Last Updated: October, 2016
As founder of a personal finance site that has survived for 8+ years, I often get questions like, “what credit score site do you use?”, “what mobile plan is the cheapest?”, “what’s the best checking account?”, etc. In order to be a credible & trusted resource to readers, I’ve completed thousands of hours of research.
With that knowledge gained, below, I’ve compiled a “best of” list of my favorite money-saving products & services, by category, & update it weekly. Consider it a 20SF cliff notes on how to save money!
Some links below may result in a commission to support this site, but never at an extra cost to you (actually, many of the links offer promotional discounts). I only recommend products that I think can help others, & I don’t accept payment to be included here. I strictly recommend products or services I have used personally or have come highly regarded from those I trust. Please only spend money if it helps you reach your financial goals.
Cash payment is all but dead and credit cards, when used responsibly (paid in full each month), can provide exceptional rewards value, help you build a credit history, and protect your purchases from fraud. Some of my favorite cards are categorically linked to below.
Travel credit cards: travel rewards credit cards can provide outstanding value for their massive sign-up bonuses and hefty co-branded rewards, particularly if you travel a lot for business or pleasure. A few of my favorites include:
- Airline rewards cards: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
- Hotel rewards cards: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card, Hilton HHonors™Card from American Express, and Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card
- General travel rewards cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®
Cash back rewards cards: these cards provide excellent all-around cash back rewards on common every day purchases:
- Grocery: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- Gas: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- Other: Citi® Double Cash Card, Chase Freedom Unlimited
Business rewards cards: note that as long as you have any 1099 or other self-employment income, you are eligible to apply for business credit cards.
- Business cards: Chase Ink Plus and Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
Credit Scores & Credit Monitoring:
- Credit Karma: Credit Karma is a 100% free way to get your Credit Score at any time, and check it as often as you like – no strings attached. You get continuous free TransUnion and Equifax credit scores, VantageScore, auto insurance credit score, home insurance credit score, and tips on how to improve your credit. It’s safe, with no catch, and no credit card required. Check out my Credit Karma review for more info. Credit Karma also now offers 100% free credit monitoring, while competitors are charging $15/month+. And they just added free continuous monitoring of TransUnion and Equifax credit reports too!
- Credit Sesame: offers a free account with credit monitoring and a TransUnion credit score, along with some really solid analysis on how to improve your credit score. They also give you $50K in free identity theft insurance (more on that below). Here’s a full Credit Sesame review for more details.
- Credit Karma: Credit Karma recently started providing unlimited FREE access to your TransUnion credit report. and even more recently, began providing unlimited free access to Equifax credit reports too! This allows you to continuously monitor two of the three credit bureau credit reports available – and saves you a ton of money!
- 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. Since you can get free continuous monitoring from Credit Karma on TransUnion and Equifax, you can use this to review your Experian report once a year.
Credit Sesame: offers a free account with credit monitoring and a TransUnion credit score (similar to Credit Karma), but also $50K in free identity theft insurance coverage. Here’s a full Credit Sesame review, but in short, the coverage includes:
- Legal costs – Up to a total of $50,000 for any one stolen identity event
- Fraudulent withdrawals – Up to $5,000 for all fraudulent withdrawals resulting from each stolen identity event
- Child care and elderly care – Up to $3,000 for each stolen identity event*
- Loss of Income – Up to $3,000 for each stolen identity event*
- Replacing documents – Up to $1,000 for each stolen identity event
- Traveling expenses – Up to $1,000 for each stolen identity event”
Discount Broker (non-IRA):
- TradeKing: I use TradeKing for an IRA and like them a lot. Great customer service, low cost trades ($4.95 for stocks, $9.95 to open mutual funds). They also cover up to $150 in reimbursements for those who switch a non-retirement account to them. Here is a TradeKing review I wrote.
- 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, which makes re-allocations and dollar cost averaging much cheaper. It’s very hands-off, responsible, passive investing – you give them the money, they do the rest. I’ve written more about Betterment here.
