This is a guest post from Stephen Weyman, co-founder of HowToSaveMoney and creditcardGenius, two of the largest personal finance websites in Canada. Dedicated to helping Canadians save money, he teaches how to achieve financial stability without sacrificing the things you love.
And like every journey, you'll have to take a lot of steps along the way.
And it's a journey that never really ends. Every day, something new could come up that you could save money on.
So what can you do to help smooth the rocky money road your journey takes you on?
Here are the first 18 steps you can take, which will help clear up a big chunk of your budget.
1. Start investing right away
Getting started with your investments can seem overwhelming at first, but with all the advancements in technology, it may be easier than you think to start saving for your future.
A popular investment strategy is buying Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) which are essentially a pack of stocks, bonds, and other investment products – all bundled in one. This makes it easier to diversify your portfolio and can even save you money on buying costs (though you have to watch out for management fees).
There are plenty of discount online brokers that make it easy to buy and sell your own ETFs and other stocks. Take Questrade for example, which has no fee for buying ETFs, with a low fee when you want to sell.
The best part? Sign up for Passiv, and you'll make your investments even easier by automating the process. Everything from making trades to rebalancing your account can be done in a fraction of the time. And yes, you can connect to Questrade for those sweet, sweet free ETFs.
2. Get a better credit card
Credit cards have some important benefits people don't often talk about, like helping to build your credit score, but you have to pick the right one for you.
For example, if you tend to carry a big balance on your credit card, go for a low interest rate credit card. If you’re able to handle the responsibility of paying off your balance in full every month, go for a high rewards earning card.
It’s all about knowing your spending and choosing a card that works for you.
4. Get a better bank account
In the same line, choose a good bank account. I found myself having to take out cash at a lot of ATMs that weren’t specific to my branch and using InteraceTransfers almost daily...and I noticed that my bank account was charging me every time – on top of the monthly fee. It's clear it just wasn’t working for me anymore.
A quick trip to the bank, and I was set up with an account that had the same monthly fee but had room for extra ATM withdrawals and eTransfers.
There are even online bank accounts out there that have no monthly fee at all. If you don't mind doing all your banking digitally, these could be a huge money saver for you.
5. Learn to make the foods you spend the most on
I love Chinese food.
I mean it – I really love Chinese food.
My wallet? Not so much.
So, I (reluctantly at first) learned how to make fried rice, chow mein, sweet and sour chicken, spring rolls, and even General Tsao chicken. This choice…changed my life.
Okay, a little dramatic, but it’s true. I make these things in large batches, so I have tons of leftovers, and I save big. I was paying...and I’m sad to admit this…almost $200 a month on Chinese food.
I now spend maybe $50 a month on these ingredients, and the leftovers last a lot longer.
To double barrel this tip: leftovers. They’re your friend. Make large batches and stretch them out as long as you can.
6. Cut your cable bill and phone costs
If you happen to be still paying for cable, or a house phone, for goodness sakes – why?
Okay, maybe it makes sense for sports fans, but still. Online subscriptions can be so much more budget friendly, and they give you more than enough entertainment.
And instead of paying for a home phone AND a cell phone, cut out the old and make your mobile device double as both.
Make sure to check in every once in a while, to make sure you're still getting a good deal on that cell phone plan. True story: I looked randomly one day at my cell phone provider’s website and they were offering the same deal, for the same price, except 2GB more of data a month. I was shocked. It also cost nothing to make the switch. I am now a happy cell phone user and haven’t paid a penny in data overages since.
7. A small amount put away each pay cheque goes a long way
Another true story: I keep an actual piggy bank.
Okay, it’s not in the shape of a pig. It’s actually just a jar, but I put all the change I get in it.
At the end of the day, I empty out my pockets, and all change goes in the jar.
Every 2 weeks, I end up with almost fifty bucks in the thing. I also put all cash I get from my cans and other recyclables in it. At the end of the month? At least a hundred bucks added – easy.
It’s small, but it really works, and it’s my personal most effective way of saving.
If you’re more high tech than me, you can also just schedule amounts to come out of your bank account and into a proper savings account that builds with interest. It’s really convenient, and available with most online banking services.
8. Try a side hustle
And yet another true story: my boyfriend strips wire. Stay with me here, but there are places that will just give you bags of copper wire that they’re too lazy to strip.
I thought this was so weird at first.
Until he brought home two bags of wire, did a few hours of work, and brought home $100. Dang.
There are so many side hustles out there. You can walk dogs, babysit on the weekends (it’s not just for those in high school – and people often trust adults more), clean houses, or even shop for people’s groceries.
