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How to Start Saving Money

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

Faced with an unexpected expense, like a car repair or leaky roof, many Americans might not have enough money in the bank to cover the bill. Just over half of U.S. households currently have a savings account, and 29% of households have less than $1,000 saved, according to a MagnifyMoney survey.

Whether putting money away for a rainy day or retirement, good savings habits can prepare you for emergencies and life changes. There are countless ways to build up your savings, from finding ways to cut back on spending to looking for areas where you might be overpaying. The time and discipline you invest implementing them will pay off — quite literally.

How can I start saving money?

If you’re just starting out on the path of building your savings, small changes can add up over time. A review of your budget should uncover items that can deliver larger, immediate gains. Here are more than two dozen money-saving strategies you can adopt for the short-term and the long-term.

Tips for saving money today

1. Set an intention
According to Sergio G. Garcia, associate planner for Quest Capital Management in Dallas, Texas, “saving money is tied to behavior and psychology, so it is important to find a personal focus to drive the savings behavior that works best for you.” Write down the reasons you want to save money, such as buying a house or retiring early, and put it in a place you’ll see every day.

2. Save your spare change
Collect your spare change at the end of the day and put it into a jar — you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can add up. If you use a debit card, some banks, like Bank of America, offer round-up savings plans, automatically moving the change into your savings account. For example, if you spend $19.50, the program will round-up your purchase to $20 and move $0.50 into your savings account.

3. Get a micro-saving app
Similar to saving spare change, you can also link your bank account to a money-saving app that does the savings for you. For example, Acorns automatically rounds up your purchase and moves the change into an investment account.

4. Cut the excess
To save money, you need to know where you’re currently spending it, suggested Matthew Gaffey, senior wealth manager for Corbett Road Investment Management in McLean, Va.: “List and monitor all of your expenses to get a full picture of how much you’re spending and where.” Money management habits will typically shed some light on a few areas that you could reduce or cut, such as unused magazine subscriptions or gym memberships.

5. Adopt a waiting period
The ease of online shopping can be brutal to your budget. Instead of falling for the impulse to make a purchase on the spot, implement a wait policy, such as 24 or 48 hours. You might realize you can live without that item you’re craving.

6. Don’t fall for a “great deal”
It’s hard to resist the lure of a good bargain. But saving 50%, 75% or even 90% isn’t a good deal if you don’t really need it. Instead of focusing on the discount, consider the amount you’re spending and how much you’ll really use the item.

7. Use a cash-back credit card
Some credit cards offer as much as 5% cash back in certain categories, which can add up. For example, the Chase Freedom® offers bonus categories each quarter – Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you spend the full $1,500 each quarter in the bonus categories you could earn $300 cash back a year. If you were going to make these purchases anyway, this is a good way to save money.

8. Find rebates
Before making an online purchase, check cash-back sites like Mr. Rebates or Ibotta and see if the store offers a rebate if you click through the site. You could earn a set cash-back amount or a percentage on a purchase.

Ways to start saving money every month

1. Automate monthly savings
Sign up for automatic savings withdrawals. “Direct deposit from a paycheck is great because then it happens automatically and you don’t even have to think about it,” said Amy Shepard, financial planning analyst at Sensible Money in Phoenix. In addition, she advised, “set reminders to increase your savings periodically, such as every six months or every time you get a raise.”

2. Create specific savings goals
Save for big things, like a vacation or kitchen renovation, by using a bank that allows you to set up separate savings accounts for different goals, said Bethany Griffith, senior financial advisor and partner at Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, S.C. “It can be a great way to jump start savings,” Griffith said. “The visual check-in each time you look at your accounts is a powerful driver for changing behavior.”

3. Do a 52-week money challenge
With the 52-week money challenge, you save more every week, and see clearly how savings can add up over the course of a year. Create a weekly savings challenge by saving $1 on the first week, $2 on the second week and continue until you’re saving $52 on the final week of the challenge. In a year you’ll have saved $1,378, not including interest.

4. Create a weekly meal plan
The average American household spends more than $3,400 a year on meals away from home. You’ll be less likely to eat out or order in if you’ve planned your meals for the week. Having a meal plan also helps you create a grocery list to avoid impulse purchases or food that goes uneaten.