- Motif: Motif is an interesting investment broker. You basically buy “Motifs”, which are a bucket of up to 30 stocks bundled together (like a mutual fund). Motifs are professionally assembled, but you can also build your own. Each time you trade, the fee for trading the bucket is just $9.95. And with this link you can get a $150 bonus for funding a new account with $2,000+ (conditions apply). Accounts are free to start, so check it out.
- Vanguard: If you are interested in low-cost passive investing for a non-retirement account, Vanguard has a number of commission free ETF’s and index funds through their brokerage.
IRA (Roth & Traditional):
- TradeKing: I house a Roth IRA & Traditional IRA with TradeKing. There are no annual fees, IRA 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.
- Betterment: see above. Betterment’s low-cost passive investing approach is great for IRA accounts.
- Vanguard: If you are interested in low-cost passive investing for retirement, Vanguard has a number of commission free ETF’s and index funds through their brokerage.
Budgeting & Wealth Software:
- Personal Capital: think of “mint.com for investments”. Personal Capital is free, allows you to consolidate and analyze your net worth and investment portfolio, and plan your retirement.
- Mint: Mint.com is a 100% free budget tracking and 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.
Turbotax & H&R Block: There are a lot of other tax prep programs out there, but Turbotax & H&R Block are the top two for good reason. I have used and would recommend both. I’ve found H&R Block to be slightly cheaper than Turbotax and with better support.
TaxAct: I’ve never used TaxAct, but I know there are a lot of fans out there.
Free Checking Account:
- Capital One 360: no fee checking, no minimum deposits, and free ATM’s.
Online Savings Account:
- Discover Bank: no maintenance fees and they pay a very competitive interest yield to you. Discover Bank has been voted the best online savings account by a number of publications.
- Liberty Mutual: I have shopped around, but Liberty Mutual is usually 30-50% (hundreds of $) 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.
- eHealthInsurance: The health 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 if you are not eligible for a subsidy through the public insurance exchanges on the healthcare.gov website (ehealthinsurance is a great way to shop for subsidy-eligible plans too).
Mobile Phone Plans:
Higher Data Plan:
- Republic Wireless: If you want a more advanced phone that uses Android, the cheapest unlimited call/text plan with on-demand data plan I’ve seen is through Republic Wireless. Plans start at $15 per month for unlimited talk, text, and wifi data. You then purchase the amount of 3G/4G cell data you think you need per month and can easily change your amount based on use. Update: you can now bring your own phone to Republic Wireless, which is a huge positive development.
- Check out my cheapest data plans article for more plan suggestions.
Lower Data Plan:
- Tracfone: If you like to keep things simple, and are able to get by on minimal minutes (by pairing w/ VOIP or you just don’t use that many minutes), you can pay as low as $6.67 per month for a plan with Tracfone. They are the largest discount operator and are the most flexible because they run on Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile’s networks. Tracfone’s parent company (America Movil) has almost 300 million subscribers globally. Check out the phones that offer triple minutes for life to boost the value.
- Check out my cheapest prepaid plans article for more plan suggestions.
VOIP (to replace landline phone, Comcast Voice, Vonage):
- Ooma: Ooma is a VOIP device that offers free VOIP home phone service forever (you only pay local taxes). It’s every bit as good or better than a digital voice service through your ISP, but much much cheaper. 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.
Update: I have 5 ooma referral codes for $40 off + free shipping! Must be used by Oct. 28, 2016. First-come, first-serve.
Modem/Router (to Wipe Out your ISP’s Modem Rental Fee!)
- Most ISP’s are charging a $10 per month modem rental fee. That’s crap! That’s why I picked up a Motorola DOCSIS 3.0 SB6141 cable modem (there is also a newer MB7420 model) and paired it with a Medialink Wireless-N router to get rid of my Comcast modem rental. They will pay themselves off in just over a year. Here’s my article on how to do this.
