The Best “Money Hack” Might Be Your State’s Unclaimed Funds Site

Good financial habits start with small decisions that add up to a healthy budget. Lisa Rowan — a seasoned writer who’s covered personal finance for Forbes, Lifehacker, The Penny Hoarder and elsewhere — divulges unique ways to earn and save money in her new book, Money Hacks: 275+ Ways to Decrease Spending, Increase Savings, and Make Your Money Work for You! from Simon & Schuster. The book offers comprehensive financial advice for every area of your life — including modern solutions for how social media and technology influence your spending.

The Simple Dollar spoke with Rowan about some of her favorite, weirdest, and most surprising money hacks.

Which money hack are people most surprised by?

“Everyone wants to tell me how much money they found on their state’s unclaimed funds site. And I love hearing every success story! I think people gravitate to that tip because there’s no wrong or right about it, for the most part. You didn’t make a big financial mistake, and you don’t get a gold star for doing something well, either. Anyone can check to see if there’s money owed to them. There’s a ‘luck of the draw’ element to it, like a scavenger hunt. Who doesn’t want to look for buried treasure?”

How did you discover so many money hacks? 

“Before writing the book, I covered personal finance in a broad sense, so I knew a respectable amount about a lot of facets of managing your money. And the full-time job I had while I was writing the book, as a personal finance staff writer at Lifehacker, lent to that mindset of quick, actionable tips. But I still had to work hard to determine which hacks to include in the book and brush up on the areas where my expertise wasn’t as extensive. Luckily I had several years of my articles to refer back to review concepts and strategies! I also asked friends and family to share their favorite money tips with me.” 

What’s the weirdest piece of advice you’ve come across that worked? 

“You’ve really caught me now, because the weirdest strategy is one that I actually use: I wash my aluminum foil and use it again. I’ve even heard from some readers that they do it too, in part because their Great Depression-era grandparents did it. I’m not militant about washing my tin foil because at the end of the day, the savings isn’t huge and I don’t want to waste more water than I already do as someone who doesn’t have a dishwasher. But doing it at least half the time (and reusing some zip-top plastic bags, too) keeps me in check. I save a smidgen of money and lower my reliance on disposable stuff (also by a smidgen).”

How can people hack their spending during the Covid-19 pandemic?

“I think many people noticed they had extra spending money because their social life had been upended or travel plans had been canceled, and then turned around and spent it shopping online. And it’s fine to treat yourself or to repurpose funds for another priority in your life. But so many people have found themselves out of work or juggling new obligations during this time that it puts the power of an emergency fund in the spotlight.”

Where do we learn such bad spending habits?

“We learn a lot of our money habits as kids and young adults. Few adults had to take a personal finance class in high school, so everything they know about money — from saving it to spending it — comes from the way they were raised. That’s not to automatically say that your family taught you about money incorrectly. But if you only learn how to do things one way, by mimicking your parents, it can be hard to discover and experiment with other methods out there. That’s especially true if you didn’t have a lot of experience managing your own money, like budgeting an allowance or planning for education costs, and you just sort of get thrown into everything at 18. Adding game-like elements to learning to manage your money better makes it a little more fun — and a little less scary — to expand your financial toolbox.”

“You don’t know when your circumstances could change abruptly, and that uncertainty isn’t going away any time soon. I would advise people to make sure they ‘pay themselves first’ by putting money aside for savings before treating themselves to meals or whatever streaming service. And now is a great time to make a worst-case-scenario budget to identify places that are easier to cut spending if your income situation changes quickly.”

Why are people afraid to talk about money?

“Money and wealth are so subjective. What a number means to me may be completely different than what it means to you, which can create anxiety about whether you’re ‘good enough’ or ‘doing it right.’ Everyone makes financial mistakes. And you can’t learn how to improve your finances or your money management if we’re not willing to have regular conversations about it. Trying to figure out money alone is like trying to read a book in the dark. It just doesn’t work! I like to encourage people to talk about the good things that are happening with their money.”

“There is no shame in getting a buy-one-get-one bargain on your favorite item at the grocery store or negotiating a deal on a vehicle that makes you happy. Talking about the good stuff signals to people that you’re comfortable talking about money, which can help them open up to you about challenges. Just remember that you can’t expect someone else to be open in talking about it if you don’t give them the same courtesy. It takes time to build up trust when it comes to money, so start small and go slow!”

Lisa Rowan
Lisa Rowan

Lisarowan.com

Lisa Rowan is a staff writer at Forbes Advisor based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a former personal finance writer at Lifehacker and The Penny Hoarder. Her work has also appeared in Retail Dive, The Washington Post, Family Circle, CityLab, the Washington City Paper, and elsewhere.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Danika Miller

Personal Finance Reporter

Danika Miller is a writer at The Simple Dollar. Her work can be found on Reviews.com, Freshome.com, Her Campus, and Jeopardy Magazine. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative and technical writing from Western Washington University.

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  • Andrea Perez
    Andrea Perez

    Andrea Perez is an editor at The Simple Dollar specializing in personal finance. Prior to that she specialized in digital marketing content for online learning websites. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and media studies from the University of South Florida.