10 Life-Altering Money Moves You Can Start Today

life-altering money movesVery few decisions during your time on this earth actually change the trajectory of your life.

After a party in 2007, I scanned the huge Evite email list to try to find a woman I met there. Then I ‘stalked’ her on Facebook and asked her out.

We have three kids together now.

Though truly momentous crossroads are rare, we can make decisions every day that can change the course of our lives for the better in small increments.

This is true in relationships, our careers, and especially money.

The ten ideas below may be “life-altering” if you put the changes in place, but they will not help if you’re looking for a quick fix for your problems.

Start making some of these money moves today, and you can step off the treadmill and build a foundation on which you can improve your finances and begin to grow wealth.

1. Invest before you spend

My high school economics teacher used to tell the class that at some point in our lives, we’d have the luxury of ending each month with more money than we need. Use that money, he said, to invest and build wealth.

Well, I disagree with him today. I believe in investing first, then spending what’s left over.

Start investing in tax-advantaged accounts before opening a taxable account. Use the 401(k) and traditional IRA to lower your taxable income. Once you’ve maxed out your tax-advantaged opportunities, you have a number of options to invest in taxable accounts.

Any online brokerage account will allow you to invest in stocks and ETFs. I recommend beginner investors start with a broad stock market index ETF like the Vanguard Total Market Index (symbol VTI).

For beginner to intermediate investors, I recommend no-fee online brokerage M1 Finance for IRAs and taxable accounts which is very popular with millennials for its simplified and smarter approach to investing. 

Read more: M1 Finance review

2. Optimize spending rewards

Our family has paid for nine round-trip airplane tickets from Washington D.C to San Francisco with airline miles earned through credit card welcome rewards. 

You’re already spending money every day. But are you optimizing bonus rewards from spending?

Earning travel rewards or cash back from credit card spending can help alleviate any necessary travel expenses or help with a much-needed vacation

I use a travel rewards credit card for all family spending. Using one card allows us to easily track our spending and earn valuable travel rewards we use to visit family.

You’re spending anyways, might as well get the rewards. However, this strategy is only for people that never carry a credit card balance. Don’t go into debt for rewards.  

3. Change your money mindset

Most people exchange their time to earn a salary, then spend the earnings on things. You can earn a lot and buy a lot of cool stuff this way, but you’ll have trouble achieving financial freedom.

Instead, you should aim to forego nice things and use the money to invest in assets that earn more money.

The bare minimum way to make money with money is with a high yield savings account. If you have any surplus cash in your checking account, make it a habit to sweep it into a savings account every month. You’ll earn money without doing any work. 

We call this passive income.

You must accept that you will start small. It takes time to build significant income this way. But brick-by-brick, you’ll begin to accumulate wealth. 

Then buy stocks, invest in real estate, or use excess cash flow money to start a side business. Build assets that grow your wealth automatically over time. 

When you change your mentality from worker to investor, you’ll stop treading water and understand how to become rich. A famous money book called Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki is considered by many to be the bible on this topic.

4. Own real assets

Real estate is one of the best assets because it generates cash flow and appreciates over time. Instead of blowing your whole paycheck on nice dinners or collectible crap, save it up and buy income-producing real estate.

A rental property is a good place to start. But if you want to start building a real estate portfolio sooner with smaller dollar amounts, a few platforms allow you to buy real estate utilizing modern technology. You get the benefit of income and growth without the headaches of landlording or a mortgage.

My favorite real estate platform for beginner to intermediate investors is Fundrise. Fundrise empowers ordinary investors to invest in high-quality real estate and earn reliable yields of 7%-10%. The innovative platform unlocks investments such as apartment complexes and commercial properties all from your computer or smartphone.

Read my Fundrise review here. Just $10 minimum investment.

Please note: This is a testimonial in partnership with Fundrise. We earn a commission from partner links on RetireBeforeDad.com. All opinions are my own.

For more experienced investors, there are several crowdfunding sites that empower investors to own a piece of larger scale commercial real estate properties. 