Cable TV Replacements:
I calculated the lifetime cost of cable TV, and at a 6% return it’s over $1.1M (far more than most will ever save for retirement, sadly)! Be smart, and replace it with a combination of the following to get more great entertainment than you’ll ever be able to consume in your waking hours at under $20 per month:
- Roku: a nifty little streaming device optimized to stream Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and 750+ channels in 4K on your television! It costs just over $100, and there are no monthly fees.
- Netflix: there’s still no better/cheaper way to stream movies and binge watch your favorite TV shows.
- Digital antenna: Pick up 1080p HD digital TV with a good ole fashion antenna to get CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC, PBS, and other channels that broadcast in your area.
- SiliconDust HD HomeRun: If you want to record broadcast TV and then stream it to a TV or other device, then this is your tool.
- I’m a big fan of this Acer Chromebook. At $179, 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. Very quick and it boots almost instantly. It can handle multiple tabs with video with no slowdown. It’s super small and light at 2.43 lbs. (the Macbook Air is 3 lbs.), has wifi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, no fan (it uses phone hardware and keeps cool), 8.5 hour battery life, 100 GB of Google Drive storage, and even 12 Gogo in-air wifi passes (a $168 value). And it’s well built (quality solid keyboard and shell). An absolute bargain!
- Airbnb.com: Click that link for a $35 Airbnb credit credit for you to use as a new Airbnb user. Airbnb is way cheaper than hotels in almost every market. Plus, your money goes directly to someone who can greatly benefit from it vs. a large hotel chain CEO.
- Uber: if you haven’t used Uber yet, here is a link to get a free ride! Uber is cheap, easy, fast, convenient, fun (the app is kind of addicting), more transparent and accountable (riders can rate drivers), and much safer than catching any old cab. Especially when traveling in a foreign country, I would not take anything but an Uber.
- Virgin Atlantic: Virgin has consistently been voted the best airline in the world – and they fly lots of places. You can use this link and get 1,000 – 3,000 bonus miles when you join their Flying Club and complete your first flight.
Grooming Devices that Save Money
- Wahl 84900 Icon Clipper: I give myself an almost free hair cut every other week with this device. It is just as good as any professional clipper set and cuts through my hair like butter. The best part? Cutting my own hair will save me hundreds of thousands over my lifetime.
- Merkur 180 Double-edged Safety Razor: I recently switched from a 5 (or was it 6) blade Gillette Fusion Power Proglide to the Merkur 180. Paired with the following blades (next on this list), I have cut my cost of shaving by 90% and now get a better shave.
- Astra double-edged razor blades: Paired with the aforementioned Merkur 180 handle, I have been able to cut my cost of shaving by 90%! The Astra 100-pack can get you 200+ shaves for just $10.
Eco-Friendly Devices that Save Money:
- Lux Digital Thermostat (7-Day Programmable): A great touch-screen Energy Star digital thermostat at a good price. 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 Conserve Energy 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.
- 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.
- Philips A19 LED bulb: For any lamp or light fixture you use for more than an hour a day, LED’s are more cost effective than CFL’s and incandescents, by far, and it’s now to the point where every light bulb purchased should be LED. Dimmable LED Bulbs: use only 6W of energy, but 3 of them light up my kitchen – and they are actually cheap now – and long lasting.
- 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).
Financial Books & Magazines:
- Your Money or Your Life: a classic that is just as relevant today for the modern financial independence seeker as it was when first written. Here is my full review on the book.
- The Intelligent Investor: The greatest investor of all time, Warren Buffett, said The Intelligent Investor is “the best book on investing ever written”. Enough said.
- Early Retirement Extreme: a self-published book by a former personal finance blogger and engineer, worth its weight in gold. Jacob was able to cut his cost of living to $6,000 per year, and shows you how simple math can work in your favor.
- Personal Finance for Dummies: this is the first personal finance book I ever read, and it provided a great overview of retirement vehicles, mutual funds, stocks, index funds, and more – this is a great summary book. Of course, 20somethingfinance isn’t too shabby on all of these topics either – check out the investment category.
- Kiplinger Magazine: I’ve subscribed to this personal finance magazine for about 7 years now. These guys simply get it – and the advice within the pages makes Kiplinger worth its weight in gold – and for a ridiculously low price.
