14 Simple Money Moves Californians Should Make Before the End of the Day
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
OhmConnect is an online service that will reward you in cash and prizes for reducing your energy consumption during specific times of day that it calls #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 up to $200 a year or even a three-year lease for a Tesla Model S.
2. Open a Separate Bank Account
Operating everything out of one checking account can make your finances muddy and contribute undue stress to your money management. To simplify, open a second account for a dedicated purpose.
One of our favorites is Aspiration’s Summit Checking Account — there are no fees, and you’ll earn up to 100 times the interest rate of other banks. This online-only checking account comes with a debit card and free ATMs, so you can get your money when you need it.
With your new checking account, use it to split your income:
- Automatically deposit a portion of your income into your existing bank account, and use that to cover basic expenses like bills and your super-high California rent.
- Deposit what’s left into your Summit Account to use for fun stuff, like eating out, shopping or going on vacation.
3. Pay Less for Car Insurance When You Drive Less
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 made since 1996 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.
4. Start Investing Without Thinking About It
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. Compare Car Insurance to Cut Your Rate
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.
6. Take Steps to Consolidate Your Debt
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.
7. Figure out Your Life Insurance Needs (They Could Surprise You)
“The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen,” Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin, told us. “Everyone needs insurance, but a very small subset of young people need the insurance that is sold by most ‘financial advisors.’”
You might still consider a basic life insurance policy, which could be useful for paying off your funeral, mortgage or car loans. A company like PolicyGenius offers you an easy way to compare and buy life insurance. Unlike traditional providers, this online-only platform provides an easy way to apply, and it offers instant quotes from top carriers online to help you make a quicker decision.
8. Start a Passive Income Stream
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 — up to $600 per year!
- InboxDollars lets you actually get paid to watch TV online. The site hosts a ton of stuff to watch, including cooking, entertainment, news and health shows. The shows are sponsored by brands that need to get them in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Every time you watch one, InboxDollars will credit your account with a little bit of cash.
- 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.
- Drop wants to… drop some cash in your wallet. Link your credit and debit cards, and you’ll earn points whenever you make a qualifying purchase. This can happen when you’re grocery shopping, hailing an Uber or even ordering a pizza. The points will add up, and you can exchange them for gift cards to popular retailers like Amazon and Starbucks.
9. Optimize Your Credit Card Rewards
If you’re not using a rewards credit card to pay for your essentials, you’re missing out on free money. (One obvious caveat here: This only works if you pay off that credit card balance every month to avoid paying interest.)
Credit card rewards programs can be confusing, though, because each card gives you different rewards for different purchases. Managing all your points and rewards can be a challenge, especially if you’re juggling more than one card.
To get the most out of your rewards cards at the checkout counter, try using Birch. The free app keeps track of your spending and helps you maximize the rewards you’re getting, whether it’s travel rewards or cash back.
Birch plugs into your bank account and credit card accounts (with high security) and analyzes your spending habits. It recommends which cards you should sign up for, and which cards you should use for your most frequent purchases.
For example, it might suggest you buy gas with a specific card that offers extra points or cash back for gas station purchases.
Don’t miss out on possibly hundreds of dollars a year in rewards.
10. Take a Deep Look at What You’re Spending
An integral part to managing your money is budgeting. Ew, gross. We know. But it’s important to take a good look at what you’re spending and understand where you can cut back.
An easy way to automate this process is to use Trim, a little bot that’ll keep track of all your transactions.
Connect your checking account, credit card and savings account for a big-picture look at your spending habits. Then, take a closer look by checking out each of your transactions. Now, set alerts to let you know when bills are due, when you’ve hit a spending cap or when you’ve (hopefully not) overdrafted.
Trim has a lot of other features, too, including a service that helps you negotiate your bills down. Best part? It’s free to sign up.
11. Sell Your Old Stuff
Another simple way to boost your savings with a quick injection is to sell off some of your old stuff. You probably have more than you think!
Clear your shelves of unused video games, CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays, and sell them on Decluttr.
Do you really need to hold onto your dusty copy of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for another year?
Decluttr is a lot easier than selling direct through an online marketplace. You can unload all your old media at once, ship to Decluttr for free and get paid cash within a day, once the company accepts your order. Plus, enter FREE5 at checkout to get an extra $5 for your trade-ins!
Similarly, get rid of old college textbooks and earn extra money using Bookscouter.
BookScouter helps you find the best-paying and most reputable textbook buyback companies online. Just type your book’s ISBN into the search, and you’ll see which companies will offer you the most for it.
Most buyback companies offer prepaid shipping, so you won’t have to worry about that. And you can choose how you’ll be paid, usually via PayPal.
Also, for virtually anything, you can use letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes the hassle of selling things online, and it’s free to use.
12. Make Your 401(k) Blossom
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. Protect Your Home and Belongings
It’s no doubt California is gnarly when it comes to natural disasters. That’s why it’s important to consider renters or homeowners insurance, which, depending on coverage, can protect your belongings against damage and theft.
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.
The service is currently available in California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Georgia.
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.
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!)
- Click “Check Our Prices.”
- Get to know Maya, Lemonade’s chatbot. She’s nice and will ask you a few questions.
- 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.)
14. Have a Glass of Wine and Look at Your Credit Score
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.