  • EquityMultiple (review) offers access to individual commercial real estate equity and debt deals with bigger returns for larger investments. Accredited investors only. 
  • RealtyMogul (review) also offers direct access to commercial and residential properties through single-property investments and REITs.
  • CrowdStreet boasts higher risk/reward profile investments for accredited investors.

All of these platforms empower investors to access solid real estate markets without debt or over-sized investments. 

5. Refinance debt

Even if you hate debt and plan to pay off your credit cards and car as quickly as possible, you may still be able to create breathing room in your budget by lowering your debt payments through refinancing. Lowering monthly payments will free cash flow and empower you to attack the debt that you now hate.

Refinancing debt has saved my family 10’s of thousands of dollars over the past decade. We refinanced our home mortgage and investment property five times between the two.

Mortgage debt is the most powerful to refinance because the numbers are usually so big. Resetting the mortgage term with a decrease in mortgage rate and/or balance lowers the monthly payment. If you can save a few hundred dollars after the cost of refinancing and you intend to stay in your home for a while, it’s usually worth it.

Mortgages aren’t the only debt you can refinance. Student loan and personal debt can be overwhelming, especially if your rates aren’t competitive. If you don’t have the cash flow to pay your debts off quickly, consider refinancing to lower your payments and increase cash flow. Use the difference to pay off your high-interest debts.

LendKey is a top tier site for refinancing student loan debt. These offer competitive rates for borrows and can save you a bundle.

6. Eliminate car payments from your life

Car payments weigh you down. If you think they’re a fact of life, you’re wrong. They aren’t necessary, and they’re killing your cash flow.

I experienced the crippling effect of a car payment I when bought a new minivan for our growing family. I never regretted buying the vehicle since I prefer new cars. But I regret saddling myself with a $563 monthly car payment. Combined with new preschool tuition and living on one income, the payment made me feel poor. 

Once I decided to eliminate car payments from my life and vowed to never borrow money for a car again, I was liberated. Now our family has two reliable, long-term vehicles that are completely paid for. That $563 is invested every month into assets that make us wealthier.

Buy a less expensive car and pay cash for it. Or dedicate yourself to pay off your car loan and never go back to borrowing. To get extreme, sell your car and ride your bike or take public transportation.

7. Invest in yourself

Few investments have a higher return than education. Adults with a college degree earn more than a million dollars over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate.

But college isn’t the only option. You can invest in your self in many ways. Read a book. Take a course on Udemy that helps you achieve your goals. Or read all the free money articles on the internet that teach you how to win at money.

Investing in yourself isn’t about treating yourself. It’s about giving yourself the tools you need to succeed.

8. Change your consumer mindset

When you buy a material object, it becomes a lifelong burden. Meaning, for as long as you own it, you need to store it, maintain it, clean it, and organize it. That’s an odd way to look at things but consider this.

Before you buy an object that will clutter your home, think six months ahead. Will you be glad you bought it, or wish you still had the money? Is the item worth the time you spent earning the money to buy it?

One of the difficult challenges of earning more money is learning how to keep it and make it grow. You don’t deserve fancy things once you start earning more than is required for your living expenses. What you do deserve is a future that isn’t bound to your full-time career. Instead of consuming more, spend less and invest the difference in assets that grow your wealth. I call this the Triforce of Wealth.

Read more: Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

9. Ditch cable

I ditched cable TV more than three years ago. In the first year, we saved about $50 per month by dropping cable TV channels and only paying for internet. However, the bigger savings is my time which is more valuable.

Instead of recording HGTV shows and watching those every night, I work on my side businesses. Working on a side hustle is more fun than watching TV, and I earn money. We still have a TV antenna and Netflix, so we’re not completely shut off from the broadcasting world. 

Ditching cable is a sacrifice if you’ve always had it. It’s especially difficult for sports fans. But it’s worth it for the cost savings and the increase in the amount of time you have for other pursuits.

10. Move

I saved this one for last because it’s the least likely any of us will get started on today. However, moving may be the highest impact money move you can make if you’re living in a high-cost area. Moving for the sole reason of cheaper housing or to achieve financial independence is not an easy decision if you’re settled with a family. But by the numbers it makes sense.

