If you follow this guide, you’ll progress from beginner to expert in 31 days. I put this guide together to help people get a sense of how I think about saving money. You can become a money saving beast.
Much like many video games today, you can’t simply start playing and rise to the top of the ranks. When you start playing a game like Call of Duty for the first time, you’ll get your ass kicked. That’s how I feel about a lot of personal finance advice.
We’re all telling you to setup your 401k or sign up for an IRA. But, you might be thinking: I don’t care about a 401k. I don’t have any money to save anyway.
That’s where this guide comes in. My hope with this money savings guide is you’ll start you at the beginner level. When you level up, you’ll progress to our intermediate money saving steps. Finally, you’ll hit the expert stage. That’s where your 401k steps in.
Yes, that’s right – this guide doesn’t utter anything about a 401k or an IRA until the 4th week.
In case you don’t want to read the whole thing, this is how you learn money saving skills in 30 days:
- Calculate your monthly income
- Make a list of your bills
- Using your list, sign up for online accounts for your bills
- Search your wallet for a Starbucks card
- Check your refrigerator for moldy food
- Learn how to use your thermostat
- Lower the temperature on your water heater
- Check the trash in your car
- Check the air in your car’s tires
- Turn off the lights in your house
- Be like your mom and cut coupons
- Drink more water, less soda
- Shop for groceries at a place which gives you fuel points
- When you fill up your gas tank, never go inside
- Plan your meals on a weekly basis
- Become a better cook
- Set up automatic bill payment
- Start budgeting
- Buy a home repair book and become your own handyman
- Review your bank and credit card statements
- Enroll in your company’s 401k program
- Open an Individual Retirement Account
- Pick a Health Savings Account
- Open a Brokerage Account
- Sign up for a cash back credit card
- Read books about investing
- Exercise, but not at the gym
- Set annual savings goals
- Call your cable company and ask for a discount
- Cut the cord and go internet only
- Use a prepaid cell phone plan
Making progress with this money savings guide
This guide is broken into three sections. Here’s why.
I think there’s a lot of cookie cutter personal finance advice out there. Everyone says you should have a 401k or an IRA. However, how can you possibly save money in a 401k if you’re not good at saving money in the first place?
That’s what saving is all about. You find ways to save $5 here and $10 there.
To get you started, there’s ten days of beginner savings tips. These are mainly things to get you aware of your money. There’s nothing here about retirement accounts.
Once you progress through the beginner steps, you level up to the intermediate. Included in the intermediate steps, you’ll find things like budgeting, meal planning, and setting up automatic bill payment.
These are intermediate steps because you need to be aware of your money in order to do them properly. You don’t want to overdraft your bank account because you setup automatic bill payment.
Finally, you reach expert level. This is where you reach the point of 401ks and IRAs. At this point, it’s understood you’ve learned how to cut wasteful spending and you have a little bit of money to save.
Basically, your 401k and IRA will actually be doing something instead of sitting there collecting dust.
I hope this guide will help you think about financial discipline
My hope is this guide will be helpful in creating a little bit of discipline in your life. Discipline, or developing a routine you can stick to, is the key to having success no matter what you’re doing.
This is not a guide that has every money saving tip known to man. Some of these money saving tips might not help you.
Instead, I hope it will serve as a seed. Over time, the seed will grow inside your brain. You’ll find ways to save money around every corner. You will be deeply in tune with your money at all times.
You’ll be like Neo in The Matrix.
Eventually, through practice, you’ll be teaching others about how to better save money. By teaching, you reach a new level of learnedness. You’re able to understand the topic at hand so much that you can clearly explain it to others.
Beginner Money Saving Skills
Day 1: Calculate your monthly income
You can’t get started on any of this until you know how much you make.
- Start with your paycheck and your spouse’s paycheck, if you have one.
- Add in any side jobs or income.
- If you get paid twice a month, multiply that number by two. If you get paid twice a week, multiply that number by 26, then divide by 12.
Here’s an example:
- Let’s say your take home pay is $1,500 every two weeks.
- Multiplying by 26, your annual take home pay is $39,000.
- If we divide by 12, you’ll find a $3,250 monthly income.
Day 2: Make a list of your bills
This is your “My life will suck if I don’t pay these bills” list.
- House payment
- Electric, water, and gas bills
- Car Insurance
You need to know the basics. Netflix isn’t a basic – it’s a luxury. It’s the difference between immediate obligations and true expenses.
Day 3: Using your list, sign up for online accounts for your bills
You’ll need a computer for this part. I’m assuming you’re using a computer if you’re reading this 😉
Go down your list. For each item on the list, make sure you have an online account. To be more specific, I’m talking about online bill pay for your most important bills.
