10 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. Enjoy a No-Spend Day

Farmers market? Museum? Nature? It’s easy to get sucked into spending money on weekend outings, but there are plenty of free activities you can do today, instead.

You can search your local newspaper, magazines or websites for plenty of ideas. Here are a few to help you get started:

  • Go on a penny date. The rules are simple: Have your date or a family member pick a number between one and 30, pick a street corner and have them flip the penny. If it’s heads up, turn right. If it’s tails up, turn left. Do this at each intersection for whatever number they chose. Wherever you end up is where you’ll spend the day.
  • If the weather’s nice and you live near a body of water, head to the beach for the day! The beach offers a full day of entertainment and relaxation at potentially no cost.
  • Not near a beach? Plan a day of hiking. You can find a ton of free tails. (If you live near a national park, take advantage of the free admission days.)
  • The library is a treasure trove of freebies, including free museum passes. Maybe you’ll even check out a book or two.

2. Invest in Real Estate (Even If You’re Not Wealthy)

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

Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? A company called Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.

Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that support private real estate around the United States.

This isn’t an obscure investment, though. You can see exactly which properties are included in your portfolios — like a set of townhomes in Snoqualmie, Washington, or an apartment building in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In addition to four rental properties, Christopher and Meghan Miller have invested in a diversified portfolio of real estate projects across the country — from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles — through Fundrise’s automated investment experience.

“I don’t have to manage them; I don’t have to do the work to improve the properties; I don’t have to find tenants, evict tenants,” Christopher says.

They follow the progress of each project they’ve invested money into through Fundrise, and Christopher receives automatic payments directly into his checking account.

But remember: Investments come with risk. While Fundrise has paid distributions every quarter since at least Q2 2016, dividend and principal payments are never guaranteed.

You’ll pay a 0.85% annual asset management fee and a 0.15% annual investment advisory fee.

3. Secure $1 Million in Life Insurance for Just $25/Month

family holding hands and walking down a sidewalk
Johnny Greig/Getty Images

“The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen,” says Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin. “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 can be useful if you have loved ones who rely on your income — a significant other, a child or even a relative you help out financially.

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.

To get your quotes, you’ll just enter some info about yourself and your health online. Once you choose a life insurance company, you can apply right online, and a Policygenius rep will give you a quick call to ask a few follow-up questions.

4. Give Your Credit Score a Boost — Add up to 300 Points

cash back apps
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A really easy way to do this is to get a “credit report card” from Credit Sesame.

Credit Sesame is like your favorite teacher from high school — without the pop quizzes.

It gives you a free credit score, plus lays out your credit history so you can see exactly how much money you owe and to whom. It even tells you your monthly payments and interest rate, as well as which debts (if any) are in collections.

And you don’t have to stay home to do it. The Credit Sesame app lets you keep track of your credit score and ways to improve it — on the go!

To keep a closer eye on your credit, you can also get a “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. It breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how you might address it.

James Cooper, a motivational speaker, raised his credit score 277 points using Credit Sesame. Now he talks to high school students about the importance of having good credit and uses what he’s learned through Credit Sesame as a blueprint for his lessons.

“We want to touch the Z Generation,” Cooper says “We’re not in the business of fixing credit. We want to get to you before you have to fix your credit.”

Like Cooper, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.*

5. Find out If You’re Paying Too Much for Car Insurance 

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

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. Simply link your insurance account and provide your driver’s license number, and Gabi will go to work.

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 $720 per year for its customers.

It is a true apples-to-apples comparison at the same coverage levels and deductibles you currently have. Once you sign 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. Get Paid to Cut Your Energy Use

Energy light bulb from sunset on hand concept
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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.

Oh, and here’s a little bonus to get you started: Right now, OhmConnect is handing out $10 Target e-gift cards after you connect the service with one of the previously mentioned utility accounts.

7. Modernize Your Home Insurance

modern home interior with TV and home office
in4mal/Getty Images

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.

8. Start Investing Without Thinking About It

Shot of a man sitting on a bench with his shopping bags on the floor
PeopleImages/Getty Images

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.

9. Dodge Bank Fees — and Make Your Money Work for You

Young woman enjoying the summertime by the sea
lechatnoir/Getty Images

There’s no law that requires you to bank the old-fashioned way — at a brick-and-mortar bank with a low interest rate on your savings.

It’s time to move your money into the 21st century. An app called Varo Money combines traditional banking tools with modern technology to help its customers become financially healthy.

Here’s the best part: Pair your Bank Account with a Varo Savings Account where you’ll earn 2.12%* Annual Percentage Yield (APY) with the opportunity to earn up to 2.80% APY on up to $50,000 in savings. To qualify for the 2.80% rate, you’ll need to have payroll or government direct deposits of $1,000 or more and authorize at least five purchases with your Varo debit card each month.

That’s 28 times — repeat, 28 times — the average savings account, based on a 0.10% average reported by the FDIC.

Varo goes easy on the fees, too. As long as you use one of the more than 55,000 Allpoint® ATMs in its affiliated network across the world, you won’t pay ATM fees.

Additionally, the minimum balance to open the account is just a penny; you’ll pay no monthly service fees, no minimum balance fees, no foreign transaction fees and no cash replacement fees. You’ll just pay any fees charged by out-of-network ATMs and cash deposit fees if you deposit cash in-store through the Green Dot® Network.

10. Freeze Your Credit Cards

A young woman lays on the grass next to a lot of different credit cards.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

You’ve heard the whole “freeze your credit” advice. We agree: It’s a smart practice. But in order to save money, freeze your credit cards.

Literally — in the freezer they’ll go.

Sure, it sounds extreme, but if you tend to make impulsive credit card purchases, stick your card in a Ziploc bag, submerge it in a canister of water and slide it into the freezer.  When you’re tempted to spend, you’ll have to wait for the card to thaw, requiring you to think through your spending decision.

*Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

*Varo disclosure: APY is accurate as of January 29, 2019. This rate is variable and may change. No minimum balance required to open account. Balance in savings must be at least $0.01 to earn interest. Deposits are FDIC insured to at least $250,000 through The Bancorp Bank; Member FDIC.