Clark Howard is among the most popular and enduring personal finance experts today. As the host of the nationally-syndicated radio program and podcast “The Clark Howard Show” and author of bestselling books, Howard has been helping consumers stay frugal and on budget while getting the most out of their money in new and creative ways.
Howard is a finalist in the fifth annual 2015 GOBankingRates Best Money Expert competition, presented in collaboration with Ally Bank, in which we ask readers to vote for their money idols. See 10 of Clark Howard’s top money-saving tips of all time.
1. Shop the Job Market
“My number one tip for Americans as we approach 2016 is if you are in a job you aren’t completely satisfied with, shop the market,” said Howard. “If your employer is being cheap about giving raises, there are tons of companies out there that are offering great opportunities right now — so shop yourself in the market and find a better job that’s better for you and your family.”
In short, don’t be complacent. If your job doesn’t offer opportunities for growth, doesn’t engage you or if it’s downright toxic, it’s time to move on. Spruce up your resume, hone your networking skills and start looking to see what’s out there and who’s hiring in your industry. Of course, you could always consider going the entrepreneurial route, too.
2. Track Your Spending
“Every time you spend any money over the course of either a paycheck cycle or a whole month, write down everything you spend money on,” said Howard in a U.S. News interview. “The debit card has become the enemy of the person who doesn’t know where their money goes.
“Without thinking about it, they slide it here, they slide it there, and before you know it, the dollars add up to be meaningful money over the course of a month.” By taking note of how much you spend and what you spend it on, you can identify where to make changes in your money habits.
3. ‘Ladder’ Your Credit Card Debt
If you’re saddled with debt on multiple credit cards, Howard recommended what he calls “laddering,” which starts with paying off the card with the highest interest rate first. Put more money toward that credit card and less toward your other cards. Once you have paid off that credit card, move on to the next one.
4. Say ‘No’ to Extended Warranties
With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it’s easy to get swayed into springing for a costly protection or insurance plan on an already expensive appliance or other big purchase. According to Howard, salespeople might tell you an extended warranty protects your investment, but your TV is not an investment. Even when it comes to your home, Howard said buying warranties are really only good to give confidence to potential buyers. When it comes to cars, Howard suggested you consider the car manufacturer’s warranty if you know you won’t have the savings to pay for a major repair.
5. Step Up Your Savings Strategy
As much as you might want to save money in leaps and bounds, doing so doesn’t leave much left over for expenses and necessities. The more practical effort is to save in small steps. “Start by saving a penny of each dollar that you make and step it up another penny every six months,” said Howard. “In five years you will be saving 10 cents of every dollar you make, and in 10 you will be saving 20 cents of every dollar you make.”
6. Hang Up on Cell Phone Contracts
Like warranties, Howard also believes that cell phone contracts are expensive and unnecessary. He said monthly contracts are for cowardly companies that like to handcuff customers rather than compete in the marketplace. He recommended services like Boost Mobile, MetroPCS and Virgin Mobile, which offer unlimited talk and other features without a contract.
If you have an existing contract, don’t take it at face value. Read the fine print for any hidden perks, like free Wi-Fi and cloud storage.
7. Limit Your Auto Loan to 42 Months
“If your payments per month are too high to knock out the loan in 42 months,” Howard wrote on his website, “you’re buying more car than you can afford.” He said car buyers make the mistake of tackling 60- to 72-month loans because they want to cap monthly payments at $500 or less. But if you’re having to stretch out your loan term, it means you’re trying to buy too much car.
8. Choose a Fee-Only Financial Advisor
Hiring a financial advisor can be helpful for your finances if you’re looking for guidance on investing, retirement or other major money decisions. But hire an advisor who works on commission and you might not get what you pay for.
“‘Free advice’ that comes from commissioned salespeople is hazardous to your wallet,” Howard wrote on his website. An advisor that works off of commissions might push you to buy into certain products — because that’s how they make their money. A fee-only financial advisor, on the other hand, has no incentive to sell you products since they’ll get paid no matter what you do.
9. Raise Your Deductible and Reduce Your Withholding
Raise the deductible on your auto, home or health insurance to increase savings. “The typical auto insurance customer can save 15 to 30 percent on his premium for collision coverage by bumping his deductible up from $250 to $500,” Howard said in a GOBankingRates interview. “Those savings jump on average to 40 percent if you make the leap to a $1,000 deductible.”
The more you withhold on your W-2, the more you’ll see in every paycheck, too. You’ll get a lower income tax refund, but that’s the point. “People will often come up to me around tax time and happily ask for advice on what to do with their giant refund. They treat it like found money or some kind of windfall,” he said. “But it’s not, and I’d prefer that you get no refund at all. If you are getting one, that means your money has been working for the government — not you — all year long.”
10. Ignore Expiration Dates on Food and Medicine
Howard isn’t advocating that you get yourself sick from consuming expired perishables. But many food and drug products are still good well after their sell-by date. In fact, the expiration date on a package is an estimate by the manufacturer on how long the product will stay fresh. He said some products can be safe to eat for weeks and months after the printed date.
In his book “Living Large in Lean Times,” Howard said drugs are potent up to five years past their expiration dates. Of course, it’s best to consult with your doctor first before gulping down an expired prescription.
As you tackle your finances in 2016 headfirst, look for new opportunities to save, spend and make money. Pass your resume out to recruiters, rethink your insurance and cell phone plans, and pay down high-interest debt rather than sprinkle payments across the board.