19 Simple Money Management Steps Anyone Can Take Today
You know your finances could use some serious TLC, but you’ve been putting it off… and off… and off.
When you finally do sit down to think about it, you immediately become overwhelmed. Which goal do you attack first? You need a budget, a savings plan, a debt-repayment strategy, a better credit score, a plan for retirement and… oh, you’re running away again, aren’t you?
Calm down and come back. To tackle big goals, you have to start small.
Simple Money Management Steps to Take Today
Here are a few simple tips you can take today to get your finances under control and start working toward a healthier financial future.
1. Find out If You're Paying Too Much for Car Insurance
For many, car insurance is just one of those things where we cave in and pay. Because, just like the electric bill and phone service, we need it, right?
Yes. There’s no getting around car insurance, unfortunately. But one way you could save money is by shopping and comparing rates twice a year.
“Not only can a lot of circumstances in your life and your car (mileage, age) change in that time, but insurance companies may be changing their pricing as well, and you want to be sure you're getting the right coverage, service and of course pricing to suit your changing needs,” says Alyssa Connolly, the director of marketing insights at The Zebra.
According to The Zebra’s 2019 State of Insurance report, consumers just aren’t doing this. And car insurance rates keep increasing, with the average person paying $1,470 a year for coverage.
The takeaway? Compare rates regularly. The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.
Just enter information about your car and your coverage needs, and The Zebra shows dozens of side-by-side quotes from top insurance companies for free.
2. Invest in Real Estate (Even If You're Not Wealthy)
Want to try real-estate investing without playing landlord? We found a company that helps you do just that.
Oh, and you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars, either. You can get started with a minimum investment of just $500. 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.
You can earn money through quarterly dividend payments and potential appreciation in the value of your shares, just like a stock. Cash flow typically comes from interest payments and property income (e.g. rent).
(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. Take 10 Minutes to Protect Your Family's Future
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. Have a Cup of Coffee and Assess the Damage
When’s the last time you looked at all your debts and their interest rates to devise a payoff plan?
That’s what I thought.
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!
For example, it might recommend a mortgage lender, credit card or debt refinancing, based on your needs and chances of being approved.
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.”
5. Get Help Paying off Medical Debt
If you have debt, you definitely aren’t in the mood for criticism.
But you’ll need to open up, just a little bit, if you want to consider some options — like refinancing or consolidating — to help you pay that sum down faster.
Don’t worry. Find the right personal loan to meet your needs with Fiona.
To sign up for this consumer financial technology platform, complete three simple steps. Then Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer. If your credit score is at least 620, Fiona’s 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.
6. Play Free Scratch-offs — and Win Real Money
There’s something so satisfying about those gas station scratch-off tickets, but it’s better to avoid them because, well, that’s not Penny Hoarding.
Instead, try scratching for free using an Android app called Lucktastic. Each day, it releases a new assortment of digital scratch-off tickets. Lucktastic says instant wins range from $1 to $10,000. You can also earn tokens that you can exchange for free gift cards to retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Kohl's, Sephora and more.
The app is supported by advertising, which allows it to keep the payouts high and the games free. For more info, check out our full review.
7. Pay Less for Your Student Loans
Did you know you might be paying more than you need to for your student loans? If you want to save (um, duh), you should look into refinancing.
That means you work with a company to get a whole new loan and interest rate. Your new lender pays off your old student loans and replaces them with a loan that works better for you. You could lower your monthly payment and save a ton of money in interest over the life your loan.
A company called CommonBond makes the process quick and easy to understand. You can get a quote on a new interest rate in just a few minutes to — and it won’t hurt your credit.
CommonBond helped Katie Ulrickson, a pediatric critical care nurse, save $515 a month on her student loans. She had $100,000 to pay back and seven different monthly payments to keep track of. She rolled it all into one new loan, dropping her monthly payments from $1,200 to $685 — in only one payment a month.