5. Review your monthly bills
It’s irritating when your cable or cell phone bill goes up, but that extra $5 or $10 a month can add up to $60 or $120 over the course of a year. Pay attention to your monthly bills. If you see an increase, call and ask why. If you’ve been a customer for a long time, companies will often lower the rate instead of risk losing you.

6. Pay down debt
Americans pay $113 billion in credit card interest each year. If you’re among those that carry a balance, you can get an immediate return on your money by paying it down and eliminating it.

7. Adjust the thermostat
Save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by adjusting your thermostat seven to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day. This can be while you’re at work or while you’re sleeping — or both, for even more savings. A programmable thermostat can do the work for you, easily paying for itself.

8. Use a price-drop refund app
Several retailers will give you money back if an item you bought goes on sale, but tracking that can be a chore. Use an app like Earny to do the tracking for you automatically. The app also takes care of the claim — Earny claims it saves the average user $75 each year.

Start saving money over the long term

1. Annualize your spending
A latte or vending machine habit might seem harmless, but when you multiply that daily expenditure by five days a week and 50 weeks a year (assuming you take a two-week vacation), it can add up to a substantial sum — one that might not seem worth it when you annualize your spending. Try this with your regular discretionary spending and see what you could do without.

2. Review your insurance
Make a habit to review your property and auto insurance each year. Jeffrey N. Tomaneng, director of financial planning for Sapers & Wallack in Newton, Mass., recently had an agent audit his policies and made changes to save $2,100 a year in premiums — “within a few days we were off to some much needed household savings,” he said.

3. Sell your stuff
The average American has 42 items in their home they no longer use worth an estimated $723. Sell them! Hold an annual garage sale, or list your items on eBay, Mercari or Facebook Marketplace. Someone else can use and enjoy them and you can pocket the money.

4. Shop around for higher interest rates
Your bank savings account may be conveniently attached to your checking, but if the interest rate is negligible you could be leaving money on the table. Look for higher interest-rate savings accounts that can help you build your balance.

5. Review your withholdings
Each year, review your benefits and withholdings and ensure you’re taking advantage of the benefits your company offers, such as flexible spending accounts or matching retirement. If you get a refund each year after tax season, consider adjusting your exemption amounts and stop giving the government an interest-free loan on your own money.

6. Look for discounts
If you’re a member of a professional or alumni association, you may get discounts on business services, insurance or travel. Make a point to review your benefits each year, and use them to find the best deals.

7. Review your credit card benefits
Before you buy that extended warranty or insurance on your rental car, check and see if the credit card you’re using offers it for free as a benefit of being a cardholder. You can save hundreds of dollars by knowing what you’re already offered.

8. Check your credit report
Each year you should order a copy of your credit report to make sure it’s accurate; you may find a discrepancy that could hurt your chances of getting better interest rates on a loan. You’re entitled to a free report each year from each of the reporting agencies, which you can obtain from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Bottom line

Developing any new habit requires behavior changes — changes that can be uncomfortable at first. But getting into the habit of saving money is worth it. Building a nest egg can provide peace of mind. Once you start seeing your balances grow, the numbers will give you the motivation you need to keep going and keep saving.

The information related to Chase Freedom® has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Stephanie Vozza
Stephanie Vozza |

Stephanie Vozza is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stephanie here

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Banking

How to Pay for Uber and Lyft Rides with Commuter Benefits

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

You may have more options than you think when it comes to getting your employer to foot the bill for your commute. Some commuter benefits packages include ride-share options, and both Lyft and Uber have hopped on board the trend.

Lyft and Uber commuter benefits can be used when riders select a shared Lyft ride or uberPOOL, the apps’ carpooling options. If you’re curious about this benefit and whether or not it’s worth linking your Uber or Lyft account to your commuter benefit account, we’ve got you covered.

What are commuter benefits?

Commuter benefits are an employer-provided benefits program that lets you set aside pre-tax dollars in an account to be used for your commute costs. Employees can use these benefits to pay for public transportation — trains, subways, buses, even parking passes — used on their daily commute with pre-tax dollars. The amount of money you set aside to pay for your commute doesn’t count as income, so you’re not taxed on it.

Which benefits programs are included for Uber and Lyft?

Each ride-hailing service has partnered with select benefits programs; there is significant overlap, though Lyft has a slightly more robust list of partners.

