14 Simple Money Moves Californians Should Make Before the End of the Day

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Let’s say you live in the Golden State, you’re getting squeezed by crazy-high housing costs and your finances could use some serious TLC, but you’ve been putting it off.

When you finally do sit down to think about it, you get overwhelmed. Which goal to attack first? You need a budget, a savings plan, a debt-repayment strategy, a better credit score, a plan for retirement and … oh God, it’s too much.

To tackle big goals, you have to start small.

Here are some simple steps you can take today to get your finances under control.

1. Get Paid to Cut Your Energy Use

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OhmConnect is an online service that will reward you in cash and prizes for reducing your energy consumption during specific times of day, called #OhmHours.

#OhmHours are when the energy grid is overworking and must rely on dirty power plants to prevent a brownout. Those power plants aren’t really the cleanest, so that’s why it’s important you cut back. This typically occurs once or twice a week in the afternoons or evenings.

So how do you know the energy grid is in overdrive? OhmConnect sends you text or email notifications when #OhmHours are in effect. That’s your cue to to reduce your electricity use for about an hour by turning off lights and appliances or delaying your laundry or dish-washing duties.

Note: OhmConnect can only tap into a few California utility companies to monitor your consumption for you: California PG&E, SDG&E and SCE customers.

Based on how much energy you save, you’ll get rewarded in cash and prizes — like $300 a year. Or, if you learn to hack the system, earn more than $400 a month like one San Diego resident.

2. Pay Less for Car Insurance When You Drive Less

Derek Mateo handles cash in Orlando Florida, on December 29th, 2017.
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You’re probably overpaying for car insurance. And how would you know, really?

Have you shopped around lately? Have you compared rates from the 20 largest auto insurers that do business in your area? That sounds kind of difficult and time-consuming, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, a service called Gabi will do it for you. And you don’t even have to fill out any forms.

If you aren’t spending as much time in the driver’s seat, an insurer called MetroMile believes you shouldn’t have to pay as much. For example, if you only drive 5,000 miles per year, you could save $500, according to MetroMile’s calculations.

Approximately 65% of drivers overpay on car insurance to balance out those who drive a lot, according to MetroMile. It's ideal for people who drive less than 30 miles a day or about 200 miles a week.

3. Take 10 Minutes to Secure Your Family's Future

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Many of us would rather not think about death — let alone life insurance.

However, securing life insurance is an important financial move, especially if you’re married, have kids or are in your prime earning years. It pays your dependents when you die, which can help pay for your funeral, mortgage or other debt.

So if “get life insurance” has lingered on your to-do list far too long, take the next 10 minutes to figure it out. Don’t worry — it’s way easier than you think.

A company like Policygenius offers you an easy way for anyone to compare and buy life insurance. The search engine allows you to compare policies and get instant quotes. Once you find the right fit, you can apply right online.

If you’re young and mostly healthy, consider purchasing term life insurance online from Ethos. It partners with a major A-rated life insurance carrier to provide policies for a low price. For example, $30 a month could get your family $1 million of coverage.

Anyone, including independent contractors, can secure term life insurance through Ethos without a medical exam or extensive paperwork; just fill out a digital application.

4. Modernize Your Home Insurance

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Homeowners insurance is a necessary expense if you want to protect your biggest asset — your home.

Fortunately, we found an easy, modern way to shop for home and condo insurance.

Hippo can supply you with a quote in 60 seconds — and a new policy in less than four minutes.

By modernizing homeowners insurance, Hippo charges up to 25% less than average industry prices. It’s able to offer lower prices by tailoring its coverage to the needs of modern homeowners.

For instance, it offers better coverage for things like smart home devices and other electronics. But unlike outdated insurance policies, it cuts out unneeded coverage for stuff you probably don’t even have, like fur coats, pewter bowl sets or valuable silverware.

According to Hippo, customers save an average of $250 a year.

To start, you’ll answer about 10 questions, and get a preliminary quote on a price.

Once you see your options, you’ll answer three or four more questions to identify the best insurance policy for your needs. Hippo’s policies are grouped into three categories, depending on how much coverage you want.

Then you get a final quote. If it’s a go, you can make the purchase right there on the website.

