Mastering personal finance isn’t something that can be done overnight.
It’s a journey. One filled with a lot of little steps before you can wake up one morning, confident that your money is under control.
That confidence is our goal.
That’s why sites like Boomer and Echo and HowToSaveMoney were created. In fact, Robb and I launched both sites at almost exactly the same time in 2010 to help Canadians on their journey to becoming good with money.
Now almost 10 years later, HowToSaveMoney is re-launching as a journey through eight core areas where money-saving advice is often needed on your pathway through life.
Let’s start your money-saving journey together:
1) Get your needs under control
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could choose to just…not spend money?
Though that would certainly help your savings grow, this sort of lifestyle isn’t possible for the majority of Canadians. We’re all spending money on something, no matter how much we wish we didn’t have to.
The trick is to spend less on what we need in order to get more of what we want.
Here are 2 great (and simple) ways to cut some unnecessary fees from your necessary spending.
Take advantage of no-fee banking
If you’re still paying fees for a bank account, you’re missing out.
The rise of virtual banks seems to be threatening the very foundation of Canada’s Big 5 banks – even though some of these online banks are subsidiaries of the big guys (they’ll always find a way into your wallet).
How? They’ve cut some costs themselves, mainly the massive ones associated with having brick-and-mortar locations.
With this new room in their budgets, virtual banks pass the savings onto their customers by offering no-fee chequing and savings accounts that are actually better than the paid alternative. The chequing accounts often have no transaction limits, and the savings accounts offer interest rates that are often double or triple their out-dated competitors.
Seriously, check it out for yourselves. Tangerine, EQ Bank, Motusbank, Alterna Bank…these are all big players in the future of banking. And the future is virtual.
Cut back on cable and phone payments
Cancel your phone and cable services. Seriously. All you need is high-speed internet and the world is at your fingertips.
The wealth of entertainment that’s available online, according to your own schedule and without 3-minute long commercial intervals…this should be more than enough to satisfy your cable desires.
Many Canadian networks offer full-episode videos online, not to mention Youtube is entirely free and offers way more content than you could ever hope to watch. And there’s Netflix, which may not be free, but it’s much cheaper than your cable bill.
And what about your phone line? Well, for one thing, you’re essentially doubling your phone bill if you also pay for a cell phone plan. Why pay twice when your cell phone can do both?
But if you like having a separate landline, consider investing in a VOIP service. Essentially this puts your phone line through your internet – I pay roughly $3.25 a month with magicJack. Take a look at your phone bill…what a difference, eh?
2) Shop without breaking the bank
So what about the spending you actually want to do?
The main skill you’ll want to cultivate are repeatable strategies to save money on shopping. Know what’s available to you and use it to your advantage. A little research and planning before you leave your house or before you click can save you hundreds.
Always price check before you buy
Make a habit of price checking a couple of stores before you settle on a product. This is especially important for things you know are sold at more than one place.
The majority of big name stores have their entire inventory online. Take a minute to think which stores near you could be selling your desired item, then go online and search for it on each of them. Then simply go with the one with the lowest price. If you don’t mind doing a little legwork, you could check in-store as well (hey, it’ll get your step count up!).
Want to be a little more efficient with your time? Check out some of Canada’s top price-checking websites like Shopbot or Pricebat. You could also fire up Flipp or Rebee on your phone and search for the item you’re looking in all the flyers from your area in seconds.
Pro tip: Don’t limit yourself to just one price-checking website or app. They each only list the specific stores that allow them access to their inventory, so searching as many as you can find will ensure you’re covering a whole lot more ground.
Be aware of your price-matching opportunities
Many of the biggest (and even some of the smallest) stores have price-matching policies.
This basically means that if you can provide proof that another local store is selling the same item for less, they’ll match the price so they get your business instead. Sometimes they’ll even beat it by 10% of the difference in price, or more.
Those price checking apps and sites above are just what you need to get the proof you need with minimal time and effort.
Take the time to get familiar with the price-matching policies of your favourite stores. It could save you a lot of money in the end.