For example, if your company’s benefits package is with Zenefits, Wageworks, Igoe or Pension Dynamics, you can use your commuter benefits with Lyft as well as with Uber. On the other hand, if you use the Benny Prepaid Benefits Card, the Discovery Benefits Visa Prepaid Debit Card or the EBPA Benefits Debit MasterCard, you can only use Lyft.

You can see a full list of the supported commuter benefits programs for Lyft here and for Uber here.

How do I sign up for commuter benefits?

Workers have to sign up for commuter benefits in order to receive them. When you sign up, you will be asked to select how much money you want to set aside from your paycheck each month to cover your transportation costs.

Once you’re enrolled, you may receive a benefits card (it can be used like a regular debit or credit card) to make transportation purchases. Otherwise, you may be able to cover transportation expenses using your regular credit or debit card and then submit a claim to be reimbursed through your benefit provider.

Reach out to your employer’s human resources department to find out how to take advantage of your commuter benefits program.

How much can I really save?

Depending on your current tax bracket, you could save as much as 37% on your commute by using commuter benefits. For example, if you’re in the 35% tax bracket and contribute $200 each month to your commuter benefits account, you’re getting an extra $70 to spend on your commute each month. That’s an extra $840 per year.

But here’s the catch: Commuter benefits contributions are capped at $270 per month. So if you are already relying on your benefits to finance your monthly subway pass or parking garage expenses, you may not have much left over for Uber or Lyft commuter benefits.

What are Lyft’s shared rides and uberPOOL?

To use commuter benefits to pay for Lyft or Uber rides, you have to select the apps’ carpooling options — either Lyft’s shared rides or uberPOOL.

Carpool vehicles seat six or more passengers, whether you’re using Lyft or Uber. Both Uber and Lyft use algorithms to place riders going toward the same area in the car together. Because you’re carpooling, however, you may or may not have a longer commute, depending on traffic in your city and how many other riders get picked up or dropped off during your trip.

Where are these benefits available?

Whether Lyft or Uber commuter benefits are available in your location depends on which rideshare option you want to use.

If you prefer Lyft, you’re in luck: As long as the company offers shared rides in your area, you can use your commuter benefits to fund your rides, assuming, of course, your company uses a partner benefits program. Here is a full list of cities where Lyft offers shared rides.

Uber users, on the other hand, can use the commuter benefits everywhere that uberPOOL is available, with the exception of Nashville, Tenn. and Portland, Ore.

How to use commuter benefits on Lyft

If you’re interested in using commuter benefits on Lyft, here’s how to set it up:

  1. First, you need to add your commuter benefits card to your profile. When you open the Lyft app, tap “Payment” in the left-hand side menu to see your payment options.
  2. Select “Add card,” enter your commuter benefits card information and press save.
  3. Next, set the card as your default payment method. There are two ways to do this:
    • Select the card as your default payment method for your personal profile under the “payment defaults” section in the “Payment” menu.
    • When you open the app, set your location and destination. You’ll then see the last four digits of the card that’s being used to pay for the trip. Tap the numbers to change your payment method to your commuter benefits card. You should see a rectangular icon with a diamond in its center when using your benefits card.
  4. To use your commuter benefits on a ride, select “Shared.” You can only use your benefits to pay for carpools under the “Shared” ride option, located under the “Economy” tab.

How to use commuter benefits on Uber

Prefer to use Uber? Here’s how you can set up Uber commuter benefits:

  1. Add your commuter benefits card to your profile by going to the left-hand menu and adding your commuter benefits card under “Payment” (it may also be listed as “Wallet.”) You can also add the card after setting your location and destination under uberPOOL, shown below.
  2. Tap on your card information to set or add your commuter card as a payment option.
  3. Your benefits can only be used to pay for carpools under uberPOOL. Select the pooling option to be matched with a car with six or more seats, and you’ll be good to go.

