dinner meals in advance. If you make enough for leftovers, that can give you food for an entire week. Try making the main dish of one meal without meat—like a pasta primavera or a big garden salad—to save more. Coupons can certainly help lower your food bill, but don’t get lured into buying something you don’t need or that isn’t a healthy option, just because you have a coupon for it.
When you’re at the grocery store, only buy what you can eat. Prices for non-food and some non-perishable items—like paper towels, soaps, toothpaste, and drink mixes—can be too high. Do your research to see if prices are lower at local discount warehouse stores or drugstores.
Quick and Dirty Tip: Start keeping price data on the 10 items you buy the most. Use an Excel spreadsheet or a Google doc and enter a row for each item and a column for different stores where you can get it locally or online. You’ll quickly figure out where you should buy different items and know when an advertised “sale” price is bogus. You’ll also see when a price is so good that you might want to stock up. After you master the first 10 items, keep adding more to the list.
I buy many items in bulk at Amazon.com through their Subscribe and Save Program. Not only are Amazon’s prices competitive to begin with, but when you subscribe to receive an item on a regular basis, you get 15% off, free shipping, and it’s delivered right to your front door—saving even more money and time!
Though the economy is improving, be sure to stay diligent in cutting expenses and creating good financial habits. You might be surprised by how much small changes can reduce anxiety about money, improve your financial life, and make you feel more in control of your financial future.