3) Gotta make money to spend money
Let’s be honest. No matter how much money you’re making, you could always use a little more.
That’s why an important step in your money journey is increasing your earning power. You don’t have to go out and get a second job – simply use the skills and money you already have to get some extra cash on the side.
Invest in a high-interest savings account
Set aside a little room in your budget to put some money in a no-fee high-interest savings account.
Seriously. You don’t need to be thinking as far ahead as retirement yet (though that certainly wouldn’t hurt) – just think of that trip you want to go on or the new toy you want…or just the security of having a little nest egg that’s growing a little bit more everyday.
Some of Canada’s best savings accounts will you give you up to 2.60% daily interest – all for no fee to you.
Pro tip: Automate your deposits into your savings account so you don’t even have to think about it. That way you won’t even miss the money. It’ll be a pleasant surprise when you go check the balance a couple months or years later and see how much it has grown.
Easy side hustles everyone can do
Having a side hustle has been an increasingly popular topic these days, with some people concerned for the health of these people who give up their time off from one job, just to work on another…
But who said your side hustle has to be elaborate?
Did you know you can make money just by selling your blood? And I know you have some of that kicking around inside you. And what better way to make money than by helping someone in need? Check out Canadian Plasma Resource’s compensation plan here.
Scared of needles? Can’t blame you. Something else you could do is become a conversational language tutor on italki.com. As long as you speak a language fluently, you’re qualified to be an instructor for newcomers to your language who want to become fluent themselves.
Rather talk to pets than people? You could become a dog or cat sitter, or even a dog walker on Rover.com. What could be better than being paid to hang out with some cute furry friends?
4) Master your use of credit
Credit cards and credit tend to get a bad rep in our media. Though it’s important to keep the dangers of misuse in mind – they can do a lot of good too.
From giving you a better idea of your spending, providing you with complimentary insurance, or helping you jumpstart your business, credit can give you options you wouldn’t otherwise have.
But the best part?
Responsible use of credit will help you reap the rewards while avoiding its pitfalls.
Using credit card rewards to your advantage
Imagine a world where you get a little something back every time you make a purchase. And I’m not talking about whatever item you bought – I mean getting reward points or straight up cash right back in your pocket.
That’s exactly what a really good credit card can give you. Maximizing these reward programs can get you flying off to your dream vacation in no time. Something you may never do if you had to pay for it out of pocket.
Robb is a bit of an expert on this too. The whole reason you’re reading this article is because he travel hacked his way to Europe.
How about an example?
Take our favourite card in Canada – the American Express Cobalt Card. For every $1 you spend on eligible food purchases (at the bar, restaurant, cafe, grocery store…), you’ll get 5 Amex Reward points. And even when you’re not buying food, you’ll be getting either 2 or 1 points back on every $1 you spend.
Maximizing Amex’s Fixed Point Travel Program gives you a value of 1.75 cents per point, or more. For those doing the math, that works out to an 8.75% return on spending on food and a minimum of 1.75% back on all purchases.
This means every time you pay with your Cobalt card you’re one step closer to seeing that loved one you miss, or that breathtaking view you dream about…
What’s not to love?
5) Who said saving money isn’t fun?
But there’s something that’s often missed along the way when you’re focusing so hard on saving money.
No matter how tight you want your budget to be or how hard you’re saving, it’s important to always make room for what makes you happy.
Your library has so much more to offer you than books
And what better way to have fun than doing it for free?
Your public library is a bastion of free entertainment, just waiting for you to sink your teeth into it.
Music, movies, video games, magazines, and of course books (print and digital)…They’re all there for the taking (well, borrowing). And it’s completely free.
Not to mention they often offer free gathering locations for different interest groups, like book clubs, quilting clubs, and photography workshops.
Now that I have kids who love reading and the occasional Disney movie, this saves me a literal fortune buying books and entertainment for them.
Heck, my local library even gives out free passes to fun summer attractions and historic sites just for visiting.
