5 Smart Spending Tips for Young Adults

Use our strategies (and your smart phone) to save money on the fun stuff.

If you don’t have a boatload of dis­posable income, use technology and social-media savvy to bolster your spending power.

Be Flexible with Travel

The more leeway you have with travel dates and destinations, the better the deals on airfare and lodging. Have a dream destination or favorite airline? Sign up for alerts at Airfarewatchdog.com or through an airline’s Web site to get a sense of what tickets typically cost and to get first dibs on flash sales. You may have to travel on a weekday or book at the last minute to grab the low fare. Use a travel site such as Kayak.com (or the Kayak app) to compare prices on flights, hotel rooms or rental cars. You can also set up alerts to see the lowest airfares on a favorite route.

For the best lodging deals, travel off-season. Destinations that cater to tourists will have empty hotel rooms to fill, and they may offer you freebies in addition to a cheaper rate. In any season, booking at the last minute is a good way to save because hotels often slash prices to fill unsold rooms. Try the Hotel Tonight app (Android and Apple) for day-of reservations in dozens of locales across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe. It includes a ranking of the hotel and information on amenities, and it labels venues from “luxe” to “crashpad.”

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Use a Prepaid Wireless Plan

Prepaid phone plans are an affordable option if you aren’t getting a deep discount through a family plan. For $55 per month, you get unlimited talk time, text messaging and data with Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk Plan (data speed slows any month you pass 2.5 gigabytes of usage). Other Beyond Talk plans charge less for fewer minutes of talk. Having a prepaid plan doesn’t mean you have to chat on an old-school flip phone. Virgin’s plan recently offered the iPhone 5s with 16GB of storage for $495.

Cut the Cable

The average cable bill is $62 a month, or $744 a year (not including Internet service), reports the Federal Communications Commission. That’s a lot of cash. Instead of pricey cable channels, try Hulu Plus, which typically uploads shows one day after they air on television and lets you stream them through Amazon Fire, Apple TV, a Roku box, Wii or other Internet-enabled device. A Netflix account gives you access to tons of movies, plus its own buzzy shows, such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Each service costs $8 per month.

You won’t be able to sever your ties with the cable company completely if that’s how you get Internet access, but you’ll pay a more reasonable $40 or so per month, depending on your plan. If cutting the cable is out of the question, shop the competition for a better deal. You may be able to get your bill reduced by sending the cable company a tweet and threatening to cancel your subscription (see 3 Simple Steps).

Consider Car Sharing

If you live in a high-rent city, your budget may not have room for a set of wheels. Of course, most urban areas have mass transit systems and access to car sharing, such as Zipcar ($7 an hour or more, plus a $25 application fee and $60 annual membership fee). If a car is essential, consider buying used (see Sweet Deals on Used Cars). Payments for a used, $14,433 2011 Honda Civic LX with 10% down and a 60-month, 5.5% loan would be $248 a month. Leasing is another option. Leasing gives you the freedom to walk away when your contract expires without worrying about reselling or trading in your ride. You could recently get a three-year lease for a $19,980 2014 Honda Civic LX with no money down for $210 a month.

Use Technology to Find Deals

Shopping online is the simplest way to compare prices, search for coupons and find discounts. Install PriceBlink on your computer and it will scan 4,000 retailers to see whether the item you’re viewing is available elsewhere for less. It will also alert you to coupon codes that you can apply at checkout for a discount. Or try the Honey plug-in. Pull up an item on your screen and click the plug-in to find discounts and coupon codes. And remember that even a brick-and-mortar shopping trip can use a tech boost. To compare prices from store to store or instantly download coupons, scan a product code using RedLaser’s app (Android, Apple, Windows) to see whether your item is selling for a lower price at nearby stores. Or pull up coupons on RetailMeNot’s mobile app (Android, Apple).

Former Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance