For at least a few decades, most of the money-saving tips aimed at women focused on our consumption habits. Men have more savings because we spend our hard-earned cash on $4 lattes, we were told. We impulse-shop while cooler heads save! We don’t balance our budgets or consider our retirement! No wonder we had less in the bank than our male peers.
We know better now. Women are disadvantaged not because of avocado toast or oat-milk cappuccinos, but because of structural issues that no one woman can overcome or outsmart. The wage gap continues to be an embarrassment. Women overall earn 80 cents for each dollar a white man makes. For Black women, the number is 61 cents. For Hispanic women, it’s 53 cents. The National Women’s Law Center estimates that those inequities cost American women more than $400,000 over the course of their careers.
So if the problem isn’t our lattes and the solution isn’t something we can tackle on our own, what’s a woman who wants to save and spend smarter to do? Well, in addition to calling on politicians to put in place policies that would close the wage and wealth gaps, we decided to ask some of the smartest women we know to share their best money-saving tips—just one small, actionable tip each—that made a meaningful difference to them when it came to their financial well-being. These bits of wisdom will not make the world fair or balance a checkbook or purchase a house on their own, but think of them as some insider intel—one woman to another.
The list below includes requisite (and good) advice about maxing out 401(k) contributions and using apps to help monitor spending. But they also point to smaller and subtler money-saving tips that can lead to big changes.
Don’t click Buy Now—yet.
“I am a habitual online shopper, so my best money-saving trick was to download a Chrome extension to catalog all of the things I was tempted to buy—I use Shoptagr—to keep them in one place. Then a few weeks later I can check back in with myself to see if I really need the thing I was about to buy, and the answer is usually no.” —Dana Schwartz, author and host of the Noble Blood podcast
Listen to your Friends.
“When I got my first real paycheck after college, I immediately heard a voice in my head—that of Jack Geller, Monica’s dad, from Friends: ‘10% of your paycheck—where does it go? In the bank!’ It sounded wise, fatherly, and the right thing to do. So for the next 15 years, I followed this advice. I’ve been able to use this money toward major expenses, like an apartment and a car, so I’m grateful to have grown up with Friends!” —Liz, mom to a four-year-old who she hopes will learn life lessons from sitcoms
Get moving—then pay up.
“I had a friend who started ‘paying herself’ for the miles she ran, so I decided to do the same. Every 10 days I check my steps app and pay myself $1 per thousand steps. Then I transfer it from a checking account to a small savings account reserved for travel.” —Iva-Marie Palmer, author of Gimme Everything You Got
Be smart about building credit.
“When I came to the United States as an immigrant six years ago, like 1 in every 10 Americans, I was credit invisible. I needed a plan to build up my credit over time. If you’re in the same position, here are some steps you can take: Apply for a secured credit card. (You’ll have to put down a deposit, but you’re more likely to get approved.) Try to have utility bills in your name. (Again, this might require a deposit.) Keep tabs on your credit score so you can deal with any discrepancies swiftly. And always, always pay your bills on time.” —Samantha Barry, editor in chief of Glamour
Don’t take a head-in-the-sand approach.
“If you have a bill go to collections, be responsive. Don’t ignore it. Resolve it, or come up with a payment plan. Also, [the collection agency] will negotiate with you. Sometimes you can get as much as 25% off the bill.” —Lucy, producer
Take the unemployment.
“Once, a mentor told me to never feel shame about taking unemployment: ‘If you get laid off, that money is yours, you earned it.’ There is so much shame in money management and wealth that only further disadvantages those who are already marginalized or who didn’t grow up learning financial literacy. This isn’t advice I can use for myself every day, but it is one of the ways I’ve unlearned shame around money, and it’s advice I’ve passed along to friends who have felt guilty about collecting unemployment before dipping into [or] depleting all of their savings while out of work.” —Christina Rocks, writer of the Recommendations newsletter
Have goals—and share them.