Pros of using Uber and Lyft commuter benefits

  • Use pre-tax dollars to save: The most obvious perk of using your commuter benefit is that you’re using pre-tax dollars, so your dollar can go up to 37% further. If you’re already paying out of pocket for your commute, this could be a huge benefit, freeing you up to use that cash on something else.
  • Cut back on driving: According to the latest available five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute takes about 27 minutes — though if you live outside of a larger, more congested city, it could be significantly longer. If it’s more affordable for you to use a ride-sharing app, you can use that time to read, catch up on work or take a nap while you ride, instead of letting the stress of navigating from point A to point B get the best of you.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint: Since these benefits are restricted to carpooling with at least six or more passengers, taking advantage of it means contributing to a smaller carbon footprint, and that’s especially true if you usually drive to work solo. Using a ride-sharing app takes the hassle out of organizing a carpool.

Cons of using Uber and Lyft commuter benefits

  • Only shared rides are eligible: You may want to put your pre-tax dollars elsewhere if you’re not into making new friends each morning. You’ll be placed in a vehicle that seats six or more people when you use your benefits card, and other riders may have various personality types that may not mesh so well with yours, if, for example, you tend to be in zombie-mode before your coffee kicks in and prefer to sit in silence.
  • Contributions are limited: Your contribution is limited to $270 a month, which may or may not be a month’s worth of commuting, depending on how much your commute costs. For example, an analysis by LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, found the average monthly cost of commuting with Uber’s non-pool service UberX in New York City is more than $700. Still, $270 pre-tax will help cut down on your monthly spending for the trip to work.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]

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Banking

How to Beat Inflation

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Inflation is the general upward movement of the price of goods and services in an economy. With inflation, everything from a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas costs more tomorrow than it does today — and it gradually erodes the purchasing power of your savings.

Beating inflation isn’t hard, but you need a strategy in place to do the job. Currently, the annual rate of inflation is 2.1%, according to the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI). At time of writing, the national rate for a savings account held at a deposit institution is 0.09% APY, while the average return on certificates of deposit (CDs) is around .13% to .98%, according to the FDIC. Let’s take a look at the tools you’ll need to beat inflation.

Strategies to beat inflation

“The best inflation hedges are actually buying assets which might increase in value with inflation,” said David J. Haas, a certified financial planner with Cereus Financial Advisors in Franklin Lakes, N.J. This means buying things today that will increase in value at a rate that is equal to or higher than the rate of inflation.

Invest in the stock market to beat inflation

The stock market is an excellent long-term inflation hedge, according to Haas. Investment products like individual stocks, exchange traded funds (ETFs), and mutual funds, have the potential to outearn inflation.

“When you own stock, you own part of a corporation which has price-setting power. That means corporate book-value as well as revenues rise with inflation,” said Haas.

The broad stock market over the long-term has provided average annual returns of 6% to 7% above the rate of inflation, said certified financial planner Randy Bruns, founder of Model Wealth in Naperville, Ill.

“Diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds have earned inflation-adjusted (or real) returns of between 3% and 6% over the long-term, depending on the makeup of the portfolio,” said Bruns.

What about stock market volatility?

Financial planners caution that investors must consider that market volatility can affect your return.

“In years like 2019, a portfolio of stocks beat inflation by double digits, but that won’t persist as a long-term average,” said Bruns. “Nor should major stock market losses ultimately change your ability to outpace inflation over many years. It’s reasonable to begin with an assumption that your portfolio might earn historical inflation-adjusted returns of 3% to 6%, but to then reduce those returns by a percentage point or two to be conservative.”

Beat inflation by investing in bonds

Another inflation-beating option is bonds, loans where you give a government or a corporation your money, in exchange for a promised return over time. But the type you purchase is vital — bond prices and interest rates typically move in opposite directions, and during high-inflation periods, interest rates rise which means bond rates decline.

“The entity pays you back over time, but inflation erodes the value of the currency being paid back,” said Haas. “So bonds are typically a poor investment in inflationary times. You are being paid back something which is less valuable than what you loaned out.”

Bonds diversify your investments

However, purchasing some types of bonds to diversify your investments can be a smart overall strategy. For example, short-term bonds, which mature in one to four years, can do well in an economy where the interest rate is rising.

Longer term bonds, however, offer a trickier scenario as investors can’t accurately predict the change in interest rates and inflation over a longer time period. Higher inflation can reduce the value of payments, causing bond prices to fall.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are bonds that are designed to do well during inflationary periods. The government-backed bond was introduced in 1997, and offer an adjustable principal that’s linked to the CPI. As inflation rises or falls, the value of the investment adjusts with it.