This idea is a constant struggle for our family because housing is very expensive for us in the Washington D.C. area. We could move somewhere with a lower cost of living, then pay cash for a bigger, newer, and less expensive house. And we’d essentially reach financial independence right then and there.

Our house payment would plummet, lowering our overall costs and skyrocketing our cash flow, assuming I could keep my job. By the numbers, it’s a no-brainer. It would certainly be life-altering.

However, we like where we live, so we aren’t looking for a life-altering physical move at this point. Though that could change one day.

These 10 life-altering money moves will help you step off the treadmill and build a foundation on which you can begin to grow your wealth.

Photo credit: Matt Artz via Unsplash

Favorite tools and investment services right now:

Sure Dividend — A reliable stock newsletter for DIY retirement investors. (review)

Fundrise — Simple real estate and venture capital investing for as little as $10. (review)

NewRetirement — Spreadsheets are insufficient. Get serious about planning for retirement. (review)

M1 Finance — A top online broker for long-term investors and dividend reinvestment. (review)

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  1. RBD,

    Great article. #s 2 and 3 echo pretty strong with me. For 2 we have newer cars, and they have a short period left on their loans which were given to us at less than 1.9%. The cars will last 15+ years (especially mine, because I rarely use it), but that payment still sucks. If I could go back, I would do that one differently.

    For #3 there is another thing one can do – get professional certifications in your field if there are any. I currently have a CHMM (Certified Hazardous Materials Manager) and will be getting a CSP this year (Certified Safety Professional) – those combined bump my earning potential a lot. In fact the CHMM helped me switch jobs with a huge salary bump. Studying for one off tests can be lame, frustrating, and stressful – however the payoff is undeniably worth it.

    – Gremlin

    1. Gremlin,
      Even the low rate car loans crush your cash flow. Mine was only 0.9%. But it was killing to have that big payment.

      Good tip on certifications. Definitely another way to invest in yourself.

  2. RBD –

    Getting aggressive here and I love it. Save as much as you can, invest the difference, save at the beginning of the month instead of what’s left, etc.. Reducing our consumption-inflated society is key. Keep on preaching here RBD!!


    1. We speak the same language, Lanny. It’s a long game. Won’t happen overnight, but keep at it over the long term and you will grow wealth.

  3. Several of these are clearly applicable to just about everyone, right now. Number 7 resonates with me personally. I really liked your post last month about the fact that your clutter used to be money. That is just not something that most of us stop to realize. It’s not often anymore that I get to say this, but that post immediately changed how I see things. You should link No. 7 to that post.

    Thanks for the inspiration RBD.

    1. Thanks Oldster. I think there is a link in here. Glad to hear my article changed your thinking.

  4. I am hooked, another great article!

    I am on the same page with Oldster. I came here after reading “your clutter used to be money”, but couldn’t comment there. It’s like switching eating candy with eating an apple. You are not just removing the bad (eating candy), but you are also adding good (eating apple). That’s why “clutter used to be money” is so frustrating. It’s upside down! You had something great (money), and the “best” you could do was turn it into a clutter?

    Definitely finding a system of slowing down the decision process of buying something that’s cheap and that’s going to be laying around forever. Tools, toys, anything that can turn into a fetish (shoes, bags, gym equipment). I remember when a friend mine bought all that gym equipment and he invited me to come over. After I made a comment on his investment and how that’s supposed to eliminate the cost of gym membership, he just shrugged it off saying he doesn’t plan to quit his gym membership? Seriously? Few months later it turned out that he isn’t even working out at home. Not sure what the deal is now.

    Getting hitched is a great advice if you are on the same page with the love of your life. If she’s a big spender, hoarder, than it could bring more issues than solutions.

    1. Ha ha, yeah getting hitched isn’t a short-term solution. Can definitely lead to problems if you marry the wrong person. Those of us who are happily married to spreadsheet nerds and coupon clippers worry less about hoarding and overspending. Getting married does save you a ton money. Did for us!