Golden State Savings: 21 Ways to Put Away Cash if You Live in California

couple in california skating with dog by beach
oneinchpunch/Getty Images


It’s no secret that the cost of living in California is something else.

But, according to the state’s tourism commercials, it’s totally worth it — those vast green vineyards, snow-capped mountains, the sharp cliffs of Highway 1, those iconic Hollywood lights…

We get it. It’s worth the cost.

But if you’re having trouble saving money… well, we get that, too.

So, Californians, if you’re looking for some ways to save, here are some ideas just for you.

1. Get Paid to Go Green

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.

2. Automate Your Savings

Sometimes you have to trick yourself into saving money because it’s admittedly really, really difficult.

One way to move past this obstacle is to automate your savings.

Try using a hands-off, online bank like Chime. It helps you save each time you get paid by automatically stashing away part of your paycheck. You’ll never see it, and you’ll (ideally) never miss it.

You can also set the account up to round up all your purchases. So when you spend $32.45 at Trader Joe’s, for example, Chime will stash 65 cents into your savings, which adds up faster than you think.

Each week, it’ll reward you with a 10% bonus on round-ups.

3. Fill This Out While You Watch TV

Most of you know surveys aren’t our favorite way to make extra money, but we make an exception when we’re just vegging out on the couch. We figure as long as we’re just watching TV, there’s no reason we can’t click a few buttons at the same time.

Swagbucks and Opinion Outpost are two of the only legitimate paid survey companies out there. (They’re rated an A+ with the Better Business Bureau.)

MyPoints is another platform that lets you earn gift cards for taking polls, answering surveys and other things you do online — a great way to cash in on long lines or an endless commute. You’ll earn a $5 bonus when you complete your first five surveys.

Note that some of these sites do pay in points (to exchange for gift cards) or gift cards instead of cold, hard cash. Should you prefer cash over the cards, you can turn around and sell any gift cards you earn.

4. Earn Cash Back on Anything and Everything

Sometimes spending money is unavoidable, and in those situations, you might as well make the best of it by using a cash-back credit card.

Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.

There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)

Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.

*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.

5. Get a $20 Amazon Gift Card for Going Green

Eric Hanson wanted a cleaner energy source, but didn’t have the option in his Maine home — and didn’t want to install pricy solar panels.

So he went with renewable energy company Arcadia Power, which helps you offset your monthly energy consumption with 100% renewable sources.

“On a fundamental level, the power that I use in my house is coming from renewable sources,” Hanson says. “By providing financial support for renewable energy sites, I can disrupt the market. I’m willing to support green growth.”

And, because you’re such a good person, the company will throw in a free $20 Amazon gift card.

You can sign up to qualify for your free gift card in about two minutes.

6Earn Money for Healthy Activities

Need extra motivation for your daily workout? The health app Achievement lets you earn money for completing healthy activities.

Connect Achievement to workout apps like Apple’s Healthkit, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, Rundouble C25K, Twitter or any other app you already use to track your health and fitness goals. You’ll choose which data to securely share with Achievement to earn cash for your activities.

For example, you can earn points for logging your weight with MyFitnessPal or hitting step goals with Fitbit.

You can earn cash in $10 increments in cash or an Amazon Gift Card when you reach 10,000 points and there’s no limit on how much you can earn.

Plus, you’ll earn 10 points just for signing up with Achievement and connecting an app today!

7. Consider Your Car Situation

Surely you’ve thought about it: Do I even need a car? I rely mostly on public transit.

Parking is expensive. Gas is expensive. Insurance is expensive. Everything is expensive.

If you do decide you need a car, reevaluate your insurance situation, especially if you aren’t driving much.

That’s where a pay-per-mile insurance company can help — like MetroMile.

Approximately 65% of drivers overpay on car insurance to balance out those who drive a lot, according to MetroMile.

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

The company estimates that anyone driving less than 10,000 miles a year — or about 30 miles a day — could potentially save money.

Find out for yourself if a pay-per-mile insurance company will help you save by snagging a free quote.

8. Rent out the RV You Thought You’d Use More

RV owners: When’s the last time you hit the open road?

If you’re attached to your rig but don’t use it as much as you’d like, why not turn it into a money-making machine?

Rent it out through an online peer-to-peer rental marketplace, like RVshare. Think of it like Airbnb… but for RVs.

We chatted with one California couple who has three kids — well, five if you count their two campers (which they do). In 2016, they invested in their first camper, The Moose, a 2008 Thor Sonoma. They’d heard about RVshare and knew they wanted to rent it out to cover $2,500 in annual expenses.

They listed The Moose for $100 a night. In 2017, they banked $7,338, exceeding their initial goal. They were able to pay their first camper off and invest in their dream camper, a 2014 Lance named Duke. They’re now renting Duke out, too, and they’ve more than doubled their side income.

