If you have scads of money, this article isn’t for you.
Oh, you’re still here! Well, of course you are. You’re an ambitious professional with a promising but not-quite-yet lucrative job, a rent or mortgage that’s higher than you’d like, and big plans to take that adventurous vacation in the next year. We’re going to help you do that and more, by telling you how you can squeeze more out of your monthly paycheck.
Bonus: You get to keep your morning latté (or evening happy hour)! In fact, instead of denying yourself any fun on a daily basis, we’re going to walk you through actions you can take to streamline and cut down on some of your bigger budget items.
1. Get a Better Bank
Banks may be for saving money, but yours could actually be costing you.
How? Let me count the ways. They require you to use their ATMs and charge exorbitant fees if you don’t. They charge you a fee if your account dips below a certain amount and up to $35 if you overdraft.
But there’s a better way. Instead of the corporate big-time banks, try an online bank or community bank, which could have lower or fewer fees and higher interest rates on savings accounts. Some online banks will even refund all of your ATM fees, so you can get cash out anywhere you want. Read more about some of the online banking options here.
Another great option is credit unions, which are run like co-ops with members rather than corporations. They often have the friendliest terms for checking and savings accounts, as well as amazing customer service (bye-bye sneaky overdraft fees!). To find one near you, check out MyCreditUnion.gov, which is administered by the Office of Consumer Protection. Plus, by working with a credit union, you’ll get a big savings boost when you…
2. Refinance Your Student Loans
Student loans are always going to cost you money, but you might be able to save some cash on the way to paying them back by refinancing to find a lower interest rate and lower monthly payment. Refinancing your loans could be the single biggest savings opportunity of your young professional years, with a savings potential of $12K or more according to LendKey, a service that allows you to quickly (five minutes or less!) and easily browse loans with lower rates and better terms at credit unions and community banks. If you have a co-signer, like a parent or a spouse with excellent credit, that can lower your interest rate even further.
No matter what, doing this should lighten the burden of loans, both time and money-wise. You’ll pay less every month, save thousands in the long run, and have one simple bill to keep track of—making you less likely to miss a payment, get slammed with late fees, and get your credit score dinged.
3. Put Open Enrollment on Your Calendar
If you’re one of the 10% of Americans without insurance, you could pay a $325 fee or 2% of your household income in 2016, whatever is higher, not to mention out-of-pocket medical costs for any and all sickness and accidents. So no, forgoing insurance is not a great way to save money. But making sure to shop around every year is.
Open enrollment is the time of year when you’re allowed to switch to another health insurance plan. (The rest of the time you can only switch if you changed jobs, got married or divorced, had a child, or went through another qualifying event.) Find out when open enrollment is at your company or within your state’s healthcare exchange and put a reminder in your phone, an appointment on your calendar, or whatever it takes to remember to review your options (and their associated costs) during this time. Also note that if you already have insurance, you might get automatically re-enrolled in your current plan at the end of the year, which may no longer be the best value for you.
If you’re young and healthy, go with a plan with a high deductible—the amount you must pay during a year before the insurance company starts paying for costs—which will save you on the monthly payment. If you have a pre-existing condition or one runs in your family, check to make sure the insurance covers treatment and the co-pays for associated medication and that your physicians are in your network. Also make sure it has good maternity coverage if you plan on starting a family. And watch out for lifetime caps on payouts, which could leave you financially in a hole if you have an accident or major illness. NerdWallet has a good index of plans and their pros and cons.
4. Ditch Data Overages
All those brunch-table shots and cute kitties on Instagram and Vine have jacked up your monthly data usage way beyond what you needed when you signed your contract two years ago, leading to frequent (and pricey) data overages.
Stop telling yourself you’ll only check Instagram on Wi-Fi, because we all know that’s unrealistic. Instead, venture onto your wireless company’s website, look at your average data usage, and compare that to how much you’re paying for. (You should do this even if you’re not going over; maybe you’re paying for too much data!) You might be able to switch to another plan a matter of minutes.
If nothing appeals to you on the site, call your cell phone provider up and tell them you might switch to another carrier for a better plan. Just doing that can drop your bill by 20% to 30%! And if that doesn’t work, compare carriers and plans according to your data, text, and minutes usage on the websites MyRatePlan and whistleOut. (Insert heart-eyed emoji and moneybags here.)
5. Never Pay Retail
It used to be that buying things used was a lot of work and potentially kind of gross. But now there are tons of online options that make it feasible to never pay full price for the things you need.
You can browse vintage and used clothing as easily as you would on any online retailer at sites like ThredUp, Poshmark, TheRealReal, ThreadFlip, Tradesy, and Vaunte. (Bonus: You can also make money by selling your own unwanted fashion through these sites.) Or, consider hosting a seasonal fashion swap with your friends, for a free closet refresh.
When it comes to furniture, Krrb and AptDeco provide a much less seedy shopping experience than Craigslist, and the latter even has optional pickup and delivery. And avoid buying tools and other household appliances altogether by renting them on Neighborgoods. You just saved money and did the environment a solid.
6. Cut Your Cable (But Keep Your Fave Shows)
You’ve heard it before, but with the amount of content now available free on the internet plus the wealth of streaming services available—Netflix, Sling TV, Hulu, HBO Now, and the like—at significantly lower prices, there’s rarely a good reason to keep old-fashioned cable. Even if you subscribed to all of the main streaming services, that’s still about half of the $123 the average American pays per month for cable!
So if you haven’t ditched it yet, you should really, really consider it.
Look into which services make the most sense based on what you like to watch (or see what folks in your family or household may already have), and then look into streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, or Chromecast to get them hooked up to your TV. These streaming devices have a one-time set-up cost of about $70 to $100, but that’s still significantly less than the cost of even one month of cable.
7. Trim Your Physique and Your Costs
Can’t afford to pay $200 for an all-access pass to Equinox? Then don’t! Especially since gyms estimate members visit just more than once per week. If you have a $100 monthly fee, that’s $25 per visit, and that doesn’t even include the initial fee for joining. Yikes.
Have a serious conversation with yourself about what your fitness goals are, and what the most fun and cost-effective way to get there is. (“I love lifting weights and will do it four times a week!” “No you don’t, stop being ridiculous.”)
Are you a runner who mostly uses the gym for the treadmill? Investing in some good shoes and cold-weather running gear and you can run outside all year long—for free! A class junkie? Try keeping an eye on daily deals sites for discounts on boutique studios, signing up for a monthly membership to an affordable online class service, or even finding some good, free videos on YouTube (On the Living Room Floor rounds them up for you). Do you really, actually love lifting? See if there’s a bare-bones gym in your city that still has all the necessary equipment without extra frills like group classes—even in major cities there are simple gyms that cost as low as $10 a month.
The point is, there’s no reason to pay for a gym (or fancy amenities at an expensive gym) if you aren’t using it. Gyms are easy, but there may be a better and more affordable option for you.
So there you have it! With a little bit of legwork, you could save hundreds on all these big-budget items every month. Now what you do with that extra money? Well, we’ll leave that fun decision up to you.