8 Actually-Easy Ways to Save More Money

I spoke at an event last week, and the moderator asked a great question: “What are some easy ways to save more money?”

I say great question, but I completely blew it in person, and was like “Uuuhhhhhh track your spending?” Which is a great way to save more money, but it’s not really one of the easiest methods.

That got me thinking: What are my go-to easy ways to save more money? As I thought more about it, I realized that I kept mentally sorting my best savings tips into four distinct categories.

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The four ways to save more money

When I think about all of the advice I’ve read and given about “how to save more money,” it all comes down to four key categories.

  • Hard, but really worth it. You can save—this is not a joke—hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime by tackling these tasks, which include things like learning enough about investing to feel confident taking on a lower-fee or DIY approach.
  • Easy, but really worth it. There are very few things that fall into this category of quick-and-impactful saving wins, but it’s clearly a no-brainer that you need to do them. Often, this category is stuff that felt like a “Hard, but really worth it” task when you first started, and you learned enough to think it’s easy—that’s how I feel about investing with Wealthsimple*, for example. But if someone is promising you more than one or two things in this category… be skeptical. The real wins in this category should sound like common advice, because there aren’t any real “secrets” left that are truly both easy and high-impact.
  • Easy, but lower impact. This is where almost all “easy ways to save money” advice falls, because if you stack enough easy tasks with a moderate impact, all of a sudden you’re creating a big impact over time—and it’s the kind of advice this post is focused on, honestly. There’s nothing wrong with lower impact, because every $5 latte you don’t have to pay for or every travel insurance policy you don’t have to buy because it’s included on your credit card can really add up.
  • Hard, but lower impact. While it’s easy to dismiss this stuff out of hand, there are times in life when you really do need to find every way to save that you possibly can, even if it means a lot of effort for very little reward—but it’s the last category you should look at, especially if you have a small bit of flexibility already.

So now that I’ve made it overcomplicated and weird into a graphic, I’m much better prepared to talk about the actual easy ways to save money I recommend and personally use.

And while investing in low-cost options and tracking your spending don’t really make the “easy” list, they deserve shout-outs as two of the hands-down highest impact things you can do for your money, and are well worth the effort!

8 Easy Ways to Save More Money

To go with the effort-and-impact framework, I’ve given each of these 8 ways to save more money a rating out of ten based on how much effort they take, and a rating for how much impact they can have. However, as with all things, your mileage may vary! You might find some of them easier or harder than I do, or they might have a bigger or smaller impact on your savings.

This is just my take on them, and to add context, “Learning how to invest using low-cost methods” would be a 10 on impact (probably more like a 13 tbh) and a 9 on effort for a total beginner like I was a few years ago.

1. Earn extra cash back

Effort: 1
Impact: 3

Spending is part of managing your money well, and if you’re going to be buying things anyways, you might as well earn as much cash back as you can—no matter what credit card you use.

I have to admit I am late to the game here, but Rakuten* is a stellar way to stack some savings on top of the online shopping you’d already be doing. All you have to do is head to rakuten.ca and click through to the store you want to shop at, including big names like Amazon, lululemon, Sephora, and more.

I’ve only been using it since January, and I’ve already earned over $50 in cash back from purchases I would have made anyways—and that’s not even counting the stove and dishwasher I bought for our kitchen reno project, which have yet to be posted to my account.

Plus, if you sign up through this link*, you’ll earn an extra $5 when you spend your first $25 through Rakuten at any of the participating stores.

2. Limit your fun spending automatically

Effort: 1
Impact: 5

One of the best things you can do for your budget is to give yourself a set amount of money to spend however you want every month—I call it my “fun budget” but no matter the name, this is money you can spend on literally anything. This month, I used some of it on a Glossier order, and on a dinner out with friends. Zero regrets or guilt, because it’s in the budget.

However, this only works if you stick to your fun budget, and set a hard stop to your spending when the money runs out. This is really hard to do when you’re spending on the same debit or credit card as you usually use, because if you go a bit over, it’s not like it’s going to get declined.

That’s where KOHO comes in. It’s a prepaid Visa card that you can use like a regular credit card, and load from your regular bank account. I send my fun budget to my KOHO card twice a month, and then if there’s money on that card, I know I can spend it. If there’s not? Nope, gotta wait.

It’s safe to say this simple switch has been the one thing that’s kept me on budget, with almost zero effort, since I started using it.

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3. Save money automatically

Effort: 2
Impact: 7

(Yes, this is the elusive high-impact, low-effort savings tip on the list!)

Everything people have told you about automating your savings is true. It really is one of the most effective things you can do for your money, although it sometimes requires a bit of upfront work. That’s what I mean when I say there are no high-impact, low-effort secrets, since “pay yourself first” and “automate your savings” are two of the most tired cliches in the money-saving game. It’s a cliche because it’s true!

