4 No-Brainer Ways to Make Your Money Work Harder For YouByMarianne Hayes Jul 11, 2016 Finance

Whether you consider yourself a financial rock star or someone who’s still learning the ropes, one fact remains: You can almost always make your money work a little harder for you.

The good news is that you don’t have to have a finance degree to implement some tricks of the trade. As our very own Matt Shapiro, a Certified Financial Planner™ with LearnVest Planning Services, puts it: “There are definitely some very easy things you can do on your own right now.”

So we got to thinking about simple tactics that help to maximize our money and, more importantly, how to integrate them into our everyday lives. Here’s Shapiro’s rundown of four easy ways to make your money work harder—minimal effort required.

Step #1: Invest in a Heavy-Duty Vest (or Jacket)

Parvis recommends dressing for a night of drinking like you would for a night spent stranded in the wilderness. “If you’re wearing a vest or jacket with lots of zippered pockets?I recommend SCOTTeVEST to my clients?you can keep keys, condoms, a portable phone charger, a toothbrush and even a spare T-shirt in the pockets without worrying about losing anything,” she explains. “It’s like a purse for a man.”

Parvis adds that vests and jackets can also be used as a makeshift blanket or pillow if you end up crashing on someone’s couch, which may help you get those few extra hours of sleep necessary to eliminate (or reduce) your hangover.

Step #2: Wear Dark Colors

We already know dark colors are slimming thanks to a previous edition of Help Me Dress Myself. But that’s not their only benefit, according to Parvis. “When you spill beer or liquor on dark jeans, a dark shirt or a dark jacket, those stains won’t show up as much in the morning, later in the night or in photos you take while you’re out and about,” she explains. This is good for not getting a reputation as a sloppy drunk: Nothing says “I’m completely obliterated” like a beer-stained tee.

Step #3: Understand Where Your Retirement Savings Dollars Are Going

We all know that feeding your retirement fund is important, but maximizing the benefits of a retirement savings account doesn’t stop with your employer match. It’s also important to have a basic handle on the mix of assets within your 401(k) to help ensure your money grows enough to potentially reach your retirement goals.

For example, if your retirement fund is sitting in a money market account earning .01%, ask yourself: Is that type of growth going to help me fund my future retirement lifestyle? If not, you may want to consider investing in equities and other types of investments that could provide greater growth.

Shapiro suggests looking into a target-date fund (a type of fund that shifts your mix of stocks, bonds, cash or other investments as you approach your target retirement date) to start off. Some analyses from investment research firm Morningstar have shown that those who take this kind of passive investing approach may see slightly better returns than people who actively manage their portfolios.

Another overlooked opportunity has to do with forgotten-about 401(k)s from previous employers. If you leave that cash sitting at your old job, you could be setting yourself up for a potentially big loss.

“Keep track of those old accounts. Maybe this means rolling them over into a new 401(k) or an IRA, depending on the situation,” Shapiro says. “But if you don’t keep tabs on it, it can be extremely difficult to track that money down, especially if your old employer gets acquired by a new company.”

Also keep in mind that if your balance is under $5,000 or you are older than 62, some plans will automatically distribute the funds to you once you leave your employer. If you forget to deposit the balance into another retirement account within 60 days, you may be hit with taxes and, if you’re younger than 59 1/2, a 10% penalty.

Step #4: Look to Credit Unions for High-Yield Checking Accounts

When it comes to making our money work harder, we don’t often look to our checking accounts. But, according to Shapiro, more and more people are doing just that.

“There are a lot of credit unions available to people who work for bigger employers, and many offer high-yield checking accounts,” he says. “What we’re starting to see here and there are credit unions with checking accounts that actually pay a higher interest rate than a savings account.”

Since some of the highest-yield accounts are from credit unions that are tied to employers, you obviously have to be employed by one of those companies to be eligible. You can check with your human resources department to see if they have such a partnership in place.

In Shapiro’s experience, these accounts often limit the funds to, say, $25,000, but also allow people to earn up to 4% interest on their money.

“For this type of return, you usually have to have your paycheck directly deposited into the account and also meet some other qualifications, but it’s definitely worth looking into,” Shapiro says.

To get those higher interest rates, Shapiro adds that there will likely be some other qualifications to meet, which vary from credit union to credit union. Some common restrictions have to do with the number of allowable monthly transactions, balance minimums or maximums and so on. In other words, be sure to read the fine print.

If you do qualify, it represents an easy way to put your money to work.

“You’re going to have a checking account anyway; you might as well earn some interest and have it work for you,” Shapiro says.

Marianne Hayes
Freelance writer, storyteller, lover of books.