6 Powerful (and Low-Risk) Financial Maneuvers that Put Extreme Frugality to Shame
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Powerful financial maneuvers are meaningful decisions you make with your money and lifestyle that have a significant long-term impact on building wealth.
Too often, we focus on the little ways to save money.
We used to be a coupon clipping couple before having kids. We had more time back then. Coupons influenced our shopping choices more than it saved us any money.
This article outlines six of the more powerful financial maneuvers you can make to improve your financial situation. All are low risk, but some required a change in mindset or sacrifice of some kind to make it work.
These ideas are not about skipping your morning coffee. Saving $3 per day isn’t going to help you build wealth.
Instead, this list highlights ideas that will make a difference in your life. Our family has implemented four of the six ideas over the years.
Some are easy. Others may necessitate a significant change in your lifestyle.
Before we look at the list, here’s an example of what is NOT a powerful financial maneuver.
I thought I was a frugal mastermind in college.
The Subway restaurant near me had a different sandwich special every month. The owner picked one sandwich and sold it at a discounted price.
The two cheapest Subway sandwiches were always the Cold Cut Combo and the Meatball Marinara. These were my go-to choices because they were so cheap. The sub-of-the-month price for these sandwiches was $1.99 for a 6-inch, $3.50 for a foot-long (I have no idea what these cost in 2019).
Frequent customers carried a Sub Club card and received one stamp every time they bought a 6-inch sub or two stamps for a foot-long. To my delight, the local Subway also ran a parallel promotion, Double Stamp Tuesdays.
So during the months when either of the cheapest sandwiches was on special, I would go to Subway every Tuesday. I’d order a foot-long Cold Cut Combo or Meatball Marinara sub for $3.50 and get four stamps. I’d eat half and save the other half for another meal.
I usually went with a friend who didn’t care about the promotion and would give me their stamps. Or the person ahead of me didn’t want their stamps and gave them to me.
Eight stamps were worth a free 6-inch sub. So every one or two visits I’d earn a free meal.
Some months have five Tuesdays. Since these two subs had the lowest cost to the owner, one of them would often be the sub-of-the-month. I built a nice stack of freebie cards.
Then, during months when my two favorite sandwiches were regularly priced, I’d order one of the MOST expensive sandwiches, like the Big Philly Cheesesteak, and ‘pay’ with a fully stamped card from the previous months.
Genius, right? Not so much.
Subway hacking probably saved me about $100-$200 over my college years. All that effort and unhealthy/bad tasting food might have prepared me for backpacking the world on the cheap, but it did little for my bottom line.
That’s because extreme frugal maneuvering like Subway hacking or obsessive coupon clipping isn’t the road to wealth and happiness. Increasing income, managing cash flow, high savings rates, and reasonable spending habits are the way.
I can think of a dozen ways I could have hustled in college to make a few extra hundred bucks a month to cover the cost of better sandwiches. But I was too lazy.
Any money I saved at Subway was spent bar hacking, buying $1.50 pitchers of Miller High Life during the Friday free-chicken-wing happy hour.
Cheapskate college meal planning and extreme frugality are nothing compared to the focus of this article.
6 Examples of Low-Risk Financial Maneuvers to Help Build Wealth
Sometimes substantial savings is hidden in plain view. What if you could save thousands of dollars a year by making a few phone calls and setting up an appointment? If one small lifestyle change could save you tens of thousands of dollars over a decade, would you make it?
Mrs. RBD recently cleaned and reused a plastic straw. That is not a powerful financial maneuver. The cost of the soap and water to clean it was easily more than the straw itself.
I still get my daily office coffee card stamped. Every ten coffees I get a freebie. Though I’m not building wealth with it, getting a card stamped every day takes minimal effort to save a few bucks.
Everyone can find little ways to save money every day. Those pennies add up to small amounts and make you feel good. But it’s the big stuff that matters.
Here are some significant, low-risk ideas that you may be able to apply to your life to accelerate your wealth building.
1. Refinance your Mortgage
Recent comments by the Federal Reserve have reversed expectations of further rate increases and lowered mortgage interest rates to near 4% again. If you missed out on refinancing over the past decade, now is your chance.
CNBC has reported that nearly 5 million people can reduce their mortgage interest rate by 0.75% and save money by refinancing. Are you one of them?
Savings of just $200 per month would add up big-time over the long-term. All it takes is some upfront money to cover closing costs (which can sometimes be tacked onto the loan). Then shop around to find a good rate and initiate the refinancing process.
