Who doesn’t like to save or make money with a few tweaks to their personal finances? These tips might seem obvious or not so obvious, but they’re a roundup of some of the best ways to improve your personal finances right now. Whether you’re a Do it yourself-er, rely on friends or family for advice, or actively seeking a financial planner, these personal finance hacks are all worth knowing. Be sure to share the insights with friends!
1. High Yield Savings Account
Everyone should have an emergency fund in place to cover unexpected expenses. It’s a staple to any solid financial plan. However, it can be frustrating to earn next to nothing from cash sitting in a traditional savings account. Most large banks such as Chase or Bank of America, pay interest as low as 0.01%. If your emergency fund consists of $15,000 in cash, that’s earning a whopping $1.50 a year. As we know, inflation erodes the purchasing power of that cash. While an emergency fund serves its purpose as the first line of defense against expenses that could derail other parts of your financial plan, you should earn more interest than that.
High yield savings accounts, such as the one at Ally Bank, offer rates as high as 1.45%. From our previous example, that’s earning $217.50 a year. An extra 200 bucks a year from simply putting your emergency fund in a high yield savings account isn’t too shabby. Might as well earn the highest rate you can while still being FDIC insured.
2. Paying Off Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt usually carries a high-interest rate. In analyzing your own financial situation, if you’re paying interest on credit card debt every month, it’s going to be one of the first things to tackle. There’s absolutely no reason to be paying interest in excess of 10%.
Consider using a zero-interest “bridge” credit card to consolidate your debt and allow you time to get your cash flow under control. Credit card debt that accumulates out of control typically stems from a lack of understanding your cash flow or simply a spending problem. If either or both exist, they should be addressed immediately. Credit cards are a great tool if used correctly. Unfortunately, they can create quite the problem if used incorrectly. The good news is there’s always a solution if you’re committed to getting it under control!
3. Lower the Withholding Amount on your Taxes
If you’re receiving a large tax return every year it’s not necessarily a good thing. Yes, that’s right, a large tax-return is not a good thing. It means you’re giving Uncle Sam a zero interest loan and you should consider lowering the amount you withhold for taxes. The time value of money says that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar in the future. You would rather have access to the tax return funds earlier so it can be earning interest, or invested, rather than “loaning” it for zero interest.
4. Cheap Renter’s Insurance
The online renter’s insurance site Lemonade offers rental insurance as low as $5 per month. Not only that, they’re a certified B-corp. Meaning their social impact is part of their mission and business model. A portion of the premiums go towards causes you care about.
5. Funding a Health Savings Account
One of my favorite personal finance hacks. A health savings account or HSA is the premier health/retirement/tax-advantageous account available. In order to open one, you’ll need a high-deductible health plan first. Contributions are tax-deductible, lowering your current year’s income taxes and withdrawals are tax-free for qualified medical expenses. Funds can also be invested in an HSA for long-term growth. After age 65 the HSA can be used for anything, including medical expenses, without penalty. This effectively turns it into an additional retirement account mimicking an IRA. Amazing!
To illustrate, a great strategy for young, healthy individuals, is to fully fund an HSA every year, even before fully maxing out an employer’s retirement plan. Pay medical expenses out of pocket with after-tax dollars rather than using HSA funds. Then, the money inside the HSA is tax-advantaged and can be invested! This allows the HSA to be an additional retirement account or used for medical expenses in retirement (when you’ll likely need it at some point).
6. Participating in your Employers ESPP
An ESPP or employee stock purchase plan offers a great benefit if you have the cash flow available to participate. Most employer ESPP’s offer a 10-15% discount on the company stock. You’ll contribute funds towards the purchase until the grant date, at which time the funds you’ve accumulated will be used to purchase the company’s stock at a discount. Once received, you have the option to sell it immediately creating an instant 10-15% gain. Of course, you’ll have to pay taxes, but that’s a solid return for little risk. You can then use that cash towards other goals or simply diversify it in a taxable brokerage account.
7. Contributing to a Roth 401(k)
The age-old question of whether to contribute to pre-tax or traditional 401(k) or an after-tax Roth 401(k) was recently made easier due to the majority of taxpayers falling into a lower tax bracket starting in 2018. Most employers offer a Roth 401(k) in addition to the traditional 401(k). If you’re unsure whether you have the option, simply ask your HR department. Typically, if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket when you retire, a traditional 401(k) is the right choice. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire, a Roth 401(k) makes sense.
It’s impossible to predict the tax environment when it comes time for Millennials to retire in addition to our own individual tax situations. What we do know is that we’re in a low tax environment right now and taking advantage of lower tax brackets is probably smart. Therefore, paying taxes on the money today, and contributing to a Roth 401(k) may be in your best interest. Keep in mind, you can always switch contributions between the two and your employers match always goes into the traditional account. Having funds in both types of accounts is the long-term goal, as it’ll provide the most flexibility when taking retirement distributions.
8. Pay Yourself First
No matter how much money you make, someone who always remembers to “pay themselves first” will more likely build sustainable wealth over the long run. For example, let’s say you’re used to getting a raise every year around 3%. If you don’t actively increase your retirement contribution or invest 1-2% of that raise every year, you’re succumbing to a lifestyle creep. The more money you make, the more you spend. When it comes time to retire, you’d have to drastically change your lifestyle if you hadn’t increased your savings and investments. Consciously paying yourself first, will ultimately build long-term sustainable wealth over the long run and ensure you won’t have to make drastic lifestyle changes when it comes time to settle down.
Did you find these personal finance hacks for Millennials helpful? Have a personal finance hack you utilize that you’d like to share with us? Please let us know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Levi is the Co-Founder, Financial Planner of Millennial Wealth, a fee-only financial planning firm for young professionals and tech industry employees. He is an avid sports fan, personal finance and investing geek, and enjoys a great TV show or movie. His mission is to help educate his generation about better money habits and provide financial planning services to those who want to start planning for their future today!