Ever wish you could punch in a cheat code for the game of life? Build wealth and passive income streams faster? Live your ideal lifestyle without putting in decades of hard work first?
Personal finance does offer some hacks — if you’re willing to think outside the proverbial box. In almost every case, you’ll need to do something dramatically different from the average.
Consider the following life and money hacks as you aim to live a life more by design and less by accident.
12 Money Hacks & Wealth Cheat Codes
Out of curiosity, I googled “money hacks” just to see what other people were writing about. I rolled my eyes when I saw answers like “write a budget.”
Of course you should write a fricking budget. That’s not a hack — it’s a fundamental of personal finance.
I hate the Internet sometimes.
These are actual money hacks, and I use most of them myself. Don’t get overwhelmed by them. Just pick one to start with, and then snowball from there.
1. House Hack
What’s your largest expense?
Nearly all people answer “housing.” I don’t, because I get free housing.
Which frees up a huge amount of money in my budget for saving, investing, and building wealth faster.
There are countless ways to house hack, from multifamily house hacking to housemates to ADUs to storage space to Airbnb and beyond. My cofounder Deni got creative and hosted a foreign exchange student. Start with the obvious house hacking ideas, then push beyond them to brainstorm wacky ones if none of the standard ones speak to you.
2. Ditch a Car
It costs $12,182 per year on average to own a new car. That includes everything from the car payments to insurance to gas to repairs and maintenance.
When my wife and I first moved abroad, we experimented with dropping from a two-car household to sharing one car. Later, we intentionally moved to a city where we could live without a car at all.
We bike, walk, ride a scooter, and occasionally Uber where we need to go.
Which saves us over $24,000 per year, compared to the average couple that owns two cars.
Think holistically about where you live and how you get around, and brainstorm ways to get rid of a car.
3. Pursue Infinite Returns
Imagine you invested in a property, then got your money back but continued to own the property. Continued collecting cash flow, continued earning appreciation, continued enjoying the tax benefits.
That’s a thing, and it’s called infinite returns on real estate.
The classic model is called the BRRRR method, which stands for buy, renovate, rent, refinance, repeat. You buy a fixer-upper, force equity by renovating it, then pull your original down payment back out when you refinance it. You keep the property, and keep collecting cash flow from it. It keeps appreciating in value.
But you no longer have any money tied up in it. Which frees you to reinvest that money again… and again… and again. You can recycle the same down payment repeatedly, each time adding another stream of income to your portfolio.
If you don’t want the headaches of becoming a landlord, you can invest passively in real estate and still achieve infinite returns. It takes longer to get your money back, usually a few years instead of a few months. But the syndicator refinances the property, and returns some or all of your initial investment to you. Meanwhile, you keep your fractional ownership interest, and again keep earning passive income and appreciation.
4. Invest Passively & Pursue Money-Making Hobbies
I would also try to pick stocks, which ate up my precious time too.
I don’t mess around with any of that any more. I invest passively in both real estate and stocks, just making a financial investment with the click of a button then going back to my life.
That leaves me more time to spend with my family, with my friends, and with hobbies I actually enjoy. Ironically enough, I earn far higher returns on passive investments than I ever did investing actively.
I even do a little freelance writing on the side, which earns me some extra money. I wouldn’t have time to do that if I were still actively investing in real estate or stocks.
Invest passively, and consider using the extra time to start a hobby business, do freelance work you love, or just spend more time doing things you enjoy.
Real estate investments? Awesome. Being a landlord? Less fun.
Learn how to earn 15-30% on passive real estate investments in one free class.
5. Stop Paying Taxes on Real Estate Gains
You have plenty of options to avoid capital gains tax on real estate.
“Yeah, yeah, I already know about 1031 exchanges. They’re too much work.”
Fair enough. But do you understand the lazy 1031 exchange strategy to avoid capital gains on real estate syndications? It takes advantage of the accelerated depreciation on large properties to knock out the gains from past deals. And, for that matter, the passive income tax on your cash flow.
Then there’s tax loss harvesting for your stock investments. I don’t have to putz with this myself — my robo-advisor does it automatically for me. More on that shortly.
The less money you lose to taxes, the more you can invest for compound returns on investment.
6. Dollar Cost Average Your Investments
Foolish people — my former self included — try to time the market. They don’t realize that professional investment analysts with far better information usually get this wrong, which leaves the average investor hopeless at it.
Today, I simply invest the same amount every month. I set my robo-advisor to simply withdraw money from my checking account every week and invest it in the same broad basket of ETFs.
You can even dollar cost average real estate investments. While most of us can’t come up with a new down payment for a rental property every single month, we can invest relatively small amounts in real estate crowdfunding platforms.
