4 changes I made this year that saved me thousands of dollars

I did a 'Cash Diet' for 8 weeks and saved over $1,000

When it comes to managing your money, as with most things in life, you often learn through trial and error. You make mistakes, adjustments, more mistakes and more adjustments.

After nearly four years of working in the "real world," my mistake column is pretty substantial. But I've also learned valuable lessons along the way and started to make better, smarter decisions.

There will always be room for improvement, but here are four positive changes I made in 2017 that saved me thousands of dollars:

1. I went cash-only

This was by far my top money-saving strategy. At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to spend just $60 a week for eight weeks by opting for paper, not plastic.

Ditching my card for cash saved me more than $1,000. And that was over just two months. Imagine the savings had I stuck to my "cash diet" throughout all of 2017.

Could you live on only $60 a week?

2. I adjusted my savings goals

In 2016, I focused on automating my savings goals — meaning, I set up a recurring transfer from my checking account to my high-yield savings account, which I use to save for bigger, future purchases.

A good chunk of money was already going straight to my high-yield account each month, but my cash diet made me realize that I could afford to set aside more, so I upped my monthly contribution.

It's important to revisit your savings goals every once in a while. While it's good to put your finances on auto-pilot, you can't entirely "set it and forget it" when it comes to your savings. As I learned, there's always room for improvement.

3. I took advantage of my employee benefits

I hear it all the time: If you're not taking full advantage of employee benefits, you're leaving money on the table.

Turns out, I was leaving at least a couple hundred dollars on the table. After perusing the benefits section of my company site this month, I found a race reimbursement program that refunds employees up to a certain amount for race entry fees.

Thirty minutes of research put a couple hundred dollars back into my pocket. What benefits are you missing out on?

Here’s what you need to know about your 401(k) when you get a new job

4. I side-hustled

The richest, most successful people agree that you can't be content with only one source of revenue. You have to go for more.

This year, I took that advice and found ways to earn more by babysitting, pet sitting and teaching tennis. My side hustles didn't just up my monthly income; they kept me busy outside of my day job and expanded my network. Plus, they got me thinking like the rich.

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