There once has most likely been a time when you have struggled with money.
Maybe your entry-level salary at your first real job was barely enough to scrape by in a big city. Your landlord had come to expect your rent check at least a few days late, and you had to master the art of cooking rice and beans.
It was tough, but those days are over, now that your income is respectable and your bills are under control.
You don’t just want to work hard for your money — you want it to work hard for you. No more waste, no more missed opportunities — just every dollar and cent helping achieve your goals.
Here are five ways to get savvy.
Tip 1: Build Your Emergency Fund
Take a look at your savings account — do you have enough to cover a few months’ worth of expenses if you lost your job? If not, it’s time to prioritize your emergency fund. Only 29 percent of Americans have the funds for six months’ of expenses in the bank, leaving them vulnerable to serious finance stress in an emergency.
“An emergency fund can guard against the need to [take out] costly credit card debt if an unexpected event occurs,” said Riley Adams, CPA, owner of the personal finance blog Young and the Invested.
Automate your savings to build your emergency fund without thinking about it. Set up a recurring transfer to move a fixed amount from your checking to your savings account every time you get paid. Then, don’t touch the money until you need it.
Tip 2: Earn Money From Your Savings
Where you store your savings matters. As of June 2019, the average interest rate on savings accounts is just .1 percent — a pittance for letting a bank use your money to earn itself profits. The good news is that a number of alternative banks now offer significantly higher interest rates on savings accounts.
“Definitely go with an online high-yield savings account. They’ll typically pay 20, 30 or 40 times as much as you can get at your typical brick-and-mortar bank,” Clint Haynes, CFP, founder of NextGen Wealth.
The difference in what you’ll earn in interest by switching to a high-yield savings account can be staggering. Let’s say you have $10,000 in savings. At the end of the year, you’ll have earned more than $220 in interest by putting that money in an account that pays 2.2 percent interest, compared with just $10 in interest from the average savings account.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Ally Bank and Barclays Bank all offer reliably high interest on savings accounts, typically at least 2 percent. However, rates fluctuate, so check the latest offerings to find the best account for you.
Tip 3: Get Savvy With Your Credit Cards
Credit cards get a bad rap for their high interest rates. But, if you’re able to resist the temptation to overspend and be disciplined about bringing your balance down to zero every month, you essentially have access to a free monthly loan and a slew of perks and benefits that can save you money.
Read the fine print of your credit card. Does it come with extended warranties on purchases, price protection, rental car insurance and/or emergency assistance with travel hiccups? Learn the benefits your card offers and leverage them to minimize costs on everyday purchases. You don’t need to buy a retailer’s extended warranty on a new fridge, for example, if the credit card you’re using to pay for it already comes with that protection.
Then, find a card with a rewards program that gives you bonuses based on what you buy the most. Jet-setters may opt for a credit card that rewards them with points or miles for travel-related expenses. A busy mom might find it handy to have a credit card that offers cash back for gas and groceries. Find a card that matches your spending habits and rewards goals.
Tip 4: Save Money On Insurance
Insurance can save you from financial ruin in the event of a car accident or damage to your home. But, don’t just find a policy and forget about it — review the costs and benefits of your insurance plan frequently to make sure you’re always getting a great deal.
“You can often save money on auto and homeowners insurance just by getting quotes on a regular basis and seeing what’s out there,” said Haynes. “Most people never do this, but if they did it every two or three years, they can save money.”
If you get health insurance through your employer, comparison shopping for policies from different companies probably isn’t an option. However, you may still be able to cut costs by switching to a plan with a high deductible.
“If you have enough money in your savings account, look at increasing your deductible from $500 to $1,000, which typically saves you 15-20 percent,” said Haynes.
Tip 5: Use The Tax Code To Your Advantage
Taxes: We all have to pay ‘em, but how much you pay in any given year depends on how well you use the tax code to your advantage. Start by looking into a health savings account (HSA), which allows you to set aside pre-tax dollars for health care expenses.
“HSAs are probably the most valuable tax break out there with its triple tax benefits. People can get an immediate deduction on contributions, growth is tax free and distributions are tax free if they’re used on health care expenses,” said David Flores Wilson, CFP, senior wealth manager at Watts Capital.
Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are also valuable investment tools for many people who want to save on taxes. Traditional IRAs allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars up to a certain amount (a maximum of $6,000 in 2019, depending on your income). You pay taxes on that money when you start taking distributions during retirement, when your income tax rate is presumably lower than it is now. Roth IRAs are another option, but your contributions come from after-tax dollars. You can then withdraw that money plus earnings tax free during retirement.
There’s no one-size-fits-all to finding the right retirement account or any other financial tool, so it’s worth consulting with a certified financial planner. He or she can offer personalized advice on more ways you can make your money work for you.