Money Saving Products I Use
As the founder of a personal finance blog that has been around for 5 years, I always get asked questions like, “so…what credit card do you use?”, “what mobile phone plan is the cheapest?”, “what is the best online checking account?”, etc. As a result, I’ve been pushed to do a TON of research and testing in order to be a credible resource on financial products and services.
So I decided to not let all of that research go to waste, and compiled a “best of” list of my favorite money-saving financial services and products, by category. I have used or currently use all of these products or services and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to my friends, family, & readers. Consider it a 20somethingfinance.com cliff notes on how to save money.
For full disclosure, please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links (at no extra cost to you). I have a strict policy of only recommending products or services I have used personally or have come highly recommended from readers. If I recommend something that sucks, nobody wins. Also, please do not spend money unless you feel it’s for something you really need and will help you reach your financial goals.
I have become a rewards card hacker and a big believer in using different cards for different situations to get the most cash back rewards. I have listed a few of my favorites below, but you should also check out my credit card comparison tool to find the cards that best suit your needs.
- Grocery: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is the best grocery rewards card out there, and this is the single biggest card expense for most people. This is my favorite card, because it offers up 6% cash back on purchases at US supermarkets on the first $6,000 per year (for me, this has included Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Meijer, and Kroger). I got $435 cash back my first year using the card. It also offers 3% cash back at US gas stations & select US department stores, and 1% cash back on other purchases. You can get all of the cash back in the form of statement credits. It also is currently offering an opportunity to earn 150 reward dollars after you make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of cardmembership. There is an annual fee of $75, but for a 2-person family, I came out $300 ahead on groceries alone, vs. a 1% cash back card. I use this card personally for all supermarket purchases.
- Gas/Domestic Travel/Everything Else: The TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express gives 3% cash back at US gas stations (for purchases up to $4,000 per year (and 1% thereafter), 2% at restaurants & for eligible travel, & 1% cash back on other eligible purchases, including at Costco – which comes back to you in the form of an annual reward coupon. The 2% at restaurants is great for when I’m traveling. Plus, it’s an AmEx card and Costco membership card (saving you room in your wallet), with no annual fee for Costco members. American Express also has great perks, which I highlight in my Costco American Express review.
- PerkStreet Financial MasterCard: Most debit cards don’t offer cash back. The PerkStreet Financial MasterCard offers unlimited 1% cash back almost anywhere you use your card, 2% cash back at several popular retailers including Walmart and Amazon.com and 5% at rotating monthly categories and merchants. This is more than most credit cards and more interest than any checking accounts are paying these days! It also is a free checking account (if you make 1 transaction per month) that offers free ATM withdrawals nationwide at 42,000 locations. Check out my Perkstreet Financial review for more info.
IRA (Roth & Traditional):
- TradeKing: I house a Roth IRA & Traditional IRA with TradeKing. There are no annual fees or inactivity fees (if you make 1 trade per year or have a minimum balance of $2,500 or more) and trades are only $4.95 each. Customer service is great and research tools are too. Check out my TradeKing review for more info.
Discount Broker (non-IRA):
- OptionsHouse: OptionsHouse is the cheapest discount broker with trades that are only $3.95 each. Accounts are free to start, and give you a free 23″ Dell monitor when you start an account with $10,000 or more.
- Vanguard: If you are interested in low-cost passive investing, Vanguard has a number of commission free ETF’s through their brokerage.
- Betterment: I haven’t personally used Betterment yet, but many friends have and really like their take on investing. Betterment will choose and invest in very low cost index funds (from Vanguard and iShares) and charge customers a percentage of total assets (varies from 0.15 to 0.35, based on your asset total) on top of the Vanguard and iShares ETF’s they include in their portfolio. There are no trading fees. It’s very hands-off, responsible, passive investing – you give them the money, they do the rest. I’ve written more about Betterment here.
Free Checking Account:
- EverBank Yield Checking: $0 monthly fee, no debit card fee, zero ATM fees (and they reimburse on other banks fees if your balance is over $5,000), interest-bearing account with a 1.25% 6-month bonus rate.
- Ally Bank Interest Checking: $0 monthly fee, $0 balance to open, free checks, no debit card fee, zero ATM fees (they actually pay for fees charged by other banks!), and you earn interest earned on your balance (with a high enough balance you exceed 1%). Money Magazine voted Ally the best online bank of 2012.
