Money Hacks : 5 Ways to Simplify Your Financial Life
With summer in full swing, it seems that headlines proclaiming "Still Time To Get A Beach Body" and "10 Days to Six Pack Abs" are all around us. Admittedly, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at the doctor's office, I have flipped through more than a few of these articles. Each year, the suggestions and advice seem to get crazier, from Beyonce's cayenne pepper cleanse to the Alphabet Diet. Yes, for 26 weeks, you eat and drink only things beginning with that letter of the alphabet. I would be willing to bet there aren't many people who have made it past Week 24, X. There is a reason that these fads are referred to as crash diets. They rarely, if ever, are capable of being sustained long term and, afterwards, our habits and lifestyles end up worse than when we started.
This realization is one of the primary reasons why I focus on the big picture in personal finance. Too often, people drastically overhaul their budgets and financial habits. They cut out clothes shopping, Starbucks runs, nights out with friends, anything that isn't 100% necessary. Two weeks later, these same people find themselves leaving Nordstrom with more bags than they can carry. Well, this may just have been me. However, my point is that, just like health and fitness, small changes that don't drastically impact our happiness and way of life are easier to sustain and pay off in the long term.
While I will never be one to suggest penny pinching or strict frugality, I have come up with a few tried and true ways to stick to your budget and free up some cash to spend in a way that is truly meaningful to you. I like to call these tips Money Hacks. The best part about these Money Hacks is that they are easy to stick to long term and you can implement them without making any sacrifices to your way of life!
Money Hack #1 : Space out treatments
Pull out your planner, iPhone, calendar, whatever you use to keep track of your life. Make a list of all of your reoccurring appointments. These appointments can include everything from manicures to oil changes to house cleaning services. Once you have your list, determine if there are any appointments that you can space out or book less frequently. There may be some appointments, like an oil change or the dentist, that would not be practical to space out. However, most personal care appointments can be spaced out.
An example that I like to use is hair cuts. A few years ago, I scheduled hair cuts every 5-6 weeks. At $60 a hair cut (sometimes more, including a tip), this was a HUGE expense. Over $500 a year. To put this money hack into action, I began spacing my hair appointments out to every 9-12 weeks. This small change has saved me almost $300 annually. I have barely noticed a difference in my hair and I have been able to use this $300 in a more meaningful way. Whether it be an extra student loan payment or a fun trip with friends, I can spend my money in a way that increases my happiness, without any sacrifices or drastic overhauls.
Money Hack #2 : Time Your Shopping
Everything has its season. Knowing what to buy when can save you a significant amount of money. Choosing a career in retail has given me a tremendous amount of insight into the best times to shop for specific categories. Below is a short breakdown of key categories by month. Of course, there are many more. Please don't hesitate to ask if you're curious about an item or category that is not on this list.
January : Office furniture (like desks and bookshelves), Appliances, Linens, Suits, Perfume
February : Home entertainment systems, Coats, Home renovations, Chocolate (After February 14th)
March : Sweaters, Cashmere, China, Air Conditioners, Gas Grills, Gardening Tools
April : Vacuum Cleaners, Snow Blowers, Cruises, Electronics, Sneakers
May : Cookware, Mattresses, Grilling Supplies, Party Supplies
June : Gym Memberships, Champagne, Men's Suits, Tools
July : Paint, Large Appliances
August: Sandals, School Supplies, Plants, Computers, Shorts, Tank Tops, Patio Furniture
September: Wine, Jeans, Holiday Airfare, Cars, Flatware
*Note : It is never the wrong time to buy wine. Wine is a good idea any time of the year.
October: Swimsuits, Dining Room Furniture, Toys, Car and Health Insurance
November: Wedding Dresses, Electronics, Anything on Black Friday
December : Televisions, Pools, Small Kitchen Appliances, Holiday decor (after the 25th)
Money Hack #3: Know When It's Okay To Choose Generic
LearnVest, an award-winning financial planning company, has determined that the average American woman spends $1200, annually, on cosmetics alone. In recent years, it is not just women dominating the beauty and cosmetics industry, but men also. Last year, the industry sold over $2 BILLION in men's grooming products. Regardless of whether you are a guy or a girl, your spending on cosmetics and grooming products adds up. I'm not suggesting to cut high-quality products out of your life, but rather to pay attention to the value of each product.
For example, I dropped $50 last year on a designer brand toothpaste at Sephora. Totally ridiculous, I know. I saw no difference from my $3 local drugstore Crest toothpaste. As someone, admittedly, drawn to brand names and a higher price tag, my list of examples could go on. Take a look at your own medicine cabinet and makeup bag and evaluate whether you are truly getting value out of each product. If you're anything like me, you might be surprised by just how much money you could save.
Money Hack #4: Travel Wisely
When booking airfare, Tuesdays are, typically, the most cost-effective day to shop. Fare sales are often launched Monday nights and, by Tuesday morning, most airlines will have either matched or beat these prices. If you are ever in doubt as to whether you should wait another month for a better deal, booking earlier is always safer. While there is always a chance that a better deal will come along, fares typically go up by much more than they go down. In other words, fares either come down by tens of dollars or go up by hundreds of dollars.
In addition, many airlines promote one-hour sales through Facebook or Instagram. Follow an airline on social media to increase your chances of scoring even better deals.
Money Hack #5: Automate
When it comes to your money, if you can automate something, chances are, you should. Set all of your reoccurring payments, such as student loans, credit card bills and internet, to automatically pull from your account. If you like, you can set a calendar reminder a few days prior to the bill due date to confirm that you have the funds available to cover the bill. Automating your payments ensures that you never miss a payment or get hit with a late fee, which not only is a waste of your money, but also is detrimental to your credit score.
In addition to automating all of your regularly scheduled bills and payments, it is a great idea to automate your savings contributions. In the past, I had my entire paycheck deposited to my checking account. I always had the intention to transfer at least 20% to my savings account, but too often I would walk past a great pair of shoes or hear about my favorite artist going on tour and this 20% would quickly turn to 5%. Make sure that you are not relying on your willpower, alone, to save. If you're anything like me, it isn't as strong as you would like to think. Be sure to set up direct deposit to your savings account and have a set portion of your income allocated to your savings, or other investment goals, each month. You would be surprised by how quickly you get used to living without this money.
While money hacks will not solve all of your financial woes overnight, they can make a difference to your financial well-being and are easy to implement and stick to in the long-term. I am looking forward to sharing many more of my tips and tricks in the coming months. Until then, let me know if you have any hacks of your own!