It was the tweet heard around the world. OK, it may have only reached the fringes of the personal finance world. I’ve mentioned controversial tweets before, but last week another tweet touting the same “unrealistic” savings benchmarks pissed people off again:
And again, all the defeatist replies made me sad as hell:
“That’s cute that you think us 30 something’s will ever see retirement.”
“I think you meant to say, by 35 you should have debt twice your salary.”
“That’s impossible unless you’re in the NFL.”
If you catch yourself feeling like saving is impossible, there is only one thing to do: Ask yourself, what would Luxe’s mom say? Do you think my mom would get bent out of shape and just give up on saving because she doesn’t have an NFL salary? No, she would say, “OK, I can’t save that exact amount, but here’s what I CAN do.”
Growing up, I watched my mom achieve things by rolling with the punches and harnessing a solution-oriented mindset. And it’s made me way too optimistic for my own good. Maybe I feel especially riled up, because it’s not like I had a $50k salaried job waiting for me after college, either. Actually, there was no job at all. One of my first jobs after college was as a delivery driver for a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. I made $7 an hour. It took me years and years to reach a $50k salary. I hate to seem like that jerk who’s like, “Well, I could do it, so why can’t you?” Because no, I don’t think anyone can achieve exactly what I have or what my mom has, but I honestly feel that most people can improve their financial situation in some way. And if believing in people makes me a big jerk, then so be it.
But I do think that many well-intentioned articles (including mine) can be frustrating because sometimes the advice doesn’t seem to apply. Especially if you’re not already living an upper-class lifestyle or making over $60k per year. I too have read articles telling me to stop buying lattes, and I’m like, nice try, bro, but I don’t even buy lattes in the first place. Or maybe you’re like, I don’t need to know how to buy an $85 T-shirt for less when I’m not even interested in shopping (in that case, hold up, is this the right blog for you?)
If you’ve never saved money or been frugal before, making financial progress can be rough. But what if I told you that there are ways to improve your money that don’t take a ton of effort? And actually aren’t that scary? When it comes to changing your money habits, small, easy wins are key. They start to stack up, and then you wonder, what else can I do? So I’ve put together this list of small habits that I think most people can do, that will actually take you pretty far, and don’t depend on having a certain income. All of these were things I could achieve when I made almost no money, or wished I had started doing earlier.
1. Pick a bank that doesn’t charge you fees.
Everybody deserves a bank that doesn’t charge them fees just to park their money somewhere. Big banks like Bank of America or Chase are convenient, but they can also be a rip off. Basic checking accounts can charge you a $12 monthly maintenance fee unless you can meet certain requirements, like direct deposit transactions or minimum balances. The monthly fees are easy enough to circumvent, but the ATM fees are what really get you. Getting charged $3 to take out $20 was a big deal when I was only making $12 an hour. My first bank account was at the same place my mom banked at, because at the time, I didn’t know I had other options. Now I personally use an online-only bank, the Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account, because I get free, unlimited ATM fee reimbursements, and I don’t have to worry about monthly maintenance charges. You can also research banks near you on Nerdwallet.
2. Get in the habit of negotiating for more.
Whether you’re working an hourly job or have a salary, start asking for more money when you get a new job offer. Negotiating is the easiest way to make a significant amount of money in like, 15 minutes. While side hustles are often recommended as a way to earn more money, it’s also extra time and work. But simply asking for more when you get a job offer can yield similar results and is basically effortless.
3. Read your benefits manual cover to cover.
Some of you don’t work jobs where you get benefits, but I know some of you do and still don’t take advantage of everything that’s available to you. For one, the 401k employer match. If you don’t contribute up to the company match then that’s free money you’re missing out on.
My husband once mentioned the pre-tax transit benefit at work one time, and people were like, “Wait, what? What is that?” All those years working there and they had no idea they could get at least a 15% discount to commute to work.
And my favorite work benefits story: at one job, I saw that there was a $500 annual fitness reimbursement. I didn’t go to the gym, but I read that the benefit applied to “fitness equipment.” So I bought a $500+ Trek bike, and got that reimbursed. I told my two coworkers about my discovery, and by the next week, they had bikes, too. The next year the company took away the benefit, which I’m convinced was because of me, but it was fun while it lasted.
4. Save searches to track what you want on Craigslist.
*Affiliate links below
Advertising wants you to think that buying brand-new is the only option. Stop thinking that new is the standard and start thinking of pre-owned as the default instead. You can’t buy everything used, but in many cases, it’s a strategic decision that can free up money for other things. I just did a casual search on Craigslist and saw a practically brand-new West Elm nightstand for $150, when it sells for $300 online. But trolling Craigslist takes time. Instead of randomly browsing for what you want on a whim, use automated tools like the ‘save search’ feature so you get e-mails when listings pop up that match your criteria.
5. Build meals around sale items…
When I didn’t have much money I’d only buy what was on sale at the grocery store. I would literally stand there at the entrance and flip through the whole flyer and formulate my shopping game plan. And it’s not always the unhealthy options that go on sale, either. When salmon from Whole Foods was on sale? You best believe I was splurging on a filet and cooking myself a gourmet meal that night.
6. …and household items, too.
