Just because you don't have time to clip coupons or hit every sale in the tri-state area doesn't mean you can't still save money. In fact, even the busiest personal finance pros take advantage of easy ways to cut costs.
Some of the best money hacks take just minutes to achieve — and have the potential to save you a bundle. From scoring free shipping to automating bill payments, use these money-saving tips.
Get Free Shipping and Earn Cash Back
Shopping at cash-back and rewards websites can help you earn money and points on your everyday purchases. But savings expert Lauren Greutman uses a hack to save even more money, as well as time that you might otherwise spend wandering the aisles.
"Order online at stores like Walmart and Target through Swagbucks, and earn points that you can cash in for free gift cards to stores like Amazon and PayPal," she said. "During your order, select 'ship to store,' pick it up for free and you have just earned cash back on your purchase without having to pay for shipping."
Use Apps to Track Your Finances
Angie Nelson from The Work at Home Wife, a site that offers tips for finding remote work opportunities, is a huge fan of using technology to save time and money.
"Sign up for a money-monitoring service like Mint or Personal Capital," she said. "Unnecessary expenses and avoidance of saving can add up quickly when your busy mind is on other things. A quick glance or notification will let you know if you are on track or falling behind."
Meal Plan Like a Boss
A little old-fashioned meal planning can help you save hundreds on groceries per month, said Greutman. It can also save you a lot of time by having your meals prepped ahead of time.
"I like to make a month's worth of meals in one afternoon," she said. "For only $150, I can make 20 dinners in just under three hours. I use ingredients from ALDI, and this helps me keep my grocery bill low and my stress level down."
Set Calendar Reminders
Reviewing your accounts is not only one of the best ways to save money, but also a crucial task for your financial well being. It can help you keep tabs on your spending and make sure you're on track to meet your goals. Furthermore, keeping a steady date with your finances can help you spot potential problems early on, before they become more challenging — and time-consuming — to resolve down the road.
"Set a recurring event in your calendar to review your financial accounts at the same time and day each week, month, quarter or year," said Taylor Schulte, a certified financial planner and founder of Define Financial, which offers fee-only financial planning and investment help. "Just like everything else in your busy life, if it's not on the calendar, you probably won't get to it. This hack will also help [you] develop a healthy habit, and eventually you might not even need to rely on your calendar."
Sell Your Old Stuff Online
You can also save time and money by selling your old items or items you find at thrift stores or on eBay for profit, Greutman said.
"One way that I make extra cash is to buy name-brand clothing at thrift stores and sell them for profit on eBay," she said. "I find a dress for $4 and sell it for $50. This is a great way to make extra cash from home."
Monetize Your Down Time
Another way you can make money during your free time is by watching videos and taking surveys online on a site like Swagbucks, said Greutman.
"I love taking surveys and watching videos in my down time," she said. "I might as well be making money while relaxing."
Use Your Credit Card for Everything
Teresa Mears is CEO of Living on the Cheap, which offers users access to daily deals along with tips for cutting costs on everything from travel to groceries. She saves time and money by paying for everything with her credit card. Keeping most expenditures on one account can help streamline your budget-tracking and bill-paying process.
"I charge everything I can to one credit card, and then pay it off manually once a month," she said. "I get email alerts for the accounts, like electric and water, that I can't charge to the card automatically."
On the Other Hand...: 10 Things You Should Never Put on a Credit Card
Do a 5-Minute Money Checkup
If you can spare just five minutes each day, Greutman has a money hack that can help make managing your finances a breeze.
"Every morning, my husband and I sit down and do a five-minute money checkup," she said. "That way, we talk about what we have to spend money on that day, review the budget, and we both know what the day's money movement is."
Digitally Capture Your Receipts
If you're wondering how to save money, it pays to start tracking your spending. Fortunately, there's a hack to make this task easier.
"One of the fastest ways for me to track spending is to take pictures of all my receipts," said Mike Delgado, director of social media at credit reporting agency Experian. "I use a nifty app called Shoeboxed and share the account with my wife so we can share receipts with each other and categorize spending easily."
Stop Credit Card Fraud in Its Tracks
In addition to using Shoeboxed to capture receipts, Delgado said it also helps him to spot any suspicious account activity at a glance.
"Shoeboxed also automatically adds your spending data into a downloadable spreadsheet so you can compare receipt data against what's reported in your credit card transactions," he said. "This can help you identify fraud faster — and find any discrepancies in what is reported in credit card transactions."
Make Frequent, Small Credit Card Payments
If you're struggling with managing your credit card bills, this money hack can help make your life easier. By making small but frequent credit card payments, such as 1 percent to 2 percent of your balance every other week, you could get out of debt faster and avoid racking up interest.
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Turn Your Credit Card Into a Debit Card
Using your credit card to earn rewards and cash back takes discipline. However, if you make sure you don't overspend, and you pay your balance in full every month, this strategy can be quite lucrative. Fortunately, there's a money hack that can help you build credit and earn rewards without going into debt.
One financial tool, Debitize, automatically sets aside money from your checking account after every credit card purchase and then pays the bill in full when it's due. So, it essentially helps you use your credit card like a debit card and takes some of the guesswork out of getting rewards.