5. Start Saving Without Trying

Matt and Vanessa Wiley walk in New York City holding hands.
Photo courtesy of Grant Gunderson

Saving money is tough. So what if you could do it in a way where you wouldn't even notice?

Digit makes that possible.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

6. Start Investing Without Thinking About It

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If you want an insanely simple way to save and invest your money, try Acorns. You’ll be amazed by how much money you can set aside without even thinking about it.

Acorns is a smartphone app that connects to your bank account, credit and debit cards to save your digital change. It automatically rounds up purchases with your connected accounts and invests the difference in your Acorns account.

This Penny Hoarder saved $116 — about $35 a month — by connecting one debit card to the app and forgetting about it.

At that rate, you put away $420 a year. And if you use your credit cards more frequently, your round-ups could amount to much more.

Plus, you’ll snag a $5 bonus when you make your first investment.

7. Start a Passive Income Stream

Carla Garcia relaxes on her phone in between classes on the University of South Florida Campus, Tampa Fla, on November 13th, 2017.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

We’re at no loss for smart ways to earn extra money without doing extra work, but here’s one you can actually start right now.

Sign up for the websites below on your smartphone, and start earning extra money every month!

  • Paribus is a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It's free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.
  • Shopkick: This app pays you in “kicks” for walking into certain stores (including Walmart, Target, TJMaxx and more). You can redeem them for gift cards to a number of retailers, including Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, Sephora and Best Buy. Earn even more “kicks” for photos of receipts that include qualifying items you purchased in-store with a connected credit or debit card. You can also earn kicks for online purchases. You don’t have to do anything; your linked cards will automatically apply your kicks.
  • AppKarma is a free rewards app that lets you earn cash and gift cards when you try out gaming apps and watch videos. You can exchange your Karma Points for gift cards to Amazon, PayPal, iTunes, Target, Starbucks and Walmart, among other retailers.

8. Have a Glass of Wine and Look at Your Credit Score

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We know. None of us want to do this.

But did you know 20% of Americans have an error on their credit reports that is likely bringing down their scores?

A good credit score is crucial if you’re buying a pricey California house or condo. You also have to authorize a credit check whenever you want to move into a new apartment, rent a car with your debit card or buy a new phone.

So pour yourself a glass of wine and check your credit score for no cost on a free site like Credit Sesame. This way you can find out if you have any negative marks on it before you’re trying to make a major life move.

9. Get a Better Deal on Your Car Loan

view of a car driving down the road in Florida.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

You might be able to save a nice chunk of change by refinancing your auto loan. The problem is that’s normally kind of a pain.

With auto refinancing, the biggest hurdle is the process of re-titling your vehicle, which involves dealing with your local DMV. And, oh my god, who wants to mess with that?

Never fear — MotoRefi’s digital platform handles all that technical stuff so you don’t have to. In a matter of minutes, you could qualify for a lower monthly payment, lower interest rate or both.

MotoRefi partners with lenders — like community and regional banks — that can offer you the best rates. Once you choose a lender, MotoRefi handles all the paperwork, including the cumbersome re-titling process.

MotoRefi says it’s saving the average customer $100 per month or more. Checking for potential savings won’t impact your credit score.

10. Get a Free Assistant to Help You Save on Bills

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On the phone with your cell phone or internet provider, trying to haggle a lower monthly bill?

Go ahead and hang up. (We know you’re probably listening to crappy music while sitting on hold, anyway.)

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees.

After downloading the app, create an account and link your bank account and/or credit cards. Turn on the bill negotiation and outage protection features. Boom. TrueBill is already searching for potential refunds — it might get you a refund even when you didn’t know an outage occurred.

On average, Truebill customers get $12 in credits off their cable bills each month.

The app will also remind you of all those sneaky subscriptions you’ve signed up for through the years, so you can cancel what you don’t use and reclaim your monthly budget.

Signing up and using the service is free, though there are some paid premium services that are totally optional — but could totally be worth it.

It’s important to make sure you’re getting a good deal on any product or service you use, and this is a lot easier than you might think.

Hop on Squeeze, a website that allows you to compare rates for mortgages, auto loans, student loans, renters insurance, and mobile and internet plans (among others) for free.