- Money Magazine: another good personal finance magazine.
Bike Commuting & Recreational Cycling:
Biking to work (or anywhere) is one of the best ways to improve your health, have fun, and save money (especially if it allows you to get rid of a car, like it did me). To help, I wrote a post on bike maintenance 101. Every serious biker should own the following gear to be able to repair and maintain their bike:
- Bike pump: rubber is porous and air molecules will escape at high pressure over time. You need to refill them periodically, even if there are no visible leaks. Make sure you get a pump that can work with both presta and schrader valves.
- 1-2 extra tubes: matched to your tire size (which is listed on the side of your tire).
- Chain lubricant: make sure you use an actual lubricant and not a de-greaser solvent like WD-40.
- Bike wheel rim tape: inside your bike wheel, you will find little screws for the spokes. You must cover these in tape or with a plastic strip to prevent tube puncturing. Measure the inside rim width to match up to the tape width.
- Wedge pack: fits comfortably under your saddle, and can hold all of the following.
- Multi-tool: that includes that includes screwdrivers, wrenches, etc., and allows you to make any adjustments on the fly.
- A tire lever tool: to help you get the tire off the of the wheel and back on, in the event of a flat. A bike mechanic turned me on to Quik Stik – and I will not go back to any other lever.
- Tube patch kit: these are cheap, but you can make your own. They consist of a piece of sandpaper, rubber cement, and patches – and when used properly, can seal tube leaks and holes.
- CO2 inflator: to re-fill your tube with cartridge air when you get a flat on the road.
- C02 cartridges: keep 2 in your pack.
- A tiny spool of duct tape: because it’s duct tape – why wouldn’t you?
If you’re a bike commuter, you’ll benefit from:
- A good helmet: this one can’t be beat for its $20 price.
- flashing bike lights (I recommend this combo pack for the front and rear)
- reflective leg bands: one-size-fits-all. Cheap. They can keep your pants out of your chain (and prevent annoying grease stains). And they improve your visibility through color and reflection.
- a pannier, basket, or a rear bike rack and rear rear pannier, to haul your clothing/laptop/accessories.
- bike fenders: because nothing is worse than biking to work in the rain. Make sure they fit your tire size.
All other bike stuff: check out Nashbar.com. They have excellent deals on complete bikes, clothing, wheelsets, etc.
Health & Exercise Products:
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.
- Lacrosse Ball: A simple lacrosse ball is super cheap and works like gold when used as a muscle tension release tool. Just roll over trouble spots.
I’m also a fan of getting rid of your gym membership. The following products will pay for themselves in 6 months of gym membership dues:
- Chin/Pull-up Bar: there’s nothing that gives you quite the upper body workout of chin and pull-ups.
- Weighted Vest: a good rule of thumb for those in good shape is 20-40 lbs. for females and 40-60 lbs. for males (if you get a vest that allows you to add/subtract weight, even better). Wearing a weighted vest makes every exercise instantly incredibly more challenging.
- Yoga Mat: I use a yoga mat for ab crunches, stretches, and planks to prevent myself from getting bruised from my concrete floor. A good yoga mat can last you a decade or longer. Some form of padded mat is essential to any home gym setup.
- Ab Wheels: Ab crunches tend to work out the middle and upper abs. Planking tends to work out the lower and middle abs. But it’s also nice to have something to work out lower, middle, and upper all-together in one motion.
- Dip Stand: This clever device allows you to do tricep dips, bodyweight rows (kind of like a horizontal pullup), chest dips, and more.
- Buying glasses online is 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.
Web Hosting & Domains:
I use Hostgator for web hosting and namecheap for buying domain names and recommend each:
- 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.
- Namecheap: you can get a cheap domain name with WhoIs guard protection. It’s always a good idea to buy your domain names separate from your web host.
Most Everything Else:
Sorry – but Amazon is just too damn convenient for finding uncommon items (vs. driving around aimlessly from store to store).
* Disclaimer – The content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.