50 money lessons to be thankful for

Hanna Horvath Headshot


Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Hanna Horvath, CFP®

Managing Editor & Certified Financial Planner™

Hanna Horvath, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and former managing editor at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in NBC News, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, CNBC, Best Company, and HerMoney.

Published November 7, 2018 | 8 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

Featured Image 50 money lessons to be thankful for

Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate your friends and family, and reflect on all the things you're thankful for, including your financial blessings.

With that, here are the money lessons we've learned and are thankful for this year. Hopefully you can either learn from them or appreciate them with us. If you have any others you'd like to add to the list, let us know in the comments.

1. Budgets don't just show how much you spend

In college you may have jotted down what you spend just to make sure you weren’t going to overdraft. But a real budget shows more than that — like where you’re spending (or overspending) and what you have available. This makes it easier to prep for big financial goals, like buying a house or taking a vacation.

Don’t have a budget in place? Here’s an easy budgeting spreadsheet to get you started.

2. Budgeting is about setting priorities, not necessarily cutting back ...

Enough said.

3. ... & that means setting spending goals

Instead of denying yourself the joy of going out to eat, set a maximum amount to spend on meals each day. This way, you don’t have to skip out on lunch with your co-workers, but know where your bottom line is.

4. Buying in bulk isn't always the answer

Whether you are at the grocery store or pharmacy, buying in bulk always seems the way to go — but savings depend on the item.

Check out this guide that can help you decide between when you should and shouldn't buy in bulk.

5. Free Wi-Fi is a game changer

You don't need to pay for an unlimited data plan for your phone. There's plenty of free Wi-Fi available. In general, don't be afraid to take advantage of free things — like these fall freebies.

6. Apps can make our lives easier & our pockets fuller

Like these 25 financial apps, which are all free.

7. Carrying cash may help you save

Even though it seems like everyone uses apps and plastic to pay, there are many reasons why using cash can help you save money. Here are some easy ways to go cash-only.

8. A separate account can also help you save

Setting aside a little bit each month and putting it into a separate account can help you build an emergency fund — and, as a bonus, you get paid in interest just for leaving the money in there.

9. It's important to diversify

Stocks can (and will) take a dip. Having a diverse portfolio can protect your assets in the long run.

10. Don't invest just because it's trendy

If you don’t understand bitcoin, and aren’t comfortable putting your money in such a risky “investment,” don’t. Stick to investments you know, consult a financial planner for help, or try out this tool that saves automatically for you.

11. Start early, earn big

Interest builds up over time, so the earlier you put your money into an investment fund, the more interest you get in the long run.

12. The future isn't as far off as it seems

Retirement may seem light years away, but you’re better off opening a 401(k) as soon as you can.

13. Don’t leave money on the table

If your employer offers 401(k) matching, make sure you're taking advantage of it. Otherwise, you're losing out.

14. Don’t be afraid to ask for help ...

If you are feeling lost about how much you should have in your savings or how a 401(k) works, don’t be scared to reach out to a certified financial planner or another personal finance professional.

15. ... but don’t take all financial advice as gospel

What works for someone else may not work for you.

16. Sometimes you don’t have to pay annual fees

Have good credit card payment habits? Your credit card issuer may waive that annual fee if you ask really nicely. Here are some other fees you can ditch.

17. Don’t double pay for services

There’s really no reason to pay for cable TV when you have streaming services and, if we’re honest, Twitter, to entertain yourself.

18. The same goes for subscriptions

You may not remember signing up for that $30/month Rosetta Stone account, but your bank account does. Go through and cancel any subscriptions you don’t use, and consider prioritizing which ones you use on a daily basis.

19. Newsletters can help your wallet

The Policygenius newsletter sends you one money thing to do each week — and they’re usually pretty easy (and important). You can sign up here.

20. Keep up with your car maintenance

Because, let’s face it, not getting regular maintenance on your car is more expensive than getting regular maintenance on your car.

21. Bundling services really can help you save

For example, you can lower your home and auto insurance rates by bundling them together with one insurance company for a multi-policy discount.

22. It's important to compare on the reg

When your insurance policy is up for renewal, use that opportunity to shop around and see if you can find a better deal.

23. There’s a difference between being frugal & stingy

It’s OK to splurge when your shirts start to get holes in them. You can even consider spending a bit more for timeless, everlasting items, like this jacket.

24. More money means less time management

The more money you make, the more scarce your time seems to become.

25. Convenience isn't everything

We're looking at you, ride-sharing. As nice as it is to get picked up right at your front door and chauffeured to your destination, nine times out of 10 ride-sharing services costs more (usually way more). Utilize navigation apps to find the fastest route via public transportation and save.

