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AARP Smart Guide: Money

19 simple ways to save more money and secure your finances

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There are two general attitudes about saving money. The first is that it’s frustrating, restrictive, a hassle to have to worry about a dollar here and a dollar there. The second is that finding bargains, adding to savings and living well for less can be a fun game that you can frequently win. Guess which attitude best serves your bank account? Truth is, having an eager, positive attitude about smart money management is more than half the battle. Apply that spirit to the advice below, and you will make 2020 a year in which your financial health grows and grows.

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START SMALL

Clear the spam

Search “unsubscribe” in your email inbox to locate and unsubscribe from all those routine emails from retailers that shout about special discounts and try to get you to buy items you probably don’t need. If you have a Gmail account, Google automatically puts an “Unsubscribe” button at the top of emails sent from a mailing list, to the right of the sender’s email address, for quicker deletion.

Hide your savings

A great way to save extra is to set up an account that’s out of sight. In addition to your regular savings or checking account, arrange to have a percentage or a set dollar amount of your paycheck routinely funneled into this new hidden account. Many banks allow you to name it something to help you keep focused on saving: “New home” or “international vacation” or even “keep your paws out of here.”.

Shop for a new bank

Banks charge fees on 60 percent of checking accounts, and some levy up to $5 per transaction for using out-of-network ATMs. Nitin Mhatre, chairman of the board of the Consumer Bankers Association, suggests going to FindABetterBank.com to locate a bank that offers free checking accounts with no ATM fees.

Earn more when saving

Steer clear of standard savings accounts where interest rates can be as low as .01 percent. Some high-yield accounts offer interest rates of 2.15 percent, which adds up to an extra $214 per year on a $10,000 balance. “Most people aren’t even aware these kinds of accounts exist,” Mhatre says. Transferring cash to a high-interest account helps you maximize your returns.

Find unclaimed cash

By law, unclaimed property such as uncashed dividends and utility security deposits must be handed over to state treasuries. Check the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators’ database at unclaimed.org to see whether you are entitled to unclaimed cash. On average, the association helps consumers reclaim more than $3 billion annually.

Clean out your closet

Your gently (or never) worn clothes, shoes and accessories can be sold on sites like Poshmark, Mercari and ThredUp. In addition to selling her own name-brand clothes online, Ingram scours Goodwill for designer duds to resell. Her most profitable find: a new Alice and Olivia dress with the tags attached for 99 cents; she sold it for $90.


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SPEND SMART

Find retroactive deals

Apps like Paribus track your online purchases and monitor price drops. If the price on an item you purchased in the last 30 days drops, the Capital One-owned app negotiates with retailers like Target, Costco and Amazon to refund the difference. Earny and Sift offer similar services.

Carefully track your dollars

Get a notebook and write down how much you spend from day to day, from coffee and little treats all the way up to your biggest bills. Very often, the simple act of tracking your expenses — and forcing yourself to watch the dollars add up — is enough to nudge you into more thoughtful spending. If you want to leave the math to an app, try Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar, an online budget tool that uses his “baby steps” method to pay down debt and not add to it. The easy-to-use Mint app, which you can access on a computer or mobile device, is another good option.  

Receive cash back

Leah Ingram, author of The Complete Guide to Paying for College, signed up for Rakuten in 2011. When she signs into the e-commerce site to shop at any one of more than 2,500 stores, Ingram earns cash back. In 2018, the site netted her an extra $409, which she put toward her daughters’ college education. “It’s money that I otherwise wouldn’t have for things I was going to buy anyway,” she says.

Pay now, pay less

Insurers, doctors’ offices and other companies that bill in installments will often give a discount if you pay the entire bill up front. So get in the habit of asking for the break. Even if the discount is small, Harzog says, “the savings add up.” If there’s no price break, pay in installments. (Put the dates into your calendar so you don’t pay late fees.) It’s like getting a no-interest loan — and it’s best to have your money earning interest (in a high-interest online savings account; see above) until payment time.

Renegotiate the basics

Lowering your monthly expenses might be as easy as calling your cellphone, cable and streaming services and asking for a better rate. A Consumer Reports survey found that 76 percent of consumers who asked got better deals on cable. Not sure what to say? Michelle Singletary, author of the syndicated column “The Color of Money,” suggests you ask: “Is there something you can do to help cut my bill?”

Scan before you buy

Apps like ShopSavvy, BuyVia and ScanLife let you scan the bar codes of items you want to buy so you can compare prices at multiple stores. These simple tools can add up to big savings, especially on large purchases such as smartphones and laptops.


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CREDIT CARD CONTROL

Request a lower rate

If you are among the 56 percent of credit cardholders who carry a balance from month to month for at least a year, lowering your interest rate can save you plenty. (Of course, paying off your balance in full will save you even more.) Harzog warns, however, of possibly undesirable consequences of calling up and asking for a deal: “If you have a sloppy payment history,” she says, “they could lower your credit limit.” 

Inspect your credit report

You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the big three consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Request one every four months via AnnualCreditReport.com to check for fraud or errors, advises credit card expert Beverly Harzog. “Errors increase the amount you pay for everything from insurance to mortgage rates,” she says. 

Automate your payments

Late fees cost consumers $3 billion annually. Set up bills to auto-draft on the due date to ensure you’ll never miss another payment (and then set a calendar reminder to check your account balance before the payment goes through to avoid overdraft fees). Not only are late payments expensive, says Harzog, but they can hurt your credit score.

Automate your payments

Late fees cost consumers $3 billion annually. Set up bills to auto-draft on the due date to ensure you’ll never miss another payment (and then set a calendar reminder to check your account balance before the payment goes through to avoid overdraft fees). Not only are late payments expensive, says Harzog, but they can hurt your credit score.

Pay down debt

Make a list of your debts and the interest rates on each. “Tackle [your debt] from highest interest to lowest interest,” advises Laura D. Adams, author of Debt-Free Blueprint. Lower-interest debts like a mortgage or student loan cost less and come with tax deductions, so pay those off last.

Pick your best cash-back card

Cash-back credit cards reward you by refunding between 1 and 6 percent of your spending. Choose from three different types. Flat-rate cards give you the same percentage on each transaction; bonus cards give a higher rate based on periodically changing categories, like gas stations and grocery stores; tiered-rate cards pay a low base rate on most purchases and a higher rate on specific types, such as items bought from a particular retailer. If you charge, say, $2,000 per year on a card that offers an average of 3 percent cash back, you’ll get about $72. (But remember: None of these deals are worth it if you are carrying a balance from month to month.)

Consolidate your debt

Options for low-interest personal loans or zero APR balance transfer cards abound. Before consolidating your loans, use the calculator at sites like Bankrate.com or Dinkytown.net to compare interest rates and calculate repayment amounts. “There’s no risk in doing the homework to see if the math makes sense,” Adams says.

Shop around for medications

The average American spends about $1,200 on medication each year. To keep costs in check, look for coupons on sites like GoodRx or WellRx and fill prescriptions at independent or smaller pharmacies. (Research done by the public interest group U.S. PIRG found that 8 out of 12 drugs surveyed were between 8 percent and 840 percent more expensive at large pharmacies.

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