Ten years ago today, I started the blog Mighty Bargain Hunter. (Here's a link to the first post, which was remarkably content-free.)
Since then, I've written well over a thousand articles on lots of topics, some common, some not so common. But below I've compiled thirty money tips (each with a linked article, which cover most of the past ten years) that will help you to save money, recognize good deals, and spend your money wisely.
- Count your change at the teller window when withdrawing coins. As soon as the money leaves the teller's sight, it's a hard sell to convince them if you were shortchanged. They may not consider complaints of this kind by policy.
- If you handle money well, then get overdraft protection on your checking. It's free insurance against the once-in-a-decade time that you goof. But you have to opt in now. It can't be applied by default to your checking account.
- Know how much you have available to withdraw from checking before you do so. Your available balance isn't always straightforward or obvious to determine, but you need to know how to arrive at it.
- Write your budget down. Time and time again we've fallen into the trap of wondering where the money went, or thinking that we understood our spending levels. It doesn't happen. Having a written budget is the first step to getting this under control.
- Time is not money. Time is way more valuable than money. Now that I'm ten years older, I see this fact that much more clearly.
- Plan for how to pay for big purchases. For example, you can continue to make your loan payment into your bank account, now that the car is yours.
- Tolerate the pain for the gain. Budgeting, living within your means, dieting, etc., doesn't have to be fun. Perhaps it shouldn't be fun. But the results are worth it.
- Keep track of your rebates. For high-dollar rebates, make sure you have the information you need to defend that you've earned a rebate. If you don't, you'll lose the money.
- Don't take reticent customer service lying down. You have options for going up the chain or making a stink if there's a bit of money at stake.
- If you're married, know how you shop as a team. The way you shop as a team could be good or bad. If you tend to spend more together than apart, then don't shop together — or at least figure out why you spend more when shopping together.
- Discuss significant purchases with your spouse before making them. The dollar amount that's “significant” is up to you to decide. It could be $200, or it could be $50, or even less.
- Don't hide the family's finances from your children. How are they supposed to learn if we don't teach them?
- Think twice about spending in vending machines. The markup is atrocious (sometimes 200%!) Not to mention that the food (if you can call it that) is highly processed and probably not that good for you.
- Live a raise behind. An increase in income doesn't have to equate to an increase in spending. Sure, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, but it's always wise to live beneath your means. Basing your household's budget on the last raise you received (rather than the current one) is one way to do this.
- Find the leaks in your budget. I have my share of habits, splurges, weaknesses — whatever you prefer to call them — that don't amount to much by themselves, but over time add up to many paychecks. Recognize them for what they are so that you can put them into perspective, and either get rid of them or budget for them.
- Have a look-for-at-yard-sales list. I've learned that there is such a thing as “too many bargains.” Having a purpose in mind before buying something — even it's a $25 item for a buck — makes the difference between using your stuff and being used by it.
- Giving something away is sometimes a huge relief. That giant whatever that you bought, wished you hadn't, and now can't sell? Just get rid of the darn thing. Clear out the space.
- Consider whether or not to renew a home buyer's warranty. The warranty may pay for itself and more if the HVAC needs to be replaced. Whether or not to renew depends on the age of these big systems.
- Understand the details of your health and dental insurance. Not only whether particular procedures are covered, but also whether or not your provider is in-network. Your provider, ultimately, just wants your money, regardless of where it comes from.
- Become disorganized at your own peril. Disorganization can cost a ton of money. Any bit of organization, especially with personal finances, helps.
- Become fat at your own peril, too. I still fight with carrying around too much baggage, and it's costly. If you're in good shape, do what you can to maintain it!
- Neglect your teeth at your own peril. The decay of dental health accelerates, and as it accelerates, it gets much more expensive. Brushing and flossing is far cheaper.
- Balance cash flow, emergency fund, and debt reduction. There isn't a one-size, fits-all answer as to how much savings you should have and how fast you should pay down your debt.
- Accelerate your debt payments. The particular method is less important than actually doing it.
- Review your bills, especially the ones you pay automatically. For the simple reason that merchants want dearly for you to forget that you're paying them each money.
- Plan for large influxes of cash. Both for the ones you know about, and the ones you don't.
- Split your dessert. For the occasional dinner out, and for exceptional desserts, you can save a few bucks by ordering one dessert with two plates and two dessert spoons.
- Social pressures to spend are everywhere. Don't automatically give in. Whether it's spending money for a wedding, or graduation, or even a Christmas party, there will be “social norms” as to how much to spend for participating. These may not apply, or be based on anything but marketing. Feel free to throw the amounts out the window.
- Know your spending triggers. If you're looking to live within your means, and know that you spend more money when X, then avoid shopping when X happens.
- Take an honest look at your expenses periodically. Are you not feeling the love for something that you once did? Cancel that puppy.
Thanks for reading … perhaps for the past ten years!