13 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. Pay Less for Car Insurance When You Drive Less

Derek Mateo handles cash in Orlando Florida, on December 29th, 2017.
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California ranks seventh out of 50 states in public-transit usage. So if you don’t drive a lot, here’s another strategy for paying less for car insurance: An insurer called MetroMile lets you pay by the mile.

If you aren’t spending as much time in the driver’s seat, 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.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Your car must be a 1996 or newer to qualify.
  • After signing up, the company will mail you a free device that plugs into your car and tracks mileage (that's how it saves you money!)

Find out if it’ll help you save by snagging a free quote.

2. 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.

Plus, sign up and activate your account to snag a $10 Target gift card.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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.

If you prefer more options, head over to Policygenius. The search engine allows you to compare life insurance with instant quotes. Once you find the right fit, you can apply right online.

6. 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.
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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.

7. Compare Car Insurance to Cut Your Rate

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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 California? 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.

Once you link your insurance account to Gabi, it will:

  • Scan your existing insurance plan
  • Analyze what coverage you have
  • Compare the major insurers’ rates for that same coverage
  • Help you switch on the spot if it finds you a better rate

Gabi says it finds an average savings of over $460 per year for more than 60% of its customers.

It is a true “apples-to-apples” comparison at the same coverage levels and deductibles you currently have. Once you have signed-up you never have to shop again. Gabi's software has your policy on file and keeps on monitoring for savings as your life changes.

Gabi is available in Arizona, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Washington.

8. Take Steps to Consolidate Your Debt

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

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. The platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

9. Get a Cute Financial Assistant to Help You Save Money

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A personal finance assistant would be nice… and a cute one would be even better, huh? *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

Meet Charlie. He’s a money-saving penguin. Unfortunately, he’s not here to bring delight to your household with belly flops and fin hugs. Rather, he lives in your SMS text messages or Facebook Messenger (your choice, though Charlie is more fun and reliable on Messenger).

He’s not only cute. He’s also going to help you save money. Charlie offers help with a little bit of everything, including:

  • Finding you free money by making sure you’re getting the best deals around (ahem, overpaying $24 a month on that cell phone bill?).
  • Helping you avoid unnecessary extra charges by reminding you when you have a bill due.
  • Tracking your spending, so you can see that, hey, maybe you need to hold back from eating out so much (but Charlie won’t judge either way!).
  • Reminding you when it’s time to save and how much you can afford to put away.

Getting acquainted with Charlie is easy. When you click “get started” on its homepage, you can opt into chatting via text or Facebook Messenger, and follow his prompts. You’ll connect your bank account or credit card (or both) so he can get to work.

Oh, and he’s free! Thanks, little dude.

10. Negotiate a Better Rate for Cable and Internet

Lisa Gilmore works remotely from apps on her phone in St. Petersburg, Fla.
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The price of internet — and cable, if you’re still into that kind of thing — certainly isn’t decreasing. If anything, prices are steadily climbing.

And if you’ve had to chat with a representative from your internet/cable company recently, you know how long you can sit on hold.

That’s why it’s time to call in a robot. The negotiation bot Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you.

It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers.

You can sign up simply with Facebook or your email address. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.

Also, if you have any outages, Trim believes you deserve a credit, and it’ll handle that for you.
Trim takes 25% of the savings tab, and you get the rest.

11. Get a Better Deal on Your Car Loan

view of a car driving down the road in Florida.
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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.

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. 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.

Bonus: 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.

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