Cash Hacks: 101 ways to save money in 2020

AMANDA HORSWILL
Digital Editor · 17 March 2020
Staying on top of finances can sometimes be a delicate balancing act. Here are 101 ideas that could help your dollar go further.
  1. Start smart

A good place to start if you want to save money is to work out where you are spending it. Keep a spending diary for a couple of weeks – or go through your bank statements – to build up a picture of your habits when it comes to your finances. Then, write a budget. (Canstar has a handy Budget Planner Calculator that could help.) That way, you will be able to work out how much you can comfortably save while still covering all those essential expenses.

  1. Write down your goal

Psychologists say that when you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them. One study found that those who did were 33% more successful than those who did not. “Goal setting in psychology is an essential tool for self-motivation and self-drivenness” writes Indian counsellor Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury in Positive Psychology.

One widely-used rule of thumb for ensuring your goals are effective is to ensure they’re ‘SMART’ – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. For example: “I want to save for a trip to Bali that costs $2,000, so I need to save $45 a week for the next 45 weeks.” Write it down and then put it up somewhere you can regularly see it – perhaps on the fridge, or on the back of your front door, or in your wallet.

  1. Make saving fun

“Saving” does not have to mean “chore”. There are plenty of ways that you could turn saving money into something enjoyable. You could “gamify” your savings habit (try typing in “savings games” into Pinterest, for example), such as savings bingo, or try a savings “challenge”. Popular examples are the 52-week savings challenge, where you put away $1 in the first week, $2 in the second and so on until you are saving $52 (for a grand total of $1,378 plus interest); the 52-week dice challenge (where you save whatever amount comes up on the dice each week); or the weather-saving challenge, where you take the highest temperature on a certain day of the week and save a corresponding amount. There are also apps that can help, such as Suncorp’s ESSI Money Family Challenge (you need to be a Suncorp customer to use the app).

  1. Recognise “emotional spending” and try to avoid it

Emotional spending, also known as retail therapy or impulse buying, is when someone spends money as a way to change their mood. If it’s just a simple purchase and doesn’t impact your financial wellbeing, some studies have shown that this might not be so bad in moderation. But if you are trying to save, it could pose a problem. Even a relatively small amount can add up – a $10 impulse buy three times a week can add up to $1,560 a year. And prolonged retail therapy could have a negative impact in the long term, not only on your finances but also on your mental health, a number of studies have found. One way to combat the urge to shop is to recognise when you are in an “impulse buying” mood, and engage in positive mood-enhancing activities instead, such as spending time with friends, exercising or spending time outdoors – doing something that you enjoy.

  1. Join a “savings movement”

If you need the motivation of a group to help keep you on track, there are a plethora of savings groups to join on social media. For example, there’s a “buy nothing” movement, where members give away items to other members who need them; myriad “savings hacks” communities, which share everything from meal-planning ideas to which stores are having sales; and co-op groups where people buy food or other items in bulk and share the cost. (However, it pays to do your research before jumping into one of these groups to ensure that they are legitimate, and to also be careful giving out any personal or financial information.)

  1. One shop, once a week: Fight back against temptation tactics

Doing one large grocery shop per week, rather than several small ones, could help to cut down on impulse buys, takeaway and wastage. Retailers often use store planning techniques that have been proven to encourage impulse spending, so it’s logical that the less time spent in a shop the less temptation you may face. To do that, though, it could mean you have to plan ahead, such as by writing a weekly meal menu so you can get all ingredients you need in one shopping trip. And if you have all the ingredients at your fingertips, it’s easier to resist the temptation to order delivery or takeaway – it’s often quicker to cook a meal at home than it is to order via an app and wait for it to arrive.

