Sometimes smart money decisions are about sacrifice: You want to contribute to your 401(k), so you take home less in your paycheck. You want to save for a down payment on a house, so you forgo fancy dinners. But building a secure financial future doesn’t have to be all stick, no carrot. Here are a few very easy ways to get something for nothing.
Choose Your Credit Cards Wisely Many cards try to seduce you with rewards points that you can redeem for air miles or hotel stays. That’s great, as long as those freebies are things you actually need. (Let’s face it: Travel isn’t usually a necessity.) If you’re going to have a credit card, find one that offers cash back on your purchases so you can use that money to pay bills or meet other financial goals. Suppose you charge (and pay off) $1,000 a month on a no-fee card that offers a minimum 1 percent return: You’ll earn an extra $120 a year, which could be enough to cover the annual premium for a $100,000 20-year term life insurance policy.
Max Out Your 401(k) Contributions If your employer contributes to your 401(k), you typically need to kick in a percentage of your salary to get the maximum benefit, which is often 50 cents for every dollar you set aside up to a limit (typically 6 percent). That free money may be the biggest financial carrot out there—and yet, 23 percent of workers who are eligible for a match miss out because they’re not contributing enough of their earnings. If you’re entitled to a guaranteed 50 percent return on an investment, why wouldn’t you take it?
Delay Social Security You can apply for Social Security as early as age 62, but the benefit you’ll receive will be 25 to 30 percent less than the amount you’ll take home if you wait until you reach full retirement age (between 66 and 67 if you were born between 1943 and 1959; 67 if you were born in 1960 or later). Hold out until age 70, and your check could be 76 percent larger than if you apply at age 62. That’s a significant reward. If you’re married and simply can’t afford to delay benefits for both of you, at least have the higher earner wait to collect payment.
Take a Shorter-Term Car Loan When it comes to buying a car, I’m all for short-term thinking. Let’s say you take out a $15,000 car loan. Pay it back in 36 months rather than 73 to 84 months (the terms for 25 percent of auto loans during the first quarter of 2014) and you’ll save at least $980 in interest charges, at a 4 percent rate. Your car is guaranteed to depreciate—but holding on to hundreds of extra dollars in rewards alleviates the sting.
Do What You Can to Save for a Rainy Day According to a national survey conducted by the corporate education firm Financial Finesse, more than eight in ten Americans feel financially stressed—including 76 percent of those who make at least $200,000 a year. Not surprisingly, the most anxious respondents were the ones who were less likely to have emergency funds: Just 8 percent of people who reported having “overwhelming” stress and 22 percent who said they were experiencing “high” stress had a backup plan. Conversely, nearly nine in ten respondents who claimed to have no financial stress had money set aside to deal with unexpected expenses. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, keeping you from putting $60 a month—that’s only $2 a day—in an emergency fund. (My free expense tracker at suzeorman.com can help you identify ways to save.) In just four years, you’ll wind up with nearly $3,000—and the peace of mind that’s a reward in itself.
Suze Orman’s latest book is The Money Class: How to Stand in Your Truth and Create the Future You Deserve (Spiegel & Grau). To ask Suze a question, go Oprah.com/Omagazine_talk.
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