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The smart money tips you didn’t know you needed

man out in the woods writing in a journal about personal finance
September 05, 2017

By Maggie Tomasek

Personal finance tips come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the smallest money move can make the biggest difference.

The more than 4,000 folks who entered our recent Smartest Financial Decision Contest have told us about smart ways to save for college, save for retirement and save for families. We’ve compiled even more smart money tips from our contest entrants, and these particular money moves take a slightly different spin on personal finance.

  • “Once a year, I write a short letter to myself describing the major financial decisions I've made over the past 12 months alongside any changes I anticipate making in the year to come. Before writing, I read each of my previous letters. Early in my career, my savings grew very slowly, so these annual letters reminded me to check the status and adjust the heading of a ship that I could barely see moving. I started this practice in 2006, so now, more than 10 years later, they chart the growth of my financial intelligence as much as my savings. I always expect, after recounting my financial year, that the next will be simple and uninteresting. That all I will have to write a year from now is, 'I worked a lot and saved a little.' Instead, it seems, each year I confront new challenges, learn the details of increasingly complex financial acronyms, and continue to fine-tune my savings strategy. Though I am by no means financially independent, nor do I see that as a goal in and of itself, this practice had given me the freedom to live comfortably in San Francisco, travel occasionally, eat well, take time off between jobs, and support my wife's pursuit of a graduate degree.” – Justin W.
  • “Rolling my paid off bill payments and raises into my expenses has allowed me to pay off my bills faster and dramatically improve my credit score! As one bill gets paid, I roll 90% of it into the next bill and put the other percentage into an interest-earning savings account. This way I can pay down debt and save money at the same time without changing my lifestyle. It has helped me get ahead in so many ways by alleviating stress and providing a plan for financial freedom! I have paid off school loans, cars and credit cards with this method, and it has allowed my family to enjoy many memorable vacations and helps provide more stability in our life.” – David L.
  • “If I don’t absolutely need something, it goes right into my online wish lists instead of my online shopping cart. There are even sites that track prices over time. Many, many items have prices collapse as soon as they are no longer the latest and greatest thing. What is the best part of delaying online gratification? Is it saving 10% when prices decline? … It’s better than that! The best part is that my interests have often changed so much that I save 100% by not even wanting the same stuff anymore. With a well-organized wish list, my home is less cluttered and my savings account is fuller.” – Elizabeth D.
  • “The smartest financial decision I've ever made was deciding that paying for quality was better than seeking out the lowest price. When I noticed I was making a lot of repeat purchases on things like clothes, shoes, headphones, etc., I realized I was spending more money on repeat purchases of products that would fall apart or stop working than I would if I had paid a little more up front for something built to last. In the long run it was more frugal to spend less time looking for the cheapest option and instead finding the best possible product that was in my budget yet was durable. I have been using the money I have saved to fill my emergency fund, contribute more to my 401(k), and begin saving for a home.” – Patrick J.
  • “At age 23, after paying off the loan for my first car out of college, I continued to make the car payment into a savings account set aside for my next car. Five years later when I needed another car, I used my trade-in and substantial savings to buy my next car for cash, only buying as much car as I had money saved for, which often meant getting used cars. I continued to make that original car payment amount into my "car savings account" and when I purchased my third car I did the same thing with my trade-in and cash saved. Each time I got a nicer car and therefore had better trade-in value. Now at almost age 60, my husband and I have only ever had that one car payment all those many years ago. We just bought a new 2016 GMC Sierra 2500HD Truck and paid cash. I have no idea how much interest we've saved over the years, but when the economy went south awhile back, it was nice to know we had no debt to worry about except our mortgage.” – Cindy R.
  • “I stopped smoking and saved what I would have paid for cigarettes. Within one year, my health had improved dramatically and my savings had ballooned, ironically the opposite of my previous state-of-affairs. I have continued to save the equivalent to what I would have spent into an IRA and at this rate expect over $200,000 by the time I retire. If I had continued to smoke, I might not have made it to retirement and now I will have the added bonus of health and wealth.” – Keith R.
  • “When my children where younger, I would take the gift cards that they received for birthdays or Christmas and deposit the face value of the card into their savings accounts. Then I would use the gift cards for regular purchases our family would have made anyway. The kids will get the money when they are older and will one day appreciate the savings I made for them on their behalf.” – Tracie K.

Maggie Tomasek is PR and Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.