Golden State of Savings: Here Are 10 Ways to Put Money Away in SF

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Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder
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Although you might spend most months trying to scrape together rent money to live in San Francisco, there are ways to boost your bottom line.

For that, we’ve put together a list of ways you can save money.

(Psssttt… We’ve got you covered if you’re looking for ways to make extra money in SF, too.)

How to Save Money When You Live in San Francisco

Before you roll your eyes and mumble, “That’s impossible,” take a look at this list. You just might be surprised at how much money you can save — even in SF.

1. Cut Back on Car Insurance

If you rely on BART for your Monday-through-Friday commute and own a car just for weekend errands and adventures, pay-per-mile car insurance could save you tons of money.

Here’s an example of what we’re talking about: MetroMile. According to the insurer’s calculations, you could save $500 if you only drive 5,000 miles per year. The service is ideal for those who drive less than 30 miles a day — or less than 200 miles a week.

You’ll want to keep these things in mind:

  • Your car must be a 1996 or newer to qualify.
  • After signing up, the company will mail you a free device that plugs into your car and tracks mileage. That’s how it saves you money!

Find out whether MetroMile could help you save money by getting a free quote.

2. Let Someone Else Negotiate Your Internet Bill

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Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

The price of internet — and cable, if you’re still into that kind of thing — certainly isn’t decreasing. If anything, prices are steadily climbing.

If you’ve had to chat with a representative from your internet/cable company recently about a rate increase, you know how long you could be sitting on hold, listening to that awful music.

That’s why it’s time to call in a bot. A negotiation bot like Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you. It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers.

You can sign up simply with Facebook or your email address. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.

Also, if you have any outages (like that massive Comcast outage that struck SF last year), Trim believes you deserve a credit, and it’ll handle that for you. Trim takes 25% of the savings tab, and you get the rest.

3. Build a Budget

At least start tracking your spending.

Yes, budgeting is a pain, but if you know exactly where your money is going, it helps you become more mindful of your decisions — and will ultimately help you save.

We recommend going old-school: Create a simple budget in Excel. Manually inputting your expenses helps you acknowledge that maybe buying a $100 sweater wasn’t the best money move — even if it was marked “on sale.”

If you’re not sure where to start, consider following the 50/20/30 method. This budgeting method leaves some room for fun.

4. Start an Automated Savings Account

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Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Saving money is tough, especially in a city with such a high cost of living. So what if you could save in a way you don’t even notice?

Seems weird, but Digit makes that possible.

Here’s how it works: Link your checking account to Digit, and its algorithms will determine small — and safe! — amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing; read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 100 days — just over three months — then it’s $5 per month afterward. That’s less than your Netflix subscription.

5. Invest Your Spare Change

If you’re like most of us — and wish your money would just take care of itself — consider starting an investment account through Acorns.

You can start small — with $5 — and stack up change over time with its round-up feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets pulled aside for your Acorns account.

Once your roundups hit $5, the app pulls the money from your checking account and does the whole investing thing for you.

The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. For example, Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to stash at a rate of $420 per year.

At that rate, you could set aside $1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.

But the beauty is you can set your own pace with Acorns’ features, so if you want — and can afford — to save faster, go for it.

The app is $1 a month for balances under $1 million, and Penny Hoarders get a $5 bonus when you sign up here.

6. Negotiate Your Rent

A for rent sign stands outside of a home for rent.
Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

OK, so you might be able to negotiate a deal at the farmer’s market or even your internet bill, but why not try negotiating your rent?

That’s what Davis Nguyen did in San Francisco. Thanks to his stellar negotiation tactics, he was able to rent a private bedroom in the city — only 15 minutes from his downtown workplace — for $1,050, which is way below SF average.

Want to give it a try? He shared his negotiating tips and tricks.

7. Optimize Your 401(k)

Got a 401(k)? You’re on the right track.

Now you just need to make sure it’s doing what you need it to. However, tapping into that account and deciphering the information — or lack thereof — can be hard.

There’s a robo-advisor for that. Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.

It gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.

After that, the tool is $10 a month to use to continue to monitor your retirement account. Let Blooom know your target retirement age, and it can help you get there by investing more and less aggressively.

8. Lower Your Credit Card Payments

Have you ever considered consolidating your debt? It could substantially lower payments you’re already making and help you save more money each month.

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Fiona, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

9. Get Paid 2 Days Early

A woman eats gelato with the money she pulled out of her bank account,
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Want to get paid two days early? Chime can make that happen.

Unlike most financial institutions, this online bank account doesn’t wait until your pay date to give you access to your money. As soon as it receives notification of a direct deposit from your employer, it immediately posts those funds to your account.

That means you could get your paycheck early — like Samuel Demeny, who recently switched to Chime. He uses direct deposit. His company technically pays everyone on Fridays, but Chime gets him access to that cash two days earlier than his co-workers.

“The fact that I’m paid on Wednesday versus Friday… helps me budget before the weekend even starts,” Demeny told The Penny Hoarder. (Not everyone is guaranteed the two-day head start Demeny has. That depends on your employer and its financial institution.)

Who doesn’t want to get paid early and avoid all those overdraft fees?

Opening an account with Chime is free and only takes about five minutes.

10. Protect Your Home and Belongings

It’s no doubt California is gnarly when it comes to natural disasters. That’s why it’s important to consider renters or homeowners insurance, which, depending on coverage, can protect your belongings against damage and theft.

If you’ve never looked into it, start by getting a free quote. We recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, through which renters insurance starts at $5 a month and homeowners insurance starts at $25 a month.

Beyond affordable rates, Lemonade adds a layer of transparency you don’t often see in the insurance world. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t have to pay out claims, the company keeps a set 20% of your premium for itself, and 80% goes into a pool for paying claims. Money left over after paying claims each year goes to a cause of your choice.

That also means Lemonade isn’t going to be super stingy about granting customers the claims they deserve — ’cause the money isn’t going into its pockets.

Lemonade is available in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin.

OK, so now that you know Lemonade has your back, here’s how to get a free quote. It’s easy — and you can do it all online. (Nope, it won’t hurt your credit score!)

  1. Click “Check Our Prices.”
  2. Get to know Maya, Lemonade’s chatbot. She’s nice and will ask you a few questions.
  3. Once you complete the application, you’ll receive a quote within a minute or two.

It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll feel better knowing your hard-earned belongings are insured. After all, when life hands you lemons… (OK, we’re done.)

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.