8. Get the Most out of Your 401(k)
You have a 401(k) — kudos for that, but is it doing what you need it to?
If you’re like most people, you have no idea whether your 401(k) is on pace for your retirement or just sputtering along.
Chances are, your 401(k) could be doing a lot better. Take control with help from Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that can optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you and keep it speeding toward retirement.
It just takes a few minutes to get a free 401(k) analysis that will show you whether your investments are allocated properly and whether you’re losing money paying hidden investment fees. It’ll even tell you just how much more money your account could earn by the time you want to retire.
After that, if you sign up, it’s just $10 per month to have Blooom monitor and maximize your 401(k). Bonus: Penny Hoarders get the first month free with the code PNNYHRD.
Think of Blooom like a mechanic constantly fine-tuning your car’s engine so it gives you the best possible performance and gas mileage. Except it’s your 401(k) — and your future.
9. Take a Picture of Your Receipt
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. Save Money on Every Gallon Pumped — Automatically
If you’re a savvy saver, you probably already use GasBuddy to help you find the cheapest gas station in town. It’s an easy — and free — way to avoid overpaying.
But once you pull up to the pump, here’s something else you can do: Swipe your Pay with GasBuddy card to automatically save 10 cents per gallon on your first purchase (and 5 cents per gallon after that).
The free discount card is tied directly to your checking account. It works at 95% of gas stations throughout the country, so you don’t have to drive around town just to find “your” station. Plus, you don’t have to wait for a rebate — it’s immediate savings.
Simply and securely sign up through GasBuddy. Connect your bank account, enter your address, and GasBuddy will put a card in the mail.
11. Dodge Bank Fees — and Get Paid up to 2 Days Early
There’s no law that requires you to bank the old-fashioned way — at a brick-and-mortar bank with a crummy interest rate on your savings.
It’s time to move your money into the 21st century. An iOS 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 2.10% annual percentage yield. That’s 35 times — repeat, 35 times — the average savings account, based on a 0.06% average reported by CNN Money.
Varo goes easy on the fees, too. As long as you use one of its 55,000 ATMs across the world, you’ll never pay fees.
Additionally, 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 Green Dot.
12. Snag $10 — Plus Cash Back — for Shopping Online
One of our favorite ways to save is with Ebates, a cash-back site that rewards you nearly every time you buy something. For example, Ebates gives you 10% cash-back on purchases at Walmart.
Plus you’ll get a free $10 gift card to Walmart for giving the site a try.
To earn your gift card:
- Sign up for Ebates with your email or Facebook account.
- Use the Ebates portal the next time you need to buy something. It’s connected to thousands of stores, including Walmart, Amazon and Target. You’ll need to make your first purchase through the site within 90 days and spend at least $25.
- Your account will be credited with rewards points you can cash in for your $10 Walmart gift card.
13. Get a Free Assistant to Negotiate Your Bills
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.
14. Make More Money — Without More Time
We’ve got no shortage of smart ways to earn extra money without doing extra work, but here are some you can actually start right now.
Sign up for these sites to start earning extra money every month — without any extra work!
- Swagbucks is definitely a reader favorite, probably because of the wide variety of ways to make money beyond taking surveys. Plus, you get a $5 bonus when you sign up and earn 2,500 SB within your first 60 days.
- Paribus: This app 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.
- InboxDollars offers several short, daily surveys, and you’ll get a $5 bonus for signing up. Plus, you get to earn cash, so you don’t have to worry about exchanging points. Check out how one college student pocketed $600 with InboxDollars. Her secret? Persistence.
- MyPoints: This platform 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.
- MobileXpression: After you’ve installed this app for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something). We've seen users win a $25 Amazon gift card, but some of the other prizes include iPads and Samsung TVs. Try it out for iPhone or Android.
- 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 retailers, including Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, Sephora and Best Buy. Earn more “kicks” for photos of receipts that include qualifying items you bought in-store with a connected credit or debit card. You can also earn kicks for online purchases.