Seriously, check out what your local library has to offer you. I guarantee it’s a lot more than you think.
6) Eat well for less
There are some things you can’t really afford to cheap out on. Eating healthy is one of them.
That’s because the foundation of every journey is having the energy to make smart, logical decisions that maximize your spending. That doesn’t mean you can’t save money on food and still take advantage of healthy nourishing options.
Let’s look at some simple ways you can save while buying food at the supermarket.
Avoiding supermarket tricks
Like everything else, supermarkets are a business and their end goal is to sell you something – often more than you need.
Keeping a level-head about you is an easy way to make sure you’re not overspending every time you pick up groceries.
One common trick you should look out for is what products the store puts at eye-level on the shelf. These will naturally be the first kind you see, so if you’re in a hurry you’ll want to buy them first.
Take your time and look at everything else that’s offered on the shelf. Check out the price per unit/kilogram/etc listed in super small print (or calculate it if the store doesn’t list it for you), and make sure you’re actually getting what you need for the best price possible.
Another simple tip? Make a list first. It seems obvious, but it could really save you hundreds every time you shop.
Marketers are masters at selling you what you don’t actually need. If you go in with a game plan, it’s a lot harder to be swayed by their tactics. Oh and don’t forget to eat before you shop. Food can seem a lot more irresistible on an empty stomach.
7) You can still travel while on a budget
Though travelling can seem like splurging – something that’s considered a huge no-no when on a financial diet – it’s actually really important for your mental health to invest in experiences.
We all need something to look forward to, whether it be our next day off with the kids, or a week in the Bahamas.
If you plan ahead, you can actually travel really well on a budget.
Easy ways to find cheap flights
If you want to get as far away as possible, booking a flight will be your best bet. So what are some tips that can save you money on one of the biggest portions of your trip?
There’s one major tip: book ahead. Booking anywhere from 2 to 5 months before your trip will often give you the biggest savings. Also book on Sundays since less people tend to be using booking sites on these days.
When it comes to the actual ticket, don’t be scared to book on “weird days” like a Tuesday. The most expensive flights are often on the weekends, so booking midweek on “less desirable” flights is exactly what you need to save a couple hundred bucks.
Another major tip: be flexible. Though this isn’t always possible, postponing your vacation to the week after to get a better deal on flights is an easy way to save hundreds. Booking late in the evening or early in the morning can also save you lots, since most people book midday.
8) Start with a good education
Setting yourself up for success on your personal money journey often requires some kind of education or training.
…And chances are this will all be happening at a time in your life where you have little means to pay for that education (say hello to student loans!).
That’s why learning to save money on student life is so important.
Make a plan to pay off your student loans fast
First thing you need to do is figure out exactly what you owe and to whom. For example, is the majority of your money tied up in loans, lines of credit, credit card debt, or something else?
Once you know how much you owe to which type of loan, figure out the different interest rates and devote yourself to paying off the highest rate first.
Play around with a loan calculator and determine how much you can afford to pay per month, that also won’t cost you an arm and a leg in interest…This balance is very important to achieve.
The best course of action is to start paying it off as soon as you can. You don’t need to wait until you graduate, and you especially don’t need to wait until your 6-month grace period is up. In fact, these 6 months accumulate interest regardless if you pay it or not, so might as well start paying.
And finally, don’t be afraid to make large lump sum payments whenever you can. If you have some money left over at the end of the year’s budget, it could go a long way in getting you closer to being student loan free.
We’re here when you need us
So are you ready to start your money saving journey?
Getting a hold on your finances can seem terrifying, but once you get some momentum going, it can be smooth sailing most of the time.
Checking in regularly with your favourite personal finance sites is a great way to stay in the conversation and know the hottest tips around. And you can always share tips of your own to help out other smart savers who are just starting out.
So, what did you do to save money today?
Stephen Weyman is the co-founder of HowToSaveMoney and creditcardGenius ‒ a Canadian resource dedicated to helping consumers save and spend smarter since 2010.