You should be able to find online bill pay for your water, electric, and gas.
Better yet, download a password manager. I use KeePassX and you can download it here: https://www.keepassx.org/downloads
A password manager will remember your passwords for you. Then you won’t have an excuse on why you didn’t pay the water bill.
If you want to be paper friendly, go paperless. I hate getting bills in the mail. You might like it too.
Day 4: Search your wallet for a Starbucks card
Cut the card in half and throw it in the trash. You won’t be needing it.
If you have a daily coffee habit, you’re seriously wasting a lot of money. You need to stop spending money to save money. Even if you only save a latte per day, that’ll add up over time.
Day 5: Check your refrigerator for moldy food
If you’re like me, I cook a lot. But I’m terrible at eating leftovers. Have you ever had to throw a bunch of moldy food away? Yeah, you’re throwing money in the trash can. That’s what I realized one day too.
Seriously, if you open your refrigerator and see a bunch of old leftovers, you’re wasting money – money that can be saved. Make a mental note to eat your leftovers. Or better yet, don’t cook such large portions.
And if you open your pantry door and see food you haven’t eaten in years, you could be wasting money on things you don’t use. I constantly go to the grocery store and buy things I already have available in my pantry.
Day 6: Learn how to use your thermostat
How many times do you look at your thermostat every week? If the answer is none, you’re probably wasting a lot of money on energy costs.
Lowering your thermostat by just two degrees in the winter could save you bunches. Oh, I should tell you, if you don’t have a programmable thermostat, you absolutely need one.
Finally, learn how to use it. This video covers the basics:
Your thermostat will be similar, but you should get to know it anyway. When you’re done, give it a kiss because it’s saving your money – or maybe not, because that’s a little weird.
Day 7: Lower the temperature on your water heater
Before you do anything, read the owner’s manual. Most water heaters have the owner’s manual attached. If you can’t find it, Google search the model name.
Get to know your water heater because when it’s not in use, it’s simply wasting energy.
A good tactic is to lower the water heater in increments until you don’t like the temperature – like if it’s getting too cold. Then, raise it a few notches and you should be good to go.
Day 8: Check the trash in your car
You might not realize it, but we all have trash that accumulates in our car. The origins of that trash provide meaningful clues as to where our money goes.
If you have a few fast food bags and a Starbucks cup in your cupholder, it’s pretty obvious. You might be eating out too much. Over time, if you find you don’t have to clean out your car as much, you’re probably saving money.
Day 9: Check the air in your car’s tires
When your tires get low on air, you get less gas mileage. Over time, improperly inflated tires deteriorate faster. You might find yourself at the local tire shop sooner than you think.
If you’re really unlucky, you might suffer a blow out while driving. On top of the price of the tow, you’ll have to buy new tires.
Last year, we allowed our tires to get so worn down that we had a flat while driving. Don’t let this happen to you. Make it a habit to check the air pressure in your tires.
Day 10: Turn off the lights in your house
If you’re sitting here reading this and all the lights are on, go turn some of them off. Develop a habit. When you leave a room, turn off the lights.
If you notice too many lights on or your television blaring in the background, take two seconds and shut them off. You might not save a ton of money today. But over time, you’ll be saving some money in energy costs.
Intermediate Money Saving Skills
Day 11: Be like your mom and cut coupons
When I was a kid, I watched my mom cut coupons every week.
Thinking about it now, she must’ve saved our family a ton of money over the years.
If you’re not using coupons, you’re missing out on a lot of savings. And when you’re short on money and having trouble saving in the first place, cutting coupons can get you started.
Some groceries stores have apps to help you save. Download those apps and use them.
Day 12: Drink more water, less soda
You might be burning money because of your bad eating habits. How much soda or coffee do you drink on a daily basis?
Simply drinking water can save you a ton. Plus, water is so much healthier.
If you don’t already have one, buy a water filter. You don’t need a fancy one. They sell pitchers like these on Amazon: http://a.co/7nDVYZF
All it takes is filling it up every few days and you’ll be on your way to saving a little bit of money.
Day 13: Shop for groceries at a place which gives you fuel points
You might not have access to a place like this. If you do, you better be taking advantage of it.
Grocery stores like Kroger give you 1 fuel point per every dollar spent. Once you get 100 fuel points, you get 10 cents off every gallon of gas.
It doesn’t add up to a ton of money, but that’s what saving money is all about. Add up a bunch of little savings here and there to be successful.
Day 14: When you fill up your gas tank, never go inside
With card swipers at the pump, there’s no reason to go inside the gas station. If you do go inside, you’re subjecting yourself to millions of dollars of marketing and advertising. All of those products have been meticulously planned to catch your eye.