It’s not uncommon to have a side hustle, so try it out. I cleaned my school’s gym in college, and it provided me with the pub money I thought I needed back then.
9. Slice your transportation costs
A hard one for those that live in rural areas but taking the bus can be so much more affordable.
Gas is expensive. And so is car maintenance. And insurance. Man, those costs add up.
Most monthly bus passes run for $50 to $150, so it’s often more practical to take public transit. Try it out – you might even meet a few friends, too.
10. Take advantage of rewards programs
I sign up for any free rewards program I can get my hands on.
I simply can’t justify spending my money and not getting anything in return. It took a long time to get my boyfriend on board, but as soon as I took $100 off our groceries with PC Optimum points, he was sold. He now looks at our weekly offers with excitement.
It’s easy to find yourself buying things you wouldn’t normally, so watch out for that, or it’s not worth your cash. But use reward programs wisely…and you’ll find yourself getting free groceries, or other rewards, frequently.
11. Sell the stuff you don’t need online
Video games, record players, furniture, and even clothing…it’s all worth something to someone.
I’ve recently taken a liking to Facebook Marketplace.
I’m able to sell things quickly to people in my area, and the cash really adds up. It goes in my jar, and it also creates more room in my apartment. If you’re anything like me, you’ve started accumulating stuff at a rate you never expected in your adult years.
Put the things you don’t use to good use and give them a new home (and add a little more in your wallet).
12. Price comparison is key
The best tool for this is Flipp – it shows you all flyer prices when you search for an item, and you can see the lowest price easily. There’s no point in spending more money when you don’t need to.
However, if you’re earning rewards at certain places, it might be more worth your while to spend cash there, so look out for that.
13. Take a hard look at your spending and budget accordingly
This is the first step in making serious money moves. The easiest way to answer these questions is to go through 2 or 3 months of your bank account and add up the purchases. But also keep in mind any annual expenses that aren't accounted for within the last 3 months.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
How much do you spend on rent?
How much on bills? Is there room to cut costs?
What’s your monthly grocery spend?
Do you eat out often – is that necessary? How much do you need each month?
And finally, how much do you spend on entertainment? This includes bar tabs, concert tickets, outdoor events, activities, etc.
14. Stick to your lists
Now that you’ve budgeted, it’s time to stick to it.
Anytime you’re going shopping (which shouldn’t always be spontaneously), make a list.
What do you need? What could you live without? I keep this list in my phone, and make sure to bring a friend. If I can’t count on myself to control my spending, I rely on my most money savvy friend.
15. Try staying in, instead of going out
I hope you’re not sick of hearing my money saving tales, but they’re true, and pretty relatable.
I realized how much I was spending at my favourite pub, and the obligatory late nice slice downtown, and gave myself a reality check.
I still wanted to spend time with my friends, but couldn’t justify my bar tab at the end of the night. So, I started inviting my friends over for gatherings. Bring out the Cards Against Humanity, much cheaper alcohol, snack trays, and you’re in for a fun night.
I still go out occasionally, but genuinely don’t miss how loud (and expensive) bars are.
16. What’s broken is not lost
Learning to repair my clothes has been a life-saver. I can’t believe I ever actually donated clothing after it got a tiny hole.
Small tip: H&M will give you a $5 off coupon for every grocery bag of clothing or fabric you donate – sometimes doubling those coupons. So donate all fabric, no matter the condition, and they’ll donate it to charity, recycle it responsibly, or re-use it for their Conscious line.
Anyways, if you’ve got a small hole, or lost a button, all hope is not lost.
There are so many tutorials online and sewing kits are pretty inexpensive. Learn how to sew and you can save big.
17. It’s vintage, not used
Another life-saver: thrift stores.
I’ve found one of a kind house items with the best character, the cutest clothing I couldn’t find at big stores, and had lots of laughs going through the racks with my friends. Go on a thrifting date with your friends.
To be honest, the majority of my clothes are thrifted and there’s no better feeling getting complimented on an outfit and being able to say you bought it for less than $20.
18. Go for quality
If you must buy new, don’t just buy the cheapest thing you can find.
I look at the reviews for everything, from new tech to laundry soap, and it pays off. I haven’t been disappointed in a product in a really long time.
It pays to do your research, and to buy warranties on things that call for it.
For your last tale – I’ve saved $1,200 on computer repair costs from buying the Best Buy warranty for my laptop, and don’t regret a thing.
Ready to become the ultimate saver?
Where will your money journey take you?
I hope the first 18 steps help get you on your way to better and brighter places, with no money problems to keep you up at night.