If you’re single and buying bulk at Costco doesn’t work for you, then wait for items like toilet paper, paper towels, tampons, etc. to go on sale at your local drugstore. I lived by a Rite Aid, and I used to check sales flyer every weekend. If I saw a household item I’d use was on sale, I’d go buy it, even if I didn’t need it that very second. I remember my roommate was in awe when she saw how I always seemed to pay $7 for toilet paper, and she paid $12 for the same thing.
7. Stock up on prepared foods.
You’re going to be too tired to cook every now and then. Prepare for that reality by throwing a couple frozen foods into your cart when you’re at the grocery store. Having frozen meals on hand has prevented my husband and me from resorting to takeout from Seamless many times, which costs four times as much, but doesn’t taste four times better.
8. Start tracking where your money goes.
You don’t have to commit to a full-on budget to start managing it well. You can start by simply tracking your money. Honestly, if someone said I had to meticulously fill out a spreadsheet every time I bought something, then I wouldn’t bother tracking my money, either. Thankfully, there are tools out there that can track your money for you like Mint or Clarity.
9. Delete the apps that tempt you.
You know why I don’t install game apps or Uber on my phone? Because I know I’d get addicted to playing games and I’d order up an Uber every time I didn’t feel like taking the subway. Instead I remove the temptation to take Ubers, because it’s too much of a hassle to download the app when I’m out and in a hurry to go somewhere.
10. Get a credit card with good rewards.
If you only have one credit card, make sure it’s one that helping you earn rewards. My favorite card program is Chase Sapphire, because the points are versatile, and they have options for lots of different spending personalities. Here are my favorites:
Chase Freedom Unlimited – If you want to keep it really simple, this card lets you earn 1.5% points per dollar every day, and there’s no annual fee. Earn $150 bonus after you spend $500 in your first three months. If you decide you want to earn points to redeem for flights, this card is like a stepping stone for that, because it’s part of the Chase Sapphire family. Later down the line, you can open up the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve and transfer your points from the Freedom Unlimited.
Chase Freedom – This is my personal pick because it’s the one I’ve had forever. Like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, there’s no annual fee. This is the choice if you want to maximize rewards, but still don’t want an annual fee. The Chase Freedom offers rotating categories where you can earn 5% cash back. For example, right now you can earn 5% cash back on grocery stores. Otherwise you earn 1% cash back every day. And similar to the Freedom Unlimited, you can transfer the points to the premium cards later down the line.
Chase Sapphire Preferred – If you want to earn points fast, and don’t mind annual fees. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in your first three months. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, so if you time your cards right, you might not have to pay the fee. However, I’ve found the fee to be well worth it, as the flights I’ve redeemed the points for usually cost a lot more.
11. Earn cashback for shopping online.
You can’t be bothered to investigate which sites have the best cash back, so install toolbars instead. You’d be surprised which stores offer cash back, too. I was shopping at La Garconne earlier, and lo and behold, the eBates toolbar popped in on the side and said the store offered 4% cash back. I would have never known about that by myself. eBates and BeFrugal both have toolbars that you can install on your Google Chrome, and offer new member bonuses:
- eBates – Get a $10 new-member bonus after spending $25
- BeFrugal – Get a $10 new-member bonus after earning $10 in cash back
12. Make meals once or twice a week.
Making a meal every night is work, especially if you don’t enjoy cooking. I used to batch cook every weekend so I could spend my weeknights doing other things that made me happier, like watching Lifetime movie marathons. Best lifestyle design decision ever.
13. Bank every windfall.
Everybody likes to act like getting a tax refund is the worst thing in the world. For people who have a hard time saving, I’d argue that refunds can be a good thing. Lots of people will just spend their paychecks and won’t save the difference, and it’s easy to just claim 0 on your W-4 and get a larger tax refund. But make a point to use that money strategically. If you have debt, consider using tax refunds, birthday money, or any bonuses that come your way to knock out your highest-interest debt. If you’re debt-free, consider using the extra money to invest.
14. Save without thinking about it.
Ideally, you have automated money transfers set up for your savings account. But if you feel like there’s honestly nothing left over, or you have a hard time saving on your own, think about using apps to automatically skim savings for you. I personally have used Acorns, which is technically an investing app, but I think it works better as a savings app. It automatically sweeps up your spare change and invests it for you. I’ve also heard good things from apps like Qapital, too, which is meant for savings goals. The savings are so small ($5 here and there), you’ll hardly notice, and then one day you’ll look up and be like, wow, I have $500 saved and I didn’t even try.
15. Don’t wait for people to tell you exactly how to manage your money.
The thing about personal finance advice is that it’s general on purpose because you can’t address every person’s individual circumstances. Back in the day, if I had waited around for my favorite blog to give me tips that suited my situation to a T, I would have been waiting a long time to improve my money. I had to Google my specific problems, try out the solutions, and hope for the best. We live in a world where we have access to so much information, so if you’re wondering about the cheapest index funds to invest in, Google it. If you’re not sure how to navigate the Fidelity website, go onto Youtube and see if there’s a step-by-step video. Use sites like this as a starting point, but ultimately, the only person that has the power to make changes in your money life is you.