I’ve refinanced our primary residence and the rental property a total of four times over the years (including a recent refinance). Each refinance saved me thousands of dollars in the first year! These actions have saved me tens of thousands over the last decade.
I use Credible* to compare mortgage rates.
For example, let’s say you own a home that you paid $250,000 for five years ago. The original interest rate is 5%, and the loan has 25 years left.
If you refinanced that loan at 4% for the next 25 years, the payment would go down by $130 per month. That’s $1,560 per year or $39,000 over the next 25 years.
To increase cash flow, you could alternatively refinance the loan back to a fresh 30-year mortgage instead of 25. Doing that would lower the payment by $246 per month or $2,952 per year.
In both scenarios, the extra cash flow can be used to pay down the mortgage or other debts, or invested in wealth building assets. With compounding, the savings from this simple move will grow each year.
The lesson here is obvious; a lower interest rate on a big loan can be lead to considerable cost savings. If you haven’t yet, check the numbers and consider refinancing today.
2. Darlin’, You Gotta Sell the Truck
Long before I discovered podcasting, I had a satellite radio subscription. Sometimes I listened to the Dave Ramsey Show to get my fill of finance talk.
Think what you will of Dave’s methods. He does inspire a lot of people who need help getting out of debt. Beyond that, some of his teachings are controversial.
When I listened, it seemed like every other phone call on Dave’s show went something like this.
The husband works a blue collar job and makes $30,000. The wife stays at home with the kids. They own two cars, including a sexy new $40,000 pickup truck with a hefty monthly payment. The truck is ‘needed’ for the job.
As Dave is listening to the woman’s sad story about living paycheck to paycheck and going further into debt, you quickly begin to sense what Dave’s advice will be.
In his perfect Tennessee accent, he says, “Darlin’, your gonna have to respectfully sit down with your husband and tell him something he doesn’t want to hear. Y’all gotta sell that truck. Then go buy a beater.“
Selling a car with an oppressive payment can have a significant impact on your cash flow. Even better, never buy a car that isn’t well below your means, and never lease a car. Buying a used car or owning a reasonably priced new car over many years is a smarter way to drive. Pay cash if you can.
If you can change your lifestyle, relying on public transportation, Ubering, or living in a walkable/bikeable area are all cost-saving measures. If you can’t, you might want to look into refinancing your car loan or paying it off.
Big decisions around vehicles and transportation can save you a boatload of cash over time. Invest the savings instead.
3. Aggressively Pursue a Tax-Advantaged Investing Strategy
The U.S. tax code contains about four million words. That’s about four times as many words as all seven Harry Potter books combined.
Buried in those words are loopholes and advantages that benefit people in the know. Employer-sponsored 401(k)s and 403(b)s, IRAs, Roth IRAs, and other tax-advantaged accounts all fit into this category.
If you’re not taking advantage of these programs either through your employer or on your own, start now. Doing so gives you both short and long-term tax advantages that can lead to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment income and growth over time.
Make sure you’re contributing to an employer 401(k) to benefit from pre-tax savings and tax-deferred growth, which can save you thousands every year. You’ll get free money too if your employer offers a match.
Utilize a Roth IRA to grow your investments tax-free without paying capital gains or dividend taxes. Then withdraw the money and pay no taxes once you reach retirement age. You can withdraw the original contributions penalty-free anytime.
Then double-down by opening a spousal Roth IRA if you’re married.
Our family maxes out my 403(b) (plus a 10% employer match), then contributes the max to both Mrs. RBD’s IRA and my Roth IRA.
Another creative tax-advantaged savings strategy is the solo 401(k). With this plan, a self-employed worker or business owner can contribute the standard $19,000 (for 2019). Also, the employer (i.e., the individual) is allowed to make a profit sharing contribution of up to 25% of pay. Between the two, total contributions are allowed up to $56,000 in 2019.
That’s serious tax-advantaged savings.
4. Cohabitate and Marry
Cohabitation is an easy way to save cash. I know, this isn’t always a low-risk venture as some complications can arise. But if you can live with roommates or have a long-term partner you intend to marry, it’s a powerful way to save money.
Marriage itself is powerful too. Not only do you get the cost savings and benefits of cohabitation and splitting expenses, but the United States also gives you a tax break.