If you avoid stepping foot inside the door, you won’t be tempted to buy overpriced candy and sports drinks.
Day 15: Plan your meals on a weekly basis
Meal planning is something that takes a bit of work, but it results in spending less money at the grocery store.
Sit down and make a table on a piece of paper. Something like this:
In each box, write down what you want to eat. It helps to stick to a common diet for each meal. For example, if you eat cereal for breakfast one day, you’ll probably eat cereal the next day, and so on.
Once you have the table filled out, you can make your grocery list. When you get to the grocery store, stick to your list. Don’t impulse shop.
Over time, meal planning will become automatic. You’ll even develop a list of common dinners you and your family can eat together.
Day 16: Become a better cook
I used to hate cooking. Then I became a better cook. It didn’t happen overnight however and I had to experiment with a lot of things. I watched a lot of videos online and read through a lot of recipes over the years.
If you make an attempt to become a better cook, you won’t be tempted to eat out as much.
When you have a choice between soggy french friends and a warm, home cooked meal, you’ll start choosing the home cooked meal. It’s no secret. Most of us love holidays because of all the great food. Why not try to eat great food all the time?
Day 17: Set up automatic bill payment
Some of you might be thinking why automatic bill payment is on Day 17.
Automatic bill payment is great, but you need to be good at saving money. You can’t be living paycheck to paycheck. Why? You don’t want to be pegged with overdraft fees.
Once you’re better at saving money, setting up automatic bill payment is a magical thing. It’s one less thing on your mind.
Automatic bill payment helps you avoid late fees and lets you worry about more important things like planning your meals.
Day 18: Start budgeting
Budgeting can be a pain in the ass. Luckily, there’s some software out there that makes it easy as pie.
I recommend you try out YNAB: https://www.youneedabudget.com/ It’s dead simple. It’s $5 month and will solve all your budgeting needs. Their online documentation is amazing and the first time user guide will get you started straight away.
I use YNAB almost every day. If you ever need help, feel free to send me an email: email@example.com
Day 19: Buy a home repair book and become your own handyman
My dad gave me an amazing gift a few years ago: a home repair book. The book is filled with information on fixing anything around the house. There are pictures of everything too.
I find myself using that book almost once a month.
My faucet started leaking a few months ago. Sure enough, the book had details on how to troubleshoot. In our kitchen, the dimmer switch went bad. Once again, the book helped me out.
YouTube is great. I’m a millennial (I hate that word) myself and certainly use YouTube a lot. However, having a book with all this information is like having a special little piece of the internet at my fingertips.
Day 20: Review your bank and credit card statements
A few years ago, my wife and I moved.
In the process, we forgot to cancel her gym membership. We didn’t notice for almost six months.
That’s six months of paying for something we weren’t using.
You might be in the same situation. If you use your debit or credit card quite often, you have a lot of transactions. It’s easy to miss things.
Go through your bank and credit card statements with a fine toothed comb. If you find anything that looks fishy, look into it.
Expert Money Saving Skills
Day 21: Enroll in your company’s 401k program
Now that you’re settled into a money saving mindset, enroll in your company’s 401k program.
If your company offers a 401k match, use it. For example, if the company matches 4%, you should be contributing 4%.
This is free money. Take it.
Day 22: Open an Individual Retirement Account
Even if you can’t afford to max out your 401k, you should open an IRA.
T. Rowe Price and Vanguard are good options.
If your company doesn’t offer a 401k program, you’re not alone. In this case, you should definitely open an IRA.
Day 23: Pick a Health Savings Account
HSAs are great tools because you can use the money to pay for medical expenses.
The money contributed is either pre-tax or a deduction on your tax return. When you use the money to pay for medical bills, it’s not taxed either.
In some cases, you can even invest your HSA contributions in the stock market.
If your company offers an HSA, enroll in that one. If they don’t, you can use a website like HSA Search (https://www.hsasearch.com) to find one that fits your needs.
Note: You must be enrolled in a high deductible health plan to be eligible for an HSA.
Day 24: Open a Brokerage Account
Depending on how your investing habits develop, you may want to buy stocks one day.
You should open a brokerage account so you’re ready.
Charles Schwab provides a great option. And if you like online banking, I’ve been a customer for years. Tip: Charles Schwab refunds all ATM fees.
Opening a brokerage account will allow you to buy stock in any company on the public markets.
For example, I think Starbucks and Coca-Cola are great companies. Those two companies are a small part of my portfolio.
If you plan to invest in stocks, do your homework. There are a bunch of great stock picking newsletters out there like Motley Fool to help point you in the right direction.