- PerkStreet Financial MasterCard: $0 monthly fee with one debit card transaction, $0 debit card fee, free checks, free ATM withdrawals at 42,000 locations, 2% cash back at many retailers (minimum 1%) with additional 5% bonus categories. It’s one of the few checking accounts that has a debit card with rewards.
Online Savings Account:
- Discover Bank: no maintenance fees and they pay a very competitive interest yield to you. Discover Bank was voted the best online savings account of 2011 by Money Magazine.
CD (Certificate of Deposit):
- Ally Raise Your Rate CD: The best CD I have seen, with some customer-friendly features. You can open with $0 (no minimum), get a ten day rate guarantee (they’ll raise your rates if rates go up in that time), get daily compound interest for maximum compounding, FDIC insured to the max, and the best part is that you can call Ally to have them raise your rate at any point during the life of the term (once with a 2 year term, twice with a 4 year)! Early withdrawal penalty is only 60 days interest, so if you need your money back, you won’t lose much interest.
- Liberty Mutual: I have shopped around, but Liberty Mutual is usually 30-50% (HUNDREDS) cheaper than other auto insurers for me. Your mileage may vary, but definitely check them out and ask for multiple policy discounts & discounts for being an alumni of your university. They also have accident forgiveness, low mileage discounts, and OnStar discounts.
Home Insurance & Renters Insurance:
- Liberty Mutual: As noted above, I’ve found Liberty Mutual’s auto insurance to be much cheaper than others. With multiple policy discounts, it’s also advantageous to have my home insurance with them as well. I only pay $400 for my home insurance via Liberty Mutual. Every time I get a quote elsewhere, it’s usually at least twice as much. Ask for multiple policy discounts & discounts for being an alumni of your university. Let them know you have deadbolts and smoke detectors – there are discounts for those.
Health & Life Insurance:
- eHealthInsurance: The health and life insurance options available are pretty extensive and prices can vary wildly based on age, gender, and health history. You need to shop around, and ehealthinsurance.com is a great place to do it. I found my term life insurance plan there and have looked for HDHP’s there too.
Auto & Home Loans:
- LendingTree: Based on your credit scores, the loan amount, and location, loans can vary widely. LendingTree.com works with a large number of lenders so that you can compare and get the best rates and conditions.
- Credit Karma: Credit Karma is a 100% free way to get your Credit Score. It is also now offering free credit monitoring. It’s safe, with no catch, and no credit card required. Check out my Credit Karma review for more info. Credit Karma has also started offering 100% free credit monitoring, while competitors are charging $15/month+.
- Annualcreditreport.com: Annualcreditreport.com is a government-mandated website that allows you to get 3 free credit reports annually – one from each major credit bureau.
- Turbotax & H&R Block: There are a lot of other junk products out there that you should stay clear of. Both Turbotax & H&R Block are great tax software programs that I have used and would recommend. I’ve found H&R Block to be slightly cheaper than Turbotax.
- Mint: Mint.com is a 100% free budget planning software that consolidates all of your financial activity into one graphic-enhanced web browser interface.
- Budget planning spreadsheet: This is a monthly budgeting spreadsheet that I created and use personally to this day to manage my budget. Free to copy from Google Docs.
Mobile Phone Plan:
- Net10: Net10 is a prepaid wireless provider that allows you to get plans for as low as 300 minutes over 2 months for $30 (or $15 per month). I currently use the Net10 LG 900G, which is a Blackberry-styled phone that only cost me $30. Texting is only 1/4 of a minute. Paired with my Ooma VOIP (see below), I only pay $15 per month for all of my phone communications.
- Tracfone: The same company (different division) as Net10, if you are able to get by on minimal minutes, you can pay as low as $7.50 per month for a plan. Check out the phones that offer triple minutes for life to boost the value.
- Virgin Mobile: If you want a more advanced phone that uses Android, the cheapest unlimited data/text plan with call time is Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk plan. You get unlimited data, text, and 300 minutes per month for $35.
VOIP (landline phone):
- Ooma: Ooma is a sleek VOIP device that offers free VOIP home phone service forever (you only pay local taxes). Audio quality is excellent & the features are awesome. Unlike MagicJack, you don’t have to have your computer on to use it. Simply plug in any standard phone into the unit, which plugs into your modem, and you’re good to go. It pays for itself within a few months and then you never have to pay for phone service again! Check out my Ooma review for more.
