Let’s talk about personal finances. This is one topic that people don’t generally talk about…one that ranks right up there with religion, politics, etc. Because of this, people generally don’t benefit from sharing ideas on how to save more money or think differently about their personal finance situation. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be an expert in this area – and in fact there are tons of people out there that don’t have the first clue about how to actually save money. I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means but I would say that our family has been able to save just a little bit more using some of these techniques – and now I’m passing them down to you! I have compiled a list of 10 things you should be doing to save just a litte bit more and put your money to work for you.

Don’t agree with these? Let us know in the comments as I would love to hear your feedback and potentially change this strategy up a bit if there are better ways!

1. Start with the basics…understand money coming in vs. money coming out

It’s called a budget! Understand how much your family is earning each money, and then figure out how much you are spending each month.  Once you get a good idea on how your situation looks, I would then start breaking out your spend by category (e.g. mortgage/rent, insurance, utilities, auto payments, restaurants/food, entertainment, etc). For our family, we use a simple excel spreadsheet that is broken out by month and by category.  Once you have a solid understanding of where your money is going each month, take a hard look at ways you can actually reduce your spending for certain categories.  Here are a few examples:

Download Free Budget

Cable Bills: I found we were paying over $210/month for Comcast Internet + TV + Phone.  That was absolutely absurd.  So I figured it was that time of year when I needed to call Comcast to get my latest promotion :).  When I called I was horrified to find out that they simply didn’t have any more promotions for me. So I went down the usual road of threatening to switch to another provider, talking to the supervisor, etc.  Nothing worked – and still…no promotion.  What?!?!? Next think you know I was in Costco and DirectTV was there asking me if I’m interested in switching service.  “Why yes, actually I am!” Long-story short, we ended up switching to Direct TV and for the first year we’re now saving on average over $80/month (that’s nearly $1,000 per year for all of you mathmeticians out there)!

Restaurants: reduce going out to eat by once per month with the family and you can save $25-50/month – adding up to $300-600/year.  It’s amazing how much people spend going out to eat.

Tip: in order to get the complete picture of how much we’re spending each month across all of our accounts, we use Mint.com.  This is a way to load in all of your financial accounts into one place.  We use it mainly to consolidate all of our transactions into one place and can download it to Excel so you can then drop it into your budget! Super simple and it’s Free!

2. Save First, Expenses Later Mentality

Set a realistic target for how much money you want to save each month by first looking at your budget. After you have reviewed all of the categories and set spending limits each month (by category) – you should get a good feeling for how much money you can save on a monthly / annual basis.  This is where the trick comes in…paying yourself first.  On set days throughout the month, money is automatically deducted from our checking accounts and transferred into savings based on our savings plan.  After this we pay our expenses.  In most cases, I hear that people say they pay all of their expenses first and then if there’s anything left over, they transfer that to savings.  Change your attitude on this one and you’ll be much closer to actually achieving your savings goals.

3. As a rule, don’t carry credit card balances…there are only a few exceptions

My Dad always taught me to NEVER carry a balance on your credit card. Interest rates on credit cards these days are absurd if you’re carrying balances month to month. So pay it off! If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it. Credit should be used as a way to simplify your life as well as gain some additional perks for using certain types of credit cards.

The only time to carry a balance is if you make a larger purchase (and have the money today) and there is 0% interest for 12+ months. There were several times where we have opened up a new credit card account, received points, 18+ months interest free, and no fees. This allows us to not only accumulate points, but also we can hold onto our money for much longer and reinvest it in other ways! Be sure to pay it off before the 18 months is over otherwise you’ll get hit with ALL of the interest to-date (not good!).

4. Move to High(er) interest savings accounts (it’s easy)

No need to keep your money in your checking account where you aren’t making any interest. Determine what level you need to keep in there to ensure you can pay your expenses each month.  Everything else move over to your savings account.  I would strongly recommend the GSBank.com online savings account – which currently generates 1.05% APY.  Unbelievable when compared to other savings accounts earning on average 0.01% APY.

5. Put your money to work in the mid-term

There are several ways to put your money to work that can be relatively low risk and also generate a significant amount of interest – during a time where that may be more difficult.  See below for a few ideas that are working out well!

LendingClub.com

LendingClub
An online peer to peer lending site. The best part is you don’t have to lend someone $1,000 each, but rather can break your investment into $25 increments to diversify and limit your risk. If one loan defaults (they don’t pay you)…that’s perfectly OK. You can set your risk tolerance, deposit some cash, and let the platform do the rest for you. Right now we’re averaging around 9% interest. Loans are typically for 3 or 5 years so I would recommend putting all of your cash in this one if you think you’re going to need it anytime soon.

Sign-up and get a $50 bonus

Wealthfront / Betterment

Wealthfront
Both Wealthfront and Betterment are considered to be robo-investing platforms – set it and forget it. You can set your risk tolerance as well for both of these. Simply deposit your money and they invest in the appropriate financial vehicles to match your risk tolerance. The best part about this is that all trades are free and they are done for you. Super low fees and makes your money work for you in a fully automated way. Depends on market conditions, but so far this has been a fantastic option for us.

Sign-up and get $5,000 managed free at Wealthfront

6. Do you know your credit score?

CreditKarma

Your credit score is the single most important factor in obtaining loans and reducing your interest rates as much as possible. Check out Credit Karma, an app that tells you your credit score for free!

Check it out at www.creditkarma.com

7. Track your assets monthly

Do you know all of your accounts and have an idea how your assets are growing (or shrinking!) over time?  On a monthly basis, list out all of your accounts and track their balances. You can use mint.com for this to track your account balances over time. I would recommend listing them out on an excel spreadsheet, date them, and then revisit it each month to track your progress.

8. Emergency Fund should be a critical goal

Having an emergency fund is something that most people do not have.  I would strongly recommend have a savings account that is untouchable that has at a minimum 6 months of your expenses.  This money should not be put into a risky account (e.g. stocks, etc).

9. Flexible Spending Accounts

If you have the option at work to participate in flexible spending accounts, definitely take advantage of it.  They simply allow you the option to set aside some money, pre-tax, for medical expenses.  In our family, we tend to have all kinds of medical expenses for our kid’s doctor’s visits and random trips to the emergency room – this fund comes in handy!

10. Get Crazy on Saving

Qapital

There are all kinds of neat ways to save out there. One of the cooler ways to save some dough is through Qapital – it’s an app that allows you to save in unique ways.  For instance, you can save $1 every time the international space station flies overhead…or save $1 every day it rains in your city (rainy day fund)!  For us, we use Qapital to take every transaction we have across our accounts (credit cards, checking, etc) and round it up to the nearest dollar. It then takes those cents and moves them to a separate account.  Believe it or not we’ve been able to save nearly $700 over the last 8 months or so.