  1. Shop at a physical grocery store

A surprising finding by Roy Morgan research last year found  Aussie shoppers who buy their groceries online tend to spend more than those who visit the “bricks and mortar” store. The study found that for Woolworths customers, those who shopped online spent an average of $186 a week compared to those who shopped in a physical shop, at $103. For Coles shoppers, it was $158 versus $97 a week. However, if you do prefer to shop online, perhaps it’s a good idea to make a list and stick to it, no matter how good the “online only” specials seem to be. You could also consider checking out Canstar Blue’s latest customer satisfaction ratings for online grocery shopping.

  1. Use a shopping list app

How many times have you gone to the shops and bought that extra bottle of tomato sauce only to return home and find three more in the cupboard? Shopping without a list can mean unwanted purchases, which means less in your savings account. And you could make it even easier to keep track of your shopping lists by storing them on a smartphone app.

  1. Meal prep like a pro

“Meal prepping” – or preparing many meals at once and storing them for later consumption – could help you ward off impulse take-away food purchases and allow you to cash in on bulk-buy benefits. There is a large and enthusiastic community of meal prepper bloggers and enthusiasts, who swap recipes and ideas to help people prepare a week – sometimes longer – of meals. There is the added benefit, too, of controlling your diet more closely, too, if you were hoping for health benefits.

  1. Make use of leftovers

Australians throw away up to 20% of the food they buy, according to the Do Something! Foodwise campaign commissioned by the NSW Government. While the environmental cost of this waste is high, it also means 20% of the money the nation spends on groceries ends up in the bin. Plan how you might use excess food and you could cut down on wastage, and therefore the amount of food you have to buy in the first place. Cook larger portions of your meals and freeze them to use as leftovers. Pizzas, bolognese sauce, curries, lasagne and soup all freeze well and can also be handy lunch options. You could also try these BBQ recipes or these microwave recipes to get you started.

  1. Use your own coffee machine

With a flat white costing Australians, on average, $4, according to Statista, it could pay to look at changing your morning ritual if it involves buying a takeaway coffee. Shouting yourself a coffee each work day for a year could cost more than $900 – multiply that by the number of hits you need a day and it could add up to thousands of dollars a year. It could be more economical to either use the communal machine at your workplace, if there is one, or to buy a coffee machine and a decent reusable take-away coffee cup so you can make a cup yourself before you leave home. If you choose a coffee pod machine, you could even economise further by switching to reusable pods, which supplier Crema Joe said could save “an average household [more than] $400 a year”. (The company has a capsule cost calculator).

  1. Take a cut lunch to work

Packing your own lunch or snacks a few times a week could save you a significant amount of cash over time. You will also probably be more inclined to make healthier choices when you prepare your own lunch. For example, if you buy a $3.50 pack of almonds three times a week and a $12.50 lunch every day, by the end of the working week that’s over $70. By the end of the year, that’s more than $3,300 (even allowing for four weeks of leave). By comparison, it could potentially only cost a fraction of that if you made your lunch at home and carried it to work.

  1. Ask for tap water

Cut restaurant bills by asking for table water, which is usually free or on offer for a lower cost than bottled water. Most states and territories insist by law that venues serving alcohol must also provide access to free or low-cost water.

  1. Swap meat for veg, even occasionally

When it comes to meat versus veggies, the latter is usually cheaper. For example, swapping the 500g pack of beef mince – about $8 from major supermarket chains – in your tacos with a couple of tins of beans – about $1 each – could save you $6 on one meal. That’s $312 a year, for an example where a fairly inexpensive meat is exchanged with an even cheaper non-meat alternative. We’re not saying you should necessarily go vegetarian, but eating less meat and more vegetables could help you stick to your weekly budget.

  1. Buy frozen veggies

And while on the subject of vegetables, the frozen variety can often be cheaper than their fresh counterparts and, if stored correctly, can have a long shelf life. Contrary to popular belief, they can also be just as nutritious as fresh vegetables which have been transported, according to some studies.

  1. Go grocery shopping on a full stomach

Some studies show that hunger may cause you to buy extra or unnecessary items while doing your weekly grocery shop, and that the food you’re likely to buy when hungry-shopping, could very well be high in calories, too. You may be able to avoid being caught out this way by eating beforehand.

