**Last Updated: September, 2020**
As founder of a personal finance site is 12+ years old, I often get questions like, “what credit cards do you use?”, “what mobile plan is the cheapest?”, “what’s the best tax software?”, etc. To be a credible resource to readers, I’ve researched this stuff for countless hours.
Below, I’ve compiled a “best of” list of my favorite money-saving products & services, by category, & update it monthly. 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 extra cost to you (many of the links offer exclusive discounts). I only recommend products that I think can help others & I don’t accept payment to be on this list.
Mobile Phone Plans:
- Xfinity Mobile: if you’re within an XFinity service area, it is one hell of a deal for lower data plans (see my full Xfinity Mobile review for more details). For $15/month for unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 1 GB of 5G data per month (+access to millions of XFinity wifi hotspots). If you want more data than this, your options are:
- By the gig: 3 GB for $30, or 10 GB for $60.
- Unlimited: $45/line/month (after 20 GB of monthly data use, speeds are reduced to a maximum of 1.5 Mbps download/750 Kbps upload.)
- Red Pocket: Red Pocket offers cheap prepaid service across all 4 major carriers (including Verizon), with unlimited talk, text, and 3GB of 4G LTE data for $19/mo (other plans available too).
- Check out my cheapest data plans article for more suggestions.
I think these 2 phones currently provide the best value:
Cash Back Portal:
- Rakuten (formerly “Ebates”): if you buy anything online, create a Rakuten account. Simply choose the retailer you were going to purchase from, click a link to go to the retailer’s site, and you get additional cash back deposited into your account that you can withdraw/transfer, and it’s stacked on any other promotions you find through the site. Use this link and get $10 bonus cash back on your first purchase of $25+ at your favorite stores!
Student Loan Refinancing, Mortgage, & Other Loans:
Shop around at these 3:
- SoFi: has quickly grown a loyal following with great rates and no lending/origination fees. Good for student loan refinancing & personal loans.
- Credible: for any type of loan, Credible quickly sources the best rates from a number of top lenders.
- Lending Tree: for all home related financing (mortgage, refi, home equity), Lending Tree compares rates with all of the top banks and lets you choose the best loan for you.
- Lifelock (25% off link): Lifelock – now owned by Norton – has built up the most comprehensive identity theft protection offering. Here’s my full Lifelock review.
- Credit Sesame: free, but offers $50,000 in identity theft insurance, among other things! Check out my Credit Sesame review for more.
Budgeting & Wealth Software:
- Personal Capital: highly recommend, as it is the “Mint.com for investments”. Personal Capital is free, allows you to consolidate and analyze your net worth and investment portfolio (including fee analysis), and plan your retirement. Personal Capital now has nearly 2 million users, managing over $600 billion in wealth. Link your investment accounts & geek out.
- Budget planning spreadsheet: a free Google Docs budgeting spreadsheet that I created and use to manage my budget.
Use responsibly (pay in full every month), & you can get exceptional rewards value, build credit history, get travel protection, purchase protection, & some very lucrative sign-up bonuses.
- Cash Back: Chase Freedom Unlimited: 1.5% cash back everywhere. $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. No annual fee.
- Hotel: IHG Premier: Free anniversary night. 120,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. $89 annual fee.
Credit Scores & Credit Monitoring:
- Credit Karma: a 100% free way to get a credit score at any time, & check as often as you like. 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. Read my Credit Karma review for more info. Credit Karma also now offers free credit monitoring, while competitors are charging $15/month+. They’ve added free monitoring of TransUnion and Equifax credit reports too. And now they are even offering free high-yield savings accounts.
- Credit Karma: Credit Karma provides free TransUnion credit report & free Equifax credit report access. This allows you to continuously monitor 2 of the 3 credit bureau’s reports, for free.
Health Savings Account (HSA):
You can transfer your old (expensive) employer HSA to a new one at any time. I highly recommend HSAs for their huge tax-saving benefits. And they even can even be used like an IRA for non-medical expenses when you reach retirement age.
- Lively: Lively tops my list of the best HSA accounts. No maintenance or investment account fees (a rarity in the HSA space) for individuals and families. Lively is integrated with TD Ameritrade for investments, so you can invest in whatever stocks, mutual funds, bonds, or CDs you would like. And TD Ameritrade recently eliminated trading fees.
My top 4 picks (w/ top discounts at link).
Check out my list of the cheapest and best tax software for more info, including feature comparisons.
Discount Broker (non-IRA):
- 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):
- 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.
- CIT Bank: an online savings account with no maintenance fees and they pay a very competitive interest yield to you, the highest I’ve seen. And for a limited time, you can get up to a $300 bonus when you fund a new account. CIT has been voted the best online savings by many publications.
- Credit Karma Savings: Credit Karma (yes, that Credit Karma) now offers a free (no fee) high-yield savings account. There is no minimum deposit to open.
Bank CD’s Online:
- CIT Bank: a high rate of interest on a short CD (11 months). And after 7 days, you can withdraw with no penalty, which is rare. No maintenance fees.