"Our users earn hundreds of dollars of credit card rewards by using their rewards cards, but they don't have to worry about getting surprised by a big bill at the end of the month," said Liran Amrany, founder and CEO of Debitize.
Round Up Your Purchases to Save More
Automation can also help you stash more money in your savings account. One app, Qapital, lets you set up spending rules that trigger an automatic deposit into your savings account. You can set spending challenges, where if you spend less than an amount you set, the remainder is sent into savings. Another feature rounds up the change from each purchase and puts it into your savings account. Qapital said its average user saves $44 per month with this feature.
Get Tax Advice
If you find yourself in hot water with the IRS, getting expert tax advice can save you thousands of dollars.
"I made a client $120,000 in eight hours," said Dean Ferraro, an enrolled agent with Authoritax, which provides tax preparation along with tips for dealing with the IRS. "I had one client who didn't file his taxes for 10 years. Since he didn't file his taxes, the IRS did them for him and said he owed $200,000."
A tax professional can help ensure you're filing your taxes properly in the first place and can offer the guidance to address problems when they do arise, potentially saving you from a bigger, more expensive and time-consuming headache down the road.
"The IRS doesn't give you any deductions or even the correct filing status; they max out your taxes and fees when they file your Substitute for Return," he said. "We filed his back taxes correctly, the IRS agreed, removed the SFRs and guess what his total taxes due were? Only $80,000. He saved $120,000. Moral of the story: do your taxes."
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk can save you time and money each month, said Deb Shaw, senior new product manager at WorldFirst, a company that facilitates foreign money exchange.
"Examine what you purchase repeatedly every month, and buy those products or services in bulk," he said. "For me, this means household items and food with a long shelf life."
However, he notes that buying in bulk doesn't only apply to groceries.
"I always make sure to go for the year-long membership plan at my gym rather than paying month to month," he said. "This strategy not only lowers the price per unit I pay, but also saves me time so I don't have to buy the same things over again."
Save Before You Pay
If one of the first things you do when you get your paycheck is pay your bills, you might want to reconsider that.
"The best money hack I know is to pay yourself first: put your budgeted savings into your account before you pay your bills or make any other expenditures," said Mike Catania, co-founder of PromotionCode, which helps users locate promo codes and coupons. This way, saving becomes a priority rather than an afterthought.
"It's a common trope for investors, but it's equally applicable to everyone, and it has the added advantage of helping you mentally shift into prioritizing yourself," he said. "You're more than a bill-paying machine for corporate profit, so treat yourself that way."
Call Your Cable Company
Making short, single phone calls once a year to your cellphone and internet provider could save you hundreds, said Bruce Harpham of Project Management Hacks, which offers productivity tips for technology fans. Do your research ahead of time to see what various deal packages your providers offer to get a cost range you should aim for.
"Cellphone and internet companies are focused on customer retention," he said. "That's why it pays to ask for a better deal. In a 10-minute call with a multi-billion-dollar telecom company, I achieved over $150 in annual savings."
Harpham also offered tips to negotiate your cable bill. "In the call, point out how long you have been a customer, point out your good payment history, if applicable, and ask for any special promotions currently offered," he said. "Patience and a bit of luck is required, but the payoff is great."
Take Online Courses
If you want to go back to school but can't imagine spending the money or the time, Adrian Ridner, CEO of Study.com, said online courses can help you achieve this goal in less time and with less money.
"You don't have to pay full price for college. By using online courses to supplement the traditional college experience, students can earn the same degree but pay thousands less," he said.
The average student loan debt is $28,950, and the average bachelor's degree holder takes 21 years to pay off school loans, said Ridner.
"Online competency-based courses offer tuition relief [for] students, helping them save an average of $1,000 per course at public schools and as much as $3,000 per course at private schools," he said. "Online courses allow students more flexibility with scheduling and can help students catch up if they fall behind, so that they can still graduate on time."
Buy an Affordable, Quality Car
Nothing beats that new-car smell, but the type of car you choose can have a major impact on how much time and money you spend maintaining your ride.
"As a financial planner, I see a lot of people in their 50s and 60s decide that they need a luxury vehicle whether they can afford the car or not," said Damon Gonzalez, CFP and RICP at Domestique Capital LLC. "Humans are really good at adapting to their environments, and the newness of vehicles wears off quickly. You are much better off buying a quality car and keeping it for 15 to 20 years."
"I sold my 16-year-old Toyota Camry with 240,000 miles to a neighbor two years ago, and I still see it driving around," he added. "Next time you need a car repair of $1,500, stop and think about how that is only three car payments. In most cases, you are better off paying for the repair instead of shackling yourself to 60 months of car payments."
Automating bills can help you stay on track to meet your investing and debt payoff goals.
"The answer to saving time and money is very simple: automation," said Jon Luskin of financial planning website UncleDMoney. "This way, you're saving and/or investing automatically. You don't even have to think about it."
Automating doesn't mean being totally hands off, though. You should still keep a close eye on your statements to track your spending, watch for signs of fraudulent activity and make sure your automated transactions are going through.