  1. Swap brands and look down for savings

Next time you go to the supermarket, consider buying the cheaper generic-brand versions of some of the things on your list. Depending on the items, there could be little to no difference in quality, but the price saving could add up over time. You might have to tilt your head up or bend down to find the cheaper products, though, as there are reports that some supermarkets put their cheaper items on the top or bottom shelves, reserving eye-level space more the more profitable items.

  1. Avoid delivery apps and other takeaway meals if possible

Save on the delivery costs and cook your own meals at home, or if takeaway is a must, pick up your favourite dishes yourself. If you are ordering through a third-party app, it may also pay to check the prices of dishes on the restaurant’s website, too, to see if there are any deals on offer if you go direct and pick it up yourself.

  1. Pay your bills on time to avoid late fees and maybe even grab a discount

Paying your bills on time is a great way to help keep your credit record cleaner, as well as avoiding having to pay interest or annoying – and often expensive – late fees. These late fees can really add up, especially if you use some buy now, pay later services, which might not charge interest but can slug you if you are late in paying.  If you struggle with your bills, consider setting up a regular repayment amount to even out your cash flow. Some energy providers will also offer a discount to customers who pay on time. You could also save by paying in advance, or by direct debit.

  1. Monitor your bank balance

It is a good idea to regularly check your account to make sure you have not been charged for any purchases you didn’t make. If you suspect this, contact your bank, card issuer or other  financial institution immediately, and report it.

  1. Audit your bank accounts to see if you are paying fees

To avoid paying fees for being overdrawn on your transaction account, check your bank balance regularly. Some banks have apps that keep tabs on your spending and can send you alerts when you are getting close to overdrawing your account. It could also be a good idea to go back through past statements and add up any account-keeping fees you’ve been charged. You could ring your bank to ask for a better deal when it comes to these types of charges. Or you could swap to a different transaction account that is fee-free. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that the interest paid on fee-free accounts could be different to those paid on accounts that charge fees – check with your bank.

  1. Check how much interest you are paying on your credit card

If you have a credit card, check what purchase rate is being applied to your transactions. Credit card purchase rates can vary up to 17%, based on products in Canstar’s database at the time of writing, so it might be worthwhile to compare yours to its competitors. As a general rule, the most cost-effective way to use credit cards a is to pay them off in full each month to avoid racking up excessive interest charges. There is a range of relatively low-interest and low fee cards that are available, as well as cards that might have more fees and charges but offer perks such as reward points.

  1. Phone your bank and ask for a discount on your mortgage interest rate

The official cash rate – which most banks use when considering what interest rate to charge on home loans – is at its lowest point to date, 0.5%. Australia has never before seen a home loan market with such low rates on offer – Canstar’s database of more than 4,000 loans offered by more than 100 lenders lists the lowest “headline” rate as 2.44% (2.47% comparison rate) as of 4 March, 2020, while the highest rate is more than 8%.

  1. Shop around for your car insurance

The cost of a comprehensive insurance policy can vary significantly, based on an analysis of policies in Canstar’s database. It could be possible to save on insurance by going for a cheaper provider. Just be sure to check the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and consider contacting the insurer you’re considering, to make sure the new policy provides the level of cover that you need. You can check out Canstar’s most recent car insurance Star Ratings and compare policies on Canstar’s database.

  1. Review your health insurance

Have you reviewed your health insurance cover lately? On 1 April, 2020, health insurance premiums will rise an average of 2.92%, according to the Department of Health. Before the rise kicks in, it could be a good idea to check – if you have them – your hospital stay excess as well as what’s covered under your extras plan. It could be possible to reduce premiums by taking out unnecessary cover, such as pregnancy (if you are not planning on having any children in the next year, for example), by adjusting your excess (providing you consider yourself to be in a position to cover the extra payment upon hospital admission) or by swapping funds (although waiting times will apply for some medical services).