“Budget, budget, budget. Make a budget and then tell a trusted person—lawyer, best friend, coworker, spouse—who will hold you accountable. It’s easy to soften your resolve when you have no one to answer to, and before you know it, you’re overspending when you wanted to save money for a rainy day. Sometimes the threat of someone cussing you out is just enough to make you act right.” —Phoebe Robinson, comedian, author, actor
Don’t loan cash you can’t afford to lose.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned about money came from my dad. He wasn’t great with money—my mom managed his books and the household finances—but from a young age he told me that when it comes to friends and family, money is ‘always a gift and never a loan,’ and that you only give what you’re comfortable with never getting back. It puts clear boundaries on your generosity and makes sure you’re acting out of true generosity and not obligation. I’ve been in the position to help people I care about, and it is always that—help. Not a balance sheet hanging between us.” —Nora McInerny, author, entrepreneur, and host of the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast
Start with baby steps.
“Show me the money! Before you can begin a budget, you need to know where your money goes. Track your spending for a month. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t change your habits. Once you know what’s most important to you, you can figure out what to cut. Don’t think of savings like a diet—consider it your wealth health and make this the year to get financially fit.” —Stephanie Ruhle, anchor of MSNBC Live With Stephanie Ruhle and an NBC News senior business correspondent
Prepare for the worst-case scenario.
“Don’t be afraid to drop down and get your noodle [budget] on, girl. A noodle budget is your bare-bones budget that includes only necessities. Think: If you had to eat ramen noodles…. It identifies the lowest amount of money you need monthly to survive. It’s your financial baseline. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes we have to quickly pivot and reduce our expenses when we suddenly experience financial hardship. If you determine your noodle budget now, you can activate it quickly when you need it most. And when your financial crisis passes, you can go back to your normal budget.” —Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, financial educator and author of the forthcoming Get Good With Money
Pay only for what you use.
“Take inventory of your subscriptions. Make sure that whatever is coming out of your account automatically you are aware of.” —Candace Parker, mom, entrepreneur, activist, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and one of the most decorated WNBA players of all-time
“Talking about money will help get you more of it. It was by sharing my rates with people in my industry that made me realize I could—and should—be asking for so much more. I felt uncomfortable at first (I actually still feel a little awkward), but I realized being underpaid was way worse. Plus, by being the first to bring it up, you’re not just helping yourself; you’re also showing the other person that it’s okay.” —Claire Wasserman, author of Ladies Get Paid and founder of Ladies Get Paid, a global community that champions the professional and financial advancement of women
Take a grade-school approach.
“My relationship with money changed when I started teaching my daughter how to manage her allowance. Each week I’d encourage her to divide her money into a spending jar, saving jar, and sharing jar. And it suddenly occurred to me that I should be doing the same! So now that’s how I approach every paycheck, bonus, and birthday gift—though I use bank accounts and not jars. Since starting this, I’ve been able to more regularly contribute to charities and organizations I support and I’ve increased my savings!” —Liz Turrigiano is the cofounder of Esembly, a sustainable diapering system
Choose supporting over splurging.
“When making financial decisions, I always ask myself, ‘Do I need this or can I use these funds to support someone else?’ I’m frugal when it comes to buying things for myself because I know that I can use that same money to give back to my community. I recently moved and instead of hiring a moving company, I rented a U-Haul and did it myself. I’m using the money that I saved to pay my vendors and order takeout almost daily because it’s so important to support restaurants and restaurant workers right now.” —Sophia Roe, chef, author, activist, and host and producer of Counter Space on Vice TV
Save—no matter how little.
“It’s easy to confuse the word savings with having significant excess money, but there’s no minimum to what you can save. The paycheck I received from my first job didn’t cover much more than rent and groceries, but I was determined to consistently put some money into a separate savings account. I started with $20 a month, and as my salary has increased over time, so has the amount I set aside for savings. Having a certain amount of money that’s labeled ‘savings’ creates a psychological barrier to spending and creates a financial buffer for emergency situations. Starting this early will help to form a lifelong habit.” —Melody Serafino is the cofounder of No. 29 Communications and cohost of the Enough podcast
If you need help, ask for it.
“If you’re not good with money, enlist the help of someone who is—[a friend, mentor, or professional] who can help you with basic management tips that aren’t overwhelming. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help. We all have different skills in life. Some of us are good cooks or good at styling; others are good at money administration and investing. We can share tips and skills. We didn’t learn these skills in school, so it’s normal to not have the knowledge.” —Estelle Bailey-Babenzien, cofounder of Noah
Take a hands-off approach.