Or better yet, invest fractionally in group real estate investments. It’s precisely what our Co-Investing Club does, giving you all the benefits of property investing without the headaches of becoming a landlord.
The market goes up, the market goes down. Investors panic or slaver with greed. I just keep investing small amounts, month in and month out, and enjoy the long-term upward rise of the market.
7. Automate Your Paper Investments with a Robo-Advisor
I’ve mentioned robo-advisors several times now, for automating my stock investments. And yes, they certainly help me save time and keep me on track.
But they also help me earn higher returns than the average investor.
“Wait a minute, Brian, I thought you just said dollar cost averaging just helps you earn average stock market returns?”
And so it does. But that’s the thing: the average investor dramatically underperforms the stock market at large.
One worrying study by OneDigital Investment Advisors found that the average individual investor earned a paltry 2.1% annually between 1996–2015. The S&P 500 earned 8.2% during that time.
Financial analytics firm DALBAR routinely runs similar studies, all documenting how horribly the average retail investor performs compared to the total stock market.
Save yourself from yourself. Use a robo-advisor to automate your stock investments.
8. Use Online Business Perks
As a business owner, you can do things that individuals can’t.
Take tax deductions, for example. You can write off business expenses such as a home office or meals or travel — while still taking the standard deduction personally.
You can also hire someone to take over the day-to-day work of running your business, converting an active source of income into a type of passive income.
Then there are pay-per-click (PPC) ads for your online business. Imagine that your ads only break even, costing you $5,000 per month and generating $5,000 in revenue. But you get to put that $5,000 expense on your reward credit card, to score huge travel rewards.
9. Travel Hack for Free Travel
I won’t go down the rabbit hole of credit card travel hacking, but you get the broad concept. You use travel rewards to book free flights and accommodations.
The key: only using your credit card for purchases you would have bought anyway, such as groceries. Never, ever use credit card points to justify spending money.
And, of course, pay your credit cards off in full each month. Hard stop.
10. House Sit or Home Swap
Credit card rewards aren’t the only way to score free accommodations while traveling. You can also stay for free by housesitting, petsitting, or using a home swap service.
In fact, I once interviewed a woman who would travel for months at a time and never pay a cent for hotels or Airbnb homes. She hopped from one housesitting gig to another, meandering around a specific country or region until she got bored and moved on to the next one.
11. Take Advantage of Geoarbitrage
In today’s world, you can live anywhere while still earning money in your home country and currency.
I’ve lived in South America for almost five years now. The U.S. dollar goes further here than it does at home.
As a tangible example, I live in a luxury three-bedroom apartment with a 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean. It’s in a posh neighborhood in the huge metropolis of Lima. The market rent on it is only $1,300 (which, again, I don’t pay myself).
Explore places in the world with a high quality of life with a low cost of living. A weak local currency helps, but isn’t everything.
12. Stop Buying Status Symbols
Back when I did own a car, I drove a ten-year-old Hyundai. It got me around just as well as a brand new Tesla would have, and cost me around $2,000 per year to own rather than $12,000 or more.
The pricier option would have solely served me as a status symbol. It wouldn’t have had any functional impact on my life.
The same applies to clothes, to shoes, to purses, ad infinitum. Sure, you might need to own one decent suit for the occasional important work presentation. But you don’t need ten of them.
Stop spending money on status symbols. By definition, they involve keeping up with the Joneses, which is a losing game. You simply run on a hamster wheel, the hedonic treadmill, never actually building wealth.
That’s the paradox of wealth: the more you show it off, the less of it you actually accumulate.
Get Off the Financial Hamster Wheel
Average people spend nearly all of their paycheck. They blow it on the biggest house they can afford, the fanciest car, the best restaurant meals and clothes. Then the end of each month arrives, and they realize that they have precious little left to invest.
It’s a recipe for working until your 60s or 70s, always looking “successful” but never actually controlling your most valuable resource: your time.
I’m not rich by conventional standards. But I took a month off work last December to travel Patagonia with my wife and daughter. I spend ten months a year overseas. I work where I want, when I want.
Most of all, I live a life that I designed intentionally. It’s not perfect, of course — I miss family and friends from home sometimes, get lonely periodically, miss Maryland crab cakes. But I get to say that I created this life myself, and that has made all the difference.
Get serious about lifestyle design or get back to living a life on default mode like every other middle-class drone in the world.♦
What are your favorite money hacks and financial cheat codes? How do you build wealth faster than the average person?
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About the Author
G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor and cofounder of SparkRental who spends 10 months of the year in South America. His mission: to help 5,000 people reach financial independence with passive income from real estate. If you want to be one of them, join Brian and Deni for a free class on How to Earn 15-30% on Fractional Real Estate Investments.