One aphorism of finance is that it takes money to make money. $100,000 in bonds will earn more than $10,000 in bonds, though both earn some interest. This interest is what the adage “make your money work for you” alludes to. But what if you don’t have extra cash savings? You can still make your money work for you by managing money wisely.
One of the best consumer decisions you can make is to track your spending. You can use an app or build your own spreadsheet for this. Tracking your spending is more than simply tabulating transactions each day. It should also cover how you spend: Do you buy groceries every day or do you stock up at the beginning of the week? Do you make additional purchases, such as junk food, on Friday evening when you refill your tank at the gas station?
These trends lend considerable insight into which are your worst spending habits. If you always go to grocery stores on Sunday afternoons, you will likely be spending a lot of time in lines, dealing with crowds and not getting the best deals for every product. Analyzing these patterns can help you find spikes of activity or other behavior patterns that may not be financially beneficial.
Utilizing financial tracking apps or your own spreadsheets will help identify these patterns. Once identified, you can analyze the situation and the behavior to find optimal solutions. Paying electronically is also useful, because it is easier to track; that means using debit cards, credit cards or alternative payments in place of cash. Cash is still king (even in hyper-wired South Korea), but electronic payment methods are expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, so expect many more options for cashless payments in the near future.
Timing Cash Flows
An often-overlooked way to make your money work for you is by timing your cash flows. This is holding your money as long as possible and paying bills just before they are due. This allows you to collect a month’s worth of interest on your own money before paying it out. With today’s rather paltry interest rates, you won’t earn much, but it will be more than zero.
This is also applicable to taxes, but on a yearly basis and in larger amounts. If you operate your own business, you pay taxes quarterly. Place that money in a savings account, CD or savings bonds until tax time. If you are a salaried or wage employee, you can claim the withholding exemption with the IRS, which means you will take home your gross pay (entire paycheck with no taxes taken out). Always set the portion you are likely owe Uncle Sam into a separate savings account to avoid insufficient funds at tax time. When you pay taxes at the end of the year, you will have a little extra cash from the interest earned.
Tracking Credit Card Transactions
Credit cards make it easy to track your spending by keeping all of your transactions in a single place. They also may categorize the purchases for you, so you can see if your purchases were for food, travel, entertainment or otherwise. If you want fine granularity, though, such as which foods you purchased and in which quantities, you will need an app or your own spreadsheet.
Credit Card Rewards
It is essential to choose a credit card that suits your spending habits. If you rarely travel, you probably shouldn’t choose a travel rewards card. A cashback card might be a better option, or perhaps a charity card, if you’re in the spirit of giving.
Not collecting rewards is absolutely leaving money on the table. It can be in the literal sense with cashback rewards, but it can also be in lost perks and protections. Some are value protections, like price protection, in which the network refunds the difference if you find a lower advertised price after you’ve made your purchase.
All the major networks (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Amex) also offer other benefits and protections, such as roadside and travel assistance. These might cost tens or even hundreds of dollars if you pay cash, but by using a credit card to make a purchase, you save that money by getting these perks for free. Make credit cards work for you.
Considering Alternative Shopping Methods
If you are still spending lots of time at brick-and-mortar stores, you may want to opt for online shopping with free shipping. It saves you gas or public transit money, and it reduces stress and time investments. When tracking your spending habits, if you find that you spend significant time shopping in person, consider switching to online shopping and use the time you save to enjoy life more or perform a second job, like driving for a car-sharing service or freelance photography.