Say you want to compare internet prices. Based on your location, the site aggregates all your options and shows you companies alongside price points and download speeds.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

11. See How Your (New and Improved) Finances Stack up to Your Peers’

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Picture this: You’re sitting across from your longtime friend at the local diner. You catch up on life, then, because you’re curious, you ask your friend about her income, her student loan debt and her savings.

How many of you just cringed?

Most of us don’t have friends — or even family members — who are willing to talk explicitly about these numbers.

Status Money is an app that allows you to anonymously compare your financial situation with your peers without asking those awkward, prying questions. Tap into this database and you’ll be able to compare your income, debt, interest rates, credit score, spending… you name it.

By seeing how others are doing, you can see what you need to work on — or where you can sit back a little and just breathe easy.

12. Make Your 401(k) Blossom

Photo of a cute, smiling senior couple being goofy while bathing in the sea with a swimming tubes.
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Saving for retirement is a daunting chore — perhaps the most daunting in the world of personal finance. If you’ve ever typed your information into one of those retirement calculators, you’ve probably thrown your laptop across the room and declared, “I give up.”

But a 401(k) will help you out, and if you already have one open, know you’re on the right track.

Now you just need to make sure it’s working hard for you. That’s where Blooom will help you out. This company is an SEC-registered investment-advisory firm that optimizes and monitors your 401(k).

Enter your information into its system: your name, age and when you hope to retire. Connect your 401(k) account securely, then boom. (Or Blooom?)

Within a few minutes, you receive a free 401(k) “health report,” which tells you what’s going well and what needs some improvement. Are you paying too many fees? Is your mix of stocks and bonds not properly allocated for your age?

If you want Blooom to take over, you can opt in for a $10-per-month service. Within a few hours, it will reconfigure your 401(k) without you doing a thing. And, better yet, it keeps an eye on it from then on.

13. Get Some Help Paying Your Credit Card Bills

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Carrying more than one credit card balance can feel a bit like herding cats. Just when you think you have one under control, you realize you’ve let a different one slip away.

High interest rates and late fees can make it feel like you’ll never get those bills under control.

That’s where Tally comes in. It’s a simple app that lets you store and manage your credit card payments in one place, optimizing the amounts and times.

Simply download the app, scan in your credit cards, and if you qualify (with a minimum credit score of around 675), Tally will give you a line of credit with an interest rate between 7.9% and 19.9%* and use the lower interest rate to make managing your payments easy.

No more missed payments. Lower interest rates. All in one place. And don’t worry, Tally uses bank-level security, so your information is safe.

Tally is currently available in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

*Your APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will depend on your credit history and varies with the market based on Prime Rate. Accurate as of July 2018.

14. Protect Your Home and Belongings

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If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you might be paying too much for it. Try shopping around.

If you’ve never looked into it, start by getting a free quote.We recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, through which renters insurance starts at $5 a month and homeowners insurance starts at $25 a month.

Beyond affordable rates, Lemonade adds a layer of transparency you don’t often see in the insurance world. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t have to pay out claims, the company keeps a set 20% of your premium for itself, and 80% goes into a pool for paying claims. Money left over after paying claims each year goes to a cause of your choice.

That also means Lemonade isn’t going to be super stingy about granting customers the claims they deserve — ’cause the money isn’t going into its pockets.

Lemonade is available in Arizona, California, Connecticut Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

OK, so now that you know Lemonade has your back, here’s how to get a free quote. It’s easy — and you can do it all online. (Nope, it won’t hurt your credit score!)

  1. Click “Check Our Prices.”
  2. Get to know Maya, Lemonade’s chatbot. She’s nice and will ask you a few questions.
  3. Once you complete the application, you’ll receive a quote within a minute or two.

It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll feel better knowing your hard-earned belongings are insured. After all, when life hands you lemons… (OK, we’re done.)

Bonus: Get a Lower Interest Rate on Your Student Loans

Derek Mateo handles cash in Orlando Florida, on December 29th, 2017.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

For some, a lower interest rate could be one of the best steps to paying off student loans.

Try getting a lower interest rate on your federal and private loans by refinancing with a company like Credible. Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans.

Refinancing will generally mean replacing your laundry list of loans with one (or a few) loans that bring all of your student debt under one umbrella.

This could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.

It might seem like a small difference, but a lower interest rate can mean a lot of savings over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan!

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