Investors can also purchase bond funds, which are similar to mutual funds but are invested in bonds instead of stocks. Managers of bond funds often buy and sell according to market conditions, and investors receive monthly income payments, which may vary from month to month.

“Investing in high quality bonds — through a broad market bond index fund, for example — has historically provided average annualized returns of 2% to 3% over inflation,” said Bruns.

Buy annuities to beat inflation

Annuities are complex investment contracts typically offered by insurance companies to provide investors with an income stream for retirement. While they can be another answer on how to beat inflation, you have to choose wisely. Some annuity products pay the investor a fixed monthly income that isn’t adjusted for inflation, but others have features designed to address inflation head-on.

One tool is a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) rider that will increase your annuity income payment by a percentage you choose. For example, if you choose 3%, which is higher than the current rate of inflation, your monthly payments will grow by 3% every year. The average inflation rate, tracked since 1913, is 3.1%.

Another feature is a CPI-rider that automatically adjusts your monthly payment based on the current rate of inflation. During times of high inflation, your income payment will go up and when inflation is stagnant, your payments will stay the same.

Build a CD ladder

While the average CD rate won’t help you beat inflation, building a CD ladder can help you meet or beat the inflation challenge. A CD ladder is a portfolio of CDs with staggered certificate terms to take advantage of higher APYs offered by some banks and credit unions.

You start by purchasing CDs once a month or every few months to lock in rising rates, with the newest CD likely earning the highest rate. With a CD ladder, each certificate will complete its term at regular intervals, giving you steady access to cash at higher rates than you would receive in a regular savings or checking account.

Once interest rates start to stabilize, you can consider holding CDs for longer terms. While owning CDs can be a safer approach than some of the market-tied investments, in higher inflationary periods, your CD may simply match the current rate of inflation instead of beating it.

“CD ladders are a great idea for those assets folks would like to keep FDIC insured,” said certified financial planner Dennis R. Nolte, vice president of Seacoast Investment Services in Oviedo, Fla.

Real estate can help you beat inflation

As inflation rises, investing in real estate can become an attractive option for beating inflation. When interest rates are low, the cost of getting a mortgage is often lower, as well. Low inflation generally brings down mortgage rates, which will reduce your payment, making it more affordable to buy a home.

Inflation can reduce the value of your debt because it reduces the value of money. Purchasing real estate by incurring debt allows you to realize the benefit of the money when it could go farther. As long as your wages keep up with the pace of inflation, you will pay back the loan with an interest rate that is effectively lower thanks to inflation.

“Real estate can be a good inflation hedge because it has value which may increase with inflation,” said Haas.

However, inflation can negatively affect housing prices, causing them to fall in the short term. Real estate should be considered a long-term investment, added certified financial planner Jon L. Ten Haagen with Ten Haagen Financial Group in Huntington, N.Y.

“Real estate, if it is an open-ended position, could be a good investment if you have the time horizon,” he said. “Time is your friend when investing.”

Delay claiming social security benefits

If you’re nearing the age of retirement, delaying your Social Security retirement benefits can help you beat inflation. You earn an 8% increase in your benefit amount each year you wait to collect, up to age 70. If you retire at 65, for example, you have the potential of increasing your monthly benefit check by as much as 40%.

“Social Security provides at least some ability to offset inflation, though increases in Medicare-related costs often chip into annual increases,” said Sean M. Pearson, certified financial planner with Ameriprise Financial Services in Conshohocken, Pa. “The longer you can wait to collect Social Security, the more protection you will have against inflation during retirement.”

If you collect Social Security before age 70, your future cost-of-living increases will be based on a lower monthly amount. For most people, the difference in collecting Social Security at age 62 means earning less than half as much than if that same person waits until age 70.

If you’re married, you can adopt strategies to make the most of your benefits. For example, the higher-earning spouse might delay benefits until age 70, while the younger spouse could collect payments sooner to create income.

“Beating inflation is typically a long-term mindset, as in saving for retirement,” said Bruns. “An inflation-beating investment matters because the more you can outpace the rising cost of your retirement, the less you’ll have to contribute out of pocket.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Stephanie Vozza
Stephanie Vozza |

Stephanie Vozza is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stephanie here