Day 25: Sign up for a cash back credit card
At this point, you’re probably ready to sign up for a cash back credit card.
In my opinion, this is free money much like your 401k.
Credit card companies are sometimes giving you 6% back on things like groceries and gasoline. These are things you buy every month anyway.
Here’s the disclaimer. You must be good at saving money to use a credit card wisely.
Here’s why. You should be paying your credit card in full every month. Never pay interest on your credit card.
When you rack up points, you can use them as statement credit. Like I said, if you use them wisely, credit cards basically give you free money to swipe.
Plus, the sign up bonuses can be worth $50, $100, or more depending on the offer.
Day 26: Read books about investing
As you begin investing your money in your 401k or IRA, you should read about the market.
You’ll find a lot of material telling you to stick to index funds. Some will recommend mutual funds.
Some books will even give you a magic formula for picking stocks.
As you read, you’ll develop an opinion on how you want to invest. Do you want to set it and forget it or do you want to actively manage your money?
Day 27: Exercise, but not at the gym
Unless you love going to the gym and it’s your favorite hobby, cancel your gym membership.
You don’t need it. You simply don’t need weights and cardio machines to stay healthy.
Instead, there’s a plethora of exercises you can do around your house and neighborhood.
Learn about bodyweight exercises like planks and pushups. Did you know there are over 15 ways to do a pushup?
Go running or rollerblading. Wake up in the morning, stretch and do yoga.
For a lot of people, a gym membership is a status symbol. It’s something to brag about – even though most people don’t even go.
Did you know gyms couldn’t survive without people signing up for memberships and never using them? 67% of people with a gym membership never use them: http://www.statisticbrain.com/gym-membership-statistics/
Day 28: Set annual savings goals
Do you know your net worth? Do you know how much money you saved last year?
You should know the answers to these questions.
However, to get started, you need goals.
Write down or start a Google doc with a list of your savings goals for the next year.
Here are some good ideas:
- I want to save 10% of my income.
- I want to lower my cable and internet bill by $20 (this adds up to $240 for the year).
- Increase income by 5%.
Once you have these goals, you can figure out how to achieve them.
Remember, on Day 1 you calculated your monthly income and on Day 2 you figured out your expenses.
Looking at those two numbers, you can see if you goals are realistic. If they’re not, you’ll have to find ways to save money.
Day 29: Call your cable company and ask for a discount
I was a Comcast customer for years. Boy, I’m not a fan.
However, Comcast might be your only option.
Most cable companies promote heavily to new customers. They give them discounted rates for 6 months, 12 months, and so on.
But what about you? Haven’t you been a customer for years?
If you want in on those new customer discounts, simply call them or hit them up on live chat.
Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Here are some strategies I’ve used in the past:
- “I really don’t want to pay for all these channels. Is there a lesser bundle package that would be better for me?”
- “I saw XYZ Company was offering this deal. I was thinking about switching. Do you have a better deal for me?”
- “I’m thinking about cutting the cord and going with internet only. What are my options?”
Day 30: Cut the cord and go internet only
If you’re really sick of paying high cable bills, think about cutting the cord.
With the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now, there’s plenty of entertainment out there.
For example, I only use Frontier internet. They gave me a fixed rate. Yes that’s right – my bill has stayed the same for the past two years.
With the internet, I can stream content, play video games, and write for this blog.
When we do want to watch local TV, we use our digital antenna. Those antennas are dirt cheap and Amazon will ship one to you in two days: http://a.co/57OsBNQ
Day 31: Use a prepaid cell phone plan
While we don’t use one now, I had a prepaid cell phone plan a few years ago.
I was paying $30 per month for 5GB of data and 100 minutes per month. Since I hardly used voice calling, the plan made perfect sense for me.
I bought a cheap Android phone and popped in the SIM card and I was on my way.
Cell phones are expensive as hell. Not only do you typically have to pay for the phone, your bill can still be expensive after you’re done.
Think about it for a second. If you’re mostly on WiFi, do you really need an expensive cell phone plan? Do you really need all of Verizon’s coverage for the 1% of time you might actually need it?
If you’re interested, check out the latest offering from T-Mobile: https://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-monthly-plans
If you’ve reached this point, you’ve read through the complete money savings guide. I truly hope this guide has given you some ideas on how to better save your money.
At the least, I hope you learned something you didn’t. Maybe you looked into something for more details. Maybe you already ordered a couple books from Amazon to help you out.
If you liked or hated this article, send me an email. If you think it was a waste of your time, send me an email.
Seriously, I really want your feedback. Thank you again for reading. There will be more to read in the future.
[Featured Image Credit: https://unsplash.com/@4damk]