- I’m a big fan of the Samsung Chromebook. At $249, it’s an absolute bargain. As most everything is in the cloud these days, this machine will suit the needs of 90% of the population as a primary laptop device. It’s super small and light 2.4 lbs. (the Macbook Air is 3 lbs.), has wifi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, no fan (it uses phone hardware and keeps cool), 6.5 hour batter life, 100 GB of Google Drive storage, and even 12 Gogo in-air wifi passes (a $168 value). And it’s well built. An absolute bargain! Here’s a full review on it.
Money Saving Green Devices:
- Honeywell Digital Thermostat: A great Energy Star digital thermostat at a good price ($61 – 39% off). Vs. a non-programmable, it’ll save you $180 per year. They also provide a huge convenience factor in that you don’t have to mess with the thermostat every time you go to bed, wake up, go to work, or get back from work. And all the CO2 savings is good for the environment.
- Belkin Energy Conserve monitor: is a nifty little device that tells you how much energy each of your electrical devices is using. You plug it into the wall and then your device into the monitor to get the readout. The goal in using the device is to figure out how much that electrical item is costing you if you keep it plugged in (on or off). Standby powered appliances are a bitch. This device will actually tell you exactly how much money you are wasting with each device. And how much CO2 as well. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to wasting energy.
- Belkin Conserve Energy Saving Power Strip: A surge protector that allows you to control if your TV peripherals are getting electricity. You simply plug your TV into the control outlet and if your TV is off, it shuts down standby power to the other outlets so they aren’t draining energy while your TV isn’t even on. If it’s on, it turns on standby power. It could save you $67 per year.
- Delta Low Flow Showerhead: A 2.5 gallon-per-minute (gpm) unit can literally save a family of four $260 per year in heating costs alone vs. an older 5.5 gallon unit. That’s a whopping 640% ROI in one year! Not to mention the positive environmental impact. The Delta low flow showerhead can switch between 2.5 gpm and a super economical 1.8 gpm. I own it and love it.
- Amazon Paper Shredder: This may not be a money saver, in the typical sense, but it sure as hell can protect you from a lot of headaches and lost time, by helping to protect you from identity theft from paper documentation.
- GE Water Filtration System: If your water smells or tastes not so great, get this system. I’ve used it, and it works. I calculated that the cost of bottled water can be more than $1,000 per year more than tap water. That’s ridiculous! This system will save you serious money in the long run.
- GE 26-Watt CFL’s: If you don’t have a CFL in every light or lamp by now, you’re either batshit crazy or Michelle Bachmann. Wait a second… Anyways… replacing 6 incandescents would save you $65 per year in lighting costs.
- A New Air Filter for your car: A clean air filter in a car can save up to 10% in fuel costs. If you propose to change the filter yourself, you can save someone the typical $35-40 that mechanics charge for the part and labor. Not sure if you can do it? It’s easy. Here are instructions on how to change a car air filter. Cost: ~$10. Cost Savings: ~$250/year (Assumptions: Average miles driven/year by Americans is 15,000, average mpg is 20 mpg, $3 per gallon cost, $2,250/year in total fuel costs).
- Buy Online: Buying glasses online is SOOOO much cheaper than buying from an optometrist. Check out my post on how to buy glasses online, and keep in mind that you can use your HSA or FSA on eyeglasses. ZenniOptical.com is my favorite online store for eyeglasses. I recently purchases a few high quality pairs for just $25 each!
I’m not a doctor, but here are two cheap products that keep me away from expensive chiropractor, physical therapist, and massage therapist bills:
- High Density Foam Roller: This $20 piece of foam works miracles. Check out my own personal story on how I came across this.
- Body Back Buddy: An awesome little investment that is essential for anyone who puts stress on their back or sits at a desk all day.
- Tennis Ball: A simple tennis ball is a killer back tension release tool if you roll over it.
- Hostgator: Web hosting at Hostgator starts at only $3.96 per month – which provides a service that is more than sufficient for anyone just starting out. It is what 20somethingfinance launched with. Hostgator has great customer service – they are always quick to respond and live chat is always available, with short wait times. If you have a website with a lot of traffic, check out their VPS service, which is what I use now.