9. Score Cash Back on Groceries

We know it sounds strange, but Ibotta will pay you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts.

Here’s how it works:

Before heading to the store, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes.

Bam. Cash back.

Ibotta is free to download. Plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.

Some cash-back opportunities we’ve seen include:

  • 25 cents back for any item.
  • 25 cents back on strawberries.
  • 50 cents back on frozen fruit snacks.
  • $1 back on a box of tea.
  • $5 back on a case of Shiner Bock beer.

Notice a lot of those aren’t tied to a brand — just shop for the staples on your list and earn cash back!

10. Drive for Your Favorite Ride-Sharing App

Edwin Patrick Young drives for Uber on Friday Nov. 18, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Sharon Steinmann / The Penny Hoarder

Need a fun, flexible way to earn money while also meeting lots of new people?

Try driving with Lyft!

Demand for ride-sharing has been growing like crazy, and it shows no signs of slowing down. To be eligible, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old with a year of driving experience, pass a background check and own a car made in 2007 or later.

We talked to Paul Pruce, who’s been driving full-time with Lyft for over a year. He earns $750 a week as a driver.

Best of all, he does it on his own time. You can drive days, nights or weekends — it’s up to you!

Because it’s simple to switch between apps, many Lyft drivers also sign up with Uber.

As a driver partner with Uber, you are an independent contractor. You create your own schedule and drive as much or as little as you want.

If you want to give Uber a try here are a few of the things to keep in mind: You must be at least 21 years old, have at least one year of licensed driving experience in the U.S. (three years if you are under 23 years old), have a valid US driver’s license and pass a background check.

Also, your car must be a four-door, seat at least four passengers (excluding the driver), be registered in-state and be covered by in-state insurance.

Here’s a link to sign up to use the Uber app.

And if you aren’t sure which is better for you? Here's our guide to Lyft versus Uber.

11. Start Investing and Automate

Once you get your savings down pat, then you can start thinking about investing.

But take this one step at a time. First, try using a micro-investing app like Acorns or Stash.

With Stash, you can start with as little as $5 and automatically put away a little bit of money each week. (Note: There's a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.) Or, with Acorns, set it up so it takes the change from your purchases and invests it. They're even giving you $5 to get started.

Bonus: Right now, The Penny Hoarder is teaming up with Stash to fund your first investment — so you’ll get a $5 bonus when you enter the code PENNYH

12. Rent out Your Parked Car

Want to make money with your car… but not keen on playing taxi? If you live in San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley, let folks rent your car when you’re not using it.

OK, that sounds a little scary, but it doesn’t have to be. With the Getaround app, you can safely rent out your car to people in your community and neighborhood. The company insures your car for each trip, offers 24/7 roadside assistance and screens drivers for a safe driving record.

That’s more assurance than you get when your teenager gets behind the wheel…

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up with your Facebook account to rent out your car here.
  1. Set your own rates and availability.
  1. You’ll get a notification when someone books your car.
  1. Your car will be equipped with a Getaround Connect™, so renters will be able to locate, unlock and lock your car from their mobile phone during the trip period. No need to meet in person to exchange keys.

Like many side gigs that involve your car, some car owners worry about the costs for things like gas and wear and tear on the vehicle. With Getaround, renters are responsible for refilling the fuel used on the trip.

We also checked in with the company to see what it’s doing to address car owners’ concerns, and the CEO Sam Zaid told us, “Fortunately, customer feedback is one of the best ways we can learn and grow. We take feedback seriously and prioritize product updates based on our conversations with owners and renters.”

So don’t be afraid to share your experience to make this an even better platform for car owners and renters.

Plus, fewer cars on the road means less traffic and less pollution, so kudos!

13. Rate Your Local Pizza Place

domino’s pizza
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

Awww…yeah! Who wouldn't want $5 and a free large pizza? 🙂

As many of you know I was a professional mystery shopper for many years (I got my start conducting liquor audits all over the Southeast).

One of the most popular types of mystery shops is for pizza companies — both Papa Johns and Pizza Hut regularly conduct mystery shops at all of their locations. As part of the assignment you're required to time their delivery service, quality of pizza, etc.

It's pretty easy to do and you can do it several times a year. If you're interested in giving it a try, here's a list of my favorite mystery shopping companies.

14. Rent Out Your Plush Couch

So you don’t want a roommate… maybe you’ll allow for an occasional visitor?

Have a spare room? Might as well list it on Airbnb.

If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could add hundreds — even thousands — of dollars to your savings account with Airbnb.

Taking a few simple steps can make the difference between a great experience and a less-than-satisfactory one.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make your space available during high-demand times in your area. Think: concerts, conventions and sporting events in your area.
  • cBe a good host, and make sure your place is stocked with the toiletries you’d expect at a hotel — toilet paper, soap and towels.
  • Be personable. A lot of travelers turn to Airbnb for the personal touch they won’t find at commercial properties.