“The app Digit has been an excellent and passive way to save money while truly not even realizing I’m doing it. I love how it can look at a particularly dismal checking account day and still find a few bucks to pocket for vacation goals (you know, when that’s a thing again) or car emergencies.” —Caroline Moss, author and host of the Gee Thanks, Just Bought It! podcast
Try high-tech tracking
“Download a money management app, like Mint, so you can see exactly where your money is going. Once your accounts are connected, take a daily ‘money minute’ by checking in to make sure there are no errors and that you’re on budget. Pro tip: Keep your money app next to Instagram on your phone, for an easy reminder to open it daily!” —Alexa von Tobel, founder of Inspired Capital, and author of Financially Fearless and Financially Forward
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“When we first started out, we were totally unfamiliar with financial jargon. It’s easy to get lost in the APR, ROI, and CPA of it all. We once shared an Instagram Story of us googling an acronym we didn’t know, and a friend encouraged us to remove the post. We were embarrassed at first but then realized that, if we didn’t know as CEOs, then others probably don’t either. Never forget that it’s okay to ask questions. It’s how we all learn, and improving financial literacy is a lifelong mission.” —Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, cofounders and co-CEOs of TheSkimm who recently launched SkimmU, a free virtual course series designed to help women take control of their finances
Get the prenup.
“Consider getting a prenuptial agreement if you’re getting married. You always hear about prenups in the context of men protecting their assets, but they are there to protect yours too. Even if your partner outearns you now, it doesn’t mean that will always be the case.” —Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers
“Women are far less likely to push for the compensation they deserve and this is a critical step in reaching true economic equality.” —Mandana Dayani, cofounder of I Am a Voter
Plan a week’s worth of meals.
“If you know exactly what you’re making each week and what you already have in your fridge and pantry, you will be able to hit the grocery and spend less. This translates into less food waste and a big financial savings.” —Catherine McCord, cofounder of One Potato and founder of Weelicious
Don’t buy what you can borrow.
“When it comes to my wardrobe, I like to invest in fewer, higher-quality classics, such as a beautiful coat, silk button-ups, or boots that I’ll wear forever. (Seriously, I have pieces from 10 years ago that are still in rotation.) To keep things fresh, I’ll incorporate pieces from Rent the Runway. This wardrobe strategy has not only saved me thousands over the years; it’s also more sustainable.” —Grace Lee, cofounder and CEO of Birdy Grey
Make a date with your finances.
“I have a recurring scheduled time on my calendar to review personal finances, check bank accounts and statements, validate charges, etc. I never take my finger off the pulse of the business and my personal finances.” —Ellen Bennett, founder and CEO of Hedley & Bennett and author of the forthcoming Dreams First, Details Later
Don’t spend what you don’t have.
“[A credit card] is like a sexy cocktail. Having one in hand makes you feel secure, cool, even invincible. But one too many can lead you—and your credit score—to the toilet! In college I had an AmEx card [with no spending limit]. I felt on top of the world…until I realized that I had to pay back the total amount I charged the month following, in full. I was embarrassed, to say the least, and no one was going to bail me out. I had to work out of that myself and work to repair my credit into my mid-20s. Now I’m strategically building credit card points, my credit score, and keeping in line with my monthly budget so things never go off-track like that again!” —Vanessa Dew, cofounder and CSO of Health-Ade
Make your money work harder.
“Put whatever you can into your 401(k)—[at a minimum, at least what your employer matches]. It might feel stressful to have less in your checking account, but in reality, that’s counterintuitive because it’s worth so much more in your 401(k).” —Samantha Weiner, executive editor, Abrams Books
Know your worth—and charge for it.
“Somewhere along the way I got the idea that assigning monetary value to my labor was uncouth. By the time it was driving me into the ground, I realized I had to change my mindset. One big thing was learning to assign monetary value to my time and labor—which I’m still learning to do, frankly. One great example is writing invoices even when I’m giving a gift of my time, so that both parties understand the value of my work.” —Samin Nosrat, cook, teacher, host, and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Mattie Kahn is the culture director of Glamour.