- Survey Junkie’s clean look keeps you motivated to take as many surveys as you want. It’s relatively quick to reward you with points once you've completed a survey. Once you earn 1,000 points — equal to $10 — you can cash out for gift cards or cash via PayPal. Pro tip: Take all the profile surveys to help you earn an easy 200 points or so up front.
Now you’re on the right track and saving money. Sweet! Keep it up by tracking your spending. Empower is an app that helps you organize and track your financial goals. Simply link your various accounts, and you can review your spending and make adjustments as needed to stay on the right track.
Disclosure: Paribus compensates us when you sign up using the links we provide.
15. Invest Your Spare Change — and Get a $5 Bonus
If you’re like most of us and wish your money would just take care of itself, consider starting an investment account through Acorns.
You can start small — with $5 — and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.
Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.
The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. And the sooner you start, the more you could potentially make. For example, Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate that would let her stash $420 away per year.
At that rate, you could set aside $1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.
But the beauty is you can set your own pace with Acorns’ features, so if you want — and can afford — to invest $1,000 faster, go for it.
The app is $1 a month for balances under $5,000, and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.
16. Build Your Savings Without Trying
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.
17. Get Paid When You Swipe Your Credit Card
If you’re not using a rewards credit card for everyday purchases, you’re missing out on free money.
You just have to be sure you don’t get too carried away with those purchases — and that the card is paid off at the end of each billing period.
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.
18. Find the Cheapest Internet in Town
A lot of us are busy cutting the (ahem, cable) cord to reduce utility expenses, but we’re still stuck with increasingly high internet bills.
Shopping around for the best rates is painful — almost as painful as plopping down on the couch and realizing the TV remote is across the room…
If you’re looking to compare rates around town and save a bundle on internet (without committing to a bundle package), shop on Squeeze.
Squeeze is free, and it allows you to compare internet rates in your area.
You can also check out its “cord-cutting” comparison. If you haven’t yet cut the cord, go ahead and compare how much your cable costs versus how much a handful of streaming services will cost.
19. Fix Your Credit the Easy Way: Have Someone Else Do It
Do you get phone calls and mail from debt collectors? If you do, we’re sorry to say your credit score probably isn’t awesome. And that means you’ll have to pay more to buy a home, or rent or buy a car, among other things.
Collection Shield 360, a free credit repair service, helps people clean up their credit reports and deal with collection agencies.
With a free basic membership, it contacts your debt collectors to have negative marks on your credit report removed, and it provides you with credit-bureau dispute letters that can help scrub your credit report.
The service helped 31-year-old server Tabatha Pankop deal with lingering bills from T-Mobile, Bright House Networks and Verizon. Her credit score jumped up nearly 200 points, enabling her to move into a better apartment and start looking for a townhouse to buy.
Premium membership includes monthly updates of your credit score and collection accounts. That costs $1 for a two-month trial; then it’s $9.48 per month.
Bonus: See How Your Finances Stack up
If you had to guess, on a scale of one to 100, how does your financial health rank?
You may think you’re a 75 and your uber-competitive sister-in-law is a 90. But how do you really know?
You don’t have to guess at your financial health; just let your iPhone tell you. There’s a new iOS app that can diagnose it for you. Medean for iOS ranks your finances based on how they stack up to those of people of similar age, income, location and gender. It calls itself a “health index for your finances,” and helps assess your situation and find ways to save.
But that’s just the start. Medean wants to help you raise your number, too.
It can help you bring all of your bills and finances together in one place and takes a game-like approach to budgeting. It creates small tasks for you called “achievements” that help you with things like saving money or cutting back on restaurant spending. When you reach your goals, you’ll earn rewards.
Let Medean help you leave your sister-in-law’s number in the dust. She can have her Scrabble victories. You have rewards and a “95” that means you’re rocking your finances. Mic drop.
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