If you’re comparing health insurance policies, the table below displays some of the hospital and extras policies currently available on Canstar’s database for a single female born in 1985 seeking cover in NSW without pregnancy cover. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ websites. Use Canstar’s health insurance comparison selector to view a wide range of policies.

  1. Review your personal insurance

Review your personal insurance including your life, total and permanent disability, trauma and income protection insurance. Some of this insurance can be taken out via your superannuation fund, so consider whether you may have a double-up between standalone insurance and cover via your super. Is your current level of cover right for your needs? Learn more and compare standalone life insurance policies here.

  1. Review your superannuation fund

Do you know how much your superannuation fund is charging you in fees, or what its returns have been over the last few years? A small difference in fees and/or performance could make a big difference over time to your retirement nest egg. It could be worth investigating how the performance of your super fund compares to the national average or other funds, although bear in mind that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Changing your super to one that charges lower fees or offers higher performance may not help out with savings that you can access right now, but it could potentially be a boon further down the track.

If you’re comparing Superannuation funds, the comparison table below displays some of the products currently available on Canstar’s database for Australians aged 30-39 with a balance of up to $55,000, sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by company name (alphabetical). Use Canstar’s superannuation comparison selector to view a wider range of super funds.

Fee, performance and asset allocation information shown in the table above have been determined according to the investment profile in the Canstar Superannuation Star Ratings methodology that matches the age group you selected.

  1. Track down lost money in bank accounts

It could be possible to find money you didn’t even know you had (or had forgotten about). The Australian Government has a website where you can search for “lost money” sitting in bank accounts, company shares or life insurance policies. Meanwhile, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) offers some tips on tracking down any “lost” super you may have in old accounts.

  1. Update your telecommunications contracts

There are hundreds of different phone plans available in Australia. It might be a good idea to review yours periodically, to ensure that it’s cost-effective and suits your needs overall.

  1. Seek cheaper ways to connect internationally

Instead of paying a hefty phone bill for those overseas calls, you could consider using an app on your phone or desktop computer while connected to WiFi. This could provide a cheaper alternative than a traditional style of phone call. There are many apps on the market to choose from, with some providing texting and call options including video functionality – although it’s a good idea to monitor your data usage closely while using these applications. And be sure that you are not using your mobile data plan, which can be more expensive if you go over your monthly cap. For example, the popular FaceTime app uses 30MB of mobile data for 10 minutes on a video call, according to Canstar Blue.

  1. Avoid streaming on your phone using mobile data

In a similar vein, streaming music or video from your preferred mobile device can eat into your data allowance and potentially cost a lot in download costs (depending on your plan). Some providers may offer an automatic data ‘top-up’ for a fee, once a user goes over their plan limit, which could be an unexpected expense. Consider downloading your favourite tracks, podcast, audio books or any other files to your phone while connected to WiFi.

  1. Review your electricity and gas use

Cut bills by acting energy-wise in the home, which could mean swapping hot water washes for cold, changing light bulbs to more energy-efficient ones, turning off appliances which use a lot of standby power when you aren’t using them, and buying energy-efficient appliances.  Also, it could pay dividends to compare your energy or gas plan against what’s on offer on the market, to help ensure it’s competitive.

  1. Pay yourself (your savings account) first

An age-old savings tip from many experts, this idea involves setting up an automatic transfer of money from your pay to a savings account, right after you are paid. This way, you’re making it easier for yourself to prioritise savings over any discretionary spending. However, it’s also important to make sure that you can cover your bills, so make the amount the appropriate size for your budget.

  1. Use “rounding up” programs

There are a number of apps that “round up” the price of your purchases to the nearest dollar, putting the difference into a savings account or micro-investment scheme. While most charge a regular fee for use, these small amounts deposited regularly can really add up over time. It’s wise to check the terms and conditions of individual apps, however, to ensure that you are using the application that is right for your circumstances.