26. You don't have to buy everything ...

Instead of spending money buying movies and books on Amazon, go to your local library and check out that novel or film for free. In fact, some libraries offer e-books, saving you a trip.

27. ... or attend every event ...

Buying Knicks tickets for every game is usually not worth it — it’s cheaper, and sometimes more fun, to watch at a bar with friends.

28. ... or drink every time you go out

You can still go out and have fun without all the cocktails.

29. Vices can cost you in less-obvious ways

We just talked about alcohol, but the same can be said for smoking or vaping. In fact, these vices can have an impact on larger things, like life insurance. You can learn more about the long-term costs of smoking here.

30. Surround yourself with like-minded people

If you're hanging out with other people who also focused on living within their means, you're more likely to encourage each other to achieve this goal when you go out.

31. Rethink your morning (or afternoon) coffee

This is tried and true advice for a reason. As good as that cold brew sounds every morning, you can brew your coffee at home or drink what's at the office. That $4 you spend on coffee per day adds up over time.

32. Making lunch isn't so bad ...

Taking an extra half-hour on Sunday to make your lunches for the week will save you money and time each morning. To get you started, here's an easy lunch that costs less than $1 per day.

33. Cooking enough for leftovers makes it even easier

When making dinner, consider doubling the recipe and freezing the leftovers for meals during the week.

34. Your credit score matters more than you think

This three-digit number can affect things like home loan interest or insurance rates. If you are worried about your credit score, check out this guide to getting back on track.

35. Teaching kids about money can be easy

Especially if you use these 50 fun ways.

36. Pets are cute, but expensive

If you're thinking of adding a pet to your family, you may have already factored in the cost of food and toys, but there are a lot of hidden expenses you may not think of. Pet insurance can help cover medical costs, but it’s still important to do your research and make sure your budget can handle this furry addition.

37. Start paying debt as soon as possible

Debt isn't something you should put out of mind — it can affect things like insurance premiums and interest rates on loans — and those interest charges means the balance continually grows. If you find yourself in this situation, here are six-steps to paying off debt.

38. Protect your accounts with a stronger passwords

A hacking attempt can put your financial information at risk of being exposed — protect yourself by making your passwords stronger.

39. Talk about money with your partner

Whether the two of your manage money together or separately, it's important to talk with each other. A recent Policygenius survey showed that couples who keep their money separate from each other are more likely to break up due to their money issues and are less prepared for financial emergencies.

40. Decide if you want to rent or buy

Buying is a big investment and saving up for that down payment can be daunting. But we've got 25 ways to start saving now.

41. Adjusting your thermostat can slash your utility bill

The U.S Department of Energy reports that you can save as much as 10% on your heating/cooling bills just by dialing the temperature by seven to ten degrees. They also recommend keeping your thermostat at 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer for optimal energy saving.

42. Having an extra room can mean extra cash

Becoming an Airbnb host is one way to earn hundreds of extra dollars a month, just by opening up your guest room to travelers.

43. Protecting your vacation is worthwhile

Travel insurance can be an important part of protecting yourself when you’re on vacation. Before you buy an individual policy, check with your credit card issuer. Many of them have travel protection perks built in, as long as you use your card to pay for your trip.

44. Don’t skip out on health insurance

Even if you’re young and healthy, life happens. Don’t wait for an accident or health emergency that can wipe out your savings to consider buying health insurance.

Open enrollment kicked off on Nov. 1, so you can shop for a policy on the federal exchange. Find out details for your state using this state-by-state guide to Open Enrollment.

45. Understand your medical bills

Medical bills can get confusing. Luckily, we've got this explainer on how to read a hospital bill.

46. Use your FSA & HSA for over-the-counter meds

The cost of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs — like Tylenol, Mucinex and Advil — really add up. By utilizing tools like a FSA, HSA or store memberships, you can save big on OTC drugs.

47. You can get preventative care for free

Not only will health insurance cover preventative care at the dentist and optometrist, it will also let you get a flu shot without a co-pay. Here's a list of places you can get the flu shot free of charge.

48. There are deals for more than you imagine

Your local pharmacy may not give you the best price on your prescriptions — use a site like Blink Health to search for discounted prescriptions and then pick them up at your local pharmacy (you can get $20 off your first order here).

49. ATM fees really do add up fast

Using an ATM that isn't affiliated with your bank means you're paying to get your own money. Stop.

50. You don’t have to wait for new year, new you

Many people wait until the New Year to get their finances in order, but you don't have to. Why not start now with these five easy ways to save more in five minutes or less.

Disclosure: This post contains references to products or services from one or more of our advertisers or partners. While these codes earn us a small fee at no additional cost to you, we only refer products we love.

Image: PeopleImages