There are two main ways to automate your savings:

  • Set up recurring contributions. Almost every bank these days will let you set up automatic savings contributions from your main chequing account. While it requires a bit of upfront planning to choose the amounts and make sure you’re leaving enough left over for the rest of your budget, once they’re set up you’re good to go. They’ll be withdrawn from your account on whatever schedule you set up, no willpower or reminders required. (This is the really high-impact option, to be perfectly clear.)
  • Use Roundup features. There are plenty of services that will help “round up” your spare change and stash it away for you. Some of them, like the one built into KOHO, let you choose how much your purchases get rounded up, and others, like Wealthsimple’s*, will invest the savings from rounding up your purchases. Whatever you choose, it’s likely to be less than the recurring savings contributions you set up, but it’s still something—and it takes almost no time to get started.

4. Move your savings to a high-interest account

Effort: 2
Impact: 4

There’s a double-whammy effect when you store your savings outside of your regular bank, making it well worth the effort to set it up.

One, the best way to keep your savings saved is to avoid looking at them. When you store your emergency fund and your future house down payment in the same account you look at to pay off your credit card and send an email money transfer, you see that money all the time. By moving it to a separate bank, behind a separate login, you’re creating distance between you and those savings—and making it harder to spend them. You can still set up automatic contributions even at a different bank, so there’s nothing but upside.

And two, you’ll earn higher interest! You’ll earn 2.3% interest on your savings at EQ Bank*, and Alterna Bank offers TFSA savings accounts that pay 2.35% interest. Many banks will also offer promo rates, but unless you have a staggering amount of money to move over, your best balance between effort and impact is probably to find a pretty good rate (2% or above) at a bank you like and keep your savings there.

5. Name your savings accounts

Effort: 1
Impact: 3

Instead of looking at account 342940743256 and thinking “Yeah, I could totally pull money out of that for a new pair of shoes,” try doing the same thing with an account called “Dog’s Emergency Fund.”

Trust me when I say I’ve never touched the account I have with that name, because it feels a whole lot differently to know I’m taking money out that’s dedicated to a specific purpose—my beloved dog. Almost every bank, from the big guys to the digital-only options, will let you add nicknames to your accounts, so no matter what, you know what the savings are for when you go to raid them for a pair of shoes.

6. Plan your meals

Effort: 3
Impact: 4

For a lot of people, food is their second-biggest budget category, after housing. It can feel impossible to trim down the grocery habits you’re used to, but one of the easiest ways to make some significant slashes to your grocery budget is to simply plan what you’re going to eat.

Meal planning doesn’t have to be hard, and in fact, it can actually simplify your week in addition to defraying your food budget. It’s just about thinking through what you’re going to eat, and how much—as an example, when I know I’m planning to eat a toasted english muffin with peanut butter and banana for breakfast, I don’t need to buy tomatoes and avocado to go with my eggs. Because I’m not going to be eating eggs.  

7. Find a more rewarding credit card

Effort: 2
Impact: 3

Depending on your life, your income, and your spending, your credit card can deliver some serious rewards. Your mileage may vary depending on the rewards you want and your spending patterns, but comparing credit cards to find ones that offer great perks tailored to what you need is a relatively easy way to save more money (and score more free stuff, which, if you want the free stuff, is essentially the same thing).

Check out this complete guide and calculator to compare and find the right card for you.

8. Review your recurring bills

Effort: 2
Impact: 5

Do you know everything that gets charged to your credit card every month?

No but like, actually know? Down to the dollar? With the volume of subscriptions available these days, there’s no shame in the answer being no—the first time I reviewed my recurring subscriptions that came out of my accounts automatically, I ended up finding over a thousand dollars of savings.

Reviewing your subscriptions is so powerful because for every dollar you can find to save this month, you’ll save the same dollar every month going forward. There are a few things you can do to lower the total amount you’re paying every month.

  • Get rid of the services you don’t use. This is the gimme option: if you find services you forgot to cancel, or that you realize you don’t need, doing the small amount of work to cancel them is well worth your time (even if you have to talk to someone on the phone).
  • Negotiate the services you use a lot. If you love cable, or your fancy cell phone plan, keep ‘em! But before resigning yourself to paying absurdly high prices, make sure to call and see if you can negotiate your rates. Again, a bit of effort, but if it saves you $10 a month, that’s $120 a year.
  • Comparison shop for the services you need. Have you ever compared your insurance rates for things like car insurance and renter’s insurance? If not, you need to—as a quick example, I used to pay more to insure my Yaris than I now pay to insure the Yaris and a CR-V with Sonnet Insurance. I didn’t know that rates could be so different (at least in Ontario) and I’m saving a boatload of money as a result.

Saving more money doesn’t have to be hard

Listen, I’m the first person to tell you that most of these tips, minus setting up automatic savings contributions, aren’t going to singlehandedly change your financial life.

However, they’re all far more effective than many of the hair-brained tactics I tried when I was first starting out on my financial journey, including earning extra money doing surveys and trying to make coffee using paper towels. I think I earned like, $30 total doing surveys, and clearly, I ended up buying a french press eventually anyways, because coffee is worth the $25 to me! (Also just don’t ever try to make coffee with paper towels unless it’s the zombie apocalypse and the zombies are wild for legit coffee gear, trust me.)

Using these techniques, I’ve probably saved well over a thousand extra dollars this year between the cash back, the interest earned, and the money I didn’t spend going over budget on food and fun. That’s what I mean about stacking the low-impact savings tactics: they really, really do add up.