- Liberty Mutual: I have shopped around, but Liberty Mutual is usually 30-50% cheaper than other auto insurers for me. Your mileage may vary, but get a quote and ask for multiple policy discounts, including alumni. They also have accident forgiveness, low mileage discounts, and OnStar discounts.
Home Insurance & Renters Insurance:
- Liberty Mutual: with multiple policy discounts, it could be advantageous to also have home or renter’s insurance with Liberty too. Again, 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).
VOIP (to replace landlines or ISP Voice services):
- Ooma: a device that offers free VOIP home phone service forever (you pay only local taxes). 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. Simply any phone into the unit, which plugs into your router. It pays for itself within a few months. Check out my Ooma review for more.
Modem/Router (to Get Rid of your ISP’s Modem Rental Fee!)
Most ISP’s are charging a $10-14/month modem rental fees. You don’t have to. Replacing your ISP’s gateway/modem/router with your own will pay for itself within just the 1st year. Here’s my article on how to do this with Comcast (& here for other ISP’s). Just select from ANY of the following modem/router combos:
All are priced around $90 and under, compatible with Xfinity Comcast (& many other ISP’s), and are top sellers on Amazon.
- ARRIS SURFboard SB6190 (32×8) – up to 859 Mbps
- NETGEAR CM700 (32×8) – up to 935 Mbps
- Motorola MB7621 (24×8) – up to 845 Mbps
If you really want Comcast Voice or 1 Gbps speed, you could splurge on the Arris T25, but that seems like overkill.
All handle speeds of at least 300 Mbps + 900 Mbps with dual band (2.4 & 5 GHz, respectively), strong WiFi range, & are highly rated Amazon best sellers, under $70.
Additionally, you can now use a Roku or Smart TV to get rid of XFinity DVR & set-top box fees.
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 streaming device optimized to stream Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and 750+ channels in 4K HDR on your television! No monthly fees. And you can use a Roku as a replacement for XFinity’s DVR or TV box.
- Digital antenna: Pick up 4K & 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. No monthly fees.
- TiVo Bolt: If you want to record broadcast OTA TV or cable and then stream it to a TV or other device, then this is your tool.
- Chromebook: this ASUS Chromebook is solid, and will suit the needs of 90% of the population as a primary laptop device, & 100% as a secondary. It boots almost instantly. It surfs the web quickly, & can handle multiple tabs, with video, with no slowdown. 8GB RAM, fast wifi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 and USB-C, 12 hour battery life, and 100 GB of Google Drive storage. And it’s well built (quality solid keyboard and shell).
- Microsoft: this Microsoft Surface Go is extremely light, powerful, and affordable.
- Apple: the latest Macbook Pro is a bit cheaper than prior models, and is incredibly well built, light, and powerful.
- 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 AmEx, United Explorer, Capital One Venture Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Hotel rewards cards: Marriott Bonvoy Boundlesss, Hilton Honors AmEx, Capital One Venture Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred
- General travel rewards cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Rewards, Wells Fargo Propel
- Airbnb.com: Click that link for a $35 Airbnb credit credit for you to use as a new Airbnb user. Airbnb is almost always cheaper than hotels.
- Lyft: if you haven’t used Lyft yet, here is $5 off your first ride.
Grooming Devices that Save Money
- Wahl Self-Cut 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 Classic Double-Edged Safety Razor: I recently switched from a 5 (or was it 6) blade Gillette Fusion Power Proglide to this. 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: 100 blades for less than $0.10 each. Paired with the aforementioned safety razor handle, I have been able to cut my cost of shaving by 90%! The Astra 100-pack can get you 200+ shaves for just $9.
Eco-Friendly Products that Save Money:
From my environmentally friendly products that save you money article:
Home Energy Use Savings
- Nest smart thermostat: the top selling, highest rated, smart programmable thermostat. Versus a non-programmable thermostat, it could 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 you can monitor and change temperature in your home if you are traveling.
- P3 Kill A Watt Energy Monitor: this nifty little device 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 it is to figure out how much each electrical item is costing you if you keep it plugged in (on or off). Standby powered appliances ratchet up your energy use. This device will actually tell you exactly how much money and CO2 you are wasting with each device.
- TP Link Smart Plug with Energy Monitoring: this device can also monitor energy use, but through an app, and it also dubs as a smart plug with wifi that you can control from anywhere.
- Bestek 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 master 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: gives you a choice between a 1.85 gallon-per-minute (gpm) and 2.5 gpm flow, without feeling like you’re not getting enough water. The 2.5 gpm setting can save a family of four $260 per year in heating costs alone vs. an older 5.5 gpm unit. That’s a 640% ROI in one year! Not to mention the huge amount of water savings.
- LED Bulbs: at prices that are now below incandescents and CFL’s, and with 10% of the energy use of incandescents and less than 50% of the energy use of CFL’s, we’re at the point where every bulb purchased should be LED. The cost and energy savings will be immediate.
- Amazon A19 LED bulb – 24 pack: a great bulb that I personally use that has similar light qualities and appearance to an incandescent, but one-tenth of the energy use and a cost of just $1/each.
