There’s no such thing as a free lunch, right? Well, how about some free money to pay for that lunch?
As we all navigate some tumultuous economic times, it’s important to take advantage of all the easy “financial layups” that are available to us.
In this article, I’ve identified five free money opportunities you’ll want to consider. None of these will make you rich, but working them in tandem can really be a boost for your wallet.
You may already be taking advantage of some of them. But, even if you are, let this be a reminder to do a “checkup” to make sure you’re maximizing that opportunity in 2024.
This article was updated in December 2023 and I review it every 12 months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here.
1. Stash Your Money in the Right Savings Account
When is the last time you checked the interest rate you’re earning on your savings account?
You may be surprised to learn that you can earn more than 4% (and sometimes even more than 5%!) on your money without having to tie it up in investments.
Money expert Clark Howard says the key to unlocking this free money is getting your savings out of mega-banks that are offering next-to-nothing on your savings account.
Instead, you’ll want to move it to a savings account with an FDIC-insured online bank or a NCUA-insured credit union offering better returns.
“Take that money and give it a booster shot,” Clark says.
There are some non-conventional ways to earn interest on your savings as well.
Apple’s savings account offer is a good example. The tech leader is offering Apple Card customers a 4.15% APR on savings accounts that are backed by Goldman Sachs and FDIC insured. No fees.
Likewise, PayPal customers may be able to secure 4.30% APR with a PayPal Savings account backed by Synchrony Bank.
You can compare these APRs to some of Team Clark’s picks for best high-yield online savings accounts.
2. Take Advantage of Employer Matches on Retirement Savings
Saving money is an important step toward a blissful retirement. And did you know that many employers are handing out free money to help you along the way?
This comes in the form of a 401(k) retirement savings match. These can be as high as a dollar-for-dollar match on your commitment to saving via the company’s retirement plan.
One common example of this is a 50% match of your investment into a 401(k) on up to 6% of your annual salary. So, if you make $50,000 per year, you could turn a $3,000 annual retirement investment into $4,500 via an employer match.
Clark says an employer-matched 401(k) is a great start to retirement savings.
And when it comes to picking how that money is invested, he says most savers will be best served to set it and forget it with a fund that manages your investments based on the year you’d like to retire. This type of fund will properly adjust the riskiness of the portfolio as you near the target date.
“Just put the money in, and put it in that target date retirement fund,” Clark says.
If you’re new to investing, you can get more of Clark’s advice for getting started here:
3. Spend With the Right Rewards Credit Card
Did you know that using the right cash back credit card could put a percentage of nearly every dollar you spend back in your wallet?
If you’re paying with cash or a debit card, you could be missing out on this free money opportunity.
Clark’s favorite type of cash back credit card allows you to earn an unlimited 2% cash back. Clark carries the Citi Double Cash® Card, which offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and an additional 1% cash back when you pay your bill, in his wallet.
That’s like spending 98 cents on every dollar!
“My favorite reward cards are ones that actually pay you money. I want cash, because nobody can tell you when you can or can’t spend your cash,” Clark says.
If you decide to go this route and pay for your everyday purchases with a credit card, Team Clark strongly recommends that you pay your balance in full each month. If you don’t, the interest you owe on the balance will more than negate the rewards you receive for your purchases.
Make sure you’re doing this and following the rest of Clark’s rules for using credit cards.
4. Snag a Welcome Bonus from Your New Credit Card or Bank Account
If suggestions No. 2 and No. 3 have inspired you to open a new credit card or bank account, you can take the free money opportunities to the next level with this tip.
Oftentimes banks and credit unions will incentivize you to open a new savings account, checking account or credit card by offering welcome bonus opportunities.
Credit card sign-up bonus offers typically have a spending requirement attached to them. For example, a card may offer a new customer a $300 statement credit if they spend at least $2,000 within the first three months of card membership.
Meanwhile, banks and credit unions are offering similar sign-up bonuses for opening savings and checking accounts.
I have had success in recent months getting sign-up bonuses from American Express and Discover Bank for opening new savings accounts with them. The offers typically have a minimum deposit requirement and a time period for which you have to maintain a certain account balance.
For example, you may be able to earn a $200 bonus by keeping at least $10,000 in a new savings account for three months. If you pick your new online bank or credit union well, you are likely to enjoy 4-5% APR on that money while waiting for your bonus.
5. Utilize Apps for Discounts and Cash Back Opportunities
Couponing isn’t just for those who clip ads out of the Sunday newspaper anymore.
A more modern (and convenient) form of this multi-generational practice can be done on your smartphone.
There are two different free money opportunities that I want to point out in this space:
- Brand-specific apps: Your favorite grocery store, restaurant chain or drug store likely has its own app. Not only are these good for tracking loyalty rewards, which can be worth money, but they also may provide you with discount opportunities on items you were planning to buy anyway.
- Cash back apps: Before you make your next purchase, you may want to download some of the popular cash back apps and browser extensions like Rakuten, Honey and Ibotta. These services are free and can offer you 5-10% back on select purchases.
These brands are offering you discounts or cash back opportunities in exchange for information on your behavior as a consumer.
So, while that’s still technically free money, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the concession of privacy in the user agreements.
Do you have some tips for free money in 2024? We’d love to hear your strategies in the Clark.com community.
- December 2023: Updated APR information. Added the PayPal Savings account as an option for earning money.