When I was dating Mrs. RBD, she moved in before we married and the savings was incredible. Her previous rent payment of $1,400 plus utilities went away. Then she paid me $500 a month for rent until we tied the knot. With an extra $1,000 in her pocket per month, she wiped out the last of her student loans in no time. Our combined savings went toward paying for a wedding and buying a home in the suburbs.
In the first year of living together alone, we saved close to $20,000.
5. Get a New Job with a Better Employer
Working for a mediocre employer has many hidden costs. These can include high out-of-pocket benefit costs, a crappy 401(k), or bad management that makes you want to pull your hair out.
That’s was my career for 14 years.
When I finally left and found a better employer, the value of my benefits increased tremendously. The better benefits did come with a small salary cut, but the money I saved from the lower cost of benefits just about covered the difference.
One year in, my salary has recovered, and the 10% 403(b) match has kicked in. I’m now making more money, net, than with my previous gig.
The 401(k) fees at my previous employer became a detriment to building wealth. Mediocre companies often have lousy investment choices and high plan fees. For some plans, fees can be as high as 2%. Mine were solidly above 1%.
Let’s say you’ve been with your employer for a while and you’ve saved $100,000 in your 401(k) account.
2% in 401(k) fees equals $2,000 per year of lost wealth on a $100,000 account. Furthermore, if you stretch that loss out over ten and 20 years, the impact is compounded.
If you compare the 2% plan to a 401(k) plan with 0.50% in annual fees over ten years, the account balance for the lower cost option would be almost $32,000 higher when using an 8% market return for both. Over 20 years, the difference is $116,000.
Though I stayed with my mediocre employer through thick and thin for a lot of reasons, the company finally made some changes to the 401(k) plan to save employees money on fees. Unfortunately, shortly after they sold the company. The 401(k) administration change became a big headache for everyone.
My old 401(k) balance is now in a traditional IRA invested in mostly index funds.
* Empower has a free 401(k) fee analyzer built into the platform. Use it to analyze the impact of fees for your own 401(k) plan, compounded over time.
6. Move Somewhere Cheaper
Moving to a lower cost area is a no-brainer when evaluating powerful financial maneuvers. However, it’s not for everybody. Family, career, and other factors weigh into this decision. But regardless of emotional impact, moving from an expensive city to a cheaper one can save a ton of money.
We’ve considered the benefits of moving to a less expensive city several times. Moving to the right place would instantly make us financially independent.
Doing this is still a viable option and easier these days with the popularity of remote working. For us, however, there’s no alternative location that we agree would provide a venue to build better lives.
I know a few people that left the D.C. metro area for cheaper pastures but managed to maintain their D.C. job and salary. One couple bought a $300,000 home in a smaller city that would easily cost north of $1 million near their old home.
Housing is the highest cost for individuals and families in an area such as D.C., San Francisco, or New York. So why not move further out into the suburbs or to a less expensive city? The cost savings over time can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Did I miss any? What are some powerful financial maneuvers that you’ve used to make progress with your finances?
* Advertising Disclosure: RBD partners with several companies that offer products and services that may be beneficial to readers. Credible offers rate comparisons on many loan products, including mortgage refinances and student loans. RBD only recommends reputable companies that have been tried and or vetted by the author. This content is not provided by Credible or any of the Providers on the Credible website. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by Credible. RBD is compensated for customer leads at no additional cost to readers.
Main photo via DepositPhotos used under license.
Gear photo courtesy of Grastisopgraphy
Craig is a former IT professional who left his 20-year career to be a full-time personal finance blogger. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and three children. A DIY investor since 1995, he started Retire Before Dad in 2013 as a creative outlet to share his stock and real estate income portfolios. Craig earned a Finance degree from Michigan State University. Read more HERE.
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Ahh, the big wins theory. You save on the big items and you don’t have to worry about the little things. That’s valid. It takes effort to be frugal. However, I think you need the small wins too.
If a person can’t be frugal on the little things, they probably can’t on the big stuff either.
These 6 are all really big wins. Nice job. I’d like to refinance, but our rate is 4.25%. It doesn’t seem worth it. The rates aren’t that low in our area.
Big wins first, then follow up with the little ones. Rates reversed a bit recently:
Maybe we’ll get another dip below 4% this year?
I think you’re a bit harsh on your past self as regards the Subway hacking. I’ll bet you got a huge amount of entertainment and the thrill of creativity as you schemed how to chase those extra points!
I didn’t mean to sound harsh. I was damn proud of myself for the way I hacked free sandwiches. But there were more lucrative schemes elsewhere that I was too lazy to pursue.