- Dimmable LED Bulbs: use only 5W of energy each, but just 3 of them light up my entire kitchen. Their prices have come down significantly – and they are long lasting.
- Clothesline: cheaper and less impactful than the dryer.
- Delta Low Flow Showerhead: see notes above.
- Drinking Water: the cost of bottled water can be $1,000+ per year more than tap water. That’s ridiculous! The following items will save you big money almost immediately.
- Water Bottle: cutting down on the waste and cost of individually bought bottled beverages should be considered mission critical.
- Water Pitcher: I drink a lot more tap water (vs pricier alternatives) if it comes nearly ice cold from the refrigerator versus from the tap. A simple pitcher does the trick. If you prefer a filtered pitcher, this is a good option.
- Water Filtration System: if your water smells or tastes not so great, and that is preventing you from drinking it, get a system like this.
- Woodbridge Dual Flush, Water-Saving Toilet: this toilet has an option of 1.0 gallon or 1.6 gallon flush – depending on… you know. This toilet could save you tens of thousands of gallons of water over its lifetime.
Food & Other Consumer Goods Savings
- Reusable Grocery Bags: plastic bags are a scourge on this planet – many states are starting to ban them altogether. And paper bags are resource intensive. Reusable bags are stronger, bigger, and can last a lifetime. Many grocery stores are now giving discounts per bag used if you bring your own. You’ll quickly make your money back, have a better experience, and reduce your impact.
- Composting: food waste may be the biggest environmental disaster that nobody talks about. Food waste in landfills produces massive amounts of methane gas, which is 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale.
- Compost Bin (indoors): having in indoor bin, in between trips to the outdoor bin encourages more composting.
- Compost Bin (outdoors): if you have a garden and want healthy soil, you need an outdoor compost bin for your food scraps. This will save you money on soil additives and with many municipalities charging for disposal pickup by the bag, a bin will save you from those fees.
- Coffee & Tea: almost needs its own category, doesn’t it? The average worker spends over $1K annually on store-bought coffee. And there is so much waste in coffee and tea production and drinking these days, and a conscious effort here can make a huge impact.
- Cold Brew Pitcher: I only drink cold brew these days. I like the taste of cold coffee better, the cold brew process is less acidic (easier on the gut), and it saves money. Pitchers like this have a mesh filter, so you can cut down on the cost of filters. This can also be used for fruit/water infusion, loose leaf tea, and other concoctions. Be sure to throw your grinds in the compost bin!
- French Press: as a reader suggested, better coffee, no filter costs or waste. This one has a 5-star rating.
- Reusable K-Cups: people love their Keurigs. Once you realize you can create even better results with fresh ground coffee and your own reusable filters, without all the waste, and at a fraction of the cost, you’ll love them even more.
- Coffee grinder: Grinding your own coffee is the way to go. Here is an electric one I like, if you don’t want to manually grind.
- Loose Leaf Tea Infuser/Strainer: tea, if made from individually packaged tea bags, is also a huge waste. Buying loose leaf tea in bulk and making your own is a much cheaper/less wasteful/more satisfying process.
- Vegetarian Diet: Food production is the #1 contributor to atmospheric CO2 and man-made global warming. It takes 16 lbs of grain/soy and 5,214 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of edible beef (the same amount of water one American uses on showers in a year, on average). It takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef, while only 2 calories of fuel to produce a calorie from soybeans. By switching a few meals a week (and eventually most meals) to a plant-based diet, you will significantly reduce your personal impact on the environment. Even better, the cost of a vegetarian diet is typically $2-3K cheaper than a meat-based diet per year.
- Toilet bidet: I know this sounds like an unnecessary luxury. Once you get one of these, you will view it as a necessity. A bidet significantly cuts down on toilet paper, which is very resource intensive and pricey these days. And your bum will thank you.
- Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products: with a little water, lemon, baking soda, white distilled vinegar, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and witch hazel, you can make home-made cleaner combos that will clean just about anything, are 100% safe, cheaper, and probably more effective than the store-bought toxic garbage. Here’s an article on how to make non-toxic cleaners.
- Wool Dryer Balls: I bought a set of these, and have not needed fabric softener since!
Lawn & Garden:
The amount of pollution that gas-powered lawn mowers and other yard tools puts out is off the charts. It’s been said that one hour of gas-powered lawn mower use can produce as much pollution as a 100 mile car trip. I’ve covered why you should make the switch to a push reel before. I also endorse a switch to an electric.
- Fiskars push-reel mower: I own this. So much more satisfying than a gas mower.
- Greenworks cordless electric mower: a great choice, if you want a cleaner cut.
For other lawn tools – Greenworks has a great lineup.
Also – DON’T WATER YOUR LAWN. The cost of watering your lawn is outrageous, and it’s a huge waste. Tear out your grass, if you need to and plant some things.
To help with the biking part, 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.
- 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.
Financial Books & Magazines:
- Your Money or Your Life: a classic that is just as relevant for the modern financial independence seeker as when first written. Here is my 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.
- 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!
- Kiplinger Magazine: I’ve subscribed to this personal finance magazine for about 11 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.
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 $2.75 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.
* 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.