Here’s the link to sign up as an Airbnb host.

(Hosting laws vary from city to city. Please understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.)

15. Provide Customer Service — in Your PJs

Have you ever considered doing customer service from the comfort of your home? An increasing number of companies are hiring work-from-home customer service reps, instead of running call centers.

These jobs can be full– or part-time and offer a variety of schedules, including daytime, evening and weekend shifts with a range of pay depending on the position and location.

Your job is usually to answer customer questions over the phone or via online chat. You may find sales positions that include higher pay and performance incentives; or technical support positions, which are best if you’re tech-savvy and have an interest in helping people understand technology.

You should enjoy helping people, though! You know how a bad customer service call can totally ruin your day? You don’t want to be the bad rep on the other end of that call.

If you don’t like working with customers, keep an eye out for other work-from-home jobs at these job sites.

16. Cut. It. Out. (Those Unnecessary Bills)

Yeah, we snuck a “Full House” reference in here… Sorry.

Anyways, got a stray gym membership you’ve been meaning to cancel? Use your HBO account way more than Netflix now? Keep getting that magazine you subscribed to years ago?

Canceling subscriptions tend to elicit extreme procrastination. Plus, you might not even be aware of what’s lingering around.

Find out with a tool like Trim, an automated financial assistant that lives in the Facebook Messenger app.

When you download it (for free, of course), you can see what recurring bills are charging your account each month and cancel them. You can do it all through Trim, no customer service hold music required.

You can even save on your internet bill (because we know you all love when you have to deal with those companies…).

Trim will also send you deals and promotions based on your shopping behavior, too.

17. Cash in on Your Dollar Bills

Specifically, dollar bills with strange serial numbers — ones that aren’t easy to come by. The collectors at CoolSerialNumbers.com have created a list of their most-wanted serial numbers, and you might have a bill with one of these sequences on it in your wallet.

Turns out antique coins aren’t the only currency worth cash to collectors.

Check out the full list to see if you’ve got any of these rare bills, but here’s a rundown of the sort of serial numbers these collectors are looking for:

  • 7 repeating digits in a row on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 09999999, 77777776)
  • 7 of a kind on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 00010000, 99999099)
  • Super repeaters on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 67676767)
  • Double quads on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 00009999)
  • and more!

18. Lift Your Student Loan Burden (At Least a Little)

There’s this little epidemic sweeping the nation right now called student loan debt and $1.3 trillion are infected.

Chances are, you’ve got monthly bills coming in, and they just don’t seem to ever stop.

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 online lending platform Upstart, which can help you find a loan without relying on only your conventional credit score.

Unlike traditional underwriting models that use only the common FICO scoring model, Upstart’s technology looks at factors like your education and employment history to determine your creditworthiness (though it does require a 620 credit score).

It can help you borrow up to $50,000, potentially with better terms (e.g. lower interest or lower monthly payments) than traditional lenders. If managing many different bills and credit lines is a hassle, you can also use an Upstart loan to streamline all of your loans into one.

19. Make Sure You’re Keeping Your Assets Safe

Now that you have some savings stacking up, be sure to keep tabs on what you already have.

You’ll want to be sure to pull your free credit report every now and then. This is what influences that little three-digit number that means so much when it comes to taking out a mortgage or a personal loan.

You can check your credit score and get a credit report card for free on Credit Sesame. There, you can peruse your various accounts — even find out if you have a bill lingering in collections.

If someone has tried to take out credit in your name, you’ll know. Or, if a credit reporting agency has accidentally misreported something, you can dispute the matter.

Taking care of your credit is key to saving in the long run.

20. Get Paid to Watch TV

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.

21. Find Freelance Work, Small Jobs and Side Gigs

Smiling young man working on the laptop in the living room
mixetto/Getty Images

Need more money? Pour yourself a cup of coffee, curl up on the couch with your tablet or laptop, and find yourself a gig you can do on your own time from home.

Look through job postings on sites like these:

  • Upwork: You create a profile and search for jobs based on your talents. There are all kinds of opportunities, from web and graphic design to IT and accounting. When you find a job posting that interests you, pitch for the job. If the client likes you, you’re hired.
  • Fiverr: On this online platform, workers start out selling their products and services for $5 each. Fiverr says users create 4,000 new listings, or gigs, every day, with a new gig purchased every five seconds. Earning five bucks at a time may not sound like much, but those little sales can add up to thousands of dollars. Here’s our guide to earning money on Fiverr.
  • TaskRabbit: This gig site matches workers with people who need help with odd jobs like cleaning houses, making deliveries or completing tasks around the house. Some independent contractors end up racing between low-paying gigs. But if you’re strategic, you can earn a living this way. Here’s our guide to making money on TaskRabbit.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.