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5 Personal Finance Tips to Save You Money

You work hard for your money. You need to make sure your money's working hard for you. With these simple personal finance tips, you can save more, earn better returns, and make the most of whatever financial situation you find yourself in.

1. Get your credit card debt paid off pronto.
Most people who carry balances on their credit cards don't realize just how much money they're losing to interest charges each and every month. Yet with interest rates on many cards topping 20%, if you try to pay down your debt making just minimum payments, it'll take you decades to break free.

Instead, the simple tip is to use every tactic at your disposal to get rid of those charges. Transferring balances to lower-rate cards can be smart, although you have to watch out for transfer fees. If you can get a better rate on a different type of loan, using it to pay off credit cards can save you plenty -- as long as you don't just charge up your card balances again. If you carry credit card debt, the health of your personal finances depends on your going cold turkey.

2. Learn cost-cutting tricks.
With just about every expense, there are tricks you can learn to reduce the amount you spend. For instance, when you travel, taking advantage of mid-week deals can save you a bundle if you can structure your vacation accordingly. With grocery shopping, waiting to stock up when your store has items on sale beats paying full price regularly. And when you buy things online, doing a quick search for coupon codes and promotional offers can give you big savings with minimal effort.

Tricks like these are too numerous to count, but the Internet makes it easy to find out about them. If you get in the habit of looking every time you make a purchase, you can cut your spending substantially.

3. Don't accept zero.
Getting interest on your bank accounts has largely become a thing of the past. But don't let the banks keep your money for free. Even a little interest is better than nothing.

Nationally, a few online banks, including Sallie Mae (NASDAQ: SLM  ) and Barclays (NYSE: BCS  ) , will still pay you 1% or more on your money. But select local banks may offer you better rates, with some deals in the 2% to 3% as long as you meet conditions like making a minimum number of debit-card payments or signing up for bill-paying services. Given how many people are keeping their hard-earned money in insured bank accounts rather than investing it, even a couple percentage points can make a big difference in your income.

4. Get with the investing program.
Even once you optimize your bank account, though, you can't afford to be completely risk-free with your personal finances. Getting into the investing game is essential for your long-term success.

The easiest way to get started is with a broker that offers you exchange-traded funds at no commission. With TD AMERITRADE  (NYSE: AMTD  ) , Vanguard, Schwab (NYSE: SCHW  ) , and Fidelity among the many brokers with lineups of commission-free ETFs, you can start with minimum amounts of money and make small contributions on a regular basis. And with low annual fees, you won't have to worry about Wall Street sabotaging your finances.

5. Prepare for your retirement.
A recent survey showed that a quarter of all baby boomers have absolutely nothing saved for their retirement years. With Social Security facing big financial problems and most employers no longer offering pensions to workers, not having retirement savings of your own is a recipe for disaster.

One smart tip for retirement saving is using tax-favored accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s. By doing so, you'll get valuable tax breaks that you can use to boost your savings further. Moreover, with many employers pitching in matching contributions for workers who put their own money toward their retirement, you owe it to yourself to grab that free money while you can.

Don't wait
These personal finance tips aren't complicated, but they can still save you a bunch of money. That's welcome news for just about everyone these days.

Once you have your personal finances in order, it's time to invest smarter. The best investing approach is to choose great companies and stick with them for the long term. In our free report, "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich," we name stocks that could help you build long-term wealth and retire well, along with some winning wealth-building strategies that every investor should be aware of. Click here now to keep reading.


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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2012, at 6:35 PM, bonsaibean wrote:

    From someone who is 49 and retired, I can attest that doing these basic things is indeed the ticket.

    Thankfully, I never did the credit card thing, having only 2 cars and a few houses on credit, but saving up (waiting) and paying everything else in cash.

    I've always lived cheaply, and didn't allow my standard of living to just creep up along with my income over the years.

    I have a limited amount of cash in an actual bank, with a debit card, and direct deposit of a few things. Everything else, including what I would call my emergency fund in brokerage accounts. Since I maintain between 10% & 40% cash, it's always there if I need it for an emergency, or a great investment opportunity.

    I first became interested in investing in my late teens, when interest rates on money market funds were in the upper teens. As soon as I had a job that offered a 401K, I put in at least enough to get the match, and ended with 20% going in.

    If you are willing to do the work early, you can